Stone panel from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal (Room L, nos. 9-13)

Nineveh, northern Iraq
Neo-Assyrian, around 645 BC

Assyrian troops pursuing Arabs on camels

By the date that this panel was carved, the Arab tribes of northern Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Sinai were becoming increasingly important. They relied for long-distance travel and rapid movement on the one-humped camel or dromedary, which had been domesticated in Arabia.

The Arabs first appear in Assyrian records in the ninth century BC. Texts tell of tribes, often led by queens, living in the southern borders of the Assyrian Empire. Sometimes they guarded the borders, escorted armies in desert country, and controlled the caravan trade, especially the lucrative incense trade from Yemen.

Some tribes were also ready to take advantage of any sign of weakness in the central government. They then raided settled communities, supported rebellions, robbed caravans, and disrupted communications. The Assyrian kings launched several attacks against them without much success, since the Arabs conducted guerilla-style warfare, and were usually able to escape into the desert.

Both the Assyrians and their successors, the Babylonian and Persian kings, tried to maintain peaceful relations with Arabia by threats and diplomacy. one Babylonian king, Nabonidus (555-539 BC) resided for several years at Teima, a centre of the incense trade in Saudi Arabia. 

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More information

Bibliography

J.E. Reade, Assyrian sculpture-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)

H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

M. Roaf, Cultural atlas of Mesopotamia (New York, 1990)

Dimensions

Length: 134.620 cm
Width: 226.060 cm
Depth: 15.240 cm

Museum number

ME 124926

WCO26792

The palace was excavated by H. Rassam (from 1853)

Location

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