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Work Stele representing the goddess Ishtar

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Stele representing the goddess Ishtar of Irbil

© R.M.N./F. Raux - S. Hubert

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Kalensky Patricia

This stele representing the goddess Ishtar is a fine example of provincial art in the Assyrian empire at the height of its power and its greatest expansion. The goddess is often represented in Near Eastern art. Here, rather unusually for such a monumental work, she is depicted as a warrior goddess.

A stele from a city conquered by the Assyrians

This stele representing the goddess Ishtar was discovered in 1929 during an excavation organized by the Louvre's archeological mission and led by François Thureau-Dangin in Tell Ahmar. The dig, on the left bank of the Euphrates, some twenty kilometers south of the Turkish border, uncovered the ruins of the ancient city of Til Barsip, capital of Bit-Adini, an Aramaean kingdom of northern Syria. Bit-Adini was conquered by the Assyrians under Shalmeneser III in 855 BC and was thereafter known as "The Fortress of Shalmeneser". This stele probably dates from after the conquest and was most likely carved some time in the eighth century BC.

Ishtar, the warrior goddess worshipped by the Assyrians

Ishtar was the goddess of love and war. She is depicted on the stele as a virile, war-loving figure, which is more commonly found on cylindrical seals. The goddess is shown standing on the back of a lion - the animal form she usually takes. She is holding the lion's leash in her left hand. She has a halo and wears a long sword at her waist and two quivers of arrows slung crosswise across her back. She also wears a horned headdress, a typical attribute of the gods in Near Eastern iconography. Here, the headdress is cylindrical and topped with a rayed disk in reference to the fact that Ishtar also represents the planet Venus. Her costume is asymmetrical, consisting of a short tunic and a fringed shawl worn across the body, leaving one leg free. It is typically masculine garb, like that worn by genies or heroic lion tamers on the reliefs that decorated Assyrian palaces. The inscription carved in the background of the relief informs us that this warrior incarnation of Ishtar was the one worshipped by the kings of Assyria in the Arbeles shrine.

Bibliography

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Technical description

  • Stele representing the goddess Ishtar of Irbil

    8th century BC

    Til Barsip, renamed Kar Salmanasar in the Assyrian period (present-day Tell Ahmar)

  • Breccia

  • F. Thureau-Dangin, M. Dunand excavations, 1929-31

    AO 11503

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

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

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