The Art Of The Ancient Near East

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  • 1. The Art Of The Ancient Near East Introduction To Art History I Professor Will Adams
  • 2. Mesopotamia: land between the rivers
  • 3. The Impact of Geography  The first true civilization, Sumer, was discovered in Mesopotamia, which means “land between the rivers.”  The Fertile Crescent is an arc of land stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf, spanned by the Tigris & Euphrates Rivers, which yielded rich soil and abundant crops.  The first Sumerian cities emerged in southern Mesopotamia around 3,200 B.C.
  • 4. Why Was Sumeria the First Civilization?  The Sumerians defined what constitutes a “civilization” today: 1. They built complex, advanced cities. 2. They employed specialized workers. 3. They designed complex social institutions, like centralized government & religion. 4. They began the first system of record-keeping or writing (cuneiform), which allowed history and literature to develop. 5. They developed advanced technologies like the wheel, sail, & plow. 6. They mastered agriculture, allowing them to create a surplus of food, which led to trade. 7. Trade led to contact with outside cities and societies. 8. That ultimately led to cultural diffusion: the process of a new idea or product spreading from one culture to another.
  • 5. Disadvantages of the Environment  The northern Fertile Crescent is hilly and rainy in the winter, while the south is flat, arid, & dry year-round.  The South receives little rain, but receives a lot of silt (material deposited by rivers, good for crops) from annual flooding, but flooding is unpredictable.  Irrigation could manage the flooding, but it was difficult to build.  Villages clustered in open plains, which provide no natural barriers for protection.
  • 6. Early Solutions to Problems  Food: By 5000 B.C.E., Mesopotamian resources were running out, so people moved to the plains & established Sumerian city- states.  Protection: Sumerians built city walls using mud bricks to keep out enemies.  To get natural resources, Sumerians traded their grain, cloth, and crafted tools for the stone, wood, & metal they needed.
  • 7. The Invention of Irrigation  To make sure there was enough silt, farmers had to control the water supply, thus inventing irrigation.  Irrigation ditches carried water to the fields,  This allowed for a surplus of crops.  The ditches took cooperation to complete (leaders to plan & labors and supervisors to build).  The project created a need for laws to settle disputes over how land and water should be distributed.
  • 8. The City-States of Sumer  Recognizable cities first arose around 3,000 B.C.  The first cities were Eridu, Ur, & Uruk.  Each city was surrounded by barley and wheat fields.  As cities grew, so did their control of the surrounding land.  These large, city-governed areas are called city-states.
  • 9. The Sumerian Cityscapes  Sumerian city-states were surrounded by sun-dried brick walls with gates.  Within the walls were inhabitants’ houses & large government buildings (also mud brick).  Each city-state shared a similar culture & history with the others, but each had a different government.  There was no Sumerian “nation”.
  • 10. Ancient Sumerian Religion  Ancient Sumerians were polytheistic (believing in multiple gods).  The Sumerian pantheon consisted of a hierarchy of roughly 3,000 gods.  These gods were immortal, all-powerful, and used humans as servants.  Sumerians built temples called ziggurats (mountains of god) & gave sacrifices to please the gods.  Sumerians did believe in the concept of a “soul” or personal life-force.  The ancient Sumerians believed that the souls of their dead went to a “land of no return”.  Their view of the afterlife was not at all optimistic.  They saw the land of the dead as a gloomy, dark place, existing somewhere between the earth’s crust and sea.
  • 11. The Sumerian Pantheon  Sumerians believed that gods lived on distant mountaintops & each god had control of certain things.  Each city was ruled by a different god.  The most revered Sumerian deities were:  Enlil (supreme god & god of air)  Ishtar (goddess of fertility & life)  An (god of heaven)  Enki (god of water & underworld)  Shamash (god of sun and giver of law)
  • 12. Kingship and Religion Linked  Each city-state king’s power was enhanced & supported by Sumerian religion.  Sovereignty (right to rule) was believed to be divinely ordained.  Sumerian kings & priests acted as the gods’ interpreters.  They told the people what the gods wanted them to do through augury (examining the organs of a slain sheep).  The gods were worshipped at huge temples called ziggurats.
