Week 4 (Feb 1 & 3) Neo-Assyrian Reliefs

On Tuesday, we’ll cover the articles about Sargon and Naram-sin to make up for the snow day, and then I’ll introduce the Neo-Assyrian stuff.  Here’s the reading assignment and the images I want you to look at:

Selection of Neo-Assyrian imperial inscriptions, from M. Chavalas (ed.) Historical Inscriptions in Translation: Ancient Near East.  Download here:Assyrian Inscriptions

Russell, J. 1991.  “The Message of the Southwest Palace Reliefs,” in Sennacherib’s Palace without Rival at Nineveh, pp 251-262.  Download here:  Russell.ch.11

Reed, S. 2007. “Blurring the edges: a reconsideration of the treatment of enemies in Ashurbanipal’s reliefs.” In Ancient Near Eastern Art in Context, edited by J. Cheng and M. H. Feldman, 101-17 (Illustrations pp 118-130). Download here: Reed 2007



Shalmaneser and Sargon



By Tuesday, take the time to look at the images I’ve posted here and read the selected inscriptions; both go in chronological order.  The inscriptions (each of which is preceded by an introduction by the translator, and will give you the necessary background) are full of unfamiliar and sometimes incomprehensible names and places, but don’t worry about this; focus on the themes and ideology expressed therein.  As you look at the images, take note of the following (and do give this some time; I’ve lightened the reading load in order to give you more time to just study the images):

  • What themes are present in the reliefs?
  • In what way(s) is the ideology of Assyrian kingship as presented in official texts reflected visually in Assyrian palace reliefs and other monuments?
  • What artistic/pictorial conventions are used to communicate the narratives/themes/messages, and how do these techniques change from the reign of Ashurnasirpal (earliest) to Ashurbanipal (latest)?
  • How much emphasis is there on landscape? What are possible explanations for this?
    Should the long narrative reliefs on the palace walls be regarded as “historical narrative”? Why or why not?
  • Regarding the placement of inscriptions in/on/among the visual narrative; sometimes the writing is related directly related to the images/episodes on/around which it is written, but often it has nothing to do with those images explicitly.  Why would they carve the text over the narrative scenes, instead of empty/unoccupied space (as in the stele of the vultures, where the writing occurs only in the blank space)?  What does this say about the relationship between the art and the text?
  • Why are there so many seemingly superfluous details in the visual narratives?
  • How much individuality is there in the figures?
  • What are we to make of the fact that Assyrian women are nearly completely absent from all of these reliefs? (Foreign captive women, however, are consistently depicted)
  • Consider the hunt scenes of Ashurbanipal: he doesn’t disguise the fact that this is a very artificial hunt, i.e., not in the wild – lions are being released from the cages for the king to shoot.  What is the significance of this? And what is the significance of the various depictions of the dying, bleeding, lions?  What type of emotions/reaction do you think the artist/designer is trying to evoke?

Plan on having the two essays by Reed and Russell read by Thursday.  The Reed article specifically addresses the complexity of the representation of enemies in Assyrian art.  The selection from Russell’s book discusses the challenges in interpreting the motive and meaning of the relief sculpture of Sennacherib’s infamous palace.

  • According to Russell what is the intended message of Sennacherib’s reliefs, and to whom is it directed? What evidence/logic does he base his assertions on?
  • In what ways are foreigners represented in Assyrian art?  How much variation is there? What attitudes are suggested by these representations?
  • How plausible do you find the interpretations of Reed?
  • There is an explicit/implicit assumption in much scholarship on Assyrian art that the depiction of the harsh treatment of enemies in Assyrian palace art was intended at least in part to deter subject peoples from rising up.  To what extent is this plausible?  Is this really a leading motivation for the presence of enemies in Assyrian art?



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