Ancient Near Eastern Art

August 6, 2017 | Author: Tracy 'Rane' King | Category: Deities, Mesopotamia, Goddess, Sword, Archaeology
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On the cover: The stag vessel with a frieze depicting a religious scene is a rare example of Hittitesilverware. It is part of a collection of silver and gold objects from Anatolia generously lent by Norbert Schimmel for the newly installed permanent galleries of ancient Near Eastern art. Inside covers: Reliefs from the Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal 11(883-859 B.C.). Above: Lion's-head dress ornament (see fig. 67).

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Beginninginthe earlyNeolithicperiod, representationsof humanfigures in terracotta,stone, or bone were made all overthe Near East. We cannotoftentell whetherthe figuresrepresentdeities or humans,or if indeed such distinctions were intended.Butbythe latefourthand earlythirdmillenniaB.C., backgroundsceneryor physicalattributesand activities were includedthatcan sometimes help us to distinguishgods frommen. Itis difficult,however,to tell an ordinary citizen-a priest or a worshiper,for example-from a ruler. Inthe course of the thirdmillennium B.C.variousNear Easternstates were engaged in organizedtradeand imperial conquest, and then, politicallyand economicallysecure, theirrulersbegan to have themselves portrayedunambiguously and sometimes withinscriptions. Theywere depictedperformingsecular, military,and religiousfunctions,and the formsemployedwere statuaryinthe roundor carvingson cylinderseals and reliefs,usuallyin stone. Thefiguresreproducedhere are clearly rulers,identifiedas such eitherby inscriptions or theirregalcharacteristics.Possiblythe earliestis the heavy,almost solid-casthead (fig. 1), masterfullyand subtlyexecuted to indicatecalm dignity and inherentpower.The heavy-lidded eyes, the prominentbutnotoverlarge nose, the full-lippedmouth,and the intricatelycoiffedbeardare all so carefully and skillfullymodeledthatthe head may wellbe a portrait,almostcertainlyof a ruler.Ifthis is a portrait,then the head is uniqueamong Near Easternartifacts. Some scholars date itto the second millenniumB.C., othersto the latethird millenniumB.C., which,consideringthe style, seems more likely.The makerand the date of the piece remainunknown,as does the identityof this king,whose representation,muteand nameless, nevertheless remainsone of the greatworks of ancientart. The seated stone figure(fig.2) represents Gudea (2144-2124 B.C.), the ensi, or governor,of the ancientSumerian state of Lagash,whose name and title are includedinthe long inscription.A numberof stone statues of Gudea,seated or standing,were excavatedat Tello (ancientGirsu),insouthernMesopotamia, whileothers, presumablyfromTello,surfaced on the artmarket;manyfromboth sources are fragmented,lackingheads or bodies. The Museum'sGudea is complete and depictsthe rulercharacteristicallydressed in a brimmedhatdecorated withhairlikespiralsand a longgarment thatleaves one shoulderbare. His hands 7




are clasped in prayer-appropriatelyso, forthe inscriptioninformsus thatthe statuewas placedin a templeto represent Gudea in supplicationbeforethe gods. The Museumalso possesses a stone head, whichwas joinedto a body inthe the son of Gudea; Louvre,of Ur-Ningirsu, the completestatue (fig.69) is exhibited at the Metropolitan and the Louvrein alternatingthree-yearperiods. Duringthe firstmillenniumB.C.Assyrian and PersianAchaemenidkingsruled manynationsand peoples. Theywere mastersof politicalpropaganda,which was expressed in numeroustexts and in variousformsof art.The Assyrianpalaces were embellishedwithstone wall reliefs(see insidecovers) depictingroyal activitiesinwar,the hunt,and domestic and religiousceremonies. On the illustratedrelieffromNimrud(fig.3), the king Assurnasirpal11(883-859 B.C.)holds a bow-a symbolof his authority-and a ceremonialbowl.Facinghim,an attendantholds a flywhiskand a ladlefor replenishingthe royalvessel. The peaceful,perhapsreligious,natureof the scene is reflectedinthe calm, dignifiedcomposure of the figures. The Achaemenidkings(550-331 B.C.) employedthe politicaland artisticiconographyof earlierperiods.Althoughwarlike activitiesdo not appearon theirpalace reliefs,the Persiankingsdid represent themselveson cylinderseals vanquishing enemies. On the seal at the lowerleft(fig. 4) an Achaemenidkingholdsa bow,again a symbolof authority, andthrustshis spear intoa soldier,identifiedas Greekby his helmetand clothing.The naturalismof the carvingand detailssuggests thatthe artist was eithera Greekworkingforthe Persians or a Persiantrainedin the West. The PersianSasanians (thirdto seventh centuryA.D.)consideredthemselves the spiritualand politicalheirsto the Achaemenidkings. Representationsof Sasanian rulersappearon coins, vessels, and rockreliefs,and in stucco busts. On the coins each kingis named by an inscriptionand wears a personalized crown,whichusuallyhelps to identify other,uninscribedportraits.Unfortunately, this is notthe case withthe Museum's slightlyunder-life-sizehead (fig.5), which was hammeredfroma single piece of silver.Because of slightvariationsinthe crownand the presence of the striated globe headdress, we can inferthathe was a fourth-century king,whose controlledfierceness characterizesa posturedepictedformillennia.We do not knowthe functionof the piece, butit is a rareexampleof a Sasanian kingportrayedin the round. O.W.M.







