This Week’s Featured Object: Echoes of a Very Different Middle East – Clothing from Iraqi Kurdistan

Our featured object this week hearkens back to a time when the Middle East was quite different demographically than it is today. For more than 400 years, large parts of the Near and Middle East were governed by the expansionist Ottoman Empire. Under the Empire’s authoritarian rule, the many ethnic and religious minorities of the region, particularly in the border areas of modern Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, coexisted though not always peacefully.

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All of these groups, including Kurds, Turkomans, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidis and others, were strongly influenced by Ottoman culture. This was certainly true of fashion. The satin and silk embroidered waist jacket for a girl or young woman featured here this week is a good example of this. Using a technique known as Sarma, which made extensive use of metallic thread for embroidering, this item was acquired around 1930 in Iraqi Kurdistan by a Christian Iraqi family that later emigrated to the United States in the 1960s. This style of embroidered clothing was adopted in the later part of the 19th Century by ethnic and religious minorities throughout the region described above. Even after the Ottoman Empire collapsed following the First World War, its cultural influence remained and this style of clothing remained popular for decades, only gradually fading as the European colonial powers that had stepped into the Ottoman power vacuum relinquished their grip in the face of rising local nationalism.

Clio Ancient Art, Clio Antiquities

It is difficult for most modern viewers, without the benefit of learning the region’s complex history, to think of the Middle East as anything but a monolithic Islamic region. The horrors of the Armenian Genocide, the less well known Assyrian genocide, the huge population transfer of Greeks out of what is now Turkey following more than 2,500 years there, all unleashed by the emergence of post-Ottoman Turkish nationalism, were huge events that fundamentally transformed the region and made it much less diverse than it had ever been. Compounding those events of a hundred years ago are the population shifts seen since the rise of Islamic State, with many Kurds, Assyrians, Yazidis and others deciding to seek a better life in Europe, Canada, Australia or the US. Our little jacket is a reminder of a more diverse, complex and perhaps even happier side of life in the Middle East early in the previous Century.

Below are a few recommended works to help readers investigate further the diversity and complex relationships among different groups in the Near and Middle East during and just after the last decades of the Ottoman Empire.

  • Aboona, Hirmis, Assyrians, Kurds, and Ottomans: Intercommunal Relations on the Periphery, 2008
  • de Bellaigue, Christopher, Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town, 2010
  • Braude, Benjamin, and Bernard Lewis, eds.Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire. 2 vols., 1982.

This item may be found in our Etsy shop here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/507209757/womens-or-girls-hand-made-embroidered?ref=shop_home_active_3

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Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

Critics Missing the Point: Responses to Clio’s February 22 Article on Looting in Syria.

A February 16 BBC documentary on looting in Syria made the astonishing claim that the smuggling of looted antiquities was “one of Islamic State’s main sources of funding.” On February 22 I responded to this faulty investigation with this blog entry: https://clioantiquities.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/sensationalist-reporting-and-the-antiquities-trade-if-its-in-print-it-must-be-true/ My article raised three key points: First, that despite evidence of looting, which certainly is taking place, there was no evidence in the BBC investigation that could lead a reader to conclude that archaeological looting could possibly provide the type of funding needed to keep IS functioning. Second, that there is still no evidence that any antiquities looted in Syria have actually made their way to the legitimate and legal antiquities market in North America, Europe or elsewhere for sale. Third, that a fascinating and detailed study by a US scholar a few years ago suggested that the scale of archaeological looting is often exaggerated by sensationalist reporting on the subject and that this in turn feeds a perception on the part of archaeologists and the general news consuming public that the problem is greater than it seems.

It did not take long for the firestorm to start. First came Professor David Gill, a key member of the very well heeled and self-styled “cultural heritage” lobby. In his own blog entry he could only resort to personal insults, questioning my motives and suggesting that I might want to see “continued” movement of antiquities to potential buyers. He entirely failed to address any of the key points raised in the article and outlined again above.

