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Victory Stele of Naram-Sin

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, Akkadian, pink limestone, 2254-2218 B.C.E. (Louvre, Paris) This monument depicts the Akkadian victory over the Lullubi Mountain people. In the 12th century B.C.E., 1,000 years after it was originally made, the Elamite king, Shutruk-Nahhunte, attacked Babylon and, according to his later inscription, the stele was taken to Susa in what is now Iran. A stele is a vertical stone monument or marker often inscribed with text or relief carving. Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

SPEAKER 1: We're in the Louvre, and we're looking at the victory stele of Naram-Sin. This is a really old stele. It's a really old relief sculpture. It is 4,200 years old. It was made, we think, in approximately 2200 BCE. Now Naram-Sin was the great-great-grandson of the founding king of the Akkadians, Sargon. And this stele commemorates a really important victory of his. SPEAKER 2: It commemorates a victory over the Lullubi people, who are mountain people who lived in the eastern region of Mesopotamia. Now normally victory scenes like this from ancient Mesopotamia are shown in registers. In other words, the scene is divided into horizontal bands. Here the artist has created a new kind of composition where we see Naram-Sin at the top, and a diagonal [INAUDIBLE]. On the left, underneath Naram-Sin we see his soldiers climbing the mountain. And then on the right, the vanquished, falling, and defeated, and wounded. SPEAKER 1: What I find so interesting is that Naram-Sin's army is so disciplined, they don't break ranks, they're marching in line, there are standard-bearers followed by those with weapons, whereas on the right, you have all kinds of chaos. SPEAKER 2: And Naram-Sin is so erect and noble-looking, and clearly associated with the gods compared to the mortals that surround him. One of the things that I noticed immediately is how everyone's gaze-- or nearly everyone's gaze-- is directed at Naram-Sin himself. So his soldiers look up at him, the vanquished turned towards him. He is clearly the focal point of this composition. SPEAKER 1: One of the aspects that I love most about this are the vanquished, I have to say. You have one of the vanquished mountain people who are actually being literally thrown off the mountain. You can see him upside down falling as if he's falling into water. We see somebody else literally under Naram-Sin's foot, somebody with a spear in his neck. And then most interestingly, I think, to the extreme right, profiled against the mountain, is a man who is fleeing, because you can see that his feet are facing away from Naram-Sin, but he's also turned around-- turned back and pleading as he flees. SPEAKER 2: Clearly what we're seeing is using a symbolic language. This isn't supposed to be a naturalistic representation of an army climbing a mountain, but a symbolic image that tells the story, through symbols, of this event. And so we see Naram-Sin, much larger than everyone else, with his shoulders frontal, his head in profile, and close to the deities at the top, who are represented by what look like suns. SPEAKER 1: Right. The suns, or the stars above, are the forces that have helped guide him to victory. But also, and this is important, he's wearing a horned helmet, which is for the Akkadians a symbol of divinity. So through this victory he is actually assuming the importance and the status of the gods. And in fact, the whole ascension to the mountaintop certainly supports this idea. He's rising into the realm of the heavenly.