The Sassanid Empire was first invaded by Muslims in present day Iraq in 633 under General Khalid ibn Walid resulting in the Muslim conquest of Iraq. A second invasion of Iraq began in 636. The Sassanid era in Mesopotamia 200-600 is considered to have been one of Persia’s most important and influential historical periods. The Sassanid period witnessed the highest achievement of ancient Persian civilization, and witnessed the last great empire before the Muslim conquest and the adoption of Islam. The Sassanid’s unique dynasty with its aristocratic culture carried forward to the early Islamic world.
The exhibit shows the important Sassanid influence on Islamic culture in areas of architecture and writing that were borrowed mainly from the Sassanids, then spread throughout the broader Muslim world. The cities of Basra and Kufa became important centers in the south and Mosul became an important cultural center in the north. Early Islamic culture in Iraq is illustrated in its development in the arts and sciences, decorative arts, and calligraphy. Baghdad and Mosul became centers of scholarship with their universities and libraries becoming world renown.
Artifacts show that the period of Kassite dominance over the city of Babylon around 1500 B.C. Kassites built a new capital called Dur Kurigalzu (Akarkuf) and since they were from outside the area, they adapted to the culture. The early Babylonian cuneiform on exhibit shows that it continued as the formal language in the area and there was continuity in literature, scientific pursuit, manufacturing, and religion. Objects include an alabaster vessel with four handles and an incised decoration dating from 750-650 B.C.
Assyria was a civilization located on the upper Tigris River that ruled regional empires several times and was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur. In the Middle Assyrian period (1400 to 900 B.C.), the empire’s influence was regained in a series of conquests. The later Neo-Assyrian Empire under Ashurbanipal (668 – 627 B.C.) for a brief period controlled all of the Fertile Crescent and Egypt before falling to the Neo-Babylonian expansion that subsequently fell to the conquering armies of the Persian Empire.
The city of Ashur was conquered by expanding Amorite tribes and later by Hammurabi who conquered Ashur for Babylon. Assyria was ruled by kings who were dependent on the Babylonians for a century. After Babylon fell to the Kassites, the Hurrians dominated the northern region, including Assur.
The exhibit features Mesopotamian cuneiform texts from this period showing observations of solar and lunar eclipses, that have been used as benchmarks to define the chronology of Middle Babylonian and Assyrian times in the early second millennium.
The Hittite empire collapsed during the invasion of the Phrygians, and Babylon and Assyria began sought Amorite regions, formerly under firm Hittite control. When the two groups clashed, the Assyrian king Ashur-resh-ishi I defeated Nebuchadnezzar I of Babylon. Assyria had difficulties with keeping the trade routes open. Unlike the situation in the Old Assyrian period, the Anatolian metal trade was effectively dominated by the Hittites and the Hurrians. These peoples now controlled the Mediterranean ports, while the Kassites controlled the river route south to the Arabian Gulf.
The exhibit features information about the main Assyrian cities of the middle period: Ashur, Nimrud, and Nineveh in the Tigris River valley. At the end of the Bronze Age, Nineveh by the end of the Neo-Assyrian period, it had grown to a population of 120,000, and may have been the largest city of that time. All free male citizens were obliged to serve in the army for a time.
The Neo-Assyrian Empire began in 911 B.C. with Adad-nirari II and Assyria became a great regional power, growing to be a serious threat to Egypt. Assyria finally succumbed to the rise of the neo-Babylonian Chaldean dynasty with the destruction of Nineveh in 612 B.C. The destruction of the Assyrian capitals of Nineveh and Assur resulted in wiping out the Akkadian language.
Artifacts predominantly from the Neo-Assyrian period show battle scenes, and the power of the emperor. Stone reliefs that once lined the walls in the royal palaces. Other stone reliefs depict the king with different deities and conducting religious ceremonies. Many stone reliefs were discovered in the royal palaces at Nimrud and Nhorsabad.
Assyrian sculpture reached a high level of refinement in the Neo-Assyrian period. One prominent example is the winged bull Lamassu. They were typically sculpted with five legs so that four legs were always visible. Fine pieces of Assyrian jewelry were found in royal tombs at Nimrud.
Iraqi archaeologists in 1988 excavated four royal tombs in Nimrud. It was an important discovery since the tombs were in the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.). Tombs were filled with gold jewelry and objects made of precious stone. Inscriptions in the tombs show that members of the royal family were buried in the tombs that date between the 9th and 8th centuries B.C. Artifacts include anklets and armlets of gold with elaborate hinged clasps.
