Saturday, September 22, 2007

Archaeology Series 9: The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

DATED: c. 835BCE


Reproduced from:

Description: Relief of plaster with five bands of illustrations. Cuneiform inscription above and between bands. Black patina.

Provenance: The Black Obelisk was discovered by the Englishman, Sir Austen Henry Layard, in 1846, during a large scale excavation at Nimrud, an ancient site located south of Baghdad, in modern-day Iraq.

The obelisk records the exploits of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (r. 858-824 BC).

Composed of black alabaster, the original obelisk stands 2.02m in height; it has four sides, each with 5 picture panels interspersed with cuneiform inscriptions; there is also cuneiform above and below each set of pictures. The inscriptions record the annals of thirty-two years of Shalmaneser's reign. Most of the illustrations record the tributes brought to Shalmaneser by various vassal kings. The top panel of the replica shows Sua, the Gilzanite, bringing tribute to Shalmaneser, who is standing to the left, armed with a bow and arrows and accompanied by an attendant and soldier. Above this scene are the winged sun-disc, divine symbol of the god Assur, king of all of the great gods, and the eight-pointed star, divine symbol of Enlil, creator and father of the gods. The second panel, which is possibly the most significant, depicts Shalmaneser receiving tribute from Jehu, king of Israel, who is prostrate before the king. Shalmaneser holds a bowl in his raised hand and is sheltered by a parasol held by an attendant. The tribute of the country of Musri, illustrated on the third panel, consists entirely of animals led or driven by attendants dressed in knee-length garments. The fourth panel illustrates two lions hunting a stag in a forest, perhaps reminiscent of the countries which Shalmaneser has conquered. The bottom panel records the tribute, brought forth by porters wearing pointed caps, of Karparunda of Hattina.


Translations of the inscriptions describing each scene, follow:
I. Tribute of Sua, the Gilzanite. Silver, gold, lead, copper vessels, staves (staffs) for the hand of the king, horses, camels, whose backs are doubled, I received from him.
II. Tribute of Jehu, son of Omri. Silver, gold, a golden saplu (bowl), a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden goblets, pitchers of gold, tin, staves (staffs) for the hand of the king, puruhtu (javelins?), I received from him.
III. Tribute of the land of Musri. Camels whose backs are doubled, a river ox (hippopotamus), a sakea (rhinoceros), a susu (antelope), elephants, bazîtu (and) uqupu (monkeys), I received from him.
IV. Tribute of Marduk-apal-usur of Suhi. Silver, gold, pitchers of gold, ivory, javelins, buia, brightly colored and linen garments, I received from him.
V. Tribute of Karparunda of Hattina. Silver, gold, lead, copper, copper vessels, ivory, cypress (timbers), I received from him.


The Black Obelisk became famous when it was realized that it made reference to Jehu, King of the Israelites. who is mentioned in the Old Testament (Kings 19.16; 2 Kings 9-10). A descendant of Shalmaneser, Shalmaneser V, is mentioned in 2 Kings 17:3 and 18:9. The Black Obelisk also mentions the King Hazael of Damascus who appears in the Old Testament (2 Kings 8:28f; 9:14f).

The second register from the top includes the earliest surviving picture of an Israelite: the Biblical Jehu, king of Israel, brought or sent his tribute in around 841 BC. Ahab, son of Omri, king of Israel, had lost his life in battle a few years previously, fighting against the king of Damascus at Ramoth-Gilead (I Kings xxii. 29-36). His second son (Joram) was succeeded by Jehu, a usurper, who broke the alliances with Phoenicia and Judah, and submitted to Assyria. The caption above the scene, written in Assyrian cuneiform, can be translated
The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.


No comments: