Guide to Ancient Near Eastern Art
Copyright Year: 2019
Conditions of Use
The book contains limited information about many artifacts important to Mesopotamia. Several of the pieces discussed have ample images for readers to get a sense of the object. The information in the book provides concise investigations of... read more
The book contains limited information about many artifacts important to Mesopotamia. Several of the pieces discussed have ample images for readers to get a sense of the object. The information in the book provides concise investigations of artifacts but does not go into detail about some of the time periods and particulars of certain pieces. The book provides several links to other open sources, which offers more context for the reader. The book does a nice job of addressing art of the ANE in modern conflict and the tools archaeologists use to visualize the past.
Note that the book does not include key developments in art in prehistoric periods (e.g., Hassuna, Halaf, Ubaid), and the book covers some time periods more extensively than others. The book also focuses mainly on Mesopotamia rather than providing an overview of art in the greater Ancient Near East, which means it leaves out important finds from sites like Gobekli Tepe, Ebla, Kanesh, Mari, Ugarit, and Elam (among others). Additional information about ancient Assyria and Persia before the Iron Age is barely included. The book covers many artifacts, but does not include other equally important artifacts (e.g., the Mask of Warka, Stele of the Vultures, more finds from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, cone mosaics, Balawat Gates, Winged Genies, Cyrus cylinder, a more robust treatment of siege reliefs). The book also does not offer meaningful discussions on writing and language. Further, a presentation on early urbanization, statehood and empires would provide more contexts for the artifacts as well a discussion of key characteristics of each time period.
The information about several of the objects is accurate, and includes their origin, date and important features. However, the information provided in the book is not comprehensive. Some objects and time periods will require additional supplemental information for a more robust understanding. Examples of information that could be revised: The cuneiform tablet on page 2 is an eighteenth-century BCE Akkadian tablet, but it would be more appropriate to replace the image with a fourth-millennium proto-cuneiform tablet. The chariots described in the bottom register in the Standard of Ur would be better described as war carts. An examination of the “priest king” in near eastern art would be appropriate in the Warka vase discussion. The cylinder seal section could be expanded to include stamp seals and a consideration of the functions of seals as administrative technology that were also impressed on containers and door seals in addition to tablets. The Mushushu should be included in the study of the animals on the Ishtar gate. The description of the tolerance in the Persian empire should be tempered with consideration of their formidable military and imperial control of distant regions.
The content is up-to-date and provides relevant information about each topic. However, additional equally relevant information is left out of the book. The information is presented in such a way that updating it or adding to it would not be too difficult. Several links to further exploration of a topic are broken, so readers cannot access the additional information.
The text is written in lucid and accessible prose, but the information itself could be fleshed out more to provide the reader with a better understanding of the context of the artifacts. The choice to include transcripts of conversations between scholars is an interesting approach, but the transcript might be unnecessary when the link to the actual conversation is included.
The book is consistent with terminology. The chapters are sometimes written as prose and sometimes presented as a conversation between scholars. This might be helpful for a reader who likes some variety in presentation. The amount of information is not consistent for each time period- some chapters have much more content than others, and some objects are discussed in greater detail than others. A treatment of earlier periods in northern Mesopotamia and Persia would balance out the information about ancient Sumer.
The book can easily be divided into smaller reading sections. Some of the sections are very short, so more than one could be assigned. Because the information is limited in some cases, additional material for further exploration of the artifact and historical context could be helpful for the reader. The book provides internet links to additional information on most topics.
The book is divided by region and time periods. Some time periods are covered more extensively than others, and discussions of some periods seem to end rather abruptly. Part IV (Babylonian) jumps from the Middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age then back to the Late Bronze Age. Part V (Assyria) covers Iron Age Assyria, but does not include other key periods in Assyria’s development such as Old Assyrian trading colonies, and the reign of Shamshi-Adad I. Part VI (Persian) also covers Iron Age Persia, but not earlier periods in the region such as the Elamite civilization.
The book itself does not have significant interface issues, but several of the links included for further reading are broken (check pages 6, 16 and 44).
The book is written in a conversational style, which could make it feel more accessible to those just learning about the ANE.
This book makes an important part of human history accessible to many. The book also includes insightful discussions on how artifacts are impacted by modern conflicts.
