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KINGSHIP AND ANCESTRAL CULT IN THE NORTHWEST PALACE AT NIMRUD* BRIAN BROWN University of California, Berkeley/250 Barrows Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720 babrown@berkeley.edu Abstract Built in the early 9th century BCE, the Northwest Palace at Nimrud presented a new “imperial” architecture and iconography that was related to Assyrian expansionism at this time. Yet it also contained specific points of contact with the past via the royal Assyrian ancestors. A monument in the throneroom, the “center” of the state, provided the “public” view of this ideology, while one of the palace’s more secluded wings was devoted to the performance of ancestral cult. Through these and other means, rapid and fundamental socio-political change was accompanied by the idea of a logical and direct continuity with the history of Assyria. Keywords: Assyria, ancestral cult, mortuary architecture, kingship, imperialism, Iron Age Introduction It is difficult to overestimate how radical the Northwest Palace at Nimrud (Fig. 1) was in the history of Assyria. As the centerpiece of a new imperial capital replacing Ashur, the cultural and religious center of Assyria for over a millennium, the palace presented new * This article was originally written in 2003-04 while a graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley. A generous junior fellowship from the Topoi Excellence Cluster funded a one-year stay at the Freie Universität Berlin in 200809, which allowed me to conduct additional research and rework the manuscript. I would like to thank Marian Feldman, Chikako Watanabe, and David Stronach for helpful comments on earlier versions. Irene Winter’s critical comments as peer reviewer helped me to strengthen the article. Any errors are my own responsibility. I would also like to thank Dominik Bonatz and Rainer Czichon for assistance at the Freie Universität. An award from the Stahl Endowment of the University of California-Berkeley in 2005 allowed me to visit the British Museum to study and photograph some of the objects appearing in this article. © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 Also available online – brill.nl/jane JANER 10.1 DOI: 10.1163/156921210X500495 2 brian brown directions in the visualization of ideology, city planning, and architectural disposition of space. It became, from the point of view of the ruling class, a microcosm of the Assyrian world (cf. Winter 1983a) and a statement of the direction the ascendant state would take in building an empire. Yet even the most radical movements and changes maintain some connection to the past. In this article, I would like to look at two components of the Northwest Palace that do just this in a very direct way—by drawing upon ancestral connections. The two features are very different: one is an entire wing of the palace, the other a large sculpted relief in the throneroom. I argue, however, that they were created together in an integrated fashion and present two sides of an ideology of royal legitimacy to two different audiences, the larger public, political world, on the one hand, and the ancestors, on the other. I begin by briefly discussing a theoretical approach, Rapoport’s “activity settings” model, that will ground my examination of the materials. Following this, I examine the layout and other features of the architectural unit, the palace’s East Suite. I evaluate previous explanations of the complex’s function before presenting my own. Next, I look at throneroom relief B-23 (as well as its counterpart, B-13) and discuss several interpretations of the parts and whole of the composition. Finally, I explain the correspondences between the reliefs and the architecture and indicate why they should be interpreted together as an expression of the proper practice of kingship through the maintenance of ancestral relations. Theory The primary analytical tool I use to examine the architecture of the East Suite is the “activity settings” theory of Rapoport (1990). This framework analyzes architecture not just in terms of its shape and form, but primarily in terms of its function as a setting for activities. It is concerned with how social behavior is influenced by the total activity environment—architecture and associated installations (such as furniture and decoration) as well as the actions of people. Rapoport’s theories have already been applied to imperial Assyrian architecture, including the Northwest Palace (Russell kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 3 1998)1 and the Southwest Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh (McCormick 2002). Two main areas of Rapoport’s theory are relevant here. First, an “activity setting” may be divided into three components: fixed feature, semi-fixed feature, and non-fixed feature elements (Rapoport 1990: 13). Fixed-feature elements pertain to the actual architecture of a building—walls, floors, ceilings, and other permanent, immovable structural parts. These form the basic constraints of a setting. Semi-fixed feature elements are parts of the architectural environment which may be moved or which are not structurally integral. This category includes items such as furniture and decorative elements.2 Non-fixed feature elements are humans and their behavior. Of the three, semi-fixed feature elements influence human behavior the most; non-fixed feature elements are also important but are usually not archaeologically recoverable (Rapoport 1990: 14; Russell 1998: 664).3 Second, an activity setting influences human behavior by means of “cues” (Rapoport 1990: 12). Cues are physical and environmental elements that indicate the type of social behavior that is expected in a certain locale. They may “act as mnemonics—they remind those entering the setting of the situation it defines, of which rules apply and hence of how to act” (Rapoport 1990: 12). Cues provided by decorative objects (and other semi-fixed feature elements) indicate the “expected emotional response and behavior” within a particular area (McCormick 2002: 24). There are a number of issues with applying this theory to most archaeological contexts. The social systems in which ancient buildings functioned are extinct. This precludes direct observation of 1 My own analysis of the East Suite is indebted to Russell’s larger study of the Northwest Palace, although it differs substantially on a number of points. 2 Russell considers objects such as paintings and reliefs as fixed feature elements (1998: 664, 697). However, it is known that reliefs were sometimes taken out of palaces for use in others (cf. Russell 1998: 665; Barnett and Falkner 1962). Most of the reliefs from the West Suite in the Northwest palace are missing, yet the groundplan and lower parts of the walls (i.e., the fixed feature elements) remain. These considerations indicate that reliefs should be considered semi-fixed feature elements, the position I adopt here (cf. McCormick 2002: 19). 3 Microwear analysis does offer possibilities for determining human behavior patterns (Russell [1998: 674, n. 50] mentions the wear patterns on thresholds leading to the East Suite). However, this methodology is not employed for the present study. 4 brian brown how actors familiar with the environment behaved there. Archaeologists, therefore, usually may only make use of fixed feature and semi-fixed feature elements to make interpretive statements about the types of activities that took place in any particular architectural context. More important, there will be ambiguity in the interpretation of fixed and semi-fixed feature elements. Different activities may (or may not) take place in the same architectural unit or space; similarly, the same activity may (or may not) take place in several discrete areas (Russell 1998: 664; cf. McCormick 2002: 25). Reference to aspects of the larger social system is necessary to reduce the chance of error in interpreting the cues provided by the fixed and semi-fixed feature elements. The East Suite:4 Description Fixed Feature Elements The East Suite (following the architectural grouping and terminology of Russell 1998) is located on the eastern side of Court Y, the palace’s central courtyard (Fig. 2). It comprises 10 rooms or discrete spaces: Rooms G-O and R. Four doorways provide access to the suite: one from Room F of the principal throneroom suite, two from Court Y, and one from Corridor P. The doorways from Room F and Court Y lead directly into Room G, while the doorway from Corridor P opens into Room N, which served as a southern extension of Room G. Room G, therefore, apparently functioned as the suite’s main reception room or entry area from the other areas of the palace. In terms of access and control of circulation, the situation is rather different moving from Room G into the seven interior rooms of the suite. Only one doorway, on the long eastern wall, leads from Room G into Room H, the space from which the rest of the interior area is accessed. There are no other means of access to these seven rooms from the rest of the palace or the outside. Therefore, while access to Room G is relatively open (four entrances) 4 The review of the architecture here is necessarily selective. Major aspects (e.g., access, architectural form) will be covered, while other features (such as building materials and dimensions) generally will not be. Fuller details on the architecture of the East Suite may be found in Layard 1849; Mallowan 1966; Paley 1976; Meuszynski 1981; Paley and Sobolewski 1987; Russell 1998. kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 5 from a variety of entry points (the central courtyard, Passage P, and Room F), access to Room H and beyond is restricted. Inside Room H, four extant doorways lead to the interior rooms. One doorway in the long western wall leads to Room R, while three doorways are located in the long eastern wall. The center one leads to Room K, while the two flanking doorways lead to Rooms I and L. These latter two rooms have an unusual L-shaped layout. Two more rooms, J and M, are accessed from Rooms I and L. Rooms J and M each have a large, deep niche, on the south and north walls respectively. In fact, these two niches appear to have been doors that were blocked up with stone reliefs at some point. Russell (1998: 672 and n. 48) thinks that the slabs blocking these apparent doorways are contemporary with the other reliefs, which is the position I adopt here. Rooms I and L each also had a tall, shallow recess or niche, in the northwest and southwest corners of the main part of the rooms, respectively. In this case, though, it seems that these recesses were built specifically as niches. Of the suite’s architecture, only the lower parts of the walls (to the top of the reliefs) and the floors remained. Therefore, it is impossible to say how high the rooms were, what types of ceilings and roofs were in place, and whether or not there were windows or other forms of lighting. However, a number of small niches (measuring approximately 1m x 1m in size) were found about 1m above the floor at various points in the walls of Rooms H-M, O, and R. These features have been interpreted by Paley (1985: 19-20) and Russell (1998: 671) as ventilation shafts, but I propose another possible function below. The layout of the suite presents several problems. Despite the restriction of access to the wing’s interior, we may question just how tightly the East Suite bound any activities that took place in it. Different components of some activities may take place over several very different areas,5 with the result that a single activity— and therefore archaeological indicators of it—need not be limited to one single space. In addition, the East Suite does not fit into any established pattern of Late Assyrian palatial architecture. Rooms G and H taken together are similar to the so-called “reception 5 One example from a later period is the Late Babylonian New Year’s Festival, parts of which took place in the main palace, the larger urban area, and a structure (the bīt akītu) located outside the city (Black 1981; see also Pongratz-Leisten 1994). 