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Mesopotamia

Medio Geográfico

En el Oriente Próximo, entre los ríos Tigris y Éufrates, se extiende una región a la que los griegos llamaron Mesopotamia, que significa "país entre ríos". La fertilidad de las tierras del valle, rodeadas por desiertos y montañas, hizo que se desarrollara una rica agricultura favorecida por la construcción de canales que evitaban las inundaciones.

A partir del cuarto milenio a. C., Mesopotamia estuvo habitada por distintos pueblos, con ricas y poderosas ciudades-Estado, que lucharon entre sí para conseguir la supremacía. Entre estos pueblos destacan en la Baja Mesopotamia o Caldea (al sur) los sumerios y los acadios, pacíficos agricultores que construyeron ciudades como Ur y Babilonia. A su vez, en la Alta Mesopotamia o Asiria (al norte) habitaban los asirios, pueblo guerrero que fundó ciudades como Assur y Nínive.

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Arte

El arte mesopotámico tuvo una finalidad más práctica que artística. Ante la escasez de piedra y madera en la región, se generalizó el uso del adobe y el ladrillo. Precisamente por ello utilizaron el arco y la bóveda raramente la columna. La falta de piedra determinó también el reducido tamaño de la escultura, así como las malas condiciones de los restos arquitectónicos que conservan.

Las principales construcciones son los palacios y los templos. Un elemento fundamental en los templos era el Zigurat o torre escalonada: uno de los más antiguos conservados es el de Mari, construido en otoño al año 3000 a. C.

La escultura mesopotámica ha dejado importantes muestras: esculturas, relieves, estelas o placas conmemorativas. La pintura, en cambio, es muy escasa. Entre las esculturas destacan las del rey-sacerdote Gudea y los leones con cabeza humana que adornaban las puertas de las murallas y palacios asirios y babilonios, a partir del primer milenio.

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Arquitectura

Los egipcios fueron unos genios. Llevaron a cabo grandiosas obras arquitectónicas, como las tres pirámides, que se usaron como tumbas.
La primera fue dedicada al Faraón Keops, perteneciente ala IV dinastía. Dicha pirámide tiene 230 metros de lado y cerca de 146 metros de altura; su enorme masa es de 2600000 metros cúbicos, de grandes bloques calcáreos extraídos de las canteras de orillas del Nilo; en la construcción de esta pirámide trabajaron más o menos cien mil hombres que, impulsados por la fe a sus dioses, se esforzaron por espacio de 20 años para concluir su obra.

La segunda pirámide fue construida para el Faraón Kefrén. Sus dimensiones eran menores a las de la primera.

La tercera pirámide es la del Faraón Micerino, la más pequeña en dimensiones aunque no en riquezas. Los dos últimos faraones eran descendientes del primero.

Las pirámides, en su interior, estaban comunicadas por una serie de corredores que conducían a diferentes cámaras, una de las cuales era el recinto donde se depositaba el cuerpo del Faraón; en las otras cámaras se depositaban sus pertenencias y la barca donde viajaría; las pirámides eran cerradas perfectamente para evitar que se profanaran las tumbas.
Las tres pirámides fueron construidas en Gizeh, en la parte norte de Egipto, donde se forma la delta del Nilo.

Otra joya de la arquitectura es el templo de Karnak, en Tebas, fruto de las conquistas asiáticas y del gran comercio egipcio. En este templo se le rendía culto a Amón. Fue construido durante la dinastía XVIII. Mide más de medio kilómetro y está vigilado por una larguísima avenida de esfinges: leones con cabezas humanas. Lo más importante de este templo es su salón, formado por 134 inmensos pilares de 22 metros de altura, terminados en capiteles adornados con figuras de flores y rostros humanos. En su entrada se encuentran dos gigantescas estatuas del rey dos altísimos obeliscos que están como representantes del rey y la reina.

Otra obra arquitectónica y escultural es la esfinge, que al frente de las 3 pirámides, surge imponente. Esta colosal figura, hecho de granito, representa a un león con cabeza humana. Es el retrato del faraón Giseh y se cree que fue un templo aunque no se ha podido comprobar pues en la actualidad se encuentra cubierta en parte.

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 Early Dynastic Sumer
(2900-2370 B.C.)


stone frieze

1. Limestone and shale mosaic frieze framed in copper from the Ninhursag temple facade al-`Ubaid. To right of farm shed temple staff milks a cow, and to the left it strains and stores the milk or makes butter. Ca. 2500 B.C.

lyre detail

2. A lyre detail from the royal cemetary at Ur, ca. 2600 B.C. showing a bull's head of gold and lapis lazuli. Partially restored (London: British Museum).

a stand from UR

3. A support in the form of a ram made of gold, lapis lazuli, etc. on a wooden core. From the royal tomb at Ur. Ca. 2600 B.C. It symbolizes fertility. 50 cm. (London: British Museum).

