Book Details

  • Paperback
  • Bookstore's Wholesale Price: $72.50
  • December 2016
  • ISBN: 978-0-500-29275-4
  • 376 pages
  • Territory Rights: USA and Dependencies, Philippines and Canada.

Art of Mesopotamia


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Zainab Bahrani (Author)


This expert guide to the art of Mesopotamia, spanning more than 8000 years, is especially important as this ancient cultural legacy is threatened by contemporary conflict

Mesopotamia is considered the cradle of Western civilization, and the diverse societies that flourished there, nestled around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, were as culturally rich as this attribution would suggest. Spanning a significant historical period, from 8000 BCE to the arrival of Islam in 636 CE, Art of Mesopotamia explores spectacular structures and objects, as well as the techniques artists used, in order to gain insight into the beliefs and practices of ancient peoples. The volume also introduces the archaeologists who discovered these sites more than a thousand years later.

Richly illustrated with more than 400 full-color photographs, Art of Mesopotamia is an astounding record by award-winning author Zainab Bahrani of artworks from this region, many of which have in recent years been damaged or destroyed by war, and as such is of particular and lasting importance. It includes the most up-to-date scholarship and reflects significant new approaches to Mesopotamian art over the past few decades.


Written by the most acclaimed Mesopotamian art historian of her generation

Zainab Bahrani is the world’s leading historian in the art of Mesopotamia. She advised the US government on the protection of cultural heritage during its invasion of Iraq. She has won multiple awards for her books on art, women, rituals, and war in Mesopotamia. Written by such an authority on art in Mesopotamia, this book will be the trusted resource on the subject for many years to come. 

Helps students to think like art historians

As the world’s foremost art historian of Mesopotamia, Bahrani’s approach teaches students about ancient civilizations through their visual culture. Bahrani introduces students to the forms, concepts, and aesthetics of the art of Mesopotamia. She also considers the reception of these artworks—by people at the time, by subsequent civilizations, by nineteenth-century European archaeologists, and by the forces driving the present-day conflict in the Middle East.

The book also includes text boxes that cover various techniques for making and understanding art; including how to detect different techniques, and what these methods can tell us about social organization in Mesopotamia.

Both the structure and pedagogy of the book guide the student through the key sites, cities, and periods of Mesopotamia. Each chapter is introduced with overviews and maps, focusing on one civilization and historical period at a time. By helping students clearly grasp the context of Mesopotamian cultures and civilizations, the student can invest more time in understanding the art and its role in the past. 

Generously illustrated with large, full-color reproductions

 Illustrated with 414 high-quality photographs, this book allows students get as close as possible to the works of art. This book brings together objects that are now spread around the world— in collections from London to Baghdad—and also records for posterity a number of outstanding works, like the Uruk Vase, a portrait of King Atlu, and the site of Babylon, that have been damaged or destroyed by recent conflict.

All of the images in the book are available in JPEG or PowerPoint format for instructors to use in their course.

Covers both art and architecture

 Art of Mesopotamia covers a wide range of art objects and architectural techniques. The book is careful to balance its survey of sculpture, seals, and other representative imagery with a study of the architecture of Mesopotamia, including the Ziggurat at Ur, Nineveh, and Babylon architecture. This balanced approach offers students the opportunity to understand how art and architecture worked together to shape the lives of the people of the past.

Discusses the recent history of heritage destruction

 Bahrani is careful to outline how this book is set against a crisis in cultural heritage, where some of the ancient cities and works of art that are covered in this book were destroyed even while the book was being written. This pressing issue is discussed in the book’s epilogue, which presents students with a tangible picture of how our heritage is being destroyed, how international law is working to counter these crimes, and what the public can do to help.

