Royal Statuary of Early Dynastic Mesopotamia

By Eppihimer, Melissa | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, July-September 2013 | Go to article overview

Royal Statuary of Early Dynastic Mesopotamia


Eppihimer, Melissa, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Royal Statuary of Early Dynastic Mesopotamia. By GIANNI MARCHESI and NICOLo MARCHETTI. Mesopotamian Civilizations, vol. 14. Winona Lake, Ind.: EISENBRAUNS, 2011. Pp. ix + 374, plates. $89.50.

The book under review is a revised and expanded translation of a volume originally published in Italian that defined a corpus of royal statues from Early Dynastic (ED) Mesopotamia and analyzed their historical and art historical significance: Nicolo Marchetti, La statuaria regale nella Mesopotamia protodinastica. Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche. Memorie. Serie IX, Volume XXI, Fascicolo 1 (Rome: Bardi Editore, 2006). Other studies of these sculptures have integrated them into the general set of ED statues or into the broader category of Mesopotamian royal images. These include Eva Strommenger, "Das Menschenbild in der altmeso-potamischen Rundplastik von Mesilim bis Hammurapi," Baghdader Mitteilangen 1 (1960): 1-103: Eva Braun-Holzinger, Friihdynastische Beterstatuetten (Berlin: Gebruder Mann, 1977): and ead., Das Herrscherbild in Mesopotamien und Elam: Spates 4. bis fruhes 2. Jt. v. Chr. (Munster: Ugarit Verlag, 2007).

In the book under review, the royal statues are considered alongside the full range of archaeological, textual, and visual data related to ED royal visual culture. The book's methodological premise--that the study of ED royal statuary requires a multidisciplinary approach--is noteworthy. Indeed, even the question of which statues qualify as royal is not answered easily or identically by archaeology, philology, or art history on their own. At its core, then, this book is not just a monograph on the subject of royal statues and ED kingship, but an example of how to weigh and balance different forms of evidence and the specific investigative methods they require.

The major difference between the English version and the earlier Italian edition is the integration of the material prepared by Marchesi (a philologist and historian) into the main text written by Marchetti (an archaeologist and art historian); in the Italian edition, Marchesi's work appeared in appendices. The elevation of the textual to a level equal to that of the material reflects the authors' assertion that the volume overall was a collaborative endeavor, even though the chapters were written separately (p. vii). The interdependence of the authors' work is apparent in the frequent cross-referencing within the book, but each chapter preserves the voice, methods, and interests of the scholar who composed it. Therefore, in this review I attribute the contents of the individual chapters to their authors separately.

The archaeological foundation of the volume is clear in chapter 1, "Archaeological Contexts and Chronology of Early Dynastic Statuary." Marchetti presents detailed assessments of the stratigraphy of key sites in order to construct a relative chronology for the ED period that will ultimately be used to date the royal statues in chapter 3. Even though archaeological data is privileged, art historical and epigraphic evidence are called upon frequently to date particular contexts. The relative weight given to the different forms of evidence varies from case to case, but Marchetti is generally explicit as to his reasoning. Some of the conclusions reached in this chapter differ significantly from prevailing views. For example, Marchetti dates the Royal Tombs at Ur to ED Mb, rather than ED Ma, after reconsidering the stratigraphy and style of the seals and inlays from the tombs.

Chapter 2, "Historical Framework," assesses the historical context of ED kingship, and thus it is the textual counterpart to chapter 1. Marchesi's survey of the political history of early Mesopotamia and, to some extent, Syria, however, is more summary than Marchetti's archaeological review. Marchesi examines the meanings and connotations of the various royal titles that were in use during the third millennium B. …

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