Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, Susa, Iran, 2254-2218 BCE, Pink Sandstone

The godlike authority and power of the Akkadian rulers is also evident in the victory stele of Naram-Sin…

The stele commemorates Naram-Sin’s (an Akkadian ruler) defeat of the Lullubi, a group of people of the Iranaian mountains to the east. On the stele, Naram-Sin leads his victorious army up a mountain. His army is organizes in orderly files, indicating the discipline behind the king’s forces. On the other hand, his enemies, who are in disarray and in a variety of poses, fall, flee, or die before the presence of the king. The Akkadian king stands at the top of the stele, wearing a horned helmet, a symbol of his divinity (this is the first time that kings appear as gods in Mesopotamian art). He ascends toward the heavens, which is marked by the three stars at the tip of the stele (the top of the stele is damaged, so the third star is missing).

In this relief sculpture, the artist employed the traditional convention of composite view, depicting a figure from several different viewpoints. For instance, the artist sculpted the king’s frontal two-horned helmet on his profile head. The Mesopotamian artist also stuck with the traditional hierarchy of scale, as he depicted figures in terms of importance. The Akkadian king, being the most important, is the largest figure and he fills the most eye-catching space on the stele.

The artist also broke away from tradition in sculpting the stele. The stele is the earliest known narrative to not be depicted in conventional registers, which had been in place for over a millennium. Instead, the artist chose to use the mountainous landscape as a setting for the narrative and placed the figures in tiers within the setting.  

I think this work is remarkable because of its break from conventions. I think the essence of the narrative would be lost had it been depicted in registers like earlier narratives. The skills of the artist show the development of art and its increasing complexities.

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