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Assyria Identities: The Role of Elite Individuals in the Art of Assyria

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Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU

15 East 84th Street

New York, NY 10028

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Assyria Identities: The Role of Elite Individuals in the Art of Assyria
David Kertai, ISAW Visiting Research Scholar

Kings play an outsized role in the historical recollection of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrian rulers themselves deliberately fostered this notion of royal predominance and omnipresence through royal images situated throughout the empire. The Mesopotamian conceptualization of images, however, diverged from our own in several respects: it neither demanded mimesis nor privileged naturalism. Assyrian royal images were not designed to showcase individual physiognomic features, but to communicate the status of the king as divinely perfected (and nearly indistinguishable) examples of Assyrian kingship. Empires, however, are not ruled by their kings alone but are better understood as collaborative enterprises. This raises the question of how other Assyrian elites, such as eunuchs and queens, were able to represent themselves. This lecture will explore the ways in which these groups and individuals were able to negotiate, establish, and communicate their own roles and status within the Assyrian imperial enterprise.

David Kertai earned his PhD in Near Eastern archaeology at Heidelberg University. He is currently a research associate at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities and Social Sciences at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Prior to this, he worked as a research associate at University College London and the University of Tel Aviv. He is a trained architect (M.Sc., the Technical University Delft) with additional degrees in Classical and Near Eastern Ancient History (B.A., Free University Amsterdam) and Archaeology (M.A., Leiden University). He has undertaken extensive fieldwork throughout the Middle East.

Kertai specializes in ancient Near Eastern architecture and Assyria (c. 1350 – 600 BCE). He is the author of the book, The Architecture of Late Assyrian Royal Palaces (Oxford University Press, 2015), which elucidates the architectural principles of Neo-Assyrian royal palaces. He is also the editor of From the Four Corners of the Earth. Studies in the Iconography and Cultures of the Ancient Near East in Honour of F.A.M. Wiggermann (with O. Nieuwenhuyse; Münster, 2017) and New Research on Late Assyrian Palaces (with P. Miglus; Heidelberg, 2013).

Subsequent research, exploring the ways in which Assyria’s palaces shaped its kingship, has been published in Iraq (2017, 2011) and Altorientalische Forschungen (2015). Other published and forthcoming work analyzes the complexities and peculiarities of the Assyrian royal family (Altorientalische Forschungen 2013); the status of the palace reliefs as architectural features and their spatial contexts and conceptualization (Mesopotamia 2015; Journal of Near Eastern Studies 2015); the Victorian context within which Near Eastern archaeology emerged as an independent discipline; and the specific nature and interactions of different Iron Age architectural traditions from Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Israel (Cambridge Archaeological Journal 2018).


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Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU

15 East 84th Street

New York, NY 10028

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