The British Museum presents an exhibition which explores the world of ancient Assyria through its last great ruler, King Ashurbanipal. The exhibition entitled I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria is the first ever major comprehensive exhibition to explore the life of Ashurbanipal.
Over 200 objects from all corners of the Assyrian empire are featured, the British Museum’s world-renowned collection of Assyrian treasures are complemented by loans from around the world. Many of these objects have never been seen in the UK before.
The exhibition begins by charting the rise of Ashurbanipal in ancient Iraq in the 7th century BC. From his capital at Nineveh, he ruled a vast and diverse empire from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the mountains of western Iran. Ashurbanipal’s palace in Nineveh was the centre of a large and sophisticated metropolis, the exhibition provides insights into the life at the great Assyrian court. Massive stone sculptures, intricately carved reliefs, painted glazed bricks and rare wall paintings illustrate some of the splendour of the cities and palaces.
Smaller items like carved ivories, intricate metalwork, cosmetic vessels and gold ornaments show how the elites of the city like to be surrounded with objects that portrayed their wealth.
Ashurbanipal was an unusual leader for the period because he understood that in many ways ‘knowledge is power’ and assembled a great library during his reign. Ashurbanipal claimed he could read, write and debate with expert scholars on a variety of subjects. The exhibition has a large wall full of the British Museum’s world-renowned collection of documents dating to Ashurbanipal’s reign to give some indication of the king’s great library.
Some of the most remarkable objects in the exhibition are a series of carved reliefs in the British Museum that depict Ashurbanipal’s prowess as a warrior undertaking a royal lion hunt. Lion hunts were often public spectacles staged within the hunting grounds at Nineveh.
One of the high spots of Ashurbanipal’s reign was when he conquered Egypt, however like many empires, trouble began closer to home when he was challenged by his older brother.
After Ashurbanipal death, the mighty Assyrian empire fragmented and declined, the rise and decline of empires is a reoccurring theme in history and an example from the more recent past is included in the last part of the exhibition.
Many of the objects featured in the exhibition come from archaeological sites in Iraq such as Nineveh and Nimrud that have been systematically targeted and destroyed by Daesh (IS). The final section of the exhibition highlights the challenges faced in protecting Iraqi cultural heritage under these threats and showcases the work of the ‘Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme’ which is run by the British Museum.
This fascinating and well designed exhibition tells Ashurbanipal’s story, often through his own narratives recorded on his palace sculptures. His words like ‘king of the world, king of Assyria’ indicates little modesty but he did rule a large area and had great influence. For all his power, once he dies he vanishes from history until the last two hundred years when the wealth of objects discovered by archaeologists working in the region allows his fascinating story to be told again.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information, visit the British Museum website here
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