The Assyrian Period (1350-612 B.C.) is dramatically featured with large wall panels. The exhibits include panels from the temples and palaces of the Assyrian capital cities of Numrud and Khorsabad. Originally, the stone carved panels lined the walls of the courtyards and rooms. Doorways were decorated with the large human-headed winged bulls and thresholds were made of stone slabs. Images on wall panels show battle and hunting scenes, warriors/guards, and citizens offering tribute.
Artifacts include an alabaster wall panel from of Sargon II’s (721-705 B.C.) Khorsabad palace showing guards on duty at a doorway. Featured in the gallery is the wall panel of glazed baked bricks from the throne room of the palace of Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.), at Nimrud.
The time period pertains primarily to the period from 1200 to the present and includes domestic and household goods as well as tools and weapons. Ceramic, glass, necklaces, wooden doors, coffee pots, copper vessels, metalwork, textiles and embroidery, and woodwork are featured that captures the ethnic diversity of Iraq. A mihrab and marble doorway from Mosul decorated with carved flowers (1234-1258) are also exhibited.
The Ancient Sumer exhibit features artifacts dating from the fourth and third millennia B.C. when writing was developed, the first cities built, and cylinder seals were used for administrative purposes. During the civilization of Sumer the arts developed to high level. The exhibits include objects carved from black limestone with mosaics from Uruk and limestone statues from the Temple at Tell-Asmar circa 2700 B.C.
Artifacts from the three successive dynasties are featured in the gallery. Akkadian (2340-2125 B.C.), 1st dynasty Sumerian (2750 B.C.) to 3rd dynasty Sumerian of Ur ending 1800 B.C., and Old Babylonian (1800-1170 B.C.). The Akkadians lived beside the Sumerians who lived in what is now southern Iraq. Sargon I began the Akkadian rule in Mesopotamia in 2340 B.C. by uniting the country and ruling from the new capital city of Akkad. The exhibit shows examples of how the arts and architecture reached a new level of skill and sophistication during this time. Artifacts can be identified as Akkadian because of the written inscriptions and have dates inscribed on them.
The Neo Sumerian period (2125-2025 B.C.) is knows for the rule of Gudea in the city of Lagash and Urnammu in the city of Ur. Urnammu united the country during the UR III period. Sumerian civilization flourished in cultural, literary and religious pursuits. Ur fell under the Elamite armies of Iran at the end of the third millennium B.C. By approximately 2025 B.C. cities of Larsa and Babylon became powerful cities states in southern Iraq creating the first or Old Babylonian empire. Babylon became the center of ancient political power and the arts and sciences developed.
The exhibit includes artifacts from the early Assyrian time period. The exhibit explores the early history of the kingdom of Assyria, and it’s capital city of Ashur founded by Ashur son of Shem who was deified by later generations as the city’s patron god. The first inscriptions of Assyrian rulers appear after 2000 B.C. when Assyria consisted of a number of city states and small Semitic kingdoms. The foundation of the Assyrian monarchy was traditionally ascribed to Zulilu.
The Gallery features objects from the inhabitants of western and northern Iraq during the stone age (100,000- 10,000 years ago). Basic tools are featured made from bone and stone material when hunters and gatherers lived in villages. Subsequently this led to the development of agriculture and pottery-making. There is evidence of religious beliefs at this time that became more developed in the 4th millennium B.C. Notable artifacts include a stone blade from Al-Rutba area dated at 5000 B.C.
The exhibit features photographs of Shanadar Cave located in the Zagros Mountains of Kurdistan near Erbil. Columbia University excavated the site between 1957-1961 and found Neanderthal skeletons 60,000-80,000 years old.
The Ivory gallery has artifacts carved from ivory representing several time periods and areas. Most of the ivory was discovered at Nimrud, the Assyrian capital and were produced around 800-700 B.C. The ivory was used to decorate furnishings such as chairs, tables and beds. Some objects with ivory decoration are also decorated with stones and gold. Ivory was also used for making cosmetic and jewelry boxes. The ivory pieces were made in Syria and along the Phoenician coast, but illustrate the trade networks in existence at the time. The Assyrian conquests along the Mediterranean coast and Egypt stimulated the movement of ivory from one region to another.
The exhibit promotes the Chaldean Kingdom as the Hellenistic designation for part of Babylon that later became an independent kingdom under the Chaldees. The Chaldeans fought the Akkadians and Babylonians and became a Babylonian colony under Hammurabi. The Chaldean dynasty (6th Century B.C.) of the Babylonian kings was located in the southern part of Babylonia and comprised the plain formed by the deposits of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers 400 miles along the course of the rivers.
