• Understand the cultural changes in the Neolithic Revolution as
they relate to the art and architecture.
• Understand the concept of civilization and the importance
of Sumer in the ancient Near East.
• Examine the artistic materials, techniques, subject matter,
styles and conventions developed in the ancient Near East.
The Cradle of Civilization
• Mesopotamia, the core of the region often called the Fertile
Crescent and the presumed locale of the biblical Garden of
Eden (Gen. 2:10–15), was where humans first learned how
to use the wheel and plow and how to control floods and
construct irrigation canals. In the fourth millennium bce, the
inhabitants of ancient Sumer, the first great Mesopotamian
civilization, also established the earliest complex urban
societies, called city-states , and invented writing. They
may also have been the first culture to use pictures to
tell coherent stories, far surpassing Stone Age artists’
tentative efforts at pictorial narration.
• The so-called Standard of Ur Fig. 2-1), from the Sumerian city
that was home to the biblical Abraham, is one of the earliest
extant works incorporating all of the pictorial conventions that
would dominate ancient narrative art for more than 2,000 years.
• Sumerian 35000 – 2332 • World’s first city states founded and writing
invented • Construction of oldest temples on ziggurats • Artists present
narratives in register format
• Akkadian 2332 – 2150 • First Mesopotamian rulers to call themselves kings •
Earliest preserved hollow-cast bronze statuary
• Neo-Sumerian and Babylonian 2150 – 1600 • Largest extant ziggurat erected
at Ur • Gudea rebuilds temples and commissions portraits • Hammurabi sets up
a stele recording his laws
• Hittite and Assyrian 1600 – 612 • Hittites sack Babylon and fortify their capital
at Hattusa • Assyrians rule a vast empire from citadels guarded by lamassu •
Extensive relief cycles celebrate Assyrian military campaigns
• Neo-Babylonian and Achaeminid 612 – 559 • Nebuchadnezzar II rebuilds
Babylon, which boasts two of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world • Persians
build an immense palace complex at Persepolis
• Greco-Roman and Sasanian 330 BCE – 636 CE • After conquest by
Alexander the Great, Mesopotamia and Persia are absorbed into the Greco-
Roman world • New Persian Empire challenges Rome from Ctesiphon
The Neolithic Revolution
• When humans first gave up the dangerous and
uncertain life of the hunter and gatherer for the
more predictable and stable life of the farmer and
herder, the change in human society was so
significant that historians justly have dubbed it the
Neolithic Revolution (see Chapter 1). This
fundamental change in the nature of daily life first
occurred in Mesopotamia—a Greek word that
means “the land between the [Tigris and Euphrates]
• Mesopotamia is the region that gave birth to three
of the world’s great modern faiths—Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam—and consequently has long
been of interest to historians.
• The Sumerians were the people who in the fourth millennium bce
transformed the vast and previously sparsely inhabited valley between the
Tigris and Euphrates into the Fertile Crescent of the ancient world.
• Ancient Sumer, which roughly corresponds to southern Iraq today, was
not a unified nation, however. Rather, it comprised a dozen or so
independent city-states under the protection of different Mesopotamian
deities (see “The Gods and Goddesses of Mesopotamia,”).
• The city-state was one of the great Sumerian inventions.
• Another was writing. The oldest written documents known are Sumerian
records of administrative acts and commercial transactions.
• The Sumerians also produced great literature. Their most famous work,
known from fragmentary cuneiform texts, is the late-third-millennium
Epic of Gilgamesh, which antedates the Greek poet Homer’s Iliad and
Odyssey by some 1,500 years. It recounts the heroic story of Gilgamesh,
legendary king of Uruk and slayer of the monster Huwawa.
White Temple, Uruk
• The layout of Sumerian cities reflected the central role of the gods
in daily life.
• The outstanding preserved example of early Sumerian temple
architecture is the 5,000-year-old White Temple (Fig. 2-2) at Uruk,
a city that in the late fourth millennium bce had a population of
• As in other Sumerian temples, the corners of the White Temple
are oriented to the cardinal points of the compass. The building,
probably dedicated to Anu, the sky god, is of modest proportions
(61 by 16 feet). By design, it did not accommodate large throngs of
worshipers but only a select few, the priests and perhaps the
leading community members.