Next came self-appointed “independent researcher” Paul Barford, who seems to spend far more time blogging than doing archaeology. He simply mouthed Gill’s earlier work but then went on to embarrass himself with a general lack of knowledge pertaining to ancient Roman and Sassanian glass. Specifically, he referenced a glass bottle on my website (here is the link: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i79.html), from an old and well documented collection, listed as being from Iran or Mesopotamia (he falsely quoted the website as saying, specifically, “Iraq”), then threw the oldest version of Iraq’s cultural heritage laws (1930s) into the mix (no reference to the UNESCO Convention of 1970). Of course, this specific form, while probably having been created in the Sassanian Empire, also was popular on the eastern frontier of the Roman world, an area hotly contested between the two Empires. Copies of the Sassanian form seem to have been made by the Romans. This is not specialist knowledge so Barford seems to be grasping for some contribution of his own to the debate. Like Gill, he entirely fails to address any of the key points raised.

Many public and university museums in North America, the UK, Europe and beyond house collections of Near Eastern antiquities, often collected long ago when there were limited national laws or international regulations governing their acquisition. Acquiring antiquities was a normal and legal practice for museums, private collectors, dealers and ordinary tourists on the Grand Tour. In many cases, the modern nation states from whose territories these items were removed are entirely artificial creations on a map, holdovers from colonial occupations by the Ottoman Empire and later European powers, with little sense of cohesive national identity; e.g., Iraq and Syria. Many antiquities might well have been destroyed had they not been collected in this way. Even in Greece, with a much clearer sense of national identity and respect for its past, antiquities and ancient monuments were broken up for building material or road fill, burnt to make lime mortar or defaced because they were considered anathema to local religious beliefs as recently as the early 20th Century.

The shocking scenes and reports of the last several days, including destruction of antiquities in the Mosul Museum, at the Assyrian sites of Nineveh and Nimrud and now at the Sassanian site of Hatra, are a cautionary note to those who call for blindly repatriating ancient works of art from western collections to their source countries in the name of some form of political or cultural correctness. Their affluent but ineffective lobby is wasting time attacking collectors, auction houses and art dealers, the overwhelming majority of whom are ethical and do not traffic in looted material, while the root causes of looting remain unaddressed and religious fanatics of all stripes simply destroy the world’s archaeological heritage at will.

NEWS ITEM: ISIS destroys large parts of ancient Nineveh city walls.

This is not completely confirmed yet but ISIS had been claiming for some time they would do this. They clearly wish to erase any traces of ancient Assyrian heritage from their self styled caliphate. Here’s the Iraqi news item (open in a new tab or page): http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/isis-detonates-large-parts-nineveh-historical-wall/

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Assyrian Art and the “Repatriation” of Antiquities

In April of 2013 I published on this blog a photo essay highlighting some of the many Assyrian antiquities in The British Museum (here is the link: https://clioantiquities.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/a-sampler-of-ancient-assyrian-art-at-the-british-museum/ ). Little could anyone have known at the time that a gang of fanatics and thugs, referred to now under the English language acronyms ISIS or ISIL, would take control of swaths of Syria and Iraq that include the ancient Assyrian heartland. Reports are sketchy but it is clear that in addition to Christian and Yazidi monuments and art works and those of other Islamic sects ISIL finds objectionable, ancient Assyrian, Neo-Hittite, Roman and Byzantine monuments and antiquities have been destroyed. This has occurred both in-situ and in museums.

Those who call for blindly repatriating ancient works of art from western museums to their source countries in the name of some form of political or cultural correctness should consider the fate not only of ancient Assyrian art in Iraq and Syria but also ancient works in many other conflict zones around the world. Attacking collectors, auction houses and art dealers, the overwhelming majority of whom are ethical and do not traffic in looted material, is an absurd gesture that utterly fails to address the root causes of looting and destruction. In the long term, many legally acquired antiquities circulating on the market today will find their way into public museum collections. Great museums in stable nations provide a venue for visitors from all over the world to see these works, which are mankind’s cultural legacy, not just those of a single modern nation state with artificially drawn borders whose modern populations have, in many cases, little or nothing to do with those that created the ancient works they have inherited.

With so much ancient Assyrian art now at risk, I would like to expand upon that original blog post and share more images of the British Museum’s Assyrian collections (and one image from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) and more textual detail on the previously published images. All images should be credited to Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities. For those wishing to see Assyrian art at locations other than The British Museum, I recommend visiting The Louvre in Paris, The Vatican Museums in Rome, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. On the US west coast, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco also have some examples on view.

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Glazed terracotta tile. Nimrud. 875-850 BC. An Assyrian king, holding a cup in one hand and bow in the other, is accompanied by his bodyguard. This is a ceremonial image intended to show the king as both warrior and hunter.

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Assyrian winged male protective spirit from the Northwest Palace at Nimrud (modern Iraq), Room Z, Panel 8. 865-860 BC, reign of Ashurnasirpal II

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Eagle headed protective spirit from the Temple of Ninurta at Nimrud. 865-860 BC. He carried a pale of holy water and a pine cone with which to sprinkle the water in a gesture of purification, rather like holy water used in some modern Christian denominations.

Assyrian antiquities, Assyrian art, Clio Ancient Art

Arab prisoners brought before King Tiglath-pilesser III, relief from the Central Palace at Nimrud, about 728 BC

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Captured flocks of sheep and goats, taken during Tiglath-pilesser III’s campaign against the Arabs, are driven back to the Assyrian camp. From the Central Palace, Nimrud, about 728 BC.

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Stela of King Shamshi-Adad V, 824-811 BC. It depicts the king before symbols of his principal gods. He extends his right hand, with the forefinger outstretched, an Assyrian gesture of respect and supplication towards the gods. The gods could be worshipped in symbolic form and here are, from top to bottom, Ashur, Shamash, Sin, Adad and Ishtar. The king wears a large symbol resembling a Maltese cross on his chest, another symbol of the god Shamash.

Assyrian Art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

Partial reconstruction of the Balawat Gates. Erected by King Shalmaneser III at his new palace at Balawat between 858 and 824 BC. The gates were constructed of wood with bronze reinforcing strips. Only the bronze strips have survived. They showed scenes of conquest and tribute with Cuneiform captions.

Assyrian antiquities, Assyrian art, Clio Ancient Art

Remarkable scene of the Assyrian assault on a fortified city. This relief, from Nimrud and dating to 865-860 BC, depicts a remarkable armored tank-like siege machine on wheels, using what appears to be a metal tipped wedge or ram to work loose the blocks in the city wall. Assyrian archers are shown in their characteristic formation of pairs, with one man using a shield to prove cover while another lets loose his arrow.

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A pair of winged human headed bulls from the NW Palace at Nimrud, 865-860 BC. These guarded what may have been the entrance to the King’s private apartments.

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Detail of one of the winged human headed bulls described above.

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Ashurnasirpal in his chariot, aiming an arrow at a lion while his attendants fend off a lion behind. This and the next image, the famed “Dying Lioness”, are part of a lengthy series of panels showing wild animal hunts from the North Palace at Ninevah, 668-627 BC. Lions were common in the Near and Middle East at this time and hunting them, and other animals considered fierce and powerful, was part of a long tradition in region to display the King’s prowess, bravery and skill.

Assyrian antiquities, Assyrian art, Clio Ancient Art

This poignant image has come to be known as “The Dying Lioness”. It is part of the animal hunt sequence from the North Palace at Ninevah, 668-627 BC. The lioness has been partly paralyzed by arrows in her hind quarters and drags herself forward to snarl at her attackers.

Assyrian art, Assyrian antiquities, Clio Ancient Art

In another scene from the Nineveh animal hunt panels, deer are trapped by herding them into a high net enclosure. As no weapons are depicted here, the animals may have been intended for a private zoo or park on the royal estates.

