The Genies of the Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal II


  • Ludovico Portuese


Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal II, genies, Mesopotamian rituals


The doors and gates of the Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal II at Kalhu were highly guarded by a great variety of protective figures, known as genies. Their protective role derives not only from their simple presence, but also from apotropaic objects they hold: ritual buckets, pinecone-shaped objects, maces, various species of plants, deer, goats, kids, and lambs. From the presence of these assorted attributes, one may deduce that doorways provided not only the settings for ritual activities, but were themselves recipients of and/or participated in actual rituals. On this premise, the article analyses the protective figures and their attributes in the light of textual references in Mesopotamian incantations, rituals and medical prescriptions in order to re-create apotropaic rituals performed at doorways in the palace. Additionally, a link between ritual activity and internal movement will be proposed, thereby assigning specific doors to individual groups of people circulating within the palace. The analysis concludes that rituals and protective figures cooperated to protect the palace and were meant as strategies to cope with collective fear.


Abusch, T. and Schwemer, D. 2011. Corpus of Mesopotamian Anti-Witchcraft Rituals 1 (Studies in Ancient Magic and Divination 8/1). London and Boston: Brill.

Albenda, P. 1978. Assyrian Carpets in Stone. Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 10/1: 1-19.

Albenda, P. 2008. Assyrian Royal Hunts: Antlered and Horned Animals from Distant Lands. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 349: 62-70.

Ambos, C. 2004. Mesopotamische Baurituale aus dem 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. Dresden: ISLET.

Ambos, C. 2010. Building Rituals from the First Millennium BC. The Evidence from the Ritual Texts. In M.J. Boda and J. Novotny (eds), From the Foundations to the Crenellations. Essays on Temple Building in the Ancient Near East and Hebrew Bible, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 366: 221-237, 447-477. Münster: Ugarit Verlag.

Ambos, C. 2013. Rites of Passage in Ancient Mesopotamia: Changing Status by Moving through Space: Bīt Rimki and the Ritual of the Substitute King. In C. Ambos and L. Verderame (eds), Approaching Rituals in Ancient Cultures. Questioni di Rito: rituali come fonti di conoscenza delle religioni e delle concezioni del mondo nelle culture antiche. Proceedings of the Conference Held in Rome, November 28-30, Pisa/Rome (Supplementi alla «Rivista degli studi orientali» LXXXVI): 39-54. Pisa and Rome: Fabrizio Serra Editore.

Aruz, J. 2003. Art of the First Cities. The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Barnett, R.D. and Falkner, M. 1962. The Sculptures of Aššur-naṣir-apli II (883-859 B.C.), Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 B.C.), Esarhaddon (681-669 B.C.) from the Central and South-West Palaces at Nimrud. London: The Trustees of the British Museum.

Barrelet, M.-T. 1978. Les déesses armées et ailées. Syria 32/3-4: 222-260.

Bartl, P.V. 2014. Die Ritzverzierungen auf den Relieforthostaten Assurnaṣirpals II. Aus Kalḫu (Baghdader Forschungen 25). Darmstadt: Philipp von Zabern.

Battini, L. 1996. Un exemple de propagande néo-assyrienne: les défenses de Dûr- Sharrukin. Contributi e materiali di archeologia orientale 6: 217-234.

Battini, L. 1998. Les portes urbaines de la capitale de Sargon II: étude sur la propaganda royale à travers les données archéologiques et textuelles. In J. Prosecký (ed), Intellectual Life in the Ancient Near East: Papers Presented at the Forty-Third Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Prague, July 1-5, 1996: 41-55. Prague: Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Oriental Institute.

Battini, L. 2013. Time ‘Pulled up’ in Ashurnasirpal’s Reliefs. In L. Feliu, J. Llop, A. Millet Albà and J. Sanmartín (eds), Time and History in the Ancient Near East, Proceedings of the 56th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale at Barcelona 26-30 July 2010: 35-46. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Biggs, R.D. 1967. ŠÀ.ZI.GA Ancient Mesopotamian Potency Incantations (Texts from Cuneiform Sources, Vol. II). Locust Valley: J.J. Augustin.