Chaldea was the early name for the marsh lands at the head of the Arabian Gulf. In 652 B.C. wars in the Assyrian Empire broke out over who should rule. These wars greatly weakened the empire. Sensing this weakness, the Chaldeans a group from the Syrian desert, led other peoples in attacking the Assyrians. In 612 BC they destroyed Nineveh and the Assyrian empire. In its place, the Chaldeans set up a new empire of their own. Nebuchadnezzar, the most famous Chaldean king, rebuilt Babylon into a beautiful city.
Objects on exhibit include bronze objects, sets of jewels and ornaments in gold and silver, cylinder seals, and a female head from Tell al Rimah from the Middle Assyrian period (second half of the 2nd millennium B.C.), a bronze male figure from the 8th century B.C., and a gold bracelet from the middle of the second millennium B.C. Babylonian arts were influenced by Greek traditions as seen in the objects on exhibit.
Hatra is an ancient ruined city located in the former Persian province of Khvarvaran and is located southwest of Mosul. Hatra was established as an Assyrian city in the 3rd century B.C. by the Seleucid Empire. It became a trading centre of the Parthian Empire during the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. It became the capital of what some believe to be an early Arab Kingdom that included cities of Palmyra, Baalbek, and Petra. It is believed that Hatra was part of a semi-autonomous kingdom on the edge of Parthian Empire. As a frontier city it withstood attacks by the Roman Empire. Hatra defeated the Persians at the battle of Shahrazoor in 238, but fell to the Sassanid Empire in 241 and was destroyed.
The gallery presents Hatra as the best preserved example of a Parthian city. It has inner and outer walls nearly 6.4 km in circumference that were supported by more than 160 towers. Temples cover a large area dominated by the Great Temple, a large building with columns 30 metres tall. The city featured Greek, Mesopotamian, Syrian and Arabian pantheons.
Hatra artifacts represent many types of materials. Small marble and stone and the statue of Hercules made of copper. The bronze head of Dionysos and photographs of the great Temple are featured. The exhibit includes parts of monuments with panels from monumental buildings. The city of Hatra (139 B.C.-226 A.D.) became famous as the capital center for trade, military, and religious affairs and played an important role on the trade routes as a major caravan city. The exhibit shows the impressive architecture of Hatra with temples and large walls around the circular city. Hatra kings were Arab kings, the better know were Sanatruq I, and Abd-Sema.
An important theme for the exhibit is the Arab conquest and the Abbasid caliphate. The first conflict between Arab tribes and Persian forces was in 634, when the Arabs were defeated at the Battle of the Bridge. There was a force of 5,000 Muslims under Abū `Ubayd ath-Thaqafī, that was beaten by the Persians. Around 636, a larger Arab Muslim force under Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas defeated the main Persian army and moved on to destroy the capital of the Persian Empire, Ctesiphon. By the end of 638, the Muslims had conquered almost all of Western Sassanid provinces (modern Iraq), and the last Sassanid Emperor, Yazdegerd III, had fled to northern Persia, where he was killed in 651.
The Islamic conquest was followed by mass immigration of Arabs from eastern Arabia and Oman to Khvarvārān. The new arrivals established two new garrison cities, at al-Kūfah, near ancient Babylon, and at Basra in the south. Mosul began to emerge as an important city and garrison. Apart from the Persian elite and the Zoroastrian priests, who did not convert to Islam and thus lost their lives and property, most of the Mesopotamian peoples became Muslim and were allowed to keep their possessions.
Khvarvārān, became a province of the Muslim Caliphate, known as “Iraq”. The city of Baghdad was built in the 700s and became the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. During this period, Baghdad served as the intellectual center of the Muslim world for several centuries, until the destruction of Baghdad in 1258. Many famous scientists, poets, writers, and philosophers were active in Iraq during the 8th to 13th centuries. Objects on exhibit include the wooden minbar from a mosque in Mosul.
The later period of Islamic rule included Ottoman Iraq and the Mamluks. During the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the “Black Sheep Turkmen” ruled the area now known as Iraq. In 1466, the “White Sheep Turkmen” defeated the Black Sheep and took over control. In the 16th century, most of the territory of present-day Iraq came under the control of Ottoman Empire and ruled the area from Baghdad. During most of the period of Ottoman rule (1533-1918) the area of present-day Iraq was a battle zone between the rival regional empires and tribal groups. The Safavid dynasty from Iran briefly asserted their rule over Iraq from 1508-1533 and 1622-1638. From 1747-1831 Iraq was ruled by the Mamluk officers (Georgian in origin) who succeeded in obtaining autonomy, suppressed tribal revolts, restored order, and modernized the economy and military. In 1831, the Ottomans managed to overthrow the Mamluk rulers and established direct control over Iraq. Islamic materials include calligraphy on objects, and small objects dating from 627A.D. to 1800. The exhibit includes the wood tomb cover from Al Kadim.
