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Work King Ashurbanipal on his Chariot and Elamite Prisoners

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Le roi Assurbanipal sur son char et prisonniers élamites. Episodes de la campagne d'Elam

© 2003 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Kalensky Patricia

This fragment of the carved decoration of the palace of Nineveh is an illustrated account of the campaign of King Ashurbanipal against Elam, which ended with the capture and sacking of Susa. The king, on his triumphal chariot, presides over the deportation of the conquered Elamites. The realistic style and detail are characteristic of Assyrian narrative art of which the artists of the 7th century BC have left us some magnificent examples.

Nineveh, the capital of the great Assyrian king Ashurbanipal

The reign of Ashurbanipal (669-627 BC) was the longest in the Neo-Assyrian period and was the high point of this empire, which extended over much of Western Asia. This overweening imperialism nonetheless reached its limits towards the end of his reign, when the decline began. The empire came to an end in 612 BC.
It is the powerful Ashurbanipal who is depicted on this fragment from the decoration of a room in the palace at Nineveh. He is larger than his subjects who surround him; he stands in his royal chariot, a ceremonial vehicle topped with a parasol. The king holds a flower bud as part of the ritual of Assyrian court ceremonies and is wearing the truncated conical Assyrian tiara attested since the reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC). The chariot is followed by beardless dignitaries in ceremonial robes: they are probably eunuchs from the king's entourage who were part of his personal guard or his equerries.

The Elam campaign

The reign of Ashurbanipal was a period of conquest. Victories over Egypt are related in his annals and after a period of good relations with the neighboring country of Elam, he mounted a military campaign against his enemy until he finally captured and sacked Susa in 646 BC. The British Museum's famous Assyrian relief, known as the "Garden Party relief," depicts an episode in which Ashurbanipal and his wife celebrate victory while the head of the Elamite king swings from a branch.
Conquered peoples were systematically deported. In this relief we see a parade of Elamite deportees supervised by the Assyrian army. Men carrying bundles are being pushed along by soldiers. Two people are pulling a loaded cart, on which two smaller-scale veiled women are sitting. A naked child is walking between two men. Women and children seldom figure in Assyrian art. Their presence is intended to demonstrate that the entire population has been deported and to illustrate the weakness of the conquered peoples, but it gives the scene particular pathos.

A miniaturist style for a monumental frieze

Nineveh was the site of the last period in Assyrian monumental art. Narrative art, pioneered by Sargon II in his capital Khorsabad (ao19886; ao19888-19891), reached its apogee in Nineveh. Stone orthostats became the favored medium for illustrating the royal epic. Thus the siege of Lagash or the Elam campaign are depicted in scenes often conventionally arranged in registers, in which the details of the landscape and the characters are rendered in great detail.
Here, the artists have used the upper register to depict the massive deportation of the conquered people, who are marching in tightly packed lines, giving the impression of a crowd. The desire to tell the story and present accurate detail led them to show a child in the second register, probably holding his father's hand.
A certain sensitivity emanates from these lines of deportees whose sufferings are rendered by the quality of the carving and the mass of details, even if their faces betray no feelings.

Bibliography

Matthiae Paolo, Ninive, Electa, 1998, p. 89 et 188.
Charpin Dominique, Grandeur et décadence, in Le Monde de la Bible, n 84, sept-oct 1993, p. 6.
Caubet Annie, L'Art assyrien, in Le Monde de la Bible, n 84, sept-oct 1993, p. 24.
Borne interactive du département des Antiquités orientales, 1993.
Barnett Richard David, Assyrian Palace Reliefs, The British Museum, 1970.
Barnett Richard David, Bleibtreu, E., Turner, G., Sculptures from the Southwest Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh, The British Museum, 1998.

Technical description

  • Le roi Assurbanipal sur son char et prisonniers élamites. Episodes de la campagne d'Elam

    Vers 645 avant J.-C.

    Ninive, palais d'Assurbanipal, salle V1/T1

  • Albâtre gypseux

    H. : 1,63 m. ; L. : 0,77 m.

  • Don des autorités britanniques, 1855 , 1855

    Episodes from the Elam Campaign

    AO 19904

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia and northern Syria. Assyria: Til Barsip, Arslan Tash, Nimrud, Nineveh
    Room 6

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