The Materiality of Assyrian Sacred Kingship: Assyrian Sacred Kingship

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This contribution explores the material manifestations of Assyrian kingship and how they intersected with Assyrian ideology and religion. This state-of-the-field discussion focuses on the Neo-Assyrian period, 883–612 BCE. To legitimate their positions as the god Aššur's chosen delegate, the kings produced and consumed a vast array of monumental and portable goods, which served to represent the kings as beneficent creators of an orderly realm and protectors of the Assyrian world keeping chaos at bay.

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Through an analysis of the ninth- to eighth-century B.C.E. mortuary assemblages from the Queens' Tombs of Nimrud's Northwest Palace in Iraq, this article interprets dress elements and ensembles in terms of identity and ideology. The Queens' Tombs offer the only in situ evidence for royal Neo-Assyrian female dress. The finds, which have never before been studied as comprehensive ensembles, correspond to the few surviving images of Neo-Assyrian queens and greatly expand our evidence for the manner in which a queen's ideal appearance was constructed and embodied. Considering dress in death, as well as in life and the afterlife, this article proposes a standard, but flexible, queenly ensemble. To facilitate analyses, I present a figural model based on an aggregation of archaeological, art historical, and literary evidence for ideal royal women. I then analyze the dress elements and ensembles as expressions of courtly, queenly, and individual identity. Finally, I interpret queenly dress as an ideological mechanism that manifested imperial power through its materials, style, and iconography. Overall, this article aims to provide a new foundation for more thoroughly integrating the visual and material presence of queens into interpretations of the Neo-Assyrian court and its eternally conceived universe. Additional figures and an appendix appear under this article’s abstract on AJA Online.
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Standing at the head of the social hierarchy, the Mesopotamian king had a close relationship with the gods and was considered a mediator between the earthly and divine spheres. The interaction between kings and gods had a supreme role in ensuring social welfare and a vital function in the empowerment of the ruler. The worldly needs of the ruler led to continuous efforts to upgrade him by comparing him to the divine, as epitomized in the unique representation of Naram-Sin. As a one-time representation, however, this portrayal emphasizes how ambivalent and restrained the display of godlike kings in Mesopotamia was in general. The qualified approach of Mesopotamian iconography to royal deification is expressed in the consistent use of implicit and indirect measures to convey the godlike image of the king. A comparison between selected Mesopotamian pictorial and textual records sheds light on the difference between these two modes of expressions in conveying the divine status of the king, the visual mode being much more limited than the written one. It was perhaps the immense power of the visual mode, and its potentially explosive nature in relation to the fate of all mortals, including kings, that prevented direct and explicit representation of quasi-divine kings in the art of ancient Mesopotamia.
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The narrative scenes carved in low relief on the massive stone slabs that decorated the palaces of first-millennium B.C.E. Assyrian kings in northern Mesopotamia participated in the construction of an Assyrian cultural ideology that was based in part on a negative view of cultural difference. This essay suggests that images of non-Assyrian people-created for an audience that was largely Assyrian, male, and elite-use a visual language that identified intercultural difference with intracultural transgression. Non-Assyrians were depicted with postures and gestures that carried negative connotations; moreover, these representations positively reinforced Assyrian identity and power structures.
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Although the “new social history” of the 1960s and 1970s quickly bequeathed its universal ambitions to a “new cultural history” in the 1980s, the attraction of the social historical category for study of the ancient Near East remains its potential to transform how we see the entire landscape of each past setting, still evoking E. P. Thompson’s history “from the bottom up.” Cuneiform writing offers a wealth of materials from the transactions of everyday life, in spite of the fact that the scribal profession served the centers of power and families of means, and a social historical perspective allows even documents from administrative archives to be viewed from below as well as from the rulers’ vantage. The potential for examining ancient society from below, in all its variety and lack of order, is illustrated in the archives of Late Bronze Age Emar in northwestern Syria. It is to be hoped that specialists in the ancient Near East will join a larger conversation among historians about how to approach the movement of societies through time.
This volume assembles more than 30 articles focusing on the visual, material, and environmental arts of the Ancient Near East. Specific case studies range temporally from the fourth millennium up to the Hellenistic period and geographically from Iran to the eastern Mediterranean. Contributions apply innovative theoretical and methodological approaches to archaeological evidence and critically examine the historiography of the discipline itself. Not intended to be comprehensive, the volume instead captures a cross-section of the field of Ancient Near Eastern art history as its stands in the second decade of the twenty-first century. The volume will be of value to scholars working in the Ancient Near East as well as others interested in newer art historical and anthropological approaches to visual culture.
This study approaches the material world of the Neo-Assyrian period in Mesopotamia from the theoretical and methodological standpoint of the field of sensory archaeology. Analysis of relevant royal inscriptions, administrative tablets, bas-reliefs and artefacts excavated from the palaces in the Assyrian capital cities of Nimrud, Khorsabad and Nineveh demonstrates that the Assyrian kings and their courtly advisors participated in activities of biopolitics. The study identifies several phenomena and features of the Assyrian world, including palaces that served as sensorial envelopes, commensal feasts, travelling processions, water-control projects and libation rituals that the Neo-Assyrian royal authority deployed in attempts to control sensory experiences. At the same time, the study reconstructs the sensory experiences of Assyrian bodies as they passed through royally curated structures and landscapes.
For almost three thousand years, Egypt and Mesopotamia were each ruled by the single sacred office of kingship. Though geographically near, these ancient civilizations were culturally distinct, and scholars have historically contrasted their respective conceptualizations of the ultimate authority, imagining Egyptian kings as invested with cosmic power and Mesopotamian kings as primarily political leaders. In fact, both kingdoms depended on religious ideals and political resources to legitimate and exercise their authority. Cross-cultural comparison reveals the sophisticated and varied strategies that ancient kings used to unify and govern their growing kingdoms. Experiencing Power, Generating Authority draws on rich material records left behind by both kingdoms, from royal monuments and icons to the written deeds and commissions of kings. Thirteen essays provocatively juxtapose the relationships Egyptian and Mesopotamian kings had with their gods and religious mediators, as well as their subjects and court officials. They also explore the ideological significance of landscape in each kingdom, since the natural and built environment influenced the economy, security, and cosmology of these lands. The interplay of religion, politics, and territory is dramatized by the everyday details of economy, trade, and governance, as well as the social crises of war or the death of a king. Reexamining established notions of cosmic and political rule, Experiencing Power, Generating Authority challenges and deepens scholarly approaches to rulership in the ancient world. © 2013 by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Evil is not to be attributed to God, as Job had done, nor to humans, as the three friends had insisted; there are independent evil forces, symbolized by the undomesticated animals of the wilderness, but they are held in a balanced check (Hebrew letter tetHebrew letter peHebrew letter šinHebrew letter mem) by YHWH, though not annihilated. By divine command, the Assyrian king might actively dominate these forces in royal ritual (mēlultu), as in the royal lion hunt, wherein the lion symbolizes chaos and the wild in all its forms. However, Job can only stand by and marvel as the untamed animals of the wilderness "sport" (Hebrew letter qopHebrew letter hetHebrew letter šin). YHWH does not invite Job to Hebrew letter heHebrew letter daletHebrew letter dalet and Hebrew letter šinHebrew letter betHebrew letter bet as he had Hebrew letter memHebrew letter kapHebrew letter 'alepHebrew letter he in Gen 1:26-27. M. Tsevat, whose article "The Meaning of the Book of Job" (1966) is among the most insightful, argued: But the Book of Job does more than demythologize the world; it also "demoralizes" it, which is to say, makes it amoral. It completes the process whose first phase is known to the reader of the Bible from the opening pages of Genesis the removal from the conceptual world of an order of superhuman beings independent of the Deity. And it extends it by the denial of the realization of moral values - values deriving from the Deity, to be sure - other than realization effected by man. This new world is as harsh as it is simple, for in it man is deprived of the protection he enjoyed in a world saturated with myth and morality and populated with powers to which he might turn with a view to rendering them favorable to his well-being, foremost by his leading of a meritorious life. This position, however, goes too far - almost in the direction of Epicurean ethics, in which the deity is not only transcendent but removed. The position of YHWH in the book of Job seems rather between the mythology of the Neo-Assyrian lion hunt, in which the king, at the divine command, expanded control over the wilderness with its animals, enemies, and demons, and that of Epicurean ethics, in which God has withdrawn from human ethics. Job's YHWH, may cede to humans neither knowledge nor control over the wilderness; his wilderness may contain violence and predation (38:23, 39-41; 39:16, 23-25, 30); and the very mythic symbols of chaos, Leviathan and Behemoth, may remain untamable by humans. Nonetheless, the wilderness remains a source of joy and birth (see especially 38:8-11), and God's restraining holds all in balance. God's rains descend on a land where no human lives, on the desert that is empty of humans (38:26), and this is creative and re-creative. In response to YHWH'S speeches, Job can only withdraw his legal case: Therefore being but dust and ashes, I withdraw and retract my case. (42:6).