• The Sumerians referred to their temples as “waiting rooms,” a
reflection of their belief the deity would descend from the heavens
to appear before the priests in the cella. Whether the Uruk temple
had a roof, and if it did, what kind, are uncertain. 8
Figure 2-3 Reconstruction drawing of the White Temple and ziggurat, Uruk (modern Warka), Iraq, ca. 3200–3000 BCE.
Figure 2-2 White Temple and ziggurat, Uruk (modern Warka), Iraq, ca. 3200–3000 BCE.
The Gods and Goddesses of Mesopotamia
• The Sumerians and their successors in Mesopotamia
worshiped numerous deities, mostly nature gods.
Listed here are the Mesopotamian gods and
goddesses discussed in this chapter.
• Anu. The chief deity of the Sumerians. Anu was the
god of the sky and of the city of Uruk. One of the
earliest Sumerian temples (Figs. 2-2 and 2-3) may
have been dedicated to his worship.
• Enlil. Anu’s son. Enlil was the lord of the winds
and the earth. He eventually replaced his father as
king of the gods.
• Inanna. The Sumerian goddess of love and war, later known
as Ishtar. Inanna was the most important female deity in all
periods of Mesopotamian history. As early as the fourth
millennium bce, the Sumerians constructed a sanctuary to
Inanna at Uruk. Amid the ruins, excavators uncovered
statues and reliefs (Figs. 2-4 and 2-5) connected with her
• Nanna. The moon god, also known as Sin. Nanna was the
chief deity of Ur, where the Sumerians erected his most
• Utu. The sun god, later known as Shamash. Utu was
especially revered at Sippar. On a Babylonian stele (Fig. 2-18)
of ca. 1780 bce, King Hammurabi presents his laws to
Shamash, whom the sculptor depicted as a bearded god
wearing a horned headdress. Flames radiate from the sun
• Marduk, Nabu, and Adad. Marduk was the chief god of the
Babylonians. His son Nabu was the god of writing and
wisdom. Adad was the Babylonian god of storms. Marduk
and Nabu’s dragon and Adad’s sacred bull adorn the sixth-
century bce Ishtar Gate (Fig. 2-24) at Babylon.
• Ningirsu. The local god of Lagash and Girsu. Ningirsu helped
Eannatum, one of the early rulers of Lagash, defeat an
enemy army. The Stele of the Vultures (Fig. 2-7) of ca. 2600–
2500 bce records Ningirsu’s role in the victory. Gudea (Figs.
2-16 and 2-17), one of Eannatum’s Neo-Sumerian
successors, built a great temple around 2100 bce in honor of
Ningirsu after the god instructed him to do so in a dream.
• Ashur. The local deity of Assur, the city that took his name.
Ashur became the king of the Assyrian gods. He sometimes
is identified with Enlil.
Figure 2-4 Female head
(Inanna?), from Uruk (modern
Warka), Iraq, ca. 3200–3000 BCE.
Marble, 8” high. Iraq Museum,
Figure 2-5 Presentation of offerings to Inanna
(Warka Vase), from Uruk (modern Warka), Iraq,
ca. 3200–3000 BCE. Alabaster, 3’ 1/4” high. Iraq
Mesopotamian Religion, Mythology, Gods and
• Eshnunna Statuettes: Sumerian
• All of the statuettes represent mortals, rather than
deities, with their hands folded in front of their
chests in a gesture of prayer, usually holding the
small beakers the Sumerians used for libations
(ritual pouring of liquid) in honor of the gods.
• The oversized eyes probably symbolize the
perpetual wakefulness of these substitute worshipers
offering prayers to the deity. The beakers the figures
hold were used to pour libations for the gods.
Figure 2-6 Statuettes of two worshipers, from the
Square Temple at Eshnunna (modern Tell Asmar),
Iraq, ca. 2700 BCE. Gypsum inlaid with shell and
black limestone, male ﬁgure 2’ 6” high. Iraq
2-6A Seated statuette of Urnanshe, from the Temple of Ishtar at Mari (modern Tell Hariri), Syria, ca. 2600–2500 BCE. Gypsum
inlaid with shell and lapis lazuli, 10 1/4” high. National Museum of Damascus, Damascus.