6 brian brown room/retiring room” pattern (Turner 1970: 181-188; Russell 1998: 672) but, leaving aside for the moment the issue of determining function from a standardized form (cf. McCormick 2002: 25), the “retiring room” in the standard combination usually leads out to a court. In this case, Room H, the area that would be the “retiring room,” does not lead out but rather in. It does not serve the expected function of providing intermediate access from the major “public” room to the main areas of the palace. Furthermore, the fact that access into Room H is so restricted could be taken as prima facie evidence that the group of rooms beyond Room G (H-M and R) should be considered as its own unit or a sub-suite of the larger East Suite. In this view, Room H and the rest of the inner rooms might be a set of areas devoted to several related activities or different aspects of the same activity. If we treat Rooms H-M and R as a sub-unit and look at it in isolation from the rest of the suite (Fig. 3), the most striking feature is its nearly absolute bilateral symmetry. Rooms H and K form a central axis, which is accentuated by the direct alignment of the doorways into the two rooms. Rooms I and J stand on one side of this central axis, while L and M are located on the other. In fact, to extend the analysis, when we note that the only way to access Rooms J and M is through Rooms I and L, respectively, we can describe this symmetry in terms of two nearly identical sub-wings or room groupings (I-J and L-M) flanking the two central components, Rooms H and K. Only Room R, the entrance of which is located at the northern end of Room H’s long western wall, breaks this symmetry. A layout of this type is unique in Late Assyrian palatial architecture. There is no clear analogy from any of the known major Assyrian palaces at Ashur, Nimrud, Khorsabad, or Nineveh (Russell 1998: 672). The closest comparanda from the monumental Assyrian architecture are perhaps provided by temples with double cellae, such as those devoted to Sin-Šamaš (Heinrich 1982: 234-235 and Abb. 323) and Anu-Adad (Andrae 1932: 131, Abb. 54) at Ashur or the Nabu-Tašmetum temple at Nimrud (Mallowan 1966: 232 and Fig. 194). In these examples, there are two cellae laid out in a bilateral symmetrical arrangement, a format that may have been adopted to facilitate the repetition of similar rituals for the two deities. To sum up the fixed feature elements of the East Suite: we have a complex whose outermost room allows reasonably open access from the courtyard and other “public” areas of the palace. However, kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 7 access from this room (G) into the main area of the suite (Rooms H and the inner rooms) is restricted, with only one doorway providing entrance and egress. The bilateral symmetry of the inner area of the suite is unique for Late Assyrian palatial architecture, with double-cellae temples providing the closest analogies from the corpus of Assyrian monumental architecture. The presence of this kind of bilateral symmetry may indicate that we are dealing with an architectural space that was used for two separate but similar activities. Semi-Fixed Feature Elements Most of the rooms in the palace were unpaved. In the East Suite, however, seven of the 10 rooms had some kind of paving, either of stone slabs (Rooms J, K, M, O, R) or a combination of stone pavers and baked bricks (Rooms I and L; Russell 1998: 672; Paley and Sobolewski 1987: 3). In the Assyrian architectural tradition, pavements are usually found in areas exposed to the elements (such as courtyards) or where liquids were heavily used (such as bathrooms; Russell 1998: 672). However, in only one room (L) is there evidence for some kind of mechanism to carry water away. In front of the large niche in the southwest corner of that room, Layard found a slab with a hole in the center of it (Layard 1849, vol. 2: 5-6). Below this was a clay pipe, measuring approximately 20cm in diameter by approximately 61cm in length, connected to a drain lined with bitumen. Russell (1998: 672, n. 48) thinks that there also may have been a corresponding pipe and drain in Room I and, in fact, a broken stone slab was found in position on the floor in front of orthostat I-166 (Paley and Sobolewski 1987: 3). In Rooms I and L, in addition to the paving tiles, there were also stone slabs with shallow D-shaped depressions against the north and west walls (Russell 1998: 672; Paley and Sobolewski 1987: 3). There is little information in the way of portable objects or furnishings for the suite. Layard’s focus was not on small finds but rather on the relief and three-dimensional stone sculpture of the palace. However, one room for which Layard did supply information on these kinds of artifacts was Room I (Russell 1998: 672). Here, a number of pieces of iron and copper (which Layard described as parts of armor), several helmets, stone vases, and a glass vase 6 The notation of slab numbers follows Meuszynski 1981. 8 brian brown were found (Layard 1849 v. 1: 277-279). The vases were inscribed with the name of Sargon II (722-705 BCE). Russell (1998: 672) connects these small finds with Sargon’s later reuse of parts of the palace for storage. By far the most numerous and most important semi-fixed feature elements in the East Suite are the stone reliefs on the surfaces of the rooms’ walls. Reliefs were common throughout the Northwest Palace and were found in about 25 of the 70 excavated rooms (Paley 1985: 12). Every relief was carved with a version of the same inscription, termed the Standard Inscription (SI; see Grayson 1991: 268 f.; Russell 1999 for studies), and some were also sculpted with various subjects, such as battle and hunting narratives, tribute and court processions, and presumably religious/cultic scenes. In the East Suite, every room contained orthostats: Rooms G, H, I, L, and N had decorated and inscribed reliefs, while Rooms J, K, M, O, and R had undecorated inscribed slabs bearing only the SI. Although the individual elements used on the reliefs of the various rooms are similar, the program differs in each.7 In Room N, orthostats are carved with depictions of genies, “stylized trees,”8 and one king; in Room G, a total of 12 depictions of kings, royal attendants, genies, and “stylized trees” are shown; in Room H, 10 depictions of kings9—the only human (non-divine) figures in the room—genies, and “stylized trees” are seen; and in Rooms I and L, genies and “stylized trees” appear on the reliefs. In Room I, all the reliefs are decorated in two registers, with a raised band containing the SI separating them, in contrast to the other sculpted orthostats in the East Suite, which are in one register. Rooms I and L are further distinguished by the presence of rare beardless genies 7 For an in-depth description and analysis of the individual programs of the East Suite rooms, see Russell 1998: 671-697. Diagrams of the arrangement of the decorated reliefs are also available for each room: for Room N—Russell 1998: Fig. 15; Meuszyński 1981: Taf. 16-17; for Room G—Russell 1998: Fig. 13; Meuszyński 1981: Taf. 8-10; for Room H—Russell 1998: Fig. 16; Meuszyński 1981: Taf. 1113; for Room I—Russell 1998: Fig. 17; Paley and Sobolewski 1987: Pl. 1-2; for Room L—Russell 1998: Fig. 18; Meuszyński 1981: Taf.14-16. 8 As Russell (1998: 687) points out, some standard scholarly names for this motif, such as “tree of life” or the supposedly more neutral term “sacred tree,” involve a certain amount of presupposition about its function or meaning. In order to reduce any kind of unjustified assumptions, I will refer to this motif in this paper simply as “stylized tree.” See Giovino 2007 for a recent study. 9 I follow the reconstruction of Meuszynski (1981: Taf. 11-13) and Russell (1998: Fig. 16). Eight representations of kings are secure; two more have not been located but have been postulated (H-13 and H-26). kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 9 on reliefs (one in L, two in I; see Albenda 1996 and below). These unusual orthostats were located in the tall, shallow niches in both rooms. The main elements of the relief programs in all of the East Suite’s rooms are seen to be royal images, genies, and the “stylized tree.” On a basic level, it is possible to describe the programs of each room with sculpted reliefs as follows: Room G (and Room N): Kings appear in the company of courtiers, divine beings and the “stylized tree.” Room H: Kings appear in the company of divine beings, along with the “stylized tree.” Rooms I and L: Only divine beings and the “stylized tree” are depicted. Thus, in Room G, the chamber that connects the East Suite to the rest of the palace, and by extension the outside world, we see both regular mortal humans and divine beings, with kings appearing in immediate association with the two groups.10 In Room H, there are no ordinary humans, only genies and kings, as well as “stylized trees.” Finally, in the innermost decorated chambers, I and L, only genies and “stylized trees” appear. Not even the king, who enjoyed a privileged intermediary position between the human and divine worlds, is depicted here. In other words, there seems to be a clear progression in the visual program from human to otherworldy subject matter as one goes from the outer part of the East Suite to the inner chambers. Seen in this light, Room G serves as a “boundary area” (Renfrew 1994: 51) between the “public” parts of the palace and the inner East Suite. The representations of the kings are some of the most important individual semi-fixed feature elements in the East Suite. But for various reasons (notably the dispersion of the various reliefs to museums and collections in different parts of the world—see Gadd 1936; Stearns 1961; Weidner 1939; Reade 1965; Reade 1985; Paley 1976; Meuszyński 1975a, b; Meuszyński 1981; Paley and Sobolewski 1987), attention has been focused more on reconstructing the original overall context and positions of the reliefs and the general decorative program, rather than on in-depth analyses of how the 10 In Assyrian ideology, the king was also the high priest of the state god Assur, or at least probably the most important member of the cult (van Driel 1969: 170-179). The king, both by way of this priestly function and the long-standing Mesopotamian and Assyrian ideology of the divinely chosen or ordained leader (Liverani 1979: 301, 310-311), occupied a middle space between the human world and the supernatural realm, although he was not divine himself. 10 brian brown various reliefs relate to one another in terms of their individual details. This has led to conclusions that have been influenced by evaluations based on large-scale characteristics of the reliefs, such as posture, major equipment/accessories and the like, rather than on any possible variation. One example of such a conclusion is the near-unanimous assumption that the reliefs depicting kings in Rooms G and H all represent “the king,” that is, Aššurnasirpal II, the agent who commissioned them (see, for example, Russell 1998: 692; Paley 1976: 51; Winter 1983a: 15). Is this assumption justified? There are 12 depictions of kings in Room G and 10 in Room H. Why should we assume that these 22 depictions represented one single king, as opposed to, say, two kings, or 10, or 22? The standardized physical appearance of the king in Neo-Assyrian iconography is no help in providing an answer; as Winter (1997: 369-374) points out, portraiture in the Western sense did not exist in the Assyrian cultural sphere, and the diachronically consistent physical depiction of the Assyrian king was one of the prime indications that it was actually an Assyrian king (and not a king from elsewhere or anyone else) being represented. Since there are no reliable means for distinguishing one royal Assyrian depiction from another based solely on physical or portraiture criteria, we must look elsewhere, such as differences in dress and accessories.11 A close examination of kings depicted in Rooms G and H indicates that there are potentially important differences in how the figures are represented. Each of the 12 kingly depictions12 in Room G displays a high degree of conformity in details relating to dress and accessories (see chart in Appendix); in terms of larger equipment, the kings are distinguished by holding either bowls or bows and arrows. There are some other, more minor differences, since a degree 11 Art historical stylistic criteria applied to the analysis of Late Assyrian art (e.g., Madhloom 1970) are useful for differentiating when specific reliefs were carved but not necessarily for differentiating between the individual identities of various kings (thanks to Marian Feldman for this insight). However, as Winter (1997: 372) notes, non-physiognomic attributes of appearance, such as jewelry, may play a signifying role in depiction. I examine this possibility below. 