Game of Thrones ca. 850 BCE: Empire, Religion, and Palace Intrigue in the Neo-Assyrian Reliefs at WC Winter 2024

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A pair of stone reliefs, now housed at WCMA, once decorated the most imposing palace in the ancient world- Ashurnasirpal II’s palace at ancient Kalhu (modern Nimrud, Iraq) the heart of the world’s first empire. One modern scholar remarked on Ashurnasirpal’s “calculated frightfulness,” yet religion, scholarship, fashion, epic poetry, love, and court intrigue also surrounded the reliefs in their original setting. This multidisciplinary course explores the reliefs, their iconography, and the so-called “Standard Inscription” that accompanies them, in their ancient, 19th-century, and modern contexts. From WCMA’s collection we examine inscribed bricks from Ashurnasirpal’s son Shalmaneser III, economic texts from the 3rd millennium BCE, and clay “cones” from Gudea of Lagash-the first king to claim expertise as an architect! We explore the era of the reliefs’ (re)discovery amidst competing drives to collect, discard, or destroy them: Williams alum D. W. Marsh (class of 1842), who donated the reliefs; Marsh’s life on campus, including the Williams missionary movement; Marsh’s years in Mosul, and friendship with the British archaeologist A.H. Layard, who excavated the palace. The course emphasizes first-hand experience: dramatic readings of the Epic of Gilgamesh (for literary and cultural clues); Ashurnasirpal’s “Banquet Stele” ( for a description of the ancient world’s most lavish party); learning to write cuneiform; a Mesopotamian feast. The course closes with an overnight field trip for a private tour of Yale’s Babylonian Collection, the Yale University Art Gallery-and New Haven pizza. An optional, 3-part “Flash Akkadian” course, open to the community, teaches students to decipher, render into Akkadian, and translate a Shalmaneser III brick at WCMA. Meets afternoons 2x/week
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 12
Expected: NA
Class#: 1185
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: Paper(s) or report(s); Presentation(s); Performance(s); Creative project(s); Students may write a 10-page paper or its equivalent at the end of the course AND/OR produce creative or intellectual work during the course that counts toward the final project. Possibilities include completion of "Flash Akkadian," presentations on assigned articles, or a journal chronicling the class experience and the questions it raises. Past projects have included embroidery, drawings, board games, and musical compositions.
Prerequisites: Curiosity.
Enrollment Preferences: The course welcomes and benefits from the participation of students from all academic disciplines.
Unit Notes: Alison Acker Gruseke is a Williams graduate (1982), former book editor, and now holds a PhD from Yale's department of Religious Studies. She specializes in the study of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), including its ancient religious, political, literary, cultural, historical, and geographical contexts. She has taught and lectured in both undergraduate and graduate settings, including at Williams.
Materials/Lab Fee: $165
Attributes: EXPE Experiential Education Courses
SLFX Winter Study Self-Expression
STUX Winter Study Student Exploration

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