Grandpa Kewl

Book Review – Rituals of War, Zainab Bahrani

Not sure where I obtained this or why.

This started out as a very disappointing book due to the fact that the author seems to have gone out of his way to use such arcane and specialist language that it was frustrating to try to understand. I added so many words to the dictionary in this site that I had to redesign it…LOL. The difficulty was further compounded by the fact that I seemed to have forgotten to read the introduction which described what the book was all about…kinda dumb of me…but when I read it after the fact, things made a lot more sense. Just goes to prove the old thought – never give up on something my instinct tells me to read…there will always be something of interest to be found if I am patient enough…and pay attention as well!

What the book is really about is what we can learn from the monuments and various works of art that were created by the ancient Assyrians and how these relate to warfare. I read most of the book on Metro as usual but finished it at a local car wash while I waited for my Lincoln to be thoroughly cleaned, inside and out. I paid the sum of $109.00 for a serious cleaning and it was worth it…all of it. At the same time, I had a couple hours to sit and finish the book and then to reread a bit of it, including the introduction which I seemed to have read but…not read…perhaps I was asleep.

The premise is that the works of art, The Battle of Til-Tuba, the Victory Stele of Naramsin and the Codex Hammurabi, all describe an evolving relationship between the Kingdon, the King, the Gods and War. A lot is read into the relative positioning and sizes of all the participants. Maybe a tad too much, but none can really tell.The case the author makes is quite reasonable in my opinion. In essence, the art tells a story of the evolution of the Kinship as it comes to control the life & death decisions related to power and war. Pretty specialized stuff here. At the same time I did learn some interesting details about the history of the region. For example, I did not know that part of the Code of Hammurabi was erased by one of the capturing nations.

Some observations from the read:

The Assyrians had a very anxious relationship to war. It was never to be entered into in an aggressive manner; it was only acceptable when undertaken in a defensive action. Now, defensive could be fairly loosely interpreted but these people had a very clear and true understanding of the consequences of warfare and the harm and chaos it caused. As a consequence, war was only undertaken when it was shown from the interpretations of signs and divinations that the Gods approved of the undertaking. If the war failed, it was due to the disapproval of the Gods and was doomed to fail. The reading of omens, from the stars to the entrails of sacrificial animals, was a very excating science and volumns of tablets were written and studied to record the results of past examinations, the results and the predictions.

They understood that was has a life of its own, once initiated and that awful things would happen.

Ritual art was taken very seriously…it was not just art. It had power to change time and events. It had the power to make things happen. There was power in the objects. Entire wars were fought over a variety of such objects as they were captured and recaptured. The skeptic might argue that they would also make for a convenient excuse for the start of a revenge war under the pretense of recapturing lost power objects but there is nothing in the records to support such a theory.

“For the ancient Mesopotamians, the world was saturated with signs; the world was a text.” The Gods spoke to humans theu signs that they spread out over the world and in the makeup and structure of animal entrails. It was up to the humans to figure out what the Gods were saying. I rather like this. It seems to me that the human race was once a lot closer to nature and the world and that we used to be able to see more clearly what was going on in nature and the interplay of its parts. As we have come to “understand” nature (I use the term with some disdain) we have lost most of that. I only have to recall the night I watched Comet Kohoutek in my back yard to know that.

This emphasis upon the taking and destroying of works of art as a major part of Assyrian warfare sends out echoes into the present. Were not the Twin Towers and the Pentagon identical such targets? And is not Assyria the same geographical location from which the Islamic terrorists came…see the map below…The whole thing is eerie.

The connection to the past is further enhanced when one examines some of the details of the art which show tortures and killings which were carved into walls and monuments and were placed there for all to see…and for all to fear. One has to wonder if the culteral heritage of the past is not speaking again to us in the acts of the present day barbarians. And then, as now, the acts of terror were accepted as a part of war. Only now we have the Internet and video recordings of the beheadings…Daniel Pearl comes immediately to mind.

The artwork used in the book is illustrated with a number of photographs that leave much to be desired as the detail is poor and generally hard to see. Since I was interested, I ran down some better pictures from a variety of Internet sources, from which I freely copied….


The Battle of Til-Tuba:

The enemy king is wounded, his chariot crashes

He is run down and loses his head

His head is carried back to the other king

The other king shows off the head at a banquet

Prisoners are impaled

and flayed


Stele of Naramsin:

The Codex Hammurabi


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