12 For this analysis of the Room G kings, I used the following publications: G3—Barnett 1975, Abb. 8; G-6—Barnett 1975: Abb. 9; G-8—Stearns 1961: Pl. 4; G10—Barnett 1975: Abb. 12; G-11—Stearns 1961: Pl. 5; G-13—Meuszynski 1981: Taf. 8,4; Meuszynski 1975: Abb. 23; G-14—Paley 1976: Fig. 19a; G-16—Paley 1976: Fig. 19c; G-23—Meuszynski 1981: Taf. 9,2; G-25—Barnett 1975: Abb. 16; G-29—Weidner 1939: Abb. 99; G-31—Reade 1972: Pl. 33b. kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 11 of variation is to be expected due to the large scale of the decorative program as well as the fact that a number of artists were clearly involved in this project (Reade 1979: 23).13 But in terms of the attributes (types of attire, accessories, and personal equipment worn on the body)—and not the exact carving style of these features—there is a strong similarity between all of the kings in Room G. The same thing cannot be said for the representations of the 10 kings in Room H.14 There are no two kings with the same ensemble. Major differences in details, in comparison with the consistency shown in Room G, are seen in the personal equipment of the royal figures here. Some diadems have rosettes (H-2 [contra Meuszyński 1981: Taf. 11,1]—Fig. 4 here, H-16, and H-31), while others do not. A wide variety of bowls is seen (for example, H-2: ribbed body with braided rim—Weidner 1939: 118; H-4: ribbed body with plain rim—Fig. 5 here; H-31: plain with diagonally hatched lines on rim—Fig. 6 here; H-33: plain). The king on H-2 wears a singlestrand bead/spacer necklace (Weidner 1939: 118), while the other kings wear two-strand necklaces. The rosette is missing from the band on the right wrist of the king on H-9, the only instance in which this happens. There is substantial variation in the types of dagger sheaths and whetstones each king wears (for example, compare H-2 and H-4, and H-31 and H-33). One king—and only one (H-4)—has the Akkadian maš-šur-PAB-A (= Aššurnasirpal) from the 13 One aspect of the depictions of the kings that is usually not visible in published photographs is the decoration on the garments they are wearing. This decoration, usually comprising apparently mythological and/or cultic scenes (such as the king or a human-headed genie fighting a composite creature), was finely incised. While preparing this article, I had the opportunity to examine two Room G reliefs in the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin (G-14, VA 939a and G-16, VA 939c). The exact decoration differs on the garments of the two royal depictions. Further examination of all the royal depictions from the East Suite, along the lines of Canby 1971 and Bartl n.d., might yield interesting results. 14 As noted above, only eight kings from this room have been identified with confidence. Meuszynski (1981: 55-58) has restored two more (H-13 and H-26), a proposal that has been generally accepted among scholars. My analysis is based only upon those reliefs that can be assigned with confidence to Room H. The study was based on the following publications: H-2—Weidner 1939: Abb. 92; H-4—Paley 1976: Pl. 4; H-9—Weidner 1939: Abb. 79 and Paley 1976: Pl. 6; H-16—no adequate illustration has been published to date—general features shown in Meuszynski 1981: Taf. 11, 4; H-19—no adequate illustration has been published to date—general features shown in Meuszynski 1981: Taf. 12, 1; H-29—Meuszynski 1975 and personal study in Berlin; H-31—Weidner 1939: Abb. 96; H-33—Stearns 1961: Pl. 2. 12 brian brown SI inscribed on his left hand (Fig. 7—I return to this particular observation below). Comparing the depictions of the kings in Room G with those in Room H, we see consistency in the former and a good deal of variation in the latter. These are subtle differences, to be sure, but the types of variation seem to suggest that more is going on in Room H than artistic license or differential interpretation of a general design (as suggested, for example, by Reade 1979: 23; see Cole and Machinist 1998: §34, §61 and §178 and Winter 1997: 367 for references and discussion on competition between artists working for the king). It is clear from the analysis of Room G that Assyrian artisans could achieve a standardized representation of the king when this was desired. I present an extended interpretation of the meaning of these differences below. At this point, however, I simply suggest that we may be dealing with more than one king between the two rooms (cf. Brentjes 1994: 54-55). If we take the consistency of representation of the kings’ clothing and accessories in Room G as indicating that the same individual king (Aššurnasirpal) was being represented, then the fact that we do not see such consistency in Room H makes this interpretation plausible. Going further, I would propose that in Room G, we see the same king portrayed in different acts or at different points in the same activity, while in Room H we see different kings portrayed in the same act. The East Suite: Analysis Previous Interpretations Scholars have reached no consensus on the exact function(s) of the East Suite or even the general type of activity or activities that took place there. Most explanations have focused on certain parts of the complex, especially Room G, and have been based on interpretations of the reliefs or occasionally other semi-fixed feature elements. Relatively few have looked outside of the complex, including other areas within the Northwest Palace. Some scholars have considered the East Suite, in whole or in part, as the scene of feasting (see Russell 1998: 671). Mallowan (1966: 102), Reade (1980: 85), and Paley (1976: 21) all interpreted the complex as having been devoted to this function, based on the reliefs of the kings holding bowls in Room G and especially slab kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 13 G-3, where one is depicted sitting on a chair and attended by servants. Similarly, Stronach (1995: 177) interpreted the activity being depicted as wine drinking as one “expression of royal authority.” Approaching the matter from a different direction, Paley and Sobolewski (1987: 3; Paley 1985: 15) identified Rooms I and L as “bathrooms,” possibly of a religious character (Sobolewski 1994: 260), based on the flooring material. Other interpretations have appealed to ritual uses for the East Suite. Brandes (1970), focusing on the depiction of both bowls and weapons in Room G, proposed that ritual lustration of weapons took place there (Brandes 1970: 153-154; Russell 1998: 683). Russell (1998: 671-697) has carried out perhaps the most detailed study of the East Suite to date, making use of a full range of archaeological, art historical, and textual evidence. For Russell, the weight of the evidence indicates a ritual or cultic significance to the complex. At the beginning of his analysis (1998: 671), he brings up the possibility that the East Suite housed the palace shrines. After examining the evidence and its socio-historical context, Russell (1998: 697) presents a reconstruction of an integrated set of ritual activities that may have taken place in the East Suite. These revolve around purification of the king’s body and equipment and include offerings to the gods and presentation of weapons in Room G, followed by the blessing of arms in Room H, and culminating with bodily purification in Rooms I and L. Richardson’s analysis (1999-2001) also indicates a ritual function in the area, although he focuses on only one part of the East Suite, Room I. Relying heavily on textual sources, Richardson suggests (1999-2001: 145) that the chamber was the site of libations and other ceremonies aimed at the care of Aššurnasirpal’s royal ancestors. His argument is based largely on the identification of the 96 (or possibly 100, according to his suggested reconstruction) “stylized trees” on the reliefs in Room I as the 100 royal predecessors of Aššurnasirpal named in the Assyrian King List (AKL; Richardson 1999-2001: 148).15 While the in-depth analyses of Russell and, especially, Richardson appear to be closest in determining the exact nature of the rituals carried out in the East Suite, their reconstructions nevertheless raise a number of questions. Richardson doesn’t explain why all of the kings in the AKL should be depicted as “stylized trees” twice in 15 A similar idea had been put forward earlier by Brentjes (1994: 59). 14 brian brown the palace (once in Room I and again in the other rooms containing “stylized trees” in the palace; see his Appendix 2 [1999-2001: 204-208]), nor does he include “stylized trees” from the West Suite and several that should probably be restored in Room F into his totals. Concerning the proposals more generally, the fact that there are two sets of two almost identical rooms is often not directly confronted, but it seems to me that the almost absolute, rigid, and unique “mirror-image” symmetry of the inner part of the complex must be taken into account in any explanation. The East Suite: A Site For Commemorative Rituals? In fact, most of the elements of the East Suite, both architectural and visual, can be connected to funerary and ancestral cult contexts, both those archaeologically known and those appearing in texts. The ancestors and their relationship to the living was an important part of ancient Near Eastern society, and their regular care, known as kispu, was a widespread social practice from at least the Amorite/ Old Babylonian through the Late Babylonian periods (Tsukimoto 1985: 39).16 In ancient Mesopotamia, both a proper burial with certain objects for use or as gifts in the afterlife and post-burial maintenance were thought necessary to avoid malevolent actions by spirits and to be able to enlist their ongoing help (Skaist 1980: 126-127).17 This ritual care of the dead had three major components (Bayliss 1973: 116; Krafeld-Daugherty 1994: 220): kispa kasāpu, which consisted of food offerings (usually bread, flour, and meats; beverages such as beer, wine, and milk are also mentioned; see Tsukimoto 1985: 23-34 for discussion of kispu and linguistic issues); naq mê, water libations; and šuma zakāru, a calling out of the name of the deceased. I want to suggest here that the various material 16 Making offerings to the deceased is a practice that went back at least to the Early Dynastic period (Tsukimoto 1985: 36). The evidence from the Old Babylonian period, especially in relation to the royal ancestor cult, is generally seen as reflecting an “Amorite” influence, particularly in terms of the emphasis on extended genealogies (cf. Bayliss 1973: 122) and apparently tribal or clan names (cf. Finkelstein 1966: 98 f.). In any event, kispu is the Akkadian word used to describe the care of the dead from the Old Babylonian period onwards. 17 For discussions of Mesopotamian beliefs relating to the afterlife and their variations among regions and through time, see, among others, Bayliss 1973; Skaist 1980; Jonker 1995; van der Toorn 1996; Bottéro 2001; Oppenheim 1977; Tsukimoto 1985; Krafeld-Daugherty 1994; Richardson 2001; Black and Green 1992. kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 15 elements of the East Suite created an appropriate space for the performance of such a ritual. The architecture and other fixed feature-elements of the wing, though usually only loosely constraining behavior, here provide some of the best evidence of a “funerary” environment that would have provided space appropriate for rituals relating to care of deceased ancestors. The distinctive L-shape of Rooms I and L is rare in palatial design, but it is well-known in funerary architecture. The form is identical to that of tombs from 12th-century Tell Taban (Numoto 2008: 111-114 and Fig. 5), an independent or autonomous Assyrian principality on the Khabur River in Syria, and from the Royal Cemetery at Ashur—including Aššurnasirpal’s own (Tomb V; Fig. 8 here). Other fixed elements in these two rooms were probably designed to function with more portable features with a “funerary” connotation. In I and L, as mentioned above, there are each two rectangular stone slabs with shallow D-shaped (bathtub-shaped) depressions on the floor against the north and west walls (Paley and Sobolewski 1987: 3; Russell 1998: 672). In the so-called “Queens’ Tombs,” which were discovered under the flooring of several rooms in the southern wing of the Northwest Palace, a number of D- or bathtub-shaped bronze coffins were excavated (Damerji 1998: 11 and Abb. 37; see Curtis 1983 for a technical discussion of this type of coffin). These usually contained bones, apparently from secondary burials (Damerji 1998: 12), as well as burial goods such as jars, bowls, and other types of vessels, diadems, and jewelry. The measurements of the bronze coffins (approximately 1.3m × 0.59m, 1.4m × 0.49m, and 1.47m × 0.68m [Hussein and Suleiman 2002: 116-117]) and the depressions on the stone slabs in Rooms I and L (approximately 1.3m × 0.7m) are close in size, as are their shapes (compare Paley and Sobolewski 1987: 3 and Damerji 1998: 11). These stone slabs may thus have provided a footing or base for bronze coffins, which may have served some symbolic purpose or actually held the remains of individuals for some period of time.18 18 Here we may briefly reevaluate the smaller objects that Layard found in Room I. It is possible, in light of the finds from the “Queens’ Tombs” that the Room I materials may be types of post-burial funerary offerings rather than ordinary items placed in storage. Both stone and glass vessels were found in the various crypts comprising this tomb complex (Damerji 1998: 6, 8). The fact that the inscribed objects date to Sargon II (721-705), who ruled over 150 years after the death of Aššurnasirpal, may reflect a situation similar to that found in Tomb III in the 16 brian brown In addition, the drain in the niche in Room L (and its presumed counterpart in Room I) can easily be connected to the ancestral cult as well. In funerary contexts, pipes, usually made of clay and called arūtu in Akkadian (CAD A II: 324), were used to deliver libations to the dead. And in fact, Iraqi excavators found a terracotta pipe in direct association with a tomb in Room 49 of the palace’s southern domestic wing; they connected it with kispu rituals (Hussein 2002: 146, 148). Rooms I and L may, therefore, have been areas where offerings of liquids (naq mê ) were performed (as suggested by Richardson 1999-2001: 151-153).19 Next we come to the reliefs, the decorative semi-fixed feature evidence from the East Suite. Initially, I would like to draw attention to the most prominent equipment depicted in the East Suite rooms—the chair on G-3 in Room G and the bowls that most of the kings carry in Rooms G and H. Both chairs and bowls are mentioned in textual sources in conjunction with funerary rites or commemorations of the deceased. Bayliss (1973: 119) argues that references to chairs in Assyrian texts may indicate that some type of meal was offered to the deceased recipients of the kispu and was possibly shared by the people making the offering (cf. van der Toorn 1996: 48-52). Bowls are mentioned in at least one text relating to funerary ritual (from the Old Babylonian period; Tsukimoto 1980: 130) and, in addition, are a virtually omnipresent object in actual burials (for Late Assyrian examples, see, among others, Haller 1954: 104; Damerji 1998: 7; Mallowan 1966: 116; Ibrahim “Queens’ Tombs.” There, the excavators dated the primary occupant’s death to the reign of Shalmaneser III (858-824), based on the presence of inscribed materials in direct association with one of the corpses, and yet objects dating as late as Tiglath-pileser III (744-727) were also found (Damerji 1998: 10). 19 Other fixed feature elements may be mentioned. The small niches found in the walls of Rooms I and L (and those of Rooms H, J, M, O, and R) find counterparts in the walls of both the underground crypts in the “Queens’ Tombs” (see Damerji 1998: Abb. 16, 17, 19, 21, and 33) and the chambers of the royal cemetery at Assur (see Haller 1954: Abb. 186, 188, and 190). The measurements between the three groups of niches are different: those in the rooms of the East Suite measure about 1.1 meters × 1 meter × 0.9 meters (based on measurements taken from Russell 1998: Figs. 11 and 16); those in Tomb V measure 0.36m x 0.36m × 0.36m (Haller 1954: 180); those in Tomb II of the “Queens’ Tombs” measure 0.38m × 0.38m per side (Damerji 1998: 6). Although it may be the case that the niches in the East Suite were used for ventilation, as Paley, Sobolewski, and Russell believe, they may also have been used to hold items related to ancestral cult practice. It is also possible that prime functions of the niches varied from room to room. kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 17 2002: 162-163), apparently as a grave good included at the time of interment.20 But a consideration of the reliefs as a medium and their origin in Assyrian palatial design opens up another avenue of interpretation. Aššurnasirpal II appears to have been the first Assyrian monarch to make use of decorated stone orthostats to decorate interior palace walls and was certainly the first to employ them on a large scale. It is generally believed today that the idea or inspiration for this medium came from cities in the North Syria/Southeast Turkey region (Moortgat 1969: 131; Reade 1979: 17; Winter 1981: 13; Winter 1983a: 15; Amiet 1977: 474; Kuhrt 1995: 486; Collon 1995: 130; Brown 2008; for a viewpoint on Assyria as the source for the concept of the carved orthostat, see Frankfort 1990: 290). Although there is still disagreement over the exact sequence of construction, it seems that carved orthostats began appearing in the area in large quantities by the late 10th century BCE at the latest (RlA 5: 439 ff.; Winter 1983b: 179) and perhaps as early as the later 12th century (Brown 2008); this artistic tradition, in fact, is probably directly descended from the Hittite empire (Bonatz 2001: 65-66; Reade 1979: 17). In the North Syrian sites, however, the orthostats were generally placed outside, on outer palace, street and temple walls or at city gates. So, while Aššurnasirpal’s artists borrowed the idea of the carved relief orthostat from the North Syrian cultural area, it is clear that they also modified it and thus made it conform to (or, more accurately, invented a new) “Assyrian” cultural understanding, in terms of placement, arrangement and function (see Winter 1981: 13 ff.). Since the Assyrians borrowed “technological” ideas (the use of decorated stone orthostats) from this region, there is a possibility that they may have also been influenced by what we might think of as “non-technological” ideas (art, iconography). An examination of the monumental archaeological materials relating to ancestral commemorative activities from the region of North Syria indicates that there is a substantial body of comparanda dating to about the same time as the construction of the Northwest Palace. In fact, many of the motifs of equipment employed in North Syrian ancestral and commemorative monuments are almost identical to those Such objects included at the time of interment were also considered kispu (Tsukimoto 1985: 107; contra Richardson 1999-2001: 167, n. 94). 20 18 brian brown appearing on the reliefs in the East Suite (which include a chair, bowls, bows, and swords). One of the most distinctive types of North Syrian commemorative monuments shows a person seated on a chair and holding a bowl or a cup. The main group of these objects was erected beginning at the latest in the late 10th century BCE (Bonatz 2000a: 204) and perhaps earlier. Usually, a table full of food appears in the scenes, which apparently refer to funerary meals (Bonatz 2000a: 191). Various types of monuments were used: stelae and statuary are most common, but reliefs depicting these ceremonies show up as well. The motif of the seated figure with bowl has a long history in northern Syria, with possible antecedents from cultic contexts dating back to the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 BCE). A number of statues showing seated individuals holding cups and with a tablelike surface for the lap and basins carved with figures seated at a table have been discovered at Ebla (Matthiae et al. 1995: Pl. 290, 291). Several scholars have argued that these were part of an elaborate royal ancestor cult (Matthiae 1979; Bonatz 2000a: 196). One of the earliest fully developed examples from a secure context in the Iron Age North Syria area showing seated individuals and a table of food (possibly an antecedent for the memorial stelae of the late 10th century and later—see Bonatz 2000a: 204 for another example and discussion), comes from the Water Gate at Karkemish (Woolley 1921: Pl. B.30b; Fig. 9a here). This relief (perhaps dating to around the mid-11th century—Brown 2008: 341) depicts what is apparently a seated funerary or commemorative repast: an individual holding a bowl21 sits before a table loaded with food, while two servants holding a fly whisk and a vessel and a musician stand in attendance. This motif reached its fullest and most widespread expression in the 9th and 8th centuries on stelae (the elements of which find close parallels to G-3 from Room G; Fig. 9b) found either in unambiguous funerary contexts or bearing inscriptions of a funerary/memorial character (see, for example, Bonatz 2000b: 21, C46 and Taf. XVII [Zincirli-Sam’al]; Hawkins 1980: Pl. Vc [Neirab, near Aleppo]).22 For a recent find from Zincirli with an explicit funerary function, see Struble and Herrmann 2010. 22 Although there is no table depicted on G-3, an actual table standing in front of the relief would have provided an observer with a total scene almost identical to the North Syrian examples in terms of the major components. This piece of 21 kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 19 Bows, swords, and other weapons are also prominent on North Syrian funerary and commemorative monuments. In this case, the artistic practice of the Hittite Empire seems to have been a direct influence on the iconography (Bonatz 2000a: 201, 207). At Zincirli, a large statue of a man standing on lions and wearing a sword (Orthmann 1975: Abb. 342a) was apparently related to ancestral cult practice, based both on iconography (Hawkins 1980: 214) and the presence of “cup marks,” indicating the ability of the object to receive offerings (Bonatz 2000a: 205-206). Fragments from what appear to be similar statues were found at Karkemish (Woolley 1952: Pl. 54b) and Mara (Hawkins 1980: 214). Some literary texts (although from an earlier period in Mesopotamian history) mention weapons of all types included as part of the set of grave goods. In the poem “Death of Ur-Namma” (Ur-Namma A—Black, Cunningham et al. 1998-2006: 1. 88-91; Tsukimoto 1985: 37), the Ur III ruler Ur-Namma is said to have taken “a mace, a large bow with quiver and arrows, [and] an artfully made barbed dagger,” among other items, as offerings to Nergal, the “Enlil of the Netherworld.”23 No fewer than seven attendants in Room G appear with this combination of arms. Finally, I may point out that one royal Hittite funerary ritual calls for effigies of the deceased to be used in the rites; the effigy of the king was to be equipped with bows and arrows (Bonatz 2000a: 201). Thus, while the exact arrangements of the motifs found in Rooms G and H differ in some ways from those seen on North Syrian ancestral and commemorative monuments, all of the elements used in both iconographic sets are very similar. This is not to say that furniture would have been a crucial portable element functioning in conjunction with the reliefs. Assyrian artists and architects seem to have made efforts to achieve this kind of integration between architectural layout or larger spatial organization, decoration, and the human participants within the built environment. Winter (1981: 10; 1983a: 31, n. 44) has argued both that B-13 and B-23 in Room B (the throneroom) served as the “organizing pivots” of the room, orienting visitors as to the movements they were expected to make upon entering the room, and that the king himself, when seated on his throne, became part of the scene depicted on B-23, which was set behind the throne base (see below). In addition, Reade (1995: 227) has suggested that other decorative elements (such as brick inlays and fabric hangings [cf. Russell 1998: 705]) may have worked together with the reliefs to provide a fuller decorative program in some rooms. There is no reason to assume that other types of objects, such as furniture, could not also have been used to complete scenes depicted on the reliefs. 23 For a detailed discussion of rituals and ideologies surrounding royal death in 3rd millennium Mesopotamia, see Cohen 2001 and 2005. 