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Mudbrick,unbakedand baked,reed, wood, and stone were the chief building materialsof the ancientNear Eastern world.The collapse of successive mudbrickwallsgraduallyled to the formation of mounds,whichmarkthe sites of human occupationinthe Near East (see figs. 44, 49, 51). Because stone is rarein southern Mesopotamia,mudbrickand reeds were used to fashionstructures.Wood was also generallylackinginthe south, where the onlycommontree was the date palm(see figs. 4, 39). InSyriaand Anatolia,however,wood formedan integralpartof all largestructures.On a clay culttowerprobablymade in Syria(see fig. 22), sizable wooden beams are represented betweenthe two stories and in the frameworkof the building. The wallsand doorwaysof most importantroyaland cultbuildingswere embellished withdifferentmaterials,stone, metal,and paintedplaster.Claybricks moldedintofiguraland plantformsfirst appearas a type of decorationin architecture of the second millennium B.C. in

Mesopotamiaand Syria.Some of the most impressiveexamples of molded brickscome fromthe cityof Babylon. The wallsof gateways,the royalbuildings, and a long processionalroad,built duringthe reignof NebuchadnezzarII (604-562 B.C.), were faced with molded 7



brickscoveredwithyellow,blue, black, and redglazes. The lions (see fig. 11


9), symbolsof Ishtar,the greatMesopotamiangoddess of love and war(see fig. 27), are fromthe wallsof the processional roadleadingto the BitAkitu, or house of the New Year'sFestival (see p. 23). The Babyloniantaste formoldedand glazed bricksspreadto Iran,and in the Achaemenidperiod(550-331 B.C.) the wallsof the palaces at Susa had brightlycoloredglazed surfaces. The mostfamiliarAchaemenidarchitecture, 12

to representthe forepartsof various however,is at the site of Persepolis,in southwesternIran.Manyof the stone animals:griffins,bulls,andhuman-headed sculpturesdecoratingthe entrancegates, bulls.The head of a bull(fig.6) inthe stairs,and wallsof the royalbuildingsstill Museum'scollectionis partof one of stand, butthe mudbricksthatformedthe these blocksand combines realisticand wallsof these buildingshave longsince decorativeformsinthe typicalstyle of the crumbledaway.Some of the hallsat Achaemenidroyalworkshops.The aniPersepolishad huge stone columnsover mal'sears and horns,now lost, were made fromseparate pieces of stone. sixtyfeet high.On the tops of these columnsand the capitalssurmounting Royaland cultbuildingswere constructedwithconsiderable care and them, impostblocksheldthe wooden ceilingbeams. These blockswere carved deliberation.The groundchosen fortem-

pie buildingswas clearedbeforeconstructionand the soil speciallyprepared.One customarypractice,datingfromas early as the mid-thirdmillenniumB.C., was the burialof foundationfiguresat selected pointsbeneaththe temple.A nude male figuresupportinga box (fig.7) may have originallyserved this purpose.Foundationfiguresoftenend in a taperednaillikeformso that,in a sense, they secure the buildingin place. This is trueof many Sumerianfigures(see fig. 45) and of a

particularly strikingexample (see fig. 35), probablyfromnorthernMesopotamia, toppedwitha snarlinglion. The conquest of the Near Eastern lands inthe the GreekrulerAlexanderof Macedon broughtforeigncraftsmenin considerable numbersto the NearEast, and the architecture soon reflectedtheirpresence. Stone was used morefrequentlyforbuildings of importance,and Greekcapitals, columns,and moldingsbegan to trans-

formthe appearanceof buildings.A beardedmale head of Parthiandate (first to second centuryA.D.) providesevidence of westerninfluenceinthe rather realisticstyle and the functionof the piece as a waterspout(fig.8). The person portrayed,however,has the moustache, long, loose locks of hair,and prominent nose of a Near Easterner,probablyan Iranian.The head was originallyglazed, and the beardstillretainstraces of iron pyrites. P.O.H. 13