Figure 2-7 Battle scenes, fragment of the victory stele of Eannatum (Stele of the Vultures), from
Girsu (modern Telloh), Iraq, ca. 2600–2500 BCE. Limestone, fragment 2’ 6” high, full stele 5’ 11”
high. Louvre, Paris.
Cuneiform inscriptions on this stele describe Eannatum’s victory over the city of Umma
with the aid of the god Ningirsu. This fragment shows Eannatum, at gigantic size, leading
his troops into battle.
Standard of Ur, ca. 2600–2400 bce.
• This wooden box inlaid with lapis lazuli, shell, and red
limestone has broad rectangular faces and narrow trapezoidal
ends. It is of uncertain function. The excavator, Leonard
Woolley, thought the object was originally mounted on a
pole, and he considered it a kind of military standard—hence
• Using a mosaic-like technique, this Sumerian artist depicted a
battlefield victory in three registers. The narrative reads from
bottom to top, and the size of the figures varies with their
importance in society.
• Art historians usually refer to the two long sides of the box
as the “war side” and “peace side,” which celebrate the two
principal roles of a Sumerian ruler, but the two sides may
represent the first and second parts of a single narrative.
• The artist divided each side into three horizontal bands. The
narrative reads from left to right and bottom to top. 20
Figure 2-8 War side of the Standard of Ur, from Tomb 779, Royal Cemetery, Ur (modern Tell Muqayyar), Iraq, ca. 2600 BCE.
Wood inlaid with shell, lapis lazuli, and red limestone, 8” x 1’ 7”. British Museum, London.
Figure 2-1 Peace side of the Standard of Ur, from Tomb 779, Royal Cemetery, Ur (modern Tell Muqayyar), Iraq, ca. 2600
BCE. Wood inlaid with shell, lapis lazuli, and red limestone, 8” x 1’ 7”. British Museum, London.
2.2 Akkadian, Neo-Sumerian, Babylonian, and Hittite
• In 2332 bce, the loosely linked group of cities known as Sumer
came under the domination of a great ruler, Sargon of Akkad (r.
• The Akkadians were Semitic in origin—that is, they were a
Mesopotamian people who spoke a language related to Hebrew
• Akkadian Portraiture: A magnificent copper head Fig. 2-12) found
at Nineveh that portrays an Akkadian king embodies this new
concept of absolute monarchy. The head is all that survives of a
statue knocked over in antiquity
• But the damage to the portrait was not the result solely of the
statue’s toppling. There are also signs of deliberate mutilation. To
make a political statement, the attackers gouged out the eyes (once
inlaid with precious or semiprecious stones), broke off the lower
part of the beard, and slashed the ears of the royal portrait. Later
parallels for this kind of political vandalism abound, for
example—in the same region—the destruction of images of
Saddam Hussein after the Iraqi ruler’s downfall in 2003.
Figure 2-12 Head of an Akkadian ruler,
from Nineveh (modern Kuyunjik), Iraq, ca.
2250–2200 BCE. Copper, 1’ 2 3/8” high.
Iraq Museum, Baghdad.
The sculptor of this
oldest known life-size
distinctive features of
the ruler while also
displaying a keen
sense of abstract
Figure 2-11 Banquet scene, cylinder seal (left) and its modern impression (right), from the tomb of Pu-abi (tomb 800),
Royal Cemetery, Ur (modern Tell Muqayyar), Iraq, ca. 2600 BCE. Lapis lazuli, 2” high. British Museum, London.
Ancient Near Eastern Politics and Art
• Naram-Sin Stele
• The godlike sovereignty the kings of Akkad claimed is also
evident in the victory stele Fig. 2-13) Naram-Sin set up at
Sippar. The stele commemorates the Akkadian ruler’s defeat
of the Lullubi, a people of the Iranian mountains to the east.
• It carries two inscriptions, one in honor of Naram-Sin and
one naming the Elamite king who captured Sippar in 1157
bce and took the stele as booty back to Susa in southwestern
Iran (Map 2-1), the stele’s findspot.
