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In Context

The Reade Festschrift

edited by

I.L. Finkel and St J. Simpson

In Context
The Reade Festschrift

edited by
I.L. Finkel and St J. Simpson

Archaeopress Archaeology
Archaeopress Publishing Ltd
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ISBN 978-1-78969-607-3
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© Archaeopress and individual authors 2020

Cover image: Ceramic tile depicting an Assyrian scribe, from a desk and escritoire by William Burgess, 1865-67
(© Manchester Art Gallery / Bridgeman Images)

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Irving Finkel and St John Simpson

J.E. Reade: a bibliography of works (1963-2020)��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� vi

PART ONE: Mesopotamia

Daesh granaries and Palaeolithic Nineveh���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������3
Massimo Vidale, Stefania Berlioz, Rwaed Al-Lyla and Ammar Abbo Al-Araj

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians: a study of late 3rd millennium BC Mesopotamian archaeology,
texts and politics�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������11
Juris Zarins

New light on an old game��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������43

I.L. Finkel

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������56

Sébastien Rey

The sins of Nippur���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������82

Aage Westenholz

A royal chariot for Sargon II���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������90

Ariane Thomas

The gods of Arbail�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������101

John MacGinnis

The development of Neo-Assyrian narrative art: toward Assurbanipal’s Ulai river reliefs�������������������������������119
Mogens Trolle Larsen

The harpist’s left hand: A detail from the ‘Banquet Scene’ of Assurbanipal in the North Palace
at Nineveh���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������127
Irene J. Winter

The population of Nineveh���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������135

Simo Parpola

Annihilating Assyria��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������141
St John Simpson

PART TWO: Foreign connections

Bleached carnelian beads of the Indus Tradition, 3rd millennium BC: origins and variations�������������������������169
J. Mark Kenoyer

Iconographic evidence of Mesopotamian influence on Harappan ideology and its survival
in the royal rites of the Veda and Hinduism��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������183
Asko Parpola

The Joint Hadd Project and the Early Bronze Age in south-east Arabia�������������������������������������������������������������������191
Maurizio Cattani

The location of Mešta in archaeological context�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������203

Stefan Kroll

Assyrians in Transjordan������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������209
Jonathan N. Tubb

Of Kushite kings and sacred landscapes in the Middle Nile valley����������������������������������������������������������������������������215

Julie R. Anderson

PART THREE: Discovery and reception

‘Un coup terrible de la fortune:’ A. Clément and the Qurna disaster of 1855���������������������������������������������������������235
D.T. Potts

The William Kennett Loftus legacy to the north: Near Eastern materials in Newcastle upon Tyne����������������245
Stefania Ermidoro

‘Two unpublished drawings of excavations at Nimrud’ revisited������������������������������������������������������������������������������258

Tim Clayden

A bit of a bull and a bit of a puzzle��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������274

John Russell

George Scharf and Assyrian sculpture������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������281

Henrietta McCall and Michael Seymour

Casting the ruins: creating Assyria through plaster and paint����������������������������������������������������������������������������������304

Paul Collins


A royal visit: J.E. Reade guides Princess Margaret at the opening of the Early Mesopotamia
Gallery at the British Museum, 17th July 1991


Irving Finkel and St John Simpson

Julian Edgeworth Reade is a rare scholar among scholars and a rare curator among curators, for whom the very idea
of a Festschrift as tribute from close colleagues seems the most natural thing in the world. The length and breadth
of his published output is clear at a glance from the bibliography that we have included below, which illustrates
the extraordinary nature of what he has committed to paper before and during his years as the British Museum’s
indispensable curator for Mesopotamia, and ever since. Julian has always had the benefit of a first-class intellectual
brain characterised by a neat and tidy memory, supported by effortless recall of detail. These qualities are coupled
with an undying curiosity for investigation and the working out of answers. This set of characteristics has led to an
astonishing contribution: ideas, scrupulously supported, with implications, corrections and new understandings
delivered with a lucid and convincing clarity. Anything Julian has ever written has always been, and will always be,
worth reading and rereading.

Julian’s years in the Museum in what was known on his arrival in 1975 as the Department of Western Asiatic
Antiquities – later styled that of the Ancient Near East and now the Middle East – proved to make the best use of his
many strengths. His work on old collections, unattended or overlooked items, and deep research in the archives,
are a monument in themselves and have often brought lasting order where it never reigned before. Specifically his
achievements include a complete volume of object registration, hand written and illustrated, the Early and Later
Mesopotamia galleries and long-term management of the Art and Empire travelling exhibition. At the same time his
understanding of literally millennia of archaeological material and how each individual item should be approached
and explained has been spellbinding to staff and public alike. His publications are not only extensive and broad-
based, but often embody different disciplines; he is equally at home in very detailed collection scholarship, the deep
understanding of all things Assyrian, Near Eastern landscape and geography, chronology, art, interconnections with
Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha, south-east Arabia, carnelian beads, and the history of Mesopotamia in general. His
archaeological work has encompassed sites in northern Iraq (Nimrud, Tell al-Rimah and Tell Taya), Oman (Ras al-
Hadd) and Sudan (Dangeil). It is also characteristic of Julian to recognise the potential of whole new fields, whether
it is the importance of the Akkadian period in northern Iraq, coastal Oman or the Indian Ocean in antiquity.

The coverage and arrangement of the contributions invited for this volume reflect this breadth clearly, and all
participants have worked with Julian, corresponded with him or admired his work. More than one editor has
remarked to us that any article submitted by Dr Reade as a finished work had no need of the editor’s pen. Everyday
discussion on an object brought in, rediscovered in the reserve collection, or requiring assessment for loan or
exhibition, was always full of new ideas and excitement.

Julian has always been proud of the title of Professor that was awarded him during a teaching stint at Copenhagen.
Few fellow workers in the fields represented in this volume can have had greater entitlement to the honour.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): v–v

J.E. Reade:
a bibliography of works (1963-2020)

PhD Privately circulated reports and papers

1970. The Design and Decoration of Neo-Assyrian Public 1967. The Evolution and Employment of Painted and
Buildings. PhD dissertation (PhD 7172, Faculty of Sculptured Decoration in Late Assyrian Architecture.
Oriental Studies, University of Cambridge). Online First draft of 1970 dissertation. 268 pp. Cambridge.
(also Microfilm). OCLC 123175366.
1981. Catalogue of new acquisitions, The British
Museum, Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities
Books and edited volumes
1971–1980. London.
1979. Early Etched Beads and the Indus-Mesopotamia Trade 1987. A Bronze Age site at Ra’s al-Hadd, in S. Cleuziou
(British Museum Occasional Paper 2). London: and M. Tosi (eds) The Joint Hadd Project: Summary
British Museum. Report on the Second Season, November 1986–
January 1987 (joint author: S. Méry). Paris and Rome.
1981. Chalcolithic Cyprus and Western Asia (British
Museum Occasional Paper 26). London: British 1990. Excavations at Ra’s al-Hadd, 1988: preliminary
Museum. report, in S. Cleuziou, J. Reade and M. Tosi (eds) The
Joint Hadd Project: Summary Report on the Third
1983. Assyrian Sculpture. London: British Museum Press Season (October 1987–February 1988): 33–37, figs
(second edition 1998; reprinted 1984–2019). 30–39. Paris.
1987. (illustrations ed.) S. Parpola et al., State Archives of 1992. The many names of Tell al-Rimah. Unpublished
Assyria, Vols 1–21. Helsinki: University Press. paper, 39th Rencontre Assyriologique
1991. Mesopotamia. London: British Museum Press Internationale, Heidelberg, 6th–10th July 1992.
(second edition, 2000; reprinted 1993–2019; 1993. Ancient sites. Contribution to tourism plan,
translated into Spanish: Mesopotamia: La Herencia del Sultanate of Oman. Muscat.
Pasado, 2, Madrid: AKAL, 1998).
1994. Educating our masters: the public perception
1995. Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria in the British of antiquity. Unpublished paper, Third World
Museum. London: British Museum Press (joint editor Archaeology Conference, New Delhi, 4th–11th
with J.E. Curtis); translated into Spanish: Tresori de December 1994.
Asiria en el Museo Bretannico: Arte e Imperio (Mexico,
1994); Japanese: Geijutsu to teikoku: Daieihakubutsukan 1996. Provisional handlist of Royal Asiatic Society
no asshiria no takaramono (Asahi Shimbun, 1996); Manuscripts in Arabic script (102 Arabic, 484
Danish: Nimrud og Ninive: Skatte fra Assyrien i British Persian, 16 ‘Hindustani’, 68 Ottoman Turkish:
Museum (British Museum Press and Nationalmuseet, items catalogued by Codrington, 1892, and later
Copenhagen, 1997); Chinese: Yi shu yu di guo: Da Ying acquisitions: compendium from existing catalogues
bo wu guan cang Yashu zhen pin (Shanghai Museum, with additional information). London.
2006); Spanish: Arte e Imperio: Tesoros Asirios del British 1997. Imperial ideologies in the ancient Near East.
Museum (MARQ-Museo Arqueologico de Alicante, Lecture, part of the Royal Asiatic Society series
2007). ‘Empire and Identity: ruler and realm in early Asia’,
1996. The Indian Ocean in Antiquity. London: Kegan Paul given at the Wellcome Institute, 29 April 1997.
International. London.

2002. Of Pots and Plans: Papers on the Archaeology of 1997. Provisional handlist of archives, Department of
Mesopotamia and Syria presented to David Oates in Western Asiatic Antiquities, The British Museum.
honour of his 75th Birthday. London: Nabu Publications London.
(joint editor with L. al-Gailani Werr, J. Curtis, H. 1997. The progress of research at Ra’s al-Hadd. Lecture,
Martin, A. McMahon and J. Oates). Conference on Gulf Archaeology, May 1997. Sharjah,
2008. Assyrian Stone Vessels and Related Material in the United Arab Emirates.
British Museum. Oxford: Oxbow Books (joint authors: 2009. Report on a visit to Shanidar and other sites, June
A. Searight, I.L. Finkel). 2009. London (joint author: J.R. Anderson).

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): vi–xiv

J.E. Reade: a bibliography of works (1963-2020)

2011. Encountering Abd, and other events and ancient empires: 329–43. Copenhagen: Akademisk
observations. London. Forlag.
1979. Assyrian architectural decoration: techniques and
Papers in journals and edited volumes
subject-matter. Baghdader Mitteilungen 10: 17–49.
1963. A glazed brick panel from Nimrud. Iraq 25: 38–47. 1979. Narrative composition in Assyrian sculpture.
Baghdader Mitteilungen 10: 52–110.
1964. More drawings of Ashurbanipal sculptures. Iraq
26: 1–13. 1979. Hasanlu, Gilzanu, and related considerations.
Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran 12: 175–81.
1964. El-Mutabbaq and Umm Rus. Sumer 20: 83–89.
1980. The Rassam Obelisk. Iraq 42: 1–22.
1965. Twelve Ashurnasirpal reliefs. Iraq 27: 119–34.
1980. Space, scale and significance in Assyrian art.
1967. Two slabs from Sennacherib’s palace. Iraq 29: 42–
Baghdader Mitteilungen 11: 71–74.
1980. The architectural context of Assyrian sculpture.
1968. The palace of Tiglath-pileser III. Iraq 30: 69–73.
Baghdader Mitteilungen 11: 75–87.
1968. Tell Taya (1967): summary report. Iraq 30: 234–64.
1981. Akkadian sculpture fragments from Eridu.
1970. The accession of Sinsharishkun. Journal of Baghdader Mitteilungen 12: 9–11.
Cuneiform Studies 23: 1–9.
1981. The ‘Ali cemetery: old excavations, ivory, and
1971. Tell Taya (1968-9): summary report. Iraq 33: 87– radiocarbon dating. Journal of Oman Studies 4: 75–83
100. (joint author: R. Burleigh).
1972. The Neo-Assyrian court and army: evidence from 1981. Fragments of Assyrian monuments. Iraq 43: 145–
the sculptures. Iraq 34: 87-–112. 56.
1973. Tell Taya (1972–3): summary report. Iraq 35: 155– 1981. Mesopotamian guidelines for Biblical chronology.
87 (including appendices by H. Barker, M. Bimson, S. Syro-Mesopotamian Studies 4: 1–9.
Bökönyi, G. Farrant and J.N. Postgate: 173–87).
1981. Neo-Assyrian monuments in their historical
1973. Faida: Assyrian Sculptures. Iraq 35: 203–204 (in J.N. context, in F.M. Fales (ed.) Assyrian Royal Inscriptions:
Postgate, Excavations in Iraq 1972–73). New Horizons in Literary, Ideological, and Historical
Analysis (Orientis Antiqui Collectio, XVII): 143–67.
1975. Ashurnasirpal I and the White Obelisk. Iraq 37:
Roma, Instituto per l’Oriente: Centro per le Antichità
e la Storia dell’Arte del Vicino Oriente.
1975. Sources for Sennacherib: the prisms. Journal of
1982. Tell Taya, in J.E. Curtis (ed.) Fifty Years of
Cuneiform Studies 27: 189–96.
Mesopotamian Discovery: 72–78. London: British
1976. Elam and Elamites in Assyrian sculpture. School of Archaeology in Iraq.
Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran 9: 97–106.
1982. Nimrud, in J.E. Curtis (ed.) Fifty Years of
1976. Sargon’s campaigns of 720, 716 and 715 B.C.: Mesopotamian Discovery: 99–112. London: British
evidence from the sculptures. Journal of Near Eastern School of Archaeology in Iraq.
Studies 35: 95–104.
1982. Some Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions. Archiv
1976. Western Asiatic antiquities. British Museum Guide: für Orientforschung 28: 113–22 (joint author: C.B.F.
217–48. Reprints: 1978–ca 1982 (British Museum Walker).
1983. Archaic Nineveh. Baghdader Mitteilungen 14: 33–41
1977. Shikaft-i Gulgul: its date and symbolism. Iranica (joint author: D. Collon).
Antiqua 12: 33–44.
1983. Rassam’s Jirjib sounding, 1882. Iraq 45: 97–100.
1978. Assyrian campaigns and the Babylonian frontier.
1985. Texts and sculptures from the North-West Palace,
Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 68: 251–60.
Nimrud. Iraq 47: 203–14.
1978. Kassites and Assyrians in Iran. Iran 16: 137–43.
1986. Rassam’s Babylonian Collection: the excavations
1978. Studies in Assyrian geography, I: Sennacherib and the archives. Introduction to E. Leichty, Catalogue
and the waters of Nineveh; II: notes on the inner of the Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum, vol. VI:
provinces. Revue d’Assyriologie et d’Archéologie xii–xxxvi. London: British Museum Publications.
orientale 73: 47–72, 157–80.
1986. A hoard of silver currency from Achaemenid
1979. Ideology and propaganda in Assyrian art, in M.T. Babylon. Iran 24: 79–89 (including appendices by
Larsen (ed.) Power and Propaganda: a symposium on M.J. Hughes and M.R. Cowell: 87–89).

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1986. Commerce or conquest: variations in the 1994. Campaigning around Musasir, in A. Çilingiroğlu
Mesopotamia-Dilmun relationship, in H.A. Al and D.H. French (eds) Anatolian Iron Ages 3: The
Khalifa and M. Rice (eds) Bahrain through the Ages: Proceedings of the Third Anatolian Iron Ages Colloquium
325–34. London: Kegan Paul International. held at Van, 6-12 August 1990 (British Institute of
Archaeology at Ankara monographs 16): 185–88.
1986. Not Shalmaneser but Kidudu. Baghdader
Ankara: British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara.
Mitteilungen 17: 299–300.
1994. Les relations anglo-françaises en Assyrie, in E.
1986. Archaeology and the Kuyunjik archives, in
Fontan and N. Chevalier (eds) De Khorsabad à Paris:
K.R. Veenhof (ed.) Cuneiform Archives and Libraries
la découverte des Assyriens (Notes et documents
(PIHANS 57): 213–22. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut
des musées de France 26): 116–35. Paris: Louvre,
voor het Nabije Oosten.
Département des Antiquités orientales; Réunion des
1986. Rassam’s excavations at Borsippa and Kutha, Musées Nationaux.
1879–82. Iraq 48: 105–16.
1994. Three hoards from Babylonia in the British
1986. The colossi of Sennacherib’s palace and their Museum, in U. Wartenberg, M. Jessop Price and K.A.
inscriptions. Annual Review of the Royal Inscriptions McGregor (eds) Coin Hoards, vol. VIII: 88–89. London:
of Mesopotamia Project 4: 27–32 (joint authors: H.D. The Royal Numismatic Society.
Galter and L.D. Levine).
1994. Revisiting the North-West Palace, Nimrud.
1987. Field observations of glass and glazed materials, Orientalia (N.S.) 63/3: 273–78.
in M. Bimson and I.C. Freestone (eds) Early Vitreous
1995. The symposion in ancient Mesopotamia:
Materials (British Museum Occasional Paper 56): 31–
archaeological evidence, in O. Murray and M.
38. London: British Museum (including appendix by
Tecuşan (eds) In Vino Veritas: 35–56. London: British
M.S. Tite: 35–38).
School at Rome.
1987. Reflections on Layard’s archaeological career, in
1995. Lots of eponyms. Iraq 57: 167–72 (joint author: I.L.
F.M. Fales and B.J. Hickey (eds) Austen Henry Layard
tra l’Oriente e Venezia: 47–53. Roma: ‘L’Erma’ di
Bretschneider. 1995. The Khorsabad glazed bricks and their symbolism,
in A. Caubet (ed.) Khorsabad, le palais de Sargon II, roi
1987. Was Sennacherib a feminist?, in J.-M. Durand
d’Assyrie (Louvre, conférences et colloques): 225–51.
(ed.) La Femme dans le Proche-Orient antique (Compte
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Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations. Finkbeiner, R. Dittmann and H. Hauptmann (eds)
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1987. Babylonian boundary stones and comparable
für Rainer Michael Boehmer: 597–600. Mainz: Philipp
monuments in the British Museum. Annual Review of
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the Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia Project 5: 47–51.
1995. Iran in the Neo-Assyrian period, in M. Liverani
1987. A Shamshi-ilu dedication. Annual Review of the
(ed.) Neo-Assyrian Geography (Quaderni di Geografia
Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia Project 5: 53.
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1987. Hormuzd Rassam. Introduction to E. Leichty and Sapienza’.
A.K. Grayson, Catalogue of the Babylonian Tablets in
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the British Museum, vol. VII, xiii–xvii. London: British
in J.E. Reade (ed.) The Indian Ocean in Antiquity: 13–
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1989. Shalmaneser or Ashurnasirpal in Ararat? State
1996. The Utuhegal stela from Ur. Baghdader Mitteilungen
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27: 229–34.
1990. Carrières et prefabrication dans le monde néo-
1996. Assyrian hieroglyphs. Zeitschrift für Assyriologie
assyrien, in M. Waelkens (ed.) Pierre éternelle du Nil
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1997. Sumerian origins, in I.L. Finkel and M.J. Geller
1992. An early Warka tablet, in B. Hrouda, S. Kroll and
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1998. Assyrian eponyms, kings and pretenders, 648–605 2000. Absolute dates and Assyrian calendars. Akkadica
BC. Orientalia (N.S.) 67: 255–65. 119/20: 151–53.
1998. Greco-Parthian Nineveh. Iraq 60: 65–83. 2001. Assyrian king-lists, the Royal Tombs of Ur, and
Indus origins. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 60: 1–29.
1998. Layard’s Nineveh and its Remains. Antiquity 72
(278): 913–16. 2001. Arabian softstone vessels from Iraq in the British
Museum. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 12: 156–
1998. Ra’s al Hadd, in M. Mouton and E. Carrez (eds)
72 (joint author: A. Searight).
Assemblages céramiques des sites de l’Age du Fer de
la péninsule d’Oman (Documents d’Archéologie de 2001. Ninive – Das späte 3. Jahrtausend v. Chr,
l’Arabie, No. 1). CD-ROM. Lyon: Maison de l’Orient/ in J.-W. Meyer, M. Novák, and A. Pruss (eds)
Gremmo (joint author: A. Benoist). Beiträge zur Vorderasiatischen Archäologie Winfried
Orthmann gewidmet: 74–129. Frankfurt am Main:
1998. Assyrian illustrations of Arabs, in C.S. Phillips, D.T.
Archäologisches Institut der Universität Frankfurt
Potts and S. Searight (eds) Arabia and its Neighbours:
(joint authors: R.M. Boehmer, R.V. Gut).
Essays on prehistorical and historical developments
presented in honour of Beatrice de Cardi (Abiel II: 2001. The Wellesley eunuch. Revue d’Assyriologie et
New Research on the Arabian Peninsula): 221–32. d’Archéologie orientale 95: 69–81.
Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols.
2001. ‘Stela of Urnammu’ fragments in London. Revue
1998. Assyrian illustrations of Nineveh. Iranica Antiqua d’Assyriologie et d’Archéologie orientale 95: 175–76.
33 (R. Boucharlat, J.E. Curtis and E. Haerinck, eds,
2001. A monument of Erišum I from Assur. Revue
Neo-Assyrian, Median, Achaemenian and other
d’Assyriologie et d’Archéologie orientale 95: 177–78.
studies in honor of David Stronach): 81–94.
2001. More silver from the temple treasury at Ur. Revue
1999. An eagle from the east. Britannia 30: 286–88.
d’Assyriologie et d’Archéologie orientale 95: 178–79.
1999. Early British excavations at Babylon, in J. Renger
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Ashurbanipal. Three 8-page guides. London: British
2013. A.W. Schmitt, Die jüngeren Ischtar-Tempel und der
Museum Publications (joint author: D. Frankel).
Nabû–Tempel in Assur. Architektur, Stratigraphie
und Funde. Mit interaktiven Architekturplänen und 1977. Stories in Stone. Slide-film. London: British Museum
Fotos auf CD-ROM. Baudenkmäler aus assyrischer Education Department (joint producer: D. Frankel).
Zeit, Band 14 (WVDOG 137. Otto Harrassowitz, 1977. Iraq before Islam, in The Great Spice Road to the
Wiesbaden, 2012). Bibliotheca Orientalis 70/5–6: 771– Distant East. London: Sea and Land.
1982. Tell Taya: Site and Objects (40 colour slides with
2016. P.V. Bartl, Die Ritzverzierungen auf den Relief- introductory note). London: British School of
orthostaten Assurnasirpals II aus Kalhu. (Baghdader Archaeology in Iraq.
Forschungen 25. Philipp von Zabern, Mainz, 2014).
Bibliotheca Orientalis 73/1–2: 218–21. 1982. The ordinary folk of Mesopotamia. The Times, 18th
August 1982 (joint author: J.N. Postgate).
1986. Biblical History in Assyrian Sculpture (12 colour
slides with a commentary). London: British Museum



The Mesopotamia curator: Julian being helpful

Daesh granaries and Palaeolithic Nineveh

Massimo Vidale,1 Stefania Berlioz,2 Rwaed Al-Lyla3 and Ammar Abbo Al-Araj4


A short surface survey carried out in November 2018 at Nineveh produced a first report on the damage caused by Daesh between
2016 and 2017 to the walled compound of the Neo-Assyrian capital. Hundreds of trenches excavated as anti-aircraft stations have
been recorded on the walls built by Sennacherib, and 11 enormous illegal, ruinous trenches are now visible in the inner lower
town, apparently dug for storing foodstuffs and other important goods, in the certainty that the archaeological area would not
have been bombed by the coalition forces. On the disturbed surface near the largest of these trenches were found Lower and
Middle Palaeolithic cores, flakes and tools, brought to light when Daesh excavators impacted the local conglomerate beds, c.
3.5–4 m below the present trampling surface.

Keywords: Nineveh; Daesh; damage; Palaeolithic; northern Iraq

Introduction1234 satellite images, hence the popular name of granaries

was attached to these enormous excavations.
In November 2018, the writers took part in the last phase
of a programme of support to the Iraqi State Board The destruction caused by these illegal excavations is
of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) jointly organized substantial: in most of the sections of these trenches
by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage (MIBACT) we observed walls of fired and mudbricks, some of
and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE). The project, monumental size; floors, wells, water ducts of fired clay
directed by A. Bianchi, focused on remote monitoring and limestone, pottery pipes, and broken and almost
of important archaeological regions of central complete pots were also present. Inside and outside these
northern Iraq, threatened by looting, military conflict trenches, local people had started to dump large amounts
and Daesh occupation. We applied a systematic study of rubble from their destroyed houses, dead animals and
of old and recent satellite images, with case-studies all types of domestic rubbish. War had left abundant
further investigated by drone-based topographic bullets, shells and parts of automatic guns here too.
mapping and on-the-ground direct testing of the
detected anomalies. The last and most important site After a while, we observed some flaked lithics on the
we studied was the great Assyrian capital of Nineveh surface among the litter: while some of these finds
(Ninawah Governorate, Iraq). At Nineveh, the loss of might be typologically ascribed a Lower Palaeolithic
any state protection of archaeological heritage resulted date, the remainder can be ascribed, on the same
in heavy destruction to the ancient city-walls through grounds, to Middle Palaeolithic times.
road construction and encroachment of the original
archaeological areas by all types of construction. Geological context

This short contribution presents the discovery of a The Foothill Zone of northern Iraq and Kurdistan,
small assemblage of prehistoric lithic industry within crossed by the Khabur at the west, and the Greater
the city’s walled compound. The finds were originally and Lesser Zab at the east, is formed by anticlines with
buried several metres below the present-day surface and massive Miocene outcrops flanked by synclines with
came to light not long before the site was liberated in Pliocene sandstones, conglomerates and marls. The
2016/17, prior to which Daesh militants had excavated synclines contain Quaternary deposits, often labelled
a long series of enormous rectangular trenches at in geological maps as Polygenetic Synclinal Fill. The
various points at the site (Figures 1–2). Reportedly, such thickness of Quaternary fillings is locally reported
trenches were underground storage areas for cereals as greater than 120 m. Mosul is the northern limit
and other goods, which were carefully camouflaged and of a system of four main Pleistocene terraces of the
covered with a layer of soil to escape detection from Tigris that in the Mesopotamian basin correspond
to a parallel series of major climatic events; in these
terraces, the lithotypes include quartzite pebbles and
cobbles of Paleozoic age and Mesozoic carbonates.5
Department of Cultural Heritage, University of Padua.
Archaeologist, independent researcher.
State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Iraq. 5 
Glacial terraces in mountainous study areas of Kurdistan are
State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Iraq. discussed in Wright 2004.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 3–10

Massimo Vidale, Stefania Berlioz, Rwaed Al-Lyla and Ammar Abbo Al-Araj

Figure 1. Satellite image of the Nineveh walled compound, showing the location of 10 of the 11 underground storage facilities or
granaries excavated by Daesh between August 2015 and November 2016, destroying tens of thousands of cubic m of archaeological
deposits (photograph: Matteo Sordini). The area where the lithics were collected is enhanced as a circle at the end of trenches
A and B

Figure 2. Nineveh north area. A

view of the rectangular trench
singled out as B in Figure 1, in
the course of being filled by
trash, looking north-west. The
Palaeolithic industry is scattered
in the floor and around the edges
of this and other two enormous
trenches, towards their end
(photograph: M. Vidale)

Daesh granaries and Palaeolithic Nineveh

Figure 3. Nineveh north area. Near the local granaries a family lives on top of a thick bank of conglomerate outcropping from the
plain (photograph: M. Vidale)

In northeast Iraq, according to Jassim and Goff, cemented by abundant carbonatic precipitation
‘significant proportions of chert pebbles occur’ the emerge from the present agricultural surface, and host
size of cobbles that have been discharged through the small cores of local settlement (Figure 3; this bank or
high velocity of the Tigris.6 Maps of the Mosul–Nineveh terrace is also mentioned in Lumsden 2006 and other
area show that immediately to the north the river cuts reports of the Berkeley University mission).
outcrops of the late Miocene Fatha formation which
follow downstream on the right bank, while the left The large trenches excavated for the storage facilities
bank is entirely occupied by valley fills and flood plain of Daesh reached 6.5–7 m depth below the surface. They
deposits covering the edge of the local Polygenetic cut deep into the top of the same (buried) conglomerate
Synclinal Fill of Pleistocene–Holocene age.7 During the bank that was covered by a series of thick looser layers
mid-1980s limited archaeological surveys by Polish and formed by silty sands with pebbles and gravel, which
French Archaeological Missions in two areas of the Eski had been deposited probably in the form of local fans
Mosul Dam Salvage Project revealed a small number continuously eroded from the described substratum.
of Palaeolithic sites on the second and third terraces Both the basal conglomerates and the later layers
above the Tigris in the sections of river valley above include abundant chert pebbles; flint and red jasper
the aceramic neolithic site of Nemrik 9 and above the specimens are less common. The uppermost local
later site of Tell Rijim.8 Further collections were made deposits, where preserved, are thick layers of B horizons
by the British Archaeological Expedition in March 1985 of red soils rich in carbonatic nodules, truncated at
at a locality known as Sella, situated southwest of the the top by anthropic activities and strongly enriched
late Sasanian site of Qara Dere on the equivalent section by the silty-clayey matrix originating from decayed
of the left bank, a short distance upstream of the dam mudbricks.
itself and near the site of Tell Mohammed ‘Arab.9
Palaeolithic industry
Within the walled area of Nineveh thick isolated
outcrops of conglomerates with sand matrixes The list of Palaeolithic tools collected near the enormous
trenches dug by Daesh appears in the following table
(Figure 4).
Jassim and Goff 2006: 188.
Al-Juboury and Al-Miamary 2009: figs 2–3; Al-Daghastani 2007.
Inizan 1984; 1985; Mazurowski 1987. The lithics collected on the disturbed areas near the
Collection made by Gary Evans and submitted for study to Dr M.L. western end of the three main granaries are described
Inizan (pers. comm., St John Simpson).

Massimo Vidale, Stefania Berlioz, Rwaed Al-Lyla and Ammar Abbo Al-Araj

Types Materials on surface from layer

core-pebbles grey banded 2
(‘choppers’) chert,
thick core- red quartzite 1
window-chipped reddish jasper 1
flake core from grey chert 1
split pebble
Levallois blade greenish-grey 2
cores chert
other flake cores greenish-grey 3
or core fragments chert
large cortical greenish-grey 2 5
flakes or chert
Levallois flakes or grey and 2
fragments reddish chert
side scrapers on greenish-grey 6
cortical flakes chert
Mousterian grey chert 1
Total 21 5

Figure 4. Inventory of the small collection of lithics found in

November 2018 near the granaries of Figures 1–2

Figure 5. Possible Lower Palaeolithic artifacts collected in

the study area (M. Vidale). 5, 1: Pebble core or ‘chopper’ in
grey chert, with darker bands. Reduced with three blows on
a single side; the resulting edge shows evident traces left by
strong impacts. Possible minor impacts on the opposite side,
c. 7 x 7.5 x 5 cm. 5, 2: Pebble core or ‘chopper’ in a reddish,
breccia-like quartzite, with large inclusions of white quartz.
Reduced with two heavy blows on a single side; on the blunt
point, the traces of repeated impact, c. 9.5 x 8 x 6 cm. 5, 3:
Figure 6. Drawings of possible Lower Palaeolithic artifacts Core-scraper in red quartzite, on a thick cortical flake, c. 9 x
collected in the study area: see Figure 5 (M. Vidale) 7.6 x 3.7 cm

Daesh granaries and Palaeolithic Nineveh

Figure 7. Middle Palaeolithic artifacts

(window-chipped pebble and
cores) collected in the study area
(M. Vidale). 7,1: Window-chipped
elongated pebble in a reddish jasper.
Two blows, in the upper extremity,
meet with a dihedral angle, c. 6 x
3.5 x 3 cm. 7, 2: Levallois blade core
in greenish-grey chert, with cortical
surface on rear, c. 6 x 5 x 5 cm. 7, 3–4:
Levallois blade core in greenish-grey
chert, obtained by breaking in two
an exhausted tortoise-shell core, and
using as platform the single median
splitting surface, c. 7.5 x 5.8 x 4 cm

Figure 8. Middle Palaeolithic artefacts

collected in the study area (M.
Vidale). 8, 1: Flake core obtained from
a flat pebble split in two, in fine grey
chert. The flat platform thus obtained
was repeatedly hit, without success,
eventually detaching a single cortical
flake. c. 6.3 x 4.6 x 2 cm. 8,2: Levallois
flake or small radial core with cortex,
reddish brown chert. Highly worn
on surface. c. 4 x 3 x 1.5 cm. 8,3: Side
scraper on cortical flake, gray and
brown flint. c. 5 x 4.5 x 2 cm. 8, 4:
Side scraper on cortical blade, grey-
greenish chert. c. 5.5 x 2.8 x 1.5 cm. 8,5:
Side scraper on a thick cortical flake,
grey-greenish chert. c. 8 x 5.3 x 1.7 cm.
8, 6: Side scraper on a thick cortical
flake, brown reddish chert. c. 4.2 x
3.2 x 3.5 cm. 8,7: Retouched Levallois
flake or Mousterian point, grey chert.
c. 5 x 4.5 x 1.4 cm. 8,8: Double-sided
scraper on a thick cortical flake, grey
chert. c. 4. x 4.3 1.3 cm

Massimo Vidale, Stefania Berlioz, Rwaed Al-Lyla and Ammar Abbo Al-Araj

Figure 9. Drawing of a window-chipped pebble and cores Figure 10. Drawing of Middle Palaeolithic tools collected in
ascribed to Middle Palaeolithic times (M. Vidale). Other the study area (M. Vidale). See Figure 8. 10, 1 = Figure 8,6; 10,2
drawings of lithic items. 9, 1 =Figure 7,1; 9,2 = Figure 8,1; 9,3 = = Figure 8,4; 10,3 = Figure 8, 5; Figure 10, 4 = Figure 8, 2; Figure
Figure 7,2; 9, 4 = Figure 7, 3 and 4 10, 5 = Figure 8, 8; Figure 10, 6 = Figure 8, 7; Figure 10, 7 =
Figure 8, 3

below. The three items in Figures 5–6 are ascribed exposed in the lower part of the section. Quite similar
a Lower Palaeolithic date on typological viewpoint stone tools, and the same typological associations, were
whereas the remainder can be preliminarily considered recently reported in the northern valley of the Gomel
Middle Palaeolithic in date: note in particular the river, on fluvial terraces or layers of breccia preserved
broken turtle-shell core in greenish-grey chert, re-used in collapsed shelters.10
as a blade core (Figure 7, 7.3 and 7.4; Figure 9,4); and the
unmistakable Mousterian point in Figures 8.7 and 9.6. Conclusions

Stratigraphic provenience Our survey in Nineveh, as well as visits by other

teams, demonstrates that there is an urgent need for a
The described finds, collected on the disturbed surface, systematic rescue intervention. The site is in a dramatic
most probably came from the earliest colluvial gravels state. In many places the trenches dug by Daesh
deposited on the local basalt conglomerates. This brought to light large amounts of ancient artifacts and
stratigraphic horizon, about 3.5 m below the present stratigraphic contexts which despite their disturbed
surface, is indicated by S. Berlioz in Figure 11. Figure 12 state are worthy of recording, collection and study.
shows a large cortical flake of grey-greenish chert still in Pottery, in particular, is very abundant. Figure 14 shows
situ, also visible in Figure 13 (the largest item on right), two assemblages of sherds present in the excavation
together with other three cortical flakes recovered debris between granaries A and B (area enhanced in
from the section in the same layers. The grey-greenish Figure 1). This pottery, given the circumstances, could
chert of these lithics (particularly visible in the largest not be collected or drawn and therefore cannot be
flake) is the same as that of the Middle Palaeolithic described in detail but the most common types are the
industry illustrated in Figures 7–10. This leaves the low, sharply carinated open bowl common in the so-
possibility that the lithics here ascribed to Lower called ‘Palace Ware’ of Neo-Assyrian times, and a low
Palaeolithic finds of Figures 5 and 6 actually came from
the lower and more consolidated basal conglomerates 10 
Conati Barbaro et al. 2016; Morandi Bonacossi and Iamoni 2015.

Daesh granaries and Palaeolithic Nineveh

Figure 12. Detail showing a cortical flake still in situ in the

section (it is the same large flake visible in Figure 13, on the
right) (M. Vidale)

Figure 11. S. Berlioz, in front of the section of the granary

trench, points out the layers where the Palaeolithic industry Figure 13. Chert flakes and flake fragments recovered from the
was detected (photograph: M. Vidale) section, in the layers indicated in Figure 10 (M. Vidale)

Figure 14. Two groups of potsherds noted near the Daesh granaries, in the round area emphasised in Figure 1.
For comments see text

hemispherical bowl with a thick, inward projecting Although in general we did not see substantial examples
rim.11 Some rim and neck fragments seem to belong of painted wares, the preliminary impression was that
to a class of Late Assyrian tall jar with pointed bases.12 the surface sherds visible near the granaries might also
include specimens of older occupation phases but this
Gavagnin et al. 2016: 145, figs 17–18.
requires proper study.
E.g. Hunt 2014: fig. 2.

Massimo Vidale, Stefania Berlioz, Rwaed Al-Lyla and Ammar Abbo Al-Araj

Coming to lithics, the abundance of chert, flint, jasper, Conati Barbaro, C., A. Zerboni, D. Moscone, M. Cremaschi,
quartzite and other stones suitable for knapping M. Iamoni, A. Savioli and D. Morandi Bonacossi 2016.
probably explains the presence of Palaeolithic groups The prehistory of the Land of Nineveh. Antiquity
on the gravels and conglomerates of the Polygenetic Project Gallery 90/346: 1–3. Retrieved from http://
Synclinal Fills of the Nineveh area. Most of the Middle antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/barbaro349
Palaeolithic artefacts have a wide portion of cortex, Gavagnin, K., M. Iamoni and R. Palermo 2016. The Land
and may be considered debitage, although the largest of Nineveh Archaeological Project: The Ceramic
group in the inventory is formed by non-standardized Repertoire from the Early Pottery Neolithic to the
side scrapers with retouch or heavy traces of use. The Sasanian Period. Bulletin of the American Schools of
impression is that debitage flakes, abundantly present Oriental Research 375: 119–69.
at the surface of local gravel fans and conglomerates, Hunt, A.M.W. 2014. Assyrian palace ware definition
were expediently re-used on softer materials. and chaîne opératoire: Preliminary results from
Nineveh, Nimrud, and Aššur, in M. Martinón-Torres
The evidence of the early settlement of the Nineveh (ed.) Craft and science: International perspectives on
area is a new aspect of the still poorly known prehistoric archaeological ceramics: 135–42. Doha: Bloomsbury
settlement of northern Iraq and Kurdistan before the Qatar Foundation. http://dx.doi.org/10.5339/
Holocene.13 Because of the unexplored archaeological uclq.2014.cas.ch15
richness of Nineveh, even the disastrous damages Inizan, M.L. 1984. Acheulian on the left bank of the
inflicted by Daesh may increase our knowledge of Tigris in northern Iraq. Sumer 43: 244–45.
this wonderful site – so dear to Julian Reade, to whom Inizan, M.L. 1985. Des indices acheuléens sur les bords
this paper, with the deepest esteem, is dedicated. New du Tigre dans le Nord de l’Iraq. Paléorient 11/1: 101–
evidence, in fact, adds to the enormous importance of 102.
the site, not only damaged by the recent conflict but Jassim S.J. and J.C. Goff 2006. Geology of Iraq. Praha: Dolin.
also, as already noted 30 years ago, badly threatened Lumsden, S. 2006. The Nineveh Lower Town Project.
by the fast-growing, aggressive urban core of Mosul. It Unpublished paper presented in Edinburgh,
also reminds everybody that the urgent conservation Scotland, at the Annual Meeting of British
and restoration intervention that Nineveh so urgently Association for Near Eastern Archaeology, 6th
needs will bring about a world of important discoveries. January 2006.
Morandi Bonacossi, D. and M. Iamoni 2015. Landscape
Acknowledgments and settlement in the eastern upper Iraqi Tigris
and Navkur Plains (northern Kurdistan region,
We are very grateful to A. Bianchi, Director of the Iraq). The Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project,
Nineveh project, and to S. Campana and M. Sordini of seasons 2012–2013. Iraq 77: 9–40.
our team, for their invaluable collaboration and help. Matthews, R.J. 2000. The Early Prehistory of Mesopotamia
500000 to 4500 BC. (Subartu V). Turnhout: Brepols.
Bibliography Mazurowski, R. 1987. Preliminary report on two seasons
of survey investigations in the Raffaan microregion
Al-Daghastani, H.S. 2007. Geomorphologic Map of 1984–1985, in Mu’ayyad Sa’id Demirji (ed.) Researches
Nineveh Governorate, Northwestern Iraq Using on the Antiquities of Saddam Dam Basin Salvage and
Visual Image Interpretation. Rafidain Journal of Other Researches: 20–23. Baghdad: State Organisation
Science 18/1: 81–90. of Antiquities and Heritage.
Al-Juboury, A.I. and F.A. Al-Miamary 2009. Geochemical Nishiaki, Y. and T. Akazawa (eds) 2018. The Middle and
variations in heavy minerals as provenance Upper Paleolithic Archeology of the Levant and Beyond.
indications: Application to the Tigris river sand, Singapore: Springer.
northern Iraq. Journal of Mediterranean Earth Sciences Reynolds, T., L. Farr, E. Hill, C. Hunt, S. Jones, B.
1: 33–45. Gratuze, A. Nymark, D. Abdulmutalb and G. Barker
Bar-Yosef, O. 1998. Early Colonizations and Cultural 2018. Shanidar Cave and the Baradostian, a Zagros
Continuities in the Lower Paleolithic of Western Asia, Aurignacian industry. L’anthropologie 122: 737–48.
in M.D. Petraglia and R. Korisettar (eds) Early Human Solecki, R. 1971. Shanidar: the first flower people. New
Behaviour in Global Context: The Rise and Diversity of the York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Lower Paleolithic Record: 221–79. London: Routledge. Wright, H.E. 2004. Pleistocene Glaciation of Iraq, in J.
Braidwood, R.J. and B. Howe 1960. Prehistoric Ehlers and P. L. Gibbards (eds) Quaternary Glaciations
investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan. Chicago: University Extent and Chronology. Part III: South America, Asia,
of Chicago Press. Africa, Australasia, Antarctica: 215–16. (Developments
in Quaternary Sciences 2). Amsterdam and Oxford:
E.g. Braidwood and Howe 1960; Solecki 1971; Inizan 1985; Bar Yosef

1998; Matthews 2000; Conati Barbaro et al. 2016; Reynolds et al. 2018;
updates in Nishiaki and Akazawa 2018.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians:
a study of late 3rd millennium BC Mesopotamian archaeology,
texts and politics

Juris Zarins1

The collapse of the Sargonic/Akkadian Empire (c. 2150 BC) and the rise of smaller independent political states in southern
Mesopotamia were accompanied by the presence of a foreign population called the Gutians – a mysterious people whose ethno-
linguistic origins have been debated but who probably lived in the BMAC (Tukrish/Gupin) region. Their presence in Mesopotamia
as a conquering force was enhanced by the greater use of the compound bow with unique bifacial flint willow points (Brak type)
fired from horseback and using innovative battle tactics. Some of their rulers, as described in a unique series of texts from
Lagash, were buried in a number of shaft tombs in the ‘Royal Cemetery’ of Ur, as well as at Kish, Adab, Nippur and Assur. Their
presence among Mesopotamian populations continued to be felt until the Isin-Larsa period (c. 1900 BC). Their appearance in
Mesopotamia, aided by a larger regional megadrought, was part of a much larger regional disruption, also evidenced by a trail of
the same flint willow projectile points affecting Marhasi, the Helmand River basin, the Indus, Elam and large sections of Subartu
(northern Syria and Iraq).

Keywords: Šar-kalli-šarri; Gutians/Gutium; Ur shaft graves; Lagash II Dynasty; BMAC

Introduction1 but, as Foster has noted, the multidisciplinary approach

has long been resisted by cuneiformists.4
Much research has focused on the nature and meaning
of the Early Dynastic IIIa Royal Graves cemetery at Ur Woolley’s excavations at Ur produced a remarkable
but relatively neglected are a series of graves in the number of Sargonic period burials, perhaps as many as
cemetery dated to the late Sargonic–pre-Ur III period.2 600–900 in a formal cemetery area unparalled at other
I believe the graves help shed light on a very murky Sargonic period southern Mesopotamian sites. It would
period of Mesopotamian history: the so-called Gutian appear they represented Sargonic officials at Ur who
inter-regnum. Equally neglected are the remarkable were buried in a specifically delimited cemetery area.
cuneiform documents from Lagash belonging to the By contrast, at most sites, the dead were buried under
same time period and dealing with the same subject the floors of their houses, for instance at Nippur, Adab,
matter and thus linking Lagash with Ur. Tied to both Girsu, Isin, Tuttub, Eshunna and Assur.
are grey flint bifacial willow projectile points found
in southern Mesopotamia from the same period However, for my purpose of tracing an ethno-linguistic
which provide evidence for both the use of complex ‘Gutian’ presence at Ur, not just a horizon marker, based
bow archery and Gutian attacks tied to horseback on the original study and later studies, a few burials
manoeuvres. To elucidate this matter then requires stand out. I suggest 15 of these graves may belong to
an interdisciplinary approach combining cuneiform high status Gutians and their retinues/families. Since
and archaeological data in lower Mesopotamia. In the Gutians appear in southern Mesopotamia administrative
process, this examination helps shed light on the origin and royal Sargonic texts only beginning with Šar-kalli-
of the Gutians in the greater Murghab delta area of šarri, and their presence is well documented through
modern Turkmenistan (later called the BMAC region). Ur-Namma and perhaps even up to Ibbi-Sin, the time
The attempt to identify and recover ethno-linguistic span involved is approximately 150–175 years. Noting
populations from the archaeological record has long that seven specific shaft graves in the cemetery were
been abandoned by archaeologists3 and the field left to cut by Ur III period mausolea reduces the time period to
cuneiformists. With the advent of the study of another a pre-Ur III horizon or approximately 50–60 years. Since
aspect of the problem in isotope trace analysis and we will argue that these burials are post-Šar-kalli-šarri,
ancient DNA from skeletal remains, future research the approximate time span for these 15 burials then is
may yet reinvigorate ethno-linguistic identification roughly 30 years or contemporaneous with Gudea of

Missouri State University.
Late Sargonic is used to refer to the reigns of the last two Sargonic
kings, Du-du and Šu-durul whose rule overlapped with the Lagash II 4 
‘Most philologists … are unwilling to make the leap of faith that
Lagash Dynasty. proposing identifications of words with artifacts or ancient images
But see Reade 1995. requires’ (Foster 2010: 120).

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 11–42

Juris Zarins

Figure 1. The Ur Royal Cemetery: the 15 Lagash II period graves discussed are highlighted (after Woolley 1934: pl. 274)

the Lagash II dynasty, with which Ur had a particularly genders. Some of the people appear to have been
close relationship.5 buried together at one time while others were
interred over a longer interval of time. Such
These 15 graves include eight burials of the simple concentrations of individuals in one shaft tomb
inhumation type (PG 643, 695, 711, 735, 871 1420, 1422 appear remarkable for this period and recall
and possibly 1425) and seven tombs which can be some of the similarly unique Early Dynastic IIIa
qualified as shaft graves. They are PG 1845, 1846, 1847, burials 250–300 years earlier at Ur
1849, 1850, 1851 and 1852 (Figure 1).6 For purposes of
brevity, I have not listed each grave and its contents. • The sheer amount of gold used with multiple
The reader can check with Woolley’s descriptions and gold fillets/diadems some with dot-repoussé,
catalogue for the details.7 Instead, I have listed for the gold hair ribbons, gold hair-locks, earrings,
sake of discussion those elements of the graves which finger rings and bracelets on very high-status
seem to make them unique among typical Sargonic burials is characteristic here but unusual for the
period graves and perhaps identify them as part of the Lagash II period as a whole
Gutian presence:
• The presence of multiple necklace strands with
• The shaft tombs contained multiple burials, gold, silver, and semi-precious stone beads from
perhaps totaling over 70 people whose burial the east
goods reflected a highly divergent social
status as well as a wide range of age and both • The presence of copper situlae, cauldrons,
strainers, ‘frying pans’ and bowls, some with
Lagash II refers to 12–13 rulers controlling the Lagash state from spouts as part of ‘wine sets’
the death of Šar-kalli-šarri and before the domination of the Ur III
monarchs beginning with Ur-Namma. • Inlaid wooden boxes
Moorey 1984: 2–3.
Woolley 1934.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

• Some very wealthy graves with an exceptionally families who were Ur and Lagash overlords during the
high number of typical late Akkadian pottery roughly 30–40 years of a ‘Gutian horizon’,16 and perhaps
vessels: 76 with 1845/J, 21 with 1422, 19 with people called by the local populations as the KU kù-si14
1846 and 12 with 1847/R (‘seizers/takers of gold’) due to their emphasis on gold
accoutrements both in life and death.
• Many individuals had two cylinder seals.8 Most
were made from lapis, carnelian or shell, some The 15 burials excavated at Ur, however, are not unique
with gold caps. However, many were re-used and and, in particular, the rich tombs PG 871, 1420 and
worn or had defaced or removed inscriptions 1422 and the shaft tombs PG 1845 and 1847 can be
not associated with an original owner: such seals compared with three other graves of almost identical
were old before they were buried here9 composition and makeup, two from Nippur and one
from Assur. McMahon excavated at Nippur a shaft
• The richest grave PG 1422, a unique and tomb complex.17 Of interest are two burials – 14/2 and
exceptional tomb within the entire cemetery,10 14/1, both probably dating to level XIIB and thus to
produced a defaced or worn seal with a three- Šar-kalli-šarri.18 Skeleton 14/2 is the more important
line inscription: one can barely make out dumu- burial. The body was covered with jewellery which had
lugal11 the make-up identical to the high-status burials at Ur,19
including a gold fillet, gold spiral earrings, a 300-bead
• The presence of bitumen boat models one to two necklace and a lapis lazuli cylinder seal with an erased
metres long in three shaft tombs: these were inscription.20 Accompanying the burial were a copper
only found in 26 graves, all late or post Akkadian vessel wine set which included a bucket, bowls and
frying pan, as well as a small wooden box with bone
• The sacrificed sheep and goats accompanying mosaic inlay.21 According to McMahon, the high status
the burials. of the person was evident by the presence of gold and
lapis as powerful markers associated with kings. In
Woolley stated these tombs belonged to a ‘Second addition, as at Ur with PG 643, 1846, 1847, 1850 and
Dynasty of Ur’ dated to the Early Dynastic III period.12 1422 and at Assur, sheep and goat sacrifices were found
A much later dating, based particularly on re-analyses with burial 14/2.22 The skeleton of the 14/1 individual
of the stratigraphy, pottery and seals between the post- (level XIIB) had over 18 associated pottery vessels.23 As
Sargonic and pre-Ur III/early Ur III has generally been usual, a gold fillet was found,24 as well as two cylinder
accepted.13 Nissen further divided the ‘New Sumerian’ seals of serpentinite and rock crystal.25 West of the body
period into ‘early’ [Gudea and successors] and ‘late’ [Ur pottery and bronze copper vessels were found similar
III] assigning most of the 15 tombs to the ‘early Neo- to those with skeleton 14/2.26 McMahon suggests the
Sumerian’ period. 14/2 [female] and 14/1 [male with buried weapons]
were a married pair.27 This unique shaft tomb was found
Based on this unique patterning of the graves, their in a limited sounding at Nippur but most likely as at Ur,
contents and dating, who were the people buried in multiple shaft tombs would be present here as part of an
these tombs? Reade suggests they were ‘Late Agade, elite cemetery of the west mound. Again, I would argue
Gutian or Ur III in date … [and] also housed kings or that the burial represents a Gutian overlord given the
governors or their families’.14 Moorey observed that date and funerary furnishings, and recalls the Gutian
‘after the fall of Agade and into [the reign of] Shulgi, Gutarla who wanted to be crowned king at Nippur.28
people entitled to shaft grave burial with others as
sacrifical victims [were] not royal but of relatively high From Assur comes a very similar and intriguing tomb
rank’.15 Who would these ‘kings’ or people of relatively excavated by Andrae in 1912 from a test trench. The
high rank be? Since political rule at Ur during this burial, no. 20, re-numbered by Hochmann as no. 37, was
period was largely controlled by Lagash or Uruk, the not associated with a formal chamber.29 Four golden
burials, given their lavish tomb contents, would hardly
represent independent Ur kings, governors or even less, 16 
Hallo 1971: 713–14; Steinkeller 1992: 728.
men who were subservient to Lagash or Uruk. I argue 17 
McMahon 2006: 46, fig. 11.
that the burials here belong to Guti chieftains and their
Supported by nearby texts: Biggs 2006: 165–67.
McMahon 2006: 49, pls 58–59, 62–64.
Gibson and McMahon 1995: fig. 13/3.
Gibson and MacMahon 1995: 14. 21 
McMahon 2006: pls 64, 146, 150/3,151.
Buchanan 1954: 149. 22 
McMahon 2006: 48, n. 59.
Woolley 1934: 187. 23 
McMahon 2006: 51–52, pls 153–55.
Legrain 1934a: no. 290 (U. 12470). 24 
McMahon 2006: pl. 66a, pl. 152: 10.
Woolley 1934: 30–31, 181–203, 212, cat. pp. 484–87. 25 
McMahon 2006: 51, pls 152: 10, 157: 1–2.
Buchanan 1954: 147–53; Nissen 1966: 103, 106; Moorey 1984: 17; 26 
McMahon 2006: pl. 156/2.
Pollock 1985: 137, chart; Reade 2001: 18. 27 
McMahon 2006: 52.
Reade 2001: 18. 28 
Civil 1985.
Moorey 1984: 17. 29 
Haller 1954: 10; for the full inventory see Hochmann 2010: 113, pls

Juris Zarins

diadems with dot-repoussé [and concentric circles] Skeletal evidence, DNA and isotope analyses
were found on the skull or next to it,30 as well as large
golden earrings with granulation, smaller gold earrings The discussion of the Ur and Nippur shaft graves and
with lapis and beads of glazed composition, gold, agate the Assur, Adab and Kish inhumations as possibly
and lapis. Gold beads were found in necklaces. The representing Gutians has hinged on an analysis of the
26 gold rings recall RTC 221 from Lagash: KU kù-si14 cultural objects buried with the bodies. Current use of
(‘rings of gold’). All told, 74 gold items came from the CT and X-ray analyses has been supplemented, within
tomb.31 The copper/bronze vessels included at least the last two decades especially, by new techniques which
nine intended for an elaborate drinking service with can shed light on other aspects of the actual skeletal
two service sets of bowls, beakers, sieves, buckets and a remains from these burials. These include Strontium,
unique large saucepan with long handle, rolled end and Oxygen, Nitrogen and Carbon Isotope Trace analyses
several wheels.32 The grave was dated to ‘the Akkadian– on the osteological remains and dentition to determine
Ur III period’ by Aruz. Based on the Nippur and Ur differences in childhood versus adult diet and by
parallels, the Assur grave represents most likely a inference, differences in homeland locations. Another
Gutian chieftain [rabi’ānum] with clear ties to the east,33 approach currently used to study human populations
rather than an Old Assyrian merchant with connections and migration patterns is to obtain ancient DNA from
to central Anatolia.34 Several other Ashur tombs such the skeletal remains themselves. Unfortunately, a
as Hochmann nos 52–53 show clear signs of external preliminary search into the human remains from the
connections to the East and Mesopotamia as well.35 ‘PG’ shaft graves at the British Museum, Natural History
Museum and Penn failed to reveal any suitable material
Poorly excavated comparable graves in Kish and Adab for possible analyses.44 Thorough searches for the
also probably belong to this small grouping. From Adab, relevant osteological material excavated from Assur,
Wilson re-published four tombs of which tomb 4 buried Kish, Billa, Halawa and Hissar, if found, may yet yield
beneath houses on Mound III is the most interesting. At promising results. The large number of skeletal remains
least 19 unregistered and unstudied pottery vessels, 15 excavated at Gonur where they are stored could be used
carnelian and 32 lapis beads, a lapis cylinder seal, and in future studies to determine baseline characteristics
a greyware vessel with multiple-impressed decoration for the BMAC.45
were recovered.36 From Kish, a number of graves found
above Palace A are generally assigned a late Early The Gutian presence in Sargonic southern
Dynastic IIIb or early Sargonic date.37 However, in light Mesopotamia
of the incised greyware found there, at least some of the
graves with plain handled and rolled-end frying pans (B If I argue that the Ur tombs are those of Gutian
21, B24, B34, B40, B55) could belong to the late Akkadian personages and their families/retinues at Ur, I must
period.38 The silver fillet from B77 has the late Sargonic examine the evidence for their presence in southern
dot-repoussé technique, unfortunately not illustrated Mesopotamia and particularly at Ur and Lagash from
[no. 2159]. Burial B21 has a dot-repoussé fillet as well their initial arrival as small groups and subsequently en
as a ‘frying pan’.39 masse. No one has satisfactorily explained the origin of
the term ‘Gutium/Guti/Gutian’, or their origins in the
The dot-repoussé technique found on fillets from Ur, 3rd millennium BC.46 Among Mesopotamian scholars
Nippur, Assur and Kish has parallels on similar fillets there is a persistent belief that, since according to
found at Subartu sites,40 in some Zagros tombs,41 at Tepe both Sumerian and Akkadian accounts the Gutians
Hissar42 and in the BMAC region at Namazga-depe and came from the east (or mountains), it must mean they
Gonur-depe with gold, silver and copper examples.43 originated in the Zagros.47 However, their origins are
further afield. On the basis of my argument that they
originated in the Kopet Dagh and/or Murghab river
58–63. area, cuneiformists have variously identified that
Aruz 1995: 48–49, nos 23–26. region as Gupin, Tukrish or Aratta but not Gutium.48
Hochmann 2010: 113.
Wartke 1995: fig. 13. However, the CAD associates the Gupin Mountains
Aruz 1995: 48–50. with Gutium.49 The only text which places Gutium in a
Wartke 1995: 44. roughly correct geographical location between Elam,
Hochmann 2010: 123–25, pls 83–85, 87–94.
Wilson et al. 2012: 62, pl. 13.
Mackay 1925/29; Moorey 1970; 1978; Gibson 1972a.
Mackay 1925: pl. XX/9–10; 1929: pl. LVII/11,13. 44 
For the fate of much of the Ur material, see Reade 2001: 29.
Mackay 1925: pl. IV/24, 1929: 179. 45 
Dubova and Rykushina 2007: 296–329.
Tell Bia/Tuttul: Miglus 2010: 172, pl. 191/1 from tomb 40. 46 
Hallo 1971; 2005.
Vanden Berghe 1973: 31/no. 29, 33: tomb 1, silver dot-repoussé; 47 
Steinkeller 1992: 728; 2015: 282; Postgate 1992: 41; Potts 1994: 119;
Tepe Giyan: Contenau and Ghirshman 1935: tomb 104/1, dot-repoussé Ahmed 2012: 69–74.
bracelet. 48 
Steinkeller 1982: fig. 2; 2014; Moorey 1995; Wright 2016; Foster
Schmidt 1937: 207, pl. LIV, H 4112, H 4128. 2016: 354.
Sarianidi 2007: 94, figs 121–22 and references. 49 
Cooper 1983: 57; Laursen and Steinkeller 2017: 85, n. 23.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

Marhaši and Subartu is a largely fictitious reference to Two enigmatic terms in Sargonic army texts deserve
a list of several kings, including one Lugalannemundu mention here. Their suggested meaning is based
who ruled at Adab. Given the close identity of Adab solely on context and perhaps both were associated
with the Gutians it would appear this original list of with Gutians. The more prestigious term is KU.KU3.GI
five or more Gutian rulers was largely garbled by its late [dab5 ku3-sig17], ‘The ones who take gold’. They have
Old Babylonian composers (1711–1626 BC);50 the list has been mentioned associated with the Šar-kalli-šarri
nothing to do with the Early Dynastic III period. Umma army,58 and with the cities of Adab,59 Lagash60
and Nippur.61 I believe the term refers to the Gutian
The actual name Gutium in southern Mesopotamia rabi’āni/lugal as leaders of the nisku mercenaries and
appears for the first time in the year dates and as evidenced by the sheer amount of gold found with
documents of Šar-kalli-šarri. Since Šar-kalli-šarri the Ur burials and associated with the kings in the RTC
refers to Šarlak as king (lugal) of Gutium,51 the lugal 221 series.
title appeared already in the Sargonic period and it
continued in use into the Isin-Larsa period. It occurs The second term is this nisku (ni-is-ku).62 I suggest that
together with the term rabi’āni (the great ones) in UMH the Classic Sargonic term means ‘(Gutian) mercenary
212 and PUL 14.52 The Sumerian King List and Ur III complex – bow archer’ who initially served in the Umma
Sumerian King List use the title ‘king’ in a formal and army. They were allocated land at Umma under Šar-
largely fictitious ‘King List’.53 Therefore, the use of the kalli-šarri.63 A detailed discussion of the term is given
title ‘king’ can be applicable not only to the Gutian Ur by Schrakamp.64 They are also attested in the Lagash
shaft burials but also to the references in the Lagash II II Gudea-period texts65 and are still mentioned in the
text series from Lagash. Ur-Namma law code prologue as ‘undesirable people’
who controlled Sumerian land.66 That they seem to be
Settled Gutians in southern Mesopotamia specialisised and paid [in gold?], and either archers
or slingers, is based on the two basic meanings of the
Gutian presence in the alluvium according to Akkadian verbs nsk [to throw, hurl] and nsq [to select/
contemporary observers in Mesopotamia was largely choose].67
peaceful as the new arrivals began to insert themselves
into the fabric of Sargonic society. As with the Arabian The ever-growing Gutian presence became
Martu, Gutians during the reign of Šar-kalli-šarri overwhelming by late Šar-kalli-šarri and created a crisis
worked as labourers, officials and military members which required him to take military action against
up to and including the rank of general (šagina or GIR3. Šarlag and other anonymous Gutians. Their increasing
NITA). Other early Gutian arrivals became identified presence in the alluvium is noted in BM 140676: ‘the
with the Zagros near mountain range, interacting with Gutians have come here (upper Diyala) like water’.68
locals and obtaining cereals, processed food such as In the Curse of Agade, the Gutians are ‘like hordes of
ghee, flour and beer, and textiles,54 often in exchange locusts, they lie over the land’69 which Foster translates
for cattle or sheep and goats which has suggested ‘like a plague of locusts’.70 The other well-known letter
to some that they enjoyed a pastoral lifestyle. In the deals with groups of Gutian attackers who, in certain
Eeridupizir statue II inscription, ‘The gods of Gutium translations are called ‘soldiers’ (guruš-guruš) and who
and Enridapizir received donkeys, horses, oxen and are rustling stock from the estates south of Lagash and
… sheep’.55 Since their wealth was in animal herds, inhibiting agriculture and stock raising.71 The activity
Gutians also ‘donated as a gift’ (maš2-da-ri-ia) or regular is severe enough that the writer Ishkundagan suggests
delivery (sa2-du11) one or more of these animals to local watchtowers be placed every mile – a primitive Bad3-
authorities in Mesopotamia for sacrifice and/or food.56 Tidnum.72 The picture is one of harassment by Gutians
The presence of Gutians in Sargonic armies at Umma bent on stealing animals which in turn disrupts farming
and Adab was to have far-reaching consequences:57
several Gutians achieved the rank of general. At Adab, 58 
Foster 1982: 98–99; Cripps 2010: nos 29–30.
in A. 959, an unnamed GIR3.NITA gu-ti-um went to Uruk.
Zhi 1986: A. 654, 712, 821, 1007, OIP 14/180.
RTC 82, ITT 2/5722.
Westenholz 1987: 175; cf. Krecher 1974: 251; M. Lambert 1974: 2;
Jacobsen 1939: 102, nn. 183, 186; Güterbock 1934: 40–47; Ungnad Powell 1974: 105.
1936: 37; Gelb 1944: 33–34. 62 
Foster 1981; 1982: 85, n. 12.
RIME 2: 183 and references. 63 
Foster 1982: 85. In terms of dating, Classical Sargonic usually refers
Sallaberger and Schrakamp 2015: 117. to the second half of rule by Naram-Sin and Šar-kalli-šarri.
Jacobsen 1939: 117–21; Rowton 1960. 64 
Schrakamp 2010: 143–51.
E.g. UMH, Milano and Westenholz 2015: 131; Eshnunna, MAD I/99; 65 
ITT IV/7052; ITT V 9383, MVN 6/76, ITT IV/7076.
Tell Agrab MAD I/269 (Foster 1977: 36, n. 70); Lagash, ITT V/9321; 66 
Wilcke 2002.
Amherst 9. 67 
CAD N/2: 15–16, 21–22.
Kutscher 1989: 61. 68 
Kienast and Volk 1995: 63.
For a recent traditional summary of the Gutian presence in 69 
Cooper 1983: 59, l. 158.
Mesopotamia see Ahmed 2012: 119–36. 70 
Foster 2016: 354.
Foster 1982: 113; Abrahimi 2008: 5–8; Cripps 2010: 20, Zarins 2012: 71 
Smith 1932; Oppenheim 1967: 71–72; LEM 22, Gir 19.
197–98; CUSAS 19/138, 211 and p. 81. 72 
RIME 2: 186.

