Lion-hunting Scene, King Ashurbanipal

Lion-hunting Scene, King Ashurbanipal


Tag: ashurbanipal

Detail of an alabaster bas-relief showing a lion being stabbed in the neck. The lion has jumped and reached a critical point very close to the king's chariot. The king's attendants thrust their spears onto the lion's neck to stop the lion the king, using his right hand, stabs the lion deeply into his neck. The lion's painful facial expression was depicted very delicately. From Room C of the North Palace, Nineveh (modern-day Kouyunjik, Mosul Governorate), Mesopotamia, Iraq. Circa 645-535 BCE. The British Museum, London. Photo©Osama S.M. Amin.

Whoever was privileged to gain access to the North Palace of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, could consider himself part of something timeless. Thanks to the great work of Hormuzd Rassam (1826-1910), who unveiled a large number of alabaster bas-reliefs, which once decorated the walls of that king’s Palace (built around 645 BCE) the Assyrian lion-hunting scenes!

T hese extraordinary carvings, so dynamic and full of movements, are so realistic and so accomplished and are some of the most remarkable ancient artifacts ever found. They were discovered by Rassam in the year 1853 and have been housed in the British Museum since 1856. Rassam stated in his autobiography that “one division of the workmen, after 3-4 hours of hard labor, were rewarded by the grand discovery of a beautiful bas-relief in a perfect state of preservation”. Rassam ordered his men to dig a large hole in the mound after more than 2,000 years, the remains of a royal palace were found. The mud-bricks had disappeared, of course, completely but the reliefs themselves, which once decorated them, have fortunately survived.


Lion-hunting Scene, King Ashurbanipal - History

The royal lion hunt was a very ancient tradition in Assyria and the wider region of Mesopotamia. The earliest depiction of a ruler hunting lions is found on a carved basalt monument that dates to before 3000 BC. It shows two bearded figures wearing diadems (a type of crown) who can be identified as ‘priest-kings’. One kills a lion with a spear and the other shoots at a lion with his bow and arrow. In Assyria, the lion hunt was an important symbol of royalty and the Assyrian royal seal showed a king slaying a rampant lion.

Representing the hunt

Royal lion hunts were depicted on the bronze bands that decorated monumental gates, stone obelisks that recorded the king’s achievements and on the carved wall panels that adorned the interior rooms of Assyrian palaces.

Some of the most spectacular depictions of the hunt were found in the palace of king Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC) at the city of Nimrud (in the north of present-day Iraq). They show the king hunting lions and wild bulls from his chariot, followed by a ritual scene where the king poured an offering of wine over the dead animals. More than 200 years later, King Ashurbanipal revived the royal lion hunt and decorated his North Palace at the city of Nineveh (also in the north of present-day Iraq) with brilliantly carved reliefs that show his prowess as a brave hunter. “

Warrior king

Ashurbanipal presented himself to the world as a heroic king, claiming that the gods had given him outstanding strength and virility. As part of his military training the young crown prince was taught to drive chariots, ride cavalry horses and develop skills such as archery. Unlike earlier Assyrian rulers, however, Ashurbanipal rarely, if ever, led his troops on campaign.

Ashurbanipal instead proclaimed his prowess as a warrior on a series of carved alabaster panels from his North Palace, that show the king hunting lions. Here Ashurbanipal is portrayed as the complete action hero as he slays ferocious lions on horseback, on foot or from the back of a chariot using a variety of weapons. He wanted to show the gods and his subjects that he was a heroic warrior.

Creatures of chaos

Assyrian texts record how plagues of lions obstructed the roads, and harassed herdsmen and shepherds by attacking livestock in the plains. It was the king’s duty to rid his land of dangerous wild animals. Ashurbanipal set out to the plains in his royal chariot to confront a fierce mountain breed of lions but was surrounded and attacked. Fulfilling his role as the heroic hunter, Ashurbanipal boasts how he scattered the pride and killed each lion with a single arrow to restore peace to the plains.

In the steppe, a widespread place, raging lions, a ferocious mountain breed, attacked me and surrounded the chariot, the vehicle of my royal majesty. By the command of the god Ashur and the goddess Ishtar, the great gods…I scattered the pack of those lions.

As the divinely appointed protector of Assyria, it was the king’s duty to maintain order in the world by defeating the forces of chaos, which included foreign enemies and dangerous wild animals such as the lion. Assyrians thought of their world as encompassing a civilised heartland, situated in Assyria’s cities, which was surrounded by a hostile, untamed periphery. Wherever the king ruled, peace and prosperity abounded, whereas foreign lands were afflicted by chaos. By hunting lions, creatures of the untamed hinterland, Ashurbanipal showed how he could extend his control over the wilderness. Laden with ritual symbolism and heroic drama, the royal lion hunt was a particularly effective means of publicising the king’s ability, as the shepherd of his people, to protect his flock.

Staged spectacles

Although Ashurbanipal represented himself hunting animals in the wild, the hunting scenes that decorated Ashurbanipal’s palace were staged events within the game parks of the city. These were public spectacles, comparable to Roman arena games. A scene from a wall panel shows a small boy releasing a lion from its cage, which had been captured for the purpose of the hunt. He is protected from the lion by a smaller cage.

On another panel the hunting arena is formed by a circle of guards carrying spears and shields, behind which is a row of archers. Additional guards hold fierce looking mastiffs on leashes to stop the lions from escaping the arena.

