When curators at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art decided to move some ancient Assyrian reliefs to the newly renovated portion of their galleries, they simply wanted a better space to display these impressive artifacts. But they made a major discovery: evidence of an ancient act of vengeance.
In the brighter light of the new exhibit space, 19th-century repairs became visible on the reliefs. The underlying damage on one relief of Ashurnasirpal II seemed to be significant. In this regal portrait the king is depicted in the elaborate costume of an Assyrian monarch: tall conical hat, long embroidered cape, several pieces of jewelry and a dagger. One hand holds a bow, while the other is raised in a traditional gesture of greeting.
A closer look beneath the modern repairs, however, revealed that the bow had been broken, his wrist and Achilles tendons had been cut, his nose and ear damaged, one eye had been gouged out and part of his beard hacked away. The museum curators determined that this was no ordinary case of wear or accidental damage. But who would deliberately deface a portrait of the king?
Ashurnasirpal II ruled Assyria from 883 to 859 B.C., during which time he established his capital at Kalhu, now modern Nimrud in northern Iraq. (Genesis 10:8–12 recounts that the great hunter Nimrod gave rise to the Assyrian people and built the great city of Calah [Kalhu].) Ashurnasirpal built up his walled city with temples, palaces