Social Or Political Relations In Material Culture

Submitted By sofiagferreira
Words: 1937
Pages: 8

The question chosen for the elaboration of the following essay was the first one: describing how social or political relations are expressed in material culture, using as a case study a wonderful thing by my choice. I have inspired myself in a piece found when browsing the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The object is a particular Assyrian Relief that covers one of the walls of the Throne Room of the King Ashurnasirpal II’s Northwest Palace at Nimrud, northern Iraq.
The relief being brought up in study is one of the many carved along the walls of the Nimrud Palace. It is a symbolic scene located in the throne room, originally positioned behind the king’s throne. This wall relief, along with so many others, was made in the Neo-Assyrian Period - 9th Century B.C.E. - during the reign of Ashurnasirpal II (from 883 to 859 BC), the third king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (“The palace of Ashurnasirpal at Nimrud was the best preserved of all those discovered in the nineteenth century. The slabs along its walls had never been burnt, and most stood or survived to their full original height.” Reade, 1965). Son of Tukulti-Ninurta II, he is known for the consolidation of his father's conquests, leading to the establishment of the New Assyrian Empire. The wall panel in lime stone is carved with the bearded figure of Ashurnasirpal II, appearing twice and shown from two sides, dressed in ritual robes and holding a mace, symbol of his authority. In the middle there is a Sacred Tree, possibly symbolizing life. There is a summary of the king's conquests in cuneiform script below, which are called the “Standard Inscriptions”, repeated on multiple slabs in the royal palace. It contains the details of his reign, always beginning with the phrase “Palace of Ashurnasirpal…”, and it is present several times throughout the splendid reliefs in the ruins of the palace. Ashurnasirpal II was indeed a brilliant general and administrator, although he might be best known for his brutal frankness and rawness with which he report the ruthless atrocities committed on his prisoners. Wall reliefs portraying his military successes and many victims are on display in museums around the world.
When establishing his realm, the king moved the capital from Ashur to Kalhu (or Nimrud, in the modern-day Iraq), as Cifarelli (1998) explains, that was a particularly grandiose gesture on the part of the Assyrian king; he removed the primary center of the Assyrian government from the city of Ashur (where it had rested since Assyria’s inception a thousand years earlier as a political and cultural entity), to found a new capital further north on the Tigris River at the ancient city of Kalhu. He chose Kalhu to initiate his project, building a completely new city. The most impressive building was Ashurnasirpal new royal palace, the Northwest Palace. It was fully decorated with reliefs lining on the walls of its corridors. To celebrate the recently finished palace, Ashurnasirpal threw a festival that lasted ten days, inviting the surrounding population and dignitaries from other lands. When the celebration was done he invited the dignitaries to view the reliefs in his walls. The “Standard Inscriptions” apprised his triumphs and conquests, as well the details of the horrible fate of those who had stood against him. Analyzing this attitude, it is clear that the purpose of the reliefs was beyond decoration; he was sending a message to his potential enemies. Ashurnasirpal’s goal was to let them know precisely who they were dealing with. He affirmed himself as “great king, king of the world, the valiant hero who goes forth with the help of Assur; he who has no rival in all four quarters of the world, the exalted shepherd, the powerful torrent that none can withstand, he who has overcome all mankind, whose hand has conquered all lands and taken all the mountain ranges” (Bauer, 2007). It was a political strategy, to let the neighbor regions’ leaders and his own men what would happen if they