Juris Zarins

Figure 2. The late Akkadian empire (after Sallaberger and Schrakamp 2015: 112, map 11)

activities as well. Posted guards and a retreat to town concerning the Early Bronze IV period, Egypt74 and
seem to be the norm. There is no mention of Sargonic more recently in Arabia,75 the question of causality has
troops who could defeat the Gutians. A more recent been hotly debated especially in regard to northern
publication is a letter probably from Adab.73 ‘Thus says Syria.76 How southern Mesopotamia was affected is
Ur-nigin, say to my king, … the (x number) Guti have less clear.77 It seems that ‘climate change’ in southern
destroyed the house!’. Amherst 4 from Lagash dealing Mesopotamia had little relevance to the arrival of the
with the king’s cattle and sheep suggests trouble with Gutians: as pointed out by Yoffee and others, a crisis in
Gutians as well: ‘The cattle and sheep of the king (Šar- climate did not put an end to civilization in southern
kalli-šarri), the Gutium have not turned them away’. Mesopotamia, but rather a continous re-ordering of
political states and changing population dynamics.78
Climate change and the Gutian presence in southern But in the midst of a ‘climatic shift in the Near East’,
Mesopotamia what caused the the Gutian westward drive and arrival
in southern Mesopotamia precisely at the time of the
As noted, the first documented presence of the Sargonic collapse? The proposed movement of Gutians
Gutians during the reign of Šar-kalli-šarri coincided into Mesopotamia as well as across Iran, into the
with the collapse of the Akkadian empire. The causes Indus area, Marhasi, and Elam, may in fact have been
for this collapse are probably complex involving the stimulated by more severe drought conditions in the
assassination of Šar-kalli-šarri, a following civil war BMAC areas as well (Figures 3–4). Geomorphological
in which four men vied for the kingship over the next and archaeological work in southern Turkmenistan
three years, economic stress involving both agricultural has documented changes in the late 3rd millennium
production and a sharp curtailment of long-distance BC. The Murghab river delta was situated on the
trade especially with the East which resulted in a southern edge of the Karakum desert.79 Throughout
greatly reduced Akkadian state (Figure 2). the 3rd millennium BC, a shrinking of the Murghab
delta sytem was linked to an overall loss of available
An additional factor in considering the collapse of
the Akkadian empire and the arrival of the Gutians 74 
Bell 1971.
has been climate change, particularly the so-called 75 
Magee 2014: 92–93; Laursen 2017.
4.2 ky BP phenomenon. Long discussed in the Levant 76 
Weiss et al. 1993; Weiss 2017; Zettler 2003; Coomes and Barger 2005;
Marro and Kuzucuglu 2007: 584–89, maps 1–4.
Kinnier-Wilson 2005: 49, 51–54; al-Aqrawi 1993; 1995; 1997; 2001.
Yoffee 2004; Yoffee and Cowgill eds 1988.
Koslova 2003: 248, copy. 79 
Salvatori 1998: 47.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

Figure 3. The Greater Ancient Near East (after Pittman 1984: 6–7)

Figure 4. Western Central Asia

(after Pittman 1984: 34)

Juris Zarins

water.80 The alluvial pattern of the Murghab system as arrival of new migrating Gutian groups. A number of
seen in loops of meandering paleochannels (on which Gutians had served in the Akkadian armies and perhaps
were located settlements such as Gonur and Togolok),81 saw an opportunity to expand their influence with the
were eventually affected by aeolian processes and start of the Akkadian Civil War. The Sumerian King List
buried by encroaching sand dunes.82 Variability in and Ur III Sumerian King List both note that the Gutians
water flow meant changing population dynamics and who took political power after the end of the Akkadian
diverse cultural developments.83 This climatic shift empire were part of an army (Akkadian ummānum,
drove Kopet Dagh inhabitants (mixed farming/stock Sumerian ugnim3). Already in 1952, Speiser noted the
raising) to move east, south and ultimately across Iran presence of an unknown ummānum sweeping into
to Mesopotamia, following, in large part, branches of the northern perimeter of Akkad, ‘riding against the
the Khurasan road. Erdosy noted that around 2200 BC, land’.91 These multiple small military or paramilitary
urban centres along the northern slopes of the Kopet forces eventually established what was perceived to
Dagh range were in decline, as were those in the more be a dynasty (bala) or period of rule. But they had no
easterly oases of Margiana and, later, Bactria by the king sharing rule among themselves (for either three
Late Bronze Age (1900–1700 BC).84 years or at three-year intervals).92 This ‘rule’ began as
contemporary with the Uruk IV dynasty. The use of the
The subsequent control of Mesopotamia by Gutians term ummānum does not occur until after the death of
seems absolute as described in the King Lists and the Šar-kalli-šarri and thus is used by the Lagash II period
later Curse of Agade, but their presence as a military local rulers. The term occurs rarely.93 This use is allied
occupying force begins only after the death of Šar- with the title King of the Gutians found in one Šar-kalli-
kalli-šarri. The Sumerian King List does not describe šarri year date and a few inscriptions or references from
their political presence until after the rule of the last S. Mesopotamia.94 As T. Potts has noted, for this period,
two weakened Akkadian kings and the five Uruk kings some of the Gutian kings were in a position to adopt the
placed in sequential order. In fact all three groups trappings and act as would a true Akkadian monarch and
ruled contemporaneously.85 Despite breaks, the Ur III were treated as such for diplomatic purposes by native
Sumerian King List reports the same pattern.86 The city governors.95 During the ummānum Gutian period,
Sumerian King List does not mention control over any how much territory did they control or influence? The
specific Mesopotamian towns. The Ur III Sumerian King maps of Sallaberger and Schrakamp can be used here
List, interestingly paints a picture of internal discord as the basis for an approximate territorial area (Figure
among the Gutian rulers themselves. The text states that 2)96 but the inclusion of a speculative location of Agade
after the rule of the ummānum has been overthrown, the skews the picture and both Ur and the Lagash state
last Gutian group, which includes Tirigan, took charge should be should be included as well.
of Adab.87 Gutian political control is also inferred at
other Sumerian towns. Two governors, Namahni and The political and historical events at Ur from late in the
Lugalannatum of Umma, acknowledge that at the time rule of Šar-kalli-šarri to the rise of Ur-Bau and Gudea
of their rule Iarlagan and Sium were kings of Gutium remain unclear, including the role, if any, that the
(and their overlords).88 More controversial is the identity Gutians played. Approximately 75 Sargonic texts and 57
of Sarratagubsin who is called dumu-lugal (‘son of the inscribed cylinder seals from Ur are known.97 The texts
king’, i.e. prince) in several texts. The dedicating scribe were found scattered throughout the site. Westenholz
on a Kesh/Urusagrig? door lock refers to him as lugal- 2014: 248 mentions Etib-mer, the famous šabra-e2
la-na ‘his king’.89 Thus he may have been a Gutian ruling [the king’s estate manager] of Classic Sargonic date.98
at Urusagrig and Kesh.90 Based on these accounts, we U. 30689, a text fragment of the same date, mentions
suggest Ur and Lagash, ruled by local governors, were among others [x] gu-ti-um – to date the only reference
also under the control of Gutians. Complicating the to Gutians at Ur from the Sargonic period.99 Flückiger-
picture is that Ur itself was under the control of Lagash. Hawker states that the Guti controlled Ur along with
Uruk, Lagash, Umma and Shuruppak (presumably
The political and military rise of the Gutians began
internally in Mesopotamia, perhaps coinciding with the
Speiser 1952: 100, n. 36.
Cremaschi 1998: 15. 92 
Steinkeller 2003: 273, 275.
Cremaschi 1998: figs 1–2. 93 
AAICAB 1/3, MAD 5/9, RTC 238, Eeridupizir, RIME 2: 224, Eshnunna,
Cremaschi 1998: 17–18, table 1; Salvatori 1998: 47. Suilija letter no. 2; cf. Whiting 1987: 37–38.
Salvatori 1998: 47. 94 
Hallo 1971; 2005; Civil 1985; Kutscher 1989.
Erdosy 1998: 145. 95 
Potts 1994: 121.
Jacobsen 1939:113–17; Steinkeller 1992: 728. 96 
Sallaberger and Schrakamp 2015: 126 (map 13, fig. 12.3), 129 (map
Steinkeller 2003: 272–73. 12).
Steinkeller 2003: 273, 281. 97 
Burrows 1935; Alberti and Pomponio 1986; Civil 1988; Westenholz
RIME 2: 267–68; Sallaberger and Schrakamp 2015: 117–19. 2014: 28–31; Black and Spada 2008.
RIME 2: 251. 98 
Visicato 2010: 450.
Steinkeller 2015: 284, n. 29. 99 
Westenholz 2014: 259.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

after the reign of Šar-kalli-šarri) and were expelled by RTC 221, the King’s Table, The Royal Delicacy Food
Utuhegal.100 Lists and the cattle/sheep-goat lists of Lagash II date

As noted earlier, Ur and Lagash became closely Formal inscriptions of Lagash II period rulers as well as
connected after the death of Šar-kalli-šarri. Ur- over 600 administrative texts have provided information
Bau gained control of Ur and installed his daughter, on Lagash rulers of the period which may include more
Enannepada as the entu priestess of Nanna. His control than 12 persons but both the order and length of rule
and that of his son-in-law Gudea over Ur is supported by for each person are unknown. Gudea was the dominant
other data, including original inscriptions found at Ur, ruler of the group and counting his rule at 20 years, the
the Ur use of the Lagash II Lagash calendar,101 and close entire period may have lasted 35–50 years.114 With the
ties to Lagash II period Lagash with Kaku, the governor exception of Puzur-mama ruling after the death of Šar-
of Ur/Lagash?.102 The same Gudea-dated series of kalli-šarri and calling himself first ensi and then lugal,
Lagash II Royal Delicacy Food Texts from Lagash has an all of the following rulers were called ensi (governor)
identical parallel text from Ur.103 In addition, a number and not king (lugal). Since the RTC 221 et al. series refer
of Lagash texts mention Ur.104 to a king, queen and their children, it seems clear that
Gudea and other members of the Lagash II dynasty
Since scholars who have studied the Lagash post-Šar- were subordinates, as in the case of nearby Umma,
kalli-šarri, Lagash II texts have suggested Gudea was to a higher political authority. Scholars are unclear
subordinate to a higher king, I propose that it was as to who this king or kings may have been have and
Gutian kings who controlled not only Lagash but also suggestions range from Naram-Sin to Shulgi.115 I follow
Ur. We have little direct evidence for this at Ur itself. Carroue and Visicato in supporting the assumption that
BM 123191, a chlorite cylinder seal from Ur, has a the term lugal here refers to a series of Gutian chiefs/
carved ‘Akkadian combat scene’.105 The inscription kings operating in the Lagash general area (including
reads: gu3-de2-a dumu-lugal.106 Collon feels it is highly Umma and Adab).116 If Gutian chiefs controlled Lagash,
unlikely that this low-quality seal refers to the son of given their close ties to Ur, a connection with the
the Ur III ruler Amar-Sin or to the father of Gudea, since burials at Ur as Gutian could also be made. From these
Ur-Bau of Lagash was an ensi. One Lagash II text from Lagash II texts from Lagash itself, at least four series of
Ur, Nisaba 19/86, has a reference to the e2-lugal (royal texts use the terms king, queen and other members of a
house/estate?) perhaps tied to Gutians and the people royal family. They include the RTC 221 series, the King’s
buried in the shaft tombs. Table, The Royal Delicacy Food Texts and the Cattle and
Ovicaprid animal lists.
But from Lagash, a number of texts mention both the
Gutians and the ummānum.107 In addition, we have Over 21 recognised texts in the first series [henceforth
the names of a number of prominent Gutians in the RTC 221] deal with the presence or visit of a royal family
Lagash II archives: La-gi-bu-um,108 La-ra-ab109 and Gar3- which includes the king (lugal), queen (nin) and their
Larab-Garlab.110 These names are also found at Sippar, children (dumu-lugal / dumu-sal-lugal).117 RTC 221 is
Eshnunna, Adab and Kish. The proposed Gutian nisku the longest tablet of this series. This text details over
are known from a Lagash II administrative text.111 Ur- 200 items provided to the royal family and retainers.
Namma mentions the aspirations of the Gutian Gutarla The king alone is given some 19 items of gold or gold
to be king112 and the ‘rule of the Gutians’ (bala Guti) as and silver inlaid objects. The queen in the same text
well as the (Gutian) nisku in his law code.113 Thus, the receives 11 items of gold and furniture. The military
Gutian presence in Ur before Ur-Namma is indirectly equipment listed included at least 14 bows of different
attested by him and confirms the other evidence we sizes wrapped in different colours of leather. This series
have from Ur and Lagash. of very similar texts almost certainly do not refer to
one and the same king and royal family. Carroue and
Flückiger-Hawker 1999: 1, 5–6, n. 40. Visicato both argue that the trips to the Lagash state
Widell 2004. were brief and might represent multiple Gutian ‘kings’
ITT V/6748; Goodnick Westenholz 1984.
UET 3/68. visiting over a span of six to ten years between the
RTC 248; Berenc/11; RTC 180, RTC 241, BM 2603 (PPAC 5/402); see second half of Gudea and early Ur-Ningirsu.118 This
the earlier summary by Carroue 1994: 64–65. may confirm the Sumerian King List which lists Gutian
UE 10/no. 204.
Collon 1982: 117, no. 263.
BM 26462 [Visicato and Maiocchi no. 150], MVN 6/90, RTC 251-252,
MVN 7/471, ITT 2/ 5790; ITT IV/7091,7291, RTC 254; Foster 1989: no. 114 
Sollberger 1954/56; Maeda 1988; Carroue 1994; Suter 2000: 15–17;
3 and RTC 238. Edzard 1997; Sallaberger and Schrakamp 2015: 119–22, all with
RTC 249, MVN 10/100, MAD 5/14. references.
BM 15737, Visicato and Maiocchi no. 499. 115 
Visicato 2011: 310, n. 51.
DCS 4/15. 116 
Carroue 1994; Visicato 2010.
MVN 6/76. 117 
Maeda 1988: 25–26; Schrakamp 2010: 103–105; see now Visicato
Civil 1985. and Maiocchi in press.
Civil 2011. 118 
Carroue 1994: 53; Visicato 2010: 449.

Juris Zarins

kings ruling for a series of artificially low years,119 while are sometimes substitutions in place of the royal family
Michalowski observed that different Gutian king lists (as in the case of MVN 6/111). An important person,
do not match each other.120 The RTC 221 series then Gusha is listed frequently in these texts as well as his
denotes petty ‘kings’ controlling small territories in wife (dam) and children in place of the royal family.
the area of southern Mesopotamia. Note that the queen However, in BM 26226 (Visicato and Maiocchi no. 94),
(nin) occurs alone in several lists as well.121 With the the king is followed by Gusha who actually receives
emphasis on gifts of gold rings/currency (KU kừ3-sig14) greater amounts of the foods followed by the latter’s
and other gifts of gold and gold inlay objects in the RTC wife (dam gu-ša) and children. Similarly, in RTC 217, the
221 series, the relationship between the gold provided nine foods are given to the queen followed by the nine
to the visiting royal families at Lagash and the gold foods probably provided to Guša, his wife and children
objects found in the Ur shaft tombs (as well as Nippur (dumu gu-ša). MVN 3/82 perhaps also reflects the
and Assur) (although of different purpose) is striking. status of the recipients: the entry, ‘lu2-Gu-ša, the man
of Gusha’, is followed by Kurub-bilak, then the ‘the man
A second group of texts is defined by the phrase – of the king’ [lu2-lugal] and then six of the nine foods
[banšur lugal] ‘the king’s table’. The phrase is in use for the king’s table. Thus, in some texts in this series,
already in the Sargonic period at Nippur with regard the ‘king’ and his representatives appear to have lower
to the consumption of high-status foods.122 Westenholz status than Gusha, another high-status person along
suggests the mention of the king’s table at Nippur may with his wife and children.
be taken to refer to an actual visit to the south by Šar-
kalli-šarri.123 The same phrase used in the Lagash II Women other than the queen are also occasionally
Lagash texts, especially in light of the RTC 221 series mentioned in these texts. Linking the Royal Delicacy
and the Royal Delicacy Food Texts, also suggests this Food Texts to the RTC 221 series is RTC 218. The listed
idea but at a more local (Gutian) level. Many of these furniture is followed by the standard list of nine foods
texts deal with the delivery of fish from the Lagash from the Royal Delicacy Food List to mi-i3-tum. Beer
region and the Persan Gulf to the king’s table.124 In MVN was provided to nin-e2-gal-e-si.127 In ITT IV/7254 (MVN
6/436, it states that the delivery of fish to the king’s 6/248) she is called ‘the daughter of the king’. Carroue
table was part of a regular delivery (sa2-du11). MVN says it is a rare, if not foreign, name. The name recalls
6/111 is unique in its order of provisions. The first entry the wife of Ur-ningirsu who was called nin-nigin3-
provides fish to u3-ri2-ba-ad125 followed by seven types e-si. In BM 87684 [Visicato and Maiocchi no. 264] fish
of fish provided for the king’s table. This would suggest is delivered for the wife (dam) of zum-sa-ad,128 also a
the foreigner Uribad ranked higher than the ‘king’. Gutian / foreign name. Interestingly, a copy of the
Lagash Royal Delicacy Food List was found at Ur. UET
The Royal Delicacy Food Texts 3/68 is a virtual copy of the food list for the royal family
at Lagash II Lagash. It lists dates, cheese, apples, [xxxx],
The 35 Royal Delicacy Food texts deal with high status ghee and figs as an offering to the deity Ningishzida.
food provided to deities of the Lagash state, state
religious functionaries as well as royal families. The The Lagash II texts dealing with royal animals include
foods are usually listed in a fixed repetitive order, most MVN 6/316, which lists four bulls and 24 grass-fed sheep
often comprising nine items.126 In this series there is to or from the king, followed by a bull, eight sheep and
more variation in the order and amount of the food type a goat to (another) king, a lesser number of animals to
and to whom the delivery is made, providing greater the queen and the king’s children. It is clear here that
insight into the identity of the king and his family. two different kings and royalty are named. MVN 6/299
In many texts the set order for food is: ghee, honey, is a mašdaria-type offering of a small number of cattle
dates, cheese, apples, grapes, mu-tum fruit and figs. On or sheep by ‘foreigners’, generals and the queen. In
occasion, this list is inserted in other types of texts. The the RTC 246 animal list there is the entry: 3 dug gestin
standard text, for example ITT IV/7295, provides set dumu-lugal, ‘three jars of wine (for) the king’s son’.
amounts of nine items for the king, the queen and the
king’s children in decreasing amounts. In this regard Support for the idea that Gudea was a subordinate to
these texts parallel the RTC 221 series. However, there a higher power has also been offered by Wilcke. In an
Old Babylonian bilingual inscription possibly copied
Rowton 1960. from a Gudea original, Wilcke suggests the restoration
Michalowski 1983: 239–40. which precedes the term lugal-mu (‘my king’) as Shulgi,
ITT IV/7308 (MVN 6/299); RTC 254. since Gudea himself was called governor in the text.129
Westenholz 1987: 127–28, 132.
Westenholz 1987: 96.
MVN 6/265; RTC 213.
This is one of Carroue’s Gutian/foreigner names: Carroue 1994:
47–48. 127 
AO 3429; Visicato and Maocci no. 115; Carroue 1994: 68.
For the list of these texts and their translation, see Visicato and 128 
Carroue 1994: 47–48.
Maiocchi in press. 129 
Wilcke 2011: 30.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

However, the restoration is not certain and could easily rim and four lug-like holes in the rim. The body was
refer to someone else or a Gutian king as well. incised with multiple rows of decoration (Figure 7.1).136
The same ware was found at Kish, the earlier type E red
Post-Lagash II Gutians ware having given way to grey incised white-infilled
wares which Mackay also placed in his type E.137 They
The conflict against the Gutians actually did not end are identical to the Adab type 1 vessel (Figures 7.3-6;
with Utuhegal or Ur-Namma but is recorded in several 8.2-5) and should be dated to the late Akkadian period.
early Shulgi Hymns (Shulgi D and B),130 which mention Several examples with a high trumpet foot and high
Shulgi returning from the Gutian battlefield. A Shu- rim were found at Umm el Jir by Watelin.138 Gibson
Sin inscription on a series of diorite (?) Lagash door considers this ware, which was found in Area B and
sockets dedicated by the governor Ir-Nanna131 mentions in a burial in Area D, to be late Akkadian but atypical
his titles, which include general of Basime, governor of Mesopotamian wares.139 A similar example from
Sabum and the land of Gutebum (ma-da gu-te-bu-um- Eshnunna dated to the level III NP was termed ‘Gutium–
ki).132 In this case, Gutium is located on the eastern Ur III’ by Delougaz (Figure 7.2).140 From Tell Agrab,
shore of the Persian Gulf near Bashime and Sabum – a Lloyd remarks that surface finds from the site included
coastal area attacked by Gutians in the earlier Lagash grey pottery with incised decoration filled with white
II period. The Gutians apparently played a role in the gypsum.141 He dates the pottery from the end of Akkad
destruction of Ur and the capture of Ibbi-Sin as well.133 to before Ur III, perhaps Gudea. This Tell Agrab surface
Enlil sent down Gutium from the mountains: ‘their pottery, based on a dated Šar-kalli-šarri tablet from the
advance was as the flood of Enlil’, recalling the similar city wall, probably dates to the Late Sargonic period.
phrase in the Sargonic Durum letter: ‘the Gutians came
like water’. The Gutian attacks into southwest Iran, The second type of incised burnished greyware was
southern Mesopotamia and into Subartu as far as the found at Adab on Mound II, possibly from a brick tomb
upper Euphrates by the late 3rd millennium BC can be with a corbelled roof. Missing the trumpet foot, Banks
supported by their mention in early 2nd millennium noted the incised quadruped, concentric circles, dot-
BC texts from Tell Shemshara, Chagar Bazar and even repoussé and both the white gypsum infilling and the
Mari.134 use of red colour.142 Wilson suggested that the second
greyware type belonged to the Isin-Larsa period based
A Gutian pottery horizon marker? on nearby Old Babylonian buildings and tablets. The
rough incised greyware described above may have
In the course of survey work and excavations in given rise to the more highly polished incised greyware,
southern Mesopotamia, the determination of a Gutian with dot circle/repoussé and lugs but adding the (later)
identification from material culture has proved elusive. common motifs of sitting or flying birds (swans and/
Gutians, like the Martu, assimilated into the local or peacocks) and quadrupeds and also using white
landcape and seemingly leaving no trace. By 1981 when infilling as seen on the Adab example.143 Delougaz
over 3250 archaeological sites had been identified in notes that although he found small fragments, all of
lower Mesopotamian surveys, not a single one could be the vessels were ellipsoid with a high trumpet foot.144
labelled as Gutian.135 The Ur shaft burials, despite their The earliest dated sherds from Eshnunna came from
distinctive gold and other metal artifacts, produced the main level of the NP [Late Sargonic]145 but the
no pottery which could be identifed as Gutian and the largest number were attributed by Delougaz and then
same can be said of the surveys. Wilson to the Larsa period.146 From the North Temple
at Nippur, McCown records fragments of this polished
However, certain traces particularly from burials greyware coming from a clear Late Sargonic ceramic
would suggest otherwise. In the heartland of Gutian and tablet context.147 From the Scribal Quarter, he
occupation, at Adab, Banks uncovered in 1904 two
forms of incised greyware which proved to have a more
widespread distribution in Mesopotamia than initially 136 
Wilson et al. 2012: pl. 12a.
suspected. On Mound III, a grave dug into very large 137 
Mackay 1925: 30–31, p. XIV; 1929: 149, pl. lii; cf. Mackay 1925: 31,
Akkadian period houses produced a unique pottery pls 1/2–3, xiv/6–8; 1929: 208, pl. lii/9; cf. Moorey 1970: 83, n. 34.
vessel. Dated to the Akkadian period of Šar-kalli-šarri,
Moorey 1970: C14, ‘tall neck/ flanged rim ovoid body, spreading
pedestal foot, type E’.
the greyware jar had a broken trumpet foot, flaring 139 
Gibson 1972b: 245, 271.
Delougaz 1952: 120, pl. 123c.
Lloyd 1942: 218–20.
Called ‘X’ in RIME 3/2: 93. 142 
Wilson et al. 2012: 50–52.
Michalowksi 2011: 343. 143 
Wilson et al. 2012: fig. 6.4.
RIME 3/2: 324. 144 
Delougaz 1952: pls 122–23, 125.
Michalowski 1989: 40–41, ll. 75–78; RIME 3/2: 365; Hallo 1971: 715. 145 
Delougaz, Hill and Lloyd 1967: 245, 250.
Hallo 1971: 716; Ahmed 2012: 372–74. 146 
Delougaz 1952: pls 123–26; Delougaz, Hill and Lloyd 1967: 261, n.
Adams 1965: 42, 44, n. 41; Adams and Nissen 1972: 92; Adams 1972; 113, 264–65.
Gibson 1972a; Adams 1981; Wright 1981. 147 
McCown et al. 1978: 28–29, pl. 47/3; Biggs 1978: 72, no. 9.

Juris Zarins

Figure 5. Upper Mesopotamia and northern Syria, c. 2150 BC showing the region and towns affected by Gutian attacks
(after Kuzucuoglu and Marro eds 2007: appendix 2, map 2)
Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

Figure 6. Incised, White-

Filled Gray Ware from Tell
Taya (after Reade 1973: pl.
LXVII/c, d)

Figure 7. Plain Gray, Red, and Incised Gray Trumpet Foot Wares: 7.1, Adab (Wilson 2011:
pl. 12/d, grave 3); 7.2, Eshnunna (Delougaz 1952: pl. 123/c, drawn from the published
photograph); 7.3, Kish (Mackay 1925: pl. XIV/9, Burial 32); 7.4, Kish (Mackay 1925: pl. XIV/16
Burial 24); 7.5, Kish (Mackay 1925: pl. XIV/15, Burial 13); 7.6, Kish (Mackay 1925: pl. XIV/14,
Burial 14)

Juris Zarins

Figure 8. Gray Plain and Incised Trumpet Foot

Wares: 8/1, Lagash (Parrot 1948: 293, fig. 61,
combined with vessel profile from Nippur, McCown
et al. 1967: pl. 92/12); 8.2, Kish (Mackay 1925: pl.
XIV/8); 8.3, Kish (Mackay 1929: pl. LII/9 [photo pl.
XLV/5]); 8.4, Kish (Mackay 1925: pl. XIV/6 [photo
pl. I/3]); 8.5, Kish (Mackay 1925: pl. XIV/7 [photo
pl. I/2])

dates the same ware to the Ur III period.148 The surface These ‘foreign’ ceramic types were also found at
survey of Uruk produced only a few sherds and bowl Lagash and Ur. Excavations at Lagash produced the fine
fragments of the polished incised greyware which were incised greyware from many areas of the tell (Figure
dated to the Isin-Larsa period based on similar pieces 8/1).157 Parrot suggested that they were either made by
from the Sinkashid palace (form 12a).149 Further north Elamites from Iran or imported directly from there.158
at Tell Taya, the polished greyware sherds were dated Two examples came from fired brick tombs as at Adab.
to the mid- to late Sargonic period (level VIII) (Figure Parrot places all of the cited and illustrated examples
6).150 One piece is unique in that it has cross-hatching, in the Larsa period. However, poor early excavation
incised human heads, double lozenges, dot-repoussé techniques preclude us from determining the Sargonic
and a row of caprids;151 another has birds, chevrons and origins or development of either type at Lagash,
rows of dots.152 Reade describes the pieces as rare and although AO 11903/TG1900, a fine polished concentric-
unparalleled but the general surface survey went on to circle example may date to the Late Sargonic period.159
produce both the early greyware and finer small bowls The same can be said of Susa. Examples of type 2 polished
with white inlay.153 greyware are well-known there but poorly documented
as to date, although Late Sargonic is possible.160
A third pottery type which Delougaz calls ‘small jars
with suspension loops’ has a high neck, a broken From the ‘Royal Cemetery’ at Ur, Woolley published
shallow foot as well as either incised cross-hatching or two types of pottery vessels which have the same high
rows of chevrons and incised half-moons or fingernail trumpet foot and high neck on a globular body as those
impressions, all of Larsa date.154 Several were found at found principally at Kish.161 Only three examples were
Ur, also of Larsa date.155 Examples have also been found published (Figure 9.1,4). Type 240 from grave 422 called
on surface survey at Tell Taya and from the central an incense brazier by Woolley have rough combing in
Zagros.156 the form of cross-hatching. Nissen says that the type
ranges from Early Dynastic III to Ur III.162 Type 241, a
plainware form, came from graves 547 and 574, both
of which Nissen dates to the late Akkadian period.163
A very similar vessel of possible Agade date was found
McCown 1978: pl. 92/ no. 12, 77 table 1/table 2.
Van Ess 1991: 96, pl. 109, type 51.
Reade 1973: 165, pl. LXVII/c–d. 157 
Parrot 1948: 290, 292, 294, fig. 61 and references.
Reade 1973: pl. lxvii/d. 158 
Parrot 1948: 292.
Reade 1973: pl. lxvii/c. 159 
Huh 2008: 565.
Gut 2001. 160 
Pottier 1912: 23; Wilson 2011: 51, n. 203 for additional references.
Delougaz 1952: pls 122/a–c, 152. 161 
Woolley 1934: pl. 266.
Woolley and Mallowan 1976: 193, pls 94, 113, type 127a-b. 162 
Nissen 1966: 169.
Vanden Berghe 1972: 42, fig. 10/26. 163 
Nissen 1966: 172.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

The grey flint willow projectile points: the Gutian

invasion trail?

In this study, I have described a number of distinctive

tombs excavated in Ur and identified the persons
buried there as a number of Gutian kings and their
families on the basis of Lagash II texts from Lagash
describing members of royalty. I also have attempted
to show that other material objects including at least
two different forms of a distinctive grey incised white-
infilled trumpet foot pottery – the precious-metal
fillets/frontlets (especially using the dot-repoussé
technique) and the omphalos frying pan wares used with
wine sets – were all Gutian-associated objects.

However, the most important and persuasive link

between an object of material culture and the Gutians
is a distinctive, bifacially knapped projectile point. This
point was often made from a grey flint, pressure-flaked
and heat-treated with a fine serrated edge. It is often
called ‘willow shaped’ due to its double-ended form
or named the ‘Brak’ type based on the large numbers
found there in late Akkadian levels.167 A variant found at
Tell Brak and Tepe Gawra is called ‘leaf-shaped’ (Figure
10/3–4, 7–12).

These arrowheads have long been known, collected

already by Koldewey in his 1886/87 soundings at
Figure 9. Trumpet Foot Wares: 9.1, Ur (Woolley 1934: type Surghul/Nina,168 Noetling from Dabar Kot in 1898,169
241); 9.2, Eshnunna (Delougaz 1952: 112, pl. 141); 9.3, UMH, Pumpelly at Anau in 1904,170 Cros from Girsu,171 De
A. 7115 (labelled as gypsum by Westenholz 2014: 280, with Morgan from Susa,172 Stein from Periano Ghundai I173
inscription); 9.4, Ur (Woolley 1934: type 240)
and Suktagen-Dor,174 and Speiser at Tepe Gawra.175
Perkins summarised the known material from Sumer
found before 1939 and noted that ‘the double pointed
at Eshnunna (Figure 9.2).164 This distinctive type 2 variety is found during the Akkadian period in the
greyware is mentioned in passing by Woolley as a south’.176
brown ware with white-filled incisions ‘which appear
in bowl form in the Gudea period’.165 Virtually no-one has realised the significance of
the appearance and tremendous spread of this flint
These particular classes of pottery contrast sharply with arrowhead type in largely late Sargonic/late 3rd
the standard repertoire of the Late Akkadian–Ur III and millennium BC contexts throughout Sumer, Akkad,
Isin-Larsa periods, and are often called ‘rare, unusual Subartu and the ancient states now part of Iran,
or foreign’ in the literature.166 At the very least, I would Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, and the in situ
place them as a ‘Gutian’ time horizon marker between recovery of hundreds of such arrowheads from towns
2150–1900 BC. As suggested by Parrot, these vessels which were clearly attacked such as Tell Brak (Nagar),
were presumably made locally by foreign populations Tepe Hissar, Bazi (Armanum) and Shahr-i Sokhta.
since parallels or antecedents outside Mesopotamia Their presence as well as being associated with large
are difficult to find. Other than the general pottery
greyware tradition found in the Transcaucasus or
northwest Iran, neither the white-infilled greywares 167 
Mallowan 1947; Oates 2001: 268, fig. 284; Underbjerg 2003: 52, 60–
nor the trumpet foot high neck vessels have parallels in 63, figs 58, 65/10–11; Rainville 2003; Emberling et al. 2012: 70, n. 1.
Koldewey 1887: 409; von Haller and Kienast 2008: 817, cat. no. 499,
the BMAC homeland. pl. 21.
Noetling 1898.
Pumpelly 1908: vol. I, 166–67, fig. 385, pl. 44, fig. 8.
Cros 1910.
Delougaz 1952: pl. 141/ A. 237.823, who cites the Ur examples nos 172 
De Morgan 1912.
240–41. 173 
Stein 1928.
Woolley and Mallowan 1976: 186. 174 
Stein 1931: 63, pl. VI, Su.5.
Woolley 1934; Delougaz 1952; McMahon 2006; for Subartu, cf. 175 
Speiser 1935: 85, pl. 38.
Oates 2001; Rova 2011. 176 
Perkins 1949: 189, n. 264.

Juris Zarins

Figure 10. Bifacial Flint Projectile Points from Tepe Gawra, Levels VI-VII [Speiser 1935: 84-85 and pls. XXXVIII;
LXXXI/2] (University Museum, University of Pennsylvania). Brak type: 10/1, 2. Leaf-Shaped: 10/3-4, 7-12.
Nineveh type: 10/5-6. 10/1: [33-4-70], 10/2:[33-4-17], 10/3: [32-21-212/5509], 10/4: [32-21-231/5557]. 10/5:
[32-21-239/5575]. 10/6: [31-52-16]. 10/7: [32-21-234]. 10/8: [32-21-214/5502]. 10/9: [32-21-240/5278]. 10/10:
[33-3-247]. 10/11: [32-21-233/5565]. 10/12: [32-21-211]

numbers of sling pellets suggests a change in battle used a fairly restricted range of techniques on a few
formation attack and/or tactics. Korfmann identified core types and prepared bifacial blanks and finished
these points from over 30 sites but attributed their products. Since most local flint from Hadidi occurs
origin to the Arabian peninsula,177 but surveys carried as cobbles,181 the exceptional quality of the grey flint
out throughout Arabia since 1975 have shown that the used for the projectile points derives from an unknown
Neolithic/bifacial flint points (6th–5th millennia BC) source. These points were clearly intended for arrows
have no connection with the serrated willow points of and were unusually small, 2.5 cm long in some cases,
the late 3rd millennium BC. Gut and Reade suggested with fine serrated edges and light in weight, from 2.5 to
the reason behind the widespread distribution of flint 5 grams;182 a wooden shaft from a Gutian Hissar grave
projectile points in the Akkadian period was the spread was 45 cm long.183 Most Mesopotamian shafts were
of a new type of weapon (Waffenform) which was tied probably made from reed.184
to south Mesopotamian Akkadians.178 I would argue
that this willow arrow point reveals an exceptionally Cuneiform data for these willow points are rare but may
large movement of Gutians, as well as other peoples be known from the Ur III term kak-zu2 na4 ‘serrated
across the landscape from the BMAC region who were flint arrowhead’.185 The person who knapped the flint
attacking major towns in their path, and eventually, was called the zadim. In MDP 14/71 rations are provided
their presence was recorded in southern Mesopotamia. for the zadim giš-ti ‘flint knapper for arrows’.186 The
term is abbreviated in the Umma Sargonic army texts
Concerning the production and knapping of the actual as zadim.187 It may also occur in the Classic Sargonic
willow points, three studies have been published.179 A
distinctive grey flint which was often heat-treated was
the primary material. The techniques used to produce
these bifacial points were first described in detail by 181 
Miller 1985: 2.
Miller analysing the lithic finds at Tell Hadidi on the 182 
The comments of Westenholz concerning arrow length and stone
upper Euphrates.180 He noted that the ancient knappers tip weight are guesses based on a visual examination of the Naram-
Sin stele: Westenholz 1999: 66, n. 301.
Dyson and Remsen 1989: 97–98.
Korfmann 1972: 219. 184 
Miller 1985: 8 and references.
Gut, Reade and Boehmer 2001: 87, following Schmidt 1996: 70. 185 
Schrakamp 2010: 107–10.
Miller 1985; Schmidt 1996; Skokun 2003. 186 
Schrakamp 2010: 218–19, nn. 1413–18 and references.
Miller 1985. 187 
CT 50/55, CT 50/56; MCS 9/235 and 241 in Foster 1982: 17.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

Figure 11. Bifacial Flint Projectile Points from Tell Brak (Mallowan 1947: 180–82, pl. 37; vicinity of Naram-
Sin palace). [British Museum collections]. Brak type: 11/1–2, 6–11. Nineveh type: 11/5. Lidar type: 11/3–4.
11/1: [125819], 11/2: [125817/12-11-98]. 11/3: [7-27-187]. 11/4: [125822/12-11-103]. 11/5: [125821/12-11-
102]. 11/6: [F871/7-27-88]. 11/7: [125818/12-11-39]. 11/8: [7-27-88/F871]. 11/9: [125820/12-11-101]. 11/10:
[no number seen]. 11/11: [125815/12-11-96]

Figure 12. Bifacial Flint Projectile Points from Tell Mozan

(Urkesh). (courtesy Rick Hauser). Brak type. 12/1: A. 10.5
[F23, K1]. 12/2: A.10q83.1 [F56, K5]

Adab texts as well.188 The term disappears after the Ur valley to the west using these numerous flint projectile
III period. point types.

Other types of distinctive bifacial flint projectile points The willow flint ‘Brak’ type points are found both at Ur
found in the Middle East from the 3rd millennium and Lagash and again suggest a Gutian link between
BC have been discussed by Schmidt.189 They include the towns. From Ur, a total of 14 flint points is known
‘stemmed’ [Nineveh], ‘tanged/winged’ [Tepecik/Lidar] (nine willow and five tanged);191 from the Penn Museum
and ‘hollow base’ [Bedeni/Trialeti].190 These types will collections, six willow and four tanged points were
not be discussed here except in passing and to note that located (Figure 16/1-7). All of the willow points were
by the late 3rd millennium BC, numerous groups were found scattered in fill at Ur without specific provenance.
engaged in warfare along and in the Mesopotamian As at other sites, they represent an attack on the city by
an armed Gutian force which included archers. From
Girsu/Tello at least 19 points are known, mostly of the
e.g. CUSAS 19/70.
Schmidt 1996: 65–84. Woolley 1925: 382–84, pl. XL; 1934: 304 (I), 227 (II); 1956: pls 12a, 13
Schmidt 1996: figs 65, 72, 76. (upper row).

Juris Zarins

Figure 13. Bifacial Projectile Points from

Adab (Oriental Institute, University of
Chicago). (after Wilson 2011: pl. 98]. Brak
type. 13/1: [A. 470], 13/2: [A. 303], 13/3: [A.

Figure 14. Bifacial Flint Projectile Points

from Tepe Billa. Brak type: 14/1-9. (Speiser
1935: 12–13; 1932/33). (University Museum,
University of Pennsylvania). Level V. Brak
type: 14/1-9. 14/1: [31-51-92c], 14/2: [32-
20-524], 14/3: [31-52-572c], 14/4: [31-51-
92b], 14/5: [31-51-92d], 14/6: [31-51-92a],
14/7: [31-51-399]. 14/8: [31-51-201], 14/9:

paralleled at the Ur shaft tombs, came under pressure of willow-shaped flint projectile points occur here
from a deteriorating climate as well as other factors, with clear cultural associations, especially in burials,
creating regional dislocation eventually extending to it makes it almost certain that the Gutians mentioned
southern Mesopotamia.209 Since the largest number in the Mesopotamian cuneiform record came from this
geographical area. As Hiebert has noted, ‘chipped-stone
Masson 1981: fig. 34. arrow points are part of the Central Asian Bronze Age

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

Figure 15. Bifacial Flint Projectile Points

from Tell Asmar (Eshnunna). (Oriental
Institute, University of Chicago). For the
findspots, see Delougaz et al. 1967:218-
261. Houses IVa/NP. Brak type 15/1-9.
15/1: [A. 8748]. 15/2: [A. 8750]. 156/3: [A.
8749]. 15/4: [A. 8751]. 15/5: [A. 8752]. 15/6:
[A. 8754]. 15/7: [A. 8753]. 15/8: [A. 11315].
15/9: [A. 11312]

willow/Brak type but a few are stemmed (Nineveh) and points are registered from Eshnunna.195 Nine are held
one was notched (Tepecik/Lidar). Some are registered in Chicago at the Oriental Institute, two broken in half
as ‘époque de Gudea’.192 As we noted earlier, Koldewey and two with impact point damage (Figure 15). A tenth
registered a willow point from Nina/Surghul.193 Given example A. 7164 (notched and tanged) was purchased in
the cuneiform data we have described from Lagash II 1930 and presumably came from the Diyala area. From
Lagash, the Gutian kings attacked the Lagash state as the excavations at Khafajah, the excavators reported
well as Ur sometime after the death of Šar-kalli-šarri only two willow points: the first is a serrated willow
and the ensuing civil war. point,196 the other may have been a stray surface find.197
From Uruk, three flint bifacial projectile points have
Ur and Lagash were not the only states to find been reported: two are of the willow elliptical type and
themselves under attack in southern Mesopotamia.
A significant number of willow serrated points were
found at Kish in Late Sargonic or later contexts but are points from Y and Z trenches were all grey or black 37 to 57 mm long;
poorly published.194 A total of 28 willow flint projectile Salonen 1965: 39, 109–25 noted some were as small as 2.2 cm long;
Thuesen 1981: 97 nn. 7–8; Phillips and Ekwall in press comment that
many Sargonic elliptical bifacial points with serrated edges were
See the summary in Huh 2008: 159, 170–73, 733, 735–36 and recovered from Kish.
references. 195 
Delougaz, Hill and Lloyd 1967: register.
Koldewey 1887: appendix 4; von Haller and Kienast 2008: 793, 817. 196 
Delougaz, Hill and Lloyd 1967: 53; Thuesen 1981: 96, n. 6.
Watelin 1929: 65–76; Fuller 1936: 113–16 noted that 17 projectile 197 
Delougaz, Hill and Lloyd 1967: 56.

Juris Zarins

Figure 16. Bifacial Flint Projectile Points from Ur (University Museum, University of Pennsylvania) (Woolley
1925: pl. XL; 1934: 304 (I), 227 (II); 1956: pls 12a, 13). Brak type 16/1-7. 16/1: [32-40-90], 16/2: 31-43-291/U.16739a],
16/3: B17604], 16/4: [33-35-114/U.18710], 16/5: [31-43-292]. 16/6: [31-43-293/U.16739]. 16/7: [32-40-89/U.17975]

one is stemmed.198 Eichmann says the two elliptical and similar finds from the BMAC region sometimes
points came from near the north wall.199 Three willow called ‘the Indo-Iranian lands’ (Figures 3-4).206 In
points were found by Banks somewhere at Adab (Figure contrast to the greywares with white in-filling and
13).200 A willow point was found in a burial at Umm the gold fillets using the dot-repoussé technique, the
al Hafriyat.201 From Susa, De Morgan says ‘feuille de distinctive willow flint projectile points can be traced
saule’ willow points are most abundant.202 Notched and back to their diffuse point of origin. The Bronze Age
tanged are rare.203 Legrain published three purchased development in the BMAC area took place along the
willow flint projectile points which were perhaps northeast fringes of the Kopet Dagh at the edge of the
from Susa but lack secure provenance.204 Alden reports desert fed by small river runoff and larger rivers such
finding a broken willow point on a survey in Khuzestan as the Atrek and Sumbar. The foothill deltas fan out
province.205 into the Karakum sands.207 Important sites in the region
include Gonur, Dashli, Togolok, Namazga, and Geoksyur.
The Bactrian Margiana Archaeological Complex Further to the northeast other streams meander
[BMAC] through oases into the Karakum and Kyzilkum. These
include the Margiana, south Bactrian, east Bactrian
That the Gutians occupying southern Mesopotamia and Zaman Baba oases.208 These site complexes in
may have originated east of the Caspian Sea has been turn are tied to key sites found along trade routes to
suggested by some of the finds from the Ur shaft tombs the southwest including Shah Tepe, Tureng Tepe and
Tepe Hissar, as well as routes to the southeast linking
Eichmann 1985: 92, fig. 19/40–42. Mundigak and Shahr-i Sokhta to the Indus, Marhasi
Eichmann 1991: 180, nn. 271, 273; Schmidt 1996: 68, pl. 60/2–3; and western Elamite cities. Their mixed farming way of
Pedde et al. 2000: nos 1744, 2581.
Banks 1912: 337–38; Wilson et al. 2012: 169, 172, pl. 98/c–e. life and distinctive cultural traits, some of which can be
Gibson pers. comm., 2013.
De Morgan 1912: 16–17, figs 60–73.
De Morgan 1912: 17, figs 74–76; Pottier, de Morgan and de 206 
Hiebert 1994: 13, fig. 1.9; for the archaeological sequences cf.
Mecquenem 1912: 67, fig. 96; re-published by Childe 1957: 137, fig. 68; Hiebert 1994: 173, fig. 10.6.
Schmidt 1996: 68, n. 295. 207 
See Hiebert 2003: fig. 1.3.
Legrain 1934b: 20, pl. XXV/72–74. 208 
For their locations, see Hiebert 1994: 170, fig. 10.5; Skakun 2003:
Alden 1987: 168, 42/23. fig. 1.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

Figure 17. Diverse Bifacial Flint Projectile Points from Altyn-Depe (from Skakun 2003: 148, fig. 2)

tradition … and have been found in all agriculturally in the late 3rd millennium BC. No archaeologists
based sites of the Bronze Age’ (Figure 17).210 However, working in the region have used those terms or made
despite the fact that there is virtually no written record the correlation with the willow projectile points to
from the BMAC region and the Indus script has not been southern Mesopotamia.
deciphered, I make the assumption that portions of the
BMAC region were called Gutium, Gupin and Tukrish Space does not permit a thorough listing with
commentary, analysis or bibliographic references,211
but the following BMAC sites have produced grey flint
Hiebert 1994: 77, 157, citing examples from the Gonur I period,
2100–1900 BC, from the Gonur complex, Kelleli 4, Altyn Depe, Togolok
21 and Takhirbai 3. 211 
For a brief list, see Skakun 2003.

