Ashurbanipal's Banquet

image from Bridgeman Education





bas relief


Length: 58.42 cm
Height: 139.7 cm
Depth: 15.24 cm


c. 645 BCE

Ashurbanipal's reign:

668—627 BCE

Place of Discovery:

Kouyunjik [in modern Iraq]
(ancient Nineveh)

Specific location:

North Palace

Date of Discovery:



Hormuzd Rassam (1826-1910)

Current Location:

British Museum
(London, England)

Inventory Number:

BM 124920 (orig.)
ME 124920 (new)


". . . the famous scene of Ashurbanipal, victorious, taking his ease reclining at a banquet with his queen in an arbour, after the defeat of Teumman, king of Elam, whose severed head hangs gruesomely from the branch of one of the surrounding trees, while the captive Elamite princes wait at table (124920)." Barnett, 33 (see plate XVI)

"This panel was the focal point of a decorative scheme incorporating all the triumphs in war and sport of which King Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-631 BC) was most proud. The panel probably decorated one of the King's private apartments, as the carving of the scene is exceptionally fine.
     "The queen sits facing Ashurbanipal. Queens, like women in general, were seldom represented in Assyrian sculpture. However, women did sometimes hold power at the Assyrian court, though usually behind the scenes. Documents suggest that Ashurbanipal's grandmother, Naqia-Zakutu, was extremely influential in promoting her son Esarhaddon and then Ashurbanipal to the throne.
     "The scene also shows a harpist. Images of musicians are among the most important sources for understanding ancient musical instruments. The details in the carving appear to be very accurate.
     "On the tree in front of the harpist is a human head, that once belonged to Teumman, king of Elam, who had fought against Assyria. Consequently Ashurbanipal's army invaded Elam. The campaign was illustrated as redecoration in one of the rooms of the palace of his grandfather Sennacherib (reigned 704-681 BC).
     "The mutilation of the faces of the king and queen was probably done by an enemy soldier when the Median and Babylonian armies ransacked Nineveh in 612 BC." British Museum description

"Further light is shed on the marzeah by a relief from the North Palace at Nineveh, which depicts Ashurbanipal (668-627 B.C.E.), king of Assyria, feasting in a leafy garden with his queen, attended by servants and musicians. The unique feature of this scene is the position of the king, who is reclining on a bed; ordinarily participants in a feast would be sitting upright. Until this time, whenever a king celebrated a victory he was represented in a seated position. The king is holding a lotus flower in his left hand as he drinks from a bowl; the queen too is drinking from a bowl. A panel depicting the 'woman at the window' ornaments the bed. Richard Barnett, who made a lifelong study of the ivories of the ancient Near East, interpreted this banquet scene as both a marzeah and a victory celebration. The ivory bed decorated with panels of the 'woman at the window' would conform to the marzeah ritual in Syria and Phoenicia." King, 148

"King Ashurbanipal reclines upon a high couch as he drinks from a bowl and holds a blossom in his left hand. Upon a high throne at the foot of the couch sits the queen, who also drinks from a bowl, which has been supplied by her attendants. Before her is a table, similar in design to the other furniture and on which are several small objects. Another table to the right holds the bow, sword, and quiver of the king. Two braziers stand uon the ground, one at the head of the couch and the other behind the queen's attendants. Eight attendants appear in the scene: four stand with fly-whisks; to the left are a musician with a harp and the hands of another musician who plays upon a cone-shaped drum. In the scene are represented also palms, bushes, evergreen trees, and vines with leaves and clusters of grapes, which form a shelter for the royal couple. Birds are perched on the trees or fly between them. On the branches of the evergreen tree before the harpist is tied the head of a man, perhaps that of Te-umman, king of Elam." Pritchard, 301 (plate #451)

Barnett, R. D. Assyrian Palace Reliefs in the British Museum. Photographs by W. Forman. London: British Museum Publications, 1970.
Collon, D. Ancient Near Eastern Art. London: British Museum Press, 1995.
King, Philip J. Amos, Hosea, Micah: An Archaeological Commentary. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1988.
Porten, Bezalel. The Archives of Elephantine: The Life of an Ancient Jewish Military Colony. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.
Pritchard, James B. The Ancient Near East in Pictures: Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1954.
History of Assyrian Palace Scultures. Reade, Julian. Assyrian Sculpture. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.

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Last Modified: 5 October 2009