The small Coin Gallery represents a typological exhibit on coins made from various materials including silver and gold representing several time periods. The coins are presented in chronological order according to the kingdom and caliph or king who ordered their mintage. Gold, silver and copper Islamic coins are among the earliest coins on display and include Sassanian style coins (226-651 A.D.) minted in several Sassanian cities. Also on display are the collections of Umayyad dinar and dirham coins (661-750 A.D.) and Abbasid dirhams of caliphs (750-1258 A.D.).
Artifacts from the famous post-Hellenistic and Pre-Islamic cities of Ctesiphon, capital of the Persians, and Babylon and Sleucia, capitals of the Seleucid dynasty. The Cities of Uruk, Kish and Ur continued to grow and the artifacts on exhibit show the influence of both eastern and western styles and unique carving techniques. Hellenistic sculptural traditions are merged with early Mesopotamian styles. Featured in the gallery is a painted marble Seleucian marble statue with inlaid eyes from the 2nd century B.C.
Artifacts related to the remains of civilizations that followed the fall of Babylon after the conquest of Alexander the Great (331 B.C.) are exhibited. The Greek Seleucid dynasty controlled Mesopotamia from 312- 139 B.C. with a new capital at Sleucia. The objects on display come from the 1927 University of Michigan excavations and Turin, Italy expedition in 1964 at Seleucia (modern Tell Umar) which are typically Hellenistic in style. The large sculptures on display were brought from the city of Hatra. Many limestone carvings are exhibited that show scenes in bas-relief. The statue of Doshfari, daughter of king Sanatruq, and the statue of the priestess Maratib, are also exhibited.
Arabic belongs to the group of Semitic alphabetical scripts in which mainly the consonants are represented in writing, while the markings of vowels (using diacritics) is optional. The earliest-known alphabet was the North Semitic, which developed around 1700 B.C. in Palestine and Syria. It consisted of 22 consonant letters. The Arabic, Hebrew, and Phoenician alphabets were based on this model. Around 1000 B.C., the Phoenician alphabet was used as a model by the Greeks, who added letters for vowels. Greek in turn became the model for Etruscan (c. 800 B.C.), from which came the letters of the ancient Roman alphabet, and ultimately all Western alphabets.
The exhibit features information about the Arabic, Hebrew, and Phoenician alphabets that were based on the North Semitic alphabet. The adaptation of Greek from the Phoenician alphabet become a model for Etruscan, and subsequently formed the basis of the Roman alphabet, and Western alphabets. Many of the manuscripts in the gallery were written within the past 150 years by famous authors. The gallery has the famous Abdul Al Hamid manuscript. The calligraphy shown includes the various scripts.
The North Arabic script eventually prevailed and became the Arabic script of the Quran, and is related to the Nabatian script, derived from the Aramaic script. Old Aramaic, the language of Jesus and the Apostles, dates from the 2nd millennium B.C. Islam spread and the Arabic alphabet was adapted by several non-Arab nations for writing their languages: in Iran Arabic letters were used to write Farsi, Ottoman Turks used the Arabic alphabet until 1929, and other languages used the Arabic alphabet at one time or another, including Urdu, Malay, Hausa. After the rise of Islam in the 7th century the Arabic alphabet developed quickly into two groups of calligraphic styles: the dry styles (Kufic), and the moist styles (cursive styles) including Naskhi, Thuluth, and Nastaliq.
The city of Kufah was established in Iraq in the year 641 A.D. and was a cultural center and the location where Arabic script was refined into a uniform script. It became known as Kufic. The vertical strokes were short, while the horizontal strokes were long and extended. In the 11th century the letters themselves started to be modified and used as ornaments, and new geometric elements started to appear in the form of plaiting, knotting, and braiding. The exaggerated use of such ornaments created complex compositions, which were difficult to decipher.
The cursive script dates back at least to the early Islamic period. Naskh, which means “copying,” was developed in the 10th century, and refined into a fine art form in Turkey in the 16th century. Naskh is legible and clear and was adapted as the preferred style for typesetting and printing. It is a small script whose lines are thin and letter shapes are round. Thuluth is a stately calligraphic style which was often used for titles or epigrams rather than lengthy texts. Its forms evolved over the centuries, and many variations are found on architectural monuments, as well as on metalwork and textiles. Nastaliq developed in Iran in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is the most fluid and expressive of the scripts and it slants to the right in contrast to all the other styles which slant to the left.
September 12, 2017
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February 7, 2017