Download Contents (pdf)

    Introduction: Mesopotamian Art

  1. The book and its structure
  3. 1.The Search for Origins: Mesopotamia and the Cradle of Civilization
  4. Box: Archaeology and Photography
  5. The Emergence of Art Anatolia
  6. Mesopotamian Myths of Origins
  8. 2.Uruk: The Arts of Civilization
  9. Architecture
  10. Sculpture
  11. Cult Statues: Imagining the Invisible
  12. Votive Offering: the Essence of Beings and Things
  13. Public Monument: the Spur of Rock Articulated
  14. Seals: the Mark of Identity
  15. The Invention of Writing
  16. Archaeology and History: the Uruk Phenomenon
  17. Mythic-History
  18. Enki and the World Order
  19. Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta
  20. The Uruk Technologies
  22. 3.Early Dynastic Art and Architecture
  23. Early Dynastic Sumer (2900–2350 bce)
  24. Sculpture: the Votive Image
  25. The Portrait as Text and Substitute Images
  26. Metalwork
  27. Architecture
  28. Architectural Ritual
  29. Box: Sumerian gods and myths
  31. 4.Early Dynastic Sumer
  32. The Art of Death: the Royal Cemetery of Ur
  33. Mari Treasure
  34. Inventing the Public Monument
  35. Seals and Sealings
  36. Box: Death and the Afterlife
  38. 5.Art of the Akkadian Dynasty
  39. Royal Monuments and Sovereign Power
  40. The Mysterious Birth of Sargon of Akkad
  41. Portraiture and Identity: the Royal Image
  42. Image Wars
  43. Architecture
  44. Cylinder Seals
  45. Lost-Wax Casting
  47. 6.Gudea: Royal Portraits and the Lifespan of Images
  48. Gudea: The Emergence of Portraiture
  49. The Forms of Representation
  50. The Lifespan of Images
  52. 7.The Third Dynasty of Ur
  53. Architecture: the Builder King
  54. The Ziggurat at Ur
  55. The Temenos of Nanna and Ningal
  56. Tombs of the Ur III Kings
  57. Provinces
  58. Cylinder Seals
  60. 8.The Age of Hammurabi
  61. Historical Context
  62. The Palace at Mari
  63. The Monument and Time
  64. The Beginnings of Aesthetic Discourse
  65. Life and Clay: Terracotta Images
  66. Box: The Assyrian trading colony in Anatolia
  68. 9.Kassite and Assyrian Art at the End of the Bronze Age (1595–1110 bce)
  69. Kassite Art and the Question of Style
  70. Architecture
  71. The Kudurru
  72. Middle Assyrian Art (c. 1400–1000 bce)
  73. Texts and Seals
  74. Image Wars
  75. The Travels of the Statue of Bel-Marduk
  77. 10.Assyrian Art: Narrative and Empire
  78. Neo-Assyrian Palace Sculpture
  79. Dur Sharrukin
  80. Nineveh
  81. Sennacherib at Lachish
  83. 11.Assyrian Art in Context
  84. Art in Death: Royal Tombs of the Assyrian Queens
  85. Ivories from the Empire
  86. Monuments in Place
  87. Rock Reliefs: Landscape as Terrain of Kingship
  88. Cylinder Seals
  90. 12.Babylonian Art
  91. Babylonian Sculpture: Looking to the Past
  92. Babylonian Excavations
  93. Babylon: the City as a Work of Art
  94. Calligraphic Texts
  95. Cylinder Seals
  97. 13.Achaemenid Persian Art
  98. Persepolis
  99. Achaemenid Art and Assyro-Babylonian Legacies
  100. Conclusion
  102. 14.Alexander in Babylon and Hellenism in Mesopotamia: Seleucid and Parthian Art
  103. Hellenism in Mesopotamia
  104. Seleucia on the Tigris
  105. Terrcottas
  106. Continuity and Change
  107. Graeco-Babylonian Synthesis
  108. Hatra and the Mesopotamian Legacy
  109. Interacting with the Past
  110. The End of an Era
  112. Epilogue
  113. Additional Features
  114. Thematic boxes (concise descriptions of technologies and materials)
  115. Maps
  116. Timeline
  117. Glossary
  118. Annotated bibliography and suggestions for further readings