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A monumental Neo-Assyrian black basalt royal stele of Adad-nerari III of Assyria image 1
A monumental Neo-Assyrian black basalt royal stele of Adad-nerari III of Assyria image 2
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Lot 99*,W
A monumental Neo-Assyrian black basalt royal stele of Adad-nerari III of Assyria
3 April 2014, 10:30 BST
London, New Bond Street

£600,000 - £800,000

A monumental Neo-Assyrian black basalt royal stele of Adad-nerari III of Assyria
Circa 805-797 B.C.
Comprising the lower two-thirds of the stele of rectangular cross-section, the front carved in high relief with a standing figure of the king in prayer, depicted in profile from the waist down, shown wearing a long fringed robe, with bare feet, holding a staff before him, the neat regular cuneiform text inscribed across the body of the king is preserved with the beginnings of lines 9-10 and lines 11-20 in their entirety, each line separated by horizontal rulings, with several lines continuing onto the raised border, the text translating:

' the city of Arwad in the midst of the sea. I ascended Mount Lebanon. I cut strong logs of cedar. At that time, I placed those cedars from Mount Lebanon in the gate of the temple of the god Salmanu, my lord. The old temple, which Salmanu-asared (Shalmaneser I), my ancestor, had built, had become dilapidated and I, in a stroke of inspiration, built his temple from its foundations to its parapets. I placed the cedar roof beams from Mount Lebanon on top. When this temple becomes old and dilapidated may a future prince renovate its dilapidated parts and return the inscription to its place.'

With a further 25 lines of cuneiform text using highly literary language inscribed on the side of the stele and dedicated to Nergal-eres, the governor of the Assyrian province of Rasappa; each line separated by irregularly applied rulings, less deeply and evenly arranged than the principal inscription, with at least one line missing from the beginning of the text, the dedication translating:

'.......who resides in Dur-Katlimmu, the holy shrine, his beloved abode, the great lord, his lord. Negal-eres, governor of the country of Rasappa, the city of Nemed-Issar and the city of Apku, had a golden sword made and made and presented an image of Adad-nerari III, king of Assyria, his lord, to the god Salmanu, his lord, who protects the throne of his priesthood, to give into his hands the sceptre that shepherds the people, for the well-being of his seed, the well-being of the people of Assyria and the well-being of Assyria, to scatter his adversaries, to destroy his fierce foes, to subdue his enemy princes. Whoever discards this image from the presence of Salmanu puts it into another place, whether he throws it into water or covers it with earth or brings and places it into a taboo house where it is inaccessible, may the god Salmanu, the great lord, overthrow his sovereignty; may his name and his seed disappear in the land; may he live in a contingent together with the slave women of his land', 54in (137.5cm) high; 29½in (75cm) wide; 10½in (27cm) deep


Private collection, Geneva, Switzerland, given as a gift from father to son in the 1960s.

The top section of this stele fragment, now in the British Museum, was discovered in May 1879 by a close friend of Sir Austen Henry Layard, the renowned archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam (1826-1910), following reports of its existence from different Arab travellers. The round-topped section was found to have been hurled down the mound by Arabs as this effigy was considered idolatrous and the site itself was sacred to the spirit of Sheikh Hamad, to whom various cures of ailments and afflictions had been attributed. Rassam believed the remainder of the stele was buried at the top of the mound, see H. Rassam, Asshur and the Land of Nimrod, being an account of the discoveries made in the ancient ruins of Nineveh, Asshur, Sepharvaim, Calah, etc, Cininnati & New York, 1897, p.312. The top of the stele was removed with some difficulty to the coast and eventually arrived at the British Museum where it entered the Museums' collections in 1881 (Inv. No. BM 131124; 1881,0721.1).

Rassam had dug some test trenches at Tell Sheikh Hamad (ancient Dur-Katlimmu) but was unable to return to the site and continue his excavations after failing to receive the necessary permit. It was in 1978 that Hartmut Kühne directed the German excavations in Tell Sheikh Hamad but he found no evidence of the lower half the stele that Rassam had believed to be at the top of the mound. So it seems this lower stele section, forming the larger part of the monument must have been removed prior to this date and likely prior to 1975 when Kühne began surveying the site.

This royal stele fragment is an exciting rediscovery of the missing lower half of the round-topped stele fragment found by Rassam. It was previously incorrectly identified as being inscribed for Shamshi-Adad V, the father of Adad-nerari III and has only recently been identified by Professor Karen Radner of University College London as the missing lower fragment of the stele in the British Museum. See K. Radner, 'The Stele of Adad-nerari III and Nergal-eres from Dur-Katlimmu (Tell Saih Hamad)' in Altorientalische Forschungen, Vol.39, Berlin, 2012, pp.265-277.

