Week 3: Bronze-Age Mesopotamia and the Kingdom of Akkad

sexy Naram-sin defeats them all

This week we’ll be looking at relief sculpture from Bronze-age Southern Mesopotamia, and in particular three stelai (stele = commemorative slab of stone with writing or pictures on it) erected by kings of that era:  the ‘Stele of the Vultures,’ the Stele of Sargon, and the Stele of Naram-Sin, all of which are in the Louvre.  As you do the background reading on the Met’s website, be sure you click through to look at the image of some of the objects in their collection and the descriptions of them.


Mesopotamia, 8000–2000 B.C. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=02&region=wam (for background)

Art of the First Cities in the Third Millennium BC. Thematic Essay, The Metropolitan Museum of Art:  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/trdm/hd_trdm.htm (for background)

The Akkadian Period.  Thematic Essay, The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/akka/hd_akka.htm (for background)

Winter, I. 1995. “After the battle is over: the stele of the vultures and the beginning of historical narrative in the art of the ancient Near East”, Studies in the History of Art. 16: 11-32.  Winter 1995 Stele of the Vultures

Nigro, L. 1998.  “The two steles of Sargon: iconology and visual propaganda at the beginning of royal Akkadian relief,” Iraq (60): 85-102. Available on JSTOR: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4200454

Winter, I. 1996. “Sex, rhetoric and the public monument: the alluring body of Naram-Sin of Agade.” In Sexuality in Ancient Art, edited by N. B. Kampen, 11-26.  Winter 1996 Naram-sin

The essays I’m having you read are pretty technical, but part of what I want you to focus on this week is how to read scholarly literature.  I want you to pay close attention to how these two scholars arrange their argument and demonstrate their points.  What questions are they asking?  What presumptions do they make? What evidence do they employ to argue their point? What methods do Winter and Nigro use to identify figures and motives on these stele?  How persuasive do you find their interpretations?

In looking at the art and reading these essays, keep in mind the following:

–        What are the recurring themes and subjects?
–        What types of symbols are being used, and what do they mean?
–        Do these stele represent truly ‘narrative’ art?  Do you agree with Winter on this?
–        What elements persist chronologically from the earlier examples to the later stelai of Sargon and Naram-sin, and what elements change?
–        What conclusions can you draw about the ideology of power and kingship in this period?

Here are decent versions of some of the images included in your readings, as well as some other related objects (I’ve given you the option of two file formats – powerpoint or pdf; this is just a lot easier than uploading individual images to the website):

Week 3 Images (powerpoint version)

Week 3 Images (pdf version)


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