  • 13. The Mountains of God  Ziggurats were built of many layers of mud bricks in the shape of a tiered pyramid.  The mountain shape was powerful because of the rivers’ constant flooding & the belief that the gods resided on mountaintops.  The cella (chapel) at the top served as the god’s home & was beautifully decorated.  Inside was a room for offerings of food & goods.  One of the largest ziggurats ever built was the Ziggurat at Ur, built c. 2,100 B.C.E.
  • 14. The Innovations of Sumeria  Sumerians invented the wheel, the sail, and the plow.  They also ushered in the Bronze Age by pioneering its use in tools.  One of the first known maps was created in Sumeria.  They also devised a counting system based on the number 60.  MOST IMPORTANT: They created the first writing system, allowing history to begin.
  • 15. The Art of Sumeria
  • 16. Sumerian Art in Uruk
  • 17. The Nature Of Sumerian Art  The Sumerians called themselves Sag-gi-ga, which meant "the Black-headed Ones" & their country Ken-gi-r, "the Civilized Land."  By 2,000 BCE Sumerians living in cities such as Ur & Uruk in southern Iraq had developed paved roads, the arch & vault, writing, schools, epic literature, law codes, banking, & even joint-stock corporations.  Between the Tigris & Euphrates Rivers, the earliest cities arose.  Uruk was the first of these.
  • 18. The White Temple At Uruk  The Sumerians built towering stepped platforms of mud bricks called ziggurats, with a temple on the summit.  Usually only the foundations of early Mesopotamian temples can be recognized.  The White Temple is a rare exception.  The White Temple at Uruk was dedicated to Anu, the sky god.  It has a central hall (cella) with a stepped altar where the Sumerian priests would await the apparition of the deity.
  • 19.  White Temple and Ziggurat  Uruk (Modern Warka), Iraq  ca. 3,200-3,000 B.C.E.  Mud brick
  • 20. The White Temple At Uruk  The remains in the photograph were once the base for Uruk’s White Temple.  Rising 40 feet above ground level, the ziggurat would have lifted the temple above the city’s fortification wall, supposedly constructed on the orders of Gilgamesh, the eponymous protagonist of the epic tale and legendary king of ancient Uruk (reigned ca. 2700 BCE).  The grandeur of monuments like this one, as well as their ubiquity & centrality, suggests the profound role that religion played in the earliest urban experiences.
  • 21. The Head Of Inanna  Female Head (Possibly Inanna)  From Uruk (Modern Warka), Iraq  ca. 3,200-3,000 B.C.E.  Marble  A marble & gold portrait sculpture of Inanna, goddess of the moon.  The piece is a life-like head of a woman carved from imported white marble  Originally, she had inlaid eyes & eyebrows, & other attachments such as a wig, probably woven of gold leaf.
  • 22. The Warka Vase  Warka Vase  Uruk (Modern Warka) Iraq  ca. 3,200-3,000 B.C.E.  Alabaster  In this oldest known example of Sumerian narrative art, the sculptor divided the tall stone vase's reliefs into registers, a significant break with the haphazard figure placement found in earlier art.
  • 23. The Warka Vase  The vase is divided into 3 registers, showing: Rows of plants & sheep Nude males carrying baskets or jars A ceremonial scene, in which the ruler of Uruk delivers provisions to the temple of Inanna, & a woman (probably her priestess)
  • 24. Sumerian Art in Eshnunna
  • 25. Sumerian Votive Statues  Statuettes of Worhippers  Eshnunna (Modern Tell Asmar), Iraq  ca. 2,700 B.C.E.  Gypsum, shell, black limestone  The Statuettes show standing men & women of varying size with large eyes & tiny hands clasped in a gesture of prayer or holding small beakers.  The beakers were used to pour libations in honor of the gods.
