Assyrian Art

The Assyrian Empire reigned from approximately 900 B.C.E. to 612 B.C.E. The Assyrians took their name from the city on the Tigris river in northeast Syria called Assur, named after the god Assur. They were the dominant power in Near Eastern world, and by about 900 B.C.E. the Assyrian Empire had taken full control over all their rivals, including the Babylonians and the Hittites. Centuries of unrelenting war against their neighbours formed the Assyrians into a brutal and unforgiving society. They had a cruel and ferocious reputation throughout the ancient world. Assyrian art seemed to be focused mainly around the thought of proving to the rest of the ancient world and their enemies how powerful, mighty, and fearless they could and were not afraid to be.
 Reconstruction drawing of the unfinished royal citadel of Assyrian king Sargon II
Reconstruction drawing of the unfinished royal citadel of Assyrian king Sargon II


The unfinished royal palace of King Sargon II ("Khorsabad," it was named) was built mainly to display to superiority and might of the Assyrian rulers and people. However, even though the palace looks grand, the high, strong, defensive walls signify a fear of being stormed by an enemy during a time almost completely overtaken by warfare and attacks. The palace covered approximately twenty-five acres and had over two hundred courtyards and rooms in the grand structure. The palace was actually raised fifty feet high, standing on a mound. The Assyrians were hated by many other ancient Mesopotamian cultures and kingdoms. They had a bad reputation for violence, hence their royalty had to be well protected incase of an attack. This is why many royal structures (e.g. palaces, citadels, etc.) had very high, defensive walls.

Sculptures & Carvings

A very common guard back in ancient Assyria was lamassu, carved out of stone. These are winged man-headed bulls. There purpose is to ward off the kings enemies if they are trying to invade the palace. There were many lamassu at the palace of Khorsabad, showing yet another sign of needing to feel
very secure against intruders and enemies.
An ancient Assyrian lamassu, just under 14 ft. tall

Assyrian royalty expected their accomplishments (usually conquering another "group") and greatness
to be recorded in stone. They almost always kept them in their palaces and citadels. They also expected the recordings, pictures or words to be incredibly exact, so that every last accomplishment made by the monarch was carved unmistakably in
An Assyrian relief of a dying lioness, shot through the back multiple times, dragging her paralyzed lower body

concrete. A lot of the history of ancient Assyrian art is based on relief carvings. These are images captured in stone, very often of the monarchs triumphs in battle, or success in hunting down terrible beasts and creatures. The concepts of almost all their sculptures and carvings are basically always killing the enemy. This is yet another one of the ongoing examples of the Assyrians brutality and violence.

In their architecture, relief carvings, and sculptures, it seems the Assyrians spent endless time and a lot of hard work creating incredibly crafted and detailed violent images, trying to scare off enemies and prove to the rest of the ancient world that they were dominant and extremely powerful. Although sometimes the Assyrians didn't look so fierce... always cautiously building walls, ensuring security of their king.
An ancient relief of the Assyrians, led by their King in war.

Critical Thinking

The highly defensive walls on the palace "Khorsabad" reminds me of Windsor Castle, England. The walls are very high, and very strong. It had to hold through many battles. It had archery slits to fire arrows at approaching enemies, which is another level of security, just like the Assyrians and Khorsabad. It also seemed as if Assyria needed to intimidate their visitors, as did Windsor Castle. Before Assyria, the architecture was similar but not as strong. Assyria improved the strength of ancient architecture, using little to no technology, and still coming out with beautiful results.

Aside from architecture, the intricate detail in the ancient Assyrian sculpting and carvings may have inspired some of todays detail in modern sculpting. Maybe the relief carvings had interested modern humans, looking back on ancient Assyrian art, and to this day we've used some sort of carving techniques discovered in ancient Assyria. Some of the Assyrian myths put into their art (such as the lamassu) may have sparked ideas or more modern myths and legends. In conclusion, I think that various ancient Assyrian artworks, techniques, mythical beliefs, warfare, and architecture have probably led to more recent and advanced carvings, myths, architecture, warfare, and weaponry.


Information for Introduction and Main Body: Gardener's Art Through The Ages (10th edition) [Print source]
Images: Dying Lioness Image
Lamassu Picture Link
Citadel Of Sagon II Image
Assyrian Relief War