The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

The Lion Hunt

Sculpted reliefs depicting Ashurbanipal, the last great Assyrian king, hunting lions, gypsum hall relief from the North Palace of Nineveh (Irak), c. 645-635 BC, British Museum (16722368932)

“Whoever this nameless genius was, the man who designed and executed Ashurbanipal’s reliefs … that man was an innovator in every direction.” R.D. Barnett

In 1853 Hormuzd Rassam, funded by the British Museum, discovered the North Palace of Nineveh which was built c.645 BC by King Ashurbanipal. There he found the bas reliefs showing the Royal Lion Hunt of King Ashurbanipal who reigned from 668 to 681 BC.

The sculptured reliefs depict Ashurbanipal with his royal retinue setting out for a Lion Hunt with horses, dogs on leashes and chariots. Captured lions and lionesses are shown being released from cages to do battle with the King.

The Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria is one of the finest works of art from antiquity. The suffering lions are perfectly portrayed as brave and defiant but eventually defeated with arrows, spears and sword suffering and dying in agony.

British Museum Room 10 lion hunting

The artist expertly captured the lions in motion make them stand out as unique individuals. This detailed artistry was created over 2,500 years ago with primitive tools and are widely regarded as “the supreme masterpieces of Assyrian art”.

Below is a map of the Assyrian Empire during certain historical periods. The reliefs of the Lion Hunt reliefs were discovered at the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh. Nineveh was the oldest and most populous city of the Assyrian Empire, which was located on the east bank of the Tigris opposite modern Mosul in Iraq.

Map of Assyria

Below is a modern map of where the where the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh lays buried.

Below is a video on the Ashurbanipal Hunting Lions:

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Essential Facts:

  • Material:                        Gypsum alabaster
  • Sculptured:                    645–635 BCE
  • Excavated:                     1852–54  CE
  • Original Location:       Nineveh (near Mosul, in modern-day northern Iraq).
  • Museum:                       The British Museum
  • Museum Location:      Assyrian Section Room 10a
  • Related Galleries (subject to changes and alterations):
    • Assyrian sculpture in Room 6
    • Nimrud, Assyria in Room 7-8
    • Nineveh, Assyria in Room 9
    • Siege of La in Room 10b
    • Khorsabad, Assyria in Room 10c
    • Mesopotamia in Room 55 – 56

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“Fear the goat from the front, the horse from the rear and man from all sides.”
– Assyrian Proverb

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Acknowledgement: This page is dedicated to Peter M.


Photo Credits in order of above: 1) By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  2) By Matt Neale from UK [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By Ningyou [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons