Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal

Among the mighty slave states of the Ancient East, one of the most powerful was Assyria, which was located mainly in the territory of the present-day Iraq. The Assyrian rulers erected powerful city fortifications, and inside them – vast palaces that were magnificently decorated with frescoes and stone reliefs. These monumental reliefs are among the most remarkable monuments of ancient Assyrian art.

They depict various events: scenes of hunting, military campaigns (battles, sieges of cities, evacuation of prisoners) and religious ceremonies. These images are executed with almost documentary authenticity, which makes them an indispensable source for historians, and at the same time with unusual brightness, strength and laconic expressiveness.

A special hall in the palace of King Ashurbanipal in the capital of the state of Nineveh is worth a special attention as it is decorated with a cycle of compositions telling about the royal hunting for lions. The images are generalized, even schematized in some ways: the sculptor works in large masses; contours are outlined rigidly, the figures are massive, the movements for all their swiftness are angular and somehow clumsy, individual compositions are subject to a strictly sustained rhythm.

The king’s hunting of lions is a very important plot in the art of Assyria, connected with the ancient magical ideas, according to which the ruler’s important task was to protect the country from wild animals. Beautiful and powerful lords of the desert since ancient times were considered worthy opponents of royal rulers. Hunting for lions was exclusively a royal privilege, it was allowed once a year – on the day of the feast in honor of the God of wisdom and the letter Naboo. The Assyrians believed that at that time the deity itself went into the desert around Nimrud to fight predators.

The king – the incarnation and descendant of the gods – performed in the religious rituals in the role of Naboo, and the hunt itself turned into a sacred action symbolizing the eternal opposition of good and evil, which inevitably ends with the victory of the first.

Ashurbanipal was proud not only of knowing cuneiform texts but also of being able to drive horses harnessed to chariots and shoot arrows. He had a great hunting dexterity, which was especially appreciated in his era, when raging lions bred on the war-ravaged territories, were worse than pestilence attacking people. On the reliefs Assyrian artists depicted with extraordinary realism a number of hunting scenes accompanied by explanatory inscriptions, thanks to which it is easy to imagine in every detail the various techniques used in hunting, beginning with mass raids in order to capture the prey alive and ending with a dangerous battle with predators.

Reliefs of the library of the royal palace in Ancient Nineveh in detail depicted all the stages of ritual hunting: preparation, solemn departure, the battle with predators and the death of animals. The most interesting scene depicts how the ruler hits his formidable opponents with arrows, standing on a chariot with galloping horses. The ceremonial hunt was not on an equal footing: the lions were let out of the cells one at a time to meet the king armed with a bow, at whose disposal there were two bodyguards with long spears (they can be seen on the cart) and swift-footed horses that took the ruler away in the moment of the threat.

The great lion hunting of Ashurbanipal appears to the viewer as a dynamic dramatic action, in which the naturalness of poses and movements is combined with accurate and careful reproduction of minute details. The magnificent composition and masterful relief drawing allow the sculptor to unite in a single story a lot of different motifs and make the emotionally rich and detailed story easy to read and understand.


This lion hunt of Ashurbanipal description essay sample should be used as an example only. Hope that it will be of use when you are assigned to write an essay describing the famous works of ancient Assyrian art.

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