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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Masterpieces : Assyrian Brick with Cuneiform Inscription
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Assyrian Brick with Cuneiform Inscription - PF.5521
Origin: Mesopotamia
Circa: 883 BC to 859 BC
Dimensions: 18" (45.7cm) high x 17.75" (45.1cm) wide
Collection: Near Eastern
Medium: Mudbrick

Location: United States
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Although archaeological excavations reveal that the land of the Assyrians had been inhabited as early as 5000 B.C., it was not until the reign of King Sargon of Akkad in 2371 B.C. that the Assyrians first rose to glory. Under Sargon, the kingdom rapidly expanded north to the city of Ashur and as far west as the Mediterranean, controlled by a central government based in Akkad. By 1813 B.C., King Shamshi-Adad I united the cities of Ashur, Nineveh, and Arbel into one cohesive administrative unit. These three cities, as well as Arrapkha and Kalhu (later known as Nimrud), form the historical core of the Assyrian Kingdom which would remain a credible force throughout the Mediterranean world for the next millennium. While various parts of Assyrian territory were annexed for brief periods of time by neighboring civilizations, this core remained firmly intact. The Assyrians experienced another Golden Age, lasting from the 9th until the 7th Century B.C. (this period is referred to as “Neo-Assyrian”). During this period, the kingdom grew to its largest extent, encompassing the lands from parts of modern Iran to the Mediterranean, from Anatolia to Egypt. However, it proved difficult even for the powerful Assyrian monarchs to maintain control over this vast territory for very long. By the end of the 7th Century, the Assyrian Kingdom began to collapse under the weight of assaults from the Babylonians to the south and the newly founded Medes Kingdom to the east. In 612 B.C., Nimrud burned for the second time in three years, followed by the sacking of Ashur and Nineveh, effectively ending Assyrian control of the ancient Near East.

Ashurnasirpal II was one of the most celebrated rulers of the ancient Middle East. Although he conquered the lands on the borders of his empire with fierce and deliberate cruelty, he was prudent enough not to attack his more powerful neighbors of Urartu to the north, Babylon to the south, and Aram to the west. Such wise restraint is a rare quality in a leader. This fascinating foundation brick from the king’s palace is an ancient piece of propaganda. The cuneiform test can be translated as: “Palace of Ashurnasirpal, great king, mighty king, king of the world, king of Assyria, son of Tukulti-Ninurta, great king, mighty king, king of the world, king of Assyria, descendant of Assur-Nirari, king of the world, king of Assyria. Brick facing the well of the palace courtyard.” Imagine, this brick came from the ancient Assyrian equivalent of the White House. Clearly, the inscription is meant to reinforce the authority of the king, even in his own palace. Ashurnasirpal II moved the capital of his empire from Ashur to Kalhu (modern Nimrud). It is in the ruins of Kalhu (also known as Calah) were many of the inscribed textual monuments, such as this foundation brick, have been unearthed. This extraordinary tablet attests to the greatness of this king, king of Assyria, king of the world.
- (PF.5521)


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