Neo-Assyrian. Cast of the original in the British Museum, London. Detail from Ashurbanipal Hunting Lions reliefs originally from the North Palace, Nineveh (Norther Iraq), gypsum, c. 645-635 BCE.

This remarkable cast depicts a lioness, impaled by three arrows, as she collapses in agony. The cast is a detail from a larger relief series that originally lined a hallway of Assyrian King Ashurbanipal’s (668-627 BCE) North Palace at Nineveh. The complete relief depicts an elaborate, staged, royal lion hunt that took place within a hunting park. King Ashurbanipal is depicted multiple times as he prepares for, and successfully hunts, multiple lions which have been released into the park from cages. The numerous lions of the relief are depicted naturalistically as they wither in agony from their injuries within the hunting park in front of the King, his guards, and a crowd of spectators.

Lions were a real danger to ancient people living in the Near East. Assyrian texts detail the threat that these animals created to the public by attacking livestock, blocking roads, and stalking travelers. Lions were dangerous, wild animals that came to symbolize chaos in nature. It was considered the royal duty of the king – a man divinely appointed by the gods and portrayed as having superhuman strength – to protect his people from lions and the chaotic forces of nature that lions represented. The royal lion hunt became an important symbol to demonstrate the power of the king throughout the Ancient Near East and the hunt became a staged event controlled for spectators who could witness the power of the king.

  • assyrian
  • assyrian art
  • cast gallery
  • Ninevah
  • North Palace of King Ashurbanipal
  • relief