No – this textbook is not comprehensive. For instance, it starts in the Uruk period, but fails to provide a good historical overview of the period (or of any other period discussed in the book). The second illustration of the book is that of a... read more
No – this textbook is not comprehensive. For instance, it starts in the Uruk period, but fails to provide a good historical overview of the period (or of any other period discussed in the book). The second illustration of the book is that of a 18th c. BCE clay tablet, when the text mentions the writing in the Uruk period – having a tablet from the Uruk period would seem necessary. Throughout the book, there is little to no mention of historical periods, and no dates – for instance, the Uruk period is never really explicitly mentioned, in the first part on “Sumerian”. Many subjects and historical periods are absent or glossed over. Some of the most striking omissions are: the development of writing, the use and development of seals and sealings, the early periods from the Neolithic to the Uruk period, the Uruk “expansion and trade”, the Warka mask, the old dynastic period, the Summerian king list, the stela of the vultures, the stela of Sargon, the Royal cemetery of Ur (even if the standard is addressed), Mesopotamian temples, omen and divination, old Assyrian trade and Karum Kanesh, International relations, Mari and its palace, Qatna, Ugarit and any major center that is not in Mesopotamia. In fact, no ancient city beside Babylon (briefly) and Persepolis is properly described or addressed. Similarly, no literary work is mentioned.
The books lacks both index and glossary.
The content is not accurate or error-free. It of course depends on which chapter one is looking at. But it is quite shocking that there are so many errors that provide the reader with false information concerning the Ancient Near East.
A Uruk Clay tablet should replace the 18th c. BC tablet – because the text is referring to the first apparition of writing. Bullae are not mentioned in the development of writing, and seals are also absent from the discussion.
The paragraph on ziggurats should be removed from the white temple chapter – the author of the chapter should know that the white temple is not a ziggurat, but a temple on a platform. This particular chapter has been read by many of my students over the past few years, and it only confuses them with false information. The author of the chapter would also need to explain how gypsum tablets can bear cylinder seal impressions!
Chap. 4: Although the naked men on the Warka vase could be seen as servants or slaves, we also need to consider that they could have been priests (not mentioned in this text). Mentioning the authority figure on the Warka vase as the “Priest-King” (and not just the king) would also improve the text.
The first use of Cylinder seals doesn’t date to the late Neolithic period – the author probably wanted to refer to stamp seals…
I feel like the Wikipedia pages for each of the subjects addressed in part 1 are more accurate, and have more relevant details than the book chapters.
Consist only of an introduction and a conversation on the victory stele of Naram-Sin. There is no relevant historical background, and no discussion of the Akkadian empire.
Part III. Neo-Sumerian/Ur III
Only includes a video and its transcript on a statue of Gudea, and a short chapter on Ur-Nammu’s ziggurat at UR.
Part IV. Babylonian
Intro on Babylon today, about 14 lines on the stele of Hammurabi, which brings close to nothing to a meaningful conversation or learning, a short conversation about the object (transcript and video). The book then moves on to the Ishtar gate, and no other mention is made of the old Babylonian period. There are also no mentions of Mari. For reasons that I cannot understand, the Kassite period is addressed after the Ishtar gate. As a side note, the bricks from the Ishtar gate are not glazed with Lapis Lazuli, but they have a glaze that has the dark blue color of lapis lazuli (p. 40). When alternating rows of “cattle” and lions are mentioned on the gate, it seems that the author should mention that another animal is present (the mushushu), and should also link them to their respective deities (and talk about bulls instead of cattle).
Regarding the Kassite period, we are only told that the Kassites controlled Babylonia for 400 years, but the text doesn’t really say when (the second millennium BC is mentioned at some point, but this is it)!
Part V. Assyrian
There is nothing about the early periods of the Assyrian empire. No mention of old Assyrian trade, and the introduction to Assyria focusses solely on the first millennium BC. It is quite shocking to see that there is no plan of any of the Neo-Assyrian palaces. Only one lamassu and the Niniveh’s lion hunt are detailed.
Part VI. Persian
Once more, the introduction fails to present any historical development or real relevant information for the rise and development of the Persian empire. Chapter 24 by J.A Becker is the only one in the whole textbook that provides a solid historical background, along with a presentation of Persepolis and the Apadana that would allow students to learn about the Ancient Near East.
Many links are no longer working/relevant.
I like that a small update was provided at some point on the lamassu and the ISIS destruction of Niniveh (p. 52).
