Last Updated: October 2, 2008
This is a good image to use early in the semester to encourage class participation concerning the various ways historians obtain information. As this is a prehistoric image, historians have to interact with anthropologists as well as art historians to arrive at reasonable interpretations of its meaning. We must also stress that with any prehistoric art any such interpretations are educated speculation and could be totally incorrect.
General background: The artists were hunter-gatherers who, using flickering torchlight, painted such images in relatively inaccessible areas of certain caves. Because of their location most scholars believe that the paintings were meant to serve magical/religious purposes. It should also be noted that images of humans were rare and this is one of the first depictions of one of our early ancestors.
The big question: What does it mean?
Possible scenario #1:
Is it a narrative? Is the man dead or dying? If so, what injured him, the rhino or the bison? Who injured the bison (its intestines have been ripped out)?
Possible scenario #2: Is it some sort of a curse (like a voodoo doll)? There is evidence that the early artists ritually painted their prey on the walls of the caves and then ritually "killed" them in some sort of ceremony. The man is obviously important and has some relatively technologically advanced weapons. Could another tribal group with less advanced weapons have tried to use magic to even the playing field?
How do we know that the man is important?
Background: These statues were found in a temple dedicated to Abu, the Sumerian god of vegetation. As such, he was vital to agriculture and the figures, representing the city's residents, are shown in attitudes of prayer. Their eyes are widened in awe in the presence of the god upon whom they depend for their daily food.
These narratives probably illustrate historical events. They were meant to be read from left to right and from bottom to top.
The war side depicts:
The "king's" authority is shown by:
The peace side depicts:
The "king's" authority is shown by his larger size and throne. The other figures are also paying tribute to him.
Background: A stele is a monument composed of a single column or shaft typically erected to commemorate an important event or person. The Akkadians under Sargon dominated the Sumerians about 2300 BC. Naram-Sin was Sargon's grandson. The god-like Akkadian kings ruled with absolute authority. Naram-Sin,s title was "King of the Four Quarters" meaning "Ruler of the World." Damaged on both the top and bottom, Naram-Sin's stele depicts the king's defeat of the Lullubi peoples of present-day Iran.
Naram-Sin is by far the most prominent figure-much taller than his disciplined soldiers marching up the mountain below him. As he tramples over one of his fallen enemies others beg for mercy (note the one with a broken spear). They have good reason to fear him-he has kicked one off the mountain and rammed a spear through another's neck as a possible sacrifice to the gods (represented by the star-like figures) above him.
The king also has numerous accoutrements signifying his status and authority: He is wearing the horned helmet showing his god-like status and is carrying numerous weapons including spears and a bow. His position is particularly significant-he is halfway between his soldiers (mere mortals) and the gods. Not only is he himself a god on earth but also the humans' intermediary between them and the other gods. This is not just an early example of the "divine rights of kings" but of the actual "divine king."
This is the upper part of the stele that is approximately 7' 4" tall. The laws, written in cuneiform, are inscribed on the lower part of the monument.
Last Updated: October 2, 2008