Europe Photoblogging, Part 3: The British Museum, Part 1
By Dwip September 10, 2014, 3:31 pm Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

This is going to be a series of two posts on the wonders of the British Museum, which I visited many, many times both for class and on my own initiative while in London between April and June 2004.

While my own visits to the museum were pretty meandering, I’m going to break these next two posts up roughly by subject. So expect a lot of Egyptian and Middle Eastern stuff in this post, with more Greek, Roman, and Medieval stuff to follow.

That first picture up top was the main entrance to the British Museum, while this is shot from the central staircase in the main hall. What I want to impart to you is that this is a massive building, chock full of historical goodies from all over the world. The sun never set on the British Empire, and they collected stuff from all over it, back in the days when the white man’s burden consisted of how much stuff you could extract from all the non-white guys in the room.

Not a big fan of the colonialism, said the colonial, but I am rather a fan of the stuff they brought back, as you shall see.

This, of course, is the Rosetta Stone, an object you may perhaps have heard of once or twice. This was the very first photo I took in the British Museum, and the first time I came into contact with something I’d do a lot in the future – the idea that all the things I had ever read about, all the things my little history major brain had ever wanted to see, well, here they are. Right in front of you.

Hell of a thing.

This is a much later image, of various Egyptian painted mummy cases. Unfortunately, unlike every other object I photographed in here, I didn’t bother to also photograph the identification plaques, so I can’t tell you a thing about who these people were, other than that they were Egyptian and surprisingly small – that people were smaller thousands of years ago is one of those things you know, but it’s pretty obvious when you’re standing next to their mummy.

This is part of a plaster cast made in 1825 of a relief from the temple of Beit el-Wali in Lower Nubia. It’s one of the many, many depictions of Ramesses II running around being cool, as was the wont of Ramesses II – that’s him there on the right, picking up a bunch of sweet tribute from his Nubian subjects, like you do.

Speaking of Ramesses II, this is the man himself, part of a statue called the Younger Memnon. Once upon a time, it was part of a pair of statues at the Ramesseum, Ramesses’ mortuary temple.

This was a man not overly troubled by the burdens of humility, I think it safe to say.

This one was a bit tricky. The plaque says it’s Egyptian, a representation of charioteers driving a chariot with the head of Egyptian god Bes. It’s actually Persian, part of the Oxus Treasure from Tajikistan. That’s actually a little more interesting – an Egyptian god on Persian metalwork found most of the way to China. An interesting note on ancient cultural spread and what have you.

Also a case of me needing to do the research before numbering my pictures. This should go with the Persian stuff. But no. But no.

This is a false door and architrave of a guy named Ptahshepses who lived around 2,400 BC, married a princess, and worked for five seperate kings.

I had to look up architrave too, it’s ok.

These two guys are lamassu from the palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II, about half of which is somewhere or other in the museum. With the gate in between them they make for an impressive sight, which is probably why they were the second thing I took a picture of in my eyes wide open, mouth agape first day in the British Museum.

Seriously, it’s insane in there.

This wall of cuneiform tablets is something I picked out primarily to give you all an idea of how cuneiform tablets are (palm-sized, you could hold one easily), as well as something of an idea of what I was doing in my Literacy in the Ancient Near East class every day.

There’s some cool stuff on this wall, though. That top one is the Flood Tablet from the Epic of Gilgamesh. The one below it is from the Assyrian epic of creation, the one next to it Ishtar’s descent into the underworld, below it the birth of Sargon the Great, and so on.

The point here is that I’m standing not two feet away from three thousand year old clay tablets that I’m about to go read for real in class.

Seriously, it’s insane in there.

Going back to Ashurnasirpal II for a second, a guy who kicked more ass in a day than you or I ever will, this is an alabaster stela of the guy being all regal. All the stuff towards the top that looks like weathering is actually cuneiform writing talking about how much of a badass Ashurnasirpal is.

Like Ramesses II, the kings of Assyria were not guys with small egos.

