Who builds Assyria : nurture and control in Sennacherib's Great Relief at Khinnis

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Date

2012-05

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Langendorfer, Breton Adam

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Abstract

Located in an isolated gorge in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Neo-Assyrian rock reliefs at Khinnis are unusual for their size, shape, and subject matter. The most striking of these is the enormous Great Relief, the largest single Assyrian sculpture in existence, which depicts a pair of gods attended by the duplicated figure of the Assyrian king. Both the Great Relief and the other sculptures of the Khinnis site were carved on the orders of Sennacherib (r. 705-688 BCE), to commemorate the canal head he constructed there. The Great Relief itself was positioned over the exact juncture wherein the waters of the river Gomel were canalized and sent on their way towards Nineveh, designated by Sennacherib as Assyria’s new imperial capital, irrigating fields and orchards along the way. In this thesis I examine the composition and iconography of the Great Relief, both in the context of Sennacherib’s irrigation programs and the inscription carved at the Khinnis site. This inscription contains a curiously bifurcated account of both Sennacherib’s civil works in Assyria and his brutal sack of Babylon in 689. In both cases, Sennacherib emphasizes his ingenious technical ability to manipulate water for the benefit of the Assyrian state, either through the creative irrigation of the Assyrian heartland and the new capital, or the destructive flooding and leveling of Babylon. I argue that the dichotomy presented by these activities, a dualism of “nurture and control” through technical expertise, is a persistent theme throughout the rhetoric of Sennacherib’s inscriptions and reliefs. Through a close analysis of the Khinnis inscription, the Assyrian tradition of landscape sculpture, and the emblematic and narrative strategies employed in palatial relief programs, I argue that the Great Relief at Khinnis is an emblematic image of the dualistic ideology of Sennacherib’s reign. Ultimately, the Great Relief stands as a carefully devised visual statement about the nature of state power, consciously created by Sennacherib to signal his conceptual re-founding of the Assyrian empire.

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