Vessels fashionedfromsilverand gold were made in several areas of the Near East as earlyas the middleof the third millenniumB.C.Ores producingsilver exist in Iran,and silverwas broughtback fromAnatoliaby merchantsfromnorthern Mesopotamia(Assyria)in the early second millenniumB.C.Goldcame to Mesopotamiafroma varietyof sources, includingthe Taurusand Caucasus mountains inthe northwestand Egyptin the southwest.Textsalso recordthe shipmentof gold fromthe Induscoastline (Meluhha)in the east. Some of the most spectacularand earliestobjects in gold come fromthe RoyalCemeteryat Ur(ca. 2500 B.C.)in Mesopotamia(see fig. 66). Neithergold norsilveris nativeto Mesopotamia,and the appearanceof these materialsindicates thatan effectivesystem of trade had developed by this time. Slightlylaterin date thanthe objects discoveredat Urare gold vessels found in royaltombs in north-central Anatolia.A ewer made of hammeredgold (fig. 10) originallyhad a longspout thatprojected fromthe narrowneck. Duringthe second millenniumB.C. spoutedjugs became extremelyelaborateand elegant in form.A representationof a cultscene on a Hittite cup (see backcover)shows one of these jugs in use at a ceremonywhere a liquid offeringis being pouredout beforea god. One vessel type thathad a long history inthe ancientNear East incorporatesthe head orforepartof an animal.A spectacularexample (see frontcover)comes from Anatoliaand was made duringthe period of Hittiterule(fifteenthto thirteenth centuryB.C.). The handledcup is inthe shape of the forepartof a recumbent stag, an animalcommonlyrepresentedin the artof Anatoliaand associated witha stag god,whocan be seen on the bandencirclingthe neck of the vessel (see back cover).The meaningof this cultscene is uncertain,butthe associationof certain animal-shapedvessels withparticular divinitiesis describedin Hittitetexts. Religiousor cultscenes of the type foundon the Hittitecup are unknownon latervessels of gold or silverthatare preservedfromthe periodof Achaemenid rulein Iran.Ingeneral,the decorationof these worksof artis fairlysimple. Bodies are oftenflutedand decoratedwitheggshaped bosses (see fig. 72), designs that appearon Near Easternceramicsand metalworkin the second and earlyfirst millenniaB.C. Stylizedplantmotifsinclude lotuses, palmettes,and rosettes. AnAchaemenidcup made of silveris inthe shape of a horse'shead (fig.12). The bridleand the fileof birdsaroundthe 15

neck are coveredwithgoldfoil.This combinationof gold and silverwas commonlyused on metalworkof the Achaemenidperiod,and the fashioncontinuedon laterworksof Parthianand Sasanian date. AnotherAchaemenidvessel (fig.14) ends inthe forepartof a lion.The mouth of the lionis open, and incharacteristic NearEasternfashionthe tongue protrudesfrombetweenthe teeth. The vessel is madeof seven different parts,almost invisiblyjoined. A gildedsilverrhyton(fig.13), hornshaped and havinga smallspoutfor pouring,dates fromthe Parthianperiod

male figure,beardedand partiallynude. The vine scrolland the nude male figure (an unusualsubjectinSasanianart)reflect the influenceof Dionysiacimagery.The significanceof the Dionysiacmotifsin Iranianartis unknown.Theyare commonon silverwareof late Sasanian date and, duringthatperiod,mayhave referredto Iraniancourtfestivalsrather thanto specific Dionysiaccultpractices. Althoughroyalimages do notappear on the gold and silvervessels thathave survivedfromthe Achaemenidperiod, names of kingswere inscribedon some examples aroundthe rim(see fig. 72). On latervessels, notablythose of the (ca. first century B.C.)and is much influSasanianperiod,thereare no royalinscripenced, informand style, bythe artof the tions butthe kinghimselfis represented, late HellenisticWest.The pantherwears usuallyin a huntingscene (see fig. 63). a grape-and-leafvine woundaroundits Silver-giltplates decoratedinthis fashion chest, and an ivywreathencirclesthe rim were probablyintendedas giftsforneighof the vessel. These motifsare symbols boringrulersorformembersof the king's of the Greekwine god Dionysos,whose own court. cultspreadeastwardat the timeof the Ancienttextsstate thatgoldsmithsfashinvasionof Alexanderthe Greatinthe ioned notonlyvessels butalso statues of latefourthcenturyB.C.Dionysiacimages kingsand divinitiesand manysmall ob-panthers, grapevines,and dancingfejects, such as jewelryand otherdecoramales (see fig. 26)- continueto appear tions forthe clothingof the kingand god. on the silverwareof the Sasanian period Onlya smallnumberof these treasured (A.D. 226-651). On an oval bowl(see fig. objects have survived,butthe remains 11) datingfromthe end of this perioda providea glimpseof the luxurywares that curlinggrapevinescrollis populatedwith were used at the royalcourtand dedibirdsand animalsand framesa small cated by rulers to their gods. P.O.H. A




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Weaponsare documentedinthe archaeologicalrecordsof the NearEast fromat least the Neolithicperiod.Theywere initiallymade of stone and probablywood, and as soon as metallurgywas exploited, they were fashionedof copper,then bronze,and lateriron.Ourknowledgeof weapons and theiruse in warand the huntis based on findsfromcemeteries, settlements,and on representations. Sennacherib,kingof Assyria(704-681 B.C.), was frequentlyat warwithhis neighbors,andhis palacewallsat Nineveh were linedwithstone reliefsdepictinghis victories.Manyof the battlescenes are bloodyand dramatic;others, likethe Museum'sfragmentaryexample (fig. 15), illustratetroopson the march.Heretwo cavalrysoldiersare shown wearinghelmets, armor,and boots;theycarryspears, swords,and bows forbothclose- and long-rangecombat.Because of the rough terrain-mountainsand a spring-the soldierswalktheirhorses, an exampleof The Assyrianconcernforverisimilitude. horses weartassels, fordecoration,and bells, to create a terrifyingnoise during charges. The reliefsnotonly informus of historicalevents, butthey also yielddocumentationof contemporaryartifacts-in this case, weapons, clothing,and equestrianparaphernalia.Archaeologicalfinds oftenmatchitemsdepictedon the reliefs,

whichplayan importantrole indating and attribution. Althoughapproximatelyeightyexamples of ironswords likethe Museum's (fig.16) are known,notone is represented in artor has been excavatedby archaeologists.Fortunatelythe culture and generaltimeof theirmanufacture are revealedby stylisticanalysisof both the figuresand the blade shape. The two beardedmale heads thatprojectfromthe pommeland the crouchinglionson eitherside of the ricassoresembleLuristan styles fromthe late eighthand early seventh centuries B.C., and the willow-leaf

blade is paralleledon plainswords excavatedfromLuristantombsof the same period. The placementof the blade at right angles to the hiltandthe complexmethod of constructionmakethis class of sword unique.Eachswordwas individually hand-forgedand consists of aboutten separate pieces neatlyjoinedto give the impressionthatthe swordwas cast in one piece. Whythese swordswere so painstakinglymade is unknown,butthe largenumbersuggests thatthey may have signaledthe special rankof their bearers. Identicalinform,they were probablymanufacturedinone place. The swordwitha giltbronzeguardand a hollowgold hilt(fig.17) is moredifficult

to attributeto a specificarea. The iron blade (notshown) is preservedin a gold scabbarddecoratedwitha stampedor punchedfeatherpatternon the obverse and withfive pairsof spiralwireson the reverse.The hiltand the two mountswith P-shapedflanges are decoratedwith granulationsand garnetand glass inlays. These mountsheld leatherstrapsthat allowedthe swordto hang froma beltfor a "quickdraw." Morethan a half-dozenotherexamples of this formof swordand scabbard are known,butnone are so elaborately decorated;a few are also representedin art.The double P-shapedmountsare foundon swordsrecoveredfromEuropeto the Eurasiansteppes, includingIran,and are associated withthe nomadicTurkishspeakingAvarsof the sixthand seventh centuriesA.D.A rockreliefat Taq-i Bustanin Iranprovidesthe only known exampleof a Sasanian kingwearinga similarswordand mounting;otherrepresentationsof Sasanian swords depicta different formof attachment.Therefore,we cannotbe certainwhetherourswordwas once inthe armoryof a Sasanian king, or whetheritand its mates were once in the possession of an Avarchief. O.W.M.

15 18




The peoples of the Near East, likethose of othercultures, were preoccupiedwiththe world(of Iand eternallymysteriousspiritual ic demonicforces. Theirartisti impulseswere largelyexpre,ssed inconceptualizingand dociJ-

mentingtheirmanifoldbeliefs, interpretations, and fears. AncientNear Eastern artand textualmaterialeloquentlyreveal howover the millenniathese people resolved theirneed to relateto and placate the ever-presentspiritsand deities that manifestedthemselves in natureand in dailylife. The gold necklace (fig. 19) is a good example of how decorativeand spiritual functionswere oftencombined.Itis composed of doubleand triplestrandsof hollowbeads withseven pendants,each inthe formof a deityor a symbolof a deity.Althoughapparentlycomplete,the reconstructionof the morethantwo hundredpieces is modern,so the original positionof each element is not absolutely certain.The two hornedfemales in long

flounceddresses most probablyrepresent Lama,a protectivegoddess; the centraldiskwithraysemanatingfroma boss representsShamash, the sun god; the crescent, the moon god, Sin;and the forkedlightningsymbol, probablyAdad, the stormgod. The two disks withgranulatedrosettes may be purelydecorative. Whileno otherelaborateexample exists in completeform,wallreliefsdepict Assyriankingsof the firstmillenniumB.C. wearingnecklaces likethis one withpendantdivinesymbols, indicatingthatthey were to be wornby royalty.The necklace was most probablyapotropaic-that is, it protectedthe royalwearerfromharm. Similarindividualelements excavatedat Larsain Mesopotamialead us to assume thatthis necklace was made in the early



second millenniumB.C., and as Assyrian examples attest, necklaces withapotropaicfeatureshad a long historyin the region. The bronzehelmet(fig.20) withfour raisedfiguresprominentlypositionedon its fronthad apotropaicvalue in addition to its immediatepracticalfunction.Each of the figureswas sculptedfroma bitumen core overlaidwithsilverand gold and then fastened to a bronzeplateriveted to the helmet.Inthe centralposition is a beardedmale deity,identifiedas a mountain-water god bythe scales on a conicalbackgroundand the waterflowing fromthe vessel he holds. He is flanked bytwo identicalgoddesses and protected fromabove by a giantraptor.The goddesses holdtheirhandsopen inrever-

ence beforetheirbreasts. They,too, are placed againstbackgroundswithscales, whichsuggests thatthey may be mountaindeities associated withthe male god, who is probablydominantsince his crown has multiplepairsof hornswhiletheirs have onlysingle pairs.Because of the style and deportmentof the figures depicted,and the special techniqueof manufacture,the helmetmaybe attributedto the Elamitesof the fourteenth centuryB.C. Thatourhelmetwas wornby a personof rankis suggested bythe preciousmaterialused and the complexityof the construction.Itssymbolicand spirituallyprotectivevalue is impliedby the presence of the deitiesinsuch a prominentand chargedposition. The Neo-Assyriancylinderseal (fig.

18) depicts a religiousscene commonly foundon these ubiquitousobjects.A humanworshiperis in reverencebefore the stormgod Adad,who stands on a bull,the animalusuallyassociated with him.A bull-man,one of manymixedcreaturespiritsdepictedby ancientNear Easterners,appears in attendancebehindAdad,and varioussymbols of other deities-the standardsof Mardukand Nabu,the seven dots representingthe Pleiades, and the wingedsun disk-are distributedunobtrusivelythroughoutthe scene, whichinterestinglymixes the formsof the gods and anthropomorphic theirsymbols.Whilethe ownerprobably used this device to seal documentsand cargo, he no doubtalso carrieditas his personaltalismanand sign of piety.O.W.M.


his gods was not personal diateone of manymodernbelievers. Instead,itwas distantand formal,definedessentiallythroughthe performance of elaboraterituals.Ancientman's primaryfunctionon earthwas to serve the gods, whose decisions and actions determinedthe outcome of all events and mankind'sultimatefate. Itseems thatthe common manwas excludedfromall butthe majorreligious was festivals;in most ritualsparticipation the privilegeand the responsibilityof priestsand, most important,of the king. These ritesare not clearlyunderstood, and whatlittlewe knowcomes largely throughtexts writteninvariousdialects, visual representations,and archaeological remains. Mesopotamiandeities were conceived in humanformand were believedto reside in images erected in cultbuildings. This imagewas the focus of the cultand was carefullynurturedthroughmanyprecisely prescribedritualsforfeeding,clothing,and washing,inthe hope thatthe god mightthen be pleased and disposed to act favorablytowardhis subjects. Cuneiformtexts tell us thatmost of the cultimages-none of whichare entirely preserved-were madeof preciouswoods and were eitherdressed in elaborate garmentsor covered entirelywithgold. They had staringeyes inlaidwithprecious stones, often lapis lazuli,forthe pupiland shell or alabasterforthe surroundingwhite.Statues of otherdeities and of important,often royal,worshipers were frequentlyplaced in the temples. The gypsumstatue (fig.21) was foundat TellAsmarinthe SquareTemple,which was builtshortlybeforethe middleof the thirdmillenniumB.C.Itis probablyan imageof a piousworshiper,not a deity; his hypnoticallystaringeyes may resemble those of his reveredgod. Offeringsof foodanddrinkwere brought to the deityeveryday;they were "consumed"by it behinddrawncurtains.In additionto the ritualfeeding, libations were offered,usuallyof water,wine, beer, oil, or the bloodof a sacrificialanimal. These liquidswere pouredfroma special vessel onto an altaror intoanothersacred receptacleor object.Such a ceramic vessel (fig.22), probablyfromSyria,is in the shape of a two-storiedtowertopped by a humanfigurewearinga conicalcap and restrainingtwofelines bytheirtails. Betweenthem is a narrow-neckedopening throughwhicha blessed liquidwas poured,to flowfromone of the two doors cut intothe frontof the towervessel. 22