Excited spectators run up a nearby mound to get a better view of the action. Some carry skins, perhaps selling water to the crowds.

The lions themselves may well have been relatively tame. The Assyrians kept lions along with other animals such as deer and gazelle in their game parks and pleasure gardens. In a wall panel from Ashurbanipal’s palace, a lioness and a lion with a magnificent mane relax in an idyllic garden and, in another scene (below), a seemingly tame lion walks alongside musicians.

Whatever the reality of the hunt, Ashurbanipal was sure to claim a courageous victory! In one scene, an Assyrian horseman, guarded by spearmen in a chariot, distracts a crouching lion. Ashurbanipal (shown below) approaches from the left and grabs the lion by its tail, preparing to strike it over the head with a mace. The accompanying caption states:

I, Ashurbanipal, king of the world, king of Assyria, while carrying out my princely sport, seized a lion that was born in the steppe by its tail and, through the command of the gods… shattered its skull with the mace that was in my hand.

A political and religious message

This section from a larger wall panel shows the climax of a royal lion hunt. A lion has been mortally wounded by an arrow, which pierces its body just above the shoulder. It squats on its haunches, tensing every muscle in an attempt to stay upright as blood gushes from its mouth. Although the suffering of the lions is horrible to see, the artist has perfectly captured the animal in its death-throes, and we see a naturalism that is rarely encountered in Assyrian art. However, it is likely that the artist captured the lion’s agony, not out of pity, but to symbolise the king’s triumph over the dangerous and chaotic forces that the lion represented.

The king’s power to defeat these enemies of civilisation was part of his divine prerogative and the hunt had a deep religious significance. On behalf of the gods, the king was cleansing the land of dangerous and chaotic forces. In this wall panel, Ashurbanipal can be seen pouring a wine offering to the warrior goddess Ishtar over the lions that he has slain. The inscription reads:

I, Ashurbanipal, king of the world, king of Assyria, to whom the god Ashur and the goddess Ishtar have granted outstanding strength, set up the fierce bow of the goddess Ishtar — the lady of battle — over the lions that I had killed. I made an offering over them and poured a libation of wine over them.


You can discover more about Ashurbanipal and his empire in the BP exhibition I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria, at the Museum until 24 February 2019.


Assyrian lion hunts

For over a millennium before these reliefs, it seems that the killing of lions was reserved in Mesopotamia for royalty, and kings were often shown in art doing so. There may have been a religious dimension to the activity. A surviving letter on a clay tablet records that when a lion entered a house in the provinces, it had to be trapped and taken by boat to the king. The Asiatic lion, today only surviving in a small population in India, is generally smaller than the African variety, and much later records show that their killing at close quarters, as depicted in the reliefs, was not an impossible feat. When the sword is used, it seems likely that, as in relatively recent times, the actual technique was that "the lion-killer wrapped his left arm in a huge quantity of goats'-hair yarn or tent-cloth" and tempted the lion to attack this, while the sword in the right hand despatched him. This padded defence is never depicted. [8] More often, the king shoots arrows at the lion if these fail to stop him and he leaps, the huntsmen close beside the king use their spears. [9]

An earlier king, Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883-859), who had erected other lion hunt reliefs in his palace at Nimrud some 200 years before, boasted in inscriptions of about 865 BC that "the gods Ninurta and Nergal, who love my priesthood, gave me the wild animals of the plains, commanding me to hunt. 30 elephants I trapped and killed 257 great wild oxen I brought down with my weapons, attacking from my chariot 370 great lions I killed with hunting spears". [10] Ashurnasirpal is shown shooting arrows at lions from his chariot, so perhaps this was a more conventional hunt in open country, or is also in an arena. [11]

In the later reliefs captured lions are released into an enclosed space, formed by soldiers making a shield-wall. Some are shown being released from wooden crates by an attendant in a smaller crate sitting on top, who lifts up a gate. [12] Despite the hunting, Mesopotamian lions survived in the wilderness, until 1918. [13] [14]

The lions may sometimes have been raised in captivity. Ashurnasirpal II, in an inscription boasting of his zoo, stated: "With my fierce heart I captured 15 lions from the mountains and forests. I took away 50 lion cubs. I herded them into Kalhu (Nimrud) and the palaces of my land into cages. I bred their cubs in great numbers." [15]


An artist was commissioned to create reliefs that not merely chronicle the perennial campaigns to quell the lion scourge, but exalt the struggle

When a new residence was built for the latest occupant of the Assyrian throne, King Ashurbanipal, who reigned from 699 to 631BC, an artist was commissioned to decorate the walls of the North Palace with reliefs that not merely chronicle the perennial campaigns to quell the lion scourge, but exalt the struggle. Taking 10 years to complete, the result was a tour de force of aesthetic innovation that would be lost to cultural history almost as quickly as it was finished.

Less than two decades after the work was completed in 635BC, Nineveh was sacked in 612BC by a coalition of former vassals that included Babylonians and Chaldeans, Persians and Scythians, burying the artistic treasure under rubble for 2000 years. Rediscovery of the forgotten reliefs was the remarkable achievement of a 19th-Century Iraqi Assyriologist, Hormuzd Rassam, who, between 1852 and 1854, oversaw their excavation and helped arrange their relocation to the British Museum, where they have been on display ever since. (The recent decision by the University of Aberdeen to return a Benin Bronze to Nigeria has put pressure on other British institutions that house colonially displaced treasures to send these objects back to the regions of their birth.) Occupying a gallery of their own that can be sauntered through on Google Maps at one's own pace (and at any hour), the fragmented panels are impossible to stroll (or scroll) past with indifference.