  • 26. Sumerian Votive Statues
  • 27. Sumerian Votive Statues The oversized eyes probably symbolized the perpetual wakefulness of these substitute worshipers offering prayers to the deity. Another statuette shows the seated figure of the court singer Urnanshe in prayer.
  • 28. Votive Statue Of Urnanshe The Court Singer Urnanshe votive is from another group of Sumerian votive statuettes comes from the Temple of Ishtar at Mari. Of particular interest is the fact that Urnanshe is depicted as beardless, but with straight hair to his waist, suggesting he was a eunuch.
  • 29. Sumerian Art in Ur
  • 30. The Standard Of Ur  Standard of Ur  Royal Cemetery Ur (Modern Tell Muqayyar) Iraq  ca. 2,600 B.C.E.  Wood, shell, lapis lazuli, red limestone  The spoils of war as well as farming & trade brought considerable wealth to some of the city-states of ancient Sumer.  Using a mosaic-like technique, this Sumerian artist depicted a battlefield victory in three registers.
  • 31. The Standard Of Ur In the top band, soldiers present bound captives to a kinglike figure who is larger than everyone else. The feast on the peace side may be a victory celebration. The narrative again reads from bottom to top, and the size of the figures varies with their importance in Sumerian society.
  • 32. The Standard Of Ur: War Side
  • 33. The Standard Of Ur: War Side  The War side shows the defeat of some unknown enemy.  At the bottom, war carts, drawn by donkeys race from left to right, trampling naked enemy soldiers.  The second register shows a phalanx of armed soldiers on the left, while on the right soldiers dispatch some captives & lead others away.  The top register shows the ruler, his height exceeding the border of the field, facing right.  Behind him, his cart is drawn by four donkeys alongside his attendants.  In front of him, soldiers parade nude and bound prisoners.
  • 34. The Standard Of Ur: Peace Side
  • 35. The Standard Of Ur: Peace Side  The Standard’s Peace side has a completely different theme from the War side.  Its two lower registers illustrate the bounty of the land.  The bottom one depicts men carrying produce on their shoulders & in backpacks supported by headbands, as well as men leading donkeys by ropes.  The second register shows men leading bulls & goats & carrying fish, presumably the produce of the pastures, rivers, and swamps.
  • 36. The Standard Of Ur: Peace Side  The upper register depicts a royal banquet. The ruler, wearing a wool kilt, is shown larger in scale than the others.  The other banqueters, who wear plain kilts, face him & raise their cups together while attendants provide food & drink.  Banqueting in Mesopotamia usually involved music.  A lyre player & singer stand to the right of the scene.
  • 37. The Bull-Headed Lyre  Bull-Headed Lyre  Royal Cemetery Ur (modern Tell Muqayyar)  ca. 2,600 B.C.E.  Wood, gold leaf, lapis lazuli  The people buried at the Royal Cemetery were members of the elite classes, who held ritual or managerial roles in the temples or palaces at Ur.  Lyres or harps were found in several of the royal tombs. Some of these lyres held inlays of feasting scenes.  One of the bodies buried in the Royal Cemetery was draped over a lyre like this one, the bones of her hands placed on what would have been the strings.
  • 38. The Bull-Headed Lyre  Music seems to have been extremely important in Mesopotamia: Many of the graves in the Royal Cemetery contained musical instruments, and quite possibly the musicians that played them.  This lyre from a royal grave at Ur is adorned with a bearded bull's head of gold leaf and lapis lazuli, and inlaid figures of a Gilgamesh-like hero and animals.  Scholars believe the panels on the bull-headed lyre represent an underworld banquet.
