I Am Ashurbanipal at the British Museum

Exhibit: I Am Ashurbanipal, King of the World, King of Assyria
Cathleen Chopra-McGowan • 01/30/2019

Execution of Elamite king Teumman and his son Tammaritu, Battle at the River Ulai. Detail from BM 1851,0902.8c. Photo: Cathleen Chopra-McGowan

I Am Ashurbanipal, featured at the British Museum in London through February 24, 2019, is a magnificent exhibition. The display’s namesake would be proud.

In 668 B.C.E., Ashurbanipal inherited the vast Assyrian empire, which extended from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to western Iran. With his capital at Nineveh, Ashurbanipal commanded a network of armies, temples, builders, and bureaucrats. The British Museum’s exhibition, sponsored by the conglomerate BP, beautifully captures Assyria’s position as an ancient superpower through a carefully-curated display of the empire’s vast and terrifying military might, symbolized through wall reliefs, metallurgy, and clay tablets.

During his reign, Ashurbanipal decorated his palace walls with striking panels that depicted scenes from notable battles and receptions of tribute. One of them, the Battle at Til-Tuba, is a masterful rendition of Assyrian strength and military prowess. Also known as the Battle of the River Ulai, this relief is a pictorial narrative sketching the battle and its background. It was displayed in both the North and Southwest Palaces at Nineveh. The relief uses an artistic form of “continuous style” by presenting within a single space a series of temporally discrete episodes.