Budge, E.A.W. 1914. Assyrian Sculptures in the British Museum: Reign of Ashur-nasir-pal, 885-860 B.C. London: Trustees of the British Museum.

Cavigneaux, A. 1995. Máš-ḫul-dúb-ba. In U. Finkbeiner, R. Dittmann and H. Hauptmann (eds), Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte Vorderasiens. Festschrift für Rainer Michael Boehmer: 53-67. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.

Cifarelli, M. 1998. Gesture and Alterity in the Art of Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria. The Art Bulletin 80/2: 210-228.

Curtis, J.E. and Tallis, N. 2008. The Balawat Gates of Ashurnasirpal II. London: The British Museum Press.

Di Paolo, S. 2003. All’udienza regale: funzione e gerarchia degli ingressi nel progetto figurativo della sala del trono di Assurnasirpal II a Nimrud. Contributi e Materiali di Archeologia Orientale 9: 517-544.

Frechette, C.G. 2012. Mesopotamian Ritual-prayers of ‘Hand-lifting’ (Akkadian Šuillas): An Investigation of Function in Light of the Idiomatic Meaning of the Rubric, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 379. Münster: Ugarit Verlag.

Geller, M.J. 2016. Healing Magic and Evil Demons. Canonical Udug-hul Incantations (Die babylonisch-assyrische Medizin in Texten und Untersuchungen 8). Boston and Berlin: De Gruyter.

Grayson, A.K. and Novotny, J. 2012. The Royal Inscriptions of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704-681 BC) (Part 1, The Royal Inscriptions of Neo-Assyrian Period 3). Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Green, A. 1983. Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures: Figurines, Rituals and Monumental Art, with Special Reference to the Figurines from the Excavations of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq at Nimrud. Iraq 45/1: 87-96.

Hermann, G. 1992. The Small Collections from Fort Shalmaneser. Ivories from Nimrud V. London: The British School of Archaeology in Iraq.

Hnila, P. 2002. Pomegranates or lotus fruits? (Assyrian Genii and Their Hanging Attributes). Anodos. Studies of the Ancient World 2 in Honour of Mária Novotná: 121-131.

Hunger, H. 1992. Astrological Reports to Assyrian Kings (State Archives of Assyria 8). Helsinki: Helsinki University Press.

Hussein, M.M. 2016. Nimrud: the Queen’s Tombs. Baghdad: Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Jia, Y. 2014. Imperial Doors of Assyria: Monumentality, Spatiality, and Rituality of the Neo-Assyrian Architectural Doors from Balawat. PhD dissertation, Harvard University.

Katz, D. 2007. Sumerian Funerary Rituals in Context. In N. Laneri (ed), Performing Death: Social Analyses of Funerary Traditions in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranea, Oriental Institute Seminars 3: 167-188. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Kawami, T.S. 2005. Deer in Art, Life and Death in Northwestern Iran. Iranica Antiqua 40: 107-131.

Kertai, D. 2014. The Architecture of Connectivity: Ashurnasirpal II’s Late Assyrian Palace in Kalḫu. In D. Kurapkat, P.I. Schneider and U. Wulf-Rheidt (eds), Die Architektur des Weges: Gestaltete Bewegung im gebauten Raum (Diskussionen zur Arcäologischen Bauforschung 11): 337-347. Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner.

Kertai, D. 2015a. The Winged Genie in its Original Context. In A. de Freitas (ed), Atas do Colóquio Arte da Mesopotâmia: 44-63. Lisbon: Musea Calouste Gulbenkian.

