The Nimrud Bowls
Project leader: Dr John Curtis
Department: Middle East
Project start date: 2004
End date: 2009
Other British Museum staff: Nigel Tallis, Ann Searight
The collection known as the Nimrud bowls was found in Room AB of
the North-West Palace at Nimrud in Assyria (now Northern Iraq) by
A.H. Layard on 5 January 1850. In this room, Layard found 12 bronze
cauldrons, some of them apparently originally standing on tripods.
In his diary, Layard recorded:
“Near the cauldrons we discovered a nest of plates and dishes one placed above the other – above one hundred must have been found together – with great care, removing the earth with penknives, we detached the greater part of them unbroken tho’ in the most fragile state. I found the greater part most beautifully embossed and engraved.”
The North-West Palace was built by Ashurnasirpal II and destroyed in 612 BC, and the bowls are thought to dated from the 9th – 8th centuries BC. They are all made of bronze, and many have embossed and chased decoration in Phoenician or Syrian style, suggesting that they were brought to Assyria as booty or tribute from areas to the west, perhaps places bordering on the Mediterranean Sea.
Today about 120 bowls can be accounted for, but many of them are plain and some are represented only by fragments.
Layard himself published 36 examples in his Monuments of Nineveh (1849, 1853), R.D. Barnett published more in Eretz Israel vol.8 (1967) and in Rivista di Studi Fenici vol.2 (1974) and others have been published in a variety of odd places, so that now nearly all the interesting decorated bowls have been published in one form or another. However, there is still no catalogue raisonné, and the purpose of this project is to provide one.
The bowls will be carefully described and illustrated in photographs, watercolour paintings and drawings, and metal analyses made by atomic absorption spectrometry will be made available. There will also be detailed studies of the inscriptions (mostly West Semitic) on nine of the bowls. The bowls will be contrasted with other bowls of Phoenician and Syrian type, and the decoration compared with the known art styles of particular regions, in an attempt to identify the centre or centres in which the bowls were manufactured.
The project will also consider when the bowls were most probably brought to Assyria, focusing on the theory that they may have been brought back to Nimrud by the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III in 740 BC. It is expected that this study will make a fundamental contribution to our knowledge of Phoenician, Syrian and Assyrian art and material culture in the early 1st millennium BC, and also to our understanding of the relations between Phoenicia and Assyria.