Section Banner Images

The Middle East as Seen Through Foreign Eyes

Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century

Image Resource Bank

Image Gallery | Back Button On 9 of 15 Next Button On

Layard at Nineveh: Removal of a Winged Bull

Layard at Nineveh: Removal of a Winged Bull

In the 1840s and 1850s CE French and British adventurers and diplomats began to make spectacular discoveries at the buried sites of ruined Assyrian palaces in northern Mesopotamia.

This illustration of an early excavation comes from one of Austen Henry Layard’s best-selling accounts of his work. It shows workmen removing a forty-ton limestone protective figure of a winged bull from the gateway of an Assyrian palace to send it to England. The technology involved in removing this object and the social relationship between the European supervisors and the gangs of local workman are exactly mirrored in ancient Assyrian reliefs that show the winged bulls being quarried, transported, and installed in the palaces in the first place.

The Assyrian objects were installed and displayed in the British Museum in London and in the Louvre in Paris. They drew wide attention for several reasons. For one thing, they made visible the life of an all-but-forgotten civilization, thousands of years old. For another, they seemed to illustrate the Judeo-Christian Bible and even to verify it as a record of ancient history. For another, they were trophies of European states building competing overseas empires. For another, they showed that the mission, purpose, and product of these empires included the recovery of lost knowledge, and the rediscovery of the history of civilization, a history thought to culminate not in the lands where the objects were found, but in the countries to which they were brought. Thus, the ancient East came to be thought of as part of the history of the modern West.   

Next Button Off “I Have Fourteen Bullets at Your Disposal”

© 2010 The Oriental Institute, The University of Chicago  |  Page updated: 12/29/2010

Contact Information  |  Rights & Permissions