Assyrian art, Assyrian sculpture, Ashurnasirpal, Nimrud, Ashmolean Museum

Assyrian winged genius from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal (883-859 BC) at Nimrud. Acquired through excavation by A.H. Layard in the early 19th Century. Now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Cypriot antiquities, Cyprus antiquities

Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford: A Photo Essay

Visitors with a special interest in antiquities will be stunned when visiting the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University, not only because of the great quality of ancient art and artifacts on view but also because of the key role that many of these objects have played in the development of fields such as archaeology and art history.

The Ashmolean in its present form was created in 1908 through the merger of two very old Oxford collections: the University Art Collection, begun in the 1620s, and the original gift of antiquities and curiosities from Elias Ashmole in 1692. Gifts of art and artifacts continued until by the early 19th Century the galleries had become a must see for visitors to Oxford. The superb neo-Classical building was completed in 1845 and has expanded since. Later, through the work of such distinguished scholars as Sir Arthur Evans, antiquities obtained through modern excavations poured into the collections. Today the Museum houses extraordinary Near Eastern, Egyptian, Aegean, Cypriot, Greek, Etruscan, Roman and related antiquities, well worth the train ride from London or elsewhere.

The galleries are not arranged in a strict chronological fashion but by geographic region. This allows a somewhat freer flow for the visitor. The spaces are open and easy to navigate, without the crush of dense crowds one often gets at The British Museum. Objects are thoughtfully displayed and quite well lit, though the bright lights sometimes create too much glare on the cases for successful photography. The staff is helpful, facilities of all types are easily available, the cafe is excellent and the gift shop carries a good selection of antiquities related books, catalogs, etc.

All images and caption presented here must be credited to: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities. Enjoy.

Iran, Iron Age, Near Eastern antiquities, Iranian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Painted terracotta tiles from the Iron Age ceremonial building called “The Painted Chamber” at Baba Jan, Iran, dated to about 800-700 BC.

Assyrian art, Assyrian sculpture, Ashurnasirpal, Nimrud, Ashmolean Museum

Assyrian winged genius from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal (883-859 BC) at Nimrud, Irag. He holds a pale of water and a pine cone to be used in a manner similar to “holy water” in modern churches. Acquired through excavation by A.H. Layard in the early 19th Century.

Egyptian antiquities, Pre-Dynastic Egypt, Egyptian artifacts, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Large ceremonial flint knives and other tools from the Hierakonopolis Deposit, an important group of Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic Egyptian objects.

Khasekhem, 2ns Dynasty, Egyptian antiquities, Egyptian art, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Statue of Khasekhem, last king of Egypt’s 2nd Dynasty, died 2,686 BC. In this pose he wears the White Crown of Upper Egypt. One of his sons Djoser, would be responsible for building the famed Step Pyramid at Saqqara.

6th Dynasty, Egyptian art, Egyptian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

A large pottery lion from the Temple Enclosure at Hierakonopolis, Egypt, dating to the 6th Dynasty, about 2,325 to 2,175 BC). Appearing at first glance to be made of stone, this magnificent and technically accomplished work is, in fact, hollow pottery, resting on a plinth. Fragments of another lion were found at the site and the two may have served as guardians of the Temple precinct.

Sobek, Fayum, Amenemhat III, Egyptian sculpture, Egyptian art, Egyptian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Limestone statue fragment of Sobek, the crocodile headed chief god of the Egyptian Fayum region. It comes from the scant remains of the funerary temple of Amenemhat III, of the 12th Dynasty, 19th Century BC. The temple was attached to his pyramid and was known as the Labyrinth to classical authors such as Herodotus, who declared it surpassed even the Great Pyramid as a wonder of antiquity

Aspelta, Napata, Kawa, Nubian antiquities, Egyptian art, Kingdom of Kush, Ashmolean Museum

Sandstone wall of King Aspelta from Temple T at Kawa, circa 600-580 BC. The Kingdom of Kush, to the south of Egypt in what is now Sudan, adopted Egyptian art, religion and funerary practices wholesale, adorning their capital cities and royal tombs in the Egyptian style. Here, King Aspelta offers Ma’at (Truth) to the ram headed god Amun-Re.