This article explores the way in which landscapes are imagined by imperialist regimes, and in particular by the Neo-Assyrian empire of the early first millennium B. C. The landscape of North Syria, a primary territorial target of the expansionist Neo-Assyrian empire, was mapped out at the heart of the empire in depictions on stone reliefs adorning the palace walls at Nimrud, Khorsabad, and Nineveh. An analysis of these images suggests that the landscape of North Syria was represented by the Neo-Assyrian royal apparatus as a lush and bountiful world, full of exotic animals and natural diversity. Five pictorial topoi, or consistent themes of representation, of the North Syrian landscape are identified within the reliefs throughout the Neo-Assyrian period. These topoi expressed the political ideology that the North Syrian landscape, captured in the distance and recreated in the heartland in the form of royal gardens, was a necessary and beneficial addition provided by the Neo-Assyrian kings for the prosperity of the empire.
Other titles in the Approaching the Ancient World series: Ancient History from Coins 0-415-08993-X Art, Artefacts and Chronology in Classical Archaeology 0-415-063191-1 Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History 0-415-09376-7 Sources of Roman Law 0-415-08995-6 Uses of Greek Mythology 0-415-06135-0
This article deals with royal rituals from the Ancient Near East, focusing on the evidence from cuneiform sources from Babylonia and Assyria from the first millennium BCE. I will present rituals of coronation and investiture, which can be reconstructed from various text genres, such as epics, hymns or ritual handbooks. Royal investiture was not performed only at the beginning of the king's reign, but took place regularly during the festivals of the cultic calendar, particularly during the New Year's festivals in Spring and Fall. The king, albeit considered a superhuman being by the Mesopotamians, was nevertheless prone to illness. Illness was caused, according to Ancient Near Eastern ideas, by divine wrath and the alienation of a person from his or her protective deities. Thus, sickness was treated, among other cures, by rituals to bring about the reconciliation of the patient with the divine sphere. The performance of healing rituals for the kings of the Neo-Assyrian empire is well attested from a comprehensive correspondence of kings Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal with their ritual experts, diviners and physicians. An example from this correspondence will be presented in this contribution.
The idea that any living human being could be worshipped like a god may appear to some people unfathomable or sacrilegious. This is related to how the distinction between humans and god(s) is perceived in a given cultural context; divinity is a concept that has been understood very differently throughout history. This is not a new point but remains all too often underappreciated when discussing the blurring of lines between human and god as evidenced in the deification of kings. In ancient Mesopotamia, one of the oldest high civilizations in the world, it was a short‐lived but nevertheless interesting phenomenon. The first instances of royal deification occur in the third millennium bce during times of political expansion and centralization. Whether this worship continued into the second millennium bce is still a matter of contention, yet Mesopotamian kings always maintained a close proximity to the divine to legitimize and bolster their power.
In 2012, the Erbil Plain Archaeological Survey (EPAS) conducted its first season of fieldwork. The project's goal is the complete mapping of the archaeological landscape of Erbil, with an emphasis on the Neo-Assyrian and Hellenistic periods. It will test the hypothesis that the Neo-Assyrian landscape was closely planned. This first report emphasizes the project's field methodology, especially the use of a variety of satellite remote sensing imagery. Our preliminary results suggest that the plain was part of the urbanized world of Mesopotamia, with new cities of the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Sasanian era identified.
Replicas of ancient Near Eastern archery tackle can be used to investigate the performance of different types of bows. The velocity of projectiles from spear throwers, simple wooden bows and composite horn‐wood‐sinew bows shows a clear linear trend in increased efficiency. Mechanical properties of bow and arrow design and performance can be related to archaeological, art historical and textual sources for the use of archery in warfare.
This classic study clearly establishes a fundamental difference in viewpoint between the peoples of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. By examining the forms of kingship which evolved in the two countries, Frankfort discovered that beneath resemblances fostered by similar cultural growth and geographical location lay differences based partly upon the natural conditions under which each society developed. The river flood which annually renewed life in the Nile Valley gave Egyptians a cheerful confidence in the permanence of established things and faith in life after death. Their Mesopotamian contemporaries, however, viewed anxiously the harsh, hostile workings of nature. Frank's superb work, first published in 1948 and now supplemented with a preface by Samuel Noah Kramer, demonstrates how the Egyptian and Mesopotamian attitudes toward nature related to their concept of kingship. In both countries the people regarded the king as their mediator with the gods, but in Mesopotamia the king was only the foremost citizen, while in Egypt the ruler was a divine descendant of the gods and the earthly representative of the God Horus.
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