Standard of Ur

4. The so-called "Standard of Ur," which was an inlaid work found crushed in a royal tomb at Ur. Ca. 2600 B.C. The original shape and purpose of this object is unknown, but depicted a victory celebration at court. Drinking wine with musical accompaniment; bringing food and booty to court (London: British Museum).

detail from Standard of Ur

5. A detail from the "Standard of Ur" showing a fisherman.

Inlaid lyre decoration from Ur

6. Inlaid decoration of restored Sumerian lyre from Ur, 2600 B.C. British Museum. The two deer mirrored on either side of a sacred tree is a common theme.

detail from Standard of Ur

7. During the Akkad period, cuniform matured and ended its use of pictographs, and also it developed a grammer and individual perspective. Here is such a tablet with a message signed, "Your loving wife who has had a child."

 

Classical Akkad (2370-c. 2004)


Bronze head of an Akkadian king, perhaps Sargon of Akkad

1. Life-size bronze or copper head of an Akkadian king, perhaps Sargon of Akkad (2370-2316), found as loot at Ishtar Temple in Nineveh. 30 cm. (Baghdad: Iraq Museum). Sargon I (Sharrukin), king of Semitic Agade, created a fully developed absolute monarchy with hegemony over surrounding peoples.

Copper casting from near Dohuk

2. Copper casting from near Dohuk of a seated man. Scarcity of tin in the era makes bronze scarce, but there is high quality castings in copper.

Impression from the cylinder seal of Secretary Kalki

3. Impression from the cylinder seal of Secretary Kalki. The king's brother is followed by two officials and led by two figures, including a soldier, which suggests a foreign expedition c. 2300 B.C. British Museum, UK.

Impression from the cylinder seal of Secretary Kalki

4. Fragment of an Akkadian relief showing prisoners of war. No provenance. Iraq Museum, Baghdad.

Inscriptions on stone bowl

5. Inscriptions on stone bowl: a) part of Naram-Sin of Akkad's (2254-2218 B.C.) booty from Magan (prob. Oman) b) dedicated to Moon god Sin at Ur by daughter of later king Shulgi. Found at Ur. British Museum, UK. The Akkadian kings followed trade roots to loot from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranian.

Baked clay head of a god from Telloh

6. Baked clay head of a god from Telloh, c. 2000 B.C. Wears the triple crown of divinity. 10 cm. tall. Le Louvre, Paris.

The Guti and rise of Girsu dynasty in Sumer
(end of 3rd millenium)

Statue, prob. of King Gudea, Lagash

1. Diorite statue found hear Telloh, probably of King Gudea of Lagash. 105 cm. tall. Le Louvre, Paris. The Sargonid era experienced deepening contradictions associated with the ethnogenesis of a pastoral people known as the Guti, but then, starting with King Gudea of Lagash, there was a Neo-Sumerian revival that culminated in the Third Dynasty of Ur.

Statue, prob. of King Gudea, Lagash

2. Diorite statue, probably of King Gudea of Lagash or his son Ur-Ningirsu. British Museum, London.

Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2112-2004 B.C.)

relief on the Stela of Ur-Nammu, Ur

1. Detail of a reconstructed relief on the Stela of Ur-Nammu, Ur. King instructed by seated gods to build a temple or ziggurat. 304 cm. tall. The Sumerian revival owed much to this king. University Museum, Univ. of Pennsylvania, US.

Necklace with large agate beads set in gold from Ur III

2. Necklace with large banded agate beads set in gold from Ur III. It belonged to the Priestess Tiamat-bashti, and was found in the temple of Eanna at Uruk. The largest bead is 9 cm. Iraq Museum, Baghdad.

Old Babylonian period
(c. 2004 - 1595 B.C.)


Old Babylonia

1. Stele of Hammurabi bearing the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon. The code inscribed on it recognized social classes and sought to regulate private life. At the top, Hammurabi approaches the seated sun god, Shamash, who was also the god of justice.

Clay plaque of a musician

2. Clay plaque of a musician. About 12 cm. tall. From the Diyala excavations of the Oriental Institute, Chicago. The Amorites were West Semitic Pastoralists who interacted with Mesopotamian agriculturalists until absorbed into the culture of Mesopotamia about mid millenium.

Model clay chariot votive object

3. Model clay chariot votive object. This one decorated with figure of a seated god in relief. Le Louvre, Paris. The horse brought in from the steppe combined with the farm cart to result in the chariot before the end of the 2rd millenium.