• The sculptor depicted Naram-Sin leading his army up the slopes of
a wooded mountain. His routed enemies fall, flee, die, or beg for
mercy. The king stands alone, far taller than his men, treading on
the bodies of two of the fallen Lullubi. He wears the horned
helmet signifying divinity—the first time a king appears as a god in
Mesopotamian art. At least three favorable stars (the stele is
damaged at the top) shine on his triumph.
Figure 2-13 Victory stele of Naram-Sin,
from Susa, Iran, 2254–2218 BCE. Pink
sandstone, 6’ 7” high. Louvre, Paris.
To commemorate his
conquest of the Lullubi,
Naram-Sin set up this stele
showing him leading his
army up a mountain. The
sculptor staggered the
figures, abandoning the
traditional register format.
Important First in the Ancient Near East
• In the man’s world of ancient Akkad, one woman stands out
prominently—Enheduanna, daughter of King Sargon and
priestess of the moon god Nanna at Ur.
• Her name appears in several inscriptions, and she was the
author of a series of hymns in honor of the goddess Inanna.
Enheduanna’s is the oldest recorded name of a poet,
male or female—indeed, the earliest known name of the
author of any literary work in world history.
• The most important surviving object associated with
Enheduanna is the alabaster disk Fig. 2-14) found in several
fragments in the residence of the priestess of Nanna at Ur.
• It also credits Enheduanna with erecting an altar to Nanna in
his temple. The dedication of the relief to the moon god
explains its unusual round format, which corresponds to the
shape of the full moon.
Figure 2-14 Votive disk of Enheduanna, from Ur (modern Tell Muqayyar), Iraq, ca. 2300 – 2275 BCE. Alabaster, diameter
10”. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia
Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkad and priestess of Nanna at
Ur, is the first author whose name is known. She is the tallest figure on
this votive disk, which she dedicated to the moon god. 29
Third Dynasty of Ur
• Around 2150 bce, a mountain people, the Gutians,
brought an end to Akkadian power. The cities of
Sumer soon united in response to the alien presence
and established a Neo-Sumerian state ruled by the
kings of Ur.
• Historians call this period the Neo-Sumerian age or
the Third Dynasty of Ur.
• The most imposing extant Neo-Sumerian
monument is the ziggurat Fig. 2-15) at Ur. One of
the largest ever erected, with a massive mud-brick
base 50 feet high, it is about a millennium later than
Uruk’s more modest White Temple (Figs. 2-2 and 2-
Figure 2-15 Ziggurat (looking southwest), Ur (modern Tell Muqayyar), Iraq, ca. 2100 BCE.
The Ur ziggurat is one of the largest in Mesopotamia. It has
three (restored) ramplike stairways of a hundred steps each that
originally ended at a gateway to a brick temple, which does not
Babylon & The Code of Hammurabi
• Babylon was a city-state until its most powerful king,
Hammurabi (r. 1792–1750 bce), reestablished a
centralized government in southern Mesopotamia in the
area known as Babylonia, after its chief city. Perhaps the
most renowned king in Mesopotamian history,
Hammurabi was famous for his conquests. But he is
best known today for his laws Fig. 2-18), which
prescribed penalties for everything from adultery and
murder to the cutting down of a neighbor’s trees (see
• In the early 18th century bce, the Babylonian king
Hammurabi formulated a set of nearly 300 laws for his
Figure 2-18 Stele with law code of
Hammurabi, from Susa, Iran, ca. 1780 BCE.
Basalt, 7’ 4” high. Louvre, Paris.
The collection of
inscribed on the Susa
stele in Akkadian in 3,500
lines of cuneiform
laws governed all aspects
of Babylonian life, from
commerce and property
to murder and theft to
inheritances, and the
treatment of slaves.
Hammurabi and Shamash, detail of the stele of Hammaurabi, (fig. 2-17), from Susa, Iran, ca. 1780 BCE.
Example of Laws
• Here is a small sample of the infractions described and the
penalties imposed, which vary with the person’s standing in
society and notably deal with the rights and crimes of women as
well as men:
• If a man puts out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put
• If he kills a man’s slave, he shall pay one-third of a mina.
• If someone steals property from a temple, he will be put to
death, as will the person who receives the stolen goods.
• If a married woman dies before bearing any sons, her dowry
shall be repaid to her father, but if she gave birth to sons, the
dowry shall belong to them.
