I am Ashur­ba­n­i­pal: King of the world, King of Assyria

British Mu­seum, Lon­don. Show­ing un­til: 24 Fe­bru­ary 2019

Timeless Travels Magazine - - EXHIBITION FOCUS - R����� �� Theresa Thomp­son

In one of the strong­est au­tumns of re­cent years for ex­hi­bi­tions open­ing in Lon­don, the British Mu­seum’s (BM) ex­plo­ration of the rise and fall of the last great Assyr­ian king, Ashur­ba­n­i­pal, stands out. It is a stun­ning ex­hi­bi­tion.

The BP ex­hi­bi­tion, I am Ashur­ba­n­i­pal: King of the world, King of Assyria prom­ises ‘to trans­port you back to an­cient Iraq in the 7th cen­tury BCE, when Ashur­ba­n­i­pal be­came the most pow­er­ful per­son on earth.’ And what an ex­cel­lent job it does, with its grand, and at times en­tranc­ing, ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign (the light­ing above all) and over 200 ob­jects from all corners of the Assyr­ian em­pire. Tak­ing us from sump­tu­ous palace life and Ashur­ba­n­i­pal’s up­bring­ing, from cri­sis to bat­tle zone to re­tal­i­a­tion, on to Ashur­ba­n­i­pal’s shad­owy death and the em­pire fall­ing apart - this is all a de­light to be­hold.

Then, com­ing to more mod­ern times, sec­tions on ex­ca­va­tion (Austen Henry La­yard’s prin­ci­pally, the cities of Nim­rud and Nin­eveh be­tween 1845 and 1851), and leg­end (for in­stance, the Assyr­ian re­vival jewellery that be­came a fash­ion in the 19th cen­tury when La­yard’s dis­cov­er­ies sparked a taste for winged bulls, lions and such like), as well as the task of pre­serv­ing Iraq’s past for the fu­ture.

Ashur­ba­n­i­pal’s reign (r.669-c.627 BCE) marked the high­point of the Assyr­ian em­pire. Rul­ing from his cap­i­tal at Nin­eveh (in mod­ern-day north­ern Iraq), Ashur­ba­n­i­pal shaped the lives of mil­lions of peo­ple in a vast and di­verse em­pire stretch­ing from the shores of the east­ern Mediter­ranean to the moun­tains of west­ern Iran. He was also able to read and write, un­like his pre­de­ces­sors. (Don’t miss his prac­tice let­ter writ­ten to his fa­ther in his best cu­nei­form script on a mi­nus­cule clay tablet, where the 13 year-old Ashur­ba­n­i­pal boasts of his achieve­ments in ‘the scribal arts’.) Clever spot-light­ing on the re­liefs em­pha­sises the nar­ra­tive and helps to cre­ate an­other su­perb BM ex­hi­bi­tion. www.british­mu­seum.org

Re­lief de­tail of Ashur­ba­n­i­pal hunt­ing on horse­back. Nin­eveh, Assyria, 645–635 BCE

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