Juris Zarins

willow projectile points: Altyn-depe, Anau, Geoksyur, (northern Iraq, Syria, south-east Turkey) (Figure 5),
Djebel, Kelteminar, Zaman-Baba, Murghab Oasis, south the list includes at least 19 reported sites. Halawa, Tell
Bactria, Dashli and Shah Tepe. The Gonur graveyard Brak (Nagar) (Figure 11), Nineveh, Tell Taya, Assur, Tell
in particular produced burials associated with the Bazi (Armanum?), Tell Hadidi, Sweyhat, Tell Chuera,
willow flint projectile points.212 Over 2850 graves were Selenkahiye, Hammam et-Turkman (VI west), Melebiya,
excavated (as well as the settlement).213 Almost 90% of Chagar Bazar, Tell Bi’a [Tuttul], Tell Mozan [Urkesh]
the burials found with grey willow or more rarely short (Figure 12), Tell Habuba Kebira, Kunara, Tepe Gawra
tanged flint projectile points came from shaft tombs. (Figure 10) and Tepe Billa (Sibana?) (Figure 14).
59 primarily male burials were associated with usually
one point. 23 tombs had between two or three and 10.214 To the south, south-east and east of the BMAC, the
Two tombs had more than 10: tomb 289 had a ‘quiver- distinctive willow flint projectile point has been
full’ [30?] and tomb 1500 had 16. Tombs 2458, 2488 and reported in varying numbers from Anshan, Bushehr,
2490 had flint projectile points associated with women. Shahr-i Sokhta, Tepe Yahya, Jiroft (Konar Sandal south),
The person buried in the rectangular cist tomb 2845 the upper Helmand, Bampur, Deh Morassi Ghundai IIc,
had 16 ceramic vessels, three flint projectile points and Khurab, Mehrgarh, Mundigak IV, Aq Kupruk and Tepe
a lamb sacrifice. The most elaborate and informative Hissar. From Baluchistan (highland Pakistan), the same
tomb was the late cist grave 2900 where a 60-year points have been reported from Sur Jangal, Dabar-Kot,
old woman and a 60-year old man were buried with a Periano Ghundai, Rana Ghundai II-III in the Loralai and
metal frying pan, copper vessels, and 34 flint projectile Zhob river valleys, Kot Diji and even at Suktagen-Dor
points, again accompanied by a lamb sacrifice.215 At and Harappa.
Altyn-depe, Excavation 7 produced high status burials
with flint projectile points as well.216 Three collective Gudea: ruler of Lagash and the Gutians
tombs contained up to 12 projectile points, burial 756
had seven.217 According to Sallaberger and Schrakamp, the Gutians
controlled much of Akkad, including Agade and Sippar,
These types of burials with willow flint projectile the Diyala and Sumer from Nippur as far as Umma
points such as found at Gonur and Altyn Tepe have and Adab.223 They consider the post-Šar-kalli-šarri
rarely been found in the west. Four have been reported. Lagash II period Lagash state and thus Gudea (as well as
From Tell Halawa, in Grave 600 a willow elliptical point Uruk and Ur) to be independent. How does this relate
was found.218 Two burials at Tepe Hissar held willow to the notion that the Ur burials discussed above are
elliptical points. DF-09 had two projectile points and most likely Gutian rulers? The multiple references to
DF-09X-1 had 14 placed next to a wood shaft measuring Gutians in the Lagash II archives, ‘the strange names’,
45 cm long.219 One tomb at Billa 32 contained 10 the use of ummanum in RTC 238, the RTC 221 series as
projectile points (eight of Nineveh type grey flint, and well as the exotic foods list and the presence of the flint
three Brak serrated willow type).220 At Umm al-Hafriyat willow points indicate a strong Gutian presence if not
one (late Šar-kalli-šarri) burial had a willow serrated an outright conquest. In addition, the ITT IV archives
point.221 Unfortunately, neither the shaft graves at Ur of Gudea paint a world of vast geographic proportions
nor reported burials at Lagash contained the willow which seem out of place for a petty localised ruler. I
flint projectile points. thus prefer the Visicato thesis that for at least six to ten
years one or more Gutian kings dominated the Lagash
In addition to southern Mesopotamian sites, adjoining state as evidenced through repeated royal visits.224 They
regions have also yielded these distinctive points may have ruled part of the Lagash territory (as well as
but for sake of brevity, I only list those settlements Uruk and Ur) and the local ensi was a subordinate (or
with flint willow projectile points.222 From Subartu an actual Gutian) as at Umma and Adab for example.
Their localisation geographically in Sumer as a whole
and by ruler in both the Sumerian King List and Ur III
Cremaschi 1998: 18; Sarianidi 2007; Salvatori 1993; 1998: 62, fig. 5, Sumerian King List cannot be fixed despite the efforts
Sariandi 2007: 297; for tomb types, see Sarianidi and Dubova 2016: of Sallaberger and Schrakamp.225
fig. 2, including ‘royal’.
Sarianidi 2007: 32–34, figs 201–203. Abundant information regarding Gudea can be found in
Sarianidi and Dubova 2016: 641, fig. 6; Sarianidi 2007: 146–55.
Masson 1981: 66–70. royal inscriptions,226 later copies, artistic representations
Skakun 2003: 149, n. 6. as statuary, stelae, cylinder seals227 and other miscellaneous
Gut, Reade and Boehmer 2001: 87, n. 58. objects, as well as administrative records. However, we
Dyson and Howard eds 1989.
Notes from the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania;
Speiser 1935. 223 
Sallaberger and Schrakamp 2015: 126, map 13.
Gibson pers. comm., 2013. 224 
Visicato 2010: 449–50.
The following lists come from Schmidt 1996: 68, n. 286; Emberling 225 
Sallaberger and Schrakamp 2015: map 13, appended here.
and McDonald 2003; Schrakamp 2010: 219, n. 1419 and my own 226 
RIME 3/1 Edzard 1997.
research. 227 
Dittmann 1994.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

actually know very little of the man, his origins or the real Umm Chatil / CN 11 (one),238 Adamnun (one),239 and Tell
political power he may have exercised. The possibility that Hammam (one). By far the largest number of Gudea
Gudea may have actually been a Gutian who assimilated objects outside of the Lagash state are Gudea clay cones
in toto deserves a brief examination. Presumably authentic dedicated to various Lagash deities.240 17 examples come
Gutian names are recorded in the Sumerian King List/ from Uruk, Ur, Larsa, Bad Tibira and Umm Chatil.241
Ur III Sumerian King List and we argue here for at least Since cones were inserted in the walls of the temples to
some Gutian cultural features which reflected on their which they were dedicated, it would appear Gudea had
otherwise total Mesopotamian assimilation. The Lagash II a variety of temples dedicated and built in at least five
list of at least 12 rulers at Girsu with Sumerian names in towns outside Lagash.
many ways mirrors the Gutian lists with their unrealistic
rule lengths and unknown succession order, etc.228 The A diorite statue representing a standing Gudea was
reign of Gudea himself is also unclear, scholars cite ten or found at Tell Hammam, 40 km west of Girsu.242 It would
more Gudea year dates and perhaps a rule up to 20 years appear that this site – Site 183 – lies on the Akkadian
to accommodate his ambitious building campaign. The period Iturungal south of Nagsu (site 175) and as such is
amount of time which passed between Šar-kalli-šarri to part of the Gudea’s world of Uruk, Larsa, Tibira, Zabalam
Gudea also remains unclear with estimates ranging from and Karkar? (Warka Survey site 004).243 Another diorite/
100 to less than 30 years.229 Gu3-de2 is a Sumerian term gabbro seated statue of Gudea, said to have been found
meaning ‘to exult, sing, cry out’.230 The exact verbal phrase eight km west of Ctesiphon, may have come from Upi
occurs as a personal name already in the Early Dynastic (Dur-Sin?).244 The total number of objects extends to
IIIa period, c. 2500 BC from Adab.231 Visicato has suggested perhaps 26+, the majority 65% from Uruk and Ur due
that a number of Lagash II officials under Gudea may have to competent excavation. The distribution of Gudea
already been active under Šar-kalli-šarri.232 This leaves objects outside the Lagash state is strange indeed
room to examine what relationship (if any) a late Classical since with one exception from Nippur,245 all refer to
Sargonic/Šar-kalli-šarri Gudea in a number of texts from dedications only inside the Lagash state. Yet, if Wilcke is
Sumer had with the Lagash II ruler Gudea. Four texts dated correct, Gudea’s standing outside the Lagash state was
to Šar-kalli-šarri mentioning a Gudea come from Adab in a more prominent than previously thought including an
variety of contexts.233 Two texts come from Girsu.234 In the elevation to kingship? (for this discussion, see below).
latter, Gudea, labelled a high officer – nu-banda – receives This idea can also be supported by a number of pieces of
an extraordinarily very large number of sheep/goats, two evidence which suggest Gudea had a desire to emulate
teams of equid hybrids (anše-kunga) and a chariot. TLAT the Sargonid kings in terms of power, prestige and rule?
24, a beer-bread text comes from Umma and mentions the (which also supports a short time gap between Šar-
wife of Gudea (dam Gu3-de2-a). The latest text comes from kalli-šarri and Gudea). They include:
UMH [post-Šar-kalli-šarri?], a site northeast of Nippur
and mentions two men working for/belonging to Gudea Gudea’s black stone statuary
The black stone statuary of Gudea, primarily from
Evidence for a Gudea presence beyond the state of Girsu, consists of at least 17 standing and seated
Lagash statues: these are unique to post-Akkadian Sumer.246 As
noted by Suter the statuary represents the ruler vis-à-
Interestingly, objects with Gudea’s name are found vis the deity.247 As such, Gudea continued the tradition
outside the Lagash state but most scholars suggest of the Sargonic kings who emphasised the use of such
these are later strays.236 These sites include Uruk (nine black exotic stone in at least two ways: they represent a
dated objects), Ur (eight objects), Nippur (one), Larsa skilled carving of an earthly semi-divine representative
(two) Tell Jidr (ancient Nagsu) (two),237 Bad Tibira (one), of deities on earth,248 and illustrate the power to obtain

Suter 2000: 297.
Steve 2001.
Suter 2000: 38.
Edzard 1997: 3; Huh 2008: 295; Sallaberger- Schramkamp 2015: 241 
Suter 2000: 31.
120–22; cf. Jacobsen 1939: 118–21; Steinkeller 2003: 273. 242 
Adams survey site 183 = Adams 1972: 227, without reference to any
Huh 2008: 294 and refs; Visicato 2010: 451; Sallaberger-Schrakamp Akkadian/Ur III period settlement; Suter 2000: 37, Statue U; Reade
2015: 276; Steinkeller 2015: 286; Suter 2000: 16, n. 89; Glassner 1994: 2002: 273–74, no. 12, fig. 9 and refs = BM 92988; illustrated in Rey 2017: 7.
no. 9. 243 
Steinkeller 2001: using Adams 1972: 36, fig. 17; Adams 1981: 163,
Halloran 2006: 88. fig. 31.
CUSAS 11/9. 244 
Adams 1972: site no. 47; Reade 2002: 273–74, no. 11, fig. 8; for a
Visicato 2010. very similar standing Gudea, see Suter 2000: 51.
Zhi 1986: 320 [A. 690+876]; CUSAS 13/108, CUSAS 19/138 and 245 
Suter’s SV2.
CUSAS 26/134. 246 
Edzard 1997: 30–72; Suter 2000: 58.
RTC 80 (= SRU 46), ITT 2/5896, STTI 2: 64. 247 
Suter 2000: 59.
CUSAS 27/29. 248 
Epiphamer 2010. Both Naram Sin and Šar-kalli-šarri were deified
Edzard 1997: passim; Suter 2000: table IIa. p. 31, 36–37. in their lifetime, Gudea only after his death. From Ur III sources: e.g.
cf. Steinkeller 2001 = WS 004. ITT 3/6636 - d-Gu3-de2-a, ensi, Lagash-ki, Ur-d-Sar2-ur3-ra, dumu

Juris Zarins

the exotic stone from distant Magan as Manishtushu Lugal-an-na-tum, ensi, u4-ba Si-u2-um, lugal Gutium
had done before.249 Clearly, Gudea’s importation of such (‘when Sium was king of Gutium’).260 Surely, the same
stone (diabase, diorite, olivine-gabbro)250 as a monopoly pattern would have existed at Lagash, just 80 km south-
channeled through Lagash from Magan (Oman/Iran) east of Umma. The similar phraseology would read:
emphasises his ties to the Sargonic tradition.251 In Gudea ensi and [u4-ba PN, ‘king of Gutium’].261 The
addition, the Gudea dress on these statues involving the Sippar mace which also names la-ia-ra-ab, da-num2
tasseled long toga baring one shoulder, is a Naram-Sin lugal Gutium … most likely was followed by a seven-
innovation.252 line inscription which was later excised. Several Gutian
rabi’anu sought kingship and legitimisation through
The importation of cedar wood from the Amanus Enlil and the E-kur at Nippur. The votive stone vase
mountains probably from Nippur, records the dedication on behalf
of Šu-durul, da-num, lugal agade-ki by a certain e-ki-
Both Naram-Sin and Šar-kalli-šarri describe the trip du-ga, a person known from nearby Isin.262 Ar-la-ga-an
taken to reach the source of the Tigris and Euphrates da-num2 lugal gutium-ki inscribed his name later on
in eastern Turkey and the felling of cedars from the the same vase as a means of seeking royal legitimization
Amanus range destined for E-kur construction and (he is probably the same Gutian named as king in the
other major temples.253 These geographical feats and Umma inscription quoted above). Another Gutian who
activities are also precisely described in Gudea texts sought kingship from Nippur is Gutarla: this is a well-
and images.254 Gudea even describes a raft of cedar known name in Lagash Umma, Adab and elsewhere
wood hauling logs down the Tigris to Girsu to decorate and may be a specific Gutian name. According to Ur-
and build the e2-ninnu.255 How was this feat of obtaining Namma, Gutarla [from the land?] (ma-da) of the Gutians
cedar logs from the Amanus (Syria/Lebanon,Turkey) (gu-ti-um-ki) sought kingship at Nippur by wanting to
possible if Gudea was a small petty regional governor? wear the crown and take the (required) ritual bath.263
Thus Gudea sought to replicate this identical feat A most interesting text in this connection is Schøyen
described by Sargon, Naram-Sin and Šar-kalli-šarri and ms. 2814 published by Wilcke in 2011. It is a copy of a
unifying the Lower and Upper Seas under his control/ Gudea inscription with an approximately 300 year later
influence. Gudea Statue B: ‘(He) opened all the roads Old Babylonian Akkadian translation of Rim-Sin (1822–
leading from the Upper to the Lower Sea’.256 Did Gudea 1763 BC). In this text, Gudea refers to his enthronement
possess far greater political power than previously in the E-kur and refers to himself as the ‘one who
realized and what precisely was his relationship with tows Enlil’s boat’ [Gu3]-de2-a, e2-kur-ra bara2/za3]-ge-si
the Gutians? (Akkadian: Gu3-de2-a [wa-ši-ib] e2-ku-ri-im ma2-gid2 ma2
d-en-lil2-la2 [Akkadian: ša-di-id elep aIllili]: ‘I Gudea, who
In late Šar-kalli-šarri documents such as PUL and UMH, was enthroned in the E-kur, the one who tows Enlil’s
Gutians are called rabi’ani, ‘the great ones’. At least boat’.264 Remarkably, this later copy is reflected in an
some of them formed the nameless ummanum (army) actual Gudea inscription on a diorite statue found by
mentioned in the King Lists.257 In addition to the Ur III Hilprecht at Nippur.265 This statue supports the idea
Sumerian King List and Sumerian King List, which name of a Gudea kingship investiture at Nippur.266 The exact
Gutians as ‘kings’ with associated (primarily short) phrase on the statue ‘the one who tows Enlil’s boat’ is
rule, a few other contemporary texts name Gutians found in Schøyen ms. 2814. Gudea’s ties to Nippur are
as ‘kings’ (Eeridupizir, da-num2 lugal, gu-ti-um).258 In also seen in a number of Lagash II administrative texts
several cases, local Sumerian governors name their from Girsu (see below). Unfortunately, the preceding 12
Gutian kings as overlords. Two are known from Umma: lines in the Schøyen ms. 2814 are completely missing.
Namahni as governor (ensi), u4-ba ia-ar-la-ga-an lugal Wilcke restores the introduction as referring to the
Gutium … (‘when Jarlagan was king of Gutium’),259 and deity Nanse and the possible associated superior king
as Shulgi.267 It would be hardly possible to have a Gudea
enthronement in Nippur with an Ur III king as his
ur-d-Su-en, arad2-zu] – ‘(For the deified Gudea, governor of Lagash, master. Instead, I would suggest the preceding king in
Ur-Sarurra, son of Ur-Sin, (is) his servant’.
RIME 2: 76. the broken section was one of the Gutian rulers, and
Edzard 1997: passim; Suter 2000: 48–49. I would restore it as follows: [a-na ba-la-aš PN], [car]-
Heimpel 1982; 1987.
Suter 2000: fig. 3; cf. Foster 2010: 127, also citing the Gudea
examples. 260 
RIME 2: 268.
Naram Sin: RIME 2: 86, nos t, y-z, dd, 140, no. 29; Šar-kalli-šarri: 261 
RTC 221 etc.
RIME 2: 182–83, 191–93, nos d-f. 262 
Hallo 2005.
Edzard 1997: 33ff, 73ff; Suter 2000: 144–45, 171, 180–81, see fig. 19b, 263 
Civil 1985; RIME 3/2: 67, no. 30.
ST 11 [p. 354, ST 20, p. 362 and pl. A. 264 
Wilcke 2011: 38.
Edzard 1997: 33. 265 
Hilprecht 1903: 296, 462, 473–74; for photographs of the object,
Edzard 1997: 32. now in Istanbul [ESEM 5213] see Unger 1916: 29ff and pls 1–2.
Steinkeller 2003; 2015. 266 
Edzard 1997: 61–62 as Statue T; Suter labelling it SV2 a cylindrical
RIME 2: 221. basin (Suter 2000: 37, 323 and references).
RIME 2: 267. 267 
Wilcke 2011: 37–38.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

ru-um [dan-n]u-um [il3 gu]-ti-im, ‘[to PN], mighty king, beyond his Lagash state. This thesis helps answer the
the god of the Gutians’ and later the phrase lugal-gu10 question of how the extensive Lagash centre under
‘my master’ as referring to Gudea’s overlord.268 This the Sargonids and particularly Naram-Sin and Šar-
would make Gudea subservient to a Gutian king as kalli-šarri was maintained by Gudea.275 Finally, a brief
described in several examples above from Umma and overview of these texts also reveals his chronological
perhaps on the Sippar mace too. Alternatively, Gudea ties not to the coming Ur III state under Ur-Namma
was a Gutian prince from Lagash who took the Gutian/ but to the late Šar-kalli-šarri Sargonid world.276 The
Sumerian kingship directly, perhaps as evidenced records summarised here fall into several groups: texts
on the Hallo stone votive bowl and as attempted by mentioning geographical locations, texts detailing the
Gutarla. Of course, it is difficult to determine how resources obtained by Gudea beyond the Lagash state
many rulers or governors bore the same ‘Gudea’ and and the continued use of Sargonid terms and phrases.
if any were Gutians. The same problem is attached As with my discussion of the distribution of flint willow
to the name Gutarla. In the latter case, at least one projectile points, for the sake of brevity I omit detailed
Gutarla was known as a Gutian and aspired to kinship. references for the Lagash II archives which the reader
Of importance is that at least one Gudea (the governor can consult in MVN 6-7 (and a lesser extent in the RTC
of Girsu?) had a formal ceremony of enthronement for fourth series) and ITT IV. The forthcoming Visicato and
kingship at the Ekur in Nippur. Of additional interest is Maocci study will provide proper transliterations and
a chlorite cylinder seal from Diqdiqeh at Ur. The typical translations.
late/post Akkadian combat scene is inscribed: Gu3-de-
2-a dumu-lugal, suggesting this Gudea was the son of a Geography
king, presumably Gutian.269 Finally, excavations at the
Nippur E-kur revealed a lavish temple built by Naram- It is unsurprising that Gudea was in contact with
Sin and Šar-kalli-šarri.270 This building was demolished most of Sumer, even beyond the range of discovered
and rebuilt by Ur-Namma, including the large platform actual Gudea artifacts. These towns and cities included
ziggurat,271 perhaps as revenge for Sargonid and Gutian Shuruppak, Adab, Uruk, Umma, Zabalam, Ur and Eridu.
sacrilege. It follows then that Gudea was enthroned at Of special note are the references to Nippur, perhaps
Nippur in the Naram-Sin/Šar-kalli-šarri E-kur temple tied to the coronation process detailed in Wilcke
and thus he validated himself as part of the Sargonic 2011 and the Gudea statue found at Nippur and the
power succession (in opposition to Ur). legitimisation of rule in greater Sumer.277 His relations
with the Zagros region to the east are also well-known
Gudea’s Girsu administrative records and locales mentioned in the archives include Huhunuri,
NIM [Elam/Elamites?], Lullubum, Kimashki, Simudar,
The surprising extent of Gudea’s geographical and Adamnun, Elanir and Ur2-na-ki. More surprising are
material world is based on excavated and illicitly the references to locales in Akkad and the upper Diyala
obtained administrative texts from Girsu, either called such as Bad3-ki, Simurrum, Ba-bil3-la-ki (Babylon?) and
‘post-Sargonic’272 or ‘paleo-Akkadico récente’,273 and Subartu proper including Gasur, the upper Tigris town
probably from Tell A.274 As of 2019, the known corpus of of Mardaban (Bassetki), and the Hurrians themselves
approximately 650 texts (including unpublished Louvre (lu2 hu-ri2).
and British Museum tablets) will be published by
Visicato and Maiocci who generously provided advance The Gulf world is known both from these texts and the
copies to the writer. Many of the subjects in these royal Gudea inscriptions discussed above and include
texts tying Gudea to the Gutians have already been Basime, Anshan, Dilmun and Magan. But perhaps
discussed above. In addition to having been cursorily surprisingly Marhasi, Meluhha and Gupin are known
analysed, the unwavering feeling is how complex and as well. A number of Martu (also called Tidnum) are
far-reaching Gudea’s world was (as already suggested also mentioned in the texts. Tied to Gudea’s accounts
by the Magan stone and Amanus cedar inscriptions) of the upper Tigris and Euphrates and the Amanus are
despite his apparent feeble and localised political mention of Tuttul, Ebla and Ursu.278
and military prowess. As already indicated above, I
suspect his rule was subject to the higher authority The presence of foreign populations in the Lagash state
of Gutian overlords who enabled him to flourish far apparently required an unusual number of translators:

Wilcke 2011: 38. 275 
Foster 1985: 29; 1993: 176; 2016: 70; Schrakamp 2015: 238, n. 472.
U. 17707, BM 12391 (UE 10/204); Collon 1982: 117, no. 264. 276 
Visicato 2010.
OSP 2: 24–29, texts 1–44. 277 
[MVN 6/19, 6/427 [Visicato and Maiocchi no. 229]; [ITT 4/7019]
Haines and McCown 1967: 1–73, 77–117. ITT 4/7448, mentioning an ensi of Nippur [Visicato and Maiocchi no.
Foster 1993: 176. 232]; RTC 246 [Visicato and Maiocchi no. 295: ‘three jars of wine for
Pettinato MVN 6. the dam Nibru-ki’]; ITT IV/ 8001, 8179, RTC 248, RTC 251–52.
Thureau-Dangin RTC 4serie [1903], ITT 4/Delaporte [1912]; 278 
For a recent overview of Gudea’s world, see Schrakamp 2015: 237–
reworked as MVN 6-7 by Pettinato [197-78]. 48.

Juris Zarins

[eme-bal-me] ITT IV/ 7962 [ma2 eme-bal]. ITT IV/ 7084, and Ur III empire, apparently little was preserved
7055, 7058, 7084, 7111, 7122, 7253, 737, 7390, 7962, 8019; in the archaeological record. Only very rarely do
RTC 250: ugula eme-bal-me.279 From Late Sargonic Adab archaeologists recognise in Sumer a material interval
comes a text providing beer to a Gutian translator between the death of Šar-kalli-šarri and Ur-Namma.
(eme-bal gu-ti-um), either a local person translating The current excavations at Girsu since 2015 centred on
the Gutian language or a Gutian translating his own the Tell A complex and the E-ninnu have uncovered in
language into Sumerian and Akkadian.280 Similar situ building remains of Gudea, including the stepped
persons would have been present in Lagash II Lagash. terrace foundations,289 and most likely the locus of the
Lagash II text archives. Beneath this temple lie two
Resources superimposed monumental platforms – the oldest
dating to the early 3rd millennium BC.290 It would
The texts document the importation of tin, copper, appear Gudea built on top of much earlier Early Dynastic
silver, gold, carnelian and etched carnelian beads,281 building/temple remains. The Sargonid building
and lapis lazuli which tie Gudea to south-east Iran remains and the associated classical Sargonic texts are
(Marhasi), Bactria, (Gutians), Afghanistan (Gupin?/ to be found at the nearby ‘Tell des Tablettes’ which has
Tukrish) and India (Meluhha).282 Under the various not yet been the focus of recent excavations.291
terms for incense and aromatics [giš-šim, giš-šim-gig]
lies the import of perhaps frankincense and myrrh As noted by Visicato in discussing the classical Sargonic
from south-east Arabia and the Horn of Africa. The and Lagash II texts from Girsu,292 there is no direct
export of textiles to Magan and Tuttul is documented association between Sargonic Naram-Sin and Šar-kalli-
from Lagash II weaving factories. šarri remains and those of the Lagash II dynasty and
Gudea at Girsu and so there is little hope of correlating
The continued use of Sargonid terminology and practices the textual and archaeological data at Girsu for this
critical period.
The most explicit tie to the Sargonid empire by Gudea
is the continued use of the barley measure še-gur a-ga- Conclusions
de3-ki (one gur = 300 litres).283 The city of Agade itself
is never mentioned or referred to. The ED tradition of A series of unique graves from the Royal Cemetery of
war chariots pulled by teams of equid hybrids [bir3 anše Ur are to be dated to the Lagash II period, just before
kunga of a cross of Equus asinus and Equus hemionus] the Ur III dynasty. Their wealth suggests close ties to
was continued throughout the Sargonid period and by individuals called kings in the cuneiform texts of the
Gudea.284 The importation of horses (anše-zi-zi) (from RTC 221 series. In both cases they represent, most
Gutians?) apparently begins with Gudea,285 and explodes likely, high-status people called kings of Gutium. Of
in the following Ur III period. The Sargonid contractual mysterious origin, the Gutians have generally been
pattern for sale of real estate, movable property and thought to have originated in the Zagros mountains
human beings is documented in Lagash II texts.286 The to the east of Mesopotamia. However, analysis of a
Lagash II texts continue to use the Šar-kalli-šarri term unique artifact type – a grey flint bifacial projectile
nisku in reference to (Gutian?) mercenaries?.287 The point – found at Ur, Lagash and other sites in southern
Sargonid title, ABxAS (‘city elder’) is also found in Lagash Mesopotamia has pinpointed their origins in the
II texts,288 as well as su-gal5-la2-um ‘the draft officer’. lands east of the Caspian, namely the BMAC. The
Gutian attacks in Mesopotamia, using mounted horse
The archaeological record in the south riders with complex compound bows in the west were
matched perhaps by attacks to the south, both against
Given the suggested length of the Lagash II dynasty Marhasi and the Indus Civilisation and southwestward
at Lagash as 30 to 80 years, between the Sargonids into selected areas of Elam as far as the eastern shores
of the Persian Gulf. Their presence at Ur and Lagash
extended well into the early 2nd millennium BC.
See Gelb 1968: 94–96; Sallberger and Schrakamp 2015; Steinkeller
Zhi 1986: 391, A. 1028 [OIP 14/80]. Acknowledgements
Edzard 1997: 79.
e.g. MVN 6/160 = ITT IV/7101= Visicato and Maocci no. 436 and
RTC 204. This study began with an observation that unique flint
[e.g. RTC 184 [Visicato and Maiocchi no. 253], 231, 235, 249; MVN willow projectile points were found in Classic Sargonic
6/537; ITT IV/8019, 8045, 8117 (dated to Gudea 9 and 11). context at Tell Asmar as recorded by P. Delougaz. As I
RTC 240, ITT IV/6190, 7065, 7091; for artistic examples from
Gudea, see Suter 2000: pls A–B.
RTC 244.
e.g. MVN 6/112, ITT IV/7113. 289 
Rey 2016; 2017; 2018.
MVN 6/52 (Visicato and Maiocchi no. 424); ITT IV/7052, MVN 6/76 290 
Rey 2018.
(Visicato and Maiocchi no. 356); ITT IV/7076. 291 
Huh 2008: fig. 40.
ITT IV/7017. 292 
Visicato 2010: 447.

Ur, Lagash and the Gutians

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New light on an old game

I.L. Finkel1


This paper reflects on one of the most successful board games of the ancient Near East, the race game often referred to today
as Fifty-Eight Holes (or, among others, Hounds and Jackals or the Palm Tree Game). This paper considers, in a non-encyclopaedic
fashion, the boards, equipment and play of the game, its ludological significance and its possible origin and even its ancient
name or names. It is offered with the greatest affection and respect to JER, the best of colleagues over nearly 45 years of the most
amicable and enlightening possible collaboration.2

Keywords: Board games; ancient Near East; cultural transmission; menstruation; holes

Introduction12 between the Ninth and Twelfth Dynasties, although

neither date nor location is by any means established
The study of the ancient board games which preceded (Figures 1–2). Certainly it was popular there around
chess and backgammon can be simultaneously both 2100 BC, and it came to be widely played thereafter in
highly revealing and full of pitfalls. It is one area of the countries of the Middle East throughout the 2nd
research into antiquity where a single conversation millennium and well down into the 1st millennium BC.
with a contemporary informant would solve a lot It was surely also the linear ancestor of the related-
of problems at once. In optimal circumstances the looking peg-and-hole board game that is known from
historical ludologist can reconcile boards, dice, pieces, Coptic Egypt,4 even though the archaeological record
images and rules, but it is seldom that all are available suggests a decline in the popularity of the ancestor
together: boards and equipment usually circulate in game to the point of invisibility in later Pharaonic
isolation, for one thing, without the benefit of pictures Egypt. The history, popularity and durability of Fifty-
or conversations. Eight Holes align it with the two other dominant games
of the ancient Near East, Twenty Squares (or the Royal
The playing of such games in the ancient Near East Game of Ur) and Thirty Squares (or senet), with which it
represented a significant component of human activity coexisted and perhaps sometimes even competed. The
from at least the pre-pottery Neolithic of about playing track for Fifty-Eight Holes is marked out by two
7000 BC onwards, and their persistent existence and orderly sequences of round holes. The standard layout
evolution ever after can be taken for granted even for each side is 10 + 19 holes, with two connecting loops,
when archaeological data for particular period or as exemplified in Figure 3.
place is patchy or lacking altogether. The primary role
of board games in human society has been to provide 70 or more game boards for Fifty-Eight Holes are
an enjoyable and absorbing way of passing free time, known today, deriving from Egypt, Nubia, Anatolia,
especially when it is too hot to do much else. The self- Mesopotamia, Iran, the Levant and Syria.5 These can
defining term here is the expressive and eloquent be conveniently sub-grouped by date, basic shape and
Anglo-Indian timepass. This timeless factor engenders a other characteristics:6
continuum in which the need for enjoyable distraction
and the undying value of a ‘good’ board game run in Style A: ‘axe-blade’
harmony. Style B: ‘violin’
Style C: ‘oval platter’
On the basis of the known examples the game of Fifty-
Eight Holes3 is thought to have emerged first in Egypt The game played on such readily identifiable and
symmetrical boards was indisputably a race game for
two players, each of whom had his own half of the
Department of the Middle East, The British Museum.
One fruit of our frequent collaboration was the compilation of a
working list of British Museum boards for the Game of Fifty-Eight Holes, 2013: 103–24, table 2; Crist et al. 2016: 103–18.
later communicated to Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi, who has kindly 4 
Drioton 1940; one board of this type not known to Drioton is now in
drawn my attention to the crossover board from Kultepe discussed the Musée Suisse du Jeux at Vevey (no. 2282); see de Voogt et al. 2016:
below. The line drawings illustrated as Figs 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 123.
16 have been graciously prepared specially for this article by James 5 
See de Voogt et al. 2013; Crist et al. 2016: 104.
Fraser. 6 
For the three basic shapes see Hoerth 2007: fig. 7.3; de Voogt et al.
See Hoerth 1961: 47–81; 2007; Decker and Herb 1994; de Voogt et al. 2013: 1720–21, A-C.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 43–51

I.L. Finkel

Figures 1-2. The type board for the Game of Fifth-Eight Holes, found at Thebes,
with its unique set of pieces, The Metropolitan Museum, New York (after
Carnarvon and Carter 1912: 220)

territory. The goal of the race was the central hole

at the top of the board. Each player’s route consisted
of ten holes that run down the centre portion to the
lower edge, turning to one side to follow the edge of
the board up to the top with a further 19 playing holes.
Very commonly every fifth hole (i.e. 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25)
is highlighted with a ring or other device to facilitate
counting. Often there is an extensive space between
the tenth and eleventh hole in the run of 29, sometimes
marked by a very large hole. This point evidently
marked a significant stage in the play of the game, as
discussed below.

Only one find, the luxurious and iconic Egyptian board

from Thebes illustrated here,7 has come down to us
with a complete set of gamesmen. Here each player
had a distinct set of five identical pieces, but whether
this number was standard is unknown. Examples
from Egypt and Iran8 take the form of pointed and
animal-headed ‘cocktail sticks’ which were designed
to stand upright in the playing holes without falling
or flopping over. In addition, each player required
dice to control the moves; in Egypt two-sided, wooden
throwsticks ending in fingers were available; but there,

Figure 3. Diagram to show the classic Egyptian board for Fifty- 7 

Carnarvon and Carter 1912: 58, pl. I. It was excavated in the Twelfth
Eight Holes with modern reference numbers added. ‘Starting Dynasty tomb of Reniseb.
Dunn-Vaturi 2000; small discs found with two boards (Hoerth 2007:
holes’ as shown here are only seldom included
64) were possibly two-sided dice.

New light on an old game

as elsewhere, the ubiquitous knucklebones (with four nature, therefore, ruled out the element of spontaneity;
scores) or even cubic dice (six scores) could be used. the Fifty-Eight Holes game cannot readily be scratched
No text or illustration survives to give us information on the ground and played with improvised pieces like
about how the game was played, and so scholars have the contemporary games of the Near East and, indeed,
been obliged to work out possibilities on the basis of the traditional board games in general.12 All other game
surviving examples.9 boards known to us from the ancient Middle East are
formed of linear rows of playing squares: one (mehen),
Generally speaking it has been assumed that each two (men) or three (Twenty Squares and senet), in which
player entered his or her five pieces on their own track the pieces have a shared route and intermingle at
at the throw of the dice, and sought to manoeuver them least part of the game and do at the same time lend
round their route to the end in advance of his opponent, themselves to graffiti-style production. This factor
who was meanwhile trying to do the same. The simple suggests that the Fifty-Eight Holes boards known to us
contest that emerges from this reconstruction, were chiefly played indoors, so-to-speak, rather than by
however, represents something of a curiosity within the all comers in the market place looking for distraction
long history of race games, for as envisaged it involves and excitement.
no interaction between the two players. The result is,
in effect, two independent and unexacting one-player A two-person game along the suggested lines is, as
patience-type games simultaneously played on a single shown by experiment, largely devoid of competitiveness
board by two individuals. or tension. It is a leisurely activity in the true sense of
the word, a round-and-round affair, ideal for timepass,
A high proportion of the known Egyptian boards include where the pleasure of the companionable ritual might
the two loops or connectors on each track exemplified in often exceed or displace the ultimate gratification of
Figure 3, usually squares 6-20 and 8-10. These operated winning. The Theban playing set of itself imposes an
internally, both forwards and backwards, and were image of sedate, mannered play and enhances such
undoubtedly compulsory. While loop 6-20/20-6 makes an impression. It is the sort of game where, if one
an obvious contribution to the excitement of the game player did happen to win, then another round would
the same can hardly be said of the undramatic connector follow. These considerations lead the present writer to
8-10/10-8, whose effect was probably to tangle up one suppose that Fifty-Eight Holes was, at least in origin, an
player’s pieces. The Egyptian game, in this modern upper class women’s game.13
incarnation, is entirely one of chance, analogous in
certain respects to our wholly anodyne children’s game A parallel can be adduced from traditional India. While
of ‘Snakes and Ladders’.10 One Old Babylonian stone chess, backgammon and pachisi have tended to be
board of about 1800 BC includes the Egyptian internal played by men and women alike, the numerous south
loop system, as does also a fragmentary ‘Elamite’ board Indian versions of the counting game mancala (Tamil
of fired clay from Susa of perhaps around 1000 BC,11 but pallanguzhi; Kannada ali guli mane; Telugu vamana
generally speaking non-Egyptian boards for Fifty-Eight guntalu or Malayalam kuzhipara) are, in contrast,
Holes do not incorporate connecting loops at all. Hoerth characteristically the preserve of women. In many cases
has suggested that familiarity with the game might the diminutive size of the boards and the seeds used for
have made connector lines unnecessary in boards pieces bespeaks that they were designed for small and
where they are not included but there are many cases delicate hands. Mancala in the Indian domestic context
and this idea is not at all convincing. can likewise continue in play over a long period of
idleness without desperate need in the participants to
From a purely formal point of view both the apparatus triumph.
for and the play of Fifty-Eight Holes as it is presented in
the literature at large require further consideration. The elaborate track of holes and the essential peg-
Both board and pieces for such a game would have to format pieces also suggest to this writer that Fifty-
be made in advance and retained for future use. Not all Eight Holes reflects invention rather than the gradual
known examples can have matched the Theban board distillation of a streamlined board game out of one
for craftsmanship or value, but the point would have or more forerunners, which is the natural process
applied equally with the more humble. Its very form and of ludological evolution. If, moreover, we are indeed
dealing with a women’s game, the sequence of 29 track
Hoerth 2007: 66-68 for the various theories beginning with that of holes ending in the 30th must be highly suggestive. I
Flinders Petrie; much the same conclusion as that of Howard Carter is propose, therefore, that the game of Fifty-Eight Holes
settled on in Crist et al. 2016:118-120.
The only perceptible challenge in a game of Snakes and Ladders
lies in enabling children to win without their noticing. The original 12 
Certain large-scale fixture Fifty-Eight Holes boards on stone floors in
Indian game from which it derived was far more significant; see 1st millennium BC Azerbaijan are discussed below.
Topsfield 1985; 2006a; 2006b. Major new work on the Indian game has 13 
In contrast, the developed game of Twenty Squares, at home in bar,
now earned Jacob Schmidt-Madsen his doctorate (2019). barracks and bazaars, with wagers centering on beer, meat and
Ellis and Buchanan 1966; Dunn Vaturi 2012: 58, no. 21. women, reflects a preponderantly male world.

I.L. Finkel

as we know of it originated in and developed from a

menstrual progress reckoning device deployed by royal
wives and companions in the ancient palace equivalents
of the later harem or zenana.

Counting the days of the month for women who were

lying around waiting at the disposal of the king and
needed to know whether they were going to be fit for
purpose, so to speak, who would be crucial, especially
given that fear of menstrual blood is likely to have been
as deep-seated in Middle Eastern antiquity as it has
traditionally remained in the Abrahamic religions. It is
easy to imagine that girls in the same boat might enjoy
a semi-competitive rivalry with regard to progress
through their measured days, and it is but a step from
that to a harem game with dice to hand and a few more
pegs. Thus might a customised and elegant personal
device invented for a quite different solo purpose
evolve into a pleasurable, drowsy but private game for
two. And thus it could have begun …

In any case it is probable that a striking new board

game with something else to offer in contrast to well-
established board games would come to life in, and
ultimately spread from, a palace context. Royal courts
in which literature, music and science were celebrated,
and enduring games such as chess and backgammon
came to be invented, surely had their early equivalents
at Nineveh and Amarna. The great games of the
Figure 4. Diagram of crossover board 1
ancient world probably shared the same process of
demoticisation that we know to have applied to chess
and pachisi: at first exclusively royal, ultimately the period between 1950 and 1835 BC, the period of the
universal. greatest Assyrian presence (Figure 4).14 It is a gently
waisted ‘violin’ shape of board made of fired clay and
Crossover boards measuring 17.3 x 8 x 3 cm. Each route consists of 11
rather than 10 holes down the centre, in which crossover
A limited but exceptional number of boards now known connectors join 6→8′ and 6′→8; the outer row consists
for Fifty-Eight Holes include symmetrically placed of 20 holes for each player, the last being a personal
connector loops that cross over from one player’s side goal. Internal connectors join holes 15↔20↔25 and
to the other. The importance of this fact can hardly 15′↔20′↔25′. That loops connect these three holes in
be exaggerated for the light it throws on the history sequence in this board is in marked contrast with the
of such a long-running and widely-distributed board internal loops in the classical Fifty-Eight Holes boards
game, since the presence of this feature indicates a and raises a problem. Presumably a piece landing on 15
race of much greater complexity and interest than is jumps forward to 20 but stops there. A piece landing
otherwise apparent or has previously been considered. on 25 will go back to 20. Does a piece on 19 that has a
The following presents the primary information about throw of 1 advance from 20 to 15 or retreat to 25? This
these ‘crossover’ boards, and considers in some detail carefully fashioned board has a total of 31 holes for each
the implications of their designs for the play of the player to negotiate. It is now in the Kayseri Museum.
game. Hole numbers in each case, such as 1 or 5, refer
to the left half of the board, matched by 1’ and 5’ to the Crossover board 2
right. At the time of writing six crossover boards are
known. This ‘violin’ shape of board, now in the British Museum,
is made of very dark green, almost black chlorite,
Crossover board 1 and at first sight resembles most closely a miniature
electric guitar minus neck and headstock. Its waisted
This first example was excavated in the house of an Old
Assyrian merchant in level II of the kārum or merchant 14 
Thanks are due to Mathilde Touillon-Ricci for discussion of the
quarter at Kültepe-Kanish, and can thus be dated to chronological aspect.

New light on an old game

profile to some extent echoes the standard type ‘B’ This board presents the simplest of the known crossover
Fifty-Eight Holes boards of Palestinian type, although the designs. The connectors, gouged out clearly in the
closest published parallel in many respects is the non- stone, link holes 1-3’ and 1’-3, 5 with 20, and 5’ with
crossover 2nd millennium board of fired clay thought 20’. The dominant right angle of the 5-20 connectors
to be from Tell Ailun in northern Syria.15 The present is occasioned by the shape of the board itself. Holes
stone example was skilfully made for use in accordance 15 and 25 are also marked off for counting by a scoop
with a well-established pattern, and in its day evidently slanting upwards to the right in a style reminiscent of
much played with, for the surface is worn smooth and the device favoured on Egyptian boards (see Figure 2).
the lower edge partly abraded. That this object is made
of this type of chlorite suggests an origin in south-east The small size of crossover board 2 (9.5 x 6 x 1.8 cm) is
Iran, but without direct comparanda its date can only conspicuous in comparison with the three specimens
be conjectured;16 it seems likely to be of 2nd millennium that follow and it seems likely that this was a portable
BC date. pocket-type favoured by travellers or merchants. Such
a small scale might seem to have implications for the
The board is fitted out with three shapely but stable legs. playing pieces but experiment shows that a crossover
The top leg is skilfully combined with the projection game played with five pieces per side on a board of
that marks the goal, which is itself bored through from this size works perfectly well with pieces of assorted
left to right to accommodate a suspension string. The heights, as exemplified in Figure 7, although it would
playing surface contains the standard two parallel probably make little difference to the participants if the
rows of ten round playing holes, and in this instance game were played with only three pieces (see below).17
20 outer playing holes. Between them is a triangular
arrangement of three larger, square holes, two above Crossover board 3
one, each no doubt once inlaid and drilled with a round
hole. The Tell Ailun board likewise has three holes, For a long period crossover board 3, of ‘oval platter’
larger or more distinct than the playing holes, set format, was unparalleled among boards for Fifty-Eight
between Holes 10 and 11. Holes in including the crucial crossover connectors. It

Figure 5. Crossover board 2, front and back (British Museum, 2003,1201.1).17

Moortgat-Correns 1959.

The board is unprovenanced although the previous owner’s father

This board is illustrated on the British Museum collections online

acquired it in Iran in the 1950s. and has been itemised in the study by de Voogt et al. 2013: 1725.

I.L. Finkel

Figure 6. Route details in crossover board 2 Figure 7. Experimental ‘piece’ sizes deployed on
crossover board 2

was excavated by Roman Ghirshman in grave 217 at

Cemetery B2 at Tepe Sialk in Iran, and is now in the
Musée du Louvre. It is impossible to establish from
the published report what else was discovered in the
grave – whether for example dice or pieces remained
to be found – while the board can be only broadly
dated by archaeological context to 1000–700 BC.18 This
board measures 24.5 x 11 cm. It is carefully fashioned
of yellowish fired clay, the upper face of which was
painted red.19

The layout is conventional (Figure 8). Connectors

originate at holes 1, 3, 5 and 6. That which connects 5
to 20 as well as 5’ and 20’ effectively bisects the board.
Holes 10 and 10´ reach down to just above a much larger
and carefully finished hole near the lower edge that
goes right through the board. The track continues in
both directions to the goal with a further 19 holes.

We can now see that the specific playing pattern found

on this primary board from Tepe Sialk no longer stands
in isolation but reflects an established tradition, for a

See Ghirshman 1939: 42–44, pl. XXII: 8. This object has been
itemised in the study de Voogt et al. 2013: 1724. We are grateful to
Dr F. Bridet of the Département des Antiquités Orientales, Musée du
Louvre, for checking the Ghirshman archive for more evidence about
its findspot. Figure 8. Route details in crossover board 3
It is conceivable that the red colour was in imitation of a board of
reddish stone, such as the otherwise similar board 3 below.

New light on an old game

Figure 9. Crossover
board 4, front and back
(National Museum of
Afghanistan, 09.59.234)

closely parallel example with identical arrangements

becomes available for study in crossover boards 4 and 5.

Crossover board 4

Crossover board 4 is an important new contribution to

the 58 Holes portfolio for it originates from Afghanistan,
and is here published for the first time with the
generous permission of the director of the National
Museum of Afghanistan (Figures 9–10). It is was part
of a seizure by UK law enforcement and initially listed
as HMC Afgh.115 prior to repatriation and registration
in the national museum in Kabul. This object, of ‘oval
platter’ form, is carved from a reddish-brown stone;
the back is smooth and uneven, and it measures 15 cm
long, 8 cm wide and weighs 342 g. Despite the material
from which it is manufactured, this board is directly
comparable to the crossover board 3, and in shape,
general conception and style evidently derives from a
similar cultural background.

In this board there is a larger hole for each side between

Holes 10 and 11 corresponding – as a significant stage
marker – to the three inlay squares in board 1 and the
single hole in boards 2 and 4. The maker of the board
inadvertently carved a hole too close to Hole 4 to
function comfortably as Hole 5 and had to refill it and
did the same between Hole 11 and the large hole. The
Figure 10. Route details in crossover board 4 photograph suggests that carved crossovers between
1-25 and 1’-25’ that match those in crossover board 2

I.L. Finkel

Figure 11. Crossover board 5 (British Museum, Figure 12. Route details in Crossover Board 5

have also been infilled, and this has been indicated on

the drawing. If so, this probably represents an alteration
rather than a correction, reflecting player response to
the full route.

Crossover board 5

The final example of a finished game board of this

type, in ‘oval platter’ shape and of about the same
date, was acquired by the British Museum in 1991.20
This board is made of pale greyish fired clay with no
trace of paint (Figures 11–12). The scalloped edge of the
open exit ‘hole’ at the top shows that it has not been
chipped away. A large similarly finished hole marks
the shared division hole after Hole 10. The two inner
tracks contain ten playing holes as usual, and the outer
29, but the connector system is different from and
more complex than that represented in the two boards
already considered, for they originate at holes 1, 2, 4,
5, 6 and 10. Their symmetrical nature is emphasized
by sharp delineation and consists of two ‘X’s,’ two
straight lines and one ‘M’-like shape. Hole 21 to the left
is laid out opposite to 5 and the maker mistakenly (but
understandably) drew the 5-20 connector to land on it. Figure 13. A game of Fifty-Eight Squares in progress under the
name of iɜsb in the tomb of Baqet III at Beni Hassan (after
Crist et al. 2016: 85)
The board was purchased in 1991 from Mr Saeed Motamed, who
knew no more than that it had come from Iran. This object has been
itemised in the study de Voogt et al. 2013: 1724.

New light on an old game

He dealt with this by adding a small extra connector

so that 5 is connected to 20 as it should be, without
otherwise trying to make good the error.

The name of the game

Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi has drawn attention to

the important matter that players enjoying a game of
Fifty-Eight Squares are twice depicted along with other
board games in play in the famous Eleventh Dynasty
wall paintings in the tomb of Baqet III and his son Khety
at Beni Hassan (Figure 13).21 The importance of this
identification is greatly enhanced by the hieroglyphic
label over each of the drawings, where the game is
actually named in variant spellings: isb and iɜsb.

There is no consensus as to a probable meaning for

the underlying word in Egyptian. It was Timothy
Kendall as long ago as 1982 who rightly compared it
to the Babylonian name patti apsu, ‘canal of the deep’,
which occurs in a letter from Tushratta of Mitanni to
Amenhotep III in the 14th century BC detailing gifts
for the pharaoh’s upcoming nuptials with the Mitanni
princess,22 without exploring the implications. The
context makes it clear both that a board game is meant, Figure 14. An Egyptian composite bow of the period of the
and also that it cannot be the Game of Twenty Squares, Tushratta Amarna letters alongside with ‘half ’ a contemporary
since that is referred to elsewhere within the same board for Fifty Eight Holes from Megiddo
letter. Here is the passage from this Amarna letter,
which is no. 22: such a board. Patti-Abzu, then, should be the Akkadian
name for the game of Fifty-Eight Holes.23 How is this name
2 BAN.MEŠ ša pa-at-ti ab-zu ki-ṣa-al-li-šu-nu KÙ.GI best to be interpreted? The writing ab-zu, as indicated,
GAR stands for apsû, the cosmic waters below the earth, so
u DIŠ-en i-na lìb-bi-šu a-na 2-[šu] KÙ.GI p[a-a]-az-na- Patti-Abzu to Babylonian ears literally means ‘Edge of
a-an-ni the Apsû’. As the name for a board game, assuming it
10 GÍN KÙ.GI i-na lìb-bi-šu-nu na-di really was an exciting pastime, we might understand it
better as On the Brink, or Precipice.
Two ‘Bows’ for Patti-Abzu, their astragals set in gold,
and one therefrom twice plated (?) with gold. 10 Playing the crossover game
shekels of gold have been used on them.
These five varieties of the crossover game allow certain
Given the golden astragals, i.e. imitation knucklebones, conclusions to be drawn about what represents the
this can hardly be anything else than equipment for a advanced or developed form of Fifty-Eight Holes.
board game. The identity of Patti-Abzu becomes clear
if the term ban (Sumerian) = qaštu (Akkadian), ‘bow’, Playing pieces numbered perhaps as many as five, quite
is understood to reflect not the weapon itself but its probably fewer. All had to be entered (or re-entered)
‘violin-like’ shape, that of the Late Bronze Age composite one by one, subject to dice throws.24 The board shows
bow. It is not hard to see how the right or left profile of that a throw of 1, only obtainable with a single die, had
such a board might recall that of a contemporary war to be possible, the knucklebone or astragal being the
bow; see Figure 14. most likely type for the purpose. One astragal producing
scores of 1-4 would suffice to launch pieces within the
Perhaps the royal gift was an inlaid game board like a first five holes; assuming that a throw of 3 placed a piece
table top that could not be fashioned of a single sheet of
wood but took the form of two flanges, hinged or joined 23 
I think Kendall was brilliantly correct in identifying isb with apsu.
in the middle, which could be separated for travel or A full discussion of all the cuneiform vocabulary for boards, dice,
storage. ‘Bow’ could easily be the name for each half of pieces and games is included in the author’s volume on the Game of
Twenty Squares, now in preparation.
The suggestion has sometimes been made, at least with regard to
Crist et al. 2016: 85–87. the earlier Egyptian boards, that the pieces were placed in holes 1-5
Kendall 1982: 265. in a line before the game began.

I.L. Finkel

in Hole 3 and so forth. Two astragals would accelerate is the most complex, adding three square inlay holes,
game play beyond launching, especially if compound one at the end of each arm and one, even larger, below
scores could be split between pieces. them (echoing the arrangement on the Tell Ailun board
referred to above). The crucial point is that in crossover
Whatever may have prevailed before with conventional Fifty-Eight Holes pieces are immune from capture after
Fifty-Eight Holes, it must be true of developed board reaching the Large Hole. Given that is seems only likely
types that players were not restricted to their own that no piece could move into Hole 11 and onwards
side but could cross over to the other. Connectors, before it had entered the Large Hole; a jump from Hole
symmetrically arranged between holes, are now 9→13, in other words, would not be allowed. This
significantly of two types, internal – mostly compulsory, feature thus divides the game into two sections: each
and external – all optional. Crossing over into enemy piece faces knocking off and re-entry throughout Holes
territory was thus neither automatic nor a penalty but 1-10 until it attains the Large Hole, after which it turns
a matter for strategic consideration. Fifty-Eight Holes in off into the relative tranquillity of Holes 11-29 to plod
this incarnation possesses the structure of a distinctly home, avoiding pitfalls on 15, 20 and 25 if possible. It
interactive two-person race game – the winner as is probably significant that a fair proportion of the
before being the first to bear off all his pieces – overlaid earlier, non-crossover Fifty-Eight Holes boards do not
with a substantial element of complexity and strategy. show a continuous sequence of Holes 1-29, but leave a
space or gap between Holes 10 and 11.
The hallmark distinction between compulsory and
internal is exemplified in all the other varieties by Hole The composite range of jumps for one player in Boards
1, which imposes the choice between 1→2ff. or 1→3´ 2, 3 as 4, and 5:
(Board 2); 1→2ff., 1→25 or 1→3´ (Boards 3 and 4) or
1→2ff., 1→25 or 1→1´ (Board 5). This optional factor Board 2 Boards 3 as 4 Board 5
was no device just to make the route ‘more interesting,’ 1→25 1→25
but introduces the vital element of conflict: we must
assume that an invader could dispossess a resident piece
of its hole and send it back to ‘square one’. Blocking, 1→3´ 1→3´
too, seems a likely factor in skilful crossover play. 3→1´ 3→1´
Direct conflict on the board is, however, practically 4→2´
limited to the first ten holes, which would see a flurry of
5→20 5→20 5→20
activity. What stands out here is that each player had to
evaluate tactically the moment at which – or the extent 5→5´ 5→5´ 5→5´
to which – he wanted to risk tangling directly with his 6→15 6→15
opponent. If he wished he could ignore the crossovers 6→10´
entirely and concentrate in getting everything home 10→6´
as quickly as possible, although this traditional and 15→6 15→6
vapid approach could be interrupted readily from
20→5 20→5 20→5
across the divide by his opponent long before he had
reached safety. This optional quality is noteworthy, for 25→1 25→1
race games with knocking-off characteristically impose 26→29´
conflict on both partners willy-nilly, and usually in the 29→26´
second half of the game – rather than the first – after
the pieces are launched. Once reaching the point at (b) Tactical considerations
the bottom of the board and turning to one side, the
remaining task for both players is the race home, the 1→25: a desperate escape leap that is only concerned
only obstacles now being compulsory backward jumps, with reaching the goal, probably attractive after
or the difficulty of throwing exact scores. repeated earlier knocking-off.
1→1´: innovated in Board 5; deeply offensive.
The Large Hole or the three distinct holes beyond
Hole 10, therefore, become an important feature, a 1→3´ and 3→1´: offensive, provocative and risky – to
watershed in the progress of the pieces. The crossover knock off or run down enemy pieces in Holes 3´, 4´ or 5´,
varieties offer slightly different arrangements with hoping to return from 5´.
different implications. Boards 2 and 3 have the one 2→4´ and 4→2´: Board 5’s ‘X’-shape equivalent to 1→3´
big hole in which more than one stick-piece could be and 3→1´. 5→15: in Board 2, option to leap forwards;
accommodated, thus catering for both sides. Board 4 cf. 6→15.
has one extra, normal-size hole for each side. Board 2

New light on an old game

5→20: another optional and desperate internal leap The two boards of fired clay – beside the two of stone
towards the goal. – share what might be called middle-range status,
been more or less carefully produced, marked out,
5→5´: probably suicidal as return options are very
and fired, for repeated use. The stylistic effect of such
easily obtainable and readily worked material contrasts
6→15: compulsory internal jump forward, a survival noticeably with most ancient boards for this game,
of the old Egyptian 6↔20 connector. Interestingly which are characteristically made of stone, inlaid
there is no equivalent to the old 8→10/10→8 internal woods and other expensive materials.
The three board traditions studied here exemplify a
6→10´: Board 5’s second and innovatory ‘X’-shape
progressive increase in the number of possible jumps
provides the last chance to prevent an opponent’s piece
and, therefore, in game depth and complexity – given
on Hole 10’ from reaching the Large Hole.
that that jumps are either internal or external, and either
10→6´: Board 5’s further innovation to promote optional or compulsory. This sequence of development
aggressive play. is formal but not necessarily chronological; we have
15→6: compulsory internal jump backwards, the no data by which we can satisfactorily date four of the
counterpart of jump 6→15. In Board 2 the similar jump boards, while three have no provenance at all.
15→5 must be compulsory.
Rock-cut Fifty-Eight Holes boards from Azerbaijan
20→5: compulsory reversal in Boards 3 as 4 and 5.
25→1: compulsory reversal in Boards 3 as 4 and 5. In conclusion, attention can here paid to an unexpected
and highlyimportant group of quite different Fifty-Eight
26→29´/29→26´: compulsory reversal; innovated in Holes boards that have become known from several
Board 5. sites in Azerbaijan.3 These are not three-dimensional
boards of the standard Middle Eastern type, but are cut
Four of the connectors in Boards 3 and 4, including into rock floors as a permanent fixture for long-term
the compulsory 6→15/15→6, reappear unchanged in use, and their very existence extends our picture of
Board 5. All boards impose compulsory backward jumps the game in living use. The reported circumstances of
at 20→5, the reverse of the beneficial 5→20, and three one find indicate deliberate shelter arrangements that
25→1, which sends a piece approaching the goal back would allow nomads who frequented the site to play in
to ‘square 1’. Board 5, moreover, imposes five further comfort.
compulsory reverse jumps that add an extra component
to the game. Hole 26→29´ dramatically relocates a piece How these Azerbaijani boards are to be dated is
needing only a throw of 4 as far from his own goal as is uncertain, as is usually the case with rock-cut features
possible on the other side of the board, while 29´→26 and graffiti. Broadly classed as ‘Bronze Age’ by their
is nearly as frustrating: both, furthermore, then oblige discoverers, they could in fact date equally to the 2nd
the player’s piece to retreat down the opposite outer or 1st millennia BC. There can be no doubt that they
flank against the homeward flow of his opponent’s derive from the Middle Eastern forerunner game, and
men. Three of the final five holes between Hole 24 and exemplify the same outward and eastern reach of Fifty-
the Goal in Board 5, therefore, are major last-minute Eight Holes that is implied by the Afghani crossover
obstacles, and embody a principle that applies in many board no. 4. The question is of course raised whether
of the world’s race games (including Egyptian senet), the shift from movable playing boards to permanent
that things get trickier the closer you are to the end, installations was a function of local activity, or whether
leading to rapid changes of fortune.2 It is remarkable we should imagine that similar floor-cut boards might
that there is no threat after Holes 25 in Boards 2, and 3 not have had a place in the towns and cities of the
and 4; at that stage the player is just preoccupied with ancient Middle East.
throwing the right scores. It can be argued, therefore,
that Board 5 is a reworking of an earlier crossover game Two of these remarkable boards came to attention in
to extend the possibilities and increase competitive rock floors outside simple stone shelters at Gobustan
excitement. National Park near Baku. One fell victim to house
construction, but the second was illustrated in an Azeri
magazine,4 and has fortunately been publicised in
Certain 1st millennium clay boards such as that from Ur (Gadd 1934:
46–47, pl. VIIIb) or Luristan (Dunn-Vaturi 2012: 119, no. 114) include 3 
It is a pleasure here to acknowledge the kind help of Walter Crist,
ring-marked Holes 6 and 8, without connectors, that might derive who has brought these important boards to public attention and
from the Egyptian connector 6-8. shared a lot more information about them with the present. Dr Crist
Snakes and Ladders boards of the 19th and 20th centuries often will publish a proper study of all the Azerbaijani Fifty-Eight Holes
have a snake waiting at Square 97 or 98 to plunge the unlucky player boards in due course.
right down to the bottom of the board. 4 
See Aliyev 2006 [inaccessible to the present writer].

I.L. Finkel

Figure 15. The board from Agashduzu (courtesy Figure 16. Drawing of the board from Agashduzu
Walter Crist) (the lower portion is not preserved)

Subramanian 2019 (Figures 15–16). The clearest board 1. Each player has a large starting hole and a track
available in photograph to aid the writing of this paper of thirty-one holes.
is that from Agashduzu. 2. There are inner crossovers 6→6’ and 8→8’,
while Hole 8 and Hole 8’ also lead to Holes 10 and
Judging by the photograph this board exhibits the 10’ respectively, presenting the player with the
following characteristics: choice of progress or aggression.