Recalling an action scene, the archers are caught in an eternal moment of frozen time (Credit: Alamy)

It's the arrows that strike you first. Now suspended in timeless sculpted air now piercing the acrobatic eye of its untamed targets now stony still, feathers to bowstring, pinched between the focused fingers of the king, the arrows propel the frozen action of the visual narrative forward. Like needles stitching together time, the suspended shafts exist simultaneously in the past, the present, and the future. They provide a storytelling logic to the king's continual reappearance in scene after scene.

It was precisely this sense of stop-motion splicing that caught the imagination of the 20th-Century American poet William Carlos Williams when he encountered the reliefs as a young man in the early 1920s. "See! Ashur-ban-i-pal", Williams writes in an early poem, cleverly echoing the flurry of flying and falling arrows that punctuate the reliefs with an excess of hyphens, dashes, and exclamation points, "the archer-king on horse-back… with drawn bow – facing lions/standing on their hind legs,/fangs bared! his shafts/bristling in their necks!"

The carvings bring together man and beast as worthy adversaries (Credit: Getty Images)

Williams captures the fantastical quality of the reliefs, how they portray an eternal instant when an arrow is at once yet-to-be-unleashed ("with drawn bow") while at the same time forever striking its target ("bristling in their necks!"). Here, time collapses. So too, in a sense, does the enmity between the slayer and the slain. It's almost as if the king and the lions he perpetually quells – antagonists who are depicted by the ancient sculptor with at least as much heroism and sympathy as the august protagonist of the hunt – occupy a realm outside of the here-and-now (or there-and-then) and are, in essence, less mortal adversaries than spiritual reflexes of each other, pulsations of the same mythic heart.

This is where the significance of Ashurbanipal's radiant earring reveals itself and becomes a crucial puzzle piece not merely in comprehending the complex relationship between these two complementary forces, the hunter and hunted, but in rescuing Ashurbanipal himself from eternal futility. After all, if the king is truly as mighty as the alabaster reliefs suggest, why do the lions keep coming back, panel after panel, year after year, reign after reign? The sculptor who conceived the aesthetic strategy for the carvings, in other words, faced a monumental conundrum in explaining how it is that an all-powerful ruler is incapable of defeating his foe once and for all – a dilemma that the earring, and it alone in the iconography of the works, helps him overcome.

A symbol of lion and king

At first glance, the piece of jewellery appears to be little more than a deceptively simple solar symbol blossoming with barbed flares, an ornament accenting the king's incontestable brilliance. Look closer, and the beaming petals that shoot pointedly from the earring's centre echoes not just the sharpened arrowheads on which the king's power is conditioned but also the claws and teeth that threaten to overwhelm him. The earring is a kind of compound emblem, one that absorbs into itself the eternity of the refulgent sun, the invincibility of the king, and the formidableness of the forces that he and he alone is powerful enough to keep at bay.

There is every reason to suspect that contemporary observers of the gypsum reliefs would have recognised immediately the earring's double entendre – its reference both to the weaponry of the hunt and that of its ferocious target. In Mesopotamian mythologies of the era, the sun was synonymous with the archer god Ashur, from whom the king's very name derives. Surviving stone medallions that predate the Lion Hunt panels portray a winged Ashur, bow in hand, encircled by and enthroned in the sun. Blurring into this connection between the sun and the archer and complicating it is an age-old association too between the sun and the lion, a link that dates back to the very inception of astrological signs millennia before Ashurbanipal's reign. "The ancient connection of the sun god with the lion," according to the folklorist Alexander Krappe, who was the first to translate the collected tales of the Brothers Grimm, "is reflected in the lore of the zodiac, unquestionably of Mesopotamian origin". The sun is read in arrows and claws.

Seen through the lens of the multivalent earring, the alabaster Lion Hunt is more than merely a chronicle of a single campaign to cull a persistent pest. It is the stuff of timeless myth, turning a failure to entirely defeat the lions into a glorious victory. Suddenly, easily overlooked flourishes introduced by the ancient sculptor into his masterpiece begin to make sense: the elegant little lion head whittled into the tip of Ashurbanipal's bow the leonine armlets that clench the muscles of his attendants. The hunter and hunted define each other they are coeternal cogs in the endless engine of existence. To exalt the king, the lion too must be apotheosised. However brutal the beastly battle between them, life itself relies on the struggle. The reliefs are making it clear that the king and the lion are one.

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Lion Hunting

Lion hunting has been an élite ritual since ancient times. In Ancient Egypt, lion hunts were usually reserved for pharaohs. These hunts nearly resulted in the extermination of lion populations in North Africa by 1100 BC.

Artworks have survived to show Pharaoh Amenhotep III killing more than 100 lions in a single hunt.

In ancient Assyria, lion hunting was a ritualized activity reserved for kings. These hunts were symbolic of the monarch’s duty to protect and fight for his people.

The Assyrian kings hunted lions for political and religious purposes, to demonstrate their power. The king would kill the lion from a chariot with his bow and arrow or spear. Meanwhile, spearmen and archers would always protect the king from the lion.

Lion hunting is also evident in Greek mythology and art. Lions were present in the Greek peninsula until classical times.

The prestige of lion hunting is demonstrated in Heracles’ first labor, the killing of the Nemean lion. Lions were depicted as prominent symbols of royalty, as in the Lion Gate to the citadel of Mycenae.