  • 39. The Bull-Headed Lyre  The panels on the front of the lyre represent:  A scorpion man and a gazelle serving drinks  An ass playing a bull lyre  A bear possibly dancing  A fox or jackal carrying a sistrum and drum  A dog carrying a table of butchered meat  A lion with a vase and pouring vessel  A man wearing a belt handling a pair of human- headed bulls.
  • 40. What Became of the Sumerians?  They were conquered by the Akkadians, a Semitic (Arabic) people.  In 2350 B.C.E., the Akkadians swept into the Fertile Crescent, led by Sargon the Great (King Sargon I).  They conquered & assimilated the Sumerians, thus creating the world’s first empire.  An empire is a large political unit or state under a single leadership, that controls large areas of conquered and native territory.
  • 41. The Art of Akkad
  • 42. Akkadian Art  In 2334 B.C.E., Sumeria came under the domination of the Semitic ruler Sargon I, whose city, Akkad, gave its name to the language & the culture.  The art of this time focuses on exhibiting the status & power of male rulers.  Their victories in war & laws are recorded on upright stone slabs called steles.
  • 43. Akkadian Art IN Nineveh
  • 44. The Head Of Sargon I  Head of an Akkadian Ruler (Sargon I?)  Nineveh (Modern Kuyunjik) Iraq  ca. 2,250-2,200 B.C.E.  Copper  The piece is a life-size, hollow-cast copper head with inlaid eyes (now lost) & a curly beard, which shows a high level of skill in Akkadian metalworking.
  • 45. The Head Of Sargon I The sculptor of this first known life-size hallow-cast head captured the distinctive features of the ruler while also displaying a keen sense of abstract pattern. The head’s nose and eyes were vandalized in antiquity.
  • 46. Akkadian Art In Susa
  • 47. The Victory Stele Of Naram-Sin  Victory Stele of Naram-Sin  Susa, Iran  ca. 2,254-2,218 B.C.E.  Sandstone  Naram-Sin was Sargon's grandson.  The god-like Akkadian kings ruled with absolute authority.  Naram-Sin's title was "King of the Four Quarters" meaning "Ruler of the World."  This stele, carved in relief, commemorates the victory of the king & his army in the wooded Iranian mountains.
  • 48. The Victory Stele Of Naram-Sin  The hierarchy of scale shows Naram-Sin is the most important figure in the piece.  Everyone in the piece looks up towards him, in his heroic & God-like stance atop the mountain.  The sculptor staggered the figures, abandoning the traditional register format.
  • 49. The Victory Stele Of Naram-Sin
  • 50. Neo-Sumerian Art
  • 51. Neo-Sumerian Art  When Akkadian domination ended, Sumerian culture was revived.  The new Sumerian kings built a huge stepped ziggurats with long ramp- like stairways at the royal city of Ur.  The Neo-Sumerian ruler Gudea had numerous statues carved in his image.
  • 52. Neo-Sumerian Art In Ur
  • 53. The Ziggurat At Ur  Ziggurat  Ur (modern Tell Muqayyar)  Iraq  ca. 2,100 B.C.E.  Mud brick  One of the largest & best- preserved ziggurats is the great Ziggurat at Ur.  It has three ramp-like stairways of a hundred steps each that originally ended at a gateway to a brick temple.
  • 54. The Ziggurat At Ur  Then a single staircase led up to a second terrace, which supported a platform on which a temple and the final & highest terrace stood.  The Ziggurat at Ur and the temple on its top were built around 2100 B.C.E. for the moon goddess Inanna, patron goddess of the city-state.  The core of the ziggurat was made of mud brick, covered with baked bricks laid with bitumen, a naturally occurring tar.
  • 55. The Ziggurat At Ur  Each of the baked bricks measured about 11.5 x 11.5 x 2.75 inches & weighed as much as 33 lbs.  The lower portion of the ziggurat, which supported the first terrace, would have used 720,000 baked bricks alone.  The resources needed to build the Ziggurat at Ur are staggering.
  • 56. The Ziggurat At Ur  The most important part of the Ziggurat at Ur was the Inanna temple at its top, but this does not survive, although some blue glazed bricks have been found.  The surviving lower parts of the ziggurat include amazing details of engineering & design.
  • 57. The Ziggurat At Ur  For instance, because the core of the temple was unbaked mud brick, which would, according to season, be more or less damp, the architects included holes through the baked exterior layer of the temple that allowed water to evaporate from its core.  Additionally, drains were built into the ziggurat’s terraces to carry away the winter rains.
  • 58. Neo-Sumerian Art In Girsu
  • 59. The Seated Statue Of Gudea  Seated Statue of Gudea (Holding Temple Plan)  Girsu (Modern Telloh), Iraq  ca. 2,100 B.C.E.  Diorite  The most conspicuous, preserved sculptural monuments of the Neo- Sumerian age portray the ensi of Lagash, Gudea.
  • 60. The Seated Statue Of Gudea Gudea of Lagash built or rebuilt many temples & placed statues of himself in all of them. In the seated portrait (no head), Gudea has on his lap a plan of the new temple he erected to Ningirsu.
  • 61. Babylonian Art
  • 62. But Then What Happened?  In 1792 B.C.E., the Akkadian empire was absorbed into a new empire centralized in the city of Babylon.  The Babylonians were led by their King Hammurabi.  As leader of the newly- minted Babylonian Empire, Hammurabi introduced a standardized law code and promoted the use of a single language empire-wide.
  • 63. Babylonian Art In Susa
  • 64. The Code of Hammurabi  As king, Hammurabi authored a collection of 282 laws, based on a system of strict justice.  Penalties for various crimes were routinely severe, and the punishments varied by social class.  The concept of retaliation (“an eye for an eye”) was an important part of the legal system.  Officials were held accountable to the injured (If they didn’t catch a murderer, they had to pay the victim’s family).  The Code of Hammurabi also addressed issues in marriage and family laws.  The Code was meant to reinforce the principle that government had a responsibility for what occurred in society.
  • 65. The Code of Hammurabi  Stele With Code of Hammurabi  Susa, Iran  ca. 1,780 B.C.E.  Basalt  A stone pillar features a relief carving at the top & text inscribed below.  The stele that records Hammurabi's remarkably early law code also is one the of the first examples of an artist employing foreshortening – the representation of a figure or object at an outward angle.
  • 66. The Code of Hammurabi The relationship between king & god in the ancient Near East is set out on this Babylonian stele representing the sun god extending the symbols of his authority to govern and enact laws to Hammurabi.
  • 67. The Sumerian Writing System Over five thousand years ago, people living in Mesopotamia developed a form of writing to record and communicate different types of information. The earliest writing was based on pictograms. Pictograms were used to communicate basic information about crops and taxes.
  • 68. Cuneiform Is Invented  Over time, the need for writing changed & the signs developed into a script we call cuneiform.  Over thousands of years, Mesopotamian scribes recorded daily events, trade, astronomy, & literature on clay tablets.  Cuneiform was used by people throughout the ancient Near East to write several different languages.
  • 69. Cuneiform and Agriculture Around 3100 BCE, people began to record amounts of different crops. Barley was one of the most important crops in southern Mesopotamia and when it was first drawn it looked like this.
  • 70. Inventory in Cuneiform  Farmers brought their barley to the temple stores.  A record was kept of how much barley was received.  When some of the barley was given to temple workers, this was also recorded on a tablet.  The barley sign usually had a number next to it to show how much barley was being given in to the temple or taken away.
  • 71. Inventory in Cuneiform The barley sign changed shape when the scribes used a writing tool with a squared-off end instead of a point. The end of this tool was used to press wedge shapes like these into clay tablets.
  • 72. A reed stylus was the main writing tool used by Mesopotamian scribes.
