Victory Stele of Naram-Sin

Naram-Sin leads his victorious army up a mountain, as vanquished Lullubi people fall before him.

 

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, 2254-2218 B.C.E., pink limestone, Akkadian (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

This monument depicts the Akkadian victory over the Lullubi Mountain people. In the 12th century B.C.E., a thousand years after it was originally made, the Elamite king, Shutruk-Nahhunte, attacked Babylon and, according to his later inscription, the stele was taken to Susa in what is now Iran.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.

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:07] 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 B.C.E.

[0:00] Naram-Sin was the great-great-grandson of the founding king of the Akkadians, Sargon. This stele commemorates a really important victory of his.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:32] It commemorates a victory over the Lullubi people, who are mountain people who lived in the eastern region of Mesopotamia. Normally, victory scenes like this from ancient Mesopotamia are shown in registers. In other words, the scene is divided into horizontal bands.

[0:50] Here, the artist has created a new composition, where we see Naram-Sin at the top, and a diagonal where, on the left, underneath Naram-Sin, we see his soldiers climbing the mountain. Then on the right, the vanquished falling and defeated and wounded.

Dr. Zucker: [1:08] 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.

Dr. Harris: [1:27] Naram-Sin is so erect and noble looking, 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.

[0:00] His soldiers look up at him. The vanquished turn towards him. He’s clearly the focal point of this composition.

Dr. Zucker: [1:45] 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.

[1:54] 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.

[2:07] Then — most interestingly, I think — to the extreme right, profiled against the mountain, is a man who is fleeing. 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.

Dr. Harris: [2:21] 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.

[2:37] 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.

Dr. Zucker: [2:50] The suns or the stars above are the forces that have helped guide him to victory. Also — and this is important — he’s wearing a horned helmet, which is, for the Akkadians, a symbol of divinity.

[3:07] So through this victory, he is actually assuming the importance and the status of the gods. In fact, the whole ascension to the mountaintop most certainly supports this idea. He’s rising into the realm of the heavenly.

[0:00] [music]

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Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Victory Stele of Naram-Sin," in Smarthistory, November 24, 2015, accessed July 18, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/victory-stele-of-naram-sin/.