Today lion hunting is a subject of controversy as currently, the lion is listed as a vulnerable species, and some subspecies are listed as endangered. Fewer than 20,000 survive in the wild, a reduction of 60% in the last two decades.


Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal

The royal Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal is shown on a famous group of Assyrian palace reliefs from the North Palace of Nineveh that are now displayed in room 10a of the British Museum. They are widely regarded as "the supreme masterpieces of Assyrian art". [1] They show a formalized ritual "hunt" by King Ashurbanipal (reigned 668 – c. 631/627 BC) in an arena, where captured Asian lions were released from cages for the king to slaughter with arrows, spears, or his sword. [2] They were made about 645–635 BC, and originally formed different sequences placed around the palace. They would probably originally have been painted, and formed part of a brightly coloured overall decor. [3]

The slabs or orthostats from the North Palace were excavated by Hormuzd Rassam in 1852–54, and William Loftus in 1854–55 and most were sent back to the British Museum, [4] where they have been favourites with the general public and art historians alike ever since. The realism of the lions has always been praised, although the pathos modern viewers tend to feel was perhaps not part of the Assyrian response. The human figures are mostly seen in formal poses in profile, especially the king in his several appearances, but the lions are in a great variety of poses, alive, dying, and dead. [5]

The carvings come from late in the period of some 250 years over which Assyrian palace reliefs were made, and show the style at its most developed and finest, [6] before decline set in. Ashurbanipal was the last great Assyrian king, and after his reign ended the Neo-Assyrian Empire descended into a period of poorly-recorded civil war between his descendants, generals and rebelling parts of the empire. By 612, perhaps as little as 25 years after these were made, the empire had fallen apart and Nineveh been sacked and burnt. [7]

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Transcription

(jazz music) Dr. Zucker: We're in the British Museum in London and we're looking at a series of magnificent low reliefs. Dr. Harris: These show a very dramatic lion hunt and it's the king of Assyria who is killing the lions. Dr. Zucker: The Assyrians emerged in Mesopotamia before 1,000 BCE, but increased their power and by the time these reliefs were made in the seventh century BCE, the Assyrians were dominant and really at the height of their civilization. Dr. Harris: The Assyrians had several royal palaces and several capital cities. Ninevah, Nimrud, and Khorsabad. The scenes that we're looking at now are from the royal palace in Ninevah. Dr. Zucker: These would have decorated a hallway. You would have walked through the scene and we're seeing different moments in time. Dr. Harris: Assyrian kings decorated their palaces with these low reliefs depicting battle scenes, hunting scenes. These all speak to the power of the Assyrian kings, but this particular set of reliefs is especially naturalistic and dramatic. These are considered masterpieces of Assyrian sculpture. Dr. Zucker: It's a lion hunt. It's important to understand the symbolism. The lions, which were native to Mesopotamia and, actually, a slightly smaller species that is now extinct, were symbols of the violence of nature and the king killing the lions. By the way, there was a law that said only the king could kill lions. The king killing lions was an important symbolic act that spoke of the king keeping nature at bay, keeping his city safe. Dr. Harris: Even though we see the king killing lions here, he is killing them in an arena. He's not killing them out in the wild. Dr. Zucker: Let's move through the story. On one side of the hallway, we see the king readying for the hunt. Dr. Harris: We can identify the king because of the particular crown that he wears and he's also larger than the other three figures who are helping him to get ready for the hunt. We see one figure with reigns pulling the horses, two other figures turning in the same direction as the king. On the left hand side it's obviously been damaged. Dr. Zucker: I'm really taken with the horses. Dr. Harris: Well, the horses are represented so much more naturalistically. Dr. Zucker: Especially if you look at the musculature of the face, of the eyes. There's tremendous detail. Dr. Harris: And emotion. They look as though they're resisting getting bridled for this hunt. Dr. Zucker: We can see one of those bridles being tightened and we can see two other figures trying to steady the horses. All of this is taking place within an enclosed space and we can see other attendants that are holding a barrier of some sort to pen in these animals. Dr. Harris: Now they're represented below the scene with the king, but we're meant to understand them as being around the king. We have human figures who, although they're striding forward, there's a formality to their poses, but strangely, a informality, I think, to the horses. Dr. Zucker: We'll see that also in the representation of the lions, who are represented quite distinctly from the greater sense of formality that the king displays or his attendants display. We have this division between man and the control of man and then nature and its wildness. As we move to the middle of the panels, we see a very different scene. We've pulled back, our view is more distant, and we see figures much smaller now. We see a hill with lots of figures on it. Dr. Harris: And at the very top what seems to be a monument to the king, showing itself a relief of a hunt with a king in a chariot slaying lions, so it's a representation of a representation of the hunt. Dr. Zucker: It's a relief of a relief. I love that. Dr. Harris: This scene does feel chaotic. Figures gesturing in different ways, climbing in different ways, some looking back, some looking forward. Dr. Zucker: They seem to be hurrying up the hill. They may be fleeing, they may be trying to grab a better position to watch the hunt from, these may be spectators. We think we're seeing men and women, but in fact, this is so old part of this is guesswork. Dr. Harris: Of course, this would have been much easier to read in the palace where the relief was painted. Dr. Zucker: These were painted very brightly, in fact. They really would have stood out. As we move to the right, we come to the arena for the hunt itself. We can see that the lions will be held in place by a double row of soldiers that have shields and spears and then inside that, to ensure that the lions don't even get that far, there's another row of soliders with mastiffs. They're holding spears and those dogs will make sure that the lions don't pass. Dr. Harris: And although these figures are represented one on top of one another, we're meant to understand them as being in rows in depth in space. Dr. Zucker: I love the representation of the dogs. You can see them straining against the leash. Dr. Harris: We have to walk to the other end now to see how the lions have entered the arena. We see another double row of the king's guard and then we see a child releasing a very menacing looking lion into the lion hunt. Dr. Zucker: So this is a completely fabricated hunt. It is controlled. We see the king on chariot. He's shooting an arrow. We see the arrow airborne and then, of course, we see the lions dying all around us. Dr. Harris: Wounded, pierced, some on the ground, some leaping up, represented with such sympathy. Dr. Zucker: The variety is incredible, the detail is incredible. You'll notice that the king is in some danger. There is a lion that was wounded, but is coming back to attack, but his assistants are taking up the rear. Dr. Harris: This all speaks to the power, the authority of the king over nature and representing that power to his people. (jazz music)