Kertai, D. 2015b. The Architecture of Late Assyrian Royal Palaces. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kolbe, D. 1981. Die Reliefprogramme religiös-mythologischen Charakters in neu-assyrischen Palästen: Die Figurentypen, ihre Benennung und Bedeutung. Frankfurt am Main and Ber: Peter Lang.

Landsberger, B. 1967. The Date Palm and its By-products according to the Cuneiform Sources (Archiv für Orientforschung Beiheft 17). Graz: self publication by the editor.

Magen, U. 1986. Assyrische Königsdarstellungen – Aspekte der Herrschaft, eine Typologie (Baghdader Forschungen 9). Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.

May, N.N. 2014. Gates and Their Functions in Mesopotamia and Ancient Israel. In N.N. May and U. Steinert (eds), The Fabric of Cities: Aspects of Urbanism, Urban Topography and Society in Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome: 77-121. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

Meier, G. 1941-1944. Die zweite Tafel der Serie bīt mēseri. Archiv für Orientforschung 14: 139-152.

Nakamura, C. 2004. Dedicating Magic: Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figurines and the Protection of Assur. World Archaeology 36/1: 11-25.

Nigro, L. and Spagnoli, F. 2018. Pomegranate (Punica Granatum L.) from Motya and Its Deepest Oriental Roots. Vicino Oriente XXII: 49-90.

Paley, S.M. and Sobolewski, R.P. 1992. The Reconstruction of the Relief Representations and Their Positions in the Northwest-Palace at Kalḫu (Nimūd) III (The Principal Entrances and Courtyards), Baghdader Forschungen 14. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.

Paley, S.M. and Sobolewski, R.P. 1997. The Outer Façade of the Throne Room of the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrūd (Kalḫu). In H. Waetzoldt and H. Hauptmann (eds), Assyrien im Wandel der Zeiten, XXXIXe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Heidelberg 6.-10. Juli 1992 (Heidelberger Studien zum alten Orient 6): 331-335. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag.

Parker Mallowan, B. 1983. Magic and Ritual in the Northwest Palace Reliefs. In P.O. Harper and H. Pittman (eds), Essays on Near Eastern Art and Archaeology in honor of Charles Kyrle Wilkinson: 33-39. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Parpola, S. 2017. Assyrian Royal Rituals and Cultic Texts (State Archives of Assyria 20). Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Pongratz-Leisten, B. 1994. Ina šulmi īrub. Die Kulttopographische und ideologische Programmatik der akītu-Prozession in Babylonien und Assyrien im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. (Baghdader Forschungen 16). Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.

Porter, B.N. 1993. Sacred Trees, Date Palms, and the Royal Persona of Ashurnasirpal II. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 52/2: 129-139.

Porter, B.N. 2010. Decorations, Political Posters, Time Capsules, and Living Gods. In A. Cohen and S.E. Kangas (eds), Assyrian Reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II: A Cultural Biography: 143-158. Hanover and London: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College and University Press of New England.

Portuese, L. 2017. A New Hypothesis Regarding the Use of Formulae in the Ashurnasirpal II Texts. Studi Classici e Orientali LXIII: 29-42.

Portuese, L. 2018. Metaphorical Allusions to Life-Giving Plants in Neo-Assyrian Texts and Images. Antiguo Oriente 16: 93-116.

Portuese, L. 2019. The Throne Room of Aššurnaṣirpal II: A Multisensory Experience. In A. Hawthorn and A.-C. Rendu Loisel (eds), Distant Impressions: The Senses in the Ancient Near East: 63-92. University Park: Eisenbrauns.

Radner, K. 2010. Gatekeepers and Lock Masters: The Control of Access in Assyrian Palaces. In H.D. Baker, E. Robson and G. Zólyomi (eds), Your Praise is Sweet: A Memorial Volume for Jeremy Black from Students, Colleagues and Friends: 269-280. London: British Institute for the Study of Iraq.

