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Work King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) attended by his shield-bearer

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

King Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) followed by his armour-bearer

© 1995 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Near Eastern Antiquities

Kalensky Patricia

This fragment of relief showing the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (883-59 BC) and his shield-bearer was part of the decoration of the facade of the palace of Nimrud in Assyria. These two figures stood at the heart of a composition typical of Neo-Assyrian art, in which processions of dignitaries converge on the central motif, the king.

A novelty in Mesopotamian architecture

This relief from the palace of Nimrud in Assyria is an orthostat, a stone slab which covered the lower part of a wall of unbaked brick. Though the use of such slabs is known from 2nd-millennium BC Northern Syria and neo-Hittite Turkey (early 1st millennium BC), it was in the reign of Ashurnasirpal II in the 9th century BC that this type of architectural decoration was adopted in Assyria. The orthostats protected the base of the wall, thus aiding the preservation of the monuments. They also served as a support for figurative decoration exalting the person of the king, and bore inscriptions which contributed to the propaganda function characteristic of neo-Assyrian art.

The king and his shield-bearer

This orthostat was part of the decoration of the facade of the throne room of the northwest palace built by Ashurnasirpal II in his new city of Kalhu. The reconstitution, made possible by recent work on the palace, shows the king, protected by a human-headed bull, receiving a delegation of tribute-bearers who bring him monkeys and weighty jewelry.
The king welcomes the procession scepter in hand, resting on his bow. On his head he wears the Assyrian royal tiara as it appeared in his reign, in the form of a truncated cone surmounted by a small cone, with hanging ribbons. He is bearded, and adorned with jewelry. Apart from his bow and a sword tucked into his belt, he has small daggers in the fold of the fringed shawl worn over the tunic.
He is followed by a beardless figure carrying a bow, who fans him with a fly-whisk. This shield-bearer, who is always shown attending the king in such scenes of tribute, may have been a eunuch. The term used to designate eunuchs meant "those of the head" as opposed to "those of the beard," and it is known that a number of them occupied important posts in the Assyrian state, mainly in the military.

The elegant style of the 9th century BC

The reign of Ashurnasirpal II saw the establishment of the norms that would govern the decoration of Neo-Assyrian palaces. Fabulous animals were employed as door-guardians and slabs of gypseous alabaster used for relief decoration, with scenes set in one single plane, the figures depicted in profile against a neutral background, in symmetrical compositions. Hence the long processions of figures such as that from which this fragment is taken, with the king in the central position. The decoration is planned to give the king the supreme place that he held in society, as the intermediary between the gods and men. His image was meant to inspire fear and respect in visitors.
The reliefs of this period are linear and elegant in style, characterized by very shallow relief (hardly 2 cm in depth), the details of costume, hair, and musculature being incised.
The inscription cuts right across the scene, including the figures, as is usual in all the Nimrud reliefs. It is a so-called standard text that rehearses the sovereign's titles and conquests.


Caubet Annie, L'Art assyrien, in Le Monde de la Bible, n 84, sept/oct 1993, p. 20 ; fig.17.
Borne interactive du département des Antiquités orientales, 1993.
Meuszynski Janusz, Die Rekonstruktion der Reliefdarstellungen und ihrer Anordnung im Nordwestpalast von Kalhu (Nimrud), Ph. von Zabern, 1981 (Baghdader Forschungen ; band 2).
Paley Samuel Mickaël, Sobolewski Richard P., The Reconstruction of the relief Representations and their positions in the Nothwest-palace at Kalhu (Nimrud) II, Ph. von Zabern, 1987 (Baghdader Forschungen ; band 10).

Technical description

  • King Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) followed by his armour-bearer

    C. 865 BC

    Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, Nimrud

  • Alabaster (gypsum)

    H. 1.74 m; W. 2.16 m

  • Gift of the British authorities, 1855 , 1855

    AO 19851

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia and northern Syria. Assyria: Til Barsip, Arslan Tash, Nimrud, Nineveh
    Room 230

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