No, it does not. The introductions to parts I, II, V, and VI are not adequate, jump to different subjects quite fast, and do not introduce relevant information. Parts III and IV do not have introductions. Part IV starts with a conversation that refers to chapters that have been read, but in reality, they are placed after “visiting Babylon today” making it hard for the students to know what is being discussed.
I don’t like the format of the book that includes “conversations” (i.e. transcripts of conversations held in front of specific objects). Although I like the videos, I feel like the book should contain a different text, related to the video, but not
I suppose that the text presents some modularity, and that different chapters can be assigned independently of each other. For instance, assigning the videos of the “conversations” would certainly be beneficial as they provide a rich visual background to whichever object is being discussed.
No, the topics are not always presented in a logical fashion. For instance, it is unclear why the chapter on archaeological reconstructions is in between the one the white temple and the Warka vase. Similarly, I don’t know why the chapter in the Kassites has been placed after the Ishtar gate (and thus the Neo-Babylonian period). The book simply jumps from one object or one subject to the other, is somewhat organized in chronological order (except for Babylon), but fails to mention of historical period (and their length).
No. Many links are no longer working. However, the numerous illustration are of good quality and are well scaled.
The text contains some grammatical errors (for instance, p. 15).
The text in not culturally insensitive or offensive.
I would not recommend this book. In fact, I might actively discourage my students from using it.
Table of Contents
Part I. Sumerian
- 1. Sumer, an introduction
- 2. White Temple and ziggurat, Uruk
- 3. Archaeological reconstructions
- 4. A precious artifact from Sumer, the Warka Vase
- 5. Standing Male Worshipper (Tell Asmar)
- 6. Perforated Relief of Ur-Nanshe
- 7. Signing with a cylinder seal
- 8. War, peace, and the Standard of Ur
Part II. Akkadian
- 9. Akkad, an introduction
- 10. Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
Part III. Neo-Sumerian/Ur III
- 11. Seated Gudea holding temple plan
- 12. King Ur-Nammu's Ziggurat of Ur
Part IV. Babylonian
- 13. Visiting Babylon today
- 14. Law Code Stele of King Hammurabi
- 15. Law Code Stele of King Hammurabi
- 16. The Ishtar Gate and Neo-Babylonian art
- 17. Ishtar Gate and Neo-Babylonian art
- 18. Kassite art: Unfinished Kudurru
Part V. Assyrian
- 19. Assyria, an introduction
- 20. Lamassu from the citadel of Sargon II
- 21. Ashurbanipal Hunting Lions
Part VI. Persian
- 22. Ancient Persia, an introduction
- 23. Capital of a column from the audience hall of the palace of Darius I, Susa
- 24. Persepolis: The Audience Hall of Darius and Xerxes
About the Book
This book contains all of Smarthistory’s content for Sumerian, Akkadian, Neo-Sumerian / Ur III, Babylonian, Assyrian and Persian art.
About the Contributors
Ruth Ezra is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University, where she specializes in the art of late-medieval and Renaissance Europe. Upon completion of her BA at Williams College, she studied in the UK on a Marshall Scholarship, earning an MPhil in history and philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge and an MA in history of art from the Courtauld Institute. A committed educator, Ruth has recently served as a Gallery Lecturer at both the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the National Galleries of Scotland, as well as a Teaching Fellow at Harvard.
Beth Harris is co-founder and executive director of Smarthistory. Previously, she was dean of art and history at Khan Academy and director of digital learning at The Museum of Modern Art, where she started MoMA Courses Online and co-produced educational videos, websites and apps. Before joining MoMA, Beth was Associate Professor of art history and director of distance learning at the Fashion Institute of Technology where she taught both online and in the classroom. She has co-authored, with Dr. Steven Zucker, numerous articles on the future of education and the future of museums, topics she regularly addresses at conferences around the world. She received her Master’s degree from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and her doctorate in Art History from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Steven Zucker is co-founder and executive director of Smarthistory. Previously, Steven was dean of art and history at Khan Academy. He was also chair of history of art and design at Pratt Institute where he strengthened enrollment and lead the renewal of curriculum across the Institute. Before that, he was dean of the School of Graduate Studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology, SUNY and chair of their art history department. He has taught at The School of Visual Arts, Hunter College, and at The Museum of Modern Art. Dr. Zucker is a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has co-authored, with Dr. Beth Harris, numerous articles on the future of education and the future of museums, topics he regularly addresses at conferences around the world. Dr. Zucker received his Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.