page added December 26, 2006

General Background

The Rassam Obelisk is so called, because it was by Hormuzd Rassam in 1853, while excavating in the Central Palace area under the auspices of the British Museum expedition, with Henry Rawlinson as remote supervisor (from Baghdad). The Obelisk was found in many small pieces, supposedly near a lion and a bull (this most likely refers to the facade lamassu of the Ashur-nasir-pal Building identified in the Polish excavations). It is made of coarse black basalt and is currently on display in the British Museum.

The Obelisk seems to have been deliberately broken in Antiquity, possibly during the Hellenistic period (Reade 1980). Reade has reconstructed the original shape, which seems similar to that of the Black Obelisk, in that it tapers toward the top and there are carvings and inscriptions on all four faces. The panel scenes, attributed to the style of Ashur-nasir-pal II, essentially show an Assyrian king receiving tribute; while the inscriptions tell of the tribute items and places around the empire. Based on his interpretation of the themes and sizes of the surviving fragments, Reade has surmised their likely locations on the Obelisk (his published assessment is the basis of our 3D computer model). From these observations the original dimensions may be have been 119cm high x 80cm wide x 60cm deep (at the broadest point).

Discussion of its Findspot

As with the location of the Black Obelisk, the precise original position of the Rassam Obelisk has been the subject of debate. During the 1974 Polish re-excavations of the Central Palace area, however, they uncovered a rectangular solid block of limestone with a rectangular recess carved into the top. The block measured 135 x 115 x 95cm; the recess in top measured 70 x 56 x 30cm deep. The block was found in situ just east of the easternmost lion lamassu on the facade of the Ashur-nasir-pal building; thus, roughly corresponding to Rassam's description of the findspot of the Obelisk fragments. Stylistically, the lamassu and Obelisk carvings both belong to King Ashur-nasir-pal's reign.

Since the Rassam Obelisk is thought to have had a tenon at its bottom, it is possible that this represents the original base, and thus original location, for the Rassam Obelisk.

View our virtual reality model of the Rassam Obelisk; but please check here first to see whether you have the proper specs for viewing this interactive environment.

Navigation tips: When the model appears, you will note that the base is transparent. Left-click on the base and scroll the cursor up or down (up will make the base more solid; down will make the base disappear so you can see the obelisk's tenon).

Reference Information

page created:  December 26, 20064
page updated:  December 26, 2006
page author:  Learning Sites, Inc.
page URL:
page location:  Learning Sites homepage ==> Learning Sites Index page  ==> Central Palace Project homepage ==> Central Palace, Rassam Obelisk description 

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