Assyria: Siege of Lachish – Room 10b

Assyria: Siege of Lachish – Room 10b 710–692 BC

Lachish was one of the chief cities of the kingdom of Judah in the southern Levant and in 701 BC it was captured by the Assyrian King Sennacherib (704–681 BC). The siege followed the refusal of Lachish to pay tribute to the Assyrian Empire (based in modern northern Iraq) and is mentioned in the Bible.

Many of the relief sculptures on display in Room 10b depict the capture of the city, alongside a selection of items and weaponry used in the siege. A 'prism' inscribed with an Assyrian account of the campaign is also on show.


Who was Ashubanipal?

For all he did as King of Assyria, the young Ashurbanipal did not expect to take the throne. His father, Esarhaddon, appointed him crown prince in 672 BC following the death of Ashurbanipal’s eldest brother. This meant skipping over the older Shamash-shum-ukin, who instead took the lesser title of King of Babylon, a major city state (and former chief power in the region) under Assyrian control.

Ashurbanipal, whose name means ‘The god Ashur is creator of an heir’, received instruction in kingship, from royal decorum and hunting to administration and training for war. He learned to fight, fire a bow, ride a horse, lead a chariot, and mastered a skill associated for centuries with being an Assyrian warrior king: lion hunting.

Slaughtering lions represented a king’s ability to protect his people from the dangers of the world, so hunts would be public events. “I pierced the throats of raging lions, each with a single arrow,” Ashurbanipal had written, and in stone reliefs he is seen strangling them with his bare hands.

Unusually, Ashurbanipal pursued scholarly pursuits too. He could read and write – in Sumerian, Akkadian and Aramaic – and studied mathematics and the esteemed practice of oil divination. He demonstrated such intelligence and aptitude for leadership that he would assume command of the court when his father travelled.

It was on the way to Egypt that Esarhaddon died, leading to Ashurbanipal becoming king in 668 BC. The succession went smoothly, thanks to a treaty imposed on Assyrian subjects compelling their allegiance, and an oath of loyalty forced on the courtiers by his grandmother, Naqi’a-Zakutu. He came to the throne with the empire at its height, and continued on the expansionist path of his predecessors.


The White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I

I n July 1853, Hormuzd Rassam was excavating an area at the ruins of the mound of Kuyunjik (Nineveh, Mesopotamia, modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), one of the most important cities in the heartland of the Assyrian Empire. The area was an open space between the outer court of the palace of the Assyrian King Sennacherib and the Ishtar Temple. About 200 feet northeast of the palace, Rassam dug a trench that went down about 15 feet from the surface of the mound. At this point, his workmen found a large, 4-sided, monolith pillar it was an obelisk, somewhat whitish in colour. The obelisk was lying on it sides. An artist, C. D. Hodder, who accompanied Rassam on his expedition, made drawings of the 4 sides of the obelisk in situ. It is now known as the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I and housed in the British Museum.

The White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I on display within Room 6a of the British Museum. This is side A. Behind it and to the left is the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. On the background and to the right, a Lamassu from the North-West Palace of Ashunasirpal II and a reconstructed Balawat Gate also appear. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

Rassam shipped the obelisk to modern-day Basra Governorate (on the Arabian/Persian Gulf), on the southern end of Iraq. In March 1854, the shipment reached Bombay, India, and from there, the obelisk was transferred to the United Kingdom. On a cold February day in 1855 the Obelisk arrived at London. The British Museum’s registration number was 1856,0909.58 but it is now BM/Big number 118807. The obelisk was cleaned by W. G. Langford, a conservation officer in the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities, and photographed by the British Museum photographers while still wet.

The obelisk was made of white limestone. It has a height of 285 centimetres, a width of 70.48 centimetres, and a depth of 42.54 centimetres. It is rectangular, with 4 sides. The obelisk tapers gradually from bottom to top the latter has a ziggurat-like shape. Near the base, there are ancient saw marks. The lower 25-30 centimetres are devoid of any scene or inscriptions but are rough, unfinished, and seemed to be inserted into a pedestal, originally.

Each surface was carved with low-reliefs scenes and divided into 8 horizontal registers therefore a total of 32 “frames” can be observed. Although the surfaces of the obelisk is considerably weathered and eroded, but fortunately it is still “complete” and did not suffer any deliberate damage (the fate of many other victory monuments of ancient Near Eastern rulers, once their domination was overthrown from without or within). On sides A and D, there are Akkadian cuneiform inscriptions.

