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March/April 2015

9

and looting were their strong suits; modesty was not. Slab-

like stone plaques, many as tall or taller than a person, like

the one in the exhibit picturing a hawk-headed guardian

spirit that once was brightly painted, adorned Nimrud’s

Northwest Palace. Nearly all bore what scholars call the

Standard Inscription exalting Ashurnasirpal

ii

, “king of the

world, king of Assyria ... the mighty warrior … whose hand

has conquered all lands.”

One of those conquered lands was the kingdom of Urartu,

north of Assyria, in what is now eastern Turkey and Armenia.

Famed for their metalwork, Urartians fashioned weapons,

helmets and shields embellished with lion-headed serpents and

sacred trees to ward off evil in general and their Assyrian foes

in particular. Bashed, bent and ripped with gaping holes from

spear thrusts, one magnificent, burnished shield on display

illustrated an object lesson in defeat. “This is just a taste of

what it must have been like to go to war against the Assyrians,”

Aruz wrily observed as we regarded the crumpled armor.

But it was the gruesome depiction of the battle of Til Tuba,

in what is now southern Iran, that most forcefully drove

home Assyia’s take-no-prisoners battle ethos. This wall-sized,

almost panoramic relief, more than two meters high and

nearly five-and-a-half wide, details more than a dozen brutal

scenes: In one, the Elamite king Teumann and his eldest son

are beheaded in front of one another, surrounded by a fray of

upended chariots and carnage; in another, Assyrians force the

Elamites’ Babylonian allies to their knees to grind the bones

of their own ancestors in humiliation.

More tranquil scenes of daily life were not generally regarded

as worth the effort of sculpture: War, hunting, invoking gods and

Showing that cross-pollination was nothing particularly new even

in the late Bronze Age, this ivory game box depicting a chariot

hunt dates from 1250-1100

bce

. Found on Cyprus at Enkomi, it

displays Aegean, Canaanite, Egyptian and Mesopotamian motifs

and styles.

Around the seventh century

bce

, Phoenician craft workers near

Cádiz and Seville incised and carved numerous ivory and bone

objects in Near Eastern styles, including this 13-centimeter (5")

plaque that shows a griffin, a hunter and a lion.

TOP: THE HISPANIC SOCIETY OF AMERICA; RIGHT: THE BRITISH MUSEUM; OPPOSITE: (NECKLACE) L’INSTITUT NATIONAL DU PATRIMOINE, TUNIS;

(FRAGMENT) METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART; (BOWL) BRUCE WHITE