20 brian brown iconographic elements which denoted “mortuary ritual” in a North Syrian context would necessarily have done the same in an Assyrian one. As Pinnock (1994: 24-25), for example, points out, the widespread “banqueting theme” (as seen on G-3 in the East Suite) was not limited to one ritual or festive moment but rather a range of celebrations and was an iconographic model that could be adapted to different needs in different societies. But the fact that similar motifs appear in a context that is dominated by—indeed, consists almost entirely of—other elements of a funerary or ancestral cult nature indicates that a mortuary significance was intended here as well. Despite the fact that the North Syrian iconographic materials could be considered “foreign” to Assyria, I propose that they were adopted to serve as part of a monumental mortuary cult complex in the new Assyrian capital. Specifically, drawing on Rapoport’s terminology, the reliefs functioned as critical semi-fixed feature elements whose iconography provided “cues” for an appropriate emotional state in the cult chambers which, as shown above, were built according to the same design as actual (Assyrian) tombs. The architecture of the innermost rooms of the East Suite, because of the movement required to fully access them, may have provided a general indication of a funerary situation, giving a participant a sense of leaving the world of the living and entering that of the dead. But the iconography of the reliefs, depicting various kings equipped with funerary items, and other objects (such as the proposed bronze coffins) would have provided the specificity of setting for these kinds of rituals. The adopted, and reworked, motifs may have filled a gap in the Assyrian corpus concerning mortuary/ ancestral iconography. Therefore, combined with the architectural data discussed above, the iconographic evidence strengthens the hypothesis that the East Suite may have served as a major complex in the Northwest Palace devoted to the performance of rituals related to the commemoration and care of the ancestors. Discussion: Sites for Mortuary Rituals The analysis so far indicates that most of the features found within the East Suite may be related to mortuary activities, providing an architectonic setting that both imitated actual tombs and included representations of actual funerary objects. Yet, it is entirely possible, as the Ashur excavators speculated (Haller 1954), that the Assyrian kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 21 kings were buried in Ashur, the traditional religious capital of the Assyrian empire. The apparent sarcophagus of Aššurnasirpal II in the royal cemetery indicates, on the face of it, that this was the case. Is it possible that the East Suite was a cult complex where Aššurnasirpal could have performed kispu for his ancestors away from their tombs? Tsukimoto (1985) has examined the issue of kispu in detail. He believes (Tsukimoto 1985: 109; cf. also Krafeld-Daugherty 1994: 221) that the kispu rituals had to take place at the actual grave of the deceased to whom they were dedicated.24 Tsukimoto cites as support texts VAT 11114 and ADD 1016 (both Late Assyrian), the latter of which reports on the rations destined for the “E2 ki-mah-hi,” or a mausoleum, in Ashur (Tsukimoto 1985: 108-109). But it is unclear what happened when, for example, a family moved away from the location of the burials of recent ancestors to whom kispu would have been necessary. More important, for our purposes, the question remains open as to what happened when an Assyrian king, whose ancestral obligations extended much further back than those of a regular person (Bayliss 1973: 123), moved an entire capital away from the city housing the mausolea of former kings (the same point is also raised by Richardson 1999-2001: 172 f.). While the textual evidence from the Neo-Assyrian period is slim (see Tsukimoto 1985: 110 ff. for discussion and references), it appears that kispu, based on the evidence of the preceding and subsequent periods, may have been carried out away from the site of the burial. The Old Babylonian “Genealogy of the Hammurapi Dynasty” (Finkelstein 1966) contains a passage inviting apparently deceased ancestors “from the rising of the sun to the setting of the sun” to partake in a meal and bless king Ammi aduqa (Bayliss 1973: 122). A roughly contemporaneous text, found at Mari and attributed to the time of Šamši-Adad (Mari 12803 i), describes kispu offered by the Old Assyrian monarch to his royal “ancestors” Sargon of Akkad and Naram-Sin (Krafeld-Daugherty 1994: 229-230), neither of whom was likely to have been buried at Mari or Šubat-Enlil (ŠamšiAdad’s capital; modern Tell Leilan) or, for that matter, to have been his actual “ancestors.” In this case, it seems that the presence of statues of the two Akkadian kings sufficed for kispu to be carried 24 Tsukimoto later softens his opinion (1985: 115), saying that “bei der ‘Totenpflege’ damals [i.e., during the later Late Assyrian period] das Vorhandensein des wirklichen Grabes oder der Leiche wichtig und notwendig war.” 22 brian brown out. From the Late Babylonian period, the Nabonidus stele from Harran, which details the ancestral cult activities of the Babylonian king’s mother, seems to indicate that offerings to a general group of “royal predecessors” (who therefore may have been buried in many different locations) was permissible (cf. Bayliss 1973: 123-124).25 The argument that Tsukimoto makes to disprove the hypothesis (advanced, for example, by Al Khalesi 1977) that ancestral cult and commemorative rituals need not have taken place at the actual grave of the deceased is unconvincing. The two texts mentioned above (VAT 11114 and ADD 1016) indicating that rations were to be delivered to the tomb itself are his primary evidence. But the only thing that these texts demonstrate is that kispu foods were sometimes delivered to the graves; it says nothing about whether or not there were alternate arrangements. Similarly, Tsukimoto’s citation (1985: 114-115) of both Ashurbanipal’s destruction of the graves of the Elamite kings and the removal of their bones to Assyria and Merodach-Baladan II’s exhumation of his father’s bones and flight from Sennacherib indicate only that an intact grave or burial was necessary for the spirit or ghost to be able to receive offerings. Again, there is no reason to postulate, on the basis of these episodes, that rituals for the care of the dead had to have been carried out at an actual grave. In view of the lack of evidence on this point in the Assyrian textual sources, on the one hand, and the clear indications from non-Assyrian sources, on the other, it seems that opposing scholars (such as Al Khalesi [1977: 81], Bonatz [2000a: 196], van der Toorn [1996: 58-62], and Jonker [1995: 187]) are probably correct in their argument that no connection need be made between the actual place of interment and the cult activities carried out on behalf of the deceased. So a case, based on architecture, imagery, and texts, can be made that the East Suite had a mortuary connection and may have served as the site for the performance of an ancestral cult.26 But we still 25 Aššurbanipal states (K 891) that he reinstated kispu and water libations for “royal predecessors,” without naming the Assyrian royal line or the Sargonid dynasty specifically (cf. Tsukimoto 1985: 110-111; Bayliss 1973: 123 and n. 61). 26 The archaeological and textual evidence from neighboring areas, especially Middle Bronze Age Ebla and Late Bronze Age Ugarit, provide good indications and comparative case studies of the degree of planning and labor that could be invested in specialized ancestral cult structures. At Ebla, the excavators have posited that a large complex comprising three independent, free-standing buildings kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 23 have not answered perhaps the most obvious question about the wing: why the clear, purposeful and rigid symmetry? Why have two separate sub-suites, instead of just one? I believe that the answer to that question can be found on the second feature I shall examine, located not in the East Suite, but in the throneroom. The “Mirror-Image” Reliefs The iconography of B-13 and B-23 from Room B, the palace’s primary throneroom, constitutes another unique aspect of the Northwest Palace. The two reliefs both present an almost perfectly symmetrical composition of two kings, both of whom are usually thought to be Aššurnasirpal, each of whom is attended to by a winged human-headed genius, flanking an example of the “stylized tree.” A winged disc, with a small divine figure inside the disc, floats above the “stylized tree” on the composition’s central axis (Fig. 10). B-23 is in a very good state of preservation and has been published numerous times in high-quality photographs; it will form the basis for the following analysis. B-13, on the other hand, has suffered much damage, and no high-quality photographs of it have been published (see Meuszyński 1981: Taf. 2 for a line drawing; Reade 1965: Plate XXVII for a photograph of the upper left part, depicting the head of a king and genie). This makes a comparative analysis difficult except in the most general details. However, there is at least one major difference between the two reliefs, which I discuss below. The two reliefs bearing this composition occupied privileged positions within the throneroom (Room B), indicating their importance. One was located directly across from the large central doorway leading in from the outer courtyard, the other immediately behind the throne dais on the eastern short wall (see Meuszyński 1981: Plan 2). Furthermore, the composition on these reliefs is set one-third of the way up from the bottom edge, utilizing a “disposition of space” (Winter 1981: 10) that is different from the other reliefs in the room and that thus sets them apart. While the elements of this composition, in particular the “stylized tree,” have a long history in Near Eastern and Mesopotamian (Temple B1, Sanctuary B2, and Palace Q ) was devoted in part to a royal ancestor cult (Matthiae 1979), a suggestion that is plausible in light of a cemetery underlying this area. 24 brian brown art alone or in association with one another (see Winter 1981: 10; Russell 1998: 687-696 for discussion and references), previous artistic works or monuments never depicted this exact combination of motifs together as a unified whole. B-23 and B-13, therefore, present something of a tour de force within the artistic tradition of Mesopotamia and certainly within that of Assyria: they combine a new and powerful iconographic ensemble with the new medium of carved stone orthostats in one of the most important areas of the (then nascent) Assyrian empire, Aššurnasirpal’s throneroom. But despite the obvious importance and power of the composition, there is no consensus on its meaning(s). Russell (1998: 687-688) has reviewed some of the more recent statements on the issue (see also Ataç forthcoming and references). Although there is a wide range of opinion on what exactly the “mirror-image” composition symbolizes, in general terms most scholars posit an expression of kingship or royal power while regarding the “stylized tree” as the key to interpretation. Both Winter (1981, 1983a, 2003) and Porter (1993) see an expression of the king’s role in maintaining agricultural prosperity, a traditional duty of Mesopotamian monarchs. Albenda (1994), in contrast, thinks that the “stylized tree” is not being tended to, but rather serves as a source of divine power. Parpola (1993, 2000) has offered perhaps the most idiosyncratic interpretations. In his view, the “stylized tree” itself is a complex presentation of the Assyrian pantheon and religious belief system, and is closely bound up with kingship. The “mirror-image” composition as a whole is a metaphor for mankind’s spiritual journey to become the “perfect man” under the aegis of the god Assur, who floats overhead as the winged disc (2000: 30-32). Similarly, Matthiae (1989: 372) explains the scene as representing a “sacred meaning” of kingship; it shows a “cosmic bipolarity” whose axis is centered on the “stylized tree.” The power and order guaranteed by the king are symbolized by the repeated depiction of the royal figures, which represented the “universality of Assyrian kingship” (ibid.). For his part, Russell (1998: 687-696; 707-711), in addition to postulating a symbolic value, takes a “technological” view of the composition (it actually “does” something). Basing his hypothesis on his analysis of the East Suite, where he determined that images of the genies and the “stylized tree” served an apotropaic function against physical and supernatural threats (1998: 691), Russell argues that these two elements served the same function on throneroom kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 25 slabs B-23 and B-13, making these reliefs protective devices. Building on the previous work of Parker Mallowan, Russell argues that the “stylized tree” does not represent an actual palm tree, but rather its products, fronds and offshoots (1998: 692), which are mentioned in Assyrian texts in conjunction with apotropaic rituals. In addition to its protective powers, Russell, citing the work of Brentjes (see below), also suggests that B-23 and B-13 indicate the divine favor and royal legitimacy of the king. There is clearly a wide range of opinion on what exactly the “mirror-image” composition represents. It should be noted, however, that none of these interpretations necessarily excludes any of the others; it is possible that all of them simultaneously would have been acceptable “readings” or explanations to a 9th century Assyrian king or official. Symbols usually have more than one meaning attached to them, and even viewers with a high degree of cultural “competence” (Winter 1981: 30) may have different opinions as to what interpretation is “more correct.” Nevertheless, all of the proposals reviewed here have unresolved problems. Russell (1998: 688-689) focuses on problems linking the “stylized tree,” generally seen as an elaboration on the representation of a palm tree, with the concept of agricultural fertility in Assyria, a region where the plant would not grow so well. The extreme stylization (assuming, that is, that its prototype was the date palm—see Giovino 2007 on this subject; also Seidl and Sallaberger 2005) is another matter. It is clear from the jewelry recovered from the “Queens’ Tombs” at Nimrud (cf. Oates and Oates 2001: cover; Hussein and Suleiman 2000: 247, Pl. 42) that Assyrian artists were capable of rendering a naturalistic palm tree when they wished to do so (and in the same context as the “stylized tree”; Winter 2003: 253). Parpola’s interpretation is based partially on Greek and biblical parallels, sources that are outside of the Assyrian (and entire Mesopotamian) cultural system and that are later than Assyrian materials and thus cannot be relied on with confidence to retroactively explain the composition. Russell’s hypothesis, likewise, is not entirely satisfactory. If the “stylized tree” was intended to represent palm offshoots or fronds, then why were offshoots or fronds (stylized or otherwise) not depicted instead? Furthermore, one sign from the SI is inscribed on the “stylized tree”—GIŠ (= Akkadian i um), the logogram for “tree” (Fig. 11). Considering that 18 lines of the SI are inscribed across relief B-23, and yet only one sign from the inscription is actually 26 brian brown placed on the “stylized tree,” it seems like this placement is hardly an accident27 and should be taken to indicate that the Assyrians saw this object as a “tree,” whether in a real or symbolic sense. I return to this topic shortly. An interpretation along different lines, however, was offered by Brentjes in 1994. Nearly 150 years after Layard’s discovery of the reliefs, Brentjes was perhaps the first scholar to suggest that the depiction of the two figures actually represented two individuals, not one. Basing his analysis on B-23, he notes (1994: 51-52) numerous differences in outfit and pose between the two kings on the relief: the left arm of the king on the right is wrapped a mantle usually associated with cultic activity, while that of the king on the left is free; the left figure wears an animal-headed armband on his right arm, while the figure on the right wears no armband; the decoration of the robes of the two kings, such as the tassels, is different; and the ribbons extended from the headgear of the two kings differ (the ribbon on the left has long fringes, that on the right does not). I can add here that the two kings also wear different styles of sandals. Brentjes, also noticing the deviations in the depictions of the kings in Rooms G and H, suggests (1994: 54-55) that these differences might be taken to indicate that the Assyrian artists intended to represent more than one king. Based on his reading of the SI, Brentjes proposes that two kings were depicted: Adad-nirari II and Tukulti-Ninurta II, Aššurnasirpal’s grandfather and father, respectively, who are prominently mentioned in the inscription. This representation of his immediate ancestors and royal predecessors would have indicated Aššurnasirpal’s legitimacy, while the winged disc above symbolizes divine protection extended to the ruler (Brentjes 1994: 54-55, 64). Brentjes’ suggestion that the figures are separate people based on these noticeable differences in dress and equipment appears to be key. As I argued above in my analysis of the decorative program of the East Suite, it seems evident that Assyrian artists could achieve a high degree of standardization in representation when this was desired. An earlier monument, a Middle Assyrian altar or socle from the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I (1233-1197), also supports this 27 Porter (2000) argues for a similar intentionality in the placement of the cuneiform sign for the god Assur on the beard of a captive on an Esarhaddon stele found at Sam’al/Zinjirli; according to her interpretation, it denoted the prisoner as being almost the “property” of the god. kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 27 idea (cf. Winter 1981: Fig. 11). Here, the details of the two figures are identical, with deviations between the two made only to accommodate the difference in posture. Again, if we accept that standardization of dress and equipment indicates that the same individual is being depicted in scenes with multiple similar figures, then differences in these details could be considered to represent different personalities. Other interpretations are possible; for instance, it may be argued that the scene depicts the same king (Aššurnasirpal II), but in two separate roles or at two separate points in time (as advanced, for example, by Schafer [2007: 140]). A consideration of the larger context of B-13, however, makes this less likely. This particular “mirror-image” relief is flanked by two additional depictions of kings (B-12 and B-14),28 each of whom holds a staff and is attended by a courtier. Although the slabs are in a poor state of preservation, there is enough detail remaining to indicate that in these two instances, the kings appear to have received a standardized treatment. Two diagnostic features support this: the earrings worn by both kings are the same style (Madhloom’s “triple-armed” style [1970: 91 and Pl. LXIX, 1 and 2]) and the tassles on the robe of each king are each tied loosely, giving the fringes a lattice-like appearance. We may thus have an extended scene here: the king who commissioned the reliefs and the palace in which they were found (Aššurnasirpal II) witnessing and commemorating his ancestors, who are shown in the company of divine beings. Thus, the differences between the two kings’ outfits on B-23, in addition to the standardized treatment of the kings on slabs B-12 and B-14, undermine the hypothesis that the “mirror-image” relief scene shows the same king twice. The “Mirror Image” Relief and the East Suite The analysis of the “mirror image” reliefs as depicting Aššurnasirpal’s grandfather and father would mean that this object is an outstanding and original example of an ancestral monument, one that honored the king’s immediate ancestors while also stressing royal lineage, continuity, and legitimacy—the major characteristics of 28 For the overall placement of these slabs in the throneroom’s program, see Meuszynski 1981: Taf. 2,1 and 2,2. For B-12, see Kinnier-Wilson 1962: Pl. XXXI (king’s face) and Meuszynski 1975: Fig. 7 (body); for B-14, Stearns 1961: Pl. 15 (king’s face) and Meuszynski 1975: Fig. 5 (body). 28 brian brown kingship. I want to suggest that this interpretation offers us an opening to further examine the East Suite in view of the overall mortuary character of this complex that I pointed out above. The idea that the two deceased kings appearing on reliefs B-23 and B13 might also have had their own chapels devoted to ancestral cult rites could explain the bilateral symmetry of the East Suite. And, in fact, I would argue that there is a close structural similarity between the inner area of this wing and the relief (Fig. 12). In addition to the almost perfect axial symmetry of each, the two features comprise the same number of major elements arranged in a very similar way. In the East Suite, we see Rooms H and K serving as the central axial components, flanked by Rooms I and J to one side and Rooms L and M to the other. On the “mirrorimage” reliefs, the “stylized tree” and the winged disc29 form the central axis, which is flanked by a pair of kings, who are themselves flanked by genies. The architectural context of the reliefs may also indicate a link between them and the East Suite. As Brentjes notes, the figures in the winged discs on the two slabs are different, one holding a ring (B-23) and the other holding a bow (B-13). In addition, the figures point in two different directions: the figure holding the ring gestures in the direction of the king to the viewer’s right (i.e., south), while the figure holding the bow points to the king on the viewer’s left (i.e., east). Located within this “framing” is the doorway from the throneroom (Room B) to the “retiring room,” Room F, from which one may access the East Suite directly, without passing into the courtyard. This observation may provide support for the ideas, advanced by Russell (1998: 672-675), that the activities which took place in the East Suite were closely related to those that were carried out in the throneroom and that the route from Room B through Room F and into the northernmost door of Room G was a kind of “king’s route.” In addition to their general format and architectonic position, there are other aspects of the “mirror image” reliefs, specifically iconographic components, that tie them closely to the East Suite. I leave fuller discussion of these reliefs and their individual motifs for another time; for now, I would like to focus on two elements, 29 The meaning of this particular motif continues to be debated. In addition to the interpretations mentioned earlier, see also Dalley 1986 and Lambert 1985: 438-439. kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 29 the winged genies and the “stylized tree.” In the first case, we see a relatively direct and straightforward connection to the East Suite, while with the second, the link is much more complex and symbolic. The winged genies are the outermost elements on the “mirror image” reliefs, and when we examine the imagery of the two outermost components of the East Suite, we find exact correspondences— rooms full of them, in fact. Genies (both anthropomorphic, as seen on the “mirror image” slabs, and bird-headed) are shown tending to “stylized trees” in both Rooms I and L (on two-register orthostats in the former and single-register slabs in the latter). In one place in each of the rooms, on the reliefs within the shallow niches (which in the case of Room L contained the clay pipe), the repetitive genie-and-tree patterns are broken by anomalous elements: more genies. But these genies, as mentioned previously, are beardless and most likely female. Albenda (1996) has examined them in detail. Although beardless, their appearance is not the most “feminine” (in terms of the traditional Mesopotamian iconography), which has led to questions about their sex and gender, as eunuchs are also depicted without facial hair. Albenda (1996: 69) points to a number of features that seem to indicate that they are female: a “mature appearance and long dress, the absence of a beard and the ring held in the lower left hand.” Albenda (1996: 74) considers the ring, apparently composed of beads, as a female attribute due to its association with several goddesses, notably Ištar. However, she notes (1996: 74-75) that the presence of daggers may indicate a certain “duality of gender.” Albenda concludes (1996: 75) that these genies may be connected with Ištar due to the gender blurring implied by the daggers and their necklaces of star and rosette ornaments. If the genies are accepted as female, then several pieces of evidence from textual sources suggest that they might be identified as examples of the minor protective deity known as lamassu. In addition to providing protection to individuals, the lamassu, among other duties, escorted worshippers into the presence of the gods in the underworld (RlA 6: 446-455). The lamassu also has a particular association with Ištar and is listed among her messengers (RlA 6: 447). In addition, due to the fact that the lamassu is one half of a minor protective divine duo, whose other member is the male šedu, it sometimes appears as a “dual gender” being (ibid.). According to Russell (1998: 674), the anthropomorphic male genius figures cannot 30 brian brown be securely correlated with any of the apotropaic figures known from magic texts,30 but in light of my suggestion concerning the identity of the female genies, I propose that they be identified as the lamassu’s counterpart, the šedu.31 In this interpretation, not only would we have both members of the protective “guardian” pair that accompanied a person through their life (RlA 6: 446-455), at least one of whom also has a close connection to the afterlife, but we would also see two neat and satisfying correspondences between the outermost elements of the “mirror image” orthostats and the East Suite: male genies are found in both places, and the male genies appearing on the reliefs find their female counterparts there, too. The more complex and symbolic connections between the “mirror image” relief and the East Suite are provided by the “stylized tree” and Room H. But before examining these, we should return briefly to the links between the motif of the “stylized tree” and the institution of kingship. As seen earlier, many of the explanations of the “mirror image” scene, based on the central role of the “stylized tree” in the composition, appeal (implicitly or explicitly) to one or more aspects or duties of the king (usually as the guarantor of the land’s abundance, and often in conjunction with his important “cultic actor” role). Combining the symbolic with the practical, the “stylized tree” appears to have been a relatively widely employed insignia within the imperial administration. Winter (2000) has discussed the use of “stylized trees” and various scenes employing them on cylinder seals of 9th-7th century Assyria. She notes (2000: 66) that inscribed seals bearing this motif (along with the winged disc) almost invariably belonged to high-ranking officials and that the preciousness of the seals’ materials (such as carnelian, lapis lazuli, and mottled jasper) further indicated their owners’ elite status. Due to the fact that high-ranking officials appear to have multiple seals, Winter suggests (2000: 67) that seals bearing the “Tree/Winged Disc” motif were reserved for business that specifically related to state office. Winter further argues (2000: 79 and n. 38) that the use of the “stylized tree” on seals in administrative contexts constituted a reference to the monumental, hierarchically superior throneroom reliefs, upon which the seal representations 30 The bird-headed genies, on the other hand, can be identified with reasonable confidence as apkallu (Wiggerman 1992: 74; Russell 1998: 674). 31 Reade (1979: 36) had previously suggested that this type of genie was “some form of lamassu.” See also von Soden 1963. kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 31 depended for their meaning. Thus, seals bearing the “stylized tree” motif were used largely, if not exclusively, by high-ranking royal officials in their offices as administrators of the empire (headed by, but not synonymous with, the king), and they derived their meaning and indicated their owners’ authority by reference to the common and, in a sense, originating royal symbol (and not to the king as such). As Winter argues with respect to another so-called “royal seal” type, they may be understood as “ ‘state seals’ associated with the office of kingship . . . and as such, it is not the king, but ‘kingship and authority’ that is being referenced . . .” (2000: 57). Richardson (1999-2001) also sees a close association between the “stylized tree” and kingship. He notes (1999-2001: 159) that only kings are known to have been depicted wearing garments embroidered with the “stylized tree.” Richardson cites (1999-2001: 162) a document from the reign of Sennacherib with a colophon that substitutes Sennacherib’s name with the Sumerograms for “date palm” (GIŠ.GIŠIMMAR; though note the reservations of Giovino 2007 and Seidl and Sallaberger 2005 concerning the equation of the “stylized tree” and the date palm). He also notes (1999-2001: 163) that royal genealogies often make use of the metaphorical term liblibbu (an offshoot of the date palm) to refer to descendants and successors. Richardson concludes (1999-2001: 200, n. 239) by suggesting that the “stylized tree” served as an index that referenced several characteristics of Assyrian kingship, including the extension of protection. Further support for the idea that the “stylized tree” symbolized the institution of (Assyrian) kingship is supplied by a consideration of its placement in important areas, namely the corners of rooms (see Winter 1983a). “Stylized trees” are located in the corners of every room in which they are found; in Rooms B, G, and H, “stylized trees” standing by themselves (without any kind of immediately accompanying figure) are found only in corners.32 Russell (1998: 692) interpreted this situation as showing the “stylized tree’s” apotropaic power, used to defend against evil influences entering through the “liminal” zone of corners. This practice, however, can also illustrate the old Mesopotamian expression of totality, the “four quarters” or “four corners” (Sumerian AN.UB.LIMMU.DA, 32 Russell notes (1998: 689) that corners were the only places where “stylized trees” appeared in the palace of Tiglath-pileser III; Porter (2003) makes the same observation about the palace of Sargon II. 32 brian brown Akkadian kibrat erbetti ). This expression is also seen in the SI, when Aššurnasirpal describes himself as having “no rival among the princes of the four quarters” and as the “protection of the (four) quarters” (Grayson 1991: 275-276). Winter (1981, 1983a: 23-24) has already argued that the entire decorative program of the throneroom was designed to show Aššurnasirpal’s campaigns in and control over territory in all four directions from Assyria, in parallel to his texts recording the same. The “stylized tree,” symbolizing kingship and placed at the four corners of the throneroom, would also have symbolized the expansion of Assyrian power unto the “four quarters” of the earth. Therefore, whatever other meanings this motif may have had, we may posit that in 1st millennium Assyria (and certainly beyond, as I indicate below), it was closely bound up with the general idea of kingship as an office and institution and served as a symbol of it. And a closer examination of the “stylized tree” on relief B-23 supports this. It is often said that there is no direct textual evidence as to the meaning of this symbol (e.g., Cooper 2000: 340-341), but that is not technically correct. As I noted above, out of the dozens of signs from the 18 lines of text on the monument, only one touches the “stylized tree” itself, and that is the GIŠ sign, placed on its trunk. The straightforward analysis of “tree” offers little to the discussion,33 but a different possible analysis has a bearing both on kingship and royal Mesopotamian ancestors. dGIŠ (GIŠ plus the pre-positional determinative indicating divinity)34 was also one way of writing the name of Gilgamesh (Parpola 1998: 324), the divinized, heroic, quintessential king of 3rd millennium Uruk whose deeds continued to be celebrated well into the 1st millennium. An analysis of his name could thus be “the divine tree” (ibid.).35 Furthermore, Gilgamesh has Though it does serve as a rebuttal to the stringent denial of Seidl and Sallaberger (2005) that this motif can and/or should be considered as a tree. 34 While names of gods are usually preceded by the determinative indicating divinity, this is not always the case. To take an example relevant here, the theophoric elements of both Adad-nirari (10) and Tukulti-Ninurta (MAŠ), as written in the SI, lack determinatives indicating divinity (cf. Grayson 1991: 275, SI lines 1-2). 35 According to Parpola (1998: 324-325), other forms of his name (Akkadian and Sumerian) may also be analyzed to include references to trees or parts thereof: “(who) matched the tree of balance” (dGIŠ.GIN2.MAŠ), “pure/outstanding as the tree” (dGIŠ.GIM.MAŠ), and “offshoot of the ‘Mes’-tree.” Parpola also argues (1998: 324) that the spellings of the name of Gilgamesh in the various versions of the epic portray the hero as an “embodiment of the sacred tree.” But see here the reservations of Cooper (2000: 438, n. 28) concerning Parpola’s analyses. 33 kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 33 a connection with the afterlife, serving as one of the judges of the underworld (Abusch 2001: 621), and in fact he appears in preserved funerary texts for Assyrian kings as the recipient of offerings (McGinnis 1987: 3-5; Ebeling 1931: 65).36 I suggest that the inscription of the GIŠ sign on the “stylized tree,” itself so closely related to royalty and the office of the king in the 1st millennium BCE, indicated that it was to be understood as a symbol of Gilgamesh, with this prototypical warrior and builder king serving as a symbol of the larger institution of kingship.37 In other words, what we are dealing with is a symbol of a symbol, both of which are anchored together by a third symbol, namely the one cuneiform signans that could identify them both simultaneously.38 How does this understanding of the “stylized tree,” the central element of the “mirror image” reliefs, contribute to our understanding of Room H, the central space in the East Suite? As demonstrated above, the kings in this space (in strong contrast to those in Room G) all have noticeable differences in personal accoutrement, which is particularly apparent when we compare daggers and bowls. I suggested that these differences in personal effects were indices of differences in identities—meaning that we would have depictions of 10 different kings. But I do not believe that these are simply generic predecessor Assyrian “ancestor” kings; rather, textual evidence, 36 In this connection, I might mention Richardson’s observation (1999-2001: 157) that objects bearing the “stylized tree” motif frequently turn up in funerary contexts (e.g., a vase from Assur, the jewelry from the “Queens’ Tombs” at Nimrud). As Richardson notes, the motif is not funerary or mortuary per se, but if considered in association with Gilgamesh, one of the judges of the underworld, its presence among high-status grave goods becomes clearer. 37 This is not to say that the “stylized tree” was necessarily always seen as a symbol of Gilgamesh. That determination would have to be made on a caseby-case basis in each culture or society in which the motif appeared. However, it is clear that the “stylized tree” was one of the most widespread motifs in the ancient Near East; if we were looking for a literary analogue, it would certainly have to be the Epic of Gilgamesh, parts of which have been found all throughout Mesopotamia and in North Syria, Anatolia, Ugarit, and Palestine—George 1999: xxvi-xxvii; George 2007. 38 Another reference to Gilgamesh in the throneroom has already been suggested, in this case in connection with the reliefs depicting bull hunting. Watanabe (2000: 1155) notes that Aššurnasirpal is shown killing a bull by stabbing a sword into its neck behind the horns while holding one of them, which is the same way that Gilgamesh slays the “Bull of Heaven” in the Epic of Gilgamesh. This association with Gilgamesh is one that is “implied,” according to Watanabe (2000), in the ostensibly straightforward action of the bull hunt, and, for the “competent” viewer, it would have served to identify the king (Aššurnasirpal II) with his heroic royal “predecessor.” 