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Evaluations of courtly garments in the Neo-Assyrian period

Cuneiform Studies and Near Eastern Archaeology
Supervision: Prof. Dr. Thomas Richter

The textile industry of the Near East has a very long tradition. In addition to economical aspects, there has been a bond with the ideological values of the textile artisanry. That connection is evident in a Sumerian argument between „ewe“ and „grain“, which suggests that man became civilized once he was able to produce bread and clothing. In mythology, this step of the development can be related to the worship of Ašnan, the goddess of grain and Uttu, the goddess of weaving and clothing.

In the following millennia, the metaphoric significance of clothing was repeatedly documented. For instance, putting on new clothes can seal a contract or cutting off a robe‘s seam can be symbolic of a divorce. Furthermore, garments form an integral part of a variety of ceremonies, e.g. the dressing of gods, the sacred wedding or the expression of grief. In the same way, putting on stately or divine garments can express the adoption of a social status or the taking over of power. Valuable clothes in form of presents for guests also built a part of a political basis for negotiation.    

My PhD thesis will focus on courtly garments in the Neo-Assyrian period and will be based on the orthostats-reliefs from the palace of Assurnasirpal II. (883-859 v. Chr.) in Nimrud. They predominantly show the assyrian king, members of his royal household as well as numerous winged creatures, referred to as genii. These relief-presentations particularly stand out due to a rich repertoire of garment decorations that are shown in form of carved drawings on the garments. Next to the displayed characters mentioned before, mythical creatures like lamassu, griffins or female shapes with four wings – often interpreted as goddess – are depicted. Representations of animals such as bovidae, equidae, capridae, cervidae but also felidae which can appear either winged or in their natural form are shown.

Above all, the presented interactions – which next to battle and procession scenes show antithetic compositions on trees and „Tierbezwingerszenen“- give reason to question the role of figural decorations on clothes. The kind of chosen ornaments imply that beside the expressions of ethnical affiliation and social status of the wearer it is also possible to attribute an apotropaic value to garments.

The aim of this study is to connect the visual tradition with Cuneiform Studies in order to analyse the various possibilities of expression through Neo-Assyrian clothes.