The re-identification of this stele fragment now known to form a single monument, sheds new light on Dur-Katlimmu (modern Tell Sheikh Hamad, Syria). Both of the inscriptions identify Dur-Katlimmu as the seat of the god Salmanu, confirming what has already been discovered in archival texts found at Tell Sheikh Hamad. Both texts are concerned with the reconstruction and renovation of his temple at Dur-Katlimmu, from cedar beams gathered from Mount Lebanon. Both texts carry exhortations for the future, the principal inscription on the front exhorts future rulers to care for the temple, while the text on the side explicitly curses anyone who should dare to remove the stele from the temple, punishing such an act by making 'his name and his seed disappear in the land', thus making his lineage extinct. Nergal-eres presented this specific stele to the temple along with a namsaru sword, which is no ordinary sword but a weapon fit for a god. He wished to bring Salmanu's blessings on his king and his realm, showing Nergal-eres as a loyal supporter of his ruler.

This stele section is in better condition than the top section of the stele and also preserves its original width and thickness, the latter having been cut-down to enable its more easy removal. By placing both fragments together it has been possible to assess that its original height was 83½in (212cm).

There is another stele dedicated to both Adad-nerari III and Nergal-eres, though the Dur-Katlimmu stele is the larger of the two and it is known as the Tell al-Rimah stele, cf. J. Börker-Klähn, Altvorderasiatische Bildstelen und vergleichbare Felsreliefs, BagM 4, Mainz, 1982, p.196, no.164. There is another stele of Adad-nerari III and Nergal-eres from Jebel Sinjar but it looks rather different from the aforementioned examples as it has been executed in a square shape and may have served as an architectural element rather than as a free-standing monument. See Börker-Klähn, op.cit, 1982, p.196, no.163 and F. Blocher, Assyrische Würdenträger und Gouverneure im 9. um 8. Jh Eine Neubewertung ihrer Rolle, AoF 28, pp.298-324 for photographs.

The first ten lines of the inscription which largely cover the front of the round-topped section of the stele translates:

'Adad-nerari (III), strong king, king of the universe, king of Assyria, son of Samsi-Adad (V), king of the universe, king of Assyria, son of Salmanu-asared (Shalmaneser III), king of the four quarters. I mustered my chariotry, troops and armed forces and gave the order to march to the land of Hatti. I crossed the Euphrates in flood. I went down to the city of Paqirahubuna. Atttar-sumki, son of Abi-rame, together with eight kings of Hatti, who had rebelled and trusted in their strength – the awesome radiance of the god Assur, my lord, overwhelmed them. In just one year, I subdued the land of Hatti to its full extent. Towards the sea of the west I marched. I erected my lordly image....'

The whole monument was erected to commemorate a successful military campaign of 805 B.C against an alliance of western rulers under the leadership of Attar-sumki of Arpad, a campaign known about from other sources. What makes this stele most interesting is the mention of a visit to Mount Lebanon to collect cedar logs to renovate the temple of Salmanu, the god of Dur-Katlimmu. The inscription says it was a shrine built by an ancestor of Adad-nerari, Salmanu-asared (Shalmaneser I), the inscription confirming what has already been suggested by other sources.

The text on the side of the stele, has been written by a different hand and in a more poetic and literary style than that on the front of the monument and according to Radner, is reminiscent of the literary style found in the inscription of Samsi-ilu, the Field-Marshall of Adad-nerari III, see S. Dalley, Shamshi-ilu, Language and Power in the Western Assyrian Empire, in, G. Bunnens (ed.), Essays on Syria in the Iron Age, ANES, Suppl.7, Louvain, 2000, pp.79-88.

Some passages of the text appear to intentionally erase the name and titles of Nergal-eres but it is unclear as to when and why this happened. The same appears to have happened with the Tell al-Rimah stele and Radner argues in her paper K. Radner, op.cit, p.276, that there may have been specific reasons in the localities the defacements took place, as the erasure of his name and titles does not appear to have happened universally. She argues that perhaps it was not due to his personal downfall but was the result of divisions in the province of Rasappa after which it would not have been deemed appropriate 'to advertise that the city and its temple had formerly been controlled by a governor of Rasappa', Radner, ibid, p.276.

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