The Rassam Obelisk

Neo-Assyrian, 883-859 BC
From Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq

The Assyrian king receiving tribute

This fragment of stone relief originally formed part of an obelisk discovered by the archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam. The obelisk originally decorated one of the central squares in Kalhu (modern Nimrud), the site where King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) chose to build his new administrative centre of the Assyrian Empire in 879 BC.

The scenes depict people from Syria and the west bringing various kinds of tribute. Both raw and finished goods are shown: for example, copper ingots, timber, furniture and textiles. Lines of cuneiform writing refer to other items and one carved panel shows Ashurnasirpal watching treasure being weighed on a pair of scales.

At some point in antiquity, the obelisk was broken up, probably because it is made from a form of basalt which can be turned into excellent querns and grinding stones for grain; Though Rassam only discovered about half of the carved surface, there was enough to reconstruct the original shape. The exact arrangement of the carvings is still uncertain.

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More information


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

J.E. Reade, Assyrian sculpture (London, The British Museum Press, 1983)

J.E. Reade, 'The Rassam obelisk', Iraq-13, 42 (1980), pp. 1-22, plates I-IX

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


Height: 119.000 cm
Width: 80.000 cm
Depth: 60.000 cm

Museum number

ME 118800;ME 136897;ME 136898


Excavated by Hormuzd Rassam


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