When you enter Room 7 of the British Museum, after passing through two colossal lamassus, you are taken through time to the North-West Palace of the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE). This is the imperial palace of the King in Nimrud (ancient Kalhu or Biblical Calah; Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq), the capital city at the heart of the Assyrian Empire. Room 7 is a long hall “decorated” with alabaster-bas wall reliefs from that palace. After being neglected for more than 2500 years, British archaeologist Sir Henry Layard and his workmen unearthed the remains of the North-West Palace in 1845. Layard shipped many reliefs on the Apprentice and these large and heavy slabs reached the British Museum in January 1849. I will publish a series of articles about these reliefs, addressing their finer details, which are not easily recognised.
Whoever was privileged to gain access to the North Palace of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, could consider himself part of something timeless. Thanks to the great work of Hormuzd Rassam (1826-1910), who unveiled a large number of alabaster bas-reliefs, which once decorated the walls of that king’s Palace (built around 645 BCE); the Assyrian lion-hunting scenes!
These extraordinary carvings, so dynamic and full of movements, are so realistic and so accomplished and are some of the most remarkable ancient artifacts ever found. They were discovered by Rassam in the year 1853 and have been housed in the British Museum since 1856. Rassam stated in his autobiography that “one division of the workmen, after 3-4 hours of hard labor, were rewarded by the grand discovery of a beautiful bas-relief in a perfect state of preservation”. Rassam ordered his men to dig a large hole in the mound; after more than 2,000 years, the remains of a royal palace were found. The mud-bricks had disappeared, of course, completely but the reliefs themselves, which once decorated them, have fortunately survived.
This post is part of a series of image posts Ancient History et cetera will be putting together each month. Today’s post concerns ancient warriors!
Ancient warfare was vastly different from how it is conducted today; the vanquished could be certain that slavery or execution awaited them. Initially, ancient armies were made up of infantry units who would engage enemy forces on the field with spears, shields, some form of body armour and a helmet. In time, armies developed to include shock troops, peltasts and include strategies like the formation known as the phalanx.
The hoplite is the Greek solider most are familiar with. His complete suit of armour was a long spear, short sword, and circular bronze shield; he was further protected, if he could afford it, by a bronze helmet, bronze breastplate, greaves for the legs and finally, ankle guards.
The Aztecs engaged in warfare (yaoyotl) to acquire territory, resources, quash rebellions, and to collect sacrificial victims to honour their gods. Warfare was a fundamental part of Aztec culture and all males were expected to participate. Eagle knights were a special class of infantry soldier in the Aztec army and one of the two leading military orders in their society.
The Assyrian war machine was one of the most efficient military forces in the ancient world. The secret to its success was a professionally trained standing army, use of iron weapons, advanced engineering skills and most importantly a complete ruthlessness, which proclaimed the power of ancient Assyria across the Near East.
The Roman army was usually commanded by a consul. Roman commanders generally preferred an aggressive and full-frontal attack, and they had many strategies to break enemy lines such as the tortoise, the wedge, skirmishing formation, repel cavalry and the orb.
Aztec Eagle Warrior
Last week ISIS released yet another propaganda video, showing what has been feared since the fall of Mosul last summer: the destruction of ancient artifacts of the Mosul Museum. By now most of the world has seen this video, which has been featured in all the world’s major news agencies. This post will attempt to identify what has been lost and assess the damage.
These ruins that are behind me, they are idols and statues that people in the past used to worship instead of Allah. The so-called Assyrians and Akkadians and others looked to gods for war, agriculture and rain to whom they offered sacrifices…The Prophet Mohammed took down idols with his bare hands when he went into Mecca. We were ordered by our prophet to take down idols and destroy them, and the companions of the prophet did this after this time, when they conquered countries.
The video then shows a montage of ISIS fighters toppling sculptures, smashing them with sledgehammers and using jackhammers to pulverize the faces of some statues.
Most of the destroyed artifacts fall into two categories: Sculptures from the Roman period city of Hatra, situated in the desert to the south of Mosul, and Assyrian artifacts from Nineveh and surrounding sites such as Khorsabad and Balawat.
On October 4, 1961, the Sulaymaniyah Museum received several artifacts, part of the so-called “Nimrud Ivories.” The package was sent from the Iraqi Museum at Baghdad and authorized personnel delivered it. The accompanying documents were written in the Arabic language and very briefly and superficially describe each and every item. I was able to get access to the archives of these ivories at the archives department of the Sulaymaniyah Museum; no details of their excavation history, travel journey, reparation work, or exhibition are available. All these details can be found at the Iraqi Museum, of course.