Trustees of the British Museum
published on 26 April 2012
Neo-Assyrian, 883-859 BC
From Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq
A rare example of an Assyrian statue in the round
This statue of King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) was placed in the Temple of Ishtar Sharrat-niphi. It was designed to remind the goddess Ishtar of the king's piety. It is made of magnesite, and stands on a pedestal of a reddish stone. These unusual stones were probably brought back from a foreign campaign. Kings often boasted of the exotic things they acquired from abroad, not only raw materials and finished goods but also plants and animals.
The king's hair and beard are shown worn long in the fashion of the Assyrian court at this time. It has been suggested that the Assyrians used false hair and beards, as the Egyptians sometimes did, but there is no evidence for this.
Ashurnasirpal holds a sickle in his right hand, of a kind which gods are sometimes depicted using to fight monsters. The mace in his left hand shows his authority as vice-regent of the supreme god Ashur. The carved cuneiform inscription across his chest proclaims the king's titles and genealogy, and mentions his expedition westward to the Mediterranean Sea.
The statue was found in the nineteenth century by Henry Layard, the excavator of the temple.
J.E. Reade, Assyrian sculpture-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)
A.K. Grayson, Assyrian royal inscriptions-1 (Wiesbaden, O. Harrassowitz, 1976)
J.E. Curtis and J.E. Reade (eds), Art and empire: treasures from (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
A.H. Layard, Discoveries in the ruins of Ni (London, J. Murray, 1853)
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