The Monuments Set Up by Shalmaneser III during His Campaigns

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The setting-up of royal monuments in the course of royal expeditions is a phenomenon familiar in the history of ancient Mesopotamia. Among the royal records of various Mesopotamian rulers, the inscriptions of Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria (859-824 B. C.), are especially informative on this subject. Over fifty references of this kind in his inscriptions represent twenty historical cases of the erection of one or more monuments. In this paper I shall examine these references and discuss some aspects of the phenomenon.The monument is referred to as the “image (salmu)” of the king in all cases but one, where it is described as a “stela (asumettu).” The term salmu itself can denote three types of object: (1) a three-dimensional royal statue, (2) a free-standing stela bearing a relief of the royal figure, or (3) a relief engraved on a rock face (i. e. a rock relief). Nevertheless, on the basis of archaeological and iconographic evidence, it may be supposed that the monuments, especially those set up in the open, were usually stelae and rock reliefs rather than statues in the round. Some evidence indicates that the text accompanying the royal image was usually a short commemorative inscription, not a long text of the king's standard annals as found on various objects unearthed in Assyrian capitals.The monuments were placed at the most distant points in the course of the campaign, and were designed to perpetuate the king's arrival at the most remote places. The places chosen can be classified into two categories: (1) at conspicuous geographical features with no associated settlements (mountains, sea coast, river source, etc.); (2) in cities, especially in their sacred places (i. e. temples, etc.). Monuments, especially royal images, erected in the second type of place must have represented the Assyrian king as a worshipper in the local sanctuary. He was thus associated by his image with every act of worship performed there, both as the earthly representative of the gods and as a participant in every favour they might grant. Simultaneously, the image must have reminded the local elite of their relationship with the Assyrian overlord when they came to the place in order to take an oath before the gods or for other purposes.

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... To mark his success in these campaigns, Shalmaneser erected multiple peripheral monuments. His annals speak of a total of 11 such monuments erected in the Levant in particular (Yamada 1999). Some of these were deployed on significant landscape features to mark the furthest extent of Assyrian influence, while others were erected in local cult sites to promote submission to Assyrian authority (Yamada 2000: 290-97). ...
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In the 9th century BC, Levantine polities performatively expressed territoriality by strategically utilizing the spatial discourse of royal monuments. Specifically, Levantine rulers erected complementary monuments in both their core cities and frontier cities to transmit a central praxis and perspective to the periphery. This practice drew on earlier Levantine traditions of using monuments to demarcate ceremonial theatres that functioned as zones for political transformation. Most importantly, these 9th century monuments departed from earlier traditions by distributing the presence of both the king and his patron deity to multiple locations within his claimed territory. They thus created relationships between the denizens of diverse settlements and the king and his deity. By creating a shared political and religious experience, the monuments performatively brought forth concepts of a territorial polity centred on a single king, deity and capital city. This allowed these kings to express sovereignty over entire regions as opposed to collections of individual settlements.
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The Decalogue in Exodus was composed and strategically embedded in its literary context in order to reflect the discourse of Northwest Semitic monumental inscriptions. Monument making in the ancient Near East involved primarily the materialization and perpetuation of ideologies as well as the proposition of collective identities, and these functions were easily carried out by text objects. Accordingly, the Decalogue's commandments reveal a YHWH-centered ideology expressed in terms familiar to Northwest Semitic monumental discourse. These commandments were strategically structured to provoke collective interaction with the text that would persuade its users to accept its proposed perspective as their new collective identity. Finally, the Decalogue is inserted at a point in the narrative where the ancient audience could reasonably expect an account of monument erection—immediately following the account of YHWH's defeat of Egypt, which makes up the first half of the book of Exodus. The Decalogue thus acts as the text of an imagined victory monument to YHWH, which materialized YHWH's newly established kingship over Israel and the divine proposition of the people's collective identity. The Decalogue thereby fulfills the primary function of royal Northwest Semitic monuments by materializing an imagined encounter between a king and his people and establishing a relationship between them. The text's monumentality thus provides a new means of conceptualizing its composition and authority.
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