ashurnasirpal ii

Neo-Assyrian Glazed Terracotta Tile from Nimrud (Kalhu), Iraq, c. 883-859 BC

A clue to the colour scheme of an ancient palace:

This glazed tile was found by the excavator Henry Layard at the Assyrian city of Nimrud. Along with the stone reliefs, it was part of the decorative scheme of the royal palace, although few examples survived Nimrud’s destruction in the seventh century BC.

This example depicts an Assyrian king, possibly Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BC), accompanied by his bodyguard and attendants. It was probably part of a sequence showing the king as triumphant warrior and hunter. Such tiles provide a clue to the kind of colour scheme used for the relief panels. The decoration was executed in yellow, black and green (perhaps originally red) paint. These were made from natural materials.

It is likely that most major Assyrian buildings had paintwork at least in the reception rooms. Ashurnasirpal recorded that he had represented his triumphs in paintings. There were murals on the walls above the carved stone panels and the ceilings were also painted.

Glazed bricks are mentioned first in the second half of the second millennium BC when the mastery of the mechanical properties of glass had become known.


So this is by far my favorite room in the entire Metropolitan Museum of Art. The above photo set includes only two shots of the side reliefs that line this entire room, the favorite part of it obviously being the door. Anyway here’s some background - the entire thing is carved Alabaster (gypsum) and is roughly 313.7 cm tall? It was  excavated at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu, Northern Mesopotamia). It was carved roughly in883–859 b.c. under the reign of Ashurnasirpal II. The doorway is guarded by lamassu, which were household protective spirits of the common Babylonian people. The side reliefs are talking about the harvest for the year and I unfortunately did not take a photo of the other part of the relief which talks about the military victories of Ashurnasirpal.


I built a pillar over against his city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skin. Some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, and others I bound to stakes round about the pillar …  And I cut the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled…

‘Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears and their fingers, of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads, and I bound their heads to tree trunks round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire.

‘Twenty men I captured alive and I immured them in the wall of his palace. The rest of their warriors I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates…’

Ashurnasirpal II, king of Assyria (883-859 BC)


An Assyrian King Taking A Swim in the Euphrates

This Neo-Assyrian relief from the North-West Palace at Nimrud, dating from c. 865-860 BC, depicts Ashurnasirpal II and his army crossing the Euphrates River.  He is depicted wearing an Assyrian helmet while using an inflated animal skin as a flotation device. Horses swim next to him while his dissembled chariots are being carried across the river in small boats called coracles.

Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 884-859 BC) was the third king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. His father, Tukulti-Ninurta II, led many successful military campaigns and left his son the means to equip a formidable army.  Ashurnasirpal II was known for consolidating the Assyrian Empire through ruthless conquest and the cruel punishment of his enemies. He led his army on successful campaigns across the Euphrates and all the way to the Mediterranean. He was also famous for his magnificent palace at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) whose wall reliefs depicting his successes, like the one pictured above, are on display in museums around the world. This relief is currently located at the British Museum.

Neo-Assyrian Stone Relief from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, Nimrud (Kalhu), Iraq, c. 883-859 BC

A Protective Spirit:

This relief, carved on alabaster, was one of a pair which guarded an entrance into the private apartments of Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BC), at his palace in Kalhu, the capital of Assyria. The protection of the entrance to a building using magic was a long-standing tradition in Mesopotamia. Images of supernatural creatures were sometimes buried under doorways or set up at the entrances of palaces and temples. Their magical strength was intended to frighten away evil demons.

The figure of a man with wings may be the supernatural creature called an apkallu in cuneiform texts. He wears a tasseled kilt and a fringed and embroidered robe. His curled mustache, long hair and beard are typical of figures of this date. Across the body runs Ashurbanipal ‘Standard Inscription’, which records some of the king’s titles and achievements and is repeated on many of his stone reliefs. The inscription was cut after the figure was carved, as some of the details of decoration on the dress have been chiseled through. The significance of the goat and giant ear of corn that the figure carries is not known.

This relief is currently safe and sound in the British Museum.

A relief of a mythological creature in the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud, Iraq. Militants used bulldozers and other vehicles to vandalize the site. Credit DeAgostini/Getty Images.jpg

Assyrian Jewelry Chain (Grave Goods), from Ashur, Middle Assyrian Period, c. 14th-13th Century BC

Currently located in the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin.

The ancient site of Ashur, dating to the 3rd millennium BC, is located on the Tigris River in northern Mesopotamia. It was the first capital of the Assyrian Empire and remained so from the 14th to the 9th century BC until the reign of the Neo-Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC), who moved the capital to Kalhu (modern Nimrud). The city survived the fall of the Assyrian empire in the 7th century BC, and it flourished again in the Hellenistic and Parthian periods until the 2nd century AD.

Ashur also served as the religious capital of the Assyrians, named after Ashur, the head of the Assyrian pantheon in Mesopotamian religion. He was the Mesopotamian equivalent of the Babylonian god Marduk.

A map & more about Ashur…

A hand of the Goddess Ishtar (Inanna). This is a decorative element of architecture which was used in temples and palaces. It is inscribed with cuneiform inscriptions and was found in the palace of Ashurnasirpal II to commemorate the new foundation of God Ninurta’s temple at Nimrud, the Assyrian capital. Reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE), Nimrud, Mesopotamia, Sulaimaniya Museum, Iraq.

Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection.  The Assyrian Hall, Musée du Louvre. 

“I built thereon a palace with halls of cedar, cypress, juniper, boxwood, teak, terebinth, and tamarisk as my royal dwelling and for the enduring leisure life of my lordship. Beasts of the mountains and the seas, which I had fashioned out of white limestone and alabaster, I had set up in its gates. I made it fittingly imposing.“

–Ashurnasirpal II, The Standard Inscription at Nimrud, 9C BCE