The Art and Culture of Babylon. Assyria
and Neighbouring Countries:
4000 B.C.-3rd century A.D.

Ground floor, rooms 92-96

In the very distant past, on the territory of present-day Iraq, there
developed, blossomed and finally declined the ancient cultures, success-
ively replacing each other, of states which at one time wielded consider-
able power- Sumer, Akkadia, Babylon and Assyria. In the valleys of the
Tigris and Euphrates at the end of the fourth millennium B.C. and the
beginning of the third, an alphabet sprang up-cuneiform-later as-
similated by many peoples of the ancient East. In Mesopotamia there was
little wood and stone, and so clay, used for building houses and making
utensils, was also used for writing on. The cuneiform symbols were
scratched on a damp tablet with a stick made of bulrush. The exhibition
presents cuneiform tablets of different epochs; the earliest go back to the
fourth millennium B.C., the most recent to the third century B.C.,
and they contain extremely valuable historical information. These are
documents from temple and imperial archives, depicting the economic
system of the slave-owning states of Mesopotamia, legal documents,
mathematical, religious and literary texts, exercises in cuneiform calli-
graphy, and even earthenware "envelopes" used to protect important doc-
uments from forgery. In the exhibiton is the world's oldest written relic,
estimated to be more than five thousand years old (c. 3300 B.C.)-a stone
tablet with four symbols of Sumerian ideographic writing in which cunei-
form has its origin. Here each symbol expresses an idea or a word.

Among the best examples of Assyrian monumental art are some ala-
baster reliefs, which bear the remains of the earliest painting. These
include examples from the ninth century B.C. with representations of
divine guardians and the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II, from the palace
in the town of Nimrud; some eighth century reliefs depicting priests,
from the palace of Sargon II in Khorsabad (Dur-Sharukin), and one
with the figures of an archer and a shield-bearer from the palace of Tig-
lath-Pileser III at Nimrud. Reliefs played an important part in the decora-
tion of palace rooms and were an original form in illustrating chronicles,
the texts of which were often carved on the walls. These reliefs, specifi-
cally intended to glorify the power and might of the cruel Assyrian rulers
and to immortalize their victories over enemies, bear the stamp of solemn,
austere grandeur. The figures are frozen as it were in solemn poses, and
the stony faces, framed in the schematically drawn ringlets of both hair
and beard, reiterate the same type again and again.

Depictions of battles and mythological scenes are found in the carving
on Assyrian seals and amulets made of semiprecious stones, such as
agate, cornelian and chalcedony. The seal, the personal mark of the owner,
was used for sealing doors, vessels and large baskets; taking the place of
the signature, it ratified orders and treaties. The exhibition also presents
Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian carved stones, many of
which can rank among the finest masterpieces of the craft. In addition
the exhibition introduces relics from neighbouring countries: painted
vessels from Elam, Luristan bronzeware and Phoenician glass.

The Hermitage possesses a valuable collection of relics from Palmyra.
Situated in Syria at the intersection of trade routes, Palmyra served as the
intermediary between the countries of the Orient and the Mediterranean
coastlands in the second and third centuries A.D. She reached the height
of her power in the third century during the reign of Queen Zenobia,
when the fame of the beauty of Palmyrian palaces and gardens spread
throughout the world. Rivalry with Rome ended with the defeat of Pal-
myra and her collapse in the year 273. On display is the famous "Palmy-
rian Tariff", a marble slab with a text in Aramaic and Greek expounding
the law issued on April 18th, 137 A.D. concerning the levying of duty on
goods imported into Palmyra. The Aramaic part of the text is the most
important Semitic stone inscription known to science. Also in this room
are some second and third century tombstones, - sculptural portraits of
the dead carved out of limestone (Khayran, the scribe or a Roman legion,
an unknown young woman, and others).






The Art and Culture of the Peoples of Central Asia
The Art and Culture of the Peoples of the Caucasus
The Art and Culture of Egypt
The Art and Culture of Babylon Assyria and Neighbouring Countries
The Art and Culture of Byzantium
The Art and Culture of the Countries of the Near and Middle East
The Art and Culture of India
The Art and Culture of China
The Art and Culture of Mongolia
The Art and Culture of Japan
The Art and Culture of Indonesia

- The Hermitage - The History of the Museum -
- The Hermitage - The Department of Russian Culture -
- The Hermitage - The Department of Prehistoric Culture -
- The Hermitage - The Department of the Art and Culture of the Peoples of the East -
- The Hermitage - The Department of the Art and Culture of Antiquity -
- The Hermitage - The Department of Western European Art -
- The Hermitage - The Numismatic Department -
- Floor Pans -