34 brian brown including from Room H itself, may indicate who these particular kings are. In one version of the Assyrian King List (Gelb 1954; see also Yamada 1994, especially p. 37), there are exactly 10 rulers prior to Aššurnasirpal II. Nine of these apparently ruled in regular circumstances, with regular successions, but the tenth, Šamši-Adad IV, was a usurper. According to Gelb’s translation (1954: 228), “Shamshi-Adad (IV) son of Tukulti-apil-Esharra (I) from Karduniash he came up, Eriba-Adad (II) son of Assur-bel-kala from the throne he deposed, the throne he seized, (and) 4 years he ruled.” The next king after Šamši-Adad IV, the first of the subsequent line to enjoy fully a “legitimate” accession, was also an Aššurnasirpal, the first Assyrian ruler to carry this name. And within Room H, containing 10 of Aššurnasirpal’s royal predecessors, one—and only one—is designated, as I observed above, with an inscription on his body as “Aššurnasirpal” (Fig. 7). Room H, in other words, may provide a visual expression of the concept of palû, “dynasty,” and would be a material analogue of one exact part of the AKL (the section containing Aššurnasirpal’s ten royal and consanguinal predecessors). Literally embodying the ideas behind the king list (descent, continuity, legitimacy and, above all, the royal institution), Room H would thus have served as a chamber that contained “kingship.” Room H, therefore, as the central room in a complex devoted to the royal ancestor cult, would have concretely represented the abstract idea of kingship (supplying 10 icons, which together served as an index of the institution of Assyrian kingship) and equally would have provided a crucial space for its maintenance. Kingship depended upon tradition. Great prestige was attached to royal lineages, as seen in the various “king lists” from ancient Mesopotamia (cf. Finkelstein 1966; Yamada 1994). Activities that appealed to this type of legitimacy and that were designed to translate it into practical beneficial effects—kispu being one outstanding example—would have been crucial components of proper exercise of kingship and could have been seen as metonymic of the entire institution. Conclusion Underlying the preceding analysis is the premise that despite the radical changes in early 9th century Assyrian state and society that the construction of the Northwest Palace represented, Aššurnasirpal kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 35 and the ruling class were at pains to stress continuity with the past. I have argued here that two elements of this expression of continuity were the East Suite and the “mirror image” reliefs from the palace’s throneroom. Rapid and fundamental change was accompanied by the idea and presentation of a logical and, in the case of the East Suite, direct continuity with the history of Assyria. In other words, this ideology of a connection with the past was one of the ways the monumental changes in the nature of the Assyrian state could be accommodated. But the two features, though complementary in terms of their ideology, were very different in terms of their intended audience and function. The “mirror image” reliefs expressed the legitimacy of their creator, Aššurnasirpal, to a potentially wide audience by showing him in close association with his immediate ancestors in the very center of his state, the Assyrian throneroom. They thus contributed to the Assyrian ruler’s public persona, along with imagery on other reliefs there stressing further duties of the king, such as warfare and the hunt. These particular reliefs, in other words, helped facilitate his public performance of the office of kingship. Other elements of the reliefs, in particular the “stylized tree,” contributed to this public performance. While not possible to prove conclusively, I suggest that the “stylized tree” was adopted because it was a long-standing and important motif that was well-known throughout most of the ancient Near East. Russell notes (1998: 693) that “stylized trees” were common elements on Syrian seals as early as the 18th century and later appeared on Kassite, Mittanni, Middle Assyrian and Cypriot seals and sealings (see also Matthiae 1989: 369; Lambert 1985: 438-440). Furthermore, it was an important part of the public monumental repertoire in most of the early Iron Age North Syrian city-states (Brown 2008). In these contexts, the “stylized tree” is often seen in association with animals, both real and mythical, “heroes,” or kings facing gods, as well as anthropomorphic or bird-headed genies (Russell 1998: 693), all of which have a close iconographic relationship to depictions of royalty (for example, in animal hunts). The fact that it did not provide a literal agricultural motif for the Assyrians would not have been a decisive consideration. Instead, it provided a regionally widespread symbol associated with kingship at a time of both Assyrian expansion and a consciousness of this process, as indicated by Aššurnasirpal’s inscriptions. The “stylized tree” as a reworked and major Assyrian 36 brian brown motif appears at the same time that we see the development of historical narrative in visual form on reliefs, which Winter argues (1983a: 27) was directly related to this expansion and represented an attempt to reach a socially and culturally heterogeneous audience. The “stylized tree” motif was one that would have served a similar function, providing a message that would have been instantly comprehensible to many of the peoples whom the Assyrians were beginning to bring under their sovereignty. Therefore, while the “mirror-image” reliefs appeal to a supernatural world, I do not think that they were as esoteric or incomprehensible as scholars have often assumed. On the contrary, they would have provided an instantly recognizable statement of both conscientious duty to ancestors and legitimate exercise of kingship to anyone (Assyrian or non-Assyrian, royal or non-royal) who entered the throneroom. Marcus’ study (1995) on the employment of landscape imagery in Late Assyrian imperial art offers a useful way of looking at the issue. Marcus argues that natural features and elements of foreign lands were used in Assyrian iconography to express “the ruler’s intimate knowledge of the physical space he wants or claims to dominate” (1995: 199). The fact that the king and the Assyrian army begin appearing more and more frequently in various foreign landscapes “symbolizes the real or wished-for political incorporation of conquered territory” (1995: 200). Yet Assyrian society, while based largely on rural unfree agricultural labor economically, revolved intellectually around urban centers. The city was the center for the ruling class. Thus, while nature scenes may indicate imperial designs on a general, undifferentiated foreign area (cf. Liverani 1979), we should expect something else when an urbanbased elite seek to conquer or absorb other specific political units, namely an appropriation of features specifically and integrally related to targeted elite centers within the general territorial area. If we adjust Marcus’ understanding of “landscape” to include the built landscape, this is exactly what we see in the Northwest Palace. Aššurnasirpal’s artisans, in creating the monumental palace at Nimrud, both directly borrowed elements from the North Syrian cities (decorated orthostats and selected motifs, notably those relating to ancestor cult practice)—which were part of the larger urban, and not just palatial, environment—and retooled other elements (the “stylized tree,” for example) which had been part of the Assyrian tradition, but which were at the same time still “local” North Syrian features. By appropriating all of these elements, kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 37 presenting them on a monumental scale and, significantly, confining them within the palace, the rulers of the nascent Assyrian empire were, in addition to the overall territory, announcing their designs on the North Syrian cities, the centers of a rival elite, which could be seen, in the Assyrian perspective, as wrongly controlling or possessing areas which rightfully belonged to the Assyrian state (see Richardson 1999-2001: 146). The “mirror-image” reliefs, by presenting a typical North Syrian practice via a North Syrian medium, would have relayed Aššurnasirpal’s claims to the area in general and its urban centers in particular.39 In contrast to the “mirror image” reliefs, which were more public and which closely linked political goals with duty to the ancestors, the East Suite would have provided an environment for the performance of more private rituals that would guarantee a direct link to Aššurnasirpal’s royal Assyrian predecessors and enlist their help in these undertakings. The offerings of food and drink to their ghosts and the calling out of their names would, in the Assyrian view, provide a real (and not just symbolic) connection to the past. This kind of drawing on the past by the early 1st millennium Assyrian kings has been recognized (see, for example, Liverani 2004; Grayson, cited in Harrak 1987: 277). Indeed, the names of Aššurnasirpal’s father and grandfather, Tukulti-Ninurta and Adadnirari, had previously been used by two of the of the most dynamic Middle Assyrian kings in the 13th century, nearly four centuries earlier, while the namesake of his son, Shalmaneser, was another powerful ruler during this time. Support by the ancestral kings— deceased, but still very much present—for the large-scale changes initiated by Aššurnasirpal II and the ruling class, represented so well by the shift of the Assyrian center from the city of Ashur to Nimrud, would have been seen as of the utmost importance for their success. Finally, I would like to note that Aššurnasirpal was an old man by the time the Northwest Palace was finally dedicated—he was to die less than a decade later. While the monuments I have identified as ancestral in nature were set up to commemorate Aššurnasirpal’s own ancestors, we should keep in mind that he too would “become an ancestor,” and perhaps he had planned for this as well with some of the monuments. Indeed, the king in Room H with the 39 This point was initially suggested by Marian Feldman. See Brown 2008 for fuller discussion. 38 brian brown name “Aššurnasirpal” inscribed on the royal hand (Fig. 7) could have perhaps signified both his eponymous predecessor and himself after death, when he would have joined the ancestors and begun receiving offerings to placate his soul in the afterlife. This suggestion can give us a deeper understanding of why Aššurnasirpal described the Northwest Palace in its building inscriptions as his “seat of kingship for eternity” (SI, line 19; cf. Grayson 1991: 276). APPENDIX—Comparison of Room G Kings Feature Earrings Sash rope knot Bowls Bows Necklaces Diadems Collar Sandals Hair ribbons Bracelets Description All wear the “bullet” type (Madhloom’s Type C—1970: 90 and Pl. LXVIII 5-9, 11-17) All wear knots in the same way; the exact way in which they turn occasionally differs All vessels appearing are plain and undecorated All bows appearing are plain, with no adornment All wear single-strand bead/spacer type All have undecorated diadems All have two tassels at the throat All wear the same style, with two thin straps over the arch of the foot (except G-6, which apparently has no straps All have long ribbons with tassels at the end and a rope-like extension (a counterweight?); the seated king (G-3) and the standing kings facing to the left add a broad ribbon as well All wear bracelets with rosettes on each wrist Bibliography Abusch, T. 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(1994). “The Editorial History of the Assyrian King List.” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 84: 11-37. 44 brian brown Figure 1: Plan of the Northwest Palace at Nimrud (from Englund 2003) kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 45 Figure 2: The East Suite of the Northwest Palace (after Paley and Sobolewski 1987) Figure 3: The inner rooms of the East Suite (after Paley and Sobolewski 1987). Note the slabs with the D-shaped depressions in Rooms I and L 46 brian brown Figure 4: Slab H-2 from Room H of the East Suite. Bristol City Museum H-795 (from Weidner 1939: Abb. 92) kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 47 Figure 5: Slab H-4 from Room H of the East Suite. Brooklyn Museum 55.155 (from Paley 1976: Pl. 4) 48 brian brown Figure 6: Slab H-31 from Room H of the East Suite. Los Angeles County Museum of Art 66.4.3 (from Weidner 1939: Abb. 96) kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 49 Figure 7: Close-up of the left hand of the king on H-4. The cuneiform signs are maš-šur-PAB-A (= Aššurnasirpal) Figure 8a-c: Comparison of Assyrian tombs and the L-shaped rooms from the Northwest Palace (all drawings to scale): (a) 12th century tomb at Tell Taban, Syria (after Numoto 2008); (b) Room I; (c) Assyrian royal cemetery at Assur—note especially Tomb V (Aššurnasirpal’s tomb; after Haller 1954) 50 brian brown Figure 9a-b: (a) Relief from Water Gate at Karkemish (from Woolley 1921: Pl. B.30b); (b) Reliefs G-2-4 from the Northwest Palace (from Matthiae 1999) Figure 10: Slab B-23 from Room B (the throneroom) of the Northwest Palace (one of two “mirror-image” compositions from the throneroom). British Museum BM 12.45.31 kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 51 52 brian brown Figure 11: Close-up of the trunk of the “stylized tree” on B-23. Note the GIŠ sign (author’s photograph) kingship and ancestral cult in the northwest palace 53 Figure 12: Schematic comparison of the East Suite and the “mirror-image” composition