Across the top of the towera cylinderseal impressionshows a variationof the presentationscene. The figurineof a kneelingbull(fig.23), fromearlythird-millennium Iran,is magnifiin silver (see p. 46). Itis centlysculpted clothedas a human,in a textiledecoratedwitha stepped pattern,and holds a tall,spoutedvessel in its outstretched hooves inthe postureof a supplicant.We knownothingof the religiousritualsof Iranfromthe beginningof the thirdmillen-

cylinderseals do show animalsin human posturethatmaybe engaged in some kindof ritualactivity. Inadditionto the dailyritualssurroundingthe cultimage,the Mesopotamian calendarwas fullof special days on which particularriteshad to be observed by the priestsand the king.The most important of these was the New Year'sFestival, which,aftermanychanges throughthe ages, was celebratedinthe firstmillen-

nium B.C. Contemporary Proto-Elamite

Nisan. InBabylon,the kingand priests


nium B.C.during the spring month of

performedritualsforeleven days;the highpointof the festivaloccurredwhen the cultstatues of Marduk-the chief Babyloniangod-and otherdeities were paradedalongthe ProcessionalWay leadingfromthe templeprecinctto the Akituhouse. Outsidethe magnificent IshtarGate, the wallsalongthe waywere linedwithcolorfulglazed-brickimages of lions(see fig. 9) stridingboldlytoward the sacred destinationwhere a mysteriousand crucialritualmusthave takenplace. H.P.



Some of the most elaboraterepresentations of females inthe artof the ancient Near East are images of divineand cult figureswhose association withcertain aspects of lifemade them essential to the welfareof mankind.Fertility,procreation, the growthof crops and livestock,and such naturalphenomenaas thunderstormsand rainwere among the basic concepts identifiedwithfemale divinities by ancientpeoples. Representationsof nude females in clay,stone, and metal arethe simplestand mostobviousexpression of these concepts, and such figures appearedthroughoutantiquityin many regions and periods.A strikingexample in clay fromnorthwesternIran(fig.25) is hollowand probablyserved as a cult vessel as well as a sacred image.The exaggeratedwidthof the pelvis may be intendedto emphasize the roleof women as childbearers. One of the most importantMesopotamiangoddesses was Ishtar,a divinity who combinedin her natureaspects of bothlove andwar.She is frequentlyrepresented on cylinderseals (fig.27) with




weapons risingfromher shouldersor holdinga distinctivelion-headedweapon. Herrightfoot rests on a lion,her animal attribute.Ishtaris a goddess to whom rulersturnedforaid, protection,and victoryin battle. A smallgold pendant(fig.24) represents a goddess worshipedin Anatolia. The Hittitefigureholds a childon her lap, thus underscoringher roleas a mother goddess. The identityof this divinityremains uncertain,butthe wide, disklike headdress may representthe sun and the figurethereforemaybe a sun goddess. Althoughthe enthronedfigurerests on a flatpodiumor base, a loop attachedto the backof the headdress indicatesthat this was a pendant,once suspended, perhapsfroma necklace similarto the examplefromMesopotamiainthe Museum'scollection(see fig. 19). On thatnecklace, smallfiguresof another benevolentgoddess, Lama,are included amongthe pendants. Dancingfemale figuresdecorate a Sasanian silver-giltewer (fig.26), a ceremonialor cultvessel of a type datableto the sixthor earlyseventh centuryA.D. The appearanceof these images was influencedby Romanrepresentationsof maenads, female worshipersassociated withthe cultof the Greekwine god Dionysos,a complexdivinitywhose worship was particularly widespreadinthe ancientworld.On the Sasanian vessels the females are alwaysin a dancingpose and holda select groupof objects, including grape-and-leafbranches,birds,animals, and vessels. No texts remainfrom this periodto explainthe appearanceor functionof these females in the Sasanian world,and we can onlysuppose that they were associated withsome court festivalof the Iranianyear. P.O.H.

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28 29

Forancientman the worldwas full of supernaturalspirits,beneficentand malevolent,who had to be constantly appeased or repelled.By the thirdmillenniumB.C.a few of these spiritshad been representedintangibleformsthat,althoughmonstrous,were probablyless frighteningthan previously,when their formwas leftsolely to a believer'simagination.The specific identityof most of these creaturesis not knownbecause there is so littlecoincidence of textual descriptionand visual representation. Butoftentheirfunctionis suggested by theirappearanceor fromthe contextin whichthey are depicted. Whenrepresentedin art,these supernaturalcreatureswere alwaysmade up of naturallyoccurringformscombined in an unnaturalmanner.Wingswere often used to transforma realcreature intoa fabulousone, as was the mixingof humanand animalfeatures (see fig. 64). Untilthe last halfof the thirdmillenniumB.C. onlya few such mixedcrea26

tureswere represented;amongthemwere the bull-man,the human-headedbull, and the lion-headedeagle, Imdugud.But duringthe Akkadiandynasty(2334-2154 B.C.)a richvarietyof these fabulouscreatureswere placedintothe artisticrepertory. On the illustratedseal (fig.30) is carved the snake god, whose formis human above and reptilianbelow;he is approachedfromfrontand behindby minor deitieswithscorpionsor snakes forhands and feet. One of these divinitiesis winged, whilethe otherhas felines emergingwinglikefromits back.The domainof the snake god was the underworld,and because he is often associated withgrowing vegetationor,as here, withscorpions and felines and the gatepost of Inanna (the Sumeriangoddess of love and war), he is thoughtto be a fertilitydeity,perhaps of Iranianinspiration. Monstrousimages were often borrowedfromothercultures,eitherwithor withouttheiroriginalidentity.The image of the sphinx-a creaturewitha lion's

bodyand a humanhead-was borrowed fromEgyptand adaptedby the cultures of westernAsia. Fromthe OldAssyrian palace at the site of Acemhoyukcomes an ivoryfigurineof a female sphinxwearing Hathorcurls(fig.29). Allof its elements are Egyptian,butthey are combinedina completelyun-Egyptian manner. This ivorysupportis one of a groupof fourthatmost probablyserved as decorationfora throne. Anexpertlycast silveraxe withgoldfoilgilding(fig.28) is decoratedwith elements of the livelyiconographyof superhumanheroes and demons that was developedduringthe MiddleBronze Age inwesternCentralAsia. The heroic demon, composed of a humanbodywith birds'heads, talons, and wings, is a creaturemost probablyborrowedfromeastern Iran.Itis shownsometimesenthroned and sometimes strugglingwithnaturalor fantasticcreatures.Itsopponenton the axe is a dragonlikecreaturedistinguished by a single horn,a curledbeard, a ridgedruff,staggeredwings, a feline's body,and bird'stalons. This same creaturealso served as a symbolof the IranianShimashkidynastyof the late third millennium B.C.

Representationsof fabulouscreatures served notonlyas images of numinous spirits,butalso as heraldicsymbolsfor the propagandaof the secular state. Althoughits meaningis not understood, the hornedand wingedlionoccurs in AchaemenidPersianiconography,frequentlyinconjunctionwiththe king.On a gold plaqueof this period(fig.31) are two wingedand hornedlions,each rearingwithits head turnedback.The plaque was most probablysewn on a soft cloth or leatherbackingthatserved as partof the resplendentpanoplyof an Achaemenid courtier. H.P.




Eveninthe densely populatedcities of the ancientNearEast naturewas never farfrommen'sdailylives. This is reflectedinthe art,where images of animalswere used fromthe earliesttimes. Theywere representedas naturalforms, as symbolsof abstractconcepts, or as attributesof one of the manyNear Eastern deities. Alongwithdomesticated sheep, goats, and bovids,images of wild animalspredominate:lions,caprids, mountainsheep, and wildbullsare especiallyimportant. As earlyas the latefourthmillennium B.C., when urbansocieties were firstforming inthe lowlands,the lionwas clearly

associated withpower,bothsecularand divine.The forepartof a lionemerges froma bronzepeg-shaped foundation figurine(fig.35). The platebeneaththe lion'sextended paws is inscribedwiththe name of Tishatal,a kingof Urkish,inthe languageof the Hurrians,a non-IndoEuropean,non-Semiticpeople who, from the second halfof the thirdmillennium B.C., were presentinthe northernpartsof Mesopotamiaand Syria.Stylisticfeatures suggest thatthisfoundationpeg-frightening enough to scare offevildoers-was made eitherby an Akkadianartistor by one withinthe Akkadiansphere of influence.