Figure 17. The

board from
(courtesy Walter

New light on an old game

3. One outer crossover is 13→13’, while double Decker, W. and M. Herb 1994. Bildatlas zum Sport im Alten
forward/backward jumps occur at 17↔22 Ägypten. Corpus der Bildlichen Quellen zu Leibesübungen,
and thence from the same hole 22↔28, with Spiel, Jagd, Tanz und Verwandten Themen (Handbuch
symmetrical 17’-22’ and 22’-28’. der Orientalistik, Erste Abteilung. Der Nahe und
Mittlere Osten 14). Leiden: Brill.
The Gobustan board is less clear and incomplete but Drioton, E. 1940. Un ancien Jeu Copte. Bulletin de la
appears to follow the same pattern (Figure 17). Two Société d’Archéologie Copte 6: 177–206.
further boards of this type were photographed by Dunn-Vaturi, A.-E. 2000. ‘The Monkey Race’. Remarks
Azerbaijani archaeologists at Ṣuvalan. on Board Games Accessories. Board Games Studies 3:
Ṣuvalan I appears to have a route of 31 holes but without Dunn-Vaturi, A.-E. 2012. Art du Jeu. Jeu dans l’Art. De
starting holes, and with no inner links. The one crossover is Babylone à l’Occident Médiéval. Paris. [Catalogue of the
15→15’, with outer forward/backward lines 20↔25↔30, Musée de Cluny exhibition, 28 November–4 March
matched by 20’↔25’↔30’, leaps that mirror the linked 2013].
pair in Agashduzu. Ṣuvalan II has a route of at least 31 Ellis, R. and B. Buchanan 1966. An Old Babylonian
holes with no starting holes, with internal crossovers gameboard with sculptured decoration. Journal of
3→3’ and 5→5’. The double outer loops match those of Near Eastern Studies 25: 192–201.
Ṣuvalan I. Gadd, C.J. 1934. An Egyptian Game in Assyria. Iraq 1:
Consistent in these rock-cut boards seems to be a track Ghirshman, R. 1939. Fouilles de Sialk vol. 2. Paris: Paul
total of thirty-one holes rather than the twenty-nine Geuthner.
of the classic Middle Eastern type. By far the closest Hoerth, A.J. 1961. Gameboards in the Ancient Near
parallel among known boards is the earliest specimen East. Unpublished MA dissertation, Department of
given here, the early 2nd millennium BC Anatolian Oriental Languages and Civilizations, University of
example from Kültepe, which has simpler crossover Chicago.
features and double loops like the Azerbaijani group Hoerth, A.J. 2007. The Game of Hounds and Jackals, in
as well as the same hole total, and itself dates to the I.L. Finkel (ed.) Ancient Board Games in Perspective:
19th century BC. Whether this has implications for the 64–68. London: British Museum Press.
history behind the Azerbaijani boards remains to be Kendall, T. 1982. Games, in R. Freed (ed.) Egypt’s Golden
established. Age: The Art of Living in the New Kingdom 1558–1085 B.C.
Boston: Museum of Fine Arts.
Conclusion Moortgat-Correns, U. 1959. Ein Spielbrett vom Tell
Ailun (?), in R. von Kiele et al. (eds) Festschrift
The addition of crossover connectors to the old and Johannes Friedrich zum 65. Geburtstag am 27. August
staid Egyptian board – with its risk-free, internal 6↔20 1958 gewidmet: 339–46.
and 8↔10 links – thus added very substantially to the Schmidt-Madsen, J. 2019. The Game of Knowledge.
interest and sophistication of this game. The result was Playing at Spiritual Liberation in 18th and
a tactical race game in which skill and chance played 19th century Western India. Unpublished PhD
more balanced roles, where pluckiness might bring its dissertation, University of Copenhagen.
own rewards and in which the fortunes of the players Subramanian, S. 2019. What we learn from the one of
could easily be overturned. It can hardly be doubted the world’s oldest board games. New Yorker 26th
that the crossover innovation – whenever it imposed March.
itself and came to achieve popularity – contributed Topsfield, A. 1985. The Indian Game of Snakes and
actively to the long-time survival and increasing Ladders. Artibus Asiae 46/3: 203–26.
distribution during the course of the 1st millennium BC Topsfield, A. 2006a. Snakes and Ladders in India: Some
of the Game of Fifty-Eight Holes. Further Discoveries. Artibus Asiae 66/1: 143–79.
Topsfield, A. 2006b. Instant Karma. The Meaning of
Bibliography Snakes and Ladders, in A. Topsfield (ed.) The Art
of Play. Board and Card Games of India. Marg 58/2
Aliyev, I. 2006. Unknown Absheron. Azerbaijan (December): 74–89.
International (autumn): 14, 3. de Voogt, A., A.-E. Dunn Vaturi and J.W. Eerkens 2013.
Carnarvon, G. and H. Carter 1912. Five Years’ Exploration Cultural transmission in the ancient Near East:
at Thebes. London: Oxford University Press. twenty squares and fifty-eight holes. Journal of
Crist, W., A.-E. Dunn-Vaturi and A. de Voogt 2016. Archaeological Science 40/4: 1715–30.
Ancient Egyptians at Play. Board Games Across Borders.
London: Bloomsbury Academic.

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

Sébastien Rey1


New excavations at Girsu on the so-called ‘mound of the palace’ (also known as ‘Tell A’), combined with a comprehensive review
of the pioneering French excavations of the Ottoman and Mandate eras, have provided a wealth of new information on the
Seleucid/Parthian period in the Mesopotamian alluvium and new insights into Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s real ideological programme.
The principal aim of this paper is to present the latest results of these excavations carried out as part of the British Museum’s
Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme. It argues that the building complex belonging to Adad-nādin-aḫḫe
should be re-interpreted as a memorial shrine dedicated to a cult of Sumerian statues instead of a palatial residence, and that it
was founded at the zenith of Seleucid rule in Babylonia rather than in the turmoil associated with the Parthian takeover.

Keywords: Southern Mesopotamia; Tello; Girsu; Seleucid/Parthian Babylonia; statues of Gudea; cult of ancestors; memorial

Introduction1 on the Seleucid period in the heartland of the long-

dead Sumerian civilisation.2
Among the most fascinating historical panjandrums
of ancient Girsu was the enigmatic Mesopotamian If Seleucid Babylonia experienced something of
philhellene Adad-nādin-aḫḫe. Originally he was a revival of Mesopotamian art, craft, and literacy,
thought to have been a local dignitary of the 2nd this regeneration did not eclipse the great vitality
century BC, a high priest, an antiquarian scribe or the of the region’s scholarly breakthroughs under the
ruler of a principality of the fading Seleucid kingdom Achaemenids, particularly in the realm of astronomy
who failed to establish a manorial dynasty in the and astrology.3 Evidently the Macedonian storm that
aftermath of the Parthian conquest. As a result his swept away Persian rule did not establish a new order.
name will remain inextricably associated with the Yet there can be no doubt that present-day southern
final and ephemeral renaissance of the age-old Eninnu Iraq – the heartland of the first cities and birthplace
Temple of the great Sumerian god Ningirsu. Careful re- of cuneiform writing – witnessed an age of renewal in
appraisal of the French pre-World War II pioneering the wake of Alexander’s conquest, particularly in the
excavations, combined with new excavations in the area of sacred art and ritual performance.4 Hellenistic
so-called ‘mound of the palace’ at Tello has led to the Babylon and Uruk have produced a wealth of
re-dating of this resurgence to the 3rd century BC, i.e. epigraphic material from important scholarly libraries
the height of Seleucid rule in Babylonia rather than and temple archives worthy of the bygone Sumerian
its fall. In lieu of a palatial complex encapsulating era, ranging from chronicles, king lists, astronomical
time-honoured symbols of the Babylonian struggle diaries, literary, mathematical and scientific texts,
against Greek hegemony, it appears more likely that ritual instructions, hymns, prayers, prophecies, legal
Adad-nādin-aḫḫe built, probably with royal consent, a documents and formal public texts, as well as a large
memorial shrine on top of the ruined sacred metropolis corpus of Greek inscriptions.5 Seleucid Borsippa, Uruk,
of Girsu. Fascinated by the past, he perpetuated the Babylon, and Larsa, have all left to posterity spectacular
old Sumerian rituals of burying foundation deposits, ruins of renovated temples dedicated to the ancient
stamping bricks in traditional style with his theophoric gods, including the Ezida to Nabû, the Eanna and Irigal
name – in both Aramaic and Greek – and also collected to Inanna (Ištar), the Esagila to Marduk, the Ebabbar to
Gudea’s statues as holy antiques and the embodiment the Sun-god, along with new religious complexes like
of ancestral kings. His pantheon became the centre the Bit Rēš to the Sky-god Anu and his consort Antum
of an ancestral cult honouring the long-dead rulers and the Ešgal to Nanaya (in Uruk).6
of Sumer. The re-dating of Hellenistic Girsu and the
reinterpretation of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s ideological
programme enshrined in this ‘Sumerion’ shed new light 2 
It is with great deference that I dedicate this paper to Julian Reade
who stands high in my imaginary pantheon of great archaeologists.
Sherwin-White 1987: 1–31; Kuhrt 1987: 32–56.
Downey 1988; Ristvet 2015: 153–210; Bahrani 2017: 322–53.
McEwan 1981; Van der Spek 1987: 57–74; 2006: 261–307; Van der
Spek and Finkel 2004; Clancier 2017: 913–57.
Department of the Middle East, The British Museum. 6 
Downey 1988; Van der Spek 2006: 261–307.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 56–81

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

It is well known that in Hellenistic Iraq the salient Sumerian dynasty of Ur, were committed to enshrining
cultural attributes of Babylonia blossomed in a Sumero-Akkadian literacy and knowledge by religiously
renaissance exalted to some extent by royal patronage preserving and glossing in colophons archaic hymns
and the relative peace and wealth of the time. There and primordial myths in fired clay memorial tablets.
was a period of relative stability between the triumphal It is known that most, if not all, Neo-Babylonian
take-over of Babylon by its former satrap Seleucus I monarchs elevated to a pious obligation of their rule
(Nicator) in 311 BC – which marked the beginning of the remembrance of, and reverence for, the past by
the Seleucid Era – and the struggle between Alexander restoring the artworks of ancient great kings, retrieving
I Balas (and descendants) and Demetrius II (Nicator), archaic cult statues, and reviving long forgotten rituals
followed by the first Parthian raid on the alluvium led (e.g., the renewal of the divine image of the Sun-god
by Mithridates I in 141 BC which signalled the beginning (Šamaš) in the Ebabbar in Sippar by Nabu-apla-iddina;12
of the end of Greek rule.7 The original nexus of Seleucid the restoration of temple walls and monuments of art
power took root in Babylonia and Seleucid kings took it from the reigns of Hammurabi of Babylon and Narām-
upon themselves to govern like traditional Babylonian Sîn of Akkad by Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus).
potentates with all the pomp and splendour of yore.8
Cuneiform inscriptions record in detail how from It has become common to describe these Neo-
the start the eponymous dynastic founder Seleucus Babylonian and Seleucid antiquarian activities as the
I and the crown-prince and co-regent Antiochus I first examples of ‘an archaeological consciousness or
(Soter) embodied the solemnity of Babylonian ritual archaeological approach to the past’.13 The fascinating
re-enactments, repairing temples and ziggurats, and case of the rediscovery and display of the Sumerian
making sacrifices and offerings to Mesopotamian gods. ruler Gudea’s statues by the Hellenised Adad-nādin-
Antiochus III, like his predecessors, performed all the aḫḫe in Seleuco-Parthian Girsu has often been invoked
religious rites of Babylonian kingship, including the in support of such a heuristic concept.14 Originally
celebration of the New Year festival. The honouring and dated to the 2nd century BC, the resurrection of Girsu
worship of Babylonian deities was by no means a royal – after abandonment for roughly two millennia – was
prerogative since high officials and Greek dignitaries the inspired work of this enigmatic dignitary with a
in the Seleucid royal court also took part in local Babylonian theophoric and regnal archaic patronym,
cults. Even if the degree of Hellenization of Babylonia literally ‘God-Adad-the-Giver-of-Brothers’. Adad-
is still a matter of scholarly debate, it is nevertheless nādin-aḫḫe has been generally portrayed as a local
clear that the region ‘between-the-rivers’ adopted and ruler who governed either under the last Seleucid
adapted distinctive aspects of the Hellenistic material kings, or in the havoc following the Parthian conquest.
culture complex (poleis, marketplaces (agoras), coinage, His name, impressed on fired bricks in Aramaic and
Greek bullae and sealings, and theatrical performances Greek (Figure 1, hddn|dn’ḥ / αδαδνα|διναχης), has also
(drama).9 To be sure, in light of the archaeological been interpreted as the Aramaic form of Saggonadacos
evidence Babylonia under Greek dominance represented or Sagdodonacos as transcribed in Greek by Pliny
something of a syncretism, particularly in the area of the Elder – believed to be the father of the Seleucid
religious and ritual practices, household commensality, strategos Hyspaosines of Charax, founder of the Mesene
and craftsmanship (e.g., Greek-shape pottery and dynasty in the Mesopotamian delta. The alleged secular
fired clay figurines influenced by new manufacturing building that Adad-nādin-aḫḫe erected in the ruins of
techniques and sculptural styles introduced from the the long-abandoned Eninnu to Ningirsu was therefore
Aegean, with Greek iconography adopted to depict interpreted as a palace complex – the epicentre of an
local deities, Greco-Babylonian artworks).10 emerging regional power (Figure 2). Sumerian statues
of worshipping rulers in prayer with clasped hands and
It has been usual to view the period of the Diadochi (or other votive artefacts and dedicatory objects belonging
Successors) as a pioneering epoch of antiquarianism to Gudea and his dynasty were retrieved from 3rd
marked by great interest in the past and old tradition – a millennium sanctuaries in the preparatory phase of the
phenomenon of true ‘nostalgia and self-ancestralisation Seleuco-Parthian restoration project. Consequently,
of local practices’.11 Not that Hellenistic Iraq discovered they have been invariably interpreted as forming part of
ancient Sumer and Akkad. Babylonian priesthood and a new ‘curatorial collection of Sumerian antiquities’ on
scholarship characteristically sought to perpetuate display in what was thought to be a Hellenistic palace-
time-honoured masterworks as a potent source of museum shaped by a Babylonian curator-ruler aligning
authority. Mesopotamian scribes in Seleucid Iraq, like himself as the legitimate (and natural) inheritor of a
all their predecessors since the fall of the last Neo- Sumerian ruler’s legacy.

Sherwin-White and Kuhrt 1993; Kosmin 2014.
Sherwin-White 1987: 1–31.
Sherwin-White and Kuhrt eds 1987. 12 
Finkel and Fletcher 2016.
Ristvet 2015: 153–210; Bahrani 2017: 322–53. 13 
Bahrani 2017: 276.
Kosmin 2018: 11. 14 
Since Parrot 1948: 309–14.

Sébastien Rey

Figure 1. Fired clay brick stamped with the name of Adad-nādin-aḥḥē in Aramaic and Greek
(D. Tagen, Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq Scheme, The British Museum)

Digging the ‘mound of the palace’

in Ottoman and Mandate Iraq

The pioneering exploration of Tello

by Ernest de Sarzec was carried out
from 5th March to 11th June 1877.
He conducted a second season the
following year from 18th February to
9th June. Both excavations focused on
Tell A, the largest and highest mound
of Tello located at the northern
edge of the archaeological site, also
known as the ‘grand tell’ (Figure
3). Work took place immediately
after he had taken up his post as
French vice-consul in Basra and led
to the discovery of a magnificent
fragment of colossal statuary bearing
a cuneiform inscription on the
shoulder – the first milestone of his
spectacular finds, and a statue of
remarkable significance which in
turn revealed for the first time the
very existence of the Sumerians.15
According to the French explorer’s
own and somewhat self-flattering
account in his book Découvertes en
Chaldée, the upper part of the Gudea
colossal statue (Statue D) was found in
a ravine along the northeast slope of
the mound.16 However, some scholars,
including Henri de Genouillac and
André Parrot, expressed doubts
on the veracity of his narrative,

Figure 2. Superimposed plans of the so-called ‘palace of Adad-nādin-aḥḥē’ 15 

Parrot and Heuzey 1948.
excavated by Ernest de Sarzec (in black) and Henri de Genouillac (red) 16 
Sarzec 1884-1912: 4.

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

Figure 3. 19th century photograph of the remains of Adad-nādin-aḥḥē’s building complex with Ernest de Sarzec in the background
(Sarzec and Heuzey 1884-1912: pl. 49)

arguing that not only the Gudea Colossus (Statue from 1903 to 1909, Genouillac in 1929–1931, and Parrot
D), but also other archaic sculptures from Tell A had from 1931 to 1933 (February of that year).20
been unearthed before his first reconnaissance in
1877.17 A letter from Élias Géjou to François Thureau- As is well known, nearly all the large scale excavations
Dangin dated 17th March 1942 confirming this fact led by these French pioneers and first explorers of
was published in 1948 by Parrot in his own book, Tello, Babylonia – except for Cros whose fieldwork has been
Vingt Campagnes de Fouilles.18 That important artefacts considerably overlooked – lacked a methodological
originating from Tello were recovered before the approach to archaeological fieldwork and particularly
beginning of the fieldwork by Sarzec is proven by
several curatorial acquisitions, including a cuneiform 20 
Parrot and Heuzey 1948: 9–33. Only Sarzec, Cros, and Genouillac
tablet belonging to Gudea, by the Louvre in 1873. It is explored the ‘mound of the palace’ (Tell A); Parrot invested most
of his archaeological resources in the eastern tells. The large-scale
also important to draw attention to the discovery of the excavations of Sarzec revealing the so-called Seleucid/Parthian
first Gudea statue with interlocking hands by William ‘palace’ took place during his first four seasons between 1877
Kennet Loftus in 1850 at Tell Hammam, most likely and 1881. During his third season, he uncovered Lagaš II headless
statues and other fragments of Sumerian statuary. Several ancient
originating from Tello.19 From February to March 1879, constructions or structures distinct from, and below, the ‘palace’
Hormuzd Rassam explored Tello on behalf of the British were revealed in 1880/81 during his fourth season. Cros’s fieldwork
Museum, remarking that Sarzec had operated without at Tell A was limited to one season (his first) in 1903, and to limited
soundings in the ruined architectural remains of the ‘palace’ and next
an imperial firmân, and opening several soundings of to the spoil heaps from Sarzec’s excavations. Genouillac carried out
his own in Tell A. In 1880, Sarzec resumed his work at a larger excavation in Tell A during his first and second seasons in
Tello and a total of 20 excavation seasons were carried 1929 and 1930 respectively but by the time of his arrival at Tello in
1929, most of the walls of the ‘palace’ had already disappeared. He
out by four French teams, successively led by Sarzec in excavated several large trenches in the northern part of the building,
collaboration with Léon Heuzey until 1900, Gaston Cros and collected fired bricks (from remaining walls and pavements)
for his new dig-house: removing these bricks led to the discovery of
three foundation caches with ritual tablets and copper figurines of
gods from Gudea’s time. Regular excavations revealed only sculptural
Parrot and Heuzey 1948: 15–16. debris, some remains of paving, and three wells. In his second season,
Parrot and Heuzey 1948: 16. he opened another trench at the base of the northwest perimeter wall
Grimshaw and Rey 2018. of the ‘palace’.

Sébastien Rey

Figure 4. Old photograph taken during Ernest de Sarzec’s excavations showing in the foreground the so-called Gudea’s Gate
(EFHI) rebuilt in the Seleucid period (Sarzec and Heuzey 1884-1912: pl. 50)

to recording techniques. Carried out early days of – principally the exterior façade walls. Excavations
Mesopotamian archaeology, they were pioneering and in 1929/30 by Genouillac in the central area of the
operated using methods characteristic of their time – collapsed ‘palace’ produced a single poorly-executed
the Industrial Revolution – which proved disastrous plan with elevation. Although he refrained from
by modern standards. Despite valiant attempts by attacking ‘palace hill’, Parrot re-interpreted the general
scholars of ancient Iraq to disentangle the complex stratigraphy of Tell A and produced a new schematic
stratigraphic layers too hastily exposed in the ‘mound plan of the Palace in 1948. Photographs from Sarzec’s
of the palace’,21 it is virtually impossible to reconstruct excavations taken between 1888 and 1895 and from
the archaeological sequence with their associated Genouillac’s investigations in 1929/30 – although rare –
deposits from the reports alone. Yet the commonly- are nevertheless extremely useful, providing a wealth of
shared negative view that the French archaeologists information on the complex stratigraphic relationship
had completely razed Tell A should be abandoned, as the of the superimposed Seleucid/Parthian and Lagaš II/Ur
results of our new fieldwork have already proved. To be III archaeological deposits (Figure 4).
sure, the archaeological finds and architectural features
from the campaigns of Sarzec and Genouillac were at Re-interpreting the Seleucid/Parthian ‘palace’ of
best poorly recorded and sometimes not documented at Adad-nādin-aḫḫe
all. The first architectural plan of the Palace produced
by Sarzec well after exposing the fired brick walls and Despite significant, and to some extent insoluble,
pavement floors between 1877 and 1881 – some of problems of interpretation it is nevertheless clear that
which had already been dismantled or collapsed – was the so-called ‘palace’ belonging to Adad-nādin-aḫḫe
at the very least inaccurate, and considered a rough was a complex construction quite atypical in its general
sketch by his draughtsman. Rassam’s archaeological layout and structural features. Sub-rectangular in
foray in the ‘mound of the palace’ in 1878 was evidently plan, measuring 53 x 31 m and orientated northwest/
not adequately recorded. While Robert Koldewey was southeast, with corners pointing in cardinal
passing through Tello in 1886 he produced a sketch of directions, it was made of red to green, square and
the ‘palace’ highlighting the walls and architectural rectangular, fired brick walls laid in regular courses
features that had eroded away or collapsed altogether with overlapping joints bonded with bitumen or in
places mud mortar, and ranging from c. 80 cm to 1.80
Huh 2008; Kose 2000: 377–446. m thick – some walls were preserved to about 3 m high.

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

Figure 5. Detail of Hellenistic engaged semi-circular fired brick columns created by the re-use of Gudean column base
fragments (Sarzec and Heuzey 1884-1912: pl. 49)

Although Sarzec first believed that Tell A was formed adjacent northeast and southeast flanking sections.
by a large-scale platform made of 20 x 20 x 10 cm The floor was laid with square Lagaš II inscribed fired
mudbricks with monumental ramps ranging from 40 to bricks, c. 30 cm square, regularly set on a layer of
50 m leading to the raised ‘palace’ some 12 m above the bitumen with the Gudea inscription commemorating
surrounding alluvial plain, later excavations revealed the rebuilding of the Ningirsu temple facing down.22
that the ‘mound of the palace’ was actually made of The presence of a paved walkway only in front of the
superimposed archaeological layers. Nevertheless, that northeast wall suggests this was the main façade of the
the edges of Tell A consisted of a sloping mudbrick ‘palace’ featuring the principal entrance (M). In front
glacis heaped against the outer face of the footings of of the large central buttress of the façade, flanking the
the mound is plausible. It is paradoxical and somewhat main gateway (M), a carved basin with an inscription
ironic that the first architectural description by Sarzec belonging to Gudea measuring 2.50 m long, 60 cm
in his magnus opus relates to mudbrick, inasmuch that wide, and 70 cm high (AO 67A, AO 67B, EŞEM 5555),
he failed to identify any other traces of mudbrick was placed on top of a stepped pedestal made of two
architecture in his 11 seasons of excavations. large slabs. Carved from a single block of hard yellowish
limestone, this basin featured on both long external
The northeast perimeter wall was built of three distinct faces sculpted reliefs of standing high-priestesses or
parts or segments, including a central section decorated deities with outstretched arms holding, in their joined
with elaborated pilaster strips (or three-step recesses) hands, a vase from which flows a double stream of
on either side of a large rectangular buttress 5.50 m water, and falls bubbling to the ground which is marked
long and 1 m across. The recessed pilasters, regularly by a stream along the bottom. The shorter flat and
spaced, were 60 cm wide and 25 cm deep. The two other round sides of this basin were inscribed in cuneiform
sections of the wall, on either side of the central part, with dedicatory texts to Ningirsu.23 Like the northeast
were decorated with an uninterrupted series of large
vertical tori, semi-circular in cross-section, forming 22 
The Gudea classic Eninnu dedication to Ningirsu, Gudea E3/
half-columns 0.5 m in diameter made of Gudean ‘For Ningirsu, Enlil’s mighty warrior, Gudea, ruler of Lagaš, made
things function as they should (and) he built and restored for him his
triangular bricks with rounded edges (Figure 5). Eninnu, the White Thunderbird’.
Along the entire length of the northeast façade, the 23 
Gudea E3/1.7.58. Inscription on flat side of basin: ‘From [the
floor was covered with a pavement 5 m wide in front mountain s?] he brought down [... stone], (and) he (used it) to make
for him an enormous basin (...)’. Inscription on round end of basin: ‘To
of the central section and 4 m wide in front of both Ningirsu, Enlil’s mighty warrior, Gudea, ruler of Lagaš, dedicated (this

Sébastien Rey

perimeter wall, the northwest enceinte wall also on top of mudbricks which completely filled and sealed
included three separate parts but here the elaborate off spaces of underlying Lagaš II/Ur III construction.
composite decorative pattern of alternating engaged As for the foundations of the ‘palace’ internal walls
half-columns and recessed pilasters is reversed, i.e., the and façades, they were directly established on top of
former ornamenting the central narrower buttressed this mudbrick extensive subterranean feature which
section of the façade, the latter the two flanking longer formed the proper substructure of the whole edifice.
segments. In fact, unlike the northeast corner buttress,
the northwest one of 5.50 m long and 70 cm wide The northeast part of the ‘palace’ organised around
consisted of a sort of decorative panel made of seven Courtyard C – spatially unconnected with Courtyard
large vertical tori 0.50 m in diameter (exactly like those A, the central area, but accessible through Gateway L
in the northeast façade) framed by two flat columns or in the northeast façade– included a well-constructed
pilasters. It is important to note that all the segment hearth in room 11. It also contained a wealth of
walls of the two façades, although built with different Sumerian ex-votos, including a fragmentary statue
decorative elements, were carefully bonded together inscription of Gudea dedicated to Ningirsu in room
and therefore belong to the same period.24 30 (Statue W, AO 20),26 the torso of a diorite statuette
of a bearded man holding a vase against his chest
Each façade of the ‘palace’ included an entrance. The in room 8, and three diorite fragments of another
main northeast façade was pierced by two gates (M and statuette scattered in rooms 30, 32, and courtyard C.
L). Except for M which appears to have been blocked in Outside the ‘palace’, near entrance L, along the façade
a subsequent period (see below) and featured two stone wall, was a large standing statue in green diorite,
door sockets, no other passages included door sockets heavily mutilated with the head, shoulders, part of
or any other traces of closing devices. It is important feet and socle broken off, and possessing a cuneiform
to point out that bricks of the same size as the Gudean inscription on the back which was probably dedicated
bricks used to block gateway M were inscribed with to Ningirsu (Statue K, AO 10).27 The northwest area
Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s cartouche. Sarzec recalls he found planned around Courtyard B included two wells and
similar bricks in other parts of the ‘palace’ (‘in later another brazier or fireplace in room 35. It also yielded
additions to interior constructions of the Palace’: see important relics of Sumerian sculpture, including an
below). Subsidiary entrances measured less than a inscribed standing headless statue of Ur-Bau with
metre across. Gateway M leading to the Great Court A interlocking hands commemorating building activities
measured 1.50 m across. It was flanked on one side (to in Girsu (AO 9)28 uncovered in the passage leading to
the south) by a deep niche (N) or alcove, 1.50 m wide niche 16 – probably its original location spot – which
for 5.50 m deep at the end of which still stood the lower also contained a large religious copper vessel. Entrance
part of a colossal seated statue of Gudea dedicated to corridor F (subsequently labelled Gudea’s Gate EFHI)
Ningirsu (Statue D, AO 1), and facing northeast.25 The which presents one, perhaps two, rebuilding phases
interior ‘palace’ walls, ranging between 80 cm and 1.80 (see below) – EF with single-recessed pilasters walling-
m in width, were found below an upper layer of about 40 off and narrowing the passage – yielded a fragment of
cm of earth and sand. The elevation of the extant walls a white limestone basin with protruding lion’s head
ranged from 60 cm to 2.40 m, with the central walls and votive inscription of Gudea to Ningirsu (AO 59).29
generally better preserved than those on the periphery. An earlier Lagaš II construction made of inscribed
Only the area of the southwest corner of the building Gudean fired bricks (with the dedicatory cuneiform
presented major architectural lacunae. Interior walls, text facing up) and bitumen, separated courtyards A
like the exterior façades, were built of fired bricks, c. 30 and B. It consisted of three sloping terraces (forming
cm square, bonded either with bitumen or clay mortar. a raised stepped platform, H, H’ and H’’) ornamented
The ‘palace’ consisted of 36 rectangular or square rooms, with articulated pilasters. The two higher terraces
ranging from 3 x 3 m to a length which never exceeded 4 (subsequently labelled DEGH) preserved to about
m, and three interior courtyards (A, B, C) around which 2.30 m in elevation were incorporated in the ‘palace’
the rooms were arranged. Courtyard A measured 17 x necessitating their complete rebuilding in the
21 m, B measured 8.25 x 9.25 m, and C measured 5.65 x Seleucid/Parthian period – the original paving of the
6 m. Rooms, courtyards, and interior passages were all Lagaš II stairway’s base made of two courses of bricks
floored with pavements made of fired bricks measuring was situated 1.20 m below the base of the foundation
about 30 cm per side. These bricks were uninscribed. walls of the ‘palace’. The lowest terrace (D’) was found
The paving, calcined by the fire which appears to have completely buried below the pavement of Courtyard B.
caused the destruction of the building (see below),
rested on a thick layer of homogenous backfill deposited
Gudea E3/1.1.7.StW.
object) for his (own) life’. 27 
Gudea E3/1.1.7.StK.
Contra Parrot 1948: 155. 28 
Ur-Bau E3/
Gudea E3/1.1.7.StD. 29 
Gudea E3/1.7.59.

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

Figure 6. Detail of the so-called Adad-nādin-aḥḥē buttressed wall (Sarzec and Heuzey 1884-1912: pl. 53bis)

The southern part of the ‘palace’, organised and small storerooms (4, 5, 6, the first and third featuring
planned around Courtyard A and covering an area over low vaulted or arched passages) containing votive and
350 m2, was the focal point of the edifice. It included a other symbolic artefacts including an inscribed mace-
staircase (I) flanked by a chamber (36) established in the head and a fragment of a relief plaque of grey, light red
restored higher terrace wall (H) of the stepped archaic and yellow limestone displaying a horned crown and
platform, as well as a deep and narrow niche (33), 5 carrying a Gudean inscription (AO 59).31 This area was
m long and 1 m wide. Later additions in the central delimited on its northern side – perhaps in a subsequent
courtyard included a sort of vestibule or antechamber phase, cf. below – by a large enceinte-type buttressed
made of architectural features O, O’, and O’’, poorly built wall (Figure 6, OP, also-known as Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s
with re-used debris such as bricks of Gudea and Adad- wall) measuring 15 m long and preserved to height
nādin-aḫḫe laid directly on top of the pavement. As is of 1.20 m. Constructed in a similar way as the wall
well known, the great Court A yielded, in addition to a EF which narrowed-down Gateway EFHI, it was built
large fragment of an Early Dynastic statue and the head of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s and other uninscribed bricks
of a large Lagaš II statue, seven seated and standing bonded together with mud mortar. Gateway M which,
statues of Gudea in diorite or similar dark imported as mentioned above, had been deliberately blocked
stone. All were life-size and headless, and dedicated with building materials and broken archaic ex-votos
to the principal gods of the Lagaš pantheon: Ningirsu, including bricks of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe, a pre-Sargonic
Bau, Inanna, Gatumdug and Ninḫursag̃ (Statues A, B, C, relief featuring a lion-headed eagle mastering a lion,
E, F, G, and H: see below).30 The area to the northeast and Fragment B of the ‘Stele of the Vultures’, measured
of Courtyard A included a staircase (R) and a series of 1.20 m across and was equipped with inscribed colossal
diorite sockets measuring 0.50–0.60 m across, one
AO 8, Gudea E3/1.1.7.StA; AO 2, Gudea E3/1.1.7.StB; AO 5, Gudea

E3/1.1.7.StC; AO 6, Gudea E3/1.1.7.StE; AO 3, Gudea E3/1.1.7.StF; AO 7,

Gudea E3/1.1.7.StG; AO 4, Gudea E3/1.1.7.StG. 31 
Gudea E3/1.7.60.

Sébastien Rey

belonging to Gudea, the other to Ur-Bau, and both Given that most, if not all, of the architectural features
dedicated to Ningirsu’s Eninnu. Passage-corridor M-M’ of the so-called ‘palace of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’ were
yielded the limestone stele fragment attributed to revealed in the first four archaeological campaigns
the reign of Gudea depicting a ritual procession and a of Sarzec conducted between 1877 and 1881, further
musician playing on a bull lyre, with the iconographic information relating especially to the stratigraphy
scene facing down (AO 52). and chronological sequence of Tell A was obtained
in 1903 by Cros, and later in 1929/30 by Genouillac.
The area to the south-east of Courtyard A included the Deep trenches opened by Cros in the area of the so-
largest room of the edifice (27), 4 m wide and 12.50 m called ‘Gateway of Gudea’ (EFHI) revealed the presence
long, accessible from A through a monumental doorway of Early Dynastic III construction of plano-convex
featuring a threshold made of a 30 cm thick limestone mudbricks, levelled in Lagaš II times, as well as a ritual
slab measuring 2 x 1.20 m with a Gudean inscription foundation box originally belonging to Gudea rebuilt
carved on the top and edge of the slab. Deeply buried in the Hellenistic period on top of a rectangular favissa
below the south-east corner of the ‘palace’ (rooms 27, filled with clean layers of ash and sand and containing
27, 28) were the Lagaš II monumental remains of the a fired clay brick stamp bearing the name Adad-nādin-
Ur-Bau sloping platform with internal buttress-like aḫḫe in Aramaic and Greek. Excavations carried out by
features (ABC) made of inscribed large fired bricks Genouillac in the ‘palace’ led to the discovery of several
(c. 47-cm side), half-bricks, with a core of mudbricks Lagaš II architectural features belonging to the Eninnu
preserved to a height of 1.10 m, and containing a Temple erected in honour of the god Ningirsu, including
foundation deposit consisting of a pottery jar with a three additional foundation deposits with votive stone
stone ritual tablet and copper deity.32 As mentioned tablets and copper figurines of horned deities. In 1948
above, the whole area to the southwest of Courtyard Parrot articulated the principal archaeological strata of
A was badly eroded. By contrast, the area to the the ‘mound of the palace’ (Tell A) as follows:
northwest was well-preserved (room 19 and locus 20).
It included the widest entrance of the entire edifice (K’), • Early Dynastic III layers in the central area
approximately 2 m wide and constructed with two large • Lagaš II sloping-tower of Ur-Bau (ABC)
alabaster slabs (2.50 m long x 1.50 m large x 60 cm thick) • Lagaš II Eninnu temple to Ningirsu of Gudea (D’,
stacked one on top of the other – the upper severely lower part of DEGH and EFHI, L, K, M, and N)
damaged by fire. The lower slab was placed on top of a • Seleucid/Parthian ‘palace’ of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe
heavily compacted 30 cm thick layer of crushed bricks, (Phase 1)
mortar and bitumen. This sealed another layer of sand • Parthian renovation of the ‘palace’ (Phase 2: O,
and earth which contained a cache of archaic cylinder O’, O’’ in Courtyard A, EF, walling-off of Gateway
seals, stamp seals and amulets. Gateway K, opposite K’, M, and perhaps OP).33
included an approximately 1.5 m wide threshold, also
heavily burnt and broken, which concealed another The dating of the ‘palace’ to the 2nd century BC – and
favissa of 3rd millennium seals. The southwest façade consequently its interpretation as a palatial residence
included a second niche (T) of similar size to N, 5 m or administrative centre part of the kingdom of Mesene
long and 1 m across, at the end of which stood a square (previously a Seleucid satrapy) – was originally based
plastered pedestal, 1.10 m high, supporting a stone on the very controversial hoard of 732 coins, consisting
basin. This water reservoir was connected to a fired of a complete sequence of bronze issues from
brick open conduit built on the pavement of Court A. Hyspaosines (c. 125 BC) to Attambelus IV (c. AD 113),
Room 18 lay to the northwest of vestibule 19, which was allegedly buried under the floor of room 27. That this
covered with a 30 cm thick layer of ash and other burnt exceptional treasure belonged to the ‘palace’, let alone
debris, and was equipped with another distinctive room 27, is actually very unlikely.34 It is furthermore
fireplace made of fired bricks and containing, hidden in fact highly questionable that it had anything to
in the mortar between the courses, a large number of do with Tello at all: more likely the coins came from
Sumerian cylinder seals, one apparently in lapis lazuli, the large Partho-Sasanian site of Medaīn, only a few
and proving a ritual purpose for these installations. kilometres away. Had the hoard originated from the
Below several areas of the southern part of the ‘palace’ ‘mound of the palace,’ moreover, it would have had to
were discovered, in addition to the Ur-Bau religious have beenconcealed after AD 116, i.e., well after the
tower just mentioned, other well-preserved remains destruction and abandonment of the building of Adad-
of the Lagaš II/Ur III period, including ritual basins (L, nādin-aḫḫe (see below).35
K) and a sacred well (M) belonging to Gudea, and an
exedra (N) made of fired bricks stamped with the Gudea 33 
Parrot 1948: 151–56.
royal inscription. 34 
Parrot 1948: 310–312: ‘E. de Sarzec purchased all the coins from
Bedouin wives of his workmen’.
It is important to point out additionally that the alleged ceramic
hoard jar (Sarzec and Heuzey 1884-1912: pl. 42, 16) would have been
AO 261, Ur-Bau E3/ far too small to contain 732 bronze so-called Characene coins.

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

Yet despite significant problems relating to Sarzec’s New excavations conducted at Tello/Girsu in the
supposed discovery – as well as questions raised by context of the British Museum Iraq Emergency Heritage
the palaeography of the Aramaic script on the bricks Management Training Scheme, launched in 2016, have
– dating of the ‘palace’ to the Seleucid/Parthian led to a review of the dating of the Hellenistic building
transitional period (mid to late 2nd century BC) to the 3rd century BC and offer new archaeological
was maintained in Parrot’s 1948 synthesis Tello. At evidence (Figure 7). This points to its re-interpretation
that point it fitted perfectly with the pre-conceived as a memorial-shrine honouring long-deceased
functional interpretation of the building, as well as Sumerian rulers within Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s apparently
the general reconstruction of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s role state-endorsed ideological programme. Excavations
as local ruler attempting to establish a new dynasty in carried out between 2016 and 2018 in the ‘mound of the
the vacuum following the collapse of the Seleucid state palace’ (Tell A), after a gap of more than 80 years, have
(as discussed above). Although Parrot strongly argued led to the identification of extensive mudbrick walls
that the building had all the characteristics of a palatial – some ornamented with inscribed cones – belonging
residence consisting of a public space (the southern to the Eninnu Temple to Ningirsu. Of the Lagaš II/Ur
part organised around Courtyard A for ceremonial III sacred complex of the White-Thunderbird were
events) and a private area (the northern part divided exposed the temple cella (inner sanctum) – the focal
into a selamlik: Courtyard B and a harem: Courtyard C), point of Ningirsu’s cult – including an offering altar and
Heuzey’s first conclusion made on the basis of Sarzec’s the podium for the divine statue, as well as the antecella,
excavation reports hesitated between a palace and a which featured remnants of the ritual basins (L, K)
temple. Interestingly both pointed out the numerous associated with the sacred well (M) already unearthed
architectural features with ritual deposits as typical and dismantled by Sarzec, and a cultic platform for
of religious sanctuaries, but this interpretation was votive artefacts and statuary of worshipping rulers.
soon abandoned. The presence of Gudea’s praying The sanctum sanctorum was at the heart of the religious
statues from a Hellenistic context in what was complex. It included a large courtyard and a network
believed to be the ceremonial courtyard led Parrot – of peripheral open ambulatories with in situ apotropaic
recently appointed head of the Department of Oriental cones and symbolic thresholds marked by inscribed
Antiquities at the Louvre in charge of redisplaying and stones. Exposed remains of the temenos wall included a
curating the same statues in his own palatial Sumerian monumental gate flanked by two towers, one of which
galleries – to envisage it as palace-museum. Parrot yielded a foundation deposit containing a stone tablet
may well have projected his own role as Mesopotamian commemorating the (re)construction of the temple.
curator and archaeologist onto Adad-nādin-aḫḫe, now Collapsed layers of the superstructure have yielded
curator-ruler or archaeologist-prince.36 Most if not more than 500 cones, mostly commemorating the
all subsequent Mesopotamian scholars of Seleucid/ reconstruction of the temple by Gudea. Excavations
Parthian Babylonia and the latest level at Tello/Girsu in carried out under the Ningirsu temple to probe the
particular have accepted this general interpretation.37 deepest layers of Girsu dating back to the origins of
the city also led to the discovery of superimposed
Parrot 1948: 309–14. monumental platforms, the oldest of which, made of
For example André-Salvini 2003: 424–25: ‘These monuments had red mudbricks and built in two stages, dated to the
been intentionally placed in the court and arranged in an orderly
manner by Adad-nādin-aḫḫe who would have gathered and exhibited beginning of the 3rd millennium BC.
them there to demonstrate a respect for the past and an interest in
ancient history. (…) he was doing the work of an archaeologist’ or Re-investigating Tell A, which included re-excavating
Bahrani 2017: 350–51: ‘They were already collected as antiquities
within the palace of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe at Girsu. During the the former excavations, allow us to reconstruct the
construction of his new palace, his workmen found ancient walls, principal excavation phases of Sarzec, Cros, and
texts, and numerous statues. (…) The governor decided to build his Genouillac, as well as the chronology of the accumulated
palace as a new construction but following along the lines of the
ancient palace. It thus became a restoration project that consciously spoil heaps deposited directly on, or in the vicinity of,
linked the Seleucid ruler with the 3rd millennium BC. He restored the ‘palace hill’ from 1877 to 1931.38 It became increasingly
ancient walls and followed the outlines of the earlier building with its clear, for example, that only the central area of Tell A
buttresses and recessed walls wherever possible, using the layout of
the earlier foundations. He used new bricks, which carefully copied had been extensively excavated – the original edges
the older brick type, but instead of the original Sumerian inscription
he had a bilingual inscription written in Aramaic and Greek. Adad-
nādin-aḫḫe also followed the ancient tradition of burying foundation ancestors: ‘The surviving data from this Hellenistic palace – its
deposits, a practice that was distinctive of Mesopotamian historical location above and among the remains of the Eninnu temple, the
consciousness. The interred images and texts that were discovered in touching and joining of ancient and new materials, the excavation
the Seleucid era thus became catalysts for rebuilding and continuing and reverent display of Gudea’s statues, and perhaps even the re-
architectural rituals; they also formed parts of collections of realisation of the Tello lap map – all suggest some kind of deliberated,
antiquities that were proudly displayed in the palace. Some of the conscious evocation of the deep past. It may be that we are dealing
ancient statues were repaired by Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s sculptors before only with museumizing spectacle of local antiquities; but the careful
they were placed on display in the paved courts of the Hellenistic- selection and curated presentation of the Gudea statues instead
era palace’. Although Kosmin (2018: 197–203) retained the traditional points to something like a cult of a local ancestor or a legitimising
argument of a palace symbolising a new ‘centralised local power’ claim of descent’. Cf. also Bonatz 2002: 197–202; Radner 2005: 233–34.
he also hypothesised that it could have been a centre for a cult of 38 
Rey et al. in press.

Sébastien Rey

Figure 7. Detail of the Seleucid fired

brick wall on top of Lagaš II temenos
wall of the Eninnu temple (D. Tagen,
Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project,
Iraq Scheme, The British Museum)

Figure 8. Superimposed plans of excavated remains by Ernest de Sarzec, Henri de Genouillac, and The British Museum in the
so-called ‘mound of the palace’ (D. Auzina and E. Girotto, Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq Scheme, The British Museum)

and slopes were covered up and therefore concealed by plans of the French excavations, especially in relation to
Sarzec’s first spolia. Thanks to new landscape studies the stepped low terrace (H, H’, H’’) – now disappeared –
of the ‘mound of the palace’ to correlate current but upon which the Lagaš II inner sanctum was originally
topography with features recorded by the French built, and which served as the structural core for the
before World War II, it was also possible to re-project memorial-shrine in the Seleucid period (Figure 8).
and superimpose the new trenches (Area B) with old Remains belonging to Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s monumental

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

directly on top of the Lagaš II temenos wall and gateway

of the Eninnu Temple (Figure 9). This comprised a
number of elements: a well-preserved brick wall, a
mudbrick three-stepped platform with a staircase, and
a brick foundation box, the constructional sequence
of which we were able to reconstruct (Figures 10–11).
Firstly, after the excavation of a foundation trench
terraced into the weathered top of the Sumerian sacred
enclosure wall, the Hellenistic brick wall (presumably
part of the southwest exterior façade) was constructed
on the same northwest / southeast alignment as the
original temple structure. This wall consisted of newly
fired bricks and various Gudean – and perhaps Ur III
– spolia comprising fired bricks and fired clay column
bases. Despite sporadic finds within later collapsed
deposits, it is slightly curious that no bricks stamped
with Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s name were identified within
the fabric of this wall. This might be due either to
accident of discovery or their being reserved for
particular elements or structures within the building
complex (see below), just as Gudea’s were used. The
brick wall may have contained a small doorway or
recess (1.10 m in width), perhaps emphasised towards
the exterior of the wall by a curved recess on its eastern
side – partly ogival in plan – a shape created by the use
of Gudean column base fragments. Its internal face
bore the remains of a foundation for an engaged semi-
circular brick column, again built from re-used Gudean
column base fragments. The external face also rested
Figure 9. Fired brick wall belonging to the Seleucid memorial
upon an irregular brick plinth of one or two courses,
shrine of Adad-nādin-aḥḥē with the remains of the Lagaš II
inner sanctum of the Ningirsu temple in the background (D.
their number increasing to the south-east. The brick
Tagen, Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq Scheme, The wall was built on top of a monumental three-stepped
British Museum) mudbrick podium of typical Greek form (crepidoma), 3
m wide northeast/southwest, forming a low platform
between three and six mudbrick courses high on top
complex were therefore exposed undisturbed at the far of the pre-existing Sumerian sacred wall. It included a
edges of the new excavation area, in particular in the broad 2.80 m wide stairway of half a dozen steps built
southwest part under one of the highest spoil heaps of re-used fragments of Gudean bricks (Figure 12). The
of Tello/Girsu – which we labelled ‘Mount Sarzec’. edge of the platform to the north included a stamped
Fieldwork carried out during the autumn 2016 season half brick of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe with the inscription
indeed demonstrated that, due to Sarzec’s practice of facing upwards (Figure 13). Finally, a roughly
excavating a ramped trench which sloped downwards constructed square foundation box (measuring 0.80
from south-east to northwest, significant deposits from m northwest/southeast x 0.70 m northeast/southwest
periods subsequent to the 3rd millennium might be x 0.55 m deep) using fired bricks was inserted partly
expected to be encountered beneath the modern ground beneath the threshold of the wall; this contained four
surface. Subsequent seasons’ fieldwork to autumn 2018 re-used stamped Gudean bricks stacked on top of one
demonstrated that the present topography of this area other with their inscribed faces again facing upwards;
comprises two elements, with the original surface of the uppermost of these was placed with its inscription
the tell being well preserved beneath superficial later facing to the southwest along the axis of the doorway.
deposits dumped by the earlier excavators.39 The next two down faced northwest along the axis
of the wall, whilst the lowest faced in the opposite
Although the greater part of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s building direction (Figure 14). These three building elements
complex had of course completely collapsed since (brick wall, podium with flight of steps, foundation box)
1931, a small portion of it (measuring 8.70 m in length belong to a single building phase, given that they are
northwest/southeast, 1.20 m wide and 0.90 m high) was articulated together, and can be confidently dated to
encountered in the spring 2017 season, constructed the 3rd century BC on the basis of the diagnostic pottery
assemblage, as well as bronze coins and, to some extent,
Seleucid remains excavated by A. Pooley and A. Ginns. fired clay figurines retrieved from associated deposits.

Sébastien Rey

Figure 10. Detail of the plan of the renewed excavations in Tell A showing superimposed archaeological layers from the Early
Dynastic period to Seleucid/Parthian times (D. Auzina and E. Girotto, Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq Scheme, The
British Museum)

Figure 11. Architectural remains

of the Seleucid period in Tell A (D.
Auzina and E. Girotto, Tello/Girsu
Archaeological Project, Iraq Scheme,
The British Museum)

Characteristic Seleucid pottery include so-called often documented at the base of the neck. This pottery
‘Eggshell ware’ and fineware bowls decorated with assemblage suggests a short chronological time-span
rocker patterns outside the top of the vessels (Figure between the mid-3rd and the late 2nd century BC.40
15). Among the typical forms of so-called utilitarian Among the exceptional Hellenistic pottery fragments
ware were small bowls with inverted rims and deep were a large sand-tempered ceremonial vessel with
bowls with triangular rims – the latter occasionally a relief of a human head on the exterior just below
decorated with incisions on the exterior. Among the the rim (Figure 16), a votive jar with an inscription
closed forms, medium-sized jars with decoration incised
on the neck immediately below the rim, or as is most 40 
Pottery studied by A. Di Michele.

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

Figure 12. Staircase with fired brick steps built against the mudbrick
three-stepped platform (D. Tagen, Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq
Scheme, The British Museum)

Figure 13. In situ stamped brick of Adad-nādin-

aḥḥē (D. Tagen, Tello/Girsu Archaeological
Project, Iraq Scheme, The British Museum)

Figure 14. Seleucid foundation box

containing four stamped Gudean bricks
stacked on top of each other with the
inscription facing up (D. Tagen, Tello/
Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq
Scheme, The British Museum).

possibly recording the liquid content and the name of or Poseidon with the inscription that can be restored
the donor in Aramaic (…]wḥt’ p’s/mytnt’ (PN),41 (Figures ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ∆ΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ –; a third bronze coin remains
17–18) and a large ceremonial krater decorated with illegible but is certainly Hellenistic with a Tyche.42
bands of repeatedly stamped impressions created
with four different dies, each separated by a low A large number of fired clay figurines belong to the
raised cordon with regular nicked incisions (Figures Seleucid period and in a preliminary assessment in the
19–20). As for the coinage, unsurprisingly this forms field in 2018 it was noted that:
a rather mixed group (Figure 21). There are at least
three so-called Characene issues – one most likely of ‘As in the Lagaš II/Ur III tradition, some were pressed
Attambelos III Soter Euergetes (TG2027, c. AD 53/54– into open moulds and have plain flat backs and the
71/72), another perhaps of Maga, son of Athabaios remainder were modelled by hand. Unlike Babylon
(TG2283), and a 1st century BC countermarked coin and Seleucia, none are made in two-part moulds:
with Apollo (TG606). Three other bronze coins are all this tradition marked a new concept in figurine
Seleucid: one of Antiochus III depicting a war elephant manufacture in Mesopotamia and transformed the
(TG2253), interestingly from a military mint associated local products from low-relief two dimensional
with Ecbatana, producing bronze coins in around 210 plaques into the equivalent of miniature three-
BC (Figure 22); a second probably from Demetrius II dimensional sculptures. Their absence from Tello
Nicator’s first reign (TG51,146–138 BC) – the obverse is significant as it shows that this manufacturing
seemingly damaged with the head of the king (or technique was not adopted universally. The first
possibly Apollo) and, on the reverse, a standing Zeus type was used to make low-relief representations of

Inscriptions transliterated by J. Taylor. 42 
Coins identified by V. Curtis and A. Dowler.

Sébastien Rey

Figure 15. Seleucid diagnostic pottery from Tell A (A. Di Michele, Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq
Scheme, The British Museum)

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

Figure 16. Hellenistic Figure 17. Votive jar with inscription

ceremonial vessel with relief of in Aramaic (D. Tagen, Tello/Girsu
human head (D. Tagen, Tello/ Archaeological Project, Iraq Scheme, The
Girsu Archaeological Project, British Museum)
Iraq Scheme, The British

Figure 18. Aramaic inscription on potsherd

from Tell A (F. Vardy, Tello/Girsu Archaeological
Project, Iraq Scheme, The British Museum)

Figure 19. Hellenistic ceremonial Figure 20. Decorated krater from Tell A (F. Vardy, Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project,
krater (D. Tagen, Tello/Girsu Iraq Scheme, The British Museum)
Archaeological Project, Iraq
Scheme, The British Museum)

female and male figures in Classical style, wearing these have an attachment scar on the back or the
veils drawn up over high hairdos or a diadem base of the mane indicating where the rider was
(Figures 23–25), but the most distinctive type of secured at the wet stage of modelling and proving
figurine of this period is the ‘horse and rider’ (Figure that these were fired as one but in other cases there
26): these are thought to appear in the Near East in are no signs of a rider attachment and indicate that
the Achaemenid period, are common at Seleucia in the latter were made separately. The reason for this
Seleucid-Parthian deposits,43 and continued as late basic distinction is unclear but implies, at the very
as the Sasanian period judging by stratified finds least, the existence of two workshop traditions and
from Veh Ardashir, opposite Ctesiphon,44 and Merv, it was the second variety which continued to be
at the far eastern edge of the empire. In many cases, used as late as the Sasanian period. The styles of the
only parts of the horses are found and several of riders themselves are chronologically diagnostic as
they wear different forms of dress and headgear.
Menegazzi 2009: 67–81.
At Tello they were modelled separately and luted
Invernizzi 1979: 241–46. onto the back and lower mane of the horse, leaving

Sébastien Rey

Figure 22. Copper alloy coin of Antiochus III with war elephant
(D. Tagen, Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq Scheme,
The British Museum).

a distinctive detachment scar when broken at this

point. One rider figure from Tello is bareheaded
but the others are shown either wearing a conical
cap, sometimes with a long diadem cloth wrapped
around and trailing down behind (Figure 27),
or a wide-brimmed flat hat: the latter probably
represents a kausia which constitutes a type of
Macedonian headgear introduced into the Near
East and southwest Central Asia by Alexander of
Macedon and worn by the elite during his lifetime
and after his death.45 Their garments are not shown
explicitly but folds of clay used to lute the rider onto
the mane give the appearance of the riders wearing
long robes. A notable feature of the Tello figurines
is the absence of white gypsum slip to conceal the
underlying clay fabric: this was a standard feature
of Seleucid and Parthian figurine production in
Babylon and Seleucia,46 but is also absent on figurines
found at other sites, such as Uruk, Charax Spasinou,
Failaka and the few cases known from northern
Iraq. It implies that the figurines were made at an
as-yet unidentified urban centre in southern Iraq,
possibly Larsa, Uruk or Charax’.47

The Adad-nādin-aḫḫe complex erected in the 3rd

century BC (perhaps round 250 BC) was maintained,
and probably extended, through the 2nd century BC
as some evidence for continued occupation in the
Parthian period was recovered. As had been already
observed and well documented by the French pioneers,
the whole edifice was completely destroyed by fire,
sometime after 150 BC (see below). The final stages in
the ‘mound of the palace’, in particular Mount Sarzec,
were represented by the collapse of the Seleucid
architectural features, and the gradual slump of the
resulting debris downslope to the southwest towards
the base of the tell. Several extraordinary objects were
recovered from the main deposits deriving from the
Figure 21. Seleucid and Parthian copper alloy coins from Tell collapse of Adad-nadin-aḫḫe’s walls.
A (F. Vardy, Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq Scheme,
The British Museum)
Kingsley 1991: 59–76.
Karvonen-Kannas 1995; Menegazzi 2012: 157–67; 2014.
Simpson 2018.

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

Figure 23. Hellenistic fired clay figurines from Tell A (F. Vardy, Tello/Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq Scheme,
The British Museum)

Sébastien Rey

Figure 24. Head of a Figure 25.

Seleucid fired clay Fragmentary fired
female figurine (D. clay figurine of the
Tagen, Tello/Girsu Hellenistic period
Archaeological (D. Tagen, Tello/
Project, Iraq Scheme, Girsu Archaeological
The British Museum) Project, Iraq Scheme,
The British Museum)

Figure 26. Fired clay ‘horse and rider’

figurines from Tell A (F. Vardy, Tello/
Girsu Archaeological Project, Iraq
Scheme, The British Museum)

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

Except for the principal gate in the northeast

enclosure wall no other passageways featured
signs of closing systems, indicating limited
control of access – characteristic of Hellenistic
open sanctuaries, or communal shrines.
• The whole complex raised above the surrounding
ruined sacred city of Girsu directly on top of the
long-abandoned Eninnu dedicated to Ningirsu
was erected following the lines of the Sumerian
temple incorporating part of the stepped-
platform à redans of the old sanctuary chamber,
demonstrating a great permanence of the
sacred, a significant element in Mesopotamian
religious practice.
• The deep alcoves or niches already interpreted by
Figure 27. Fired clay Heuzey and Sarzec as independent small chapels
Hellenistic rider with were placed in symbolically-charged locales (i.e.,
conical cap and long flanking the main gateway in the northeast façade,
diadem (D. Tagen, Tello/ in the central axis of the great court, flanking the
Girsu Archaeological
subsidiary gate and large vestibule of the southwest
Project, Iraq Scheme,
The British Museum)
façade wall). As proven by the presence of the base
of the colossal statue of Gudea (Statue D) still in situ
at the extreme end of one of them, it is certain that
originally, they all housed or literally enshrined
A Seleucid memorial shrine honouring Sumerian other praying sculptures of the Sumerian ruler
ancestral rulers before being voluntarily displaced and defaced in
the central courtyard (see below).
It becomes increasingly certain that Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s
• A large number of varying kinds of ritual deposits
building was neither a palatial residence or a provincial
containing Sumerian ex-votos, cylinder seals, but
centre of power but a religious complex combining
also Seleucid objects such as the original stamp
typical Mesopotamian and Greek characteristic
used to impress Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s bricks were
elements. We can summarise the main points as follows.
deeply buried in underlying constructions,
It includes all the principal architectural features and
under the thresholds of, or flanking, the
associated deposits distinctive of sacred spaces:
principal passageways, and hidden away in the
ritual fireplaces.
• The ground-plan which comprised a considerable
number of rooms of various shapes and sizes, • The great care with which the Lagaš II inscribed
internal and external niches, separated into and stamped bricks belonging to Gudea were
three main areas revolving around ceremonial re-used either with the inscription facing down
courtyards was oriented on a northwest/ for the pavement floor in front of the principal
southeast axis with its corners pointing to the façade wall, or facing up for the main building
cardinal points of the compass following the age- walls – as was the canonical rule in Sumerian
old rule in Mesopotamian sacred architecture. times – indicates a great deference towards
ancient apotropaic artefacts.
• The rather singular sub-rectangular or barrel-
shaped layout with its two long perimeter walls • The material culture assemblage including
not strictly parallel to each other, straight but pottery, terracotta figurines, and other finds
very slightly bent at the centre towards the recovered does not accord with a residential
exterior, was not arbitrary but carefully designed and/or administrative context: no cooking pots
according to a specific form of highly symbolic (known e.g., as lopas or chytra) or tablewares
significance; it is difficult to be sure but Heuzey’s (e.g., the so-called fish plates); a predominance
interpretation that it mimics a large Babylonian of ceremonial vessels (e.g., votive jars, decorated
fired clay cylinder (e.g., Antiochus I’s Cylinder, kraters); a wide-range and large quantity of fired
see Figure 30) appears far from fanciful. clay figurines (Figure 28), added of course to the
monuments of art including the statues of Gudea
• Access to the ceremonial courtyards from outside
as well as the carved basin depicting goddesses
was gained through a large number of gateways
with overflowing or sprouting vases.
and vestibules located in each of the façades.