Taking a break from Ashurnasirpal II for a moment, this is the height of wall decor in Assyria, a wall relief from the palace of Tiglath-pilesar III, who like most Assyrian kings Got Shit Done and was not particularly concerned about the fate of any fluffy bunnies or kitties who might get in his way.

The Assyrians used these things as propaganda in their palaces to tell people how badass they were. The top panel is a bunch of Assyrians conquering some luckless city (the king kills his enemies!) and the bottom is a bunch of guys hauling statues (the king reveres the gods!) with a band of cuneiform in between to tell you what’s going on.

Lest you think these panels were isolated occurances, they were not. This is a hallway full of reliefs from the palace of an Assyrian king named Sennacherib, who as you may have guessed kicked at least moderate amounts of ass on a daily basis.

Most of these are about seiging cities, but for variety there some lion hunts as well. As I said, the Assyrians were not about to let bunnies, kitties, or entire armies of other guys stand in their way.

Also, lest I sound admiring, I am not. The Assyrians were kind of like the Nazis of the ancient world, or maybe the Mongols. Very good at what they did, but not really pleasant folks, you know?

Moving away from the Assyrians, this is the war panel of the Standard of Ur, of which I possess the coffee mug. It holds my pens. I quite like it.

This, ladies, is the height of ancient Sumerian fashion, what princesses wore. I’m pretty sure they were also popular at some point in the 1980s club scene.

I have no idea how good the TV reception is on those flower antenna things.

This is a statue of a guy named Gudea of Lagash, who ruled Lagash about 3,100 years ago. The big deal about Gudea is that he left us a bunch of statues (like a boss), but unlike most other rulers, he’s supposed to have been a bit more kindly, more of a social reformer than the average king, who believed more in the Conan the Barbarian school of rulership.

Certainly he seems a little less about the whole lions and seiges thing, anyway.

I lied about the Assyrians thing. This is the Black Obelisk of Shalmanesser III, which in addition to sounding like something your heroes need to destroy during your next D&D game is a more or less complete Assyrian obelisk (a big deal) that supposedly shows guys from the Bible (also probably a big deal).

It also looks pretty cool, which is why I wrote a paper on it once.

As the caption says, this is an Akkadian cylinder seal from 2300 BC. The thing about cylinder seals that’s so cool is that they were how anybody who was somebody signed their name back in the day. Plunk your seal down in some wet clay, roll it, and lo and behold, you’ve signed your life away. Each one was personalized for the owner, with little stories being carved into a seal made out of the costliest stone you could find as a status symbol.

Cursive doesn’t really pass muster in comparison, I’m afraid.

This is a Babylonian kudurru, or boundary stone, which is how ancient Babylonians marked their lands. The inscription on the page I linked is pretty interesting stuff – in amongst talking about laying out the land and how much there is, who it belongs to, and how cool the king was for giving land to this guy, there are bunch of pretty harsh invocations to the gods for moving or altering this thing. Do you enjoy leprosy? Move this stone.

This guy moves us into talking about the Persians. He’s a Persian spearman, part of a much much larger and really spectacular row of these guys from Darius’ palace at Susa.

We’ve moved up a bit from the whole lions thing.

Or maybe not. This, as I have just learned upon doing some research, is supposed to be a Sasanian king dual shanking two lions while jump kicking a third like a badass. Whatever it’s supposed to be, however, it’s actually probably a forgery, albeit a pretty cool one.

Admit it, you want to shank two lions at the same time as you jump kick a third one too.

These are four 6th or 7th century Persian swords, along with a helmet. The real standout is that gold number on the left, which we’ll see in a bit more detail in just a second.

This is a detail shot of that leftmost sword, showing the fairly intricate detail worked into the scabbard and hilt. It’s pretty spiffy.

This is a bit of an oddball, a southern Arabian altar, probably from Yemen, from somewhere between the 1st and 6th centuries BC. It was also just sort of off by itself, not really part of any collection. Just one of those things you sort of stumble upon in the British Museum.


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