(This is a long post with 15 cool photos and just over a thousand words. The last photo, I assure you, is worth the wait.)
Dressing up, because that’s how you do the big museums.
I wore a polo, because I don’t do big museums properly.
Tiglath-pileser III didn’t mind. He had other things on his mind. This is the capture of Astartu (in modern Jordan). The cuneiform says it was taken by King Tiglath-pileser, shown here in his chariot, under a parasol. The population was leaving under Asssyrian escort. This took place somewhere between 730 and 727 BC. He built the world’s first professional standing army and conquered much of the land they knew about at the time. One of the world’s great military rulers, he frequently appointed eunuchs as puppet governors of newly conquered lands. No dynasty. He shrank the provinces, reducing the power of his officials by reducing the size of the provinces.
This is part of the false door and architrave of Ptahshepses. Usually the Egyptian tomb doors focused on the afterlife, but this one tells how lived in this realm. He grew up at court, married the king’s daughter and lived through the next six pharaohs as a high priest for Ptah, the chief god of Egypt’s capital at Memphis and patron of artisans. He was also the senior priest of Ra in three sun temples. This is during the 5th dynasty, around 2400 BC. The stone was painted red to resemble wood, which was rare. Ptahshepses was also called “barber of the Great House” and the “manicure of the Great House,” great honors because his work required him to touch the pharaoh. It is said he got to kiss his foot, where most people had to kiss the ground because the king was a religious incarnation himself.
The history of decorative tiles dates to Egypt and Ancient Greece and at least to the 13th century BC in the Middle East and Sri Lanka on hugely important projects. They weren’t common, but the Byzantines and the Romans and in places like Tunisia and Iran they really hit their stride. Starting around the 10th century, tiles became more common in Western Europe, but they were still expensive. When the Moors invaded Spain things really picked up for the art form, the art and several of the techniques spread throughout Europe throughout the 16th century.
This is all going to be important in a bit.
But first, more about our friend King Tiglath-pileser III. This relief was in his palace and shows the sheep and goats captured in his campaign against the Arabs. The livestock were being driven back to the Assyrian camp:
Here’s a relief of the king. He’s got his ceremonial robes on, because he, too, wanted to be like Elvis. He’s holding a bow and his assistant behind him has more weapons. The king should be staring at two officials, but that part of the relief no longer exists. (They have drawings.) Tiglath-pileser may have had this in his palace, but it was also used by King Esarhaddon — his great-grandson — a half-century later.
It was hard to be a king. Esarhaddon was killed by his older brothers. Two of Tiglath-pileser’s sons also ruled. Two because of another familial coup.
But, if you were a succesful military campaigner like Tiglath-pileser, you got your share of war treasure. This relief showing a woman and herd of camels are more of the spoils of war he won during his reign.
But this was all in the 745–727 BC era. Let’s go even farther back into Assyrian history.
This is a guardian lion from the temple of Ishtar Sharrat-Niphi. It was 15 tons and is meant to represent the goddess of war. It guarded the entrance to Ishtar’s temple, installed between 865-860 BC. It was re-discovered in the 19th century.
The signage calls it fierce. That it guarded the temple is important.
Do you think it intimidated anyone?
How did the Egyptians do lions? So glad you asked. This is meant to be King Amenhotep III. The pharaohs were often shown as a sphinx, but this full lion image is rather rare. Amenhotep IV called the king a “lion of rulers, wild when he sees his enemies tread his path.” This dates to 1390 BC, but the lion and its companion piece were used by several rulers throughout history.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Rosetta Stone, a decree from Memphis, Egypt, mandated in 196 BC by King Ptolemy V. There are three scripts, three languages, Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script and Ancient Greek. The text is basically the same, and that gave scholars the key to our modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Thought to have been on display in a temple, the stone was eventually used as building material of a fort. From there it was rediscovered in 1799 by a soldier, Pierre-François Bouchard, of the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt. In 1802 it became British property as a spoil of war. Since 2003 the Egyptians have asked to have it returned. So far, they’ve only received a replica. This is the real thing:
The supreme god Amun is portrayed here as a ram. That ram is protecting King Taharqo. Two cobras are symbols of sovereignty. This sphinx and others like it lines a road to the temple of Amun at Kawa. This is from the 25th dynasty, 690-664 BC.
This is supposedly a pair of protective spirits, a great lion or Ugallu/ This is Assyrian, from Nineveh, dating to around 700-692 BC:
Bronze tablets like this one were often placed on temple walls as dedications to gods. This tablet is said to describe an offering made to the Sabean god Almaqah after a successful grain harvest. A Tree of Life is surrounded on either side by sphinxes and date palms. It dates to the 2nd century BC of Yemen:
And, finally, this is a 4th-century AD mosaic floor from a villa in Dorset. It is an important Christian remain from the Roman Empire. This central portion is believed to be the earliest known mosaic of Jesus Christ. The Greek letters X and P (chi and rho) are the usual symbol of early Christianity. The pomegranates are meant to suggest immortality.
In the corners of the larger mosaic are four heads, thought to be Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The mosaic was rediscovered in the 1960s.