1.1.3.6 Assyrians

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QUICK LINKS:
Ishchali, four-faced god
Nimrud Relief Panel
Iamassu Statue
Palace of Sargon II relief 1
Palace of Sargon II relief 2

Winged Bulls bas-relief
Nineveh reliefs, Ashurbanipal
Lion bronze weight
Assyria c1000 BCE

Assyrians claim to be descended from Abraham’s grandson, Dedan, but there is no formal source for this. They can be traced back to the foundation of the city Assur in 2,500 BCE and to King Tudiya. Though many of the early kings would merely have been local leaders. At the outset they were ruled by Sumer, and later became subjects of the Akkadian Empire. Their spoken language was Akkadian, Assur and Nineveh (today’s Mosul) were their large cities. They worshipped Ashur.

The Assyrians used clay and stone as their medium to produce cylinder seals, generally small free-standing figures and large reliefs. Most of the reliefs featured below are detailed narrative relefs produced for palaces, showing hunting and battle scenes. These were particularly fine in terms of animal details – horses, lions… but their human figures were rather ‘wooden’ by comparison, rigid and static. The evolution of these reliefs can be followed through the reigns of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE), Sargon II (722-705 BCE), and Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE). However, low-cost plaques and moulded pottery were also being produced for private homes.

Assyrians produced little statuary in the round, except for their huge Iamassu (aka shedu), winged guardian figures.

In Architecture the Assyrians began to use stone and masonry as well as clay bricks. Instead of painting clay walls and reliefs they used sculpted and coloured stone. Load bearing walls began to be enhanced by local development of round arches (often ascribed to the Romans). See Ishtar Gate.

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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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A 17 cm high bronze four-faced god statuette of Ishchali aka Isin-Larsa, thought to represent a god of the four winds. He carries a scimitar in his right hand and places his left foot upon the back of a crouching ram.

Dated to Old Babylonia period 2,000-1,600 BCE bronze – Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago
[source: oi.uchicago.edu]
Discovered in the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE), this gypsum alabaster relief depicts the king and an attendant, possibly a eunech. The carving is considered to be detailed and of very high quality. The king is identifiable from his crown, jewellery and high quality clothing. Inscriptions at the palace are in Akkadian.
Image source: metmuseum.org
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Image source: lib.uchicago.edu
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Iamassu is a common guardian figure right across Mesopotamia. This is one Assyrian depiction from 721-705 BCE that came from Sargon II’s palace.
It has a strange characteristic in that from the side it appears to be walking, viewed from the front it appears to be standing still. The effect is achieved with a fifth leg.
The figure would usually have the head of a human, while the body might be a bull or a lion, and always with enormous wings. Examples are on show at the British Museum, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. It is 5m tall and weighs 40 tons!
This is another relief from the palace of Sargon II, dated to 721-705 BCE. It was at Dur-Sharrukin, today’s Khorsabad, Iraq. It is on show at Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Another Sargon II relief panel showing a chariot, also on show at Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Here the Louvre shows two Iamassu statues in their normal location. Placed as guradians or genies at gates and doorwys into the city and palaces. These are dated to 716-713 BCE. Dur Sharrukin has seven gates in its city wall made of unbaked brick. The statues are carved from a single block. The human face is fringed by bull’s ears. On the head s a tiara with horns and feathers. These too have five legs.
Image source: louvre.fr
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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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This set of relef panels is on show at the British Museum. They come from North Palace of Nineveh and depict King Ashurbanipal hunting lion, but cautiously he does this in an arena. The Asian lions were released from cages to be killed with arrows, spear or sword, clearly on occasion the lions were restricted by soldiers with shields. Apparently the killing of lions was reserved for royal personages. It is thought the reliefs would have originally been painted, and displayed around the palace, not in a series like this. These date to 645-635 BCE and the realism of the images is highly praised. Probably within twenty-five years of these reliefs being produced, the empire had fallen, with Nineveh sacked and burned.
This bronze weight, shaped like a lion is 30 cm high x 25 cm wide. It was found at Susa and is vaguely dated to 6th-4th c BCE.
Image source; Wikimedia commons

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