Sébastien Rey

Figure 28. Fragment of Seleucid

elephant in clay (F. Vardy, Tello/Girsu
Archaeological Project, Iraq Scheme,
The British Museum)

The temple represents a perfect syncretism of were also themselves the recipient of offerings and
Babylonian and Greek architectural traits combining therefore the focus of worship. Among the most iconic
a rather elaborate combination of two distinctly headless statues of Gudea recovered from the Seleucid
decorated features with Hellenistic engaged half- complex’s great court was Statue B, the ‘architect
columns and stepped niches of Mesopotamian origin yet with a plan’ (Figure 29). Carved in the round as a true
its general plan corresponds in all essential particulars masterpiece of ancient statuary, it features the earliest-
to that of the normal Mesopotamian shrine established known architectural plan of a sanctuary – the Eninnu to
on a three-stepped crepidoma of Greek origin. Ningirsu – together with the first metrological system
ever recorded. Although the well-known ‘mouth-
That the principal raison d’être of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s opening’ (pīt pî in Akkadian, ka-du8 in Sumerian) and
Greco-Babylonian sacred complex was to worship ‘Mouth-washing’ (Akkadian mīš pî) rituals performed
Sumerian ancestral kings cannot be doubted. It by arch-priests subsequent to the manufacture,
revolves entirely around the cult of Gudea of Lagaš and consecration and deposition of sacred idols in temple
his predecessors (what we may call a ‘Sumerion’). Their settings, described in detail in the 1st millennium BC,
praying life-sized statues with clasped hands carved in are first clearly attested in cuneiform tablets dating
the round from black diorite or dolerite were retrieved to the Third Dynasty of Ur, there can be no doubt that
by Adad-nādin-aḫḫe in the 3rd century BC from their comparable rituals of animating dedicatory statuary
long-abandoned Sumerian temple settings in Girsu and were already performed in the Lagaš II period. It is
were originally placed in the deep recesses or niches indeed well known that the great cult of the statues
established at focal points of the newly constructed of Gudea included already at the end of the 3rd
Seleucid cenotaph or memorial shrine. That Adad- millennium BC rituals of consecration, installation and
nādin-aḫḫe or dignitaries of his entourage could read maintenance.
the 3rd millennium royal inscriptions in the Sumerian
language carved on the worshipping stone sculptures, The inscription – truly exceptional in its length and
impressed on the clay votive cones, or stamped on content – begins with a list of food offerings for the
the dedicatory fired bricks is certain: it can be proven statue:
by the careful selection of cult statues based on their
dedication, the deposition of all the inscribed artefacts ‘One litre of beer, 1 litre of bread, ½ litre of flour
with their inscriptions facing up or down and to the (used) for spreading, (and) ½ litre of emmer groats
cardinal points, and, of course, also extrapolated on being the regular offering for the statue of Gudea,
the basis of contemporary cuneiform tablets produced ruler of Lagaš, who built the House of Ningirsu’.48
and collected by powerful corporations of scribes in
Babylon, Uruk or Larsa. As is well known, most if not Then follows the formulaic dedication rite and a long
all inscribed statues portraying praying effigies with enumeration of the ruler’s royal epithets:
interlocked hands embodying the pious image of a
ruler in Mesopotamia – from the 3rd millennium BC on ‘For Ningirsu, mighty warrior of Enlil, did Gudea,
– were not only considered as votive objects dedicated who has a ‘treasured’ name, ruler of Lagaš, shepherd
to the gods and placed in their inner sanctums in
front of their awe-inspiring gaze for eternity; they 48 
Gudea E3.1.1.7.StB (Edzard 1997: 31).

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

determined the (first) brick by means of an oracle.

Persons ritually unclean, unpleasant to look at (…),
(and) women doing work he banished from the city;
no woman would carry the basket, only the best of
the warriors would work for him. He built Ningirsu’s
House on ground that was clean as Eridu (itself).
(…) Gudea made things function as they should for
his lord Ningirsu, he built and restored for him his
Eninnu, the White Thunderbird, and within (that
complex) he installed for him his beloved grove, (in)
the scent (of) cedars (…)’.

Then follows vivid reminiscences of the divine

commission sent to the ruler as a dream omen (i.e.,
the theophany from the Cylinder Inscriptions) and a
remarkable passage – the apogee of the inscription –
emphasising the performative function of the statue
carved in unbreakable stone, consecrated with a
ceremonial name, and ordained in the presence of the
divine as the ruler’s perpetual stone surrogate:

‘(Gudea) reacted piously to the word Ningirsu had

spoken to him. From the mountain of Magan he
brought down diorite, and he fashioned it into a
statue of himself. ‘I built his House for my lord, (so) life
is my reward’ – (this is how) he named (the statue) for
(Ningirsu’s) sake, and he brought it to him in (his)
House. Gudea ‘gives word’ to the statue: ‘Statue,
would you please tell my lord: When I built for him
the Eninnu, his beloved House, (…) I paid attention
to the justice ordained by Nanše and Ningirsu (…).
(Gudea) installed the statue (in order) to convey
messages. (…) It is (exclusively) of diorite; let it
stand at the libation place. Nobody will forcibly
damage (the stone)’.

The inscription ends with ritual incantations followed

by a long enumeration of malevolent spells and curses
Figure 29. Statue of Gudea, the ‘architect with a plan’ against damnatio memoriae, i.e., desecration or oblivion:
(Sarzec and Heuzey 1884-1912: pl. 18)
‘O statue, your eye is that of Ningirsu. He who
removes from the Eninnu the statue of Gudea (…);
chosen in the heart of Ningirsu, whom Nanše who rubs off the inscription thereon; who destroys
regarded in a friendly manner, to whom Nin-dara (the statue); (…) let An, let Enlil, let Enki (…), let my
gave strength, the one keeping to the word of Bau (personal) god Ningišzida reverse the promise that
(…)’. had been made to him; (…); let there be a famine
during his reign. Let that person, like someone who
The inscription goes on to a description of the did evil to a righteous one, and let him not go free
construction rituals performed by the ruler for the (…)’.
divine temple, followed by the procurement of precious
materials from afar in a centripetal order converging Interestingly, it was only in the Ur III period that the
on the sacred place held as the cosmic centre, and the pious image of the worshipping ruler became the
fabrication of the god’s heroic weapons endowed with focus of a cult, i.e. when Gudea was posthumously
supernatural powers (‘Mow-down-a-myriad’, ‘Mace- venerated as a god. The frequent occurrences of the
with-a-three-headed-lion’, etc.): divine determinative associated to his name in later
epigraphical documents (dGu3-de2-a, d the abbreviation
‘For Ningirsu (did Gudea then) cleanse the city, let for dingir, the Sumerian term for deity) confirms that
(purifying) fire go over it. He set up the brick-mould, he had acquired the status of divinity after his death.

Sébastien Rey

A great number of cuneiform tablets also record and the Eanna to Inanna were all situated in the Sacred
ritual offerings for his statues, while cylinder seals City (Irikug) of Girsu, i.e., in the environs of Tell A.49
were dedicated to the deified Gudea. It is true that, Interestingly, the two main hoards consisting of three
throughout his reign, he never ceased to pride himself standing and three sitting Gudeas piled up in the
in his abundant commemorative inscriptions, for his central courtyard almost mirror each other according
zeal in religious behaviour and for having undertaken to their dedicated deities: Ningirsu (the tutelary god of
and completed the construction or renovation of Girsu), Bau (Ningirsu’s consort), and Inanna/Gatumdug
magnificent temples to serve as abodes to his poliad (two important goddesses of the Lagaš pantheon). It is
gods. That the veneration of a Lagaš II ruler by later hardly fortuitous that, of the four, perhaps five, statues
kings of Ur III and subsequent high officials in Babylonia dedicated to Ningirsu retrieved from Adad-nādin-
(Isin-Larsa) was known to the clergies of Ur, Uruk, Larsa aḫḫe’s memorial shrine, none were found together.
or Babylon in the 3rd century BC is of course possible –
it is indeed well known to scholars today. That all Sumerian cult statues were deliberately
decapitated in the 2nd century BC before the
Statue B was found with a hoard of other headless Seleucid heroon was torched can be demonstrated
sculptures of Gudea deliberately piled up like a tumulus forensically – although it has been the subject of
of vanquished foes in the great courtyard of the burnt considerable debate.50 The chief argument in support
reliquary of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe. The statues, personifying of the iconoclastic thesis – a fact surprisingly rarely
the charismatic Sumerian ruler, uprooted in the 3rd commented on – is the absence from the sculptural
century BC from their age-old sacred settings to be assemblage of all the heads – except for one lonely
displayed as incarnations of legendary kings, appear specimen in the southwest corner of the great court.
therefore to have been gathered in the courtyard to If all but one of the statue heads were missing, that
be defaced and beheaded in a symbolic act of damnatio can only mean that they were symbolically collected
memoriae. The statues were deliberately separated and taken away as booty. It is extremely important in
into two groups, one standing, the other seated. The light of this that most, if not all, other Lagaš II statues
first hoard at the south-east corner comprised Statue of Gudea and his dynasty later discovered or looted
E (to Bau/Etarsirsir), Statue C (to Inanna/Eanna in from other areas of the site (Tablet Hill, Temple of
Girsu), and Statue G (to Ningirsu/Eninnu) piled on top Ningišzida), therefore in their original 3rd millennium
of each other, while Statue A (to Ninḫursag/House of BC context, were either complete or fragmentary but
the City of Girsu) was lying nearby. The group of the rarely headless. The other interpretation is of course the
seated Statue B (to Ningirsu/Eninnu), Statue F (to whole staging of the ritual beheadings of the statues in
Gatumdug/House of the Shining City), and Statue H (to the central courtyard, probably in front of the shrine’s
Bau/House of Tarsirsir) was found in the centre of the priestly servants kneeling down in submission, and the
courtyard; a fourth fragmentary seated statue of the subsequent piling up of the defaced ancestral rulers in
Early Dynastic III period was set slightly apart, as well two small burial mounds.
as a life-sized shaved head of a Lagaš II ruler – possibly
Gudea. It appears likely that the seven worshipping Conclusion
sculptures with interlocked hands, heavily mutilated
and disfigured in the central courtyard, were originally Having established that the Greco-Babylonian
enshrined in the niches and small rooms of the southern commemorative shrine at Girsu was most likely built
area of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s complex. As noted above, in the second half of the 3rd century BC, i.e., well after
only Statue D (to Ningirsu/Eninnu) was found partially the death of Antiochus I Soter, perhaps during the reign
in situ; Statue K (probably to Ningirsu) and Statue W (to of Antiochus III the Great (r. 223–187 BC), and that it
Ningirsu/Eninnu) may have been originally set up in was desecrated in the second half of the 2nd century
the northeast part, while it is probable that the whole BC, during the Seleucid-Parthian transitional period,
northwest area of the memorial shrine was dedicated it should therefore be possible to draw closer both to
to the worship of the Statue of Ur-Bau (to Ningirsu/ the real identity of Adad-nādin-aḫḫe and to the band of
House Fifty: The-White-Thunderbird), the founder iconoclasts responsible for destroying the sacred images
of the Second Dynasty of Lagaš. Except for Statues A, and memory of Sumerian kingship, thus symbolically
C, F and possibly K, all the other Lagaš II sculptures breaking the link between past and present.
were retrieved by Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s workmen in the
‘mound of the palace’ (Tell A), either from the main Since the name Adad-nādin-aḫḫe (‘God-Adad-the-
inner sanctum belonging to Ningirsu or the subsidiary Giver-of-Brothers’) is a typical Babylonian theophoric
sacred chamber of Bau – House of Tarsirsir – which was patronym with royal associations, it was clearly chosen
part of the Eninnu complex. Yet it will be remembered as a nom d’usage for its archaising tone and symbolic
that the Temple of the City of Girsu dedicated to
Ninḫursag, the House of the Shining City to Gatumdug, 49 
Rey 2016.
Suter 2012: 57–88.

A Seleucid cult of Sumerian royal ancestors in Girsu

Figure 30. Antiochus I’s Cylinder

of Borsippa (Trustees of the
British Museum, 2019)

connotations. As far as we know it is not attested in importance (e.g., repairing temples and ziggurats and
the large corpus of Seleucid cuneiform tablets from making sacrifices to Babylonian deities). Perhaps the
Babylon, and there are no occurrences of it in the most striking evidence for ‘using Babylonian kingship
onomastics of contemporary Uruk. Remarkably, the as a vehicle for (Seleucid) rule in Babylonia’53 was
choice of Adad – the Semitic storm-god – may echo the Antiochus I’s Cylinder of Borsippa (Figure 30), which
thunderous character of the age-old Sumerian deity is remarkably comparable in its literary composition
Ningirsu but this explanation – although appealing to standard Neo-Babylonian royal inscriptions. It
– should naturally be subject to caution: Adad’s celebrated Antiochus I’s restoration work on the Ezida
traditional Sumerian counterpart was another weather Temple to Nabû as well as his (re)building in Babylon of
god, Iškur, so a theoretical religious assimilation of Marduk’s Esagila, probably damaged in the great war
Ningirsu with Adad in Hellenistic Girsu remains to be of the Successors between Seleucus I and Antigonus,
thoroughly documented. The choice of Aramaic and as epitomised in the Babylonian Diadochi Chronicle. It
Greek scripts for transcribing the name Adad-nādin- is also known that Antiochus I instituted offerings to
aḫḫe on dedicatory bricks seems to indicate – as with the Moon god at Ur and granted land to Babylonian
other known bilinguals of the 3rd century BC – that it cities, while later Seleucid rulers supported festivals
was an official inscription sanctioned by Seleucid rule: and ritual processions including the celebration of
Aramaic the lingua franca, and Greek the language of the New Year (akītu) in Babylon and the renovation of
authority.51 temple complexes at Uruk, if not elsewhere at places
like Nippur. It appears therefore extremely likely that
It has become increasingly clear that the Seleucid a cult of Sumerian ancestors at Girsu could only have
state should not be viewed as a protean patchwork been established with royal patronage. It is worth
of individual territorial entities with no developed recalling here that memorial shrines, specifically
infrastructure supporting a powerful overarching heroons, were of course well attested in the greater
rule, but the exact weight of imperial reach over Hellenistic koine: one fascinating example from the
provincial lands, both satrapal urban seats and rural Antigonid kingdom, comparable to Adad-nādin-aḫḫe’s
hinterlands, remains to be properly appraised. Yet, ideological programme in its performative function
as already highlighted above, Mesopotamia formed and symbolic significance, was the ancestor monument
the core of the Seleucid realm, and from the highly at Delos erected by Antigonus II Gonatas, ‘that lined
symbolic decision of its founder Seleucus I to align up in genealogical order over twenty statues, reaching
the new Seleucid Era dating system with the start of to an ancient divine or heroic progenitor’.54 Although
the Babylonian religious calendar year, coinciding usually seen as a political act to reduce the sphere of
with the year he returned triumphally from exile to influence of Babylonian centres and their urban elites
Babylon in 311 BC (1 SE),52 Seleucid kings always sought (primarily Babylon and Uruk, but also Borsippa, Nippur,
to reinforce by their involvement with local ritual and Larsa, Kutha and Kiš), the early foundation of Seleucia-
symbolic values the recognition of an area’s central Tigris should also be interpreted as a real awareness by

Sherwin-White 1987: 1–31; Kuhrt 1987: 32–56. 53 
Sherwin-White and Kuhrt 1993: 37.
Kosmin 2018: 19–44. 54 
Kosmin 2018: 89.

Sébastien Rey

the ruling Seleucid dynasty of the region’s chief role by of Hyspaosines as the most likely contender for
establishing in its heartland a new independent royal having cold-bloodedly inflicted a condemnation of
administrative centre, a timeless Mesopotamian royal memory upon the relics of the ancient kings of Lagaš
practice. (i.e., targeting their legitimising significance for
Seleucid crown appointees in Babylonia) remains to
Adad-nādin-aḫḫe was a contemporary of Anu-uballiṭ- be thoroughly investigated, renewed fieldwork in
Nikarchos or perhaps the later Anu-uballiṭ-Kephalon, southern Iraq is already revealing a wealth of new
both Seleucid governors (šaknu) of Uruk. The former, information. So, it is not completely fanciful to imagine
originally chief of the temple clergy, is significantly that one day a hoard of Gudea’s severed heads might
known from another official cylinder inscription dated reappear in a long-forgotten favissa at Charax Spasinou.
to the reign of Seleucos II (successor to Antiochus II
titled ‘king of lands’) commemorating extensive works Bibliography
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bricks stamped with an official Akkadian inscription Art of the First Cities, The Third Millennium BC from the
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The sins of Nippur

Aage Westenholz1


This contribution describes the excavations at Nippur by the University of Pennsylvania in 1889–1900 with special emphasis on
three of the excavators: John Punnett Peters, John Henry Haynes and Hermann Vollrath Hilprecht.

Keywords: Nippur; archaeology; Peters; Haynes; Hilprecht; University of Pennsylvania; Ottoman Iraq

Nippur1 – once the Holy City of the Sumerians, where family in return for blood money; nor did he deliver the
Heaven bonded with Earth, where Enlil, father of the zaptiyeh into their hands, because in his view, the thief
gods, had his main temple – is now a desolate ruin field. had only brought his death upon himself. In short, he
Excavations have been undertaken there on several refused to adapt his own principles of right and wrong
occasions; and the subject matter of this contribution to the local conditions.
in honour of Julian Reade is the four expeditions
conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in the The conditions of Iraq in those days were much like
years 1889–1900. Perhaps the title should rather be our mythical picture of the lawless Wild West. The
‘The Tragedies of Nippur’, because the events and the Ottoman Empire was strong enough to prevent any
personalities involved are truly tragic, even though local authority from imposing law and order, but not
many of them were due to the sort of human failings strong enough to maintain its own authority in the
that we would normally call sins. I am not thinking of countryside. It is perhaps no wonder then, that Edgar
the purely archaeological shortcomings of these early Banks, the Director of Chicago’s excavations at Adab in
excavations, grave though they certainly were. My 1902–1905, could claim with evident pride that ‘ours
concern here is rather with the excavators themselves: was probably the only expedition to Babylonia which
Peters, Haynes, and Hilprecht. never killed a man’.3 Petty warfare and robberies among
the local tribes was the order of the day: ‘matches to his
The story of Pennsylvania’s excavations at Nippur is beard who contradicts us’, or, as Haynes describes, ‘for
really a fantastic saga which I cannot possibly describe several months now, it has been impossible to induce
in a mere article. Just one incident must suffice to make the same man to go twice to Divaniyeh to bring and
the point: on 16 April 1889, as the First Expedition was fetch the weekly post parcel. Every time he has been
drawing to a close, the camp was torched by the local attacked and persuaded to share his clothing with
es-Sa’îd Arabs, some of whom were seeking revenge for his covetous countrymen, though the letters have
a murdered kinsman, others lured by the prospect of been allowed to pass as worthless matter’. Banks adds
easy loot. The attack was successful; 200 gold liras fell another dimension: he describes how an American
into their hands, three of the expedition’s horses were traveller had brought a bicycle with him to Babylonia.
burned alive, and the members of the expedition had to The Arabs, watching the spectacle from afar, discussed
flee in unseemly haste: ‘the last that we saw of Nippur, among themselves whether this creature, moving at
the es-Sa’id were dancing a war-dance on the ruins of superhuman speed, was a demon or a man and they
our camp’.2 decided to find out by shooting at it: if it were a man,
the bullet would but kill him, if it were a demon, the
The murdered kinsman was one of four es-Sa’îd Arabs bullet would pass through without harm. They shot: it
who had attempted to steal some expedition property was a man.4
and had been shot in the act by one of the zaptiyehs,
the Turkish soldiers whom the expedition was required Babylonia in general, and Nippur in particular, was
to employ, to ‘provide safety’. In fact, they did nothing certainly no Garden of Eden. The winters were cold
of the sort; rather, being seen by the local Arabs as and rainy, at times making excavation impossible; the
occupiers, they inflamed hostility. But Peters, the summers were extremely hot and dry, laden with dust
Director of the expedition, never yielded to offers of storms and above all with insects buzzing, crawling
peace between the expedition and the murdered thief ’s and biting everywhere, making sleep at night difficult.

Emeritus, University of Copenhagen. 3 
Banks 1912: 131.
Peters 1898: vol. I, 286. 4 
Banks 1912: 150.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 82–100

The sins of Nippur

Drinkable water had to be brought in from the outside

by a canal dug for the purpose, which made it tempting
for the surrounding Arabs to extort concessions – they
could simply block the canal, if they so desired. There
was also the ever-present risk of serious disease – as
described below, one member of the expedition died
from typhoid fever – and attacks on the camp by robbers
were attempted several times. It took great ingenuity
to get cash transported from Hillah to Nippur, where
it was a necessity to pay the laborers their wages and
the Ottoman commissioner his salary, avoiding the
armed parties lying in wait for the messenger. Apart
from short telegrams, communication with the home
committee took up to two months each way. Haynes
often had no idea of how long the committee would
continue the excavations and keep him in the field
(since the committee had to raise the money from
subscriptions, they often knew no better than Haynes);
and he had to order his photographic supplies from
Figure 1. John Punnett Peters (presumably 1888)
London and then wait for up to six months for them
to arrive. The combined result was that he often ran
out of photographic supplies and that the committee culture. But first a look at those who went out: the
complained, ‘why haven’t you sent us photographs?’ excavators.

Add to this the greed and corruption of the local John Punnett Peters, who was a professor of Hebrew
Ottoman officials, including the commissioner and later became priest at St. Michael’s Church in New
appointed, at the expedition’s expense, to insure York, had been the prime mover in starting the Nippur
that the expedition sent everything they found to Project in 1888, securing the financial support of a
Constantinople; or the Baghdadi dealers in antiquities number of wealthy Philadelphians (Figure 1). Peters
who tried to drive the excavators away from the was of course not a trained archaeologist (whatever
field so that they could loot their trenches, as they that might have meant in those days); yet he did
had done after Rassam left Sippar and Babylon some his best to record everything he found, both objects
years earlier. One particular commissioner, Mahmoud (Figure 2) and what have since been called ‘structural
Effendi, actually worked in collusion with the dealers, remains’. In his field notes he occasionally made copies
thus defrauding his own government and subverting of the cuneiform tablets he found, which of course
the expedition. And finally there was the infighting has been most helpful in my work on those self-same
among the Westerners themselves. The French tried to tablets. He also had a surprisingly modern view of
discredit the Americans with the Ottoman Ministry of the trade in antiquities, yet a very pragmatic one: he
Public Instruction, which Peters had described as the describes how those tablets bought from dealers lack
Ministry of Public Obstruction; and several Americans, a findspot, that they suffer damage from the primitive
never identified, did their best to discourage the methods of excavation, and that therefore museums
Pennsylvania committee from continuing their efforts should be discouraged from buying them. But as he
at Nippur. could persuade neither the British Museum, the Berlin
Museum, nor the Musée du Louvre, to give up their
With such working conditions, and with the accustomed practice, he decided that also Penn ought
knowledge that at least half of what was found would to get a share. ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’, and
be appropriated by the Ottoman government, one so in 1888 he bought in London a large collection of
wonders: what made them do it? Why would moneyed tablets, mainly from Sippar, now known as ‘the Shemtob
gentry in Philadelphia pay considerable sums out of collection’ in the University Museum.5 No doubt he
their personal fortunes for the excavation of a desolate worked too hastily at Nippur, anxious to produce results
site half the globe away? Why would those, who went that would satisfy the committee in Philadelphia that
there, risk life and limb and endure unspeakable their considerable outlays were well spent; but to his
deprivations far away from home, family and friends own surprise, the disastrous end of the first expedition
for months or even years on end, with little or no did not discourage them from launching a second. His
certainty of what might be achieved? Why didn’t they book about those two expeditions,6 of which he was the
rather spend their energy and money on charity closer
to home, for instance? The answers to these questions 5 
Peters 1898: vol. I, 13–15.
are surely to be sought in late 19th century Western 6 
Peters 1898.

Aage Westenholz

Figure 2. A page from Peters’

Object Catalogue of the Second
Expedition, 5th February 1890
(UPMAA_Nippur_10.06): the
incantation bowl (no. 130),
from Mound I, is now CBS 2923,
published PBS III, no. 4

Director, is of course written for public consumption John Henry Haynes, who was the Director of the Third
yet it contains a wealth of information, both about and (nominally, at least) the Fourth Expeditions to
the archaeological results and about the impossible Nippur, has left no books of his own to describe his
working conditions, all described with a vivid sense of achievements, only a voluminous collection of weekly
humour. It is 19th century tourist literature at its best, reports from the field, as well as diaries and field
springing from the cross-breeding of exploration and journals, all as yet unpublished (Figure 3).7 He also
adventure that was then current. ‘We are exploring the took well over a thousand photographs, of which only
fabulous Orient, both ancient and modern’ might have a handful have appeared in the books of others, and the
been the unspoken theme. Today we may find some of glass-plate negatives of which are now slowly decaying.
his humorous descriptions of the superstitious Arabs Apart from previous field experience at Assos in Asia
slightly offensive, his deprecations of the Ottoman Minor in 1882, he lacked any training as an archaeologist
bureaucracy a bit imperialistic, and so on; but honestly, but he was a highly talented photographer (he had
who are we to pass judgement? He no doubt held views been trained by William J. Stillman). During the Third
that we would call racist, but not more so than many Expedition, from 1893 to 1896, summer and winter,
of his contemporaries, and he should be judged by the he was the field director, architect, photographer,
yardsticks of his own time, not ours. Apart from that, he finds registrar, financial manager, paymaster and the
appears to have been a most unsuitable leader of men, expedition’s representative to the Ottoman authorities
as he turned almost everyone against him. Hilprecht,
Harper and Noorian all detested him heartily and 7 
A publication project by A. Westenholz and I. Jentoft, aiming to
complained about his despotism. make all the records of the Penn excavations available in annotated
digital form, is in progress.

The sins of Nippur

all in one, except for the four months in 1894 when

Joseph Meyer was with him. Meyer was a PhD candidate
of architecture from Massachusetts Institute of
Technology on a study trip to the East. He met Haynes
in Baghdad in June 1894 and decided to join him at
the excavations. At that time, Haynes was excavating
the great Temple of Enlil with its enormous ziggurat.
Meyer’s careful measurements and sketches of the
temple, as it gradually emerged from the earth, are a
delight in clarity and precision, and his many vignettes
are of considerable artistic merit. He and Haynes made
an excellent team. But in late September, Meyer fell
ill with typhoid fever. Haynes would have sent him to
Baghdad for medical treatment; but Meyer did not trust
to undertake the journey by sailboat and hoped instead
that quinine and willpower would see him through.
For over two months, he struggled for his life, steadily
losing ground: ‘What interest can the diary of a sick
person be to one who is well? He is full of his pains and
discomfort, and thinks of nothing else. To-day [Oct.
19] I was all stomach and bowels – no train of thought
but began, concentrated and ended in those soul-
harrowing organs’ – while Haynes helplessly looked
on. In early December 1894 Haynes finally prevailed on
him to have him transported to Baghdad. The American
Figure 3. John Henry Haynes, 1876
physician (and U.S. consul) there, Dr Sundberg, could
do but little, and two weeks later Meyer died. Haynes
was again alone, worn out and depressed, and more
aware than before what he might have accomplished adequate for a book for popular consumption but not
with the proper assistance. for an official account by the University. Hilprecht’s
estimate of the book – the manuscript is extant in
During the Fourth Expedition, Haynes was accompanied triplicate – is approximately correct; but it is far from
by his wife, Cassandria Haynes, whom he had married in clear what the committee had expected.
1898. Officially she functioned as his unpaid secretary,
being an experienced typist, but in reality she was the Haynes was not a man of great abilities (except for
housewife of the expedition. Even Hilprecht, by no his photography), and he never claimed to be one. His
means one of her admirers, admitted that she made the colleagues regarded him as plodding and infuriatingly
expedition house much more comfortable. Apart from slow. He rarely faced a conflict head-on. When he was
this, Hilprecht characterized her as ‘ein ausschliesslich field director during the Third Expedition, he quietly
böser Stern’ – he complains much about her in his diary. ignored the instructions he received from home and
She does seem to have been a most unpleasant woman followed his own inclinations in the field. But his
– meddlesome, bigoted and snobbish. Her influence enthusiasm and devotion to what he saw as his duty
on Haynes’ reports home is evident in their brevity to a great extent made up for the skills he lacked.
and infuriating lack of detail – apparently, she decided He considered his excavations at Nippur to be the
what was important to report; and that was mainly an crowning achievement of his life. To have his book
enumeration of the exportable finds. suppressed and later having to read in Hilprecht’s
book about ‘the obnoxious methods introduced by Dr
In 1896, when the Third Expedition at Nippur was Peters and followed by Dr Haynes’ must have been a
over, the committee requested an account of it for devastating blow. His mind went rapidly to pieces – at
publication from Haynes as its official Director. A year the time of the Peters–Hilprecht Controversy in 1905,
later, the book was ready for press, and announcement he couldn’t even be called as a witness – and he died in
flyers had already appeared, when Hilprecht prevailed 1910, ‘broken down in body and spirit’, as they said at
upon his friends among the committee to have it his funeral. Later, he was totally forgotten and didn’t
withdrawn. He said that the book was amateurish, even merit an entry in the Reallexikon der Assyriologie,
sorely lacking in scientific value, that it would make until recently a book celebrating his achievements as
the University of Pennsylvania a laughing stock in the photographer appeared.8
scholarly world, and that he himself would provide
the scientific account. Haynes’ manuscript might be 8 
Ousterhout 2011.

Aage Westenholz

Figure 4. Hilprecht at work in his University Museum office, around 1910

However, perhaps the greatest Nippur tragedy, and the In 1900, Hilprecht finally went once more to Nippur, this
worst sinner, was Hermann Vollrath Hilprecht (Figure 4). time as the ‘official representative of the committee’, to
He was originally from Germany but in 1886 he took the assist Haynes during the last two months of the Fourth
chair of Assyriology at the University of Pennsylvania. Expedition. He found there a most depressing situation,
In 1888 he went with Peters on the First Expedition vividly described in his personal diary. The excavations
to Nippur, where he frequently disagreed with the were a hopeless mess of holes, tunnels, and dump heaps
latter about the methods and strategies of excavation. high as mountains everywhere, without any coherent
During the next ten years he never went to Nippur, but plan whatsoever. The personal situation in the camp
spent much time in Constantinople re-organising the was scarcely better. The two architects, Fisher and
Imperial Ottoman Museum and cataloguing the finds Geere, both complained to Hilprecht about Haynes’
from Nippur as they arrived from the field. In so doing, despotic behaviour, and Mrs Haynes said that Haynes
he was instrumental in getting a large share of the finds couldn’t make them work as they should. In addition,
for Pennsylvania. Turkish law forbade the export of any Fisher had developed a homosexual love for Geere;
antiquities; but the Sultan could donate them to the and when Geere would have none of it, Fisher spent all
expedition’s representative as a personal gift. This was day sulking in bed and refused to work. A few times he
of course a mere technicality, and everyone understood even threatened to commit suicide and once actually
that the Sultan’s ‘gift to Peters or Hilprecht’ was in ate some carbolic acid to prove his point. Nobody
fact the expedition’s share and the property of the seemed to have any idea of what a proper excavation
University of Pennsylvania. Everyone, that is, except was supposed to look like. So Hilprecht noted at various
Hilprecht, who preferred to take it literally. Part of that points in his diary: ‘Und mit solchen Kerls muß ich, ein
‘gift’ he retained for his own personal collection, now deutscher Gelehrter, zusammen arbeiten!’; or ‘sie haben
known as the Hilprecht-Sammlung in Jena; the rest he alle gegraben und außerhalb dessen, was an sichtbaren,
generously bestowed on the University Museum. His zählbaren Stücken hereinkam in’s Haus, nichts von
collection of cylinder seals, many of them excavated at den eigentlichen Resultaten gemerkt – das sind die
Nippur, he bequeathed to the Fairbank Art Museum in Ausgräber von Nippur, die amerikan. Heroen, welche
Philadelphia. In 1929 they decided to transfer it to the die alte Weltgeschichte aus den Angeln meinen gehoben
University Museum ‘on permanent loan’. zu haben’; or ‘die ganze Bande ist keinem Schuß Pulver
wert’; or ‘es ist ein Elend, sich auf Menschen verlassen

The sins of Nippur

zu müssen!’ (rather than on God – Hilprecht was very wrote a letter to the Provost, complaining about the
much a devout German Lutheran Protestant). He tried ‘repeated interference on the part of Dr. Gordon with
hard to put some order and plan into the excavations, the work of my assistants’. Then he left for Germany,
frequently overruling Haynes in front of the architects without leave of absence and without informing
and the workmen. The result was of course that Haynes Gordon, who read about Hilprecht’s departure in the
lost all interest in the work and Mrs Haynes became newspapers. Gordon then instructed the janitor to
convinced that Hilprecht had come to rob her husband change all the door locks of the Babylonian Section,
of all the honour for his work. In this, she turned out to and he ordered that all the tablet boxes in the basement
be right. be opened and their contents transferred to fireproof
containers. When Hilprecht, still in Germany, learned
In the ten years after the excavations were over, 1900 to about this, he flew into a rage and sent in his resignation
1910, Hilprecht, as Curator of the Babylonian Section of from his position at the Museum. He further solicited
the University Museum, catalogued some of the finds the support of a number of European colleagues who
allotted to the Museum, among them some 7000 tablets. wrote to the Museum to express their indignation at
He also wrote a book, Explorations in Bible Lands During this unprecedented treatment of an illustrious scholar.
the 19th Century, which appeared in 1903 and contained The Museum reacted in its accustomed manner: it
an extensive account of the Nippur excavations. It appointed an investigating committee. Another heated
makes awful reading. It is humorless and tedious, and controversy ensued, full of juicy details. The outcome
he constantly belittles what ‘my predecessors’ – Peters was that Hilprecht, on his return from Germany, upheld
and Haynes – had achieved, claiming most of the his resignation. He charged that Gordon had unpacked
credit for himself. He heaps cringing flattery on the the boxes in a manner ‘betraying little care and an
committee and absolves them of any responsibility for utter lack of intelligence’, and that scientific evidence
the shortcomings of the expedition. Instead, he makes had been irretrievably lost in the process. He claimed
the constant demand of the committee for tablets and that he had opened and repacked all the boxes himself
other exportable finds out to be a ‘misunderstanding’ in Constantinople ‘according to a certain principle’ to
on Haynes’ part. We read repeatedly about ‘the indicate where in Nippur the tablets had been found. As
obnoxious methods of excavation introduced by Dr. far as I can judge the matter, this accusation is without
Peters and followed by Dr. Haynes’. The archaeological foundation.
information is mostly vague and often biased to suit his
own interpretations of it. It seems that Hilprecht had expected the Museum to
beseech him to reconsider his resignation. Instead,
The book was equally disagreeable to Peters and many many appear to have been only too happy to get rid
others at the time. They complained bitterly in several of him. He was evidently the kind of person who left
newspaper articles about the ‘literary dishonesty’ no one indifferent to him: either you were his warmest
and the outright misinformation in the book. They friend and admirer or you were his sworn enemy, and
also hinted that Hilprecht had kept some of the most he had clearly underestimated the strength of the latter
valuable finds for himself. In 1905, the matter came to party in the Museum.
a head, as Hilprecht requested a formal hearing by the
University of the charges against him. The proceedings Hilprecht is truly a tragic figure, mostly because of
of the investigating committee were published in 1908 the damage he did to others, and because of what he
by Hilprecht himself, at his own expense, in a book could have been himself. As a scholar, he stood head
entitled The So-Called Peters–Hilprecht Controversy. The and shoulders above his contemporaries and was
committee cleared Hilprecht of all charges, but in such richly endowed with many outstanding talents. His
a manner that one can only agree with Peters, who object catalogue from the First Expedition is a delight,
publicly called the whole thing a whitewash. with neat pen drawings of each object and careful
measurements and descriptions of findspots and other
In 1910, the Museum appointed its first Director, Dr relevant details (Figure 5) – all written in German and
George B. Gordon. He set out immediately to re-organise in German hand, so that only he could read it! His
the entire Museum, including its administrative copies of cuneiform texts remain unsurpassed to this
structure, which was too loose for his taste. When he day. In one of his letters to the committee in 1900,
reached the Babylonian Section, he asked Hilprecht he explains the complicated stratigraphy with its
about the condition of the as yet uncatalogued Nippur ups and downs and lenses of intervening layers, etc.
tablets in the basement – Gordon had been told that the in a manner which might have served as a textbook
unbaked tablets, still in wooden crates as they had come example and prevented many gross errors over the
from Nippur, were deteriorating in the damp basement. next 50 years – all those neat ruler-drawn strata! And
Hilprecht declared himself fully satisfied with the unlike most scholars either then or after, Hilprecht
conditions in the basement; but at the same time he understood the importance of combining philology and

Aage Westenholz

Figure 5. A page from

Hilprecht’s Archäologische
Funde, First Expedition,
March 1, 1889 (UPMAA_
Nippur_10.07): the jar at the
top (no. 13), from Mound I,
is now CBS 2908a

archaeology, the light that textual and archaeological hungry for recognition and honour, ever jealous of
evidence can throw upon each other. He was clearly a others, never allowing anyone to stand independently
good organiser and exercised much tact in dealing both beside him. His ideas, although brilliant, were often
with the Turkish authorities and with friction between hastily conceived; but once proposed, he expected
the Expedition field members. But he was also a everybody to accept them as Revealed Truth and he
secretive, sneaky, vindictive and hypocritical crook: his brooked no disagreement. Only those Assyriologists
letters to the committee are replete with expressions who embraced his idea of the Temple Library at Nippur
like ‘only for the sanctum of your innermost circle’. It were permitted to publish tablets from the Babylonian
was in one such letter that he urged the suppression Section under his care. He suppressed Haynes’ book
of Haynes’ book. He preferred to keep all pertinent and prevented Fisher from writing more than a portion
details to himself, only giving out vague generalities of the architectural publication.9 He wanted to do
– enough for others to see what great discoveries he everything himself, or at least control everything, so
had made, but not enough to allow them to form an that ultimately the glory would revert to him. Of course
independent opinion of the facts. He was an insecure in this way he took far more upon himself than he could
megalomaniac, imagining enemies and accusers on all ever carry out. In his published writings, and much
sides. In his diary entry dated 28 March 1900 he prays more in his reports to the committee, he is far above
to God: ‘Und das wirst Du nicht wollen, dass meine poor little Haynes and the architects: only he really
Feinde triumphieren, nachdem ich menschliche Hülfe understood what was going on in the excavations and
verachtet und mein Leben und Sterben, mein Thun und
Lassen auf Dich allein gegründet habe’. He was ever
Fisher 1905.

The sins of Nippur

they constantly needed his guidance. To be fair, he was Harper, Assyriologist

right more often than not.
Field, architect and surveyor
After his resignation from the Museum in 1910, Haynes, photographer and financial manager
Hilprecht withdrew from Assyriology altogether. He
Noorian, interpreter
spent the last 15 years of his life travelling around
the world – his wife was fabulously wealthy – and he
Second Expedition (excavating January to May 1890)
was known in Jena as an irascible old man, a welcome
target for the street urchins to bombard with their Peters, Director
tomatoes.10 Such was the pitiful end of a scholar who
could have been a towering giant in the heroic early Haynes, photographer and financial manager
days of Assyriology, a beloved legend and an inspiration Coloman, engineer
for generations of philologists and archaeologists alike.
He did much damage to Peters, Haynes and Fisher and Aftimus, physician
he did even more damage to the Nippur excavations: Noorian, interpreter
the results are even now still mostly unpublished and
confused,11 and a planned fifth expedition was never Third Expedition (excavating May 1893 to February
carried out, in large part because of his personality. But 1896)
the worst damage he did to himself.
Haynes, Director etc. etc.
May we learn from him.
Meyer, architect (from June to September 1894)
Dramatis personæ
Fourth Expedition (excavating September 1899 to May
Field, Perez Hastings (1863–<1895), architect and 1900)
Haynes, Director
Fisher, Clarence Stanley (1876–1941), architect
Mrs Haynes, unpaid secretary
Geere, Henry Valentine (1874–1923), architect
Fisher, architect (from late October 1899)
Harper, Robert Francis (1864–1914), Assyriologist
Geere, architect (from November 1899)
Haynes, John Henry (1849–1910), photographer and
archaeologist Hilprecht, ‘official representative of the Committee’
(from March 1, 1900)
Haynes, Cassandria Artella, née Smith (1862–1906),
Hilprecht, Hermann Vollrath (1859–1925), Assyriologist
Meyer, Joseph A. (1856–1894), architect
Noorian, Daniel Zado (1865–1929), interpreter and Banks, E.J. 1912. Bismya, or The Lost City of Adab. A Story of
dealer in antiquities Adventure, of Exploration, and of Excavation among the
Ruins of the Oldest of the Buried Cities of Babylonia. New
Peters, John Punnett (1852–1921), professor of Hebrew York / London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
and priest Fisher, C.S. 1905. Excavations at Nippur: plans, details and
photographs of the buildings, with numerous objects
The four Nippur expeditions and their staffs found in them during the excavations of 1889, 1890,
1893–1896, 1899–1900. Philadelphia: University of
First Expedition (excavating February to April 1889) Pennsylvania.
Ousterhout, R.G. 2011. John Henry Haynes: a photographer
Peters, Director and archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881–1900.
Hilprecht, Assyriologist Istanbul: Kayik Yayicilik / Hawick: Cornucopia.
Peters, J.P. 1898. Nippur, or Explorations and Adventures on
According to information from J. Oelsner. the Euphrates I–II. New York / London: G.P. Putnam’s
Among the exceptions to this sorry state of affairs are the works of Sons.
Bernhard Schneider on the ziggurat of Ekur, and of Tim Clayden, on
Kassite votive inscriptions and the great find at Tablet Hill. Both have
drawn extensively on the unpublished records. See https://uibk.
academia.edu/BernhardSchneider and https://oxford.academia.
edu/timclayden. For the ongoing publication project ‘Nippur
Digitized’, see above.

A royal chariot for Sargon II

Ariane Thomas1


This paper focuses on an Assyrian wall panel found in the royal palace of Khorsabad (ancient Dūr-Sharrukin) and now on display
in the Musée du Louvre since 1847 after its early discovery by Paul-Émile Botta. It shows two men bearing a movable throne. This
attracted particular notice at the end of the 19th century. With very few other reproduced examples, this royal chariot of Sargon
was even reconstructed for the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889, making a 3D object after its 2D image.

Keywords: Sargon; Louvre; Khorsabad; chariot; Universal Exhibition; Paris; movable throne; Assyria; reconstruction; wall panel

Introduction1 hope he will find something of interest in this modest

essay on a relief found in the royal palace of Khorsabad
Not to mention his numerous other works, Julian (Figure 1), which attracted particular notice at the end
Reade has shed light on many aspects of what remains of the 19th century.
of Dūr-Sharrukin, present-day Khorsabad. This site
holds a special place in the Louvre’s Mesopotamian Eunuchs bearing a movable throne
collection, of which it forms the original nucleus. Well
aware of how greatly he has contributed to a better The description of this relief by its finder, Paul-Émile
understanding of Assyrian antiquity, both in their Botta, records that it represents ‘two eunuchs walking,
original context and also after their discovery; we like the ones which precede them, towards the king, and

Figure 1. Two bearers of the movable throne, gypseous alabaster, H 298 cm. Khorsabad, Courtyard I, Façade L, slab 27. Paris,
Musée du Louvre, AO 19882 (=Nap 2882; LP 3506). © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Mathieu Rabeau

Département des Antiquités Orientales, Musée du Louvre.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 90–100

A royal chariot for Sargon II

carrying on their shoulders a chariot or rather a chair

mounted on two wheels’.2 These two men are dressed
in long one-piece robes with short sleeves, edged with
braid and fringes. Over these they wear long fringed
shawls draped asymmetrically over the left shoulder;
they wear laced sandals, and ornamental bangles on
their wrists and forearms as well as cruciform earrings.
They are beardless, and each wears a sword at his side.
We may also notice their double chins and the folds of
skin on their necks, obviously intended to indicate that
they are overweight. If Flandin’s drawings are accurate,
then in the rest of the procession walking towards the
king, only the herald and the two servants immediately
behind the king display these same signs, which would
indicate the importance, or perhaps the high rank, of
our two men.

Together they carry a chair mounted on wheels with a

drawbar for pulling it. This chair must be quite light in
weight, lighter at least than the chariot carried by two
other men a little further on in the procession, 3 one of
whom is clearly stooping with the effort of carrying the
wheel, unlike our two men who show no apparent such
signs. The throne is a high-backed chair with a length of
fabric hanging from the back, which may have covered
the entire structure. It has armrests which seem to be
supported by three male figures, standing in profile.
Today the relief is partly worn away, but if Flandin’s
drawing is to be trusted, these male figures must have
been standing upright, with one leg thrust forward
out of a long-fringed garment open at the front, as if
walking. Their left arms are bent at a right angle, while
each right arm hangs straight. This costume and posture
are generally those associated with the beneficent
deities or genies of the Assyrian pantheon. There are
several images of furniture ornamented in this way
with applied decoration that are almost sculptures.
They can be seen in particular on other reliefs from
Khorsabad and paintings from Tell Ahmar which
depict similar thrones.5 Although most of the original
furniture has disappeared, material remnants of ivory
and metal plaques6 might correspond to this depicted
Figure 2. Figure of a god, bronze; H 12 cm, L 2.6
decoration. In particular, the Louvre owns a rare figure
cm. Khorsabad (?), acquired 1913. Paris, Musée du
of a god (Figure 2) whose costume and posture7 are Louvre, AO 6517. © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du
apparently identical to those of the figures supporting Louvre) / Mathieu Rabeau
the arms of the throne on the relief that concerns us
here. This little bronze figure was probably found
during Botta’s excavations at Khorsabad but owned by Louvre in 1913 through negotiation with Elias Géjou, a
a family from the Mosul region8 until it was sold to the French antiquities dealer of Armenian origin who was
active between at least 1895 and 1939 and frequently in
Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. V, 88. Baghdad according to his correspondence.9 In addition
Musée du Louvre, AO 19884; Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. I, 20. to the fact that its dimensions seem to correspond
See especially Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. I, pls 19, 22–23, 57–58, with the size of the supporting figures on our relief,
60–65; vol. II, pls 112–13.
Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. I, pl. 18; Thomas 2019a: 108, fig. 55 and this bronze figure terminates below in a long tenon
p. 60. with a triangular section and above in a ring above the
Thomas 2016: 212. truncated conical tiara. This tenon might very well have
According to Agnès Spycket (1981: 382, n. 103, fig. 244), this god
would originally have been holding a weapon.
Pottier 1917: 127, no. 145. 9 
His brother, also called Elias Géjou, was an Iraqi national in 1930.

Ariane Thomas

been inserted into the body of a throne, while the ring

Figure 3. The king of Assyria on his movable throne, sketch on paper after a lost mural painting, H 158 cm, L 545 cm. Tell Ahmar, royal palace, Hall XXIV, north wall, panel i. Paris, Musée du
would have attached the figurine to the armrest. Such
an object thus corresponds very closely to the caryatid
figures of the throne on our relief. 10

We may also note that the throne feet are shaped like
pine-cones, which were supposed to protect the objects
to which they were attached. They could be in metal or
ivory, and many pieces of furniture in Khorsabad and
elsewhere in Assyria terminated in this way, as we know
from existing depictions.

A seemingly unique feature consists of two figures of

horses, harnessed11 and walking, which appear to carry
the chair one on each side. Their heads project beyond
the front of the throne, as if they were supporting its
armrests. These horses are standing on the horizontal
bar between the legs of the throne. The bar is decorated
with palmettes which are also very similar to the
decoration of the previously mentioned thrones and to
ivory fragments found at other sites.12 The drawbar of
the chariot on which the throne is placed terminates
in the head of a harnessed horse, while each end of
the yoke is ornamented with gazelle heads, similar to
fragments of bronze decoration found at Khorsabad.13

Although this throne is similar to several other existing

depictions it is, quite unusually, positioned on a chariot,
thus turning it into a wheeled or movable throne,
considered to be ‘one of the most unusual pieces of
Assyrian furniture’.14 However, it is not the only such
example: a similar combination can be seen on a stone

Louvre, AO 25067 D. © Musée du Louvre, dist. RM N-Grand Palais / Martine Beck Coppol
relief dating from the reign of Sennacherib,15 as well
as on the sketch of a roughly contemporary Assyrian
mural painting, drawn at the time it was discovered
in the palace at Tell Ahmar (Figure 3).16 The Lachish
one, which is called kussī nēmedi in Akkadian on the
relief itself, is the same movable item off its trolley.
Both of these images depict the ruler sitting on such
a movable throne. On the painting, which has many
lacunae, to judge by what remains of the king’s feet and
the hem of his garment there is no footrest, 17 unlike
the Sennacherib relief. These two chariots carrying a
throne seem to be identical to that in the relief which
concerns us, a small two-wheeled chariot whose wheels
have eight spokes. Some scholars have identified it as

Rather than to the figure of a god which is certainly similar but
larger, positioned above the armrest of the throne whose back it
frames, on a relief originally close to the one which concerns us
(Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. I, pl. 18).
Similar to the horses, represented as actual mounts and not as
furniture ornamentation, on other reliefs in Khorsabad.
Thomas 2019a: 108, fig. 75, 160.
Thomas 2016: 210, no. 215.
Heuzey 1889: 139.
Barnett 1998: pl. 479.
Musée du Louvre, AO 25067 D; Thomas 2019a: 78–79.
In fact, the chariot terminates right in front of the king’s feet,
unlike the reliefs of Sargon II and Sennacherib.

A royal chariot for Sargon II

Figure 4. Assyrian gallery in the Louvre, photograph taken about 1935. Paris, Musée du Louvre, archives (the relief (Figure 1) can
be seen at the far end of the room)

a ‘promenading chariot’ rather than a war chariot.18 reached the Louvre in February 1847, along with the
However, other reliefs depict chariots looking very other monumental reliefs brought back by Botta from
similar, though without a seat, bearing the king standing his excavations at Khorsabad between March 1843 and
upright surrounded by soldiers on campaign.19 October 1844. The relief was most probably displayed
in the Assyrian section which opened at the Louvre
Although the presence of figures of horses on the sides in May 1847, according to the 1849 description by
of the throne and on the drawbar evokes the horses Longpérier, and it was certainly exhibited in the new
bred in Assyria or given as tribute by conquered regions, gallery devoted to Assyrian reliefs (Figure 4), instituted
this type of chariot is always drawn by men. The hand- by him in 1857 and which remained untouched for more
drawn chariot was not very high off the ground, and than 130 years. In the case of the monumental reliefs
thus was sometimes followed by parasol bearers who embedded in the walls of the Louvre, the museographic
accompanied the chariot on foot to shade the king from arrangement of 1857 in fact remained unchanged until
the sun. they were moved to the present-day Cour Khorsabad
which was inaugurated in 1993 as part of the ‘Grand
From Khorsabad to Paris: a restored relief Louvre’ project.

The relief was first published in 1849 by its finder, Paul- Discovered on the so-called Façade L in Courtyard I of
Émile Botta, in the form of drawings made at the site the royal palace at Khorsabad, this is slab number 27
by Eugène Flandin, 20 and by Adrien de Longpérier, according to the numbering system established by
the first curator responsible for installing it when it Botta and Flandin for their sketches of the reliefs when
arrived at the Louvre.21 The object must therefore have in situ (Figure 5). These archaeologists, who depicted
both the state in which they found the reliefs and a
Pottier 1917: 82; 1924: 82–83. hypothetical reconstruction, reported that the relief of
Layard 1853: pl. 12. the movable throne with its two bearers was in good
Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. I, pl. 17; see also vol. I, pl. 10, vol. V: 45, condition, unlike some of the nearby sections. It also
Longpérier 1849: 27, no. 26; Longpérier 1854: 37, no. 25. still stood upright whereas many other slabs had fallen.

Ariane Thomas

However, a closer look reveals that the relief was

subjected to multiple restorations after it arrived at
the museum in February 1847. According to Flandin’s
most detailed drawing (Figure 6), when the relief was
first discovered it was fissured obliquely by numerous
cracks; that at the lower left corner terminating in
a lacuna by the foot of the figure to the right. This
lacuna was filled in before the slab was displayed in
the Assyrian section in May 1847 (Figure 4). In the
absence of any detailed reports – unfortunately typical
of conservation practice at that time – we can only try
to reconstruct the attempts at restoration and other
interventions on this relief by studying it closely and
using scientific techniques such as UV light, as well as by
comparing the various images made of this relief since
it was discovered.22 Several attempts at restoration can
Figure 5. Sketch of Façade L in the state in which it was found and in a hypothetical reconstructed state (Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. I, pl. 9)

be seen, particularly in the lower half: in addition to

the reconstructed foot and the filling in of the cracks,
the lower part of the clothing has been restored. These
restorations, which show up very visibly in white on old
photographs, are outlined by darker fills. All of these
cracks and fills made in the 19th century were treated
more sensitively when the slab was re-displayed in the
new Cour Khorsabad. 23

In addition, the slab was re-attached to slab 26, 24 which

had been immediately to the left of it when in situ. We
can tell from old photographs (Figure 4) that these
two slabs, originally cut from two separate blocks, had
already been exhibited as a single unit at least since the
second installation of the Assyrian section, inaugurated
in 1857. We may note that, in contrast to the layout
of the slabs in situ, these reliefs were now positioned
ahead of the other reliefs, although they had been to
the rear on the northwest return of Façade L (Figure
5). After being exhibited so long in this way, they were
re-positioned in conformity with their original layout
when the Cour Khorsabad opened in 1993 (Figure 7).

Minute traces of blue colouring remain on the rear

foot sandal of the figure on the right, while some
black colouring has been found in the hair. Flandin’s
engraving (Figure 5) showed nothing of this, but these
traces are almost invisible to the naked eye.

A relief much admired in 19th century Paris

While Botta thought that after his detailed description

‘there is nothing else of note in this fine bas-relief,

Our thanks go to Yvan Coquinot (Centre de recherche et de
restauration des musées de France) for his expertise on this topic. An
initial study has been conducted under our supervision by a student
from the École du Louvre (Debusschere 2019).
A photograph of this state, after the reversal of the previous
restoration and before the repairs to the cracks, has been preserved in
the archives of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the Louvre.
Musée du Louvre, AO 19881; Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. I, pl. 16.
This slab has also lost the section with the figure originally on the

A royal chariot for Sargon II

Figure 6. Sketch of the relief

(Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. I,
pl. 17)

Figure 7. The relief exhibited in the present-day Cour Khorsabad in the Louvre. © 2019 A. Thomas/Louvre

Ariane Thomas

Figure 8. Advertisement, souvenir

from the Paris Universal Exhibition
of 1889

which is now in the Paris Museum’,25 Longpérier name. An Assyrian house was designed in part on the
believed that it helped ‘to understand a passage in basis of the attempted architectural reconstructions
the book of the prophet Daniel, which had appeared drawn by Félix Thomas for Victor Place,29 the second
obscure but has now become a splendid description of excavator at Khorsabad; they had also been adopted by
a real thing: ‘his throne was like the fiery flame, and his Eugène Viollet-le-Duc,30 one of the most famous French
wheels  as  burning fire’. We now understand what is architects and restorer of many buildings including
meant by the wheels of a throne, and this verse gives us Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. These houses (since
an admirably poetic image of rapid movement’.26 demolished31) were very popular, and were illustrated
on a number of advertisements (Figure 8).
Whether because of its biblical connotations or not, this
relief and the movable throne it depicts left their mark In a more serious vein, an exhibition on the history of
on the minds of its viewers, particularly in the late work organised and supervised by the specialists of the
19th century. In 1884, it was one of the Assyrian reliefs day, including Ernest Chantre, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire,
illustrated in the volume devoted to Chaldea and Assyria Gaston Maspéro, Léon Heuzey and Georges Perrot, was
in the Histoire de l’art de l’antiquité by Georges Perrot held at the same time in the great hall of the Palais
and Charles Chipiez.27 In this volume it was sketched des Arts Libéraux on the Champ de Mars (a building
along with the first human figure of slab 26. 28 In fact, at also since demolished), another site of the Universal
Khorsabad this figure was located immediately ahead Exhibition. This included a section devoted to Oriental
of our relief; the two slabs were exhibited in this order antiquity, designed by Léon Heuzey, the curator then
in the room designed by Longpérier, and have remained in charge of the Department of Oriental Antiquities
that way today. at the Louvre which had been inaugurated only eight
years earlier. As he himself tells us,32 not only original
In addition to the Louvre exhibition, this relief may works but also casts, paintings based on Assyrian reliefs
have attracted further attention after being published and attempts at reconstruction using similar materials
by Perrot and Chipiez. In any case, five years later, to the original were on view. For the Assyrian period,
it was to play a special role at the Paris Universal Heuzey planned the identical reconstruction of the
Exhibition of 1889. This exhibition referenced Assyria ‘royal chariot of King Sargon’,33 based on the Khorsabad
in at least two places. The first was in a space devoted
to the history of housing, consisting of model houses
constructed along the Seine at the foot of the brand- 29 
Place 1867: vol. III, pl. 21 in particular.
new Eiffel Tower, under the direction of Charles Garnier,
Viollet-le-Duc 1875: fig. 52.
Apart from a few remnants of their decoration which were re-used,
the architect of the Paris Opera, which now bears his as happened in the case of the ‘Persian’ house whose modern bricks,
imitations of the decorative bricks found at Susa by Jane and Marcel
Dieulafoy, were recycled by their craftsmen (the ceramicist Émile
Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. V, 89. Müller and sculptor Charles Louis Lesueur), and can still be seen in
Longpérier 1854: 37, no. 25. the hall of an apartment building in the Rue des Sablons in Paris and
Perrot and Chipiez 1884: 2, 100, fig. 23. on the walls of a house in the Rue Camille Groult in Vitry-sur-Seine.
Musée du Louvre, Department of Oriental Antiquities, AO 19881; 32 
Heuzey 1889: 139; 1912: 209, pl. XII.
Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. I, pl. 16. 33 
Heuzey 1889: 139; 1912: 223.