Immediately after its discovery, the monument was attributed to the Neo-Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BCE). This is because the name of Aššur-nāṣir-apli appeared within the text, admittedly without titles or patronymic. However, the British Museum says that the obelisk belongs to the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal I (reigned 1049-1031 BCE).

Because the internet does not provide clear-cut, modern colour images of all sides and scenes of the obelisk, I said to myself, why not draft an article about it and share my Nikon710 images with the rest of the world? Therefore, it is beyond this article to discuss whether this monument belongs to Ashurnasirpal I or II. I’m a consultant neurologist, not an archaeologist.

The White Obelisk has had a strange history in the scholarship of Assyria. In studies of Assyrian art it has either been ignored or described as a crude work with sketchy representations arranged in an incomprehensible composition, the product of an incompetent craftsman. The inscription, on the other hand, has been frequently discussed, always in regard to the critical problem of its date. The King is shown in his chariot, fighting (upper registers) and hunting (lower registers), and taking part in ritual ceremonies. The middle scenes show booty and tribute being brought, but their order is uncertain. This is an early example of Assyrian narrative reliefs that developed into the palace reliefs of later periods.

The obelisk is on display and is erected within Room 6a, beside the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. When you stand in front of the obelisk to read the accompanying description, you will be facing Side C the Kurkh monoliths are immediately behind you. The obelisk stands within one of the corners of a platform. Therefore, it is easy to see and take photos of sides C and D sides A and B would be far away from view and you needs a good zooming lens, like mine AF-S Nikkor 28-300 mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR.

Unlike the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (which bears a figure of an ancient ruler of Israel, Jehu, who was mentioned in the Bible and therefore drew the attention of the world), this White Obelisk seems to be overlooked by many museum visitors, social media, and even Flickr. In addition, the owner of the White Obelisk is controversial (Ashurnasirpal I or II?). I stood after shooting all faces of the Obelisk and observed those who approached the platform on which the White and Black Obelisks were displayed. I watched visitors for about 15 minutes. Noone shot a single photo of the White Obelisk, and surprisingly, there was no eye contact with it, either. I asked three different people (from South East Asia, Eastern Europe, and North America, respectively), who were very close to the White Obelisk about it. Their answers were: “I did not notice it” “It is just a dull-colored block of stone, nothing is interesting about it” and finally “I don’t know, maybe because it is within a crowd of monuments”.

I searched out the internet in order to find images and fine details of the White Obelisk (zoomed-in, very close shots, not an image of the Obelisk as a whole), which can be easily accessible by the public, students and activists. But I found only 2 images on an archival website, with a large watermark on both of these pics. On the other hand, I read a few scholarly articles about the White Obelisk and all of the images of the White Obelisk within the articles were “Photos of the British Museum.”

Therefore, and because this wonderful monument was brought from my land, Mesopotamia/Iraq, and because of the lack of modern high-quality images that can be reached by anyone, I decided to document all aspects of the White Obelisk, using a superb camera and lens. Yes, we all agree that the surfaces and frames of the scenes were eroded and weathered, and that it is difficult to enjoy the art of it, but who knows…maybe someone…after 1, 10, or perhaps 100 years will find my pictures invaluable for his work.

Now, enjoy the scenes. The surfaces of sides B and D are narrower than those of A and C. I will describe the scenes and registers, horizontally, from top to bottom.

Register 1: There are 4 scenes, when combined all together, they form a single horizontal frame.

Top of side D. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. The ziggurat-like top of the obelisk. There are Akkadian cuneiform inscriptions on the lower 2 blocks of the steps the text is the 2nd column of the whole inscription the 1st column lies on the upper part of side A. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 1D: Here, the figures of the king and two kinsmen appear to walk on a mountain in front of a royal chariot. A single figure follows behind. At the extreme left side of frame 1A (shown below), there is a single standing figure faces towards this group which descends the mountain. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Top of side A. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. There are Akkadian cuneiform inscriptions on the lowest block of this ziggurat-like top. This is the column or text A of the inscriptions. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

Frame 1A: The king within his royal chariot rides towards the right side. Before the king, there are two standing archers, who take aim at a city. The city and its walls appear on a mound. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Top of side B, which does not contain any cuneiform inscription. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 1B: This seems to be a virtual repetition of frame 1A. The length of this frame appears to be shorter however, this was accommodated by overlapping. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Top of side C. This upper end of the obelisk, similar to that of side B, lacks cuneiform texts. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 1C: The king within his royal chariot moves forward and approaches 2 cities. Each city lies on a hill or mound. A figure of an enemy soldier appears under the rearing horses. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

Register 2: We have 4 frames but one can recognise 3 scenes, actually. Two of them are forming single episodes, each one frame in length one is a single episode which has extended over two frames.