• If a man strikes a freeborn woman so that she loses her unborn
child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss. If the woman dies, his
daughter shall be put to death.
• If a man is guilty of incest with his daughter, he shall be exiled.
Power and the Assyrians
• The Assyrians took their name from
Assur, the city on the Tigris River in
northern Iraq dedicated to the god
Ashur. At the height of their power,
the Assyrians ruled an empire that
extended from the Tigris River to
the Nile and from the Persian Gulf
to Asia Minor.
Figure 2-20A Reconstruction drawing of the citadel of Sargon II, Dur Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad), Iraq, ca. 720–705 BCE
(after Charles Altman).
Figure 2-20 Lamassu (winged, human-headed
bull), from the citadel of Sargon II, Dur Sharrukin
(modern Khorsabad), Iraq, ca. 720–705 BCE.
Limestone, 13’ 10” high. Louvre, Paris.
Ancient sculptors insisted
on complete views of
animals. This four-legged
composite monster that
guarded an Assyrian
palace has five legs—two
when seen from the front
and four in profile view.
2-21 Ashurnasirpal II with attendants and soldier, from the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, Kalhu (modern Nimrud), Iraq,
ca. 875–860 BCE. Glazed brick, 11 3/4” high. British Museum, London.
Paintings on glazed bricks adorned the walls of Assyrian palaces.
This rare example shows Ashurnasirpal II paying homage to the
gods. The artist represented the king as taller than his attendants.39
Figure 2-22 Assyrian archers pursuing enemies, relief from the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, Kalhu (modern Nimrud),
Iraq, ca. 875–860 BCE. Gypsum, 2’ 10 5/8” high. British Museum, London.
Extensive reliefs exalting the king and recounting his great deeds have been
found in several Assyrian palaces. This one depicts Ashurnasirpal II’s
archers driving the enemy into the Euphrates River.
Figure 2-23 Ashurbanipal hunting lions, relief from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal, Nineveh (modern Kuyunjik), Iraq, ca.
645–640 BCE. Gypsum, 5’ 4” high. British Museum, London.
In addition to ceremonial and battle scenes, the hunt was a
common subject of Assyrian palace reliefs. The Assyrians viewed
hunting and killing lions as manly royal virtues on a par with
victory in warfare.
• The most renowned of the Neo-Babylonian kings was
Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 605–562 bce), whose exploits the
biblical book of Daniel recounts. Nebuchadnezzar restored
Babylon to its rank as one of the great cities of antiquity.
• The city’s famous hanging gardens were counted among the
Seven Wonders of the ancient world.
• Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon was a mud-brick city, but
dazzling blue-glazed bricks faced the most important
monuments, such as the Ishtar Gate Fig. 2-24), really a pair
of gates, one of which has been restored and installed in a
• The Ishtar Gate consists of a large arcuated (arch-shaped)
opening flanked by towers, and features glazed bricks
with reliefs of animals, real and imaginary. The
Babylonian builders molded and glazed each brick
separately, then set them in proper sequence on the
Figure 2-24 Ishtar
Babylon, Iraq, ca. 575
II’s Babylon was
one of the
and boasted two
of the Seven
brick reliefs of
and Adad’s bull.
2.4 Persian Power and Opulence
• Although Nebuchadnezzar—the “king
of kings” in the book of Daniel (2:37)—
had boasted in an inscription that he
“caused a mighty wall to circumscribe
Babylon … so that the enemy who
would do evil would not threaten,”
Cyrus of Persia (r. 559–529 bce)
captured the city in the sixth century.
Persian and Sassanian Splendor
• The most important source of knowledge about
Persian art and architecture is the ceremonial and
administrative complex on the citadel at Persepolis
Fig. 2-25), which the successors of Cyrus, Darius I (r. 522–
486 bce) and Xerxes (r. 486–465 bce), built between 521 and
465 bce. Situated on a high plateau, the heavily fortified
complex of royal buildings stood on a wide platform
overlooking the plain.
• Alexander the Great razed the site in a gesture symbolizing
the destruction of Persian imperial power. Some said it was
an act of revenge for the Persian sack of the Athenian
Acropolis in 480 bce (see Chapter 5). Nevertheless, even in
ruins, the Persepolis citadel is impressive.