The yokedpairof long-hornedbulls (fig.32) served as a decorativefinial, perhapsfora ceremonialstandardor chariotpole. Itis reportedlyfroman Early BronzeAge royalburialat the site of HoroztepeincentralAnatolia.These bulls are examples of how importantanimal featuresare oftenemphasized in ancient Near Easternart.Herethe hornsare morethanone and one-halftimes the lengthof the animal'sbody,impossiblein nature,butan effectivestylisticconvention.The identificationof these earlybulls as sacred or divineis based onlyon an analogywithHittitebullsthatwere associated withthe weathergod Teshuba 29


millenniumlater. Near Easternartistsmust have carefullyobserved animalsin nature;the renderingscapturetheiressence either throughnaturalisticor stylizedconventions. A fine sculptureof a wildmountain sheep (fig.36), or mouflon,identical to several foundat MohenjoDaro(an urbansite of the thirdmillenniumB.C. inthe valleyof the IndusRiver),shows the animalresting;his hindquarters are stronglytwistedto receivethe full weightof his body.The physicalpower of this creatureis emphasized bythe closed outlinethatincorporateshis sweeping hornsintothe massive volume of his chest. Thethree-dimensional,sculpturalqualityof these animalscontrastswiththe bodintricately patterned,two-dimensional ies of the gazelles stridingaroundthe side of a lovelygold cup (fig.34). The heads at a rightangle to the bodies are a featureshared by several similar cups foundat KalarDashtand Marlik, second-millennium B.C. sites of royal

burialssouth of the CaspianSea. Fromthe earliesttimes in Mesopotamiahuntingwildbeasts was a religious responsibilitythatdemonstratedthe prowess and potencyof a ruler.Fromthe time of the Neo-AssyriankingAssurnasirpalII, such huntingscenes were depictedon the carvedstone reliefsinthe palaces; excerptsfromthese compositionswere copied in minorartsbothin Assyriaand inthe lands underits domination.On an ivorypanel (fig.33) fromnorthwestern Iran,a male figure,possiblyroyal,is seen aboutto thrusta spear intothe breastof a chargingwildbullchased by a royalchariot. H.P.



Inthe ancientNear East plantmotifs were incorporatedintodesigns on the richlydecoratedpotteryof the prehistoric periods.Theycontinuedto be represented, ina stylizedfashion,on a variety of objectsthroughoutthe millennia.Favorite designs includedsprigpatterns,rows of trees, stylizedflowers,and chains of leaves and buds.A schematicrepresentationof rowsof date palmsappears in three registerson a finelycarvedchlorite vase (fig.39) of the firsthalfof the third millenniumB.C.The date palmof the oases and riverareas of southernMesopotamia and nearbyIranwas a majorsource of food, of timberforlightconstruction,and of frondsformats. The reed, nativeto the marshes of southernMesopotamia,is represented duringthe Urukperiod(3500-3100 B.C.) on cylinderseals, whichalso depictother plantsand palmtrees in decorative, nonrealisticdesigns. Inthe Akkadianperiod (2334-2154 B.C.) trees and plants

were morerealisticallycombinedwith naturalfeaturesto give the impressionof actuallandscape.AnAkkadianseal (fig. 37) shows a huntingscene in whicha manseizes a hornedanimal.Firtrees and moundswithimbricatedpatternsindicate thatthe setting is a mountainous region,probablythe forestlandsto the northor east of Akkad. The ivorycarvingsfromthe NeoAssyrianpalaces at Nimrudincorporate manyplantformsas decorativeelements inthe designs. On one example executed in Syrianstyle (fig.38) a goat is naturalistically portrayedrearingup on its hindlegs and nibblingat the leaves of a tendrils. highlystylizedshrubof intertwined The sacred tree was alwaysa popular motif.Thisimaginary,decorativeplant, composed of ornamentalleaves and waterliketendrils,was repeatedmany times on the ninth-century B.C. reliefsof the NorthwestPalace at Nimrud(see insidefrontcover). Frequently,attending divinitiesare shown administeringsome purifyingsubstance witha date palm spathe and a bucket.The sacred tree was a symbolof vegetallifeandfertility-a significancethatwe attributeto most plantmotifsand designs inthe artof the ancientNearEast. B.A.P.

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