Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin is a stele that dates to approximately 2254-2218 BC, in the time of the Akkadian Empire. The relief measures six feet in height and was carved in pink limestone. It depicts the King Naram-Sin of Akkad leading the Akkadian army to victory over the mountain people, the Lullubi. It shows a narrative of the King crossing the steep slopes into enemy territory; on the left are the ordered imperial forces keeping in rank while marching over the disordered defenders that lay broken and defeated. Naram-Sin in shown as by far the most important figure; he is shown towering over his enemy and troops and all eyes gaze up toward him. The weak and chaotic opposing forces are shown being thrown from atop the mountainside, impaled by spears, fleeing and begging Naram-Sin for mercy as well as being trampled underfoot by Naram-Sin himself. This is supposed to convey their uncivilized and barbaric nature making the conquest justified.
The stele is unique in two regards. Most conquest depictions are shown horizontally, with the King being at the top-center. This stele depicts the victory in a diagonal fashion with the King still being at the top-center but where everyone else can look up to him. The second unique aspect of the piece is that Naram-Sin is shown wearing a bull-horned helmet or shown as the face of lion. Helmets of this type at the time when this stele was commissioned were only worn by the Gods. This stele is in essence telling the viewer that Naram-Sin is a victorious conqueror as a result of his divine status. But it also shows Naram-Sin gazing up toward two stars. Showing that although Naram-Sin is a god, a feat that was up to this point only achieved by deceased kings, he is still not the most powerful of gods.
The stele was found at the Iranian site of Susa. It was taken out of Mesopotamia by the Elamite King Shutruk-Nakhunte in the 12th century BC. Shutruk-Nakhunte was a descendant of the Lullubi people, whose defeat the stele commemorated. He also claimed to carry the stele there himself. The already ancient inscription was kept, indicating respect for Naram-Sin’s victory. He did, however, add an inscription declaring his own glory and tells how the stele was carried out of the city after the pillage of the city Sippar. The stele now resides inside of the Louvre in Paris.
Naram-Sin is shown in hierarchic scale as a god-like figure on the stele, he is looked up to by all others shown. He is supported by his ordered troops and feared by his defeated enemies. His face is that of lion or bull, signifying his powers. He is also depicted by showing no mercy to his enemy. One of the defeated people pleas for their lives on the top right as they run from Naram-Sin. This is for good reason because he is shown stepping on the dead body of one of the Lullubi people after kicking another off the side of the mountain. He has stabbed another in the neck with a spear and is holding an arrow to perhaps impale the next. The Lullubi people are shown in stark contrast to the Akkadian soldiers they are shown as a disorganized chaotic mess of individuals being trampled underfoot by the very organized Akkadians.
The Lullubi grovel before the conqueror who has destroyed them and will show no mercy. This was created to justify the conquest of the people of that region. They were seen as uncivilized and barbaric and the much stronger Akkadians deserve to rule over them. It is also there to strike fear into the hearts of any rebels that wish to challenge the rule of the King. This shows his lack of mercy and that any resistance is futile. But more is told about Naram-Sin through this stele. When a figure is shown wearing a horned helmet in Akkad at the time they would commonly considered a god. Here Naram-Sin is wearing just such a helmet and shows the viewer that Naram-Sin is in fact a god-king. Now future generations would commonly associate Naram-Sin as a possessor of great hubris but that didn't stop him telling everyone he was a god throughout his life. And this stele is by far the most famous image of him.
The low depth, typical of similar reliefs, is unusual in the diagonal composition (compare the scenes on the Standard of Ur). This was perhaps to create a more interesting composition or to perhaps allow everyone depicted in the scene to look up to Naram-Sin. Naram's horned helmet and much larger size show him as powerful and godly. Perhaps given his divine and godly power, the sun could have been the god to give him his power.
The text under the sun was written in Akkadian cuneiform and depicts the rise of the Akkadians over the Lullubians. Naram-Sin leading his army into destroying the last of the Lullubians shows just how powerful the Akkadians and Naram-Sin truly are and they are not a group to reckon. Naram-Sin thought of himself as godly, which explains his depiction as very god-like.
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