Figure 2-25 Persepolis (apadana in the background), Iran, ca. 521–465 BCE.
The heavily fortified complex of Persian royal buildings on a high plateau
at Persepolis included a royal audience hall, or apadana, with 36 colossa
columns topped by animal protomes (Fig. 2-26)
2-26 Columns with animal protomes, from the apadana of the palace, Persepolis, Iran, ca. 521–465 BCE.
The 64-foot columns of the Persepolis apadana drew on Greek, Egyptian,
and Mesopotamian models but are unique in form. The back-to-back
protomes of the capitals supported gigantic wood beams.
Figure 2-27 Processional frieze (detail) on the terrace of the apadana, Persepolis, Iran, ca. 521–465 BCE. Limestone, 8’ 4” high.
The reliefs decorating the walls of the terrace and staircases leading up to the Persepolis
apadana Fig. 12-25) included depictions of representatives of 23 nations bringing tribute
to the Persian king.
2-26A Rhyton in the form of a winged lion, from Hamadan, fifth to third century BCE. Gold, 8 3/8” high. Archaeological
Museum of Iran, Tehran.
Figure 2-28 Palace of Shapur I, Ctesiphon, Iraq, ca. 250 CE. The last great pre-Islamic civilization of
Mesopotamia was that of the Sasanians. Their palace at Ctesiphon, near Baghdad,
features a brick audience hall (iwan) covered by an enormous pointed vault.
Figure 2-28A Triumph of Shapur I over Valerian, rock-cut relief, Bishapur, Iran, ca. 260 CE.
• Sumerian Art ca. 3500–2332 bce
• The Sumerians founded the world’s first city-states in the valley between
the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and invented writing in the fourth
• They were also the first to build towering temple platforms, called
ziggurats, and to place figures in registers to tell coherent stories.
• Akkadian Art ca. 2332–2150 bce
• The Akkadians were the first Mesopotamian rulers to call themselves
kings of the world and to assume divine attributes. The earliest recorded
name of an author is the Akkadian priestess Enheduanna.
• Akkadian artists may have been the first to cast hollow life-size bronze
sculptures and to place figures at different levels in a landscape setting.
• Neo-Sumerian and Babylonian Art ca. 2150–1600 bce
• During the Third Dynasty of Ur, the Sumerians rose again to power and
constructed one of the largest ziggurats in Mesopotamia at Ur.
• Gudea of Lagash (r. ca. 2100 bce) built numerous temples and placed
diorite portraits of himself in all of them as votive offerings to the gods.
• Babylon’s greatest king, Hammurabi (r. 1792–1750 bce), formulated
wide-ranging laws for the empire he ruled. Babylonian artists were among
the first to experiment with foreshortening.
• Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Art ca. 900–539 bce
• At the height of their power, the Assyrians ruled an empire that extended
from the Persian Gulf to the Nile and Asia Minor.
• Assyrian palaces were fortified citadels with gates guarded by monstrous
lamassu sculptures. Paintings and reliefs depicting official ceremonies and
the king in battle and hunting lions decorated the walls of the ceremonial
• In the sixth century bce, the Babylonians constructed two of the Seven
Wonders of the ancient world. The Ishtar Gate, with its colorful glazed
brick reliefs, gives an idea of Babylon’s magnificence under
Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 605–562 bce).
• Achaemenid and Sasanian Art ca. 559–330 bce and 224–636 ce
• The capital of the Achaemenid Persians was at Persepolis, where Darius I
(r. 522–486 bce) and Xerxes (r. 486–465 bce) built a huge palace complex
with an audience hall that could accommodate 10,000 guests. Painted
reliefs of subject nations bringing tribute adorned the terraces.
• The Sasanians, enemies of Rome, ruled the New Persian Empire from
their palace at Ctesiphon until the Arabs defeated them four years after
the death of Muhammad.
Discuss how many artworks are intended to celebrate a
ruler’s accomplishments—even if they did not occur? Give
specific examples of ancient Near Eastern art and
architecture that do this.
Identify evidence of the Sumerian culture’s lasting
Identify evidence of the Persian Empire’s lasting influence