page added 8/7/98

Northwest Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal II at Nimrud

An Interactive Publication -- Prototype

The Great Northern Courtyard - by Samuel M. Paley 

Entering the Great Northern Courtyard of the Palace complex through the eastern portal, a visitor would have seen the outer facade of the Throne Room wing to the south (plan). Three entrances are flanked by five sets of human-headed lion and bull sphinxes (called lamassu or aladlammu by scholars; Black and Green): three sets in the entranceways and two sets on the projecting buttresses. Two smaller entrances are at each end of the facade wall and one larger entrance is in the center. Two-meter high figures of the king and his courtiers approached by a line of supplicants bringing gifts or tribute decorate the western end (to the right, sequence 'D') of the wall on both sides of the small western entrance while supplicants alone decorate the both sides of the small eastern entrance (to the left, sequence 'E'). Set back by the fronts of these facing sphinx-like creatures are four-winged, human-headed divinities (D-1 and E-5), wearing horned helmets and carrying a cone shaped object (mullilu; Black and Green) in their raised hand and a bucket (banduddû;Black and Green) in their lower hand. Some scholars have surmised that the small western entrance may have been the way the throne room was entered when court was in session and the small eastern entrance the exit, while the great central entrance was probably used only for special occasions and for the king to enter himself (Paley and Sobolewski; Mallowan vol. I)

It is important to understand the choice of motifs and scenes used in the decoration of the facade. The sphinx-like creatures perhaps symbolize the power of the empire, standing as they do in the entrances and decorating the powerful buttressed wall of the facade. The human hands of the eastern set of sphinx-like creatures carry offerings: an animal and a flowering branch. The human hands of the western sphinx-like creatures are clasped together in a position with which ancient Mesopotamian tradition denotes a worshipper. Thus, these two sets of door figures also have more specific religious significance. The four-winged deities are protective: they belong to a family of deities which have been loosely identified by some scholars with the apkallu (Black and Green), the seven ancient sage figures who lived before The Flood.

The so-called "presentation scene" (slabs D-2 through D-9 and, abbreviated, C-1 through C-4) with the king, courtiers and supplicants, some bearing tribute or gifts, is appropriate for the courtyard where tribute and gift bearers awaited the audience with the king in his Throne Room. This narrative representation of a specific occasion prepared the visitor for correct court protocol and was an historical and visual marker for all to see. This motif is central to the depiction of part of the context of the war campaigns on the Throne Room walls (B-18, B-17; B-7, B-6, and B-5), and has obviously been extracted from one of them. The types of garments worn by the tributaries and their gifts suggest that they are from Carchemish, a campaign that is indeed depicted in the Throne Room bas-reliefs (B-18, B-17;  Winter). The importance of the Carchemish campaign is well-documented in Ashurnasirpal's annals and its success even provoked a mention in the annals of the king and specific mention in the text and wording of the summarizing inscriptions which are commonly called Standard Inscriptions, found carved as a band across every stone slab, front and rear, in the Palace: it was the pivotal battle which opened up greater Syria to Assyrian aggression. So such a scene is well-suited to the outer facade of the Palace's principal throne room and to its largest public courtyard.

It is also important to note that the narrative bas-reliefs in the Great Northern Courtyard are set high above the courtyard floor, assuring that they were visible from a distance.

History of the Excavations The Global Distribution of the Remains
Descriptions of Palace Spaces: 
The Great Northern Courtyard - top
The Throne Room
The Digital Reconstruction Process Images from the Digital Model
The Northwest Palace Home Page The Learning Sites Home Page
 © 1998 Learning Sites, Inc.