Ragavan, D. (ed) 2013. Entering Other Worlds: Gates, Rituals, and Cosmic Journeys in Sumerian Sources. In D. Ragavan (ed), Heaven on Earth: Temples, Ritual, and Cosmic Symbolism in the Ancient World (Oriental Institute Seminars 9): 201-221. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Reade, J.E. 1979. Assyrian Architectural Decoration: Techniques and Subject-Matter. Baghdader Mitteilungen 10: 17-49.

Reade, J.E. 1980. The Architectural Context of Assyrian Sculpture. Baghdader Mitteilungen 11: 75-87.

Reade, J.E. 1983. Assyrian Sculpture. 1st ed. London: British Museum Publications.

Rova, E. 2008. Mirror, Distaff, Pomegranate, and Poppy Capsule: On the Ambiguity of Some Attributes of Women and Goddesses. In H. Kühne, R.M. Czichon and F.J. Kreppner (eds), Proceedings of the 4th International Congress of the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, 29 March – 3 April 2004, Freie Universität Berlin: Volume 1: The Reconstruction of Environment: Natural Resources and Human Interrelations through Time; Art History: Visual Communication: 557-570. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Russell, J.M. 1998. The Program of the Palace of Assurnasirpal II at Nimrud: Issues in the Research and Presentation of Assyrian Art. American Journal of Archaeology 102/4: 655-715.

Russell, J.M. 1999. The Writing on the Wall. Studies in the Architectural Context of Late Assyrian Palace Inscriptions (Mesopotamian Civilizations 9). Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Scurlock, J. 2006. Magico-Medical Means of Treating Ghost-induced Illnesses in Ancient Mesopotamia (Ancient Magic and Divination III). Leiden and Boston: Brill.

Selz, G.J. 2004. Early Dynastic Vessels in ‘Ritual’ Contexts. Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 94: 185-223.

Selz, G.J. 2014. Plant Metaphors: on the Plant of Rejuvenation. In S. Gaspa, A. Greco, D. Morandi Bonacossi, S. Ponchia and R. Rollinger (eds), From Source to History. Studies on Ancient Near Eastern Worlds and Beyond. Dedicated to Giovanni Battista Lanfranchi on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday on June 23, 2014 (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 412): 655-667. Münster: Ugarit Verlag.

Sigrist, M. 1992. Drehem. Bethesda: CDL Press.

Sonik, K. 2013. Mesopotamian Conceptions of the Supernatural: A Taxonomy of Zwischenwesen. Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 14: 103-116.

Stearns, J.B. 1961. Reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnaṣirpal II (Archiv für Orientforschung, Beiheft 15). Graz: self publication by the editor.

Turner, V.W. (ed) 1967. Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage. In The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual: 46-55. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Van Buren, E.D. 1939. The Fauna of Ancient Mesopotamia as Represented in Art (Analecta Orientalia 18). Rome: Pontificium institutum Biblicum.

Van Gennep, A. 1960. The Rites of Passage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Verderame, L. 2017. Le symbolisme de la porte dans les rituels assyro-babyloniens. In P.M. Michel (ed), Rites aux portes (Etudes genevoises sur l’Antiquité 5): 83-92. Bern: Peter Lang.

Volk, K. 2003-2005. Palme. Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie 10: 283-292.

Wiggermann, F.A.M. 1992. Mesopotamian Protective Spirits. The Ritual Texts (Cuneiform Monographs I). Groningen: Styx Publications.

Winter, I.J. 1976. Carved Ivory Furniture Panels from Nimrud: A Coherent Subgroup of the North Syrian Style. Metropolitan Museum Journal 11: 25-54.

Winter, I.J. 2003. Ornament and the ‘Rhetoric of Abundance’ in Assyria. Eretz-Israel: Archaeological, Historical and Geographical Studies 27: 252-264.



How to Cite

Portuese, L. (2020). The Genies of the Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal II. Ash-Sharq: Bulletin of the Ancient Near East – Archaeological, Historical and Societal Studies, 4, 253–277. Retrieved from