Frame 2D: This appears to be a repetition of frame 1A. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 2A: This should be combined with frame 2B in order to understand what had been depicted, as a whole single frame/scene. There is an outdoor ceremony, under an arbor of trees, adjacent to a river. Six ranks of men appear to move forward and approach the figure of the King and his courtiers. To the left side, there is a city which is flanked by trees and stands on a low mound. A similar tree marks the end of the scene to the extreme right side of the frame. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 2B: This should be combined with frame 2A in order to understand what is had been depicted, as a whole single frame/scene. There is an outdoor ceremony, under an arbor of trees, adjacent a river. Six ranks of men appear to move forward and approach the figure of the King and his courtiers. To the left side, there is a city which is flanked by trees and stands on a low hill. A similar tree marks the end of the scene to the extreme right side of the frame (in this eroded image). Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 2C: On this frame, there are soldiers and horses which appear to move forward to the right and approach a city. The city lies on a low mound. Behind the soldiers, we can recognise a laden table. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

Register 3: We can recognise 2 separate scenes. One scene constitutes a single episode which was depicted within one frame. The other scene is composed of two episodes, extending over 3 frames.

Frame 3D: Once again, this frame is a repetition of frame 1A. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 3A. Frames 3A, 3B, and 3C should be combined altogether to formulate the whole episode. The depiction should be inspected from right to left. The first episode runs over one-and-a-half frames. In front of a table, the King sits under a baldachin, outdoors (in this image). One of the King’s courtier stands directly before him. In two registers, to the right, we can recognise individuals sitting facing each other, while other figures stand in front of laden tables. In the second episode, 2 ranks of men stand behind a bull the bull appears to be brought to sacrifice. The depiction of the body of the animal is divided between frames 3B and 3A. In front, the King, who is accompanied by a servant, approaches a cultic apparatus in front of a building on a low mound. Inside this structure, the King stands without his headgear before a seated goddess. Above the scene is the epigraph quoted above designating the scene as a ritual for the goddess Ishtar (this is shown in this image). Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 3B. Frames 3A, 3B, and 3C should be combined altogether to formulate the whole episode. The depiction is skimmed from right to left. The first episode runs over one-and-a-half frames. In front of a table, the King sits under a baldachin, outdoors. One of the King’s courtier stands directly before him. In two registers, to the right, we can recognise individuals sitting facing each other, while other figures stand in front of laden tables. In the second episode, 2 ranks of men stand behind a bull the bull appears to be brought to sacrifice. The depiction of the body of the animal is divided between frames 3B and 3A (the body of the bull can be seen on the far left side of this image). In front, the King, who is accompanied by a servant, approaches a cultic apparatus in front of a building on a low mound. Inside this structure, the King stands without his headgear before a seated goddess. Above the scene is the epigraph quoted above designating the scene as a ritual for the goddess Ishtar. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 3C. Frames 3A, 3B, and 3C should be combined altogether to formulate the whole episode. The depiction is skimmed from right to left. The first episode runs over one-and-a-half frames. In front of a table, the King sits under a baldachin, outdoors. One of the King’s courtier stands directly before him. In two registers, to the right, we can recognise individuals sitting facing each other, while other figures stand in front of laden tables (this is shown in this image). In the second episode, 2 ranks of men stand behind a bull the bull appears to be brought to sacrifice. The depiction of the body of the animal is divided between frames 3B and 3A. In front, the King, who is accompanied by a servant, approaches a cultic apparatus in front of a building on a low mound. Inside this structure, the King stands without his headgear before a seated goddess (appears in this image). Above the scene is the epigraph quoted above designating the scene as a ritual for the goddess Ishtar. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

Register 4: We can recognise 1 scene, which occupies all four frames (4D, 4A, 4B, and 4C).

Frame 4D: Three ranks of dignitaries approach a figure of the King (to the left of this image). The King stands under a baldachin. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 4A: Frames 4A, 4B, and 4C should be combined to understand the remaining part of the scene. Gesturing right to the procession, a man leads an enemy figure preceding a horse-drawn wagon (this is seen in this image). Behind them, we can find 6 ranks of men carrying goods. The latter group is followed by three ranks of horses driven by a single man. The bodies of the leading horses were divided between frames 4B and 4C. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 4B: Frames 4A, 4B, and 4C should be combined to understand the remaining part of the scene. Gesturing right to the procession, a man leads an enemy figure preceding a horse-drawn wagon. Behind them, we can find 6 ranks of men carrying goods (in this image). The latter group is followed by three ranks of horses driven by a single man. The bodies of the leading horses were divided between frames 4B (can be seen on the far right in this image) and 4C. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 4A: Frames 4A, 4B, and 4C should be combined to understand the remaining part of the scene. Gesturing right to the procession, a man leads an enemy figure preceding a horse-drawn wagon. Behind them, we can find 6 ranks of men carrying goods. The latter group is followed by three ranks of horses driven by a single man (seen in this image). The bodies of the leading horses were divided between frames 4B and 4C. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

Register 5: Once again, the whole scene in one episode extends over four frames. However, the movement in this register starts from left and proceeds to the right. The scene starts from frame 5C and ends in 5B (at the king).