A royal chariot for Sargon II

relief discussed here. The project required a ‘major

effort’ to reconstruct ‘the wealth and splendour of
the Assyrian period’.34 The throne was constructed of
solid cedar wood bound with bands of gilded copper
to simulate gold, and ornamented with inlays. The
three statuettes (then thought to be royal rather than
divine) and the two horses, as well as the horse’s head
and two gazelle heads decorating the drawbar, were in
imitation ivory with gold and purple highlights. The
chariot was constructed of whitebeam and its wheels
reinforced with red copper tyres and pins. The throne
was embellished with ‘a piece of antique Arabian
fabric from Damascus, on which the design of the
Assyrian eight-petalled rosettes, woven in the fabric,
has been preserved with astonishing accuracy’.35 This
reconstruction was made by M. Mecquereau (with M.
Frettel as foreman), with carvings by Henri Cros and
inlays made using the techniques of the factory of M.
Boissyge, and the work supervised by Léon Heuzey
and his assistant Edmond Pottier. Photographs of the
exhibition show this movable throne in situ (Figure 9),
above what appears to be a painting more or less loosely
inspired by the drawings of Assyrian reliefs published
by Layard, 36 and next to two other reconstructions
directed by Heuzey for the Persian and Chaldean (or
Sumerian) periods. As can be seen on the photographs,
Figure 9. Views of the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889,
the first of these was a model of the excavation site of
photographs of objects exhibited in section I, ‘Anthropology,
the Apadana at Susa, produced by none other than its ethnography, archaeology’. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de
first excavator, Marcel Dieulafoy, while the other was France, Société de Géographie department, SG W-15
an imaginary portrait of ‘the Chaldean architect’.37

Figure 10. Photograph of the reconstruction in

similar materials of Sargon’s movable throne
(Heuzey 1912: pl. XII)

Heuzey 1912: 222–23.
Heuzey 1912: 224.
Layard 1853: 12.
Heuzey 1912: 210, frontispiece, pl. X.

Ariane Thomas

More precisely, this was a man – actually modelled with a principle of bilateral symmetry very commonly
by Jules Hébert – imitating the attitude (based on found in Assyrian art, the king appears twice with the
dry-runs on the live model during courses taught by same costume and posture, but the two figures face in
Heuzey at the École des Beaux-Arts38) and the posture opposite directions.
of Gudea of Lagash in the statue known as ‘Architect
with plan’39 found by Ernest de Sarzec at Telloh, which To the left, the procession in front of the king consisted
had recently been acquired by the Louvre. Seated on of eight men, all beardless and standing with their
a chair replicating that of the statue, 40 the man was hands joined, except for the dignitary or crown prince
positioned on an inlaid dais, on the ‘pillar of Gudea’,41 directly in front of the king and the fourth man to the
between two ceremonial poles. Just behind him, on a rear. The procession to the right is longer, following
table and a large display base respectively, could be the false symmetry of the wall – the section to the
seen the model of the Apadana excavation on the right right of entrance G is longer than its counterpart to
and the reconstruction of the movable throne of Sargon the left of entrance B. Behind the dignitary or crown
II on the left. On the walls, above decoration imitating prince directly in front of the ruler there stand four
mosaic inlays, were paintings imitating Assyrian reliefs. beardless men; the last of these, just before entrance G,
Above the paintings were battlements decorated with raises his arm as if to introduce the continuation of the
rosettes, seemingly modelled on the above-mentioned procession after passage G. This procession consists of
reconstructions published by Place, and applied at ten men in pairs bearing the king’s treasure. They are
the same time to the decor of the ‘Sarzec’ gallery in beardless and wear long robes, except for the last two,
the Louvre, which had been designed to exhibit the who are bearded and wear short robes, and are depicted
discoveries from Telloh.42 Sadly no trace survives of all straining to carry what appears to be a war chariot.
this decor or of the throne, apart from descriptions and In front of them, moving towards the king, another
images (Figure 10). pair carries an item of furniture decorated with Atlas
figures. 44 They follow two bearers of a throne which is
Façade L and the decoration of Courtyard I larger than the movable throne carried immediately in
front of them. Lastly, another pair carry serving dishes
This movable throne43 was sculpted on a relief on the just in front of the king. This procession of treasures
southwest wall of Courtyard I (Figure 5). It formed part from the royal furnishings must originally have been
of the decoration of the so-called Façade L, along the even more impressive, when the relief extended onto
east wall of Courtyard I leading to Room 2 of the king’s the south side of Courtyard I, which leads to Space IV.
private apartments (Figure 11). The decoration was In fact, although it was largely in ruins, at the time of its
spread across four sections of wall, separated by three discovery this side still preserved two reliefs depicting
passages between Courtyard I and Room 2; the chief the bearers of a bench, a chair and a large vase.45
and grandest of these was the central Gate F, decorated
with a pair of winged bulls with human heads which What was called Courtyard I was situated at the
produced an even more monumental effect since the northwest corner of the terrace of the palace, which
decoration projected slightly outward relative to the formed part of a large space that also included Courtyard
other slabs. The decoration on these four sections II and the ‘X’ or ‘isolated’ Building. The latter seems to
forming the east wall of Courtyard I depicted the king have been a monument of that particular type adopted
standing and holding an audience. The ruler appears from Syro-Anatolia called bīt hilāni, which Sargon II
twice, once facing left on the left side of Gate F, that describes as a building ‘in the style of the Hatti’.46 What
is facing north and towards the outside of Courtyard I, we know about this type of building is derived from the
beyond the citadel: and once facing right towards the depiction of a pavilion with columns, located on the
right and the interior of the palace and the city. With edge of a watercourse in the middle of a park with a
the exception of the two beardless servants who follow hunting preserve,47 which is sculpted on a relief from
him in each case – they are almost identical although Room 7, in the middle of the private apartments behind
some details vary – the king faced all the other figures, Façade L of Courtyard I. Building X also contained reliefs
who were walking towards him as if for an audience. The depicting hunting scenes inside a park, although there
façade, that is, was composed of two processions of men is no pavilion sculpted in the surviving section.48 The
standing and walking towards the ruler. In accordance building would have been mostly open to the outside,49

Only a tiny fragment of this has been preserved in the Louvre, AO
Thomas 2014: 75, fig. 4–1. 19919.
Musée du Louvre, AO 2; Perrot and Chipiez 1884: 593, fig. 286. 45 
As well as the fragmentary head of a human-headed bull which
Recently identified in a private collection in Paris. In this must have guarded passage V or F (Albenda 1986: 157; Thomas 2016:
connection, it is not impossible that the reconstructed throne of 204, no. 210).
Sargon has also been preserved in a private collection. 46 
Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. II, pl. 150; Reade 2008: 31.
Thomas 2016: 192–93. 47 
Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. II, pl. 114.
Thomas 2019b: 47, fig. 4–3. 48 
Reade 2008: 19–20, figs 7–8.
Strommenger 1976: 116. 49 
Reade 2008: 36.

A royal chariot for Sargon II

dominating the terrace which faced northeast towards Conclusion

the Musri mountains and possibly also towards the
royal gardens: it is tempting to locate these in this area, In the words of Julian Reade,53 no longer inanimate
drawing on the reliefs which show pavilions close to the works hidden underground re-emerge and tell or let
royal park, where hunting was a major activity. Sargon people imagine they are telling many stories once
II also describes a park ‘like that of the Amanus’, a region they have been brought to light. Prominent victims of
of southwest Turkey, reminding us that the Assyrians this syndrome, Assyrian antiquities have often been
dominated the rich western regions. So it is tempting re-interpreted through various biblical, idolatrous,
to imagine that Courtyard I, or the northeast corner of nationalistic, commercial, intellectual and other lenses.
the terrace, might have included a garden in which the The relief held in the Louvre since it was discovered
pavilion known as Monument X was situated, like that a little over 170 years ago is no exception. Through
pictured in the above-mentioned relief in Room 7. restorations and reconstructions in similar materials,
this relief was loosely re-interpreted in the 19th century
An alternative hypothesis, which would mean that to highlight ‘the wealth and splendour of the Assyrian
access was less direct, locates the royal park mentioned period’.54 Re-examined with what is now known about
by Sargon II outside the city, on the edge of an existing its overall context at the time of discovery, it may well
watercourse, at the foot of the terrace which would still evoke not only the power of the king of Assyria but also
have dominated the garden: Hall 7 – whose decorations the fabled and long since vanished gardens of Sargon II.
evoke it – would also have given onto the garden,
since it was situated along the axis of a window facing Bibliography
northeast. The Assyrian reliefs show us that the garden
was a place where the king and his closest courtiers Albenda, P. 1986. The palace of Sargon King of Assyria.
relaxed among precious furnishings.50 It would not Paris: ERC / ADPF.
be surprising, then, if the reliefs on Façade L depicted Barnett, R.D., E. Bleibtreu and G. Turner 1998. Sculptures
precisely such furnishings, rather as though they were from the Southwest Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh.
being prepared for a reception in the garden. The London: British Museum Publications.
movable throne on this ‘promenading chariot’51 could Botta, P-É. and E. Flandin 1849/50. Monument de Ninive,
then have been used within the park. It should also be découvert et décrit par M. P.-É. Botta, mesuré et dessiné
noted that in the more public part of the royal palace, par M. E. Flandin. Paris: Imprimerie nationale.
in Great Courtyard VIII which led to the Throne Room, Debusschere, S. 2019. De la restauration et de la
the surviving fairly similar reliefs on the southwest conservation des reliefs de la cour Khorsabad du
wall depict a procession of bearers of the throne and Louvre. Etat de la question, critique et cartographie
other precious furnishings, but without any sign of a historique. Unpublished Master 1 dissertation,
movable throne, which was perhaps reserved for more École du Louvre.
private areas and events in the Royal Garden. However, Heuzey, L. 1889. Histoire du travail dans l’antiquité
the movable throne mounted on a hand-pulled chariot orientale, in Exposition rétrospective du travail et des
depicted in the palace at Tell Ahmar, in the western sciences anthropologiques. Section I Anthropologie-
regions of the empire, appears in the context of a royal ethnographie, catalogue général official: 133–43.
audience, not of a hunting party. At Khorsabad too, all Lille: Imprimerie Daniel.
along Façade L, this procession of bearers of precious Heuzey, L. 1912. L’Antiquité orientale à l’Exposition
furnishings – much of whose ornamentation must universelle de 1889, in L. Heuzey (ed.) Origines
have come from the western regions, the ivory plaques orientales de l’art: 209–33. Paris: Ernest Leroux.
in particular – is a ceremonial display of the king’s Kertai, D. 2015. The architecture of Late Assyrian palaces.
treasures as a manifestation of his wealth, derived from Oxford: Oxford University Press.
his rule over a great empire. The war chariot at the Layard, A.H. 1853. The monuments of Nineveh: A second
corner of Façade L is a reminder of his conquests, as is series. London: John Murray.
the western style of the costumes of some of the figures Longpérier, A.P. de 1849. Notice des antiquités assyriennes,
standing before the king on some of the reliefs found babyloniennes, hébraïques, exposées dans les galeries du
on the terrace.52 Musée du Louvre. Paris: Vinchon.
Longpérier, A.P. de 1854. Notice des antiquités assyriennes,
babyloniennes, hébraïques, exposées dans les galeries du
Musée du Louvre. Paris: Vinchon (third edition).
Perrot, G. and C. Chipiez 1884. Histoire de l’art dans
l’Antiquité: Égypte, Assyrie, Perse, Asie Mineure, Grèce,
As do reliefs found elsewhere than Khorsabad, such as the famous Étrurie, Rome, T. II: Chaldée, Assyrie. Paris: Hachette.
Banquet Scene; see Botta and Flandin 1849: vol. I, pls 19, 22–23, 57–58,
60–65, vol. II, pls 112–13.
Pottier 1917: 82; Pottier 1924: 82–83. 53 
Reade 2018: 167.
See especially Reade 2008: fig. 8. 54 
Heuzey 1912: 222–23.

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Place, V. 1867/70. Ninive et l’Assyrie. Paris: Imprimerie textiles and dress: an interdisciplinary anthology: 74–95.
impériale. Copenhagen: Center for Textile Research.
Pottier, E. 1917. Catalogue des antiquités assyriennes. Paris: Thomas, A. 2019a. Les peintures de Tell Ahmar. Les couleurs
Gaston Braun. de l’empire assyrien. Paris / Dijon: Éditions Faton /
Reade, J.E. 2008. Real and imagined ‘Hittite Palaces’ at Musée du Louvre.
Khorsabad and elsewhere. Iraq 70: 13–40. Thomas, A. 2019b. Exhibiting ancient Near Eastern
Reade, J.E. 2018. Assyrian antiquities lost in translation. antiquities in the Louvre, in G. Emberling and L.
Journal of Cuneiform Studies 70: 167–88. Petit (eds) Museums and the Middle East, Curatorial
Strommenger, E. and M. Hirmer 1976. Cinq millénaires practices and audiences: 41–61. London: Routledge.
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(eds) Prehistoric, ancient Near Eastern and Aegean

The gods of Arbail

John MacGinnis1


This paper set outs the evidence for the gods worshipped in Arbail in antiquity. The natural starting point is formed by the
cult of Ištar, which was famous, and the evidence for this, both epigraphic and iconographic, is reviewed. Attention is given to
considering the manifestations and avatars of Ištar, which present complex problems. But a deeper investigation of the sources
reveals that the full range of deities worshipped in the city was much more extensive than this, and was indeed very diverse,
including both major and minor gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon, foreign deities, cult objects and images of the king. While
even this cannot be taken to represent a complete description of the divine repertory of Arbail, it does illustrate the colour and
brilliance of religious activity in a city which by the 7th century had become a virtual capital of the Assyrian empire.

Keywords: Arbail, Assyria, Assyrian religion, Ištar, syncretisation

Introduction1 Ištar crystalised in Arbail is lost in the mists of time;

unquestionably the Hurrian background of northern
With the opening of the Kurdish Region of Iraq to Mesopotamia will have been a key influence.7 By
archaeological explorations there has, alongside other comparison with the temple of Ištar in Assur and the
investigations, also been much interest in the history cult of Ištar in Nineveh we can surely not be wrong in
and archaeology of the region’s capital, Erbil – ancient imagining that the formalised cult of Ištar in Arbail
Arbail – with excavations on the citadel mound,2 in the similarly goes back to at least the 3rd millennium
lower town,3 and the surrounding plain.4 This has been BC, with deeper origins stretching back considerably
accompanied by a renewed interest in the historical further even than that. Archaeological evidence
sources.5 In this article I would like to address a matter indicates that the Erbil plain was occupied at least since
of the cult pertaining to the ancient city, namely the Ubaid period, while Kurdistan in general has been
an examination of the gods worshipped in Arbail host to a human presence since the Palaeolithic period.
in the Assyrian period. The results are more varied Surprisingly though, or rather reflecting the very
than generally known. It is a pleasure to offer this limited excavation of Assyrian levels on the citadel,
contribution to Julian, a figure no less revered! the first direct evidence for the existence of the cult
of Ištar in Arbail is not until the time of Shalmaneser
Ištar of Arbail I (1273–1244 BC), a king known from a single exemplar
of one inscription to have rebuilt the temple of Ištar,
First and foremost, of course, is Ištar of Arbail. The the Egašankalamma.8 The inscription mentions the
goddess is known to us to a small degree from sources ziggurat, and is in fact the only attestation so far for
from the Middle Assyrian period, but most of all from the temple having had one. The existence of a ziggurat
the Neo-Assyrian period, when she was one of the is however expected, as all of the other imperial
high deities of the Assyrian empire.6 Starting at least metropoleis had at least one, including at Nineveh,
with Sennacherib, and throughout the inscriptions of where the Emašmaš, the temple of Ištar, had a ziggurat
Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, the goddess is regularly from at least the time of Maništǔsu.9 Possible locations
listed among the supreme deities supporting Assyrian for the ziggurat in Arbail are in either the southwest or
kings in their campaigns. This was the culmination the northeast sector of the citadel, both of which areas
of a long process. When and how the worship of are characterised by a markedly higher elevation of the
topography (Figure 1). The southwest location would
Department of the Middle East, The British Museum.
Al Yaqoobi et al. 2016; Al Yaqoobi, Shepperson and MacGinnis 2018. 7 
See for example Pongratz-Leisten 2015: 61–74.
I would like to thank Stephanie Dalley, Manfred Krebernik, Simo 8 
Grayson 1991: 204. Indirect evidence for the Old Babylonian period
Parpola, Beate Pongratz-Leisten and Barbara Nevling Porter for their may be gleaned from the fact that the king Būnu-Ištar, who was
help and comments. defeated by the coalition of Šamši-Adad I of Assyria and Dāduša of
van Ess et al. 2012. Ešnunna (MacGinnis 2013; 2014: 28), bore a name compounded with
cf. Kopanias and MacGinnis 2015; Kopanias, MacGinnis and Ur 2016. Ištar: this could be taken as an indication that the goddess was already
MacGinnis 2014. the tutelary deity of the city at that time.
For studies of Ištar of Arbail, see Menzel 1981: vol. I, 6–10, Porter 9 
This was subsequently restored by at least Šamši-Adad I,
2004; Meinhold 2009: 184, 205–206; MacGinnis 2014: 32–35; Allen 2015: Shalmaneser I, Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal: Reade 2005: 357, 362,
170–77. 371, 381, 383–84.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 101–118

John MacGinnis

Figure 1. Topographic
map of the Citadel of Erbil,
showing the areas of higher
elevations in the southwest
and northeast (courtesy
High Commission Erbil
Citadel Revitalization:
Comprehensive Survey of
the Physical Condition of
the Citadel)

correspond very well with the fact that the ziggurats of Formulating an idea of the nature of who Ištar of Arbail
both the Ištar temple in Nineveh and the Aššur temple was is not easy. On the one hand Ištar of Arbail is carefully
in Assur were located southwest of their respective distinguished from both Ištar of Nineveh14 and Ištar of
temples.10 Assur – the ‘Assyrian Ištar’.15 The separate identity of
these three goddesses is borne out, for example, by the
We are very fortunate in having a relief depicting Arbail fact that there was a cult of Ištar of Nineveh in Assur16
and the Egašankalamma from the time of Ashurbanipal, and that Ištar of Arbail also had a shrine in that city, in
now in the Louvre (Figure 2).11 It shows the double walls the temple of Bēl-šarri and Nabû.17 On the other hand,
of the lower city, above them the walls of the citadel however, all three could be referred to simply as Ištar,
and its arched gate, outside of which there is a pillar- suggesting or implying a level of shared identity. These
shaped incense burner with a crenelated top. The deities were also syncretised with other goddesses
identification of the city as Erbil is made certain by the such as Mullissu, Innin, Anunitu, Bēlet-ēkalli, Šauška,
cuneiform epigraph uru4-DINGIR inscribed on the wall of Irnini, Šarrat-nipha and others.18 Disentangling these
the citadel.12 Rising above the citadel walls is the temple identities presents pretty much intractable problems.
of Ištar and flanking the gate are two tall standards.
Above the citadel gate a figure, certainly Ashurbanipal With regard to the depiction of Ištar of Arbail, we
himself, is pouring a libation over a severed human are however unusually fortunate in having an idea
head, evidently that of Teuman king of Elam, which of her iconography, both from an explicitly labelled
has been placed in front of an offering table, the legs depiction and in an articulation of her appearance in
of which can be clearly seen. As remarked upon by
numerous scholars, this ceremony can be compared to 1992; Weissert 1997: 350; Bonatz 2004; Villard 2008: 259, n.17, 264.
the libation ceremony in which Ashurbanipal and other 14 
For studies on Ištar of Nineveh see Lambert 2004; Porter 2004;
kings before him poured libations over lions and bulls Meinhold 2009: 168–84; Allen 2015: 177–88; MacGinnis 2017.
For studies of the Assyrian Ištar see Meinhold 2009; Allen 2015:
slaughtered in the royal hunt.13 188–90.
Meinhold 2009: 168–84.
Meinhold 2009: 184. There were temples of Ištar in all the Assyrian
Reade 2005: 384; while the southwest may have been the default capitals. While those at Assur, Kalhu and Nineveh have been
positioning for an Assyrian ziggurat, there are variations, as at excavated, the temple of Ištar in Khorsabad has not yet been found;
Nimrud, very likely due to the constraints of the local topography. we know however that there was one from the letter SAA 1 114 which
AO 19914; Barnett 1976: pl. XXIII (illustrated in MacGinnis 2014: states ‘Whence shall we raise the materials for the temple of Ištar,
80). the Kidmuri temple, the Sebetti temple and the temple of Adad-of-
Note that as the temple of Ištar had a ziggurat, the Elamite ziggurat the-rain?’
depicted in the lower part of the relief would have been matched by a 18 
See for example Meinhold 2009; Allen 2015, with references to
ziggurat to the left or right of the temple in Erbil. earlier literature; for a Late Babylonian syncretistic hymn to Ištar see
Reade 1964: 7; 2005: 21; Albenda 1980; Russell 1991: 162; Watanabe Lambert 2003.

The gods of Arbail

Figure 2. The city of Arbail as depicted in a relief from the time of Ashurbanipal

an inscription of Ashurbanipal. To start with the latter,

this is the account of a night vision which a seer reports
to the king: ‘Ištar who dwells in Arbail came in. She
had quivers hanging left and right and held a bow in
her arm and a sharp sword drawn for doing battle’.19
One may add the description of the goddess given in
Ashurbanipal’s Hymn to Arbail, which describes the
goddess ‘seated on a lion ... mighty lions crouch below
her, kings of (all) land(s) cower before her, [she holds]
domination over beasts’.20 This description accords well
with the depiction on a stele from Til Barsip dedicated
to the goddess (Figure 3). Here she is shown standing
on a lion, with two quivers and a sword and a star
atop her headdress.21 Differences from the description
of Ashurbanipal are small: in the Til Barsip stele the
goddess is standing on a lion rather than sitting and
the sword is sheathed rather than drawn. The stele also
shows a partial circular band behind the goddess with
radiating lines: this very likely depicts her melammu
(supernatural radiance), something which Seidl22 has
already suggested may be a distinguishing feature of
Ištar of Arbail. The headdress topped by a star may be
another diagnostic feature: this, surely, reflects her
identification as Venus, the morning and evening star.

MacGinnis 2014: 83.
Livingstone 1989: 22, rev. 5–7.
MacGinnis 2014: 83. Figure 3. Stele from Til Barsip depicting the goddess Ištar of
Seidl 1980: 86. Arbail

John MacGinnis

We have already noted that both Ištar of Arbail and them. With deep insight and profound wisdom I
Ištar of Nineveh were worshipped in Assur. It seems settled them in the akītu house. [....], 10 sheep, 10
moreover that Ištar of Nineveh may also have had a birds, 7 homers of wine, 4 homers of [...], groats
shrine in Arbail. This comes from an observation with beer, [all] this I established before them for the table
regard to the goddess Pārisat-palê. A letter from the of their divinities in the akītu house in the open
royal correspondence23 records this goddess entering countryside’.27
into the akītu house in Arbail. As noted by Radner,24
Pārisat-palê was worshipped in the temple of Ištar of An akītu ceremony was probably carried out at Milkia
Nineveh in Nineveh: the implication of Pārisat-palê once or twice a year, in Elulu and Addaru.28 Ištar will
being present in Arbail is accordingly that Ištar of have travelled to Milkia for this in her chariot and her
Nineveh also had a shrine in the city. This could have journey and sojourn there were reported in the royal
been either a free-standing temple or a shrine within correspondence. At the same time, when the Assyrian
the Egašankalamma, however the absence of both Ištar kings carried out victory celebrations in Arbail,
of Nineveh and Pārisat-palê from the list of gods in festivities at Milkia formed part of the programme.
the Egašankalamma (see below) suggests that it may Thus Shalmaneser III, Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal
have been the former. This conclusion is, perhaps, all record celebrating the festival (isinnu) of Šatru in
supported by the appearance of Ištar of Nineveh as one Milkia. The principal meal in the programme at Milkia
of the lead deities invoked in the introductory formula was the qarītu, an al fresco banquet whose menu included
of some of the letters of Aššur-hamātū’a, governor of fruit, lamb, birds, soup, bread, honey, oil, wine and beer;
Arbail (see below). It appears likely, therefore, that the there were directions for how to correctly set up the
three principle avatars of Ištar – Ištar of Assur, Ištar of tables bearing these offerings.
Nineveh and Ištar of Arbail – all had shrines in each
others’ cities. Very likely hymns were composed for these occasions.
Three compositions can be proposed in this context.
Šatru/Milkia Firstly, STT 43,29 originally ascribed to Shalmaneser
III, may well in fact have been composed to celebrate
Outside the city Ištar had a second cult installation a campaign of Ashurnasirpal II,30 in which case the
at Milkia, where there was a countryside akītu house, obvious candidate would be the campaign undertaken
very likely identical with the Palace of the Steppe at the beginning of that king’s reign. KAR 98,31 in which
(Egaledinna)25. Ištar was worshipped here in the form Shalmaneser III records his restoration of a harp of
of Šatru. Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal both rebuilt the goddess Ištar of Arbail, could likewise have been
or renovated the akītu house in Milkia and it is not composed as part of celebrations of Shalmaneser
unlikely that Shalmaneser III will have done the same. held following the successful conclusion of a military
Esarhaddon gives the most detailed description:26 campaign. An obvious possibility is that it might relate
to victory celebrations held by Shalmaneser in Arbail
‘[I rebuilt] the akītu house in the open countryside, after the campaign of his third year, when the king
the house of merry making, and restored its rites. specifically mentions that he celebrated the festival of
[I renovated] that [temple] with baked bricks, the Lady of Arbail in Milkia; another possibility would
haematite and lapis lazuli and built it with lofty be celebrations held following the campaign of the
cedar beams and [...] its [...]. On the seventeenth king’s sixteenth year, which also terminated in Arbail.
day of Ululu I [seated Ištar and the (other) gods in the Lastly, Ashurbanipal’s Hymn to Arbail32 and his Hymn to
temple and] hastened to bring their offerings before the Ištars of Nineveh and Arbail33 could plausibly have
been commissioned to celebrate his defeat over Elam
and the Gambulu in 653 BC, the campaign for which was
SAA 13 153.
SAA 13: 121. For some comments on Pārisat-palê (‘Determiner of launched from Arbail and on its conclusion celebrated
the reigns’), see RlA 10: 338. there with spectacular festivities. There must,
MacGinnis 2014: 35–36. The location of Milkia is not known. By incidentally, surely have also been a hymn composed
comparison with Sennacherib’s akītu house at Assur, which was
located 200 m outside the city walls (Andrae 1938: 37–40; Andrae and for Esarhaddon’s restoration of the Egašankalamma
Haller 1955: 74–80; see MacGinnis 2018: 52–53), and the same king’s following his campaign against Šubria in 673 BC, though
akītu house at Nineveh, which appears to have been opposite the
Nergal Gate (Ahmad and Grayson 1999), one may imagine that Milkia
and the akītu house at Arbail were similarly just outside the city
walls. Unfortunately, while analysis of historic satellite imagery does
allow a tentative reconstruction of the Assyrian fortification system 27 
Leichty 2011: no. 54, l.16-; see MacGinnis 2014: 73.
surrounding the lower town of Arbail to be made (Nováček, Amin 28 
Pongratz-Leisten 1994: 79–82; Pongratz-Leisten 1997; Weissert
and Melčák 2013: 23–27, 33–35), modern urbanisation has completely 1997: 347; Villard 2008.
obliterated these traces on the ground and there would therefore 29 
Lambert 1961.
seem to be little prospect that material remains of the temple at 30 
Reade 1989.
Milkia will ever be found. 31 
Meinhold 2009: 291–300; MacGinnis 2019.
Evidently Sargon also carried out work in Milkia as this is referred 32 
Livingstone 1989: no. 8.
to in letters to the king. 33 
Livingstone 1989: no. 3.

The gods of Arbail

such a composition does not appear to have surfaced to Data in the royal correspondence
As is well known, the introductory formulae in letters
The question therefore arises whether the festivities of the royal correspondence of the Assyrian kings are
held at the end of military campaigns also formed part both an important tool in helping identify the location
of, or were classified as, akītu festivals. The fact that the from which a letter was written and, with respect to
Assyrian akītu festival had, or could have, a militaristic the deities invoked, a good source for the major gods
dimension has been discussed by Weissert34 and venerated in the location.40 In the case of Arbail we find
Pongratz-Leisten35 and also fits in with the suggestion letters with the following formulae:
of Lauinger36 that the akītu house may have been the
scene for the yearly receipt of tribute and reaffirmation in letters from the Foreman of the College of Scribes
of oaths of loyalty on the part of rulers subject to the of Arbail:
Assyrian king. In the case of Arbail, one could then
‘May Nabû, Marduk and Ištar of Arbail bless the king
imagine that the akītu ceremony provided the ideal
my lord’41
setting for the receipt of tribute from vassal states to
the east, with the rulers themselves perhaps being in letters from Aššur-hamātū’a, governor of Arbail:
summoned to reaffirm their oaths; it may also have ‘May Aššur, Ištar, Bēl and Nabû bless the king my
been the time for the governor of the province of Arbail lord’42
to reaffirm his own oath. Such a scenario would indeed ‘May Aššur, Sîn, Šamaš, Ištar of Nineveh and Ištar of
seem to be exactly the background to a prophecy made Arbail bless the king my lord’43
to Esarhaddon by Ištar of Arbail: ‘I will bring enemies in ‘May Aššur and Ištar bless the king my lord’44
neckstocks and vassals before his feet’.37
Other letters (SAA 14 143-153) give permutations of
The renewal of oaths and the receipt of tribute were, these deities; all these letters date to the reigns of
however, not the only spectacles on offer. Weissert Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal. Together these formulae
has suggested that the akītu festival in Nineveh may list, in addition to Ištar of Arbail, the gods Aššur, Sîn,
have been accompanied by a staged lion hunt,38 and Šamaš, Marduk (Bēl), Nabû and Ištar of Nineveh. Nabû
it may be that this is what is portrayed in the famous and Marduk were celestial paragons of the king, so
relief sequence of lion hunts of Ashurbanipal.39 It can perhaps this does not imply they had temples in Arbail,
be suggested that the celebration of the akītu festival but the suggestion must be that the other gods were
in Arbail may have also similarly incorporated such present in the city, at least at some point during the
lion hunts, particularly when it coincided with the reigns of these two kings.
triumphal celebrations at the conclusion of a military
campaign. While the topography of Assyrian Arbail is One of the letters of Aššur-hamātū’a (SAA 13 138) reports
very poorly understood, given that Milkia was in the that a lamentation priest of Ea had stolen property
countryside, the opportunity to stage hunts in the from the temple, so the god Ea may be added to this
vicinity would have been there. list. Similarly, we know from the colophon on a text
from Sultantepe that there was a priest of Zababa and
The other gods of Arbail Baba in Arbail.45 In both cases, it is not clear whether
these were independent temples or shrines within the
Evidence for the worship of other gods in Arbail comes
Egašankalamma. The most striking absence from this list
from a number of other sources, most importantly data
is Adad, who was venerated throughout Mesopotamia as
in the royal correspondence and the tākultu list from
the controller of the rain vital to the life of the land, and
the time of Ashurbanipal.
was also, as Tešub, head of the Hurrian pantheon; he too
must have had a temple in Arbail though this is not yet
attested. One must also suspect that Ninurta and Nergal
had a place in the local pantheon.

Weissert 1997.
Pongratz-Leisten 1997.
Lauinger 2012: 113–14.
SAA IX No.2 iii.23’-24’.
Weissert 1997: 356–57; cf. Villard 2008: 261–62; for the latest on the
Assyrian lion hunts see Reade 2018. 40 
Luukko 2012.
Note that apart from the reliefs from the North Palace of 41 
SAA 10, 136–42.
Ashurbanipal, lion hunts were also depicted in the wall paintings 42 
SAA 13, 138.
in Rooms XXVII and XLIV at Til Barsip, and paintings in Fort 43 
SAA 13, 140.
Shalmaneser may also have shown the king returning from a lion 44 
SAA 13, 141, 142.
hunt (Reade 1979: 95, n. 88). 45 
Hunger 1968: 115, no. 373; cf. Menzel 1981: 7, n. 30.

John MacGinnis

Figure 4. George Smith’s publication of the tākultu text K 252

The Ashurbanipal tākultu list from various other parts of the empire at the end. The
passage which interests us is the section enumerating
Our second, and rather different, source for the gods the gods worshipped in Arbail.49 It translates as follows:
worshipped in Arbail, comes from the tākultu texts of
the Late Assyrian period – specifically from the reigns ‘Aššur-Ištar of Arbail, Birua of Arbail, the Ištar image
of reigns of Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal, of Arbail, the Ištar images of Arbail, the Ištar-Yoke
Aššur-etel-ilani and Sîn-šar-iškun – which list the of Arbail, the Ištar-disc of Arbail, the Ištar-Leopard
gods participating in the tākultu ritual carried out of Arbail, the Ištar-Lions of Arbail, the Ištar-Anzû
in Assur, and constitute an extensive, if incomplete, of Arbail, Ninittu of Arbail, Kulittu of Arbail, Qibi-
compendium of the deities venerated in the main dunqī of Arbail, the Two Daughters of Arbail,
temples of Assyria.46 The text which interests us, K 252 Umbidaki of Arbail, Papsukkal of Arbail, the Arrows
(Figure 4), which dates from the time of Ashurbanipal, of Arbail, Siaku of Arbail, the image of the king of
was originally published by George Smith in 1870 in Arbail, Ištar of Pinas of Arbail, Sîn of Purunda: may
volume three of Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia. (all these gods) receive (these offerings), may they
It was first edited by Frankena,47 and subsequently by hear (prayers). May they bless the city of Assur, may
Menzel, Meinhold and Parpola.48 they bless the land of Assyria [......]’.

By far the greatest part of the gods named are based Let us have a look at these gods:
in Assur itself, but the text also has sections on the
gods residing in Nineveh, Kurbail and Arbail, as well as

For studies of the tākultu texts, see Porter 2000: 230–39; Pongratz-
Leisten 2015: 392–407; Parpola 2017: xxxvi–xliii.
Frankena 1953.
Menzel 1981 II: 120–21 (no. 54); Meinhold 2009: no. 13; Parpola
2017: no. 40. 49 
Meinhold 2009: 392, e+339-361; Parpola 2017: 116, rev.i.18’-40’.

The gods of Arbail

examples of multiple god images in the tākultu lists, the

Aššur images, Tišpak images, Kalkal images, Mullissu-
images and Ninurta images.51

The Ištar-Yoke of Arbail (dXV ni-ru šá DITTO)

The import and meaning of a deified yoke in the temple
of Ištar is not clear - can it be connected with the
concept of the Yoke of Aššur?

The Ištar-disc of Arbail (dXV ni-ip-hu šá DITTO)

In all likelihood the divine emblem of Ištar, i.e. a disc
with an eight-pointed star (Figure 5). As noted by
Frankena52 this overlaps with Ištar in her guise of
Šarrat-nipha. Cults of Šarrat-nipha are attested in both
Assur and Kalhu.53

The Ištar-Leopard of Arbail (dXV nim-ru šá DITTO)

These must be effigies of leopards set up in the temple.
Figure 5. Bronze disc from Zincirli depicting Ištar of Arbail Ištar is associated with both lions and leopards, and, as
(von Luschan 1893: 43, fig. 12) noted by Frankena,54 Ištar is described in one text as
‘mistress of a team of strong leopards’ (ṣāmidat nimrē
gašrūti). It is therefore to be expected that there were
images of leopards in the Egašankalamma. In addition to
this, it cannot be ruled out that actual animals could have
Aššur-Ištar (Aš-šur dXV šá Arba-ìl) been kept in the temple or a nearby park. An interesting
A syncretistic compound of Aššur, chief god of Assyria, parallel for this are the wildcats (murašû) kept by the
and Ištar of Arbail. See further in the discussion below. Ebabbara of Sippar in the Neo-Babylonian period.55

Birua of Arbail (dBi-ru-ú-a šá DITTO) The Ištar-Lions of Arbail (dXV UR.MAH.MEŠ šá DITTO)
This is the Hittite/Luwian Pirwa, a god who started Once again, these must be effigies set up in the temple.
out as the tutelary god of Kanesh and whose cult There were clearly multiple sculpted representations
spread across the whole of Anatolia.50 Following the of lions in the Egašankalamma. As quoted above,
connections between Assur and Kanesh from the Old Ashurbanipal’s Hymn to Arbail describes Ištar as
Assyrian period, the presence of Pirwa in Assyria, ‘seated on a lion ... mighty lions crouch below her’, and
including Arbail, cannot cause surprise. A specific many of the column bases will have had lion bases – as
reason for Birua’s presence could be his association seen, for example on a relief from the North Palace in
with horses, an absolutely key component of the Nineveh (Figure 6). As with the leopards, it may also be
Assyrian army, which flowed through Arbail both as that actual lions were kept in the temple. The holding
tribute and from trade. Nevertheless, the high position of an annual or bi-annual akītu festival has already been
given to the god, before the statue of Ištar, is surprising discussed –if this did indeed include staged lion hunts,
– see below for the proposal that this entry should in a supply of lions will have been necessary.
fact be emended to Šerua.
The Ištar-Anzû of Arbail (dXV an-ze-e šá DITTO)
The Ištar image of Arbail (dXV ALAM šá DITTO) This will be images of Anzû, a supernatural being
This presumably refers to the main cult statue of Ištar conceived of as having the body, wings and front talons
of Arbail. It is, however, surprising that this should of an eagle, the head of a lion and the tail of a snake
be listed after Birua. This gives some credence to the (Figure 7). Anzû could be perceived as being both good
proposal that the preceding entry, Birua, should be and evil, or at least mischievous. The former capacity is
emended to Šerua (see discussion below). highlighted, for example, in the Legend of Anzû in which
Anzû steals the tablet of destinies and is defeated at the
The Ištar images of Arbail (dXV NU.MEŠ šá DITTO)
Exactly what these multiple (and evidently smaller)
images of Ištar were is obscure. Could they be
representations of avatars of Ištar – Ištar of Assur,
Aššur images: SAA 20 i.28; Tišpak images: SAA 20 No. 38 i.39, No.40
i.33; Kalkal images: SAA 20 No. 7 ii.8, No. 38 i.52, No. 47 rev.i.1; Mullissu-
Ištar of Nineveh, Mullissu, Innin, Anunitu, Bēlet-ēkalli, images: SAA 20 No. 38 i.45; Ninurta images: SAA 20: No.40 vi.17.
Irnini, Šarrat-nipha etc? Note that there are other 52 
Frankena 1953: 95.
Krebernik 2009.
Frankena 1953: 95.
RlA Band 10: 573–76. 55 
Bongenaar 1997: 2999, n. 266.

John MacGinnis

Figure 7. Cylinder
seal showing Anzû in
combat with Ninurta
(BM 119426: courtesy
Trustees of the British

Figure 8. The gods Kulittu and Ninattu as depicted at Yazilikaya

(after Bittel 1975: pl. 57)

hands of Ninurta. In the beneficent aspect, however,

Anzû was used in Mesopotamian temples for his
apotropaic purposes, and representations of Anzû are
known to have been stationed at the doors of numerous
temples.57 In fact, an inscription of Esarhaddon tells us
that he set up images of Anzû in the temple in Arbail:

Figure 6. Relief showing a city with a building on top, identified ‘He clothed Egašankalamma, the temple of Ištar of
as a temple of Ištar by its column bases in the form of lions Arbail, his lady, with electrum alloy (zahalû) and
(BM 124938, courtesy Trustees of the British Museum)56 made it shine like the day. He had fashioned lions,
screaming Anzû’s, bulls, naked heroes (lahmu) and
griffins (kurību) of silver and gold and set them up
in the entrance of its gates’.58
The city depicted in BM 124938 has been variously identified as
either Nineveh or Arbail (Reade 1964: 5, Barnett 1976: 41, Villard 2008:
264). The former identification is supported by the fact that the panel
adjoins BM 124939, which depicts a corbel-arched aqueduct plausibly
identified as that at Jerwan, part of the canal system conveying
waters to Nineveh; the latter identification is supported by the very 57 
See CAD A/2 155; Pongratz-Leisten 1996. For comments on Anzû
close resemblance of the three tiers of walls with a building on top to see Moortgat-Correns 1988: 125–38, Annus 2002; for an edition of the
the depiction of Arbail (explicitly labelled as such) in the relief from Epic of Anzû see Annus 2001.
the Louvre. 58 
Leichty 2011 Nos.77.8, 78.8, 79.8; cf. MacGinnis 2014: 72.

The gods of Arbail

Note that Esarhaddon refers to lion headed Anzû attested and evidently of some importance, though
images in the plural, whereas the Ashurbanipal tākultu nevertheless obscure.66 The presence of Umbidaki in
text lists just a single Anzû image. the Egašankalamma is likely to have been due to seizure
in war.
Ninittu of Arbail (dNi-ni-tum šá DITTO)
Kulittu of Arbail (dKu-li-tum šá DITTO) Papsukkal of Arbail (dPAB.SUKKAL šá DITTO)
These two gods belong together. Kulittu and Ninattu (or Papsukkal was the vizier of the gods and a protective
Kulitta and Ninatta) are known from Hittite texts, where deity whose presence was widespread in the 1st
they appear as witnesses and in rituals and incantations.59 millennium BC. His role in the Egašankalamma may
They are the standard attendants of Šaušga, the Hurrian have been as vizier of Ištar of Arbail, all the more
prototype of Ištar of Nineveh, and may as a result be welcome for his magical powers. Papsukkal is the
likewise considered Hurrian in origin. They are, for successor (or alternative name) of Nin-šubur, a god
example, depicted accompanying Šauška in the rock whose name means ‘Lord/Lady of Subartu’.67 It may
reliefs at Yazilikaya (Figure 8). Kulittu and Ninattu had then be that his presence in the region had a deep
a warrior aspect, again not inappropriate in a temple antiquity. Papsukkal was in addition also present in the
of Ištar. A ritual for Kulittu and Ninattu performed by temple of the Assyrian Ištar,68 so a particular association
the king in either the Aššur or Ištar temple shows clear with Ištar can be suspected.
Hurrian influences.60 The presence of these gods in the
Egašankalamma suggests the (expected) syncretism of The Arrows of Arbail (dšil-ta-ha-a-nu šá DITTO)
Ištar of Arbail with Ištar of Nineveh, which does not, Although this could refer to a god with the name
however, rule out the likelihood that Ištar of Nineveh had Šiltāhānu – and compare, for example other theonyms
her own shrine in the city (see above). such as Gašrānu and Daglānu – the more likely
explanation is that Šiltāhānu, which means ‘Arrows’,
Qibi-dunqī of Arbail (dQi-bi-du-qi šá DITTO) refers to a set of deified arrows in the temple. Two
Little is known of Qibi-dunqī other than that this was a possible explanations present themselves. The first is
deity (with the variant name Iqbi-damiq) worshipped that these arrows are part of the temple paraphernalia.
in the Neo-Assyrian period both in Arbail and in the As noted above, a bow and arrows are part of Ištar’s
temple of Marduk in Assur, with just a few scattered standard accoutrement. It is entirely likely that actual
attestations from other periods.61 More germane to our weaponry will have been present among the equipment
present study, a Late Babylonian syncretistic hymn to of the cult statue. In fact we know for sure that this was
Ištar makes it clear that Qibi-dunqī could be considered the case from the dedication of a bow to the goddess
an avatar of Ištar.62 Beyond this it is difficult to speculate by Ashurbanipal.69 An alternative explanation is that
on the significance of the presence of Qibi-dunqī in the the Arrows are weapons set up in the temple as victory
Egašankalamma. monuments – this very word šiltāhu is used by Tiglath-
pileser III with regard to the object he dedicated after
The Two Daughters of Arbail (dŠi-na-ma-ra-te šá DITTO) his conquest of Bit-Ishtar: ‘At that time I made a pointed
Pairs of goddesses known as the ‘daughters’ of the iron arrow, I inscribed the mighty deeds of Aššur my
temple are well known from Babylonia, where they lord upon it and I set it up in front of the spring of Bit-
are found in a large number of temples. Examples are Ishtar’.70 This is analogous to the ‘weapon’ (kakku) of
the Daughters of the Esagila, Eanna, Ezida, Emeslam, Aššur set up in temples by Sargon in Kar-Šarrukin and
Edubba, Ebabbara, Eibianni and the Bit-Ningublag by Tiglath-pileser III in Kār-Aššur and Gaza.71 The first
temples; they are also attested at Nippur and Eridu.63 explanation seems to me the more probable.
The Two Daughters here are however a unique
attestation for the occurrence of such daughters of the Siaku of Arbail (dSi-a-ku šá DITTO)
temple in Assyria. George’s suggestion is that they were Following the reading of Parpola; Frankena72 reads
maidservants, equivalent to the unmarried girls to be this as Eriaku, Meinhold73 as dURU-a-ku. This god is
found in a large (secular) household. otherwise unknown.

Umbidaki of Arbail (dUm-bi-da-ki šá DITTO)

Understood by both Menzel64 and Krebernik65 to be a
Wilhelm 1987.
Wiggermann 2001: 490.
writing of the Hurrian god, Lupatik/Nupatik, quite well 68 
Wiggermann 2001: 494.
Goldstein and Weissert 2018: 245–46; for the latest on the location
of Bit-Ishtar see Alibaigi and MacGinnis 2018.
Frantz-Szabó 1981; cf. Weidner 1945/51: 83–84. 70 
Tadmor and Shamada 2011: 49, no.15, l.8-9.
SAA 20 19; cf. Pongratz-Leisten 2015: 427–34. 71 
Sargon: Fuchs 1994: 211 l.63; Tiglath-pileser III: Tadmor and
RlA Band 11: 177. Yamada 2011: 27 No. 5, l.2–.3; 106, no. 42 l.10–12; 127, no. 48, l.16; no.
Lambert 2003: l.9. 49, 132, l.14–15; Cogan 1974: 53–55; Holloway 2002: 160–77, 198–200;
George 2000: 295. Yamada 2005: 58; Vér 2014: 793, no. 21.
Menzel 1981: T121. 72 
Frankena 1965: 7 and 87.
Krebernik 2014. 73 
Meinhold 2009: 394 l. e+355.

John MacGinnis

The Image of the King of Arbail (dALAM-MAN šá DITTO) Aššur-Ištar

This must refer to either a stele or a free-standing
statue of an Assyrian king. The only surprising thing is This first entry in the section reads Aš-šur d15 šá Ar-ba-
that it is one image that is listed, not multiple images. ìl82. The name is a compound avatar. While this is not
A priori it seems likely that there will have been both the place to explore the issue of syncretistic avatars in
stelae and royal statues set up in the Egašankalamma. detail, it is an extraordinary phenomenon and one of
That the latter existed we know for sure, as a letter the most important aspects of the state religion in the
to Ashurbanipal refers to the statues of the king late Assyrian empire.83 The avatars of Aššur appearing
positioned either side of the main cult statue of Ištar.74 in the tākultu texts include syncretisms with (i) major
However, these statues (plural) cannot be the ‘Image of gods, such as Aššur-Ištar, Aššur-Adad and Aššur-
the King’ of the tākultu text. It seems likely therefore Šakkan-Tišpak;84 (ii) subsidiary aspects such as the
that this ‘Image of the King’ was a stele, presumably Aššur-Judges; (iii) cultic equipment, such as the Aššur-
one of Ashurbanipal; it is of no little interest that this tiara; and (iv) statues such as the Aššur-Lahmu’s and
representation was considered divine (written dALAM- Aššur-Kurību’s. The section dedicated to the gods of
MAN). The tākultu text from the time of Aššur-etel- Nineveh is of relevance here;85 it begins:
ilāni lists statues of ‘kings and princes’ in the temple
of Aššur,75 and elsewhere statues of Tiglath-pileser III v.24 Aš-šur Aš-šur Aš-šur dXV
and Eriba-Adad are mentioned;76 there was also a royal v.25 Aš-šur dBE d30
image in the shrine of Assyrian Ištar in the temple of
Šarrat-nipha.77 which Parpola translates as ‘Aššur-Aššur, Aššur-Ištar,
Aššur-Enlil, Sîn’. This clearly establishes the existence
Ištar of Pinas (dINNIN šá Pi?-na?-aski) of an Aššur-Ištar avatar.
The location of Pinas is unknown. It is not obviously
either Mesopotamian or Syrian, and the likelihood must The appearance of Aššur as the most senior god in the
be that it was located in either Anatolia or the Zagros. Egašankalamma raises interesting points of its own. It is
It is as a consequence likely that this god will have been generally accepted that Aššur had only a single cult and
brought to the Egašankalamma after seizure in war. image, that in the Ešarra temple in Assur.86 The famous
exception that proves the rule is Kār-Tukulti-Ninurta,
Sîn of Purunda (d30 šá Pur-un-da) which did indeed have a temple of Aššur.87 The case there
Purunda (or Burundu) was located west of Assyria. In is, however, different, as Tukulti-Ninurta I founded his
the Old Assyrian period it was a station on the way new capital very close to Assur and as a replacement for
to Kaneš. It has been variously positioned by modern it, and the cult of Aššur reverted to its ancient seat in
scholars on the upper Euphrates,78 the upper Tigris,79 Assur as soon as that king died. The presence of Aššur
near Gaziantepe80 or in the central north Jazira.81 The in Arbail demands a similarly exceptional explanation.
gods of Purunda, here represented by Sîn, evidently Such an explanation is in fact available. It has been
came into the possession of Assyria in the course of suggested that Arbail served for a period in the middle
its westward expansion. As the toponym is no longer of the reign of Ashurbanipal as the virtual capital city
in use in the 1st millennium BC, this transfer is likely of Assyria.88 Such a move to Arbail could indeed demand
to have taken place either in the Old Assyrian period that Aššur moved with the capital. This proposal can
(in which case it was most likely to have been through only be supported by the fact that Aššur appears in the
cultural interaction) or in the Middle Assyrian period greetings formula of letters sent to Ashurbanipal from
(in which case it is most likely have been by conquest). Arbail (see above). If correct the god must surely have
sojourned in the temple of Ištar.
Three problems

The above analysis does not constitute a full understanding 82 

Frankena 1953; Meinhold 2009; Parpola 2017. The alternative, to
of this list, and three salient problems present themselves. read this as two separate deities, Aššur then Ištar of Arbail (as Menzel
1981: T 120–21), can be ruled out since the singular imperative form
These concern the relationship of Aššur and Ištar, the in SAA 20 37 r. 9 proves with absolute certainty that it was conceived
position of Birua, and the statue of Ištar. as a single deity. I am grateful to Simo Parpola for this observation.
See for example Parpola 1997: xiii-cxxi, Porter 2000: 230, 235–39,
Pongratz-Leisten 2015: 404–407.
SAA 13 140; MacGinnis 2014: 98. 84 
It is impossible to decide whether the very first entry in the
SAA 20 42.i.19. Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal tākultu texts ‘Aš-šur dBE’ (SAA 20 No.
Tiglath-pileser III: SAA 20, no.49.12; Eriba-Adad: SAA 52 rev.iii.9. In 38 i.1 and No. 40 i.1) should be translated ‘Aššur-Enlil’ or ‘Aššur, Enlil’.
both cases it is not possible which of the kings of these names the 85 
SAA 30 No. 40 v.24-vi.10.
statues represented. 86 
The section in the Sennacherib tākultu text dealing with Nineveh
SAA 20, no. 49.80. has the rubric ‘The gods of the temple of Aššur of Nineveh’. Parpola
RGTC 4: 28–29. (2017: 105, iii.8 and note), rightly I think, emends this to ‘Ištar of
Bryce 2009: 566–67. Nineveh’; Meinhold on the other hand (2009: 61) reserves judgement.
RGTC 3: 47. 87 
Eickhoff 1985: 27–35.
Weeden, personal communication. 88 
Villard 1995: 104–107.

The gods of Arbail

Birua more complex sign (21 wedges), whose use as a logogram

for statue stems from a pictogram going back to the
As noted, the position of of Birua is anomalous. If one roots of cuneiform, is considered more prestigious
accepts the interpretation of the first line of the section and august than NU, which is both minimalistic (two
as ‘Aššur-Ištar of Arbail’, this means that Birua comes wedges) and a comparative neo-gram. But note that
before the listing of Ištar in her own right (in the form the Tišpak images, Kalkal images, Mullissu-images and
of the Statue of Ištar). Why is he not listed lower down Ninurta images enumerated elsewhere in the tākultu
with the other gods of foreign origin, after the section texts (see above) are all written dTIŠPAK dALAM.MEŠ,
on deified effigies and cultic equipment? A proposal by d
Menzel, that dBi-ru-ú-a is an error for dŠe-ru-ú-a89, would d
ALAM.MEŠ. And then note that the Ištar-Image and
neatly solve this problem. Šerua was the consort of Ištar-Images in Nineveh are written dDITTO dALAM and
Aššur, so by this suggestion Aššur-Ištar, Šerua and the d
main cult statue of Ištar of Arbail would be listed in that
sequence. This removes the problem of the otherwise Another possibility here is suggested by a passage in
very strange prominence given to Birua so near the top KAR 98, the Hymn of Shalmaneser III celebrating the
of the list. The error is nevertheless surprising. While commissioning of a new harp for Ištar of Arbail:93
it is possible to see how a damaged še might be read
as bi if the first half of the sign was missing, it seems rev. 10 kam-šu tam-ši-lu-ki ú-sa-pu-u be-lut-ki
extraordinary that a mistake of this type could occur. 11 NIN.LIL ina mi-gir-ki šu-ut-lim(i)-šú TI.⌜LA⌝ 

Ištar, the Image of Ištar and the Images of Ištar ‘‘Bowing down your effigies beseech your ladyship,
‘O Mullissu, in your grace give him life!’
The third problem concerns the various listings of Ištar.
If one accepts the interpretation of the first line of the Two points can be made here. Firstly, that the tam-ši-lu-
section as ‘Aššur-Ištar of Arbail’, it makes sense that ki of KAR 98 correspond to the NU.MEŠ of K 282, so that
Ištar then appears in her own right – but why is it as the it can be proposed that in this case the logogram NU
‘Statue of Ištar’ – why not just as ‘Ištar’? In fact, why is stands for tamšīlu. And secondly, that it makes excellent
the ‘Statue of Ištar’ listed at all – the statue (ALAM) and sense that the bowing effigies of KAR 98 are statues of
the goddess cannot, surely, be considered two different the avatars of Ištar.
entities. And then there are all the other – we do not
know how many – images (NU.MEŠ) of Ištar! Attention can also be drawn to another sequence in the
section on the gods of Nineveh:
Some light may be cast on this issue may be cast by
considering the entries on the gods present in the Sîn v.30 dDITTO dGu-la
and Šamaš Temple in Assur, which begin ‘Sîn, Šamaš, the v.31 dDITTO dALAM
Image of Šamaš’.90 In this case the difference between v.32 dDITTO dALAM.MEŠ
Šamaš and the Image of Šamaš could be between the v.33 dDITTO dni-ru
actual sun and the cult image of the god. Could it then
be that the emphasis on the the Statue of Ištar in the While it is not entirely certain, the DITTO appears to
Egašankalamma was that the difference between Ištar refer to Ištar in her guise pārisat-palê, so this section
and the Statue of Ištar was between the planet Venus should be translated as ‘Ištar-Gula, Ištar-Image, Ištar-
and the cult statue of the goddess? If this thesis is Images, Ištar-Yoke’. The similarity of the last three
correct, however, one would expect to also see the same entries to the Ištar-Image, Ištar-Images and Ištar-Yoke
dichotomy existing between the actual moon and the in the section on the gods of Arbail is striking. Overall,
cult image of Sîn.91 then, the list breaks down into the following categories:

A philological issue here is the use of ALAM and NU. • Aššur-Ištar (and possibly Šerua)
While both can stand for the Akkadian ṣalmu, they • Ištar of Arbail: the main cult statue and other
clearly in this section refer to different things, ALAM images
being used for the main cult statue and NU.MEŠ for the • the image of the king
ancillary statues. It must in this case be that ALAM, a • divine temple attendants: the Two Daughters of
• other Akkadian gods: Papsukkal, Qibi-dunqī
Menzel 1981 II T 120 No. 54 vii.19’.
SAA 20 No. 38 ii.50, No. 40 ii.26. • cultic paraphernalia: the Yoke, the Disc, the
Note that in the Ashurbanipal tākultu text, in addition to the fact Arrows
that Sin and Šamaš are each listed twice in the introductory section,
there are then invocations to both the Image of the Sun (No. 40 i.16,
šam-šu dALAM) and the Image of the Sun of the Lands (No. 40 i.16, 92 
SAA 20 No. 40 v. 31–32.
šam-šu dALAM KUR.MEŠ). 93 
KAR 98 rev. 10–11: see Meinhold 2009: 292; MacGinnis 2013.

