National Geographic : 1951 Jan
The Assyrian Military Camp Was No Place for Idlers FOR ALL ITS youthful vigor, Ashur required several cen turies to consolidate the position which had been carved out for it by Tukulti-Ninurta I and his predecessors. Then came a period of gradual expansion, principally toward Syria-Anatolia, Armenia, and Iran. The mountain districts in particular presented a constant threat and challenge. The Assvrian state was forever at war, forcing a mounting burden on the people, conquerors and conquered alike, to support a military establishment. The ceaseless campaigns were successful, however, in terms of political and geographic expansion. With these successes came also advances in art, and especially in sculpture, which in some aspects attains a vigor never hitherto achieved and seldom equaled since. If the vitality of a state may be measured not so much by its size as by its principal artistic expression, then the height of Assyrian power was reached in the first half of the 9th century B. c., under Ashurnasirpal II. The present painting is laid against a background of war and chase, respectively the principal occupation and pastime of this king. Details are abundant, and they are derived not only from the numerous reliefs but also from the painted ceramics of the period. By using the device of a military camp, a common one on the reliefs themselves, it was possible to bring in a number of separate scenes which com bine into a characteristic and authentic picture of the age. The center of the camp is taken up by the royal canopy. Under it the king is seen performing his daily sacrifice. The king's face is known to us from the reliefs, as is also his sword with the double volute near the end. The colors of the clothcover onthetable and thedark blue of the headdress arebased oncontemporary painted work; the same is true of thedetail onthesilver incense stand. Attention shouldalso bedirected tothechevron motif on the canopy, whichistypical ofAshurnasirpal's age. The typical chariot ofthis period was mounted onsix spoked wheels; later Assyrian wheels sported eight spokes. Against the camp wall, tothe left, anattendant isfiltering and cooling water, employing thesame system used bythe servants in the author's archeological camp 10years ago. Behind the water boystands thecamp's baker. Inthe corner to the right an orderly isbusy inanofficer's tent making up his master's cot. Another servant ishelping a warrior to a drink of water. The remainder of thecrowded interior ofthecamp is given over to a groom and hishorses, aslaughterer, two soldiers at their meal, andtwo cooks. The entrance to the camp isguarded byarmed soldiers. One of them can be seenbehind atallshield held onthe ground by the left foot inserted inanotch. The footgear consisted of sandals, whichcontrast with thehalf-boots used by the Assyrians of later periods. Approaching the entrance isagroup ofmen carrying a slain lion. They are accompanied byaboy with two thoroughbred hunting dogsstraining attheleash. Because lions did not disappear from this area until much later, we can obtain finerepresentations ofthese beasts from the sculptors of Ashurnasirpal and their disciples under Ashurbanipal, some two-and-a-half centuries later.