The Origins and Ancient History of Wine

By Patrick E. McGovern; Stuart J. Fleming et al. | Go to book overview
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The Imagery of the Wine Bowl: Wine in Assyria in the Early First Millennium B.C

David Stronach



In an inscription which celebrates the inauguration of his new capital at Nimrud-ancient Kalhu-Assurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.) provides a detailed account of the food and drink that was prepared for the almost 70,000 persons that were present on that occasion. In terms of liquid refreshment alone, we read of 10,000 skins of wine, 10,000 (measures of) beer, and 100 (measures of) fine mixed beer. Grapes also figured among the many fruits that were supplied (Wiseman 1952:32).

Another passage in the same inscription refers to a new royal garden that was evidently constructed beside the mound of Nimrud, in a vicinity where canals and waterfalls could be introduced (Wiseman 1983:142). Here, Assurnasirpal chose to plant the seeds, cuttings, and trees that had been collected on his far-flung campaigns. In one sense, therefore, this was a garden which demonstrated the fruits of imperial conquest (Stronach 1991:171). In another sense, it was intended as a beguiling image of plenty: it was a garden in which, in one telling phrase, the pomegranate trees were “clothed with clusters of fruit like vines” (Wiseman 1983:142).

It is possible to presume, in short, that both the bounty of the king's table and the fecundity of the royal garden were stressed with the same intent. That is to say that each of these images in the banquet inscription was designed to reinforce the same concept: the concept of the king as the provider of the fertility of the land.

The opportunity was also taken, in the course of the construction of Assurnasirpal's palace, to spell out a similar message in permanent visual terms. At two key points, the relief-clad walls of the throne room of the new palace show the same carved scene (Fig. 12.1a), which is at once a


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