John MacGinnis

• apotropaic sculpture: the leopards, lions and Mesopotamian gods. If one compares this with the
Anzû temples of Aššur and Ištar in Assur and Nineveh
• Hurrian gods: Ninittu and Kulittu, Umbidaki, (respectively), we would expect that at the very least
Birua (?) Sîn, Šamaš, Adad, Enlil and Ninurta all had shrines in
• other foreign gods: Ištar of Pinas, Sîn of Burunda the temple, with an accompaniment of at least a small
• unknown: Siaku band, if not a host, of minor deities. The presence of the
Hurrian deities (Ninittu and Kulittu, Umbidaki, Birua)
Although such a list does, seemingly, give a good may best be explained by the fact that Arbail lay within
overview of the range of divine entities present in the the territory of the erstwhile Hurrian Kulturgebiet and
Egašankalamma, it cannot possibly be complete. To that the veneration of Umbidaki and of Ninittu and
start with senior deities, given the reciprocal presences Kulittu – not to mention of Ištar of Arbail herself – had
of the Assyrian Ištar, Ištar of Nineveh and Ištar of Arbail aboriginal roots. The presence of the deported deities
in the Ištar temples in Assur and Nineveh, it must be (Ištar of Pinas, Sîn of Burunda) is interesting.96 It is
likely that the first two also had a presence in Arbail. part of a long tradition. Assyrian deportation of enemy
While it has been suggested above that Ištar of Nineveh gods begins in the Middle Assyrian period, starting
may have had her own free-standing temple, it remains with Tukulti-Ninurta’s I deportation of Marduk from
plausible that Assyrian Ištar might have had a shrine Babylon.97 The idea was taken up by Tiglath-pileser I,
in the temple. If we are correct that Aššur was housed who in the course of his eastern campaign records:
in the Egašankalamma during the period when Arbail
served as the functioning capital of the empire, the ‘I conquered the entire land of the Lullumu. I gave
presence of Assyrian Ištar must be considered certain. 25 of their gods [to the deities Ninlil, Anu, Adad and
the Assyrian Ishtar,98 the gods of my city Assur and
Secondly, with respect to the apotropaic sculpture, the goddesses of my land. I gave [their] property to
we know from the Esarhaddon inscription that, apart the god Adad, my lord’.99
from the lions, leopards and Anzû’s mentioned in the
Ashurbanipal tākultu text, there were in addition also at Similarly, after his conquest of Sūhu, Tiglath-pileser
least bulls, naked heroes (lahmu) and griffins (kurību): states:
all of these must have likewise been regarded as divine
images. Given the deification of this cult paraphernalia, ‘On this campaign of mine I marched to the land of
there is at least one more item of the temple furnishings Suhu. I conquered from the city Sabiritu, an island
which we might expect to find included. These are the in the Euphrates, the cities on this bank and the far
temple standards (šurinnu). We learn about these in an bank [as far as the city of H]indanu. I uprooted their
inscription of Ashurbanipal which records the lavish people, carried off their [gods]100 and brought them
work he carried out on the temple:94 to my city Assur’.101

‘Arbail the residence of Ištar, the house of festivals Thereafter there is a steady stream of seizing of enemy
[...] the wall of which had not been built since gods – along with the other property and possessions,
time immemorial and [its outer wall] had not been family and livestock of the vanquished territory – and
completed: I built its wall and completed its outer presenting them to Aššur by Tiglath-pileser I, Aššur-
wall [and filled it] with splendour. With gold (and) dān II, Adad-nērārī II, Ashurnasirpal II, Shalmaneser III,
copper I made the temple of Ištar, my Lady, shine Šamši-Adad V, Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib,
like the day [...]. I adorned and set up the standards Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal. In the end this included
at the gate of the temple of Ištar’. gods from the entire span of the empire – from the east
(Lullumu, Simerra, Namri, Bit-Haban, Kisešim), the
These standards are no doubt the very ones depicted northeast (Kirriuru, Qumānu, Muṣaṣir), the lower Tigris
in the Louvre relief (Figure 2). While the standards of (Dēr, Lahiru), Elam, Babylonia (Chaldea, Bīt-Šilāni, Bīt-
Arbail are not mentioned in the Ashurbanipal tākultu Ša’alli), the middle Euphrates (Suhu, Laqê), the Habur
text, a standard of the temple of Aššur in Assur is in fact (Hanigalbat, Bit Halupē), Syria (Bit-Adini, Kinalua),
mentioned in the Sennacherib tākultu text.95 Palestine (Gaza, Ashkelon), south-east Turkey (Nairi),
Arabia and Egypt. There are a number of depictions
Thirdly, it is to be expected that the Egašankalamma of the deportations in the Assyrian reliefs, the most
housed shrines of a multiplicity of other indigenous
For studies on the deportation of gods by Assyrian kings see Cogan
K 891 (MacGinnis 2014: 77). According to a note in the original 1974; Holloway 2002: 118–51; Liverani 2017: 220–29; Zaia 2015.
publication (IR pl.8, no. 2), the tablet was found in Erbil: if correct, 97 
Grayson 1975: 175–76, l.3–6; Glassner 2004: 278–79.
this is the only cuneiform inscription to have been found at the site 98 
See the apparatus for the restoration.
to date. 99 
Grayson 1991: 34, 23–24.
SAA 20 No. 38 ii.8. A standard (or standards) - dšu-r[i-in-nu] or 100 
Restoring [i-la-n]i or [DINGIR.MEŠ-n]i.
šu-r[i-in-ne-e] - also occur in the fragmentary tākultu SAA 20 No. 39 3’. 101 
Grayson 1991: 53–54, 41–44.

The gods of Arbail

Figure 9. Drawing by Layard of a relief of Tiglath-pileser III showing the removal of gods from a captured city (Layard Original
Drawing = Layard 1849: pl. 65)

famous being a panel from the Central Palace of Tiglath- have them sent on their way. Why should they dwell
pileser III at Nimrud (Figure 9). Unfortunately, there is here? I have written to the king my lord about what
no epigraph stating which city these gods are being I have seen’.
deported from; Tadmor’s suggestion102 is that it could
be Unqi or Arpad, which were conquered in 740 BC. In this context special mention should be made of
Ashurbanipal’s deportation of gods from Elam after
Once deported, the gods did not necessarily all go to his fifth, sixth and eighth campaigns.104 Given the close
Assur, but could be redistributed to other locations. relation which Ashurbanipal had with Arbail and Ištar
A clear illustration of this comes in a letter to of Arbail, it would not in principle be surprising if
Ashurbanipal:103 some of these gods were given to the Egašankalamma.
However, the evidence of the Babylonian Chronicle,
‘To the king my lord, your servant Šamaš-šum- which records that Nabopolassar in his accession year
lešir. Good health to the king my lord! May Nabû (625 BC) ‘returned to Susa the gods of Susa whom
and Marduk bless the king my lord! When the king the Assyrians had carried off and settled in Uruk’105
my lord sent me to the land of the Chief Cupbearer makes it clear that these Elamite gods were actually
and gave fields to his servants, in that city to taken to Uruk. Of course, given that Uruk was much
which I ascended, in one temple these six deities closer to Elam than Arbail was, this makes more sense
were dwelling: Mārat-Sîn of Eridu, Mārat-Sîn of if an eventual repatriation was always envisaged; it is
Nēmed-Laguda, Mārat-Eridu, Nergal, Amurru and interesting to note, though, that Uruk was also the seat
Lugalbanda. of a major cult of Ištar. A fragmentary letter in the royal
correspondence appears to refer to the movement of
The people there said to me: “These gods came with some of these images.106
the king’s father from Issēte”. The king’s father said
“I will send them with Bēl to Babylon”. The tākultu texts are once again of interest here, as
they enumerate numerous deities of foreign origin,
No one has spoken about this to the king. They in addition to those in Arbail already mentioned.
indeed came here with Bēl. To give some examples, Tišpak, the chief god of
Ešnunna, worshipped in the temple of Aššur could
Now if the king my lord so commands, let a royal have arrived there either as a result of conquest or by
messenger go, and let them bring these gods and
Novotny and Jeffers 2018: 199, iiii.82-iv.16; 247, v.41-62; 201, iv.53-
64; 247–48, v.111–25; 203, v.21–33; 250, iv.30–47.
Tadmor 1994: 240; the relief is BM 118934. 105 
Grayson 1975: 88, l.16–17; Glassner 2004: 216–17.
SAA 13 190. 106 
SAA 21 No. 120.

John MacGinnis

is not entirely clear in which temple these gods are

housed (possibly the temple of Bēlet-ilti), but it is any
case clear that the statues must have been taken from
Tīdu, either when it was assimilated into the Middle
Assyrian empire or when it was reconquered in the
Neo-Assyrian period. The Ashurbanipal tākultu text lists
a number of other miscellaneous deities who appear
to originate from scattered parts of the Near East.112
Not all of these can be identified, but Haldi-aṣira is
presumably Urartian, Napriš and Iabrītu are Elamite,113
as also is Nergal of Hupšal, Iblaītu is clearly from Ebla,
and Assara-mazaš is the Iranian Ahura-Mazda. In both
the Sennacherib and the Ashurbanipal tākultu texts
there is among the gods worshipped at Nineveh a group
consisting of the Lady of Paranzi, the Seven Gods and
Narudi,114 this again is Elamite.

The gods, once taken, did not necessarily stay in

Assyria forever, indeed this may not even have been
the general intention. The aim of taking the gods was
to undermine and demoralise the enemy and bring him
into subjection. Once this was done, and once a vassal
arrangement was in place, the gods could be returned
to their country. This had the disingenuous effect of
seeming to put Assyria in a good light. Esarhaddon for
example boasts ‘I returned the plundered gods of the
lands to their proper place from the city of Aššur’,115 and
clearly this was part of a general policy of attempting to
secure peace and stability within the empire through
conciliatory actions.

An excellent illustration is provided by the case of Dēr,

where the chief god was Ištaran116 with his consort
Šarrat-Der. The gods of Der were taken and returned
on multiple occasions. The Eponym Chronicle records
that in 831 BC ‘Ištaran went from Der’, to return in 814
BC.117 He was, however, not destined to stay there long
as the Synchronistic Chronicle records that the gods of
Der and other cities along the lower Tigris were pretty
Figure 10. Bronze statuette of a god from the
(otherwise unknown) Zagros polity of Iltirgazi which much immediately seized by Šamši-Adad V in the
was looted and returned in antiquity (courtesy course of his Babylonian campaigns (814–811 BC); he
National Museum, Tehran) was in due course returned home once more, possibly
by Adad-Nirari III.118 The gods were then deported on
at least one more occasion. According to the tākultu
means of cultural absorption.107 The ‘Gods of Subartu’ list from the time of Sennacherib, Ištaran, Šarrat-Deri
worshipped in the temple of Aššur108 surely reflect the and the gods of Dēr are among the Babylonian deities
incorporation of an ancient Hurrian substrate into the
Assyrian pantheon109 – it is a shame that they are not
named individually. In the Ashurbanipal tākultu text 9: 1–2); Samanuha, probably of Hurrian origin, was worshipped in
Šadikanni and so may also be a deity of the Habur (RlA 11: 612).
three gods from Tīdu are listed, Kumarbi, Nabarbi and 112 
SAA 20, No. 40 rev.iii.6-23’; Meinhold 2009: 404.
Samanuha.110 These gods are Hurrian and Hittite.111 It 113 
Iabrītu tentatively posited to be a goddess related to the Elamite
town of Iabru/Iabnu (RlA 5: 230).
SAA 20 38.v.3’-4’, SAA 20 40.vi.39, 46.rev.i.-8,-9’; cf. Pongratz-
SAA 20 No. 38.i.39, No.40.i.33; for more on Tišpak see RlA 14: 64–66. Leisten 2015: 400.
SAA 20 No. 38.i.56, cf. p.xliii; and cf. Weidner 1945/51. 115 
Leichty 2011: 187, l. 12; also ‘I returned [the plun]dered [god]s of
cf. Pongratz-Listen 2015: 61-73. the land [from As]syria [and] Elam [to] their [place]’ (Leichty 2011:
SAA 20 40.rev.ii.38’-40’; Meinhold 2009: 394. 218, l. 7–13).
Kumarbi is the Hurrian father of the gods, possibly in origin from 116 
Written AN GAL, which can also be read ilu rabû (‘The Great God’).
a city of Kumar (RlA 6: 324–30); Nabarbi, whose name may mean ‘of 117 
Millard 1994: 57.
Nawar’ (in the Habur), is a Hittite god, the spouse of Šuwaliyat (RlA 118 
Grayson 1975: 168, l. 1–9; Glassner 2004: 182–83.

The gods of Arbail

present in Nineveh,119 clearly having been taken there statuette dedicated to Ištar of Arbail found near Lake
by Sennacherib or one of his predecessors; they were Urmia,125 perhaps having found its way there as booty
repatriated by Esarhaddon.120 Other notable cases of taken from the Egašankalamma. The other is a solitary
restitution are Sargon’s return of the gods of Muṣaṣir,121 reference to bronze rings for the Lady of Arbail in a
the return of gods to the Arabs by Esarhaddon and text from the archives of the Neo-Babylonian Ebabbara
Ashurbanipal,122 and, most famously, the return of temple in Sippar.126 This might constitute evidence
the cult image of Marduk following its seizure by that the cult image was moved to Sippar. If so, it is not
Sennacherib.123 Although we do not have any images of unlikely that it will have been returned to Arbail around
these actual gods surviving from Assyrian times, there the same time that Cyrus returned the gods to Assur,
is from the Neo-Babylonian period an intriguing bronze Elam and cities east of the Tigris.127 Assuming the cult
statuette, now in the National Museum in Tehran, of Ištar was restored in Arbail, we can expect it to have
which appears to be exactly this (Figure 10).124 It bears flourished through the Achaemenid and Hellenistic
a five-line inscription in Neo-Babylonian script, saying periods and beyond. We know from Hatra and Assur,
‘Marduk-šarrāni son of Shalmaneser, governor (šākin for example, and elsewhere, that the Assyrian gods
māti) of Šemaiš, returned the god of the city of Iltirgazi survived into the Parthian period. The final decline
which had been looted and deposited in the city of of the worship of Ištar of Arbail may have been a
Burnakku, and set it up again in its place’. Iltirgazi is not gradual process, but a shift of focus must have taken
otherwise known, but Burnakku is known as a fortress place when the ruling house of Adiabene converted to
on the border with Elam conquered by Sennacherib. Judaism in the early first century AD. Nevertheless, as
demonstrated by Dalley, the cult of Ishtar continued on
Conclusion well into the fourth century, when a priest of ‘Sharbel
of Arbail’ was martyred in AD 355 after his conversion
In conclusion, a study of the available sources yields to Christianity.128 The absolute terminal date of the cult
evidence for the following deities in Arbail in the Neo- is not known.
Assyrian period:
• Ištar of Arbail, both as Aššur-Ištar of Arbail and
as Ištar of Arbail Ahmad, A.Y. and A.K. Grayson 1999. Sennacherib in the
• major deities including Sîn, Šamaš, Bēl, Nabû, Akitu House. Iraq 61: 187–89.
Ištar of Nineveh, Ea, Zababa, Baba, Papsukkal Albenda, P. 1980. An unpublished drawing of Louvre
• other deities including the Daughters of Arbail, AO 19914 in the British Museum. Jewish Theological
Qibi-dunqī and Siaku Seminary 12: 1–8.
• the image of the king Alibaigi, S. and J. MacGinnis 2018. Bit Ištar and Niššaya/
• cultic paraphernalia including the Yoke, Disc Irnisa: In Search of the Location of Assyrian Zagros
and Arrows Toponyms of the 8th Century BC. Zeitschrift für
• apotropaic sculpture including leopards, lions Orient-Archäologie 11: 199–211.
and Anzû(s) Allen, S.L. 2015. The Splintered Divine. Boston: Walter de
• Hurrian gods including Ninittu and Kulittu, Gruyter.
Umbidaki and (possibly) Birua Al Yaqoobi, D., J. MacGinnis, M. Shepperson, A.K.
• deported foreign gods including Ištar of Pinas Khorsheed, S. Mohammed and S.H. Hussein 2016.
and Sin of Burunda Archaeological investigations on the Citadel of Erbil:
Background, Framework and Results, in K. Kopanias
One may ask, what happened to Ištar of Arbail and the and J. MacGinnis (eds) The Archaeology of the
Egašankalamma after the fall of the Assyrian empire? Kurdistan Region of Iraq: 1–10. Oxford: Archaeopress
This is actually one of the big unknowns. As far as we can Archaeology.
tell, with the division of the empire Arbail fell within Al-Yaqoobi, D., M. Shepperson and J. MacGinnis 2018.
the territory of the Medes. Whether the temple itself Excavations on the fortifications of the Citadel
was sacked is not known, though it would seem likely. of Erbil, in B. Horejs et al. (eds) Proceedings of the
There are however two clues. One is the discovery of a 10th International Congress on the Archaeology of the
Ancient Near East, volume 2: 447–60. Wiesbaden:
Parpola 2017: 108, no. 38, rev.iv.33. Harrassowitz.
Grayson 1975: 125; Glassner 2004: 209 (Esarhaddon Chronicle).
SAA 1 7.
See Cogan 1974: 15–21, 35–37; Gerardi 1992; Zaia 2015: 34–35. 125 
MacGinnis 2014: 36. MacGinnis 2014: 57, following the assigning of
For discussions of the deporting and later return of the statue of the date of this piece to Adad-Nirari II.
Marduk, see Cogan 1974: 30, 38–39; Parpola 1983: 32-33; Lambert 1988; 126 
MacGinnis 2004: no. 3.
Frame 1992: 56–59; Porter 1993; Grayson and Novotny 2014: 225–26; 127 
Finkel ed. 2013: 6–7, l.30–32. Arbail could certainly plausibly be
Nielsen 2012; Zaia 2015: 33, n. 57, 40–46. Note that there was a temple of considered ‘one of the sanctuaries across the river Tigris’ whose
Marduk in Nineveh in the time of Sennacherib (SAA 20 No.38 iv.39-48. shrines had become dilapidated.
Seipel 2000: 97. 128 
Dalley 2007: 203; cf. Allen 2015: 170, n. 75.

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The development of Neo-Assyrian narrative art:
toward Assurbanipal’s Ulai river reliefs

Mogens Trolle Larsen1


This paper reviews some of the different modern approaches taken to the appreciation of Neo-Assyrian art, showing how it
evolved and developed over two and a half centuries.

Keywords: Assyria; Ashurbanipal; river Ulai; Elamites; Teumann

I1first met Julian in 1964 at Tell ar-Rimah over cuneiform was regarded as ‘better’, more satisfactory by the artists
tablets.2 Some 15 years after our first meeting he laid working in the palaces and by their masters, the kings?
the foundation for later work on Assyrian art in a string Gombrich claims in his history of art that the only
of articles published in Baghdader Mitteilungen.3 They time in history where we can follow such a deliberate
constituted the main conclusions from his doctoral striving over centuries for better artistic expression
dissertation, and they dealt with technique, subject was in Greece, where the search was for a more
matter, narrative composition and the architectural satisfactory representation of the human body, at rest
context for the reliefs. Unfortunately, Julian’s and in movement.6 Eurocentric bias notwithstanding,
dissertation could not be published complete in book this was an attempt to understand the motivations
form, and he has not been tempted later on to tackle of the ancient artists, and it seems worth considering
the field as a whole. There is accordingly at the moment whether it is possible to offer a similar analysis or series
no general evaluation of this subject, apart from of claims with respect to the development of Assyrian
an Italian-language work by Paolo Matthiae, whose palatial art.
volume L’arte degli assiri, is a very useful and intelligent
overview and analysis.4 Because of the lack of an easily There may be more than one answer to this question,
accessible general evaluation the study of Assyrian depending on the nature of the scenes shown on
palatial art has never been accorded its rightful place the walls. In all categories we can observe drastic
in such disciplines as Art History, although in particular changes over time, but we cannot be sure that there
the studies by Winter and Russell have been noted and was one creative logic at work behind them all. I shall
appreciated.5 concentrate on the narrative sequences showing
battles, sieges and hunts, as well as in one case the
Julian’s survey of the development of narrative creation and transport of the giant gate-keepers. The
composition in the reliefs from the palaces presented decorations were intimately linked to architecture, and
a series of changes introduced during this long span of spatial considerations clearly had a major impact on
years and showed how such changes characterised this the way in which the reliefs were formed.
artistic tradition. Throughout the 250 years of Assyrian
art we find constant innovation that must represent Narrative sequences obviously take up several slabs,
a determined effort to find solutions to some of the becoming in time the decorations of an entire room,
problems encountered by the artists. The changes we and it is difficult to give a satisfactory presentation of
can observe in the way the slabs were decorated and them on paper.7 At least from the time of Sennacherib,
organised over time reflect a continuous, deliberate perhaps Sargon, each room in the palace appears to
search that needs to be defined and formulated. What have told one particular story on its walls. It is not
easy to adequately present such sequences of scenes,
Emeritus, Institute of Cross-Cultural Regional Studies, University of that stretch over several metres, in a book or an article,
Copenhagen. and consequently the individual panel often stands
In writing this paper, I have been acutely aware of the need to
consult Julian on many points. Maybe he can help out afterwards. alone in the illustrations, divorced from the rest of the
I thank Irene Winter, Gojko Barjamovic and Agnete Lassen for their decoration. In museum displays I have even seen such
constructive criticism. I must also express my gratitude to the Getty
Research Institute whose resources and hospitality I enjoyed for six
months. 6 
Gombrich 1995.
Reade 1979a; 1979b; 1980a; 1980b; 1985. 7 
The concept ‘narrative’, as opposed to ‘story’, was discussed by
Matthiae 1996. Winter (1981: 2-3). She defines it as ‘structured content, ordered by
Winter 1981; Russell 1987; 1991; 1993; 1998. the “telling” which is a necessary condition of the form’.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 119–134

Mogens Trolle Larsen

a single panel presented framed, as if it was a European Assurbanipal. It is accordingly not possible to establish
painting. a clear developmental line that goes through the entire
artistic sequence, but with that understood we can point
Both Irene Winter in her study of the programme of to some of the most obvious changes and innovations.
the decoration of Assurnasirpal’s throne-room, and
John Russell in his analysis of the Assurnasirpal palace Until the reign of Sennacherib the model introduced in
as a whole, clearly recognised the need to study and Assurnasirpal’s palace at Nimrud prevailed: the slabs
represent complete sequences, but the problem is that were divided into two pictorial horizontal fields with
in book or article format these illustrations become so a band of writing separating them. This means that all
small that details are very hard to see.8 These studies action took place on a fixed groundline, a convention
constitute a very real advance, but there is in my view that had severe repercussions. It was in particular
only one solution: we need film and virtual reality difficult to represent landscape, although we find that
projects in order to offer an acceptable representation the artists included as much specificity as possible in
of this art, and several scholars have in fact offered their renderings of natural phenomena, the dress of
virtual reality-based efforts to show the decorative the participants and the buildings. Still, the convention
schemes.9 Walking through the rooms of the palaces imposed severe restrictions on the artists: where we
would in many cases have been somewhat similar to find elaborate descriptions of the Assyrian armies
seeing a film, especially in the rooms where one story conquering mighty mountains in the royal annals, on
was spread on all the walls like the Lachish Room in the slabs we see the soldiers confronted with knee-high
Sennacherib’s palace. In the not-too-distant future it obstacles.
will be possible once again to experience the gigantic
rooms (500 sq m throne-rooms) that were a riot of One of the serious problems was how to represent
images and colours. Not only were the reliefs painted, depth, exemplified on the reliefs and on the bronze
at least in part, the walls above the slabs along the walls strips decorating temple doors from Balawat.11 Depth
were covered with paintings in strong colours, and high was indicated in two ways: a vertical arrangement
above the visitors’ heads was a garishly painted ceiling, where distant figures were shown on a higher level
at least 15 metres above.10 On the floor we must assume than the nearer ones, and a stacking of overlapping
there were rugs and carpets in patterns and colours figures that could indicate closeness in the presentation
that resemble what we find on contemporary Near of figures, for instance in the horses drawing the
Eastern rugs. And we have to imagine the Assyrian king chariots. Winter pointed out that in the reliefs from the
on his throne on a raised platform surrounded by his reign of Tiglath-pileser we find ‘a general increase in
courtiers and soldiers in their multi-coloured garments overlapping figures and animals; more complex spatial
– plus of course the music from lyres and trumpets of renderings of citadels in their landscape; and perhaps
various kinds. It would take a very strong, determined even a purposeful use of the total field of the register,
and blasé visitor not to be powerfully affected by such including diagonal rows of animals to suggest the
scenery, but it is not easy to present a convincing image recession of space beyond the picture plane’.12 The late
of such an experience. Assurbanipal reliefs showing the battle of the river Ulai
makes use of both the high perspective and a vertical
There is also a problem connected with the arrangement, where the action unfolds on three levels
representativity of the material that we possess or or groundlines.13
know about. The fact that we lack the palace of Tiglath-
pileser III and only have a small sample of his reliefs When considering the entire body of evidence of
imposes severe restriction on our ability to follow the Neo-Assyrian art changes, sometimes drastic, can
development from Assurnasirpal II and Shalmaneser III be observed from one reign to the next, and Julian
to Sargon; and the total lack of the decorative scheme concluded that the work of each reign should be
in Esarhaddon’s palaces blocks essential elements considered as a unit, which in some instances led to
in our appreciation of the changes introduced by the suggestion that the various kings were responsible
for the new ideas. There are a few cases where aspects
Winter 1981; Russell 1998. of such innovations overlap reigns, the most obvious
Note Unger’s idea of ‘kinematographische Erzählungsform’ (Unger example being the slabs showing the transport of
1933). Barjamovic suggests to me that ‘in a few years it will be possible
to walk through the Assyrian palaces again, wearing only virtual timber on the north wall of court VIII in Sargon’s
reality glasses. One will be able to look up or down, add colours, the palace at Khorsabad. Whereas all extant scenes in this
light from torches, music, walk close to the walls or step back, follow building show figures on a ground line in the tradition
the stories and observe how they are located in the rooms’. See also
http//www.learningsites.com/Nineveh/Nineveh-home.php. going back to Assurnasirpal, the boats and the men
Kertain (2014: 693-94) notes that the wall painting from palace K at
Khorsabad was 12.8 m tall and suggests that throne rooms would have
been around 14 m in height, and ‘may well have been higher’. Loud 11 
Russell 1987: 523-25.
(1938: 20) suggested that the height of principal rooms might have 12 
Winter 1981: 34.
been as a much as 18 m.  13 
Nadali 2018: 249.

The development of Neo-Assyrian narrative art: toward Assurbanipal’s Ulai river reliefs

unloading timber on Sargon’s reliefs were spread over by many. When Russell speculates about the reasoning
the entire height of the slab, introducing a kind of high behind the introduction of the new way of representing
perspective. Russell suggested that one should see here battles, sieges and the transport of the giant gate
‘the hand of the crown prince, Sennacherib’.14 However, guardians for the palace through the landscape north of
it is interesting that a scene in Assurnasirpal’s throne- Nineveh, he directly introduces the king’s interests and
room showing the Assyrian army’s crossing of a river wishes. He would have been ‘interested in projecting
in the same way deviated from the practice of placing an image of himself as an innovator’; and he may have
everything on a firm baseline, but it is of course a ‘felt that reliefs organised on the new spatial principles
simple fact that an expanse of water does not give the would function better than the previous ones’. When
artist the possibility to introduce such a baseline. we connect this with Russell’s critique of the ‘spatial
incoherence’ of Sargon’s scenes, it becomes clear that
The reason for the change from Sargon to Sennacherib ‘better’ can be defined more precisely with reference to
has been addressed several times, and an analysis of the representation of space and perspective.17
the siege scenes at Khorsabad in particular seems to
provide clear clues. We find many examples of the Innovations during this span of Assyrian art can be
problems that were facing the artists and it seems to me found both in what may be called ‘stylistic’ conventions,
that especially the question of the rendering of depth ways of rendering human bodies in particular, but
was occupying their minds. The convention of placing also in representations of narrative. We find from the
the central figures on a fixed groundline led to results earliest examples the use of what art historians refer to
that appear not to have satisfied the sculptors, since as ‘continuous narrative’ or ‘continuous style’.18
the solutions adopted here were abandoned in the next
palace. The earliest example Julian dealt with is from band X
of Shalmaneser’s doors, where the king appears three
We find several siege scenes, one of the favourite topics times, moving in a procession past a scene of a massacre
on the slabs, where mighty city walls necessarily had towards the cave where the river Tigris was thought to
the same height as the Assyrian king and his soldiers begin, and the sequence ends with a review.19 Watanabe
who were attacking them, so it became a confrontation has used the ‘continuous narrative’ or ‘continuous style’
between giants and midgets. This can be seen in the in her study of Assurbanipal’s reliefs representing the
very earliest reliefs, in Assurnasirpal’s throne-room battle of the river Ulai, where she claims that her close
and in isolated slabs from Tiglath-pileser III. In these examination ‘enables us to confirm that the method of
earlier examples we also find large Assyrian soldiers continuous narrative, in a closely linked succession of
and smaller ones, all engaged in the action of conquest, time and space, was applied for the first time during
but it is always clear that the soldiers of different size the reign of Assurbanipal’.20 That conclusion cannot,
were engaged in different activities, and they were in my view, be maintained, however, and it seems
not shown right next to each other. In the new palace contradicted by, for instance, the analyses of earlier
of Sargon at Khorsabad the reliefs regularly showed reliefs offered by Julian and other scholars.
Assyrian soldiers of very different sizes close to each
other in siege scenes, apparently engaged in similar Continuous narrative involved sometimes long
pursuits, making them, in Russell’s words, ‘spatially sequences of scenes that were concerned with the
completely incoherent’. A giant Assyrian armed with question of movement in time and space, and these
a spear seems to reach up to the highest top of the concepts have been discussed repeatedly in studies on
fortifications where he can directly attack small archers Neo-Assyrian art. The best example of how Assyrian
defending the city. Already Sidney Smith15 suggested artists developed a sophisticated understanding of time
that the garden scene from the palace that shows the and space is, in my view, the so-called Lachish room in
hunt of small animals, and where at least one man is Sennacherib’s palace. This is one of the few completely
shown as considerably smaller than the others on the recovered decorated rooms, which probably offers a
slab, is – in the later words of Matthiae – an example of template for how the palace as a whole was configured.21
the same intention, to ‘creare un effetto di profondità’.16 The room where this story was told was not very large,

With the invention of the high perspective the artists 17 

Russell 1991: 214-15; see also the discussion in Russell 1987: 527-28.
working for Sennacherib offered a logical solution to 18 
‘In the field of aesthetics the type of depiction in which “a number
a very old problem. John Russell links the changes to of actions occurring at different moments but involving the same
the genius of Sennacherib, a king who is so admired characters are presented together in a single unified space” is
generally called “continuous narrative” or “continuous style”’
(Watanabe 2005: 103).
Russell 1991: 202. 19 
Reade 1979c: 69. Using a different and somewhat anachronistic
Cited in Ataç 2010: 214, n.3. terminology, Julian has discussed this feature extensively, his
Matthiae 1996: 110. This is not accepted by Ataç (2010: 52) who preferred terminology being ‘strip cartoon’.
simply sees it as ‚an interesting characteristic of the reliefs of Sargon 20 
Watanabe 2005: 113.
II‘, not necessarily an attempted perspectival rendition. 21 
See the extensive discussion in Russell 1993.

Mogens Trolle Larsen

and it had only one entrance, in the middle of the long the Elamites down from Til Tuba into the wooded, flat
wall. A visitor coming in was confronted with a violent, terrain between the mound and the river. The total
dramatic scene that showed the climax of the assault on scene is one of chaos with soldiers attacking, defending,
the walled city with siege engines attacking the walls fleeing and being killed. Embedded in this chaos the
and gates from large earthen ramps thrown up against artist has included a special, significant story. It begins
the walls. But the story began on the wall to the left with a chariot being overturned, the horses panicking,
of the visitor with a scene that is not preserved, but and two men, the Elamite king Teumman and his son
which must have shown the army making ready for Tammaritu, being thrown out on the ground. The king
battle.22 Along the short wall to the left we see the army has been wounded by an arrow, and the two men are
on the march towards the city, and when we reach the seen running away to a small wood. A caption over
corner the actual attack had begun. The city defended their heads says: ‘Teumman said to his son in a panic:
itself vigorously, and the middle of the wall shows the “Shoot with the bow!”‘ They are next found by a couple
battle at its height, but the right side of the city shows of Assyrian soldiers who kill them, and one of them
the next phase, the surrender, and prisoners are being cuts off the king’s head, picks up his crown which had
marched out of the gates. In the middle of the right- fallen to the ground, and begins to walk back through
hand wall king Sennacherib is shown sitting on a high the still raging battle, carrying the head and the crown.
throne, receiving the reports of his commanders and When he reaches the Assyrian headquarters the head is
the most important prisoners. Some are already being recognised, and the lucky soldier is put in a wagon that
flayed alive, stripped naked and placed on the ground will rush him back to Assyria where the king is waiting.
with hands and feet tied to stakes. In front of the king
is an inscription that says that Sennacherib received The next sequence deals with a humiliating scene when
the plunder from the defeated city. Behind him are the Elamite nobles had to accept not only defeat but the
the sacred chariots of the gods, and on the small wall installation of a puppet king raised at the Assyrian court.
directly to the right of the visitor we see the Assyrian Their new ruler is brought before them, presented by a
field camp, now at peace since order has been restored. common Assyrian foot-soldier, and they lie in long lines
A couple of soldiers are shown relaxing in their tent in apparent acceptance. There is a break in the story
and appear to be enjoying cups of beer. next, but we have scattered scenes. One shows Elamite
princes being forced to serve a meal for the Assyrian
The entire room moves the visitor through the events king; the Assyrian courtiers mock them by throwing
of one day in an uninterrupted narrative, from morning themselves on the floor at their feet. And the final scene
till evening, from disorder and revolt through battle to is the already mentioned garden idyll, where the royal
victory, i.e. peace and order. The culmination of the couple are enjoying some nice wine, the comforting
development that we find represented by the Lachish song of birds in the trees, and several musicians. In one
room was found in Sennacherib’s palace in scenes of the trees hangs the head of Teumman. A fragmentary
on relief slabs made during the reign of his grandson contemporary text explains that Teumman before the
Assurbanipal, the very large sequence depicting of the battle of Til Tuba had bragged: ‘I will not sleep until I
battle of the river Ulai.23 Here a further innovation or have come to dine in the middle of Nineveh!’ 24
complication was introduced, since the depiction of a
chaotic field battle contains an embedded sub-story. The long series of images in the palaces, with its
The battle was recorded both in Sennacherib’s palace, magnificent culmination under Assurbanipal points
with the best-preserved sections, and in Assurbanipal’s to the conclusion that the Assyrian artists over a long
North Palace. The entire sequence takes up some eight stretch of time pursued the goal of representing action:
metres in length and two-and-a-half metres in height. the aim appears always to have been to tell a story that
And that is only one part of a long, complex story is represented as moving in time and space. My basic
that ends with a garden scene featuring the king on a contention is that the changes we can observe in the
high sofa or divan and his queen on a chair at his side, way the slabs were decorated and organised reflect a
celebrating victory in a pavilion covered with vines. continuous, deliberate search for new and better ways
of depicting humans in their interaction with each
But before that happened there was a fierce battle, other and with their natural environment. The central
and the relief sequence depicts this battle between element was the representation of action, battle scenes,
the Assyrians and their Elamite enemies. It took place armies moving through a landscape, cities under siege.
at Til Tuba, close to the river Ulai in the southern The artists were governed by several overarching
Zagros. We see on the left the Assyrian army chasing principles that referred to such basic ideas as realism or
specificity,25 narrative linearity, the depiction of action
See Paley 1983: n.17.

See Watanabe 2018 with extensive photographic documentation.


The scenes have been discussed many times and I refer in particular 24 
Gilibert (2018: 289-308) discusses the scene in detail with earlier
to the insightful analysis by Bahrani (2018: 23-55), with a special literature; the text is in SAA III (1989): 67-68.
emphasis on the king’s head; see also Bonatz 2005 25
See for example Winter 1981: 11; Russell 1993. 

The development of Neo-Assyrian narrative art: toward Assurbanipal’s Ulai river reliefs

over time and an intense interest in the inclusion of specific battles and sieges shown on Assurnasirpal’s
anecdotal material. The artists were interested in ways reliefs.28
in which to tell a story. A similar line of innovations can
be found also in the royal texts which are concerned Visitors to these ancient buildings must have had
with precisely the same stories that we observe on varying competences with respect to the understanding
the reliefs. The complexity of Assurbanipal’s annals, of the decorations, and it is impossible to isolate these
in particular the numerous changes introduced in questions from the broader one of who the audience
subsequent redactions, have been described and was, a difficult problem to which I have no solution.
analysed by Gerardi,26 and they seem to me to spring Some, like Collins, think that only very few people had
from the same desire to tell a meaningful, complete access to the interior of the palaces and therefore saw
story. only a limited number of reliefs.29 Moreover, even in the
rooms with some access, the reliefs may not have been
Russell points out that ‘to our eyes’ the new style easy to read, he suggests, so ‘it may have been the very
introduced under Sennacherib represents a ‘step toward scale and complex design of the reliefs rather than their
greater naturalism’ (this could be seen as the governing content that created a sense of awe and even confusion
principle in the long sequence of action scenes), but he for visitors’.30 Russell presents a lengthy discussion of
wonders whether this also led to greater intelligibility. the groups of persons who would have had access to
He points out that except for the scenes depicting the the palaces, suggesting that there were 12 such groups,
battle on the river Ulai, Assurbanipal’s artists appear from the king and his family to courtiers, servants, and
not to have continued using Sennacherib’s innovations, various categories of foreigners.31 How much would
which suggests ‘that for some viewers Sennacherib’s these different visitors appreciate and understand the
reliefs may have been insufficiently intelligible’.27 reliefs?

It is obvious that the revolution of the high perspective There is in my view reason to think that the difficulties
must have been surprising and perhaps confusing in understanding the complexity of the reliefs is at least
to some, but it seems doubtful to me whether sometimes over-estimated. For instance, Julian showed
Assurbanipal’s reliefs were much simpler to interpret, in his discussion of the reception wing of Sargon’s palace
and his artists certainly introduced other complexities, that the decoration had a clear connection with the
taking advantage of the entire gamut of traditions and function of the rooms and the people who would enter
inventions that they had before them, and they used them. The king presiding over scenes of torture and the
them in great freedom. The division of the slabs into execution of rebels were placed for foreign guests to
registers was re-introduced, but now we find several admire while they were waiting to be shown in to the
such registers and several groundlines rather than king himself, ‘a clear piece of deterrent propaganda’.32
the traditional two, and they played inventively with We must assume that if the visitors failed immediately
time and space. In the lion hunts we see the principle to understand what they saw, there would be Assyrian
of continuous action with a lion being released from a servants ready to explain.
cage, with the king waiting for it to advance, shooting
an arrow that is seen hanging in the air on its way to There is one other indication of the way in which the
finally slam into the lion. sculptures were read and understood. After the Assyrian
capital cities had been conquered and the palaces were
Reading complex narrative scenes is possible on a looted, one of the activities of the new masters was to
general level, where Assyrian victorious armies are deface certain reliefs before they put the buildings to
engaged in battles, sieges and triumphs, conveying the torch. This was no random destruction, however, for
even to foreigners a clear message of Assyrian power. it was determined by a precise and acute understanding
However, when it comes to the specificities of the of the scenes on the walls. Whoever went through the
scenes, in the absence of epigraphs or captions to halls with a hammer knew exactly what he was looking
inform the viewer of what is shown, it is clearly not so at, and he punished the main actors in a precise way:
simple. The two leading specialists in the field have for Sennacherib’s head was cut away where he sat on his
instance reached different conclusions concerning the throne receiving the loot from the conquest of Lachish;
the soldiers who killed and decapitated the Elamite
king at the battle of the river Ulai were given the same
Gerardi 1987. treatment, as was Assurbanipal and his queen when
Russell 1991: 215. On the other hand, in a later paper dealing with they celebrated the victory in the palace garden, with
the Lachish room, Russell (1993) argued that in Sennacherib’s reliefs
we find ‘a much greater degree of specificity, which should have made
the subjects of Sennacherib’s reliefs more readily recognizable than 28 
Reade 1985: 212-23; Winter 1981.
those of his predecessors’. Groenewegen-Frankfort even suggested 29 
Collins 2014.
that ‘Sennacherib’s innovations must have been considered 30 
Collins 2014: 621, 630.
aesthetically barbarous by those who planned the Assurbanipal 31 
Russell 1991.
reliefs’ (Groenewegen-Frankfort 1972: 178). 32 
Reade 1979c: 338.

Mogens Trolle Larsen

the head of the vanquished Elamite king hanging in a hand in greeting, clearly recognising the newcomers
tree.33 and presumably shouting: ‘Come and sit down!’35

It is easy to get the impression that the lion hunt reliefs What motivated this particular scene? It seems to me
from Assurbanipal’s palace show a kind of empathy that the simple answer is that apart from the ideological
with the suffering animals, but the terrible scenes concerns, the artists took an interest in all aspects of
should rather be understood as great art designed to their world, and I would connect such observations with
emphasise the power and strength of the king. Yet, in the larger question of the fundamental individuality
their precise renderings of the way the animals reacted of Assyrian art. In contrast to, for instance, Egyptian
they stand as examples of the Assyrian burning interest and Persian royal art, the Assyrian images, at least the
in their world, and I would therefore connect them with narrative ones, attempt to represent the real world.
the many examples of anecdotal material that we find They are not timeless or out of history, rather, they
especially in the art from the time of Assurbanipal. The show the Assyrians knee-deep in reality, an observation
great sequence showing the battle of the river Ulai offers that is equally relevant for the royal texts that tell
some examples. The soldiers walking back through the the same stories as the images. Obviously, this reality
raging battle with the heads of the Elamite king and his was heavily redacted and based on a set of ideological
son pass by two scenes which have explanatory texts or propagandistic concerns, but the battles shown or
attached to them. In one we see Teumman’s brother- recounted did take place. An Egyptian pharaoh could
in-law Urtaku on the ground, wounded by an arrow include in his own account long passages from centuries
and being confronted by an Assyrian soldier. A caption old royal texts, detailing events that had occurred long
above the scene explains that he says to his opponent: ago, but the Assyrians were bound by different ideas.
‘Come here and cut off my head! Take it to the king, 36
Their king was not a god and he was not removed from
your lord, and become famous!’ In another scene we time or from history. Groenewegen-Frankfort notes in
find an Elamite eunuch general who is cutting the a comparison between Egyptian and Assyrian works of
string of his bow, surrendering to an Assyrian soldier. art that the Assyrian king never dominates the scenes
A caption found on another version of the same relief by his size or a special action, but that he looks and acts
tells us that he had been an ambassador sent to Nineveh like any of his soldiers; the defeat of the enemy is not a
several times, but ‘when he saw my mighty battle array, foregone conclusion, and he never shows abject terror.
he cut his bow, the emblem of his strength, with his Accordingly, ‘such scenes lack entirely the symbolical
iron dagger’. character which made the Egyptian ones a timeless
assertion of inevitable royal victory’.37
There is, I think, a certain dignity in these defeated
enemies, as we also find in the dying lions, a dignity Tadmor has asked the reasonable question why the
that I feel was recognised by the Assyrian artist, but Assyrians left us the elaborate corpus of texts that
their fates were of course determined by the fact that describe the exploits of the kings, and he suggested as a
they were enemies of Assyria. They function as an extra possible answer that it was due to the overwhelmingly
emphasis on the overwhelming power and might of the military character of the Assyrian empire, in which
Assyrian empire. Porada pointed out that such details the royal power sought self-assertion and immediate
would not be an expression of compassion on the part acknowledgement.38 It is equally reasonable to ask why
of the sculptor, as the modern viewer might assume, but so much time and effort was lavished on the decoration
the desire to represent most expressively the suffering of the Assyrian palaces, for the exuberance of the
of Assyria’s enemies in order to assure their continuous decorative scheme is far from easy to explain. The
submission to Assyrian rule.34 This does not, on the other tradition of stone reliefs lining walls may originally
hand, deny the observation that the Assyrian artists stem from the Neo-Hittite cities in the West,39 but it was
showed a vivid interest in all aspects of their world, and transformed and developed in a way that is unique. The
this concern with reality is characteristic of the slabs, reliefs were clearly understood as vitally important, but
even in scenes that seem removed from the larger aims we have to wonder why that was.40
of the decorative scheme. Consider, for instance, how
a fragment of a relief from Assurbanipal that must 35
Barnett 1976: pl. LXVIc. 
be part of a description of a campaign in Babylonia,
For Egyptian examples from the time of Taharka, see Stockfisch
1996; a Libyan king appears as defeated in pictures and texts from
shows a small group of prisoners of war sitting round a Sahure (c. 24755 BC) and the king and his family appear again in
camp-fire guarded by an Assyrian soldier; two women monuments from the time of Taharka, i.e. the 7th century BC. See also
are brought in and one of the men at the fire raises his Dalibor 2005. I am grateful to Kim Ryholt for these references. Inspired
by a discussion on the titulary found in Sennacherib’s inscriptions by
Liverani, Russell (1987: 531-33) notes that the changing titles ‘were
earned by the king, not automatically bestowed by the gods’.
Groenewegen-Frankfort 1951: 173.
Tadmor 1995 : 338.
Nylander 1980; 1997 39 
See Winter 1982
Porada 1989: 248. 40 
See the suggestions by Bahrani (2008: 52-53), which rely heavily on

The development of Neo-Assyrian narrative art: toward Assurbanipal’s Ulai river reliefs

It is known that the decoration and the texts were such deliberations. What we are faced with is a wealth
designed by the members of the large group of of images that represent an alert and interested gaze
intellectuals who were part of the court. A text that on the world, an attitude not very different from what
gives a detailed programme for the reliefs depicting the Oppenheim many years ago deduced from his study
battle of the river Ulai has a colophon which explains of Sargon’s account of his eighth campaign in Urartu.
that this had been presented to the king, who obviously He speaks of ‘an audience sure of itself, deeply imbued
took a great interest in the final result.41 The scholars with a conscious tradition of native origin but, at the
at the court who were responsible for the stories told same time, aware of the existence of other traditions’.44
were also the guardians of the literary tradition, and it
seems to me that the primary purpose of images and Bibliography
texts was to proclaim to the gods that the kings fulfilled
their task as stewards of the god Assur, that they were Ataç, M-A. 2010. The Mythology of Kingship in Neo-Assyrian
carrying out the programme defined for them. In this Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
sense Tadmor’s observation provides at least a partial Bahrani, Z. 2008. Rituals of War. The Body and Violence in
answer to the question. Mesopotamia. New York: Zone Books.
Barnett, R.D. 1976. Sculptures from the North Palace of
The Assyrian palatial art was cut off at the moment Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (668–627 B.C.). London: British
when it was at its peak as a sophisticated way of Museum Publications.
representing the world and the world view of the rulers Barnett, R.D., E. Bleibtreu and G. Turner 1998. Sculptures
who resided in the palaces. The images shown are often from the Southwest Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh.
gruesome. A recent review in The Guardian newspaper London: British Museum Publications.
of a special exhibition at the British Museum dedicated Bonatz, D. 2005. Ashurbanipal’s headhunt: an
to king Assurbanipal describes it as showing ‘some of anthropological perspective, Iraq 67 (= Nineveh,
the most appalling images ever created’.42 The Assyrian Volume 1, Papers of the XLIXe Rencontre
military practice of violence and cruelty was labelled Assyriologique Internationale, London, 7–11 July
‘calculated frightfulness’ by Olmstead, meaning that 2003, edited by D. Collon and A. George): 93–101.
examples were set that would show potential trouble- Collins, P. 2014. Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Violence:
makers what the consequences of undesirable actions Warfare in Neo-Assyrian Art, in B.A. Brown and
would be.43 In our modern world of nuclear deterrent M.H. Feldman (eds) Critical Approaches to Ancient
we have a variant to this theme: ‘Using readiness to Near Eastern Art: 619–44. Boston / Berlin: Walter de
do something deranged as a negotiating tactic’. In the Gruyter.
Assyrian world frightfulness was a well-established Dallibor, K. 2005. Taharqo - Pharaoh aus Kusch (Achet A6):
practice: the atrocities were openly, perhaps even 166–67. Berlin: Achet Verlag.
proudly displayed – there were no hidden mass graves. Gerardi, P. 1988. Epigraphs and Assyrian Palace Reliefs:
The Development of the Epigraphic Text. Journal of
In the absence of a general study of Mesopotamian, Cuneiform Studies 40/1: 1–35.
and specifically Neo-Assyrian aesthetics, we are faced Gombrich, E.H. 1985. The Story of Art. Oxford: Phaidon.
with many traps and risk ahistorical or anachronistic Groenewegen-Frankfort, H.A. 1951. Arrest and Movement:
generalisations in any attempt to determine the logic An Essay on Space and Time in the Representational Art
and the intentions at work in the development of of the Ancient Near East. London: Faber and Faber.
narrative in the Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs. Russell Jones, J. 2018. ‘Some of the most appalling images ever
has warned that viewers used to the old conventions created’ – I Am Asurbanipal review. The Guardian 6th
of representing space and depth might have found November 2018.
Sennacherib’s innovations confusing, and our own Kertai, D. 2015. The Architecture of Late Assyrian Royal
impression that the new way represented a distinct Palaces. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
improvement may be misleading us in our attempt to Loud, G. and C.B. Altman 1938. Khorsabad, Part II, The
define and understand the development. Nevertheless, Citadel and the Town. Chicago: The Oriental Institute,
the changes did happen, and they did so for a reason, University of Chicago.
and we must take them as indications of a wish to offer, Matthiae, P. 1996. L’arte degli Assiri. Cultura e forma del
to the artists and their main customers, a better in the rilievo storico. Bari: Editori Laterza.
sense of a more satisfactory presentation of the world Nadali, D. 2018. The Battle of Til-Tuba in the South-West
they inhabited. This aim was probably never clearly Palace: Context and Iconography, in G. Brereton
formulated and we shall not find a text that discusses (ed.) I am Ashurbanipal king of the world, king of Assyria:
234–43. London: Thames and Hudson.
ideas of ‘image power’. Nylander, C. 1980. Earless in Nineveh. American Journal
Weidner 1932/33: 186: ša ina mahar šarri šašmūni, ‘what was read of Archaeology 84/3 (July): 329–33.
aloud to the king’. See also Winter 2016: 26.
Jones 2018.
Olmstead 1918. 44 
Oppenheim 1960: 146.

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Nylander, C. 1997. The Mutilated Image, in L. Larsson Tadmor, H. 1995. Propaganda, Literature,
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man: papers presented at a symposium in Lund, 5th–7th Royal Inscriptions, in S. Parpola and R.M. Whiting
May 1997: 235–59. Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets, (eds) Assyria 1995: Proceedings of the 10th Anniversary
historie och antikvitets akademien. Symposium of the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project,
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Ashur-nasir-apal. Journal of the American Oriental Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.
Society 38: 209–63. Unger, E. 1933. Kinematographische Erzählungsform in
Oppenheim, A.L. 1960. The City of Assur in 714 B.C. der altorientalischen Relief- und Rundplastik. Aus
Journal of Near Eastern Studies 19: 133–47. fünf Jahrtausenden morgenländischer Kultur. Festschrift
Paley, S. 1983. Assyrian Palace Reliefs: Finished and Max Freiherr von Oppenheim zum 70. Geburtstage
Unfinished Business, in P.O. Harper and H. Pittman gewidmet: 127–33. Berlin: E.F. Weidner.
(eds) Essays on Near Eastern Art and Archaeology in Watanabe, C.E. 2004. The ‘continuous style’ in the
Honor of Charles Kyrle Wilkinson: 48–58. New York: The narrative scheme of Assurbanipal’s reliefs. Iraq 67 (=
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nineveh, Volume 2, Papers of the XLIXe Rencontre
Porada, E. 1989. Problems of Late Assyrian Reliefs, in A. Assyriologique Internationale, London, 7–11 July
Leonard, Jr. and B.B. Williams (eds) Essays in Ancient 2003, edited by D. Collon and A. George): 103–14.
Civilization Presented to Helene J. Kantor (SAOC 47): Watanabe, C.E. 2014. Styles of Pictorial Narratives
233–48. Chicago: The Oriental Institute, University in Assurbanipal’s Reliefs, in B.A. Brown and M.H.
of Chicago. Feldman (eds) Critical Approaches to Ancient Near
Reade, J.E. 1979a. Assyrian Architectural Decoration: Eastern Art: 345–67. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
Techniques and Subject Matter. Baghdader Watanabe, C.E. 2018. Reading Ashurbanipal’s Palace
Mitteilungen 19: 17–49. Reliefs: Methods of Presenting Visual Narratives, in
Reade, J.E. 1979b. Narrative Composition in Assyrian G. Brereton (ed.) I am Ashurbanipal king of the world,
Sculpture. Baghdader Mitteilungen 10: 52–110. king of Assyria: 212–33. London: Thames and Hudson.
Reade, J.E. 1979c. Ideology and Propaganda in Assyrian Weidner, E.F. 1932/33. Aššuân. Archiv für Orientforschung
Art, in M.T. Larsen (ed.) Power and Propaganda. A 8: 175–203.
symposium on Ancient Empires (Copenhagen Studies Winter, I. 1981. Royal Rhetoric and the Development of
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Forlag. in Visual Communication 7/2: 2–38.
Reade, J.E. 1980a. Space, Scale, and Significance in Winter, I. 1982. Art as Evidence for Interaction, in
Assyrian Art. Baghdader Mitteilungen 11: 11–74. H.-J. Nissen and J. Renger (eds) Relations between
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Sculpture. Baghdader Mitteilungen 11: 75–87. und seine Nachbarn: XXVe Rencontre Assyriologique
Reade, J.E. 1985. Texts and Sculptures from the North- Internationale (Berlin, 2–7 July 1978): 355–82. Berlin:
West Palace, Nimrud. Iraq 47: 203–14. Dietrich Reimer.
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Empire: The sculptural program of Sennacherib’s Assurnasirpal II at Nimrud, in P.O. Harper and
Court VI at Nineveh. The Art Bulletin 69: 520–39. H. Pittman (eds) Essays on Near Eastern Art and
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Russell, J.M. 1993. Sennacherib’s Lachish Narratives, in Winter, I. 2002. Defining ‘Aesthetics’ for Non-Western
P.J. Holliday (ed.) Narrative and Event in Ancient Art: Studies: The case of Ancient Mesopotamia, in M.A.
55–73. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Holly and K. Moxey (eds) Art History, Aesthetics, Visual
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and Presentation of Assyrian Art. American Journal of Winter, I. 2016. Representation and Re-presentation:
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Festschrift für Rolf Gundlach: 315-25. Wiesbaden: of the 3rd International Congress on the Archaeology
Harrassowitz. of the Ancient Near East, held in Paris, 2002: 23–37.
Published electronically by Eisenbrauns.

The harpist’s left hand: A detail from the ‘Banquet Scene’ of
Assurbanipal in the North Palace at Nineveh

Irene J. Winter1


Under discussion are the occasional details within visual imagery that can yield to the trained eye following sustained viewing
and the opportunity for close-hand observation, even of the most well-known works. One of the best-known such works of the
Neo-Assyrian period is the often-called ‘Banquet Scene’ (or ‘Garden Scene’) from the North Palace of the ruler Assurbanipal at
Nineveh. Within that scene is a procession of musicians, following a group of whisk-bearers and food servers, all facing right and
apparently moving toward the ruler and his consort. An interesting detail of the harpist who leads the musical contingent is the
rendering not only of his right hand, plucking strings of the instrument in the foreground, but also his left hand, visible behind
the strings. This detail will be pursued with respect not only to the period’s engagement with spatial depth and receding picture
planes but also to the viewer’s perception, both ancient and modern.

Keywords: Assurbanipal reliefs; ‘Garden/Banquet Scene’; North Palace Nineveh; details in narrative imagery; receding picture
planes; visual experience; sustained viewing; object history; art history

I1am pleased to offer this brief note in recognition of writ large.5 The imposing figures of reclining ruler
the scholarly contributions of Julian Reade to the field and seated consort central to the composition have
of Neo-Assyrian visual culture within the domain of occupied historians and visual scholars of a variety
ancient Near Eastern studies. We have often disagreed interests and from a variety of perspectives.6
on particular issues of identification and approach over
the years;2 but the conversations themselves have, I What I shall pursue here is an inquiry into a single
trust, been mutually beneficial, with results that can example of the mastery of receding spatial depth
be said to have inflected subsequent reflections. In in two-dimensional imagery, suggesting that such
the present case, I shall take the position of one whose representation can be understood as a component of
primary training has been in the discipline of the ‘experience’ as well as a detail of historical significance.
History of Art, as that of other colleagues has often There are three aspects to this inquiry. First it can be
been in Assyriology, Oriental Studies, Archaeology and/ demonstrated with respect to late Neo-Assyrian visual
or Anthropology, although as noted by an art historian arts that written communications were exchanged
colleague, specialising in medieval or ancient art one between priestly experts charged with representation
is perforce interdisciplinary.3 For the art historical and state representatives such as the ruler, those
component, I would insist that visual experience – experts seeking official advice or approval for aspects
historical or contemporary – is an ongoing and essential of artistic enterprises.7 Second and equally important
component of our work. And I would equally point out is that conversations amongst modern scholars of
that visual experience can be demonstrated to have differing ‘formations’ (Fr.) in the contemporary world
played a significant role in ancient Mesopotamian/ have proven useful in the advancement of discourse
Assyrian culture.4 related to methodologies and interpretations of the
ancient world, including accounting for their own
To elucidate these statements, I will focus here upon responses to the works. And third, And third, I argue my
the sculptural relief best known as the Assurbanipal task in the present note for the importance of sustained
‘Garden Scene’ or ‘Banquet Scene’ (Figure 1), found in and repeated viewing of works.
association with Room S1 of the North Palace at Nineveh,
and often considered exemplary of late Assyrian ‘art’ 5 
Barnett 1976: pls LXII ff. and most recently, Brereton ed. 2018: fig.
See, for example, Albenda 2018; Aruz, Rakic and Graff eds 2014; Ataç
2012; 2018; Bahrani 2005; Watanabe 2014.
Department of History of Art + Architecture, Harvard University. 7 
Cole and Machinist 1998: 36–37, no. 34 (CT 53: no. 41), re letter from
E.g., the date of the whole of the White Obelisk; the identification of Nabû-ašared in Babylon to Esarhaddon, in which two versions of
specific campaigns in the battle narratives of the Throne-room royal images are sent to the ruler, and the king is asked which one
of Assurnasirpal II in the Northwest Palace from Nimrud, the he prefers. Also addressed in that letter is an image currently being
representation of the melammu of Ishtar, among others. made, where the writer does not approve of the way in which the
Jeffrey Hamburger pers. comm. 2015. details are rendered! See also, Ataç 2010: 150–70, passim, for experts
Winter 2000. in relation to art-making.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 127–134

Irene J. Winter

Figure 1. The ‘Banquet Scene’ of Assurbanipal, Nineveh, North Palace, Room S1, slab C, gypsum relief, W 139.7 cm
(The British Museum, 1856.0909.5)

At its best, the training of the eye of the art historian that the relief itself had travelled abroad.8 The two
is comprised of rigorous stylistic and iconographic principal figures, recumbent king and seated consort,
analysis, as well as exercises in visual comparison are shown outdoors, beneath a grape arbour amidst
with both like and unlike works. It is understood that trees and plants. They drink from open bowls and are
no photograph, drawing, replica or even cast of an provisioned by delicacies, both carried toward them by
original, and no presentation in a museum rather than servants from the left and already placed before them
in an original context, is thought to be an adequate on a free-standing table. The scene has been described
substitute for direct confrontation with the original as idyllic given the lush setting (and not infrequently, in
work and/or an understanding of the original locus of such cases, the whole relief is cropped for publication to
the work. When works are held publicly in museums, focus only on that central grouping under the arbour).
whether in host countries or abroad, and if site visits Or it is argued to be highly politicised once the head
are possible when works remain in situ, this becomes an of the defeated Elamite ruler Teumman is recognised
important component of the scholar’s experience. suspended in the foliage of a tree toward the left of the
slab, while the ruler’s weapons and military gear set
The grounds for repeated viewings of the same works, on a table to the right of the monarch’s couch are seen
even when thought to be familiar, have often been as markers of the king’s identity, again modifying the
articulated, both in the classroom and in textbook apparently idyllic setting.9
exhortations. I personally associate this injunction
with a quotation attributed to John Muir, a 19th century The original placement of the Assurbanipal slab was
Scots-American naturalist and conservationist known likely to have been in the second storey within the
for his aphorisms about the wilderness: ‘If you wish to North Palace, apparently having fallen into the lower
see something you have never seen before … take the Room S when the upper portion of the palace collapsed.
same walk as yesterday; you are bound to see something This has offered scholars the opportunity to explore
of importance not previously noticed!’ In the present the imagery in its broader context. The ‘Banquet Scene’
context, one might amend this for the scholar of the itself formed part of the uppermost of three horizontally
visual arts: ‘look again and again at a work thought to stacked registers, the bottom indicating plants of the
be known; engage with the work on many different marshes with wild boar, the middle register including
occasions, in several different loci, or from multiple conifers and low bushes with occasional human figures
perspectives, and you are bound to observe some aspect
of the work not previously registered!!’ 8 
I am indebted to Michael Seymour, Associate Curator at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, for providing this information.
The recent loan exhibition at the Metropolitan 9 
This despite the likelihood that the ruler himself may have been
Museum of Art entitled Assyria to Iberia, on view from depicted as unwell, since he is shown reclining on a couch and covered
with a blanket – a position previously used to indicate an indisposed
September 2014 to January 2015, provided just such or aged North Syrian potentate on one of the Shalmaneser III bronze
an opportunity for a US audience to experience the door bands from Balawat (= Palace Door, Band 8 right, depicting a
Assurbanipal ‘Banquet Scene’ from the British Museum. captured city in Hamath. See King 1915: pl. 77, where it is identified
as Band XIII.6; more recently, Curtis and Tallis 2008: 13–15, Table 2.1,
Many scholars of the ancient Near East have been able with epigraph in Grayson 1996: 146–47, A.O. 102.28). On the Teuman
to view this work in London but this was the first time head, see the paper by Larsen in this volume.