Ram of Amun, Kawa, Napatan Period, King Taharqa, Egyptian art, Asmolean Museum

Granite statue of the god Amun in the form of a ram protecting King Taharqa. Dating from about 680 BC, this is also from Temple T at Kawa and was uncovered during excavations in 1931. It has a twin in The British Museum.

Abydos, Middle Kingdom, Egyptian art, Egyptian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Painted Egyptian limestone grave stela of Reniseneb making an offering of food to his father Redysankh, while a scribe sits at right. From Abydos. Middle Kingdom.

Egyptian funerary stela, Egyptian art, Egyptian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Egyptian painted limestone funerary stela of Ankhreni, steward of the granary, with his brother and sister in law. Abydos, Middle Kingdom

Egyptian amulets, Egyptian antiquities, Egyptian art, Egyptian faience, Ashmolean Museum

Egyptian funerary amulets were placed on the body and in the mummy wrappings, representing funerary deities or parts of the body requiring special magical protection. Examples shown here are made from colored faience, hematite, carnelian and gold foil, and date mainly to the New Kingdom and Late Dynastic Period.

Egyptian shabtis, Egyptian ushabtis, Egyptian antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

A stunning display of Egyptian funerary figures, servants for the afterlife known as shabtis or ushabtis. These examples date to the New Kingdom and Late Period and are mainly made from faience or glazed composition

Sir Arthur Evan, Knossos, Crete, Minoan, Arshmolean Museum, Clio Ancient Art

A display of superb Minoan pottery from the palace complex at Knossos, Crete, Circa 1,700 BC. Excavated by Sir Arthur Evans.

Knossos, Crete, Arthur Evans, Minoan, Ashmolean Museum, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

A display of superb Minoan storage pottery from the palace complex at Knossos, Crete, Circa 1,700 BC. Excavated by Sir Arthur Evans.

Cypriot pottery, Cypriot antiquities, Cyprus antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, Clio Ancient Art

A staggering display of Cypriot pottery, mainly from the Iron Age but also running through the Classical, Hellenistic and early Roman periods.

Apollo, Classical sculpture, Cypriot antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Hellenistic statue of a nude youth found on Cyprus and made from local limestone. The hairstyle and other features suggest this may represent the god Apollo. Circa 300-100 BC

Greek antiquities, ancient Greek art, Ashmolean Museum, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

A superb Greek red figure pottery pyxis (jewelry box) of the 5th Century BC from Athens, accompanied by Greek gold jewelry of the Classical and Hellenistic periods.

Roman antiquities, Roman artifacts, Roman pottery, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Excellent display of Roman ceramic vessels, tiles and oil lamps, spanning several centuries, from the 1st Century BC through the 3rd Century AD, and three continents, including Europe, North Africa and western Asia

Roman art, Roman antiquities, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum

Cinerary box of a Roman woman named Cornelia Thalia, about AD 50-75. This finely made marble box from Rome is in the shape of a shrine and includes Latin text dedicated to the departed spirits of the deceased woman, whose cremated remains were kept inside.

Roman art, Roman Jewelry, Roman antiquities, Clio Ancient Art, Ashmolean Museum

Part of a display or Roman Jewelry, including objects of gold, silver, bronze and bronze that has been tinned, gilt, silvered or enameled, as well as glass, precious and semiprecious stones, jet and other materials. The types include earrings, necklaces, rings and hairpins, with a great geographic distribution, from what is now Syria and the Levant in the east to England in the west, and spanning 500 years.

Roman jewelry, Roman art, Roman antiquities, Clio Ancient Art, Ashmolean Museum

Parts of a display or Roman Jewelry in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK. Included are objects of gold, silver, bronze and bronze that has been tinned, gilt, silvered or enameled, as well as glass, precious and semiprecious stones, jet and other materials. The types include brooches, earrings, necklaces and clasps, with a great geographic distribution, from what is now Syria and the Levant in the east to England in the west, and spanning 500 years.

To learn more about the Ashmolean Museum, visit their website at: http://www.ashmolean.org/