  • 73. Cuneiform in Maturity It is at this point that the signs became what we call cuneiform. The barley sign had to be written using several wedges.
  • 74. Some Shifty Characters  The Sumerian writing system during the early periods was constantly in flux.  The original direction of writing was from top to bottom, but for reasons unknown, it changed to left-to-right very early on (perhaps around 3000 BCE).  This also affected the orientation of the signs by rotating all of them 90° counterclockwise.
  • 75. The Standardized Cuneiform Alphabet
  • 76. Cuneiform Upper-Case Characters
  • 77. Cuneiform Re-Discovered  Knowledge of cuneiform was lost until 1835 AD, when Henry Rawlinson, an English army officer, found some inscriptions on a cliff at Behistun in Persia.  Carved in the reign of King Darius of Persia (522-486 BCE), they consisted of identical texts in three languages: Old Persian, Babylonian & Elamite.  After translating the Persian, Rawlinson began to decipher the others.  By 1851 he could read 200 cuneiform signs.
  • 78. The Sumerian Scribes  Scribes were very important people. They were trained to write cuneiform and record many of the languages spoken in Mesopotamia.  Without scribes, letters would not have been written or read, royal monuments would not have been carved with cuneiform, and stories would have been told and then forgotten.  Scribes wrote on different shaped objects depending on the type of information they wanted to record.
  • 79. Edubba: A Sumerian School  Literacy was a highly valued skill.  Sumerians set up the first institutions of formal education that they called edubbas.  Education included writing and mathematics  Tuition was paid for education.  The educated were privileged elite: government officials, scribes, etc.
  • 80. Notebooks Sumerian Style This is known today as a curriculum tablet. It was used in Mesopotamian schools to teach pupils about the different types of texts written by scribes.
  • 81. Life as a Sumerian Student  Students worked very hard at Sumerian schools, and the school day lasted from early morning until early evening.  The teachers strictly regimented the students.  Once a student effectively finished twelve years of school, he was an official scribe, or writer.  This was a important position in Sumerian culture. Scribes were very expensive in order to continue and recover the evidence keeping that the Sumerians considered so very necessary. Sculptor unknown, Votive Statue of the Scribe Indu, c. 2500 BCE
  • 82. Sumerian Security: Cylinder Seals  Cylinder seals were small carved cylinders made of stone or metal.  Scenes of gods, animals and men were carved into the seal so when it was rolled on the clay, it would leave an impression. This would act like a signature.  Some cylinder seals also had cuneiform signs carved on them which recorded the name and title of the seal owner.  Seals were rolled over clay tablets which were nearly dry.
  • 83. Scenes from a Cylinder Seal This ancient cylinder seal has been rolled out onto modern modelling clay to show the impression.
  • 84. Sumerian Contract and Envelope Some clay tablets were wrapped in an extra layer of clay which acted like an envelope. A shortened version of the information on the tablet was sometimes written on the envelope. Part of this envelope has broken off, showing the top of the tablet inside.
  • 85. In-Class Activity As a class, I will divide you into groups. Each group will be given a quotation from a Classical philosopher, written in standardized cuneiform. Using the key projected onto the screen, work together as a group to translate your quotation. One person should act as the “scribe” for the group, and write out the English version of the quotation as the other two work to translate it. The group that finishes first wins a prize!
  • 86. The Cuneiform Alphabet ◄ Lower-case characters Upper-case characters ►
  • 87. From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hates. - Aristotle
  • 88. Justice is a kind of compact not to harm or be harmed. - Epicurus
  • 89. At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet. - Plato
  • 90. A few vices are sufficient to darken many virtues. - Plutarch
  • 91. The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself. - Thales
  • 92. Control thy passions lest they take vengeance on thee. - Epictetus
  • 93. I have often repented speaking but never of holding my tongue. - Xenocrates
  • 94. By desiring little a poor man makes himself rich. - Democritus
  • 95. All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind. - Aristotle