The harpist’s left hand: A detail from the ‘Banquet Scene’ of Assurbanipal in the North Palace at Nineveh

in the landscape. The ‘Banquet’ in the upper-most well, having seen it many times at home in the British
register can then be understood as part of an extended Museum and having worked on some of the decorative
narrative of servants and accoutrements set in a lush elements. It remains one of the Assurbanipal reliefs to
‘garden’ in the presence of the royal couple.10 The which I am most drawn, given the complex relationship
reconstructed Room S1 was suggested to have been part between ‘narrative’ and ‘description’ deployed in the
of an upper storey passage leading to ground level and imagery, particularly with respect to the elaborate
a relatively narrow exit from the palace. The exterior ornamental details of landscape and fittings.
doorway, with its two columns in antis, has been dealt
with by Sinopoli as an example of the Neo-Assyrian Under such circumstances, that is, with each iteration
architectural phenomenon known as a bīt hilāni.11 of repeated viewing over time, and in keeping with
art historical training, I would claim that two things
Such is the development of scholarly inquiry that often happen simultaneously with respect to the viewer.
over time, new insights and new analyses tend to keep First, differing attention and interests over time inspire
pace with new questions being asked of material culture focus upon different elements in the work – in this
in general, both in a given special field as well as within case, from early scholarly focus upon the principal
a given discipline. Some of the questions pursued in figures to the damage laid upon their faces, presumably
work on the ‘Banquet Scene’ have been generated by at the time of the destruction of Nineveh; and from
the initial endeavour of Julian Reade to pursue the those same figures to their attributes.14 In addition, as
‘narrative programmes’ of individual palace rooms, the spatial placement of the relief in the larger space
using the term ‘in context’ in the title of the present of Room S1 in the North Palace came under scrutiny
volume to elucidate the imagery. It is interesting to note and the head of Assurbanipal’s enemy, Teumman, was
that the early work along these lines coincided with identified, the entirety of the Assurbanipal ‘Banquet
an era in which the study of narrativity and narrative Scene’ scene demanded that it be read not merely as a
programme was in its heyday, both in literary and in garden idyll, but as the actual culmination of the Ulai
visual circles of the academy.12 River/Til Tuba battle sequence extensively depicted
as part of Assurbanipal’s additions to the Southwest
And yet, this historiography does not tell the full story of Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh. In short, the banquet
encounters with the Assyrian reliefs in general or with could indeed be viewed as a ceremonial (albeit macabre)
specific examples thereof: from initial construction triumph, rather than a garden idyll or even a banquet.15
conditions to subsequent ancient destruction, and
from accounts of modern decline or colonial era The incremental benefits of repeated observations are
appropriation to the conservation of archaeological typical of any specialist field, as issues and focus shift
works. However much the acquisition of the Assyrian over time, and with differing scholars offering new
marbles has been contested in modern times,13 they readings or stressing new aspects of a work. These
were wildly popular when first shown to an extended increments must first be assimilated, after which
public in the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in they then become the foundation for new ‘readings’.
London in 1851, and continue to be available to viewers But equally important, with the repeated viewing of
in the British Museum today. the same work over time by a single individual, that
individual equally becomes familiar with new details,
All this constitutes background for the imagery on the the product of a sequence of cumulative observations.
relief slab under discussion. Having briefly referred With this, I wish to shift our subject from the many
to two of my three components above, namely attempts at interpretation of individual works or, as
communication between makers and patrons, and the per the early work of Julian Reade, what the narrative
academic formation of the scholar, let me shift, then programmes of individual rooms might have signified
to the issue of sustained and repeated viewing, with in antiquity, to the exposure of the modern viewer to a
respect to my own experience(s) of the ‘Banquet Scene’ monument or a fragment, in a modern setting.
over time. I considered it one of the works I knew

Barnett 1976: pl. LXIII; also discussion in Ataç 2012; 2018.
On this, see the discussion by the late G. Sinopoli (2000), especially
Appendix IV: 185–217, where the reliefs from the upper floor are 14 
Nylander 1980; Albenda 1976; 1977. Note that the right hand of the
discussed, including fragments of a lion hunt, the ‘Triumphal king has undergone damage, not only his face.
Banquet’, and a campaign against Elam/Hamanu. That sack of 15 
See Barnett, Bleibtreu and Turner 1998: South-West Palace Room
Hamanu was also identified in Barnett 1976: pl. LXXVI, as among XXXIII. Note that in a scholarly meeting devoted to the subject of
the reliefs ‘fallen into Room S’. Note also that if that rear doorway Nineveh held at the British Museum in 2003, three of the subsequently
were to have led to an outside garden/park, it would not have been published papers dealt directly with the Til Tuba campaign reliefs in
inappropriate for the decor of Rooms S1 and S to reflect some of the the South-West Palace at Nineveh, namely those by Bahrani, Bonatz
activities enacted just beyond the doorway, not unlike the positioning and Watanabe (all 2005; see full citations in bibliography), and more
of Room 7 in Sargon II’s palace at Khorsabad. recently, Nadali 2018; see also Larsen this volume. For textual sources
Reade 1976; 1979a; 1979b; 1980a; 1980b. related to Teumman and the battle of Til Tuba, see Goldstein and
See Larsen 1996. Weissert 2018.

Irene J. Winter

John Muir has already been invoked above. A depicted carrying his large vertical harp (Figure 2).19
complement to this would be the recent observations Specifically, both hands of the harpist were clearly
by a former major museum director with respect to indicated: the right hand in front of the strings, and
the importance of what has been called variously closest therefore to the viewer of the relief; with the
‘continuous looking’, ‘repeated viewing’ and/or the left visible (however faintly) behind the strings, equally
‘sequential gaze’.16 That is, moments in which one is plucking.20 Why, or even that, this afforded me such
afforded the opportunity to access a given work over delight is something rarely addressed in scholarly
time, aspects of which reveal themselves depending literature, as it foregrounds the scholar/viewer as
upon prior familiarity, accumulated experience since part of the audience as much as, or even more than,
the last encounter, context of viewing, and the current as historian, and it situates the work as affective, not
state of both ‘the field’ and the viewer. At least, so it merely as an historical artifact.21 It therefore gives
was for me at the Metropolitan Museum of New York one voice as experiencer rather than as a purportedly
during the run of the exhibition Assyria to Iberia.17 I neutral intellectual describer of a concrete historical
went back to the exhibition at least seven times. My phenomenon.22
eyes could gaze attentively, seeing different aspects or
details within a given whole, as well as the whole from I confess I took great pleasure from that left hand. And
slightly different perspectives, and with every visit, once noted, I found that the result was not merely
new aspects of familiar works revealed themselves. In to interiorise a stylistic detail, but also, and more
particular, the possibility of being able to stand eye-to- significantly, to bring me that much closer to the
eye with the Assurbanipal ‘Banquet Scene’ on several moment of making, in which an ancient sculptor had
successive occasions was particularly rewarding. The to solve the problem of at least three receding spatial
harpist of the present title stands to the far left of the planes in order to convey a visual reality in music-
slab. He faces right following the cluster of fly-whisk making!
bearers and servers approaching the royal couple,
mentioned above. Here, I would note that only if one Therefore, the question must arise: does this recent
knows the sequence of movement coming in from the observation, the result of sharply focused attention
preceding slab does one read the harpist as himself and sequential viewing on my part, which in turn led
at the head of another contingent: that of a series of to registering the harpist’s left hand, say anything,
musicians approaching the rulers, of whom the harpist apart from my own delight – that is, about the
is but the first.18 original patron’s or sculptor’s engagement beyond
the journalistic/historical documentation that we,
It must be said that the more-or-less eye-level as historians, are wont to pursue? In brief, does the
installation at the Met constituted a privileged venue
for the modern viewer that should be acknowledged. 19 
See the second harpist and yet another on the adjacent slab E to
Without prior knowledge, or a copy of the catalogue in the right of the ‘Banquet’ slab, where the harpist is depicted facing
right, following an official (= BM 1124922). The left hand is again
hand, the single fragment of the ‘Banquet’ slab C would visible behind the strings. (See the excellent photograph in Matthaie
not help with our understanding of the context within 1998: 168).
the North Palace in which the relief had originally
Due to its more shallow carving, the visual acuity of the back (here,
left) hand depends upon the quality and angle of lighting in the
been placed. That is, without a ground plan and a exhibition space as well as the lighting and focus in photography
composite wall-panel reconstruction of the room, with (cf. the MMA catalogue, and the recent British Museum catalogue
its contingent of additional musicians and (hostage?) for the exhibition I am Ashurbanipal, King of the world, King of Assyria,
as included in Collins 2018: 50–51, fig. 56, for differing legibility of
Elamites in subservient postures grouped to the further that left hand). It is not unusual that with attention on the principal
left, or the additional service components in slabs D figures of the ‘banquet’, the back hand is often only vaguely
and E to the right, the ‘Banquet’ simply seems to float; discernable, sometimes almost fusing with the background. However,
with appropriate presentation it can become a component within the
nor could one reconstruct the two lower registers on larger narrative. Note, however, that several harpists also appear in a
the ‘Banquet’ slab itself, or the cumulation of additional relief sequence of the victory celebration over Madaktu from Room S1
themes also understood as fallen from Room S1 into (= BM 124802, illustrated in Matthiae 1998: 107), where no rear hands
are visible.
Room S. 21 
See also on this distinction, Bahrani 2005: 118 , with respect to the
whole Ulai River/Til Tuba campaign preserved in the Southwest
Viewing in such proximity did mean that one could Palace, where she voices an eloquent plea that the work (and ancient
works in general) be seen in terms of the power of the image, hence as
zoom in on details and, to my delight, one of the things ‘art’, arguing for a very different mindset on the part of the modern
I had never noticed before was the way in which the viewer.
leading musician/harpist of the left side cohort was
Equally unusual, a blog accompanying the exhibition Assyria to
Iberia at the Metropolitan Museum, dated 30th December 2014,
included quotes from individuals engaged with the exhibit who
were asked to identify and speak briefly on their ‘favourite’ work in
de Montebello and Gayford 2017: 3–11. the exhibition. Their responses were articulate and quite personal.
Aruz, Rakic and Graff eds 2014. Although none cited the ‘Banquet Scene’, one (curator Michael
E.g., Barnett 1976: pl. LXIII, slabs B and C, the musicians of slab B Seymour) did identify the larger sequence of the Til Tuba/Ulai River
playing a double flute, lute, drum and yet another vertical harp. battle sequence as his personal favourite.

The harpist’s left hand: A detail from the ‘Banquet Scene’ of Assurbanipal in the North Palace at Nineveh

Figure 2. Detail from the ‘Banquet

Scene’, slab C (photograph by the

detail help us (or did it help the ancient Assyrian) Within the Late Assyrian period, I believe one can say
come closer to the affective properties of the work, not that in the relief sculptures of the 9th century BC rulers
merely the reflective?23 For, in the sequence of ancient Assurnasirpal II and his son Shalmaneser III, and those
Mesopotamian image-making, it was not always thus! of the 8th century rulers Tiglath Pileser III, Sargon
And what is more, as noted above, it was not even II, and Sennacherib, the sculptors were increasingly
characteristic of all of the renderings of harpists among striving toward rendering pictorial depth and thus
the images in the Assurbanipal repertoire! spatial readability, although, as Larsen has noted, not
necessarily consistently or in a straight developmental
Unsurprisingly, with a single exception, works from the line. In that sequence, this elaborate layering of
second half of the 3rd millennium BC do not represent the details in the work attributed to Assurbanipal marks
back hands of harpists, at least in the published drawings a noticeable development. In particular, landscapes
(e.g. a seal from Ur, Figure 3a). The exception is to be for specific motifs such as battle scenes become on
found on a plaque showing animal musicians which is occasion total visual fields, while in densely packed
part of the decoration on the front of the Great Lyre from and highly ornamental scenes shallow spatial planes
PG 789, one of the Royal Tombs at Ur (Figure 3b). This overlap multiple times, often leading to breath-taking
suggests that master craftsmen were already capable of complexity (for example, on an example of a horse’s
conceptualizing the farther plane, but such attention to head from one of Assurbanipal’s lion hunts: Figure 4).
detail seems not to have become characteristic until the Indeed, the corpus of Assurbanipal reliefs in both the
early 1st millennium.24 South-West and the North Palaces attest to the fact that
multiple variations in spatial organisation – such as
registers (e.g, the lion hunts and the Arab campaign)25
versus total fields (e.g., the Ulai river/Til Tuba battle)
This question of the affective as distinct from the reflective property – can be deployed under the same ruler. This could
of the art work has engaged me for decades, e.g. Winter 1996: 103.
For the Ur seal (Figure 3a), see Seidl 2012: fig. 1 (and see also from
be said to suggest that variations among said imagery
Adab: Collon 2014: 146, fig. 3). For the Great Lyre from Ur (Figure 3b), may not necessarily represent a scale from more to less
see Woolley 1934: vol. II, pl. 105. For a summary of the development of
‘visual reality’ in Assyrian representation as augmented by epigraphic
additions, see Larsen this volume. 25 
Viz. Nadali 2004.

Irene J. Winter

Figure 3. A drawing of a seal from the Royal Cemetery, Ur, mid-3rd Figure 3b. Detail of the shell plaque from the
millennium BC [Woolley 1934: 94, U. 12374] (after Seidl 2012) front of the Great Lyre from PG789, Ur (University
of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and
Anthropology B17694B)

Figure 4. Detail of horses and equestrian fittings from an Assurbanipal lion hunt relief (Barnett 1976)

competent craftsmen, or demonstrate inconsistency In sum, in many instances the court sculptors of
in temporal production, but rather indicate differing Assurbanipal clearly seem to have been addressing new
narrative and representational strategies, conceivably challenges in the representation of space receding from
tied to different installation places or with respect to the picture plane as a component of narrative. In that
different subject matter. context, the detail of the harpist’s left hand can perhaps

The harpist’s left hand: A detail from the ‘Banquet Scene’ of Assurbanipal in the North Palace at Nineveh

be read as a sign of artistic reach (sic!), however one of time and place can also contribute to what one is
interprets its significance. One can then hypothesise ready to observe. In the present case, it may well have
how it might have been read in antiquity: whether taken a scholar’s lifetime within a discipline, along with
as an artifact of the very best craftsmen assigned to a glorious opportunity for sustained viewing, such as
more important royal objects,26 as desirable greater of Assurbanipal’s ‘Banquet Scene’ in New York, for the
naturalism in order to stress verisimilitude in some harpist’s left hand to play its music to my mind’s ear as
classes of representation, or as a detail designed to make well as to my eye…
the scene (as here, of music-making in association with
feasting and victory celebration) come alive not only Acknowledgements
in appearance, but also under conditions of polyvalent
signification? My gratitude to the editors, Irving Finkel and St John
Simpson, and to Jülide Aker, Robert Hunt, Yan Jia, Mogens
These are questions of the ‘Banquet Scene’ for which Trolle Larsen, Peter Machinist, Philippe de Montebello
there are presently no answers given the state of and Michael Seymour for various consultations along
current evidence and argument. Nevertheless, what the way; also to Ann Browder, Michelle Marcus and
I would stress is the pleasure it gave this particular Mehmet-Ali Ataç for past conversations.
viewer to observe a challenge being addressed on the
one hand (again, pun intended!), while on the other Bibliography
(again, hand), noting that the observation thereof
gave rise to those very questions. It is hoped that new Albenda, P. 1976. Landscape Bas-Reliefs in the Bīt-Hilāni
evidence, the discovery of new works +/or new texts, of Ashurbanipal. Bulletin of the American Schools of
and a rigorous methodology unprejudiced by teleology Oriental Research 224: 49–72.
or modern impositions may allow for more clarity in Albenda, P. 1977. Landscape Bas-Reliefs in the Bīt-Hilāni
future. For now, what remains from this experience of Ashurbanipal [continued]. Bulletin of the American
is my delight as a viewer. And so long as I do not then Schools of Oriental Research 225: 29–48.
impose my own experience onto the past with little or Albenda, P. 2018. Royal Gardens, Parks, and the
no evidence, it encourages me to articulate not only Architecture Within: Assyrian Views. Journal of the
the possible readings for the past, but also state clearly American Oriental Society 138/1: 105–20.
the pleasure one takes from the visual – read ‘sensory’ Aruz, J., Y. Rakic and S. Graff (eds) 2014. Assyria to
– experience of the visual arts today, and thereby imply Iberia: At the Dawn of the Classical Age. New York:
a connection between both past and present. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ataç, M-A. 2010. The Mythology of Kingship in Neo-Assyrian
The components I have brought to the table in this Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
instance include a description of the training of an art Ataç, M-A. 2012. ‘The Charms of Tyranny’: Conceptions
historian – the importance of disciplinary formation of Power in the ‘Garden Scene’ of Ashurbanipal
in observation and detail first and foremost; then the Reconsidered, in G. Wilhelm (ed.) Organization,
suggestion that there could be a linkage between that Representation, and Symbols of Power in the Ancient
formation and the insights resulting from attention to Near East (Proceedings of the 54th Rencontre
a given work, based upon experience and inculcated Assyriologique Internationale at Würzburg, 20–25
habits of viewing. The opportunity to put sustained July 2008): 411–27. Winona Lake (IN): Eisenbrauns.
observation into practice – encouraged for art Ataç, M-A. 2018. Art and Immortality in the Ancient Near
historians no matter what the period – is, I would argue, East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
of great value in the service of understanding particular Bahrani, Z. 2005. The King’s Head. Iraq 67 (= Nineveh,
cultural/historical strategies of visual representation. It Volume 2, Papers of the XLIXe Rencontre
is this training that can be of use not only for justifying Assyriologique Internationale, London, 7–11 July
the requirements of time and opportunity necessary in 2003, edited by D. Collon and A. George): 115–19.
sustained viewing, but also by offering the impetus for Barnett, R.D. 1976. Sculptures from the North Palace of
continuous exploration of meaningful components in Ashurbanipal at Nineveh (668–627 BC). London: British
representation and experience. Museum Publications.
Barnett, R.D., E. Bleibtreu and G. Turner 1998. Sculptures
Finally, I would insist that there is a not-trivial from the Southwest Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh.
difference between ‘object history’ and ‘art history’ London: The British Museum.
– a difference that cannot be pursued in the present Bonatz, D. 2005. Ashurbanipal’s Headhunt: An
context but allows for multiple approaches to any given Anthropological Perspective. Iraq 67 (= Nineveh,
work. Habits of viewing develop over time, both for Volume 2, Papers of the XLIXe Rencontre
generations and for individuals. Happy conjunctions Assyriologique Internationale, London, 7–11 July
2003, edited by D. Collon and A. George): 93–101.
On this, see the suggestion by Ataç 2012.

Irene J. Winter

Brereton, G., ed. 2018. I am Ashurbanipal, King of the world, Reade, J.E. 1980a. Space, Scale and Significance in
King of Assyria. London: Thames and Hudson Assyrian Art. Baghdader Mitteilungen 11: 11–74.
Cole, S.W. and P. Machinist 1998. Letters from Priests to the Reade, J.E. 1980b. The Architectural Context of Assyrian
Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal (State Archives of Sculpture. Baghdader Mitteilungen 11: 75–87.
Assyria 13). Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Seidl, U. 2012. Tanz B: In der Bildkunst. Reallexikon der
Project. Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie 13/5–6:
Collins, P. 2018. Life at Court, in G. Brereton (ed.) I am 447–51.
Ashurbanipal, King of the world, King of Assyria: 34–52. Sinopoli, G. 2000. Il Bīt-Hilāni come celebrazione
London: Thames and Hudson. ideologica della Regalitá nel Vicino Oriente Antico.
Collon, D. 2014. Tropfenbecher. Reallexikon der Unpublished PhD dissertation, Universitá degli
Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie 14/1–2: studi di Roma ‘La Sapienza’, Facoltá di Lettere e
145–47. Filosofia. Privately circulated.
Curtis, J. and N. Tallis 2008. The Balawat Gates of Spycket, A. 1972. La musique instrumentale
Ashurnasirpal II. London: British Museum Press. mesopotamienne. Journal des Savants 1972/2–3: 153–
Goldstein, R. and E. Weissert 2018. The Battle of Til- 209.
Tuba Cycle and the Documentary Evidence, in G. Watanabe, C.E. 2005. The ‘continuous style’ in the
Brereton (ed.) I am Ashurbanipal, King of the world, narrative schemes of Assurbanipal’s reliefs. Iraq 67 (=
King of Assyria: 244–73. London: Thames and Hudson. Nineveh, Volume 2, Papers of the XLIXe Rencontre
King, L.W. 1915. Bronze Reliefs from the Gates of Assyriologique Internationale, London, 7–11 July
Shalmaneser, King of Assyria. London: Trustees of the 2003, edited by D. Collon and A. George): 103–14.
British Museum. Watanabe, C.E. 2014. Styles of Pictorial Narratives in
Larsen, M.T. 1996. The Conquest of Assyria: excavations in Assurbanipal’s Reliefs, in M. Feldman and B. Brown
an antique land, 1840–1860. London: Routledge. (eds) Critical Approaches in Ancient Near Eastern Art:
Matthiae, P. 1998. Ninive. Milan: Electa. 345–70. Berlin / Boston: Walter de Gruyter.
de Montebello, P. and M. Gayford 2017. Rendez-vous with Winter, I.J. 1996. Sex, Rhetoric and the Public
Art. New York: Thames and Hudson. Monument: The Alluring Body of the Male Ruler in
Nadali, D. 2004. La campagna di Asurbanipal contro gli Mesopotamia, in N. B. Kampen et al. (eds) Sexuality
Arabi: Proposta di lettura delle dinamiche di una in Ancient Art, 11–26. Cambridge and New York:
battaglia in campo aperto. Studi Micenei ed Egeo- Cambridge University Press [reprinted in I. Winter,
Anatolici 46/1: 59–78. On Art in the Ancient Near East, Vol. II: From the Third
Nylander, C. 1980. Earless in Nineveh. American Journal Millennium B.C.E. (CHANE 34.2): 85–108. Leiden /
of Archaeology 84/3 (July): 329–33. Boston: Brill].
Reade, J.E. 1976. Sargon’s Campaigns of 720, 716 and 715 Winter, I.J. 2000. The Eyes Have It: Votive Statuary,
B.C.: Evidence from the Sculptures. Journal of Near Gilgamesh’s Axe, and Cathected Viewing in the
Eastern Studies 35: 95–104. Ancient Near East, in R. Nelson (ed.) Visuality Before
Reade, J.E. 1979a. Assyrian Architectural Decoration: and Beyond the Renaissance, 22–44. Cambridge:
Techniques and Subject Matter. Baghdader Cambridge University Press.
Mitteilungen 10: 17–49. Wooley, C.L. 1934. Ur Escavations II. The Royal Cemetery.
Reade, J.E. 1979b. Narrative Composition in Assyrian London: The British Museum.
Sculpture. Baghdader Mitteilungen 10: 52–110.

The population of Nineveh

Simo Parpola1


The number of people living in Nineveh, the capital of the Neo-Assyrian empire, at its heyday is not known from contemporary
sources, and the various estimates presented to date (including the figure 120,000 suggested in the Book of Jonah) are all
based on guesswork rather than actual research. In this article, an attempt is made to calculate the number of inhabitants by
comparison with the population density of the 7th century BC ‘Inner City’ of Assur, which can be approximated by an analysis of
a representative sample area and demographic data derived from the ‘Harran Census’ and early 19th century Iraq.

Keywords: Neo-Assyrian empire; Nineveh; Assur; population statistics; ‘Harran census’; family size

300,000 persons lived in early 7th century (BC) Nineveh’,

and asked what I thought about this ‘since [the size of
the population] is an issue that surfaces often in Jonah
Julian Reade is one of the persons who has revolutionised
scholarship’.6 I made a study of the matter, taking into
the study of the Neo-Assyrian empire during the
account the surface area of Nineveh, the average family
past few decades. His important publications and
size in Sargonid Assyria, and the average house size and
unparalleled knowledge of the archaeology, material
population density in the ‘Inner City’ of the 7th century
culture, visual art, architecture, history, chronology
Assur, all of which can be established from the available
and geography of the period have played a visible role
data, and came to the conclusion that ‘if 300,000 is given
in this process. Consider, for example, the hundreds of
as a round figure for the population of Nineveh during
illustrations (many of them previously unpublished or
its heyday, the estimate cannot be terribly far off the
little known) that he has contributed to the State Archives
mark’.7 Of course, it was not possible to go into details
of Assyria series. It is safe to say that the association of
in a brief e-mail, and I have not returned to the matter
text with pictures has added a new dimension to both
since, so my arguments remain unpublished. I am glad
of these sources and substantially contributed to their
I now have an opportunity to present them in a volume
understanding – at least as far the present writer is
honouring the greatest expert on Nineveh today.
No large-scale systematic excavations have been carried
Nineveh, the capital of the Neo-Assyrian empire,
out in Nineveh outside the citadel of Kuyunjik, but there
has figured prominently in Julian’s research and
is every reason to believe that the lower city, enclosed
publications. He has authored many books and articles
by the 10.5 km long city-wall of Sennacherib,8 had been
on Assyrian sculpture and artefacts from the city,2 and
fully built up by 612 BC. To quote Julian, soundings at
an exhaustive article on the city itself.3 Although that
area MG, 400 m north of Kuyunjik, ‘suggest a densely
article is primarily archaeologically and historically
built elite quarter with large well-drained courtyard
oriented, it also briefly touches on the size of the
buildings’, while survey and soundings in area NWM
population of Nineveh in the 7th century BC, which is
in the northwest corner of the city ‘produced evidence
the topic of the present paper.4
of small crowded 7th cent. buildings and production of
pottery and metalwork’.9
A population of 120,000 people ‘who did not know their
left hands from their right’ is suggested in the 6th–4th
The area enclosed by the city-wall is given as ‘some 750
century Biblical Book of Jonah (iv.11); Jones proposed
hectares’ by Reade.10 My own estimate based on the
174,000;5 the current estimate would be 75,000. As it
plan of Felix Jones11 is 559 hectares, of which 41 hectares
happens, ten years earlier Jack Sasson had contacted
is taken up by the two citadels (Kuyunjik 29 ha + Nebi
me on this very matter for his book on Jonah. He
mentioned that ‘A.T. Olmstead long ago guessed that
Sasson 1990: 311.
My e-mail of 24th January 1989, cited in full in Sasson 1990: 312.
Emeritus, University of Helsinki. 8 
Sennacherib defines the length of the wall as 21,815 cubits, i.e.
E.g. Reade 1972; 1983; Curtis and Reade 1995. 10,471.2 m with a cubit of 0.48 m.
Reade 2000. 9 
Reade 2000: 420 and fig. 1 on p. 390.
Reade 2000: 395. 10 
Reade 2000: 395.
Jones 1855: 324. 11 
Reproduced in Strommenger 1964: 450.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 135–140

Simo Parpola

Figure 1. The best-preserved segment of the Neo-Assyrian occupational level above the ruined ‘New Palace’ at Assur; the circles
around house numbers indicate houses with archives (adapted from Preusser 1954: pl. 9)

Yunus 12 ha), leaving 518 hectares for the lower town. Table 1. Neo-Assyrian private houses included in the sample area
I will take both estimates into account in assessing the
size of the population at the end of this paper. Surface
House no. Dimensions Rooms Remarks
The evidence from the ‘inner city’ of Assur 2 courts
1 25 m × 27 m 20 675 m2
(140 m2)
7 m × 10 m + 3 m
In the absence of population statistics, the size of the 2 6 99 m2
population of a city can be approximated from its
3 7 m × 10 m 4+ 70 m2
average population density, which can be determined
by demographic analysis of a representative sample 4 10 m × 12 m 5 120 m2
area. The archaeological data available from Nineveh 5 5m×6m 3 30 m2
are not sufficient for such analysis, but we have good N16
surrogate data from an urban area contemporary 6 7m×8m 4+ 56 m2
with and closely paralleling Nineveh: the ‘Inner City’ 6a 4m×9m 3 36 m2
of Assur, a wall-enclosed area of about 50 hectares 7m×7m+3m
containing palaces, temples, squares and public and 7 4+ 76 m2
private houses.12 A considerable part of it was surveyed, 8 3m×8m 2 24 m2
excavated and accurately documented in the German Archive
excavations at the beginning of the past century. For 9 5 m × 10 m 4+ 50 m2
the purposes of my analysis I chose a well-preserved 10 4 m × 11.5 m 4 46 m2
five-hectare segment of the Neo-Assyrian occupational
level above the Middle Assyrian ‘New Palace’ (Figure 11 5 44 m2
1). It included 29 private houses accessible by narrow
streets and alleys often abutting each other and, plus 12 5 m × 14 m 6 70 m2
a public square on the west side. Five of the houses
contained archives.13 The characteristics of the houses included
relevant to the present study are tabulated (Table 1). 13 no data 0 0
in sample
Andrae 1977: 19–84; see the aerial photograph on p. 4. 5m×5m+3m×
For a general description of the area and a detail analysis of the 14 6 49 m2

archive see Pedersén 1986: 99–113.

The population of Nineveh

Surface Table 3. House sizes

House no. Dimensions Rooms Remarks
area Rooms Total houses Surface area m2
Archive 2 2 24, 25
15 8 m × 10 m 8 80 m2
3 6 27, 30, 36, 40, 49, 55
15a 7m×7m 3 49 m 2
4 8 46, 50, 54, 56, 66, 70, 70, 76
16 7 m × 10 m 4+ 70 m2 5 5 42, 44, 46, 66, 120
17 6 m × 11 m 5 66 m2 6 4 49, 57, 70, 99
18 6 m × 11 m 4+ 66 m2 7 2 99, 130
5m×9m+3m 8 1 80
19 6 57 m2
×4m 20 1 535 + 140 m2 court
20 10 m × 13 m 7 130 m2
21 9 m × 11 m 7 99 m2
More important than the average house size is the
question: how many people lived in them? It would
21a 5 m × 11 m 3 55 m2
seem that the size of the houses is a function of the
22 5m×5m 2 25 m2 people who lived in them, so that the smaller the
23 5m×8m 3 40 m2 house, the less people lived in it. By this logic, the 2–4
5m×6m+4m room houses, which constitute the majority of the
24 5 46 m2
×4m sample (Table 3), were probably inhabited by nuclear
25 6m×7m 5 42 m2 families or single individuals, while the larger houses,
26 6m×9m 4+ 54 m2 with a surface area between 70–130 m2 or more, were
inhabited by larger families and their domestics. There
27 3m×9m 3 27 m2
are 17 houses with a surface area under 70 m2 in the
Total number of rooms and
145+ 2351 m2 sample, making up 58.4% of the total number of houses.
their surface area
Dividing their combined floor space (690 m2) by 17
yields 40.6 m2 as the average living space of a nuclear
As can be seen, although the analysed area included family in the sample area. It seems reasonable to take
some large houses (the largest, No. 1, containing 20 this figure as a constant applicable to the whole ‘Inner
rooms, two large courtyards, and a surface area of 675 City’ and other Neo-Assyrian urban centres as well.
m2), the majority of the houses – or rather apartments
– were relatively small with two to four rooms only and The average family size in the ‘Harran Census’
a surface of 24–56 m2. With the large houses included in
the analysis, the average number of rooms per house for How big was the average Neo-Assyrian nuclear family?
the whole sample area is 5, and the average surface area The answer is provided by the ‘Harran census’,14 a
76.2 m2. Both averages hardly apply to the whole ‘Inner detailed census of people and agricultural possessions
City’, however, since it is likely that this part of the city, in the province of Harran made in the reign of Sargon II
which was situated in the immediate neighbourhood or Sennacherib.15 This document systematically surveys
of the temple and palace area, contained more large the agricultural holdings and the people managing
houses than the rest of the city. them, listing the real estate by type and quantity

Table 2. Houses with archives

House no. Archive Rooms m2 Tablets Owner Profession Dates Slaves

5 N16 3 30 16 NN ? 644*1 +
9 N17 4 50 11 Kakkullanu merchant ?
12 N18 6 70 17 Nagahi investor ?
15 N20 3 80 40 Šarru-iqbi moneylender ?
Mutaqqin- doorkeeper/ 640*-
20 N21 7 130 15 +
Aššur investor 615*
The only text of this archive mentioned by Pedersén (Ass. 8876 = VAT 20366) has meanwhile been published
as no. 59 in Faist 2010 and is dated in the post-canonical eponymy of Nabû-šarru-uṣur (644*).

Fales 1973.
Parpola 1975: 108–109.

Simo Parpola

Table 4. Families listed in the Harran census

Text Line Father Brother Son Grandson Wife Daughter Mother Sister Total
No. 1 I 1-3 1 1 2
4-7 1 2 2 5
12-15 1 1 1 1 2 6
16-17 1 1 2
25-29 1 2 1 2 6
30-31 1 1 1 3
32-34 1 1 2
41-44 1 1 1 3
45-47 1 1 2 4
II 1-4 1 1 1 1 4
8-12 1 1 1 1 4
16-23 1 2 1 3 1 8
27-29 1 1 1 1 4
33-35 1 1 1 1 4
38-42 1 2 3
No. 2 I 1-4 1 1 1 3
10-13 1 1 1 3
15-17 1 1 1 1 1 5
20-21 1 1 [1] 3
II 3-4 1 1 2 4
5-9 1 3 1 1 6
16-19 1 1 1 1 4
III 9-11 1 1 2 4
15-19 1 1 1 2 1 6
r. III 2-5 1 1 1 3
Total 25 2 26 2 26 17 2 1 101
Average family size: 101/25 = 4.04

(cornland in homers, vineyards in shoots of vine, etc.), the typical family consisted of father, mother and
animals (sheep and oxen) by number, and people by two children. The average family size in the sample
families. Of each family, the following data are given: analysed, with all the variations in the composition
1. father (name and profession), 2. sons or brothers, of the families, is 4.04 persons. As this figure comes
counted or sometimes named, with indication of age; from a rural environment, a somewhat higher average
3. wives and daughters, merely counted, the latter with (5.0) may have to be postulated for urban families to
indication of age.16 accommodate for servants/slaves living in the family
The information relating to families provided in the
two best preserved tablets of the Harran census is The population density of the ‘inner city’
summarised in Table 4 (No. 1 = SAA 11 201, No. 2 = SAA
11 202): If 4 or 5 persons per 40 m2 (the average living space of
a family house/apartment) is accepted as a standard
Although there is some variation in the composition ratio, the population density of the sample area can
of the families (two of the farmers listed in the ‘father’ be established by calculating the total number of
column are actually bachelors living with their inhabitants in the built-up parts of area by this ratio and
mothers; one has two married sons and a grandchild; applying it to the total excavated area, of which about
two have brothers and one a sister living with them),
the overall picture is clear: monogamy was a rule and
55 (= 18%) of the 307 largely post-canonical legal texts published in

Donbaz and Parpola 2001 concern purchases of slaves. Note that even
the small (30 m2) house/apartment contained in its archive (N 16) a
Fales and Postgate 1995: xxxi. document recording the purchase of a female slave.

The population of Nineveh

31% was taken up by streets, alleys, walls, squares and probably exceeded 20,000.20 The lower 505 persons per
vacant spaces. The surface area of the houses being 2351 hectare population density would yield 262,600 for the
m2, the 4 persons/40 m2 ratio would give 235 persons as population of the lower city, and (with the citadels)
the total number of inhabitants in the excavated area some 280,000 for the whole city. With the population
(4650 m2), which corresponds to a population density density of 1917 Baghdad (538 persons per hectare), the
of 505 persons per hectare. If the higher 5 persons/40 result would be 279,760, which added to the population
m2 ratio is applied, the number of inhabitants would be of the citadels would give 300,000 as the total number
294 and the population density, 632 persons/hectare. of the inhabitants. Taking the area of the walled city as
These figures may be compared with the population 750 hectares,21 the population of the lower city would
density estimates for Baghdad, Najaf, Hilla and Ba’quba become 353,500 even with the 505 persons per hectare
in 1917.18 population density.

Table 5. Population estimates by British Intelligence for four 300,000 inhabitants was of course an exceptionally
Iraqi cities in 1917 large population for an ancient city. But it would
certainly have been manageable for Nineveh, thanks
Size in Persons per
Locality Population to the elaborate water supply system created by
Hectares Hectare
Sennacherib,22 the extensive gardens and orchards
Baghdad 372 ‘about 200,000’ 538
outside the city,23 the network of agricultural villages
Najaf 62.3 ‘over 30,000’ 482
and manors surrounding it, and the excellent roads and
‘(1908) about waterways connecting the city with the outside world.24
Hilla 68.7 437
Ba‘quba 20.6 ‘4000-5000’ 218
It can be seen that the population densities decrease
with the sizes of the cities and are much higher in large Adams, R.McC. 1981. Heartland of Cities. Surveys of Ancient
cities. The figures are comparable with the Assyrian Settlement and Land Use on the Central Floodplain of the
ones, as most of the buildings in 1917 were still one- Euphrates. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
storey19 and cars were virtually non-existent. The size Andrae, W. 1977. Das wiedererstandene Assur. München:
of the ‘Inner City’ of Assur was about 50 hectares, so C.H. Beck (reprint of the first edition, Leipzig: J.C.
the population density of 505 persons per hectare (see Hinrichs, 1938).
above) would suit it well, suggesting a population of Curtis, J.E. and J.E. Reade (eds) 1995. Art and Empire:
some 25,000 for the ‘Inner City’. For Nineveh, which Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum. London:
was much larger (559 hectares) than 1917 Baghdad, the British Museum Press.
632 persons per hectare population density seems more Donbaz, V. and S. Parpola (eds) 2001. Neo-Assyrian Legal
appropriate. It has to be taken into consideration that Texts in Istanbul (Studien zu den Assur-Texten 2).
it was the capital of a vast multinational empire, which Saarbrücken: Saarbrücker Druckerei und Verlag.
attracted immense wealth from its subjects, vassals Faist, B.I. 2010. Neuassyrische Rechtsurkunden IV
and allies in the form of taxes, tribute, audience gifts, (Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Deutschen
booty and international trade, and offered unparalleled Orient-Gesellschaft 132). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
opportunities for jobless workers, barkeepers, criminals, Fales, F.M. 1973. Censimenti e catasti di epoca neo-assira
prostitutes, beggars etc. Capital cities have throughout (Centro per le Antichità e la Storia dell’Arte del
history tended to attract more population than they Vicino Oriente, Studi economici e tecnologici 2).
actually needed, developing slums. It is unlikely that Roma: Istituto per l’Oriente.
Nineveh constituted an exception, even though no Fales, F.M. and J.N. Postgate (eds) 1995. Imperial
material remains of its slums have been preserved. Administrative Records, Part II: Provincial and Military
Administration (State Archives of Assyria 11).
Conclusion Helsinki: Helsinki University Press.
Grayson, A.K. and J. Novotny 2012. The Royal Inscriptions
Applying the population density of 632 persons/hectare of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704-681 bc), Part 1
(5 persons/40 m2) to Nineveh renders a population of (Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period 3/1).
328,640 for the lower city (520 hectares). This is totally Winona Lake (IN): Eisenbrauns.
credible in view of the above, and to it must still be added Jones, F. 1855. Topography of Nineveh. Journal of the
the population of the two citadels (42 hectares), which Royal Asiatic Society 15: 297–397.

Cited in Adams 1981: 350. 20 
See Kinnier Wilson 1972: 116–18.
Note that quite a few Neo-Assyrian private houses had an upper 21 
Reade 2000: 395.
storey providing additional living space for the inhabitants. The term 22 
Reade 2000:404–97.
bētu eliu, ‘upper storey’ (written É NIM or É AN.TA) is attested in eight 23 
Grayson and Novotny 2012: 39, etc.
7th century house-sales from Assur and Nineveh. 24 
Ur and Reade 2015.

Simo Parpola

Kinnier Wilson, J.V. 1972. The Nimrud Wine Lists. A study Reade, J. 1972. The Neo-Assyrian court and army:
of men and administration at the Assyrian capital in evidence from the sculptures. Iraq 34: 87–112.
the eighth century, B.C. London: British School of London.
Archaeology in Iraq. Reade, J. 1983. Assyrian Sculpture. London: British
Parpola, S. 1975. A note on the Neo-Assyrian census Museum Publications.
lists. Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 64: 96–115. Reade, J. 2000. Ninive (Nineveh), in D.O. Edzard (ed.)
Pedersén, O. 1986. Archives and Libraries in the City Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen
of Assur. A Survey of the Material from the German Archäologie 9: 338–433. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
Excavations (Part II. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Sasson, J.M. 1990. Jonah: A New Translation with
Studia Semitica Upsaliensia 8). Uppsala: Almqvist Introduction, Commentary, and Interpretation. The
and Wiksell. Anchor Bible 24B. New York: Doubleday.
Preusser, C. 1954. Die Wohnhäuser in Assur Strommenger, E. 1964. The Art of Mesopotamia. London:
(Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Deutschen Thames and Hudson.
Orient-Gesellschaft 64). Berlin: Gebr. Mann. Ur, J. and J. Reade 2015. The hydraulic landscape of
Nimrud. Mesopotamia 50: 25–51.

Annihilating Assyria

St John Simpson1


The destruction of Assyria was violent and the excavated sculptures and objects bear testimony to this. They also illustrate that
there were different patterns of destruction, with systematic defacement of royal imagery and symbols of power at key points
in the visual narrative on the reliefs. Stelae were destroyed in an equally systematic manner and even miniature depictions
of royal authority were targeted. Throne-rooms and sanctuaries were epicentres of violence and burning, and these final acts
of ultraviolence extended to particular sequences of reliefs. There is also evidence for massacre and wholesale stripping of
valuables. A greater understanding of the process of destruction helps explain what was found and why, how what was left
was meant to be left and how targeted excavations might throw important light in the future on this exact moment in the
annihilation of Assyria.

Keywords: Assyria; iconoclastic defacement; asset-stripping; caching; destruction; abandonment

Introduction1 scarcely been addressed.3 The same applies to other

categories of object. Stelae and reliefs are celebrated
Too often in life we forget that what we find is what as works of art, but rarely has it been explicitly noted,
others chose to leave. Items of intrinsic value are as Julian did in his catalogue of Assyrian stone vessels,
exceptional finds, normally only found where they had that almost all are heavily fragmented, parts missing
been stashed in hoards or offered as grave-goods as or selectively defaced, and a high proportion sooted
recycling ensured that most were melted down. Pottery or calcined. In other words, condition is testimony to
may be important for dating and understanding violent actions and deliberate destruction, and proof
methods of food preparation, storage and serving but that these phenomena result from episodes of sacking
the vessels were utilitarian, generally short-lived and rather than casual breakage or loss. We should therefore
of low value. Most of the surviving metalwork from the take the approach of crime scene investigators, and
ancient Near East is copper-based but these items were reconstruct the sequence of events which caused the
low in the hierarchy of metal value, and Late Assyrian damage and created the evidence before us, keeping in
annals make it clear that silver, gold and tin were the mind what we are missing, and try to explain what we
three most desirable metals and that is illustrated by see.
their relative proportions in the unrobbed queens’
tombs at Nimrud.2 Ultraviolence

In the case of Assyria, we have become dazzled by ‘Travelling all night I approached the city Pitura, the
the spectacular reliefs while occasionally shocked at fortified city of the Dirru. The city was exceptionally
the scenes they depict in such graphic detail. There difficult; it was surrounded by two walls; its citadel
is an understandable tendency to describe the visual was lofty like a mountain peak. With the exalted
narrative on the reliefs or reconstruct their original strength of Aššur, my lord, with my massive troops,
relative positions in order to understand their context and with my fierce battle I fought with them. On
and meaning, and the accompanying inscriptions have the second day, before sunrise, I thundered against
been translated in order to reconstruct the passage them like the god Adad-of-the-Devastation (and)
of Assyrian history. However, little attention has been rained down flames upon them. With might and
paid to their physical condition, why some are almost main my combat troops flew against them like the
pristine, others heavily burnt, and many heavily Storm Bird. I conquered the city. I felled 800 of their
fragmented. In select cases it has been remarked in the combat troops with the sword (and) cut off their
literature that features have been mutilated but the full heads. I captured many soldiers alive. The rest of
implications of these acts have not been fully explored, them I burnt. I carried off valuable tribute from
details overlooked and the full extent of these acts has them. I built a pile of live (men and) of heads before
his gate. I impaled on stakes 700 soldiers before their

Department of the Middle East, The British Museum.
Mahmoud Hussein 2016. 3 
Nylander 1980a; 1980b; Bahrani 2008; Porter 2009.

In Context: The Reade Festschrift (Archaeopress 2020): 141–164

St John Simpson

gate. I razed, destroyed, (and) turned into ruin hills ruins were strewn with stones, a memorial shrine built
the city. I burnt their adolescent boys (and) girls’.4 in commemoration of the destruction of the city and
dedicated with ‘bronze lightning bolts inscribed on
This passage from Ashurnasirpal II’s Annals refers to them [with a description] of the conquest of the lands
a campaign in the upper Tigris region in 879 BC. The with which the god Aššur, my lord, I conquered (and
ultraviolence meted out on the captured soldiers was a warning) not to occupy that city and not to rebuild
typical, as was the message left to those who would its wall’.26 Finally, curses recorded on oath treaties
later pass by: Assyria was to be feared and resistance of Esarhaddon invoked the power of the god Adad
was futile. This is underlined throughout his and other to deprive transgressors of irrigation water, bring
royal accounts of military campaigns as there are devastating floods, locusts and famine, and ‘instead
references to slashing eunuchs,5 blinding,6 cutting out of grain may your sons and your daughters grind your
the tongues,7 cutting arms off captive soldiers,8 flaying bones’.27
leaders and nobility alive and stretching their skins
over piles of bodies,9 draping them ‘over the (city) wall’10 These were not the empty threats or deeds of isolated
or having them ‘spread out in the wall of his palace’.11 psychopaths: they were state policy. Reliefs from the
Soldiers and civilians alike were impaled alive on stakes, palaces of Tiglath-Pileser III and Sennacherib show
sometimes set up through or around piled bodies at date palms being felled on campaigns in Babylonia, and
various points around or inside the city.12 Soldiers bronze gate bands of Shalmaneser III from Balawat show
and adolescents of both genders were slaughtered orchards being felled on an Urartian campaign.28 Soon
and their bodies burnt.13 Corpses were piled high on after seizing the area in 2014, Daesh performed the same
the battlefields,14 royalty beheaded,15 as were soldiers, ‘scorched earth’ policy around Tel ‘Afar, even pouring
and their heads piled like ‘a tower before their city’16, oil onto the roots, and one local resident complained
‘stacked ... like grain piles around their cities’,17 piled afterwards that ‘they knew this area well and they also
with impaled bodies,18 or hung from trees.19 Valuable knew that the people of this area love olives, so they
orchards were felled,20 large numbers of townsfolk knew exactly what they were doing by destroying our
massacred,21 their blood dyeing ‘their houses red’, ‘the trees. And they also knew the consequences of doing
mountain red like red wool’ or ‘the countryside red with this but they wanted to ruin our future as well as our
the blood of his warriors’,22 and corpses denied of burial present’.29
by being tossed into ravines, streams and rivers and
thus contaminate the water supplies.23 Large numbers There are also scenes of vertical impalement on the
of other soldiers and townsfolk were carried away ‘like Balawat gate bands (Figure 1), repeated with a vignette
a flock of sheep’,24 leaving cities razed, destroyed, burnt of flaying of captives pegged to the ground outside the
and turned into ‘ruin hills’.25 In one extreme case, the walls in the immediate aftermath of the capture of
Lachish in 701 BC by Sennacherib.30 A significant detail
noted by Ussishkin is that the three individuals shown
Grayson 1991: 210 (A.0.101.1).
Grayson 1991: 199 (A.0.101.1). impaled on the Lachish relief were hung opposite the
Grayson 1991: 88 (A.0.89.1), 220 (A.0.101.1), 266 (A.0.101.21). gate at the corner where the Assyrian army broke
Grayson 1991: 66 (A.0.101.21). through and, by correlating the present topography,
Grayson 1991: 211 (A.0.101.1), 251 (A.0.101.17).
Grayson 1991: 88 (A.0.89.1), 92 (A.0.89.2), 199 (A.0.101.1). excavated finds and perspective, he argues that they
Grayson 1991: 134 (A.0.98.1), 198–99, 201 (A.0.101.1). were erected ‘at the bottom of the roadway below
Grayson 1991: 207 (A.0.101.1), 247 (A.0.101.17), 261 (A.0.101.19). the siege ramp, in the topographical saddle between
Grayson 1991: 88 (A.0.89.1), 92 (A.0.89.2), 199, 210, 214, 218, 220
(A.0.101.1), 250 (A.0.101.17), 260 (A.0.101.19), 266 (A.0.101.21). the southwest corner of the city wall and the hill to
Grayson 1991: 201, 203–204, 206, 208, 210, 216 (A.0.101.1), 242, 245– its southwest. This particular site of execution was
46, 250 (A.0.101.17), 260 (A.0.101.19). deliberately chosen so that all captives and deportees
Grayson 1991: 14–15, 17–21 (A.0.87.1).
Grayson 1991: 92 (A.0.89.2). leaving the city would be forced to witness the terrible
Grayson 1991: 197–98, 203, 220 (A.0.101.1). punishment inflicted on the three prisoners as they
Grayson 1991: 14, 24 (A.0.87.1), 242 (A.0.101.17). passed along the road nearby’.31 Furthermore, as one
Grayson 1991: 250 (A.0.101.17).
Grayson 1991: 204, 207 (A.0.101.1), 245, 247 (A.0.101.17). individual is shown in a helmet he may represent a high-
Grayson 1991: 220 (A.0.101.1). ranking Judaean commander: the effect of the narrative
Grayson 1991: 23 (A.0.87.1), 177 (A.0.100.5), 196–98, 204–207, 210, is that rebellion is crushed with overwhelming force
214–16, 218 (A.0.101.1), 242 (A.0.101.17).
Grayson 1991: 20 (A.0.8, 7.1), 149 (A.0.99.2), 197, 203, 206, 211
(A.0.101.1), 241, 243, 246, 251 (A.0.101.17). (A.0.101.22).
Grayson 1991: 15 (A.0.87.1), 204, 211, 215 (A.0.101.1), 241, 243 26 
Grayson 1991: 24 (A.0.87.1).
(A.0.101.17). 27 
Parpola and Watanabe 1988: 46.
Grayson 1991: 14 (A.0.87.1), 43 (A.0.87.4), 58 (A.0.87.12), 59–60 28 
Cole 1997: one of the scenes of Tiglath-pileser III reflects a logging
(A.0.87.13), 89 (A.0.89.1), 92 (A.0.89.2), 197–98, 201, 203–206, 209–10, expedition rather than military reprisal.
214–16, 219–20 (A.0.101.1), 241–44 (A.0.101.17). 29 
Westcott 2018.
Grayson 1991: 14–21, 23–25 (A.0.87.1), 134 (A.0.98.1), 136 (A.0.98.2), 30 
Barnett, Bleibtreu and Turner et al. 1998: vol. I, 102, vol. II, pl. 334,
152 (A.0.99.2), 177 (A.0.100.5), 197–98, 201, 204–10, 214–16, 218–20 cat. 430b.
(A.0.101.1), 242, 244–47, 249–51 (A.0.101.17), 259–61 (A.0.101.19), 267 31 
Ussishkin 2003: 210, 212 (plan).

Annihilating Assyria

Figure 1. Scene of impalement on Band X (J) of the gate of Shalmaneser III from Balawat (British Museum, Rm. 1036 / 124656)

and that the chief protagonists are visibly punished capturing it that August. The Chronicle continues
at the very point where the victory is effected.32 In the by stating that ‘they carried off the vast booty of the
same way, following the victory at Til-Tuba in 653 BC, city and the temple (and) [turned] the city into a ruin
Ashurbanipal’s soldiers are shown beheading Teumann heap’.34
and his son (Figure 4), forcing Teumann’s former allies
to wear their heads around their necks and expectorate There is no equivalent Median account, but there is
in their faces, split and cut the tongues of Gambulian good archaeological evidence. There are relatively
prisoners, flay others alive, and as they threaten rebels few human remains left from the sacking of Assyria
with maces as they are held in neck restraints while but those which have been found testify to horrific
they use hand querns to crush their fathers’ bones.33 scenes. Numerous arrowheads and human remains are
reported from the Iraqi excavation of the Adad gate
Fortunes were to be reversed, and the Assyrians were (Figure 2).35 Inside the still only partially excavated
no different to their adversaries. The Babylonian mouth of the Enlil gate (previously identified in error as
Chronicle refers to Nabopolassar’s Babylonian army the Halzi gate), the piled remains of over a dozen men
besieging Ashur in 615 BC, the Medes capturing Tarbisu and a 13-year old boy were found, one spread-eagled
and then plundering and sacking Ashur the following and face-down, the others lying in different ‘outflung
year, with Nabopolassar and Cyaxares meeting there, or contorted’ positions and orientation, with a dozen
where ‘together they made an entente cordiale’. In the arrowheads of different types, scattered weapons and
summer of 613 BC the Babylonians campaigned along traces of burning.36 The excavator saw these remains
the Assyrian frontier on the middle Euphrates and took as testimony to a desperate attempt to ‘either hold
the fortresses of Rahilu and Anat. The following year or take the gate’ but perhaps instead it was part of a
they joined the Median army, ‘marched along the bank symbolic final execution in the constraints of the
of the Tigris’, ‘encamped at Nineveh’ and ‘for three narrowed entrance as none were wearing armour; the
months subjected the city to a heavy siege’ before available photographs indicate the bodies piled on top
of one another, and the scene recalls unmistakeably
Ussishkin 2003: 213–14; Radner (2015) argues that ‘we must not see Ashurnasirpal II’s own description of the piling and
impalement (and, used in that passage and elsewhere in tandem, burning of soldiers and adolescents.37
flaying) as an excessively brutal punishment used against a
dehumanised enemy’ but that impalement was restricted as a form of
high-visibility punishment for a small number of individuals rather 34 
Grayson 1975: 94; cf. Gadd 1923: 40.
than mass punishment, that it was an extension of existing legal 35 
Sulaiman 1971: 81–82.
practice for individuals caught in contempt of rebellion against the 36 
Pickworth 1995; Stronach 1997: 317–19, pls IIIa–IIIb. This gate
state, and that the number given in an inscription of Ashurnasirpal nomenclature follows that now established by Reade (2018: 21).
II at Nimrud where he states that ‘I impaled on stakes 700 troops 37 
In addition to the published oblique views, there are several taken
opposite of their city gate’ is a clerical error. The ripping out of hearts by expedition member Stevan Beverly, dated 7th May 1990
and tongues is mentioned in other texts describing punishments and posted online on Flickr: https://uk.images.search.yahoo.
(e.g., Fales and Postgate 1995: 88 = K 8709; Kataja and Whiting eds com/yhs/search;_ylt=AwrJO1h2Pb9dzLsAExN3Bwx.;_ylu
1995: 92 = Rm. 863). =X3oDMTByZmVxM3N0BGNvbG8DaXIyBHBvcwMxBHZ
See also Brereton, this volume. 0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw--?p=halzi+gate+skeletons&fr=yhs-

St John Simpson

have been used to supply water to the occupying force,

and the unburnt character of the North-West Palace
suggests that this may even have been their temporary
(and highly symbolic) headquarters until the very end.
This phase was then followed by preparation for torching
of the palace throne-rooms and temple sanctuaries as
those were the foci of heaviest burning. It was probably
at that moment, following this ultimate humiliation, that
these palace officials were consigned to death in a single
horrifying act and dropped alive into the well before the
well-head was collapsed on top of them. This was not the
only well on the citadel, and there must have been others
on the citadels of Assur, Khorsabad and Nineveh. If the
ultraviolence was as systematic as all the other evidence
implies, then similar sets of human remains will be found
in other wells, illustrating one of the ways described in
the Babylonian Chronicle whereby Nabopolassar ‘did not
leave a single man alive’.40

The cancellation of the symbols of power

What was done to the people was extended to all

symbols of Assyrian royal and religious power, executed
in different ways but with the same purpose, and the
systematic nature of the operations prove that they
were part of a calculated programme, rather than the
Figure 2. Human remains encountered during excavations of work of rampaging mobs. Some of these are obvious
the Adad gate of Nineveh by the University of Mosul (after and well-known. The faces of Ashurbanipal, his queen
Sulaiman 1971) and the nearest attendants celebrating his Elamite
campaign have been pounded away, presumably
with maces, the raised forearm of Ashurbanipal was
At Nimrud the Iraqi excavators succeeded in fully amputated, his drinking bowl smashed and two rows of
excavating Well 4 in Court 80 of the North-West Palace, neat impact marks above possibly intended to negate
where Mallowan had previously given up because of even the sight and smell of the wine (Figure 3). The
the elevated water-table, and they found more than 125 face of Sennacherib overseeing the capitulation and