Lion hunt scene – Assyria

 

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© Trustees of the British Museum

 

There is a place I still didn’t write about even though it might be one of the most important places for human  history: the Near-East. This region saw so many civilizations rise and fall, so many inventions, and once again such rich art. We lost a lot with time, with the wars and with the events of the past few weeks. It is a shame for everyone, especially for the people destroying their own culture for the sake of religion. But this not the place for those discussions. We are here to enjoy what’s left and to learn from those civilizations.

Let’s talk about Nineveh, it’s North palace, and the lion hunt scene. This artwork was made during the reign of Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC), around 645 BC. It is now safe and sound in the British Museum. This scene was placed in a hallway that the king used when he went hunting. It was made of 29 alabaster panels and 21 are still almost completely intact.

In the city of Nineveh, one could hunt anything, but the lion hunt was only for the king. Defeating this noble and dangerous animal was an evidence of the king’s courage, but it was also supposed to be a victory against the evil forces. The Assyrian king fought against the lion on foot or from a chariot. However the king never went the lion’s territory. The lion came to him in a cage.

On the North-East wall and the small South-East side, one can see a composition in three levels. Those different levels narrates the various stages of the hunt, from right to left. On this post, I have only one of the panels, but the previous ones show the preparations. Some servitors test the composite bows, check the arrows, bring the spears, and gather around the king’s protections. They also harness horses and once they are done, the scene moves to a hill with a little pavillion decorated for the lion hunt. Then we can see the inhabitants of Nineveh, on the slopes, looking for a good point of view.

First, a lion is freed from his cage by a kid. He is also in a tiny box to protect himself from the starving lion. The lion go towards the king who shoots him with an arrow. The next register depicts a horseman followed by men in a chariot holding spears. The horseman is there to distract the lion while the king comes from the left and grabs his tail. The small text on the left explains that the king is going to kill the animal with a mace. In the last level, musicians are playing in front a tall stand for incense and a table of food. Ashurbanipal, after the hunt, pours wine as a libation for the gods. He is followed by his bodyguard and servitors, who hold fans and towels for the king.

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© Trustees of the British Museum

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