Frame 5C: The overall organization as well as the core subject of this register repeat those of register 4. Frames 5A, 5B, 5C, and 5D form the whole scene. The King stands and 4 ranks of individuals approach the King. Those men are followed by an enemy figure and a horse-drawn wagon. The latter precedes (exactly as in register 4), a group of men carrying booty and goods. Following them, are two horses, a horse driver, and 2 bulls. There is a herdsman bringing up the rear (shown in this image). The location is marked by 2 three-stemmed plants. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 5D: The overall organization as well as the core subject of this register repeat those of register 4. Frames 5A, 5B, 5C, and 5D form the whole scene. The King stands and 4 ranks of individuals approach the King. Those men are followed by an enemy figure and a horse-drawn wagon. The latter precedes (exactly as in register 4), a group of men carrying booty and goods. Following them, are two horses, a horse driver (in this image, the 2 horses and the driver appear), and 2 bulls. There is a herdsman bringing up the rear. The location is marked by 2 three-stemmed plants. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 5A: The overall organization as well as the core subject of this register repeat those of register 4. Frames 5A, 5B, 5C, and 5D form the whole scene. The King stands and 4 ranks of individuals approach the King. Those men are followed by an enemy figure and a horse-drawn wagon (shown in this image). The latter precedes (exactly as in register 4), a group of men carrying booty and goods. Following them, are two horses, a horse driver, and 2 bulls. There is a herdsman bringing up the rear. The location is marked by 2 three-stemmed plants. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 5B: The overall organization as well as the core subject of this register repeat those of register 4. Frames 5A, 5B, 5C, and 5D formulate this scene. The King stands (in this frame 5B, to the far right) and 4 ranks of individuals approach the King. Those men are followed by an enemy figure and a horse-drawn wagon. The latter precedes (exactly as in register 4), a group of men carrying booty and goods. Following them, are two horses, a horse driver, and 2 bulls. There is a herdsman bringing up the rear. The location is marked by 2 three-stemmed plants. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

Register 6: There are 2 scenes. One of them occupies a single frame while the other one consists of two episodes, which extend over and fill in 3 frames.

Frame 6B: Frames 6B, 6A, and 6D form one scene that is (similar to register 3) split into two adjacent and sequential episodes. The scene moves from right to left. To the right, 3 horse-drawn chariots move to the left (starting in this image), following 4 ranks of men. In this image, the 2nd chariot was divided between frames 6B and 6A. In front, the figure of the King and his courtiers walk up a hill to a city gate. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 6A: Frames 6B, 6A, and 6D form one scene that is (similar to register 3) split into two adjacent and sequential episodes. The scene moves from right to left. To the right, 3 horse-drawn chariots move to the left, following 4 ranks of men (who appear in this image). The 2nd chariot was divided between frames 6B and 6A. In front, the figure of the King and his courtiers walk up a hill to a city gate. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 6D: Frames 6B, 6A, and 6D form one scene that is (similar to register 3) split into two adjacent and sequential episodes. The scene moves from right to left. To the right, 3 horse-drawn chariots move to the left, following 4 ranks of men. In front, the figure of the King and his courtiers walk up a hill to a city gate (shown in this image). Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 6C: This is a variation of frame 1A. It shows the King riding his royal chariot. The chariot heads away from a walled-city. Two figures appear to crouch down in fear, just before the horse of the chariot. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

Register 7: Here, we can recognize 2 scenes. Each scene is composed of 2 episodes, and in turn, each one of them extends over one-and-a-half frame.

Frame 7D: Frames 7D and 7A form a single scene. This scene appears a repetition of the scene in register 3. To the right, there is a banquet (or probably a meeting) seated and standing figures were depicted on this scene (shown in this image). To the left, in frame 7D, there are laden tables. The King sits before these tables. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 7D: Frames 7D and 7A form a single scene. This scene appears a repetition of the scene in register 3. To the right, there is a banquet (or meeting) seated and standing figures were depicted on this scene. To the left, in frame 7D, there are laden tables. The King sits before these tables (in this image). Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 7B: Frames 7B and 7C form a single scene. The King’s chariot (in this image) moves to the right in what appears to be the same landscape of register 5. The chariot approaches a group of men walking on their feet(the men appear in frame 7C). Behind this group, we find 2 registers of sheep, a herdsman, and 2 tents. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 7C: Frames 7B and 7C form a single scene. The King’s chariot moves to the right in what appears to be the same landscape of register 5. The chariot approaches a group of men walking on their feet. Behind this group, we find 2 registers of sheep, a herdsman, and 2 tents (shown in this image). Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

Register 8: We can recognize 4 scenes having the same arrangement of register 1.

Frame 8D: The king rides a royal chariot and hunts caprids (sheep and goats). The base of the obelisk is below the scene. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 8A: Although the content of this frame is very eroded, but it perhaps shows that the King, within his royal chariot, is approaching a city. A lion was depicted behind the chariot he is rampant and spreads his paws. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 8B: The King within his royal chariot is hunting bulls. Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin. Frame 8C: From his chariot, the King hunts equids (horses, donkeys, zebras). Detail of the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. Assyrian, probably about 1050 BCE. From Mesopotamia, Nineveh (modern-day Mosul Governorate, Iraq), between the palace of Sennacherib and the Ishtar temple. The British Museum, London. Photo © Osama S. M. Amin.

The following were used in order to draft this article:

  1. Personal visits to the British Museum. . by Holly Pittman. This is a very wonderful article, with many illustrations and descriptions of the scenes. by Edmond Sollberger. Here, you will find the transliteration of the cuneiform text, in addition to elaborate discussion on the history of the Obelisk.

After imagining the obelisk in its original standing place. I asked myself several questions: who made the carvings and how long it took to finish the obelisk? Who were the people who transferred and erected it 3000 years ago, and how many were involved? How many people saw it and understood its meaning? Why it was not deliberately vandalized/damaged after the fall of Nineveh? Why it was lying on one side when it was found did someone push it or did it just fall down from weathering? What was the date when the obelisk had collapsed? How many years were needed for 5 meters of mud to gather on top of the obelisk?

Finally: “All what we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” – Edgar Allan Poe. Viva Mesopotamia!


Watch the video: Ashurbanipal hunting lions