Old Babylonian temple guardian lion

4. One of two large guardian lions that flanked the entrace to the main temple at Tell Harmal. Now at the Iraq Museum, Baghdad.

Kassite Dynasty of Bablylon (c. 1720-1157 B.C.)

Kassite boundry stone

1. Boundry stones (kudurru) such as this are the most characteristic survival of Kassite era Babylonia. This one records a 12th century land grant by a father to his son. In the top register are the divinities of Sin (moon), Ishtar (planet Venus), Shamash (sun), and horned crowns representing Anu and Enlil and the goat-fish of Ea. In the third register are the dragon and spade of Marduk.

Kassite pottery figurine of a lioness

2. Detail from a pottery figurine of a lioness. Length of head is 3 cm. Iraq Museum, Baghdad. Kassite art is known for such realistic figurines.

 

3. Faience objects were common in Kassite times, but this inlaid mask from the great temple at Tell al Rimah is unusually large and elaborate. Colored frit and glass inlays in black, white and yellow, are set in bitumen. 14-13th c. B.C. 11.8 cm high. Iraq Museum, Baghdad.

Assyria (14th c. to 612 B.C.)


Altar of Tukulti-Ninurta I in Ashur

1. Altar of Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244-1208 B.C.), in Ashur. The god, Nusku, is represented here on the altar as a symbol rather than in anthropomorphic form, which is considered an important feature of emerging Assyrian culture.

Middle Assyrian seal

2. Middle Assyrian seal impression showing a king or demi-urgos hunting ostriches. 13th c. B.C. Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. Assyrian culture is associated with a revitalization of Mesopotamian cylinder seal design.

Mural in the Governor's Palace at Til Barsip (Tell Ahmar)

3. Detail from a mural in the Governor's Palace at Til Barsip (Tell Ahmar) on Middle Euphrates (under Tiglath-Pileser III, 744-727 B.C.) Aleppo Museum. Administrative reformer, he built Assyria as dominant military power.

Fresco from Til Barsip Governor's Palace

4. Fresco detail from Til Barsip Governor's Palace, on the Euphrates in Syria, under Tiglath-Pileser III. Frescoes functioned like reliefs to represent imperial ideology, typically military campaigns, hunting scenes and winged genii. Aleppo Museum, Syria.

 ivory head, Nimrud

5. An ivory head, perhaps a part of furniture, found in a well beneath the Northwest Palace at Nimrud. Details are stained a darker color. Late 8th c. 16 cm. tall. Directorate-General of Antiquities, Baghdad. This offers a nice contrast with severe imperial art.

Relief from Palace of Sargon II at Khorsabad

6. Relief of winged god receiving jpgt-bearers. From Palace of Sargon II (d. 705) at Khorsabad. 3 m. tall. Reliefs are a major Assryian art form. This example shows an aesthic movement toward hierarchical formality. Sargon built a new capital, Khorsabad, just north of Ninevah, but it was abandoned after his death.

Lamassu guardian at Khorsabad

7. One of a pair of monolithic hybrid collosi lamassu guardian figures typically found at Assyrian gateways and palaces, at citadel gate, Khorsabad. Iraq Museum, Baghdad. Hypernaturalistic fifth leg gives the figures two aspects.

Stone of Esarhaddon

8. Stone of Esarhaddon. Memorial relief on black basalt. Ca. 676 B.C. 21.5 cm. British Museum, UK. Inscribed with an account of Esarhaddon's restoration of Babylon. At top, the sacred tree and a horned crown on an altar. Below a Bablylonian plough with seed drill.

Stele commemorating Assurbanipal's rebuilding of Esaglila temple, Babylon

9. Sandstone stele commemorating Assurbanipal's rebuilding of Esaglila temple, Babylon. Ca. 672. The king carries the materials for ritual moulding of first brick. 37 cm. tall. British Museum, UK. Babylon was the Assyrian base of power and foreign expeditions.

Map of the Assyrian Empire

10. Map showing the expansion of the Assyrian Empire in 7-6th century. After Seton Lloyd, The Archaeology of Mesopotamia (Thames and Hudson, 1984).

Neo-Babylonian Empire


Babylonian world  map

1. The world seen from Babylon. Babylon is the central rectangle through which runs the Euphrates River, which originates in the mountains at the top and flows into the marshes below. This land is surrounded by the circle of salty sea, beyond which is the land in which the sun never sets. 12.2 cm tall. British Museum.

brick frieze from the reconstructed Ishtar Gate, Babylon

2. Glazed brick frieze from the reconstructed Ishtar Gate, Babylon. Lion detail. Ca. 575 B.C. Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin.

Ishtar Gate, Babylon

3. Ishtar Gate, Babylon. Reconstructed detail. Ca. 575 B.C.