Biblical Archaeology: The Banquet Stela of Ashurnasirpal II

Who is Ashurnasirpal II?

Ashurnasirpal II was an Assyrian king who reigned from 883-859 BCE. He succeeded his father, Tukulti-Ninurta II, in 883 BCE. Ashurnasirpal was known as a great builder and is well known for rebuilding post-war cities and the new capital city, Kalhu. He made gigantic reliefs and carvings in all the new palaces and buildings he made and decorated them with lime, alabaster, and other sought after materials. Previous to Ashurnasirpal II relief inscriptions were much less common.

However, he was best known for laying waste to those cities and anyone who dared to cross his path. He conquered lands previously won in battle by the Babylonians and Aramaeans. He reclaimed all of Mesopotamia for the Assyrians. It is important to remember that 5 different powerhouses resided in Mesopotamia and over the centuries they took turns waging battle and over-taking the region. A simple timeline of the Mesopotamian empires are below.

Mesopotamian Empire Timeline
Mesopotamian Empire Timeline (by

Ashurnasirpal was known to make public displays of his political enemies. He even flayed people alive. Those who were defeated in battle would routinely be impaled and burned alive like a torch.  Those who remained alive were carried off into Assyria to be used as slave labor. In some of his war annals he even recorded leaving people alive who had their feet and hands chopped off. Here is a taste of some of the annal inscriptions from Ashurnasirpal.

I built a pillar over against the city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes and others I bound to stakes round the pillar. I cut the limbs off the officers who had rebelled. Many captives I burned with fire and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads and I bound their heads to tree trunks round about the city. Their young men and maidens I consumed with fire. The rest of their warriors I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by D. D. Luckenbill, 1926, Vol. I, pp. 145, 147, 153, 162.

I felled 50 of their fighting men with the sword, burnt 200 captives from them, [and] defeated in a battle on the plain 332 troops. … With their blood I dyed the mountain red like red wool, [and] the rest of them the ravines [and] torrents of the mountain swallowed. I carried off captives [and] possessions from them. I cut off the heads of their fighters [and] built [therewith] a tower before their city. I burnt their adolescent boys [and] girls. Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, Part 2: From Tiglath-pileser I to Ashur-nasir-apli II by Albter Grayson

In strife and conflict I besieged [and] conquered the city. I felled 3,000 of their fighting men with the sword … I captured many troops alive: I cut off of some their arms [and] hands; I cut off of others their noses, ears, [and] extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made one pile of the living [and] one of heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city. Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, Part 2: From Tiglath-pileser I to Ashur-nasir-apli II by Albter Grayson

The military prowess of the king lived long after he passed. His methods of removing conquered people was eventually used against the northern tribes of Israel. It was recorded in his war annals that he would march captives out of the land with a chain hooked to their noses.

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. (2 Chronicles 33:10-11)

Ashurnasirpal II ruled about the same time as Jezebel and Ahab and Elijah. Shortly after their deaths (including Ashurnasirpal), the Assyrian armies attacked and exiled the northern tribes of Israel. The dread and fear of the Assyrians was in the hearts of Israel until the onset of the Babylonians. The Babylonians briefly reclaimed much of Mesopotamia and all of Israel. Yet, the defeat of the Assyrians was still celebrated by many.

King of Assyria, your shepherds slumber;
    your nobles lie down to rest.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
    with no one to gather them.
19 Nothing can heal you;
    your wound is fatal.
All who hear the news about you
    clap their hands at your fall,
for who has not felt
    your endless cruelty?

(Nahum 3:18-19)

What is the Banquet Stela of Ashurnasirpal II?

Kurkh Ashurnasirpal II InscriptionKurkh Stela of Ashurnasirpal II As the name of the stela might suggest, it is a large obelisk style (2 sided) stela that was made specifically to commemorate a banquet that the king had, after he successfully rebuilt the capital city and a new palace.

The stela dedicated to Ashurnasirpal speaks of events close to the end of his reign. It was discovered with another one that looked similar dedicated to another Assyrian ruler. Of the two stelas discovered in Kurkh, it is less discussed than the other because it does not correlate as much history related to biblical matters. It weighs in at a whopping 3 tons and stands 3 meters (about 9ft) tall. It is called the “Banquet Stela” because it was made to commemorate Ashurnasirpal’s newly rebuilt city and palace. This stela was placed at the entrance of the new palace for a banquet he held.

The banquet in which this stela made it’s debut was attended by 69,574 guests. Those guests were meticulously recorded for future use. Among the names were dignitaries from the surrounding regions. Those who did not attend the banquet for the king was recorded and many received future retribution for their lack of support. The party lasted for an entire 10 days and the king was presented with gifts, drinks, and praise for the entire 10 days.

The contents of the stela is about 3/4 praises and retelling of the battles and booty of the king. The latter portion contains scribal notes about the king and the banquet that was had.

Translation of the Banquet Stela

Translation by James B. Pritchard and can be found in his acclaimed work; “The Ancient Near East, Volume II, a book of primary documents from the Near East.”

This is the palace of Ashurnasirpal, the high priest of Ashur, chosen by Enlil and Ninurta, the favorite of Anu and of Dagan who is destruction personified among all the great gods – the legitimate king, the king of the world, the king of Assyria, son of Tukulti-Ninurta, great king, legitimate king, king of the world, king of Assyria who was the son of Adad-Nirari, likewise great king, legitimate king, king of the world and king of Assyria – the heroic warrior who always acts upon trust-inspiring signs given by his lord Ashur and therefore has no rival among the rulers of the four quarters of the world; the shepherd of all mortals, not afraid of battle  but on onrushing flood which brooks no resistance; the king who subdues the unsubmissive and  rules over all mankind; the king who always acts upon trust-inspiring signs given by his lords, the great gods, and therefore has personally conquered all the countries; who has acquired dominion over the mountain regions and received their tribute; he takes hostages, triumphs over all the countries from beyond the Tigris to the Lebanon and the Great Sea, he has brought into submission the entire country of Laqe and the region of Suhu as far as the town of Rapiqu; personally he conquered the region from the source of the Subnat River to Urartu.

I returned to the territory of my own country the regions of the pass which leads to the country Kirrure as far as Gilsani, from beyond the Lower Zab River to the town of Til-bari which is upstream of the land of Zamua – from Til-sha-abtani to Til-sha-sabtani – also Hirimu and Harrutu in the fortified border region of Babylonia (Karduniash). I listed as inhabitants of my own country the people living from the pass of Mt. Babite to the land of Hashmar.

Ashur, the Great Lord, has chosen me and made a pronouncement concerning my world rule with his own holy mouth as follows: Ashurnasirpal is the king whose fame is power!

I took over again the city of Calah in that wisdom of mine, the knowledge which Ea, the king of the subterranean waters, has bestowed upon me, I removed the old hill of rubble; I dug down to the water level; I heaped up a new terrace measuring from the water level to the upper edge 120 layers of bricks; upon that I erected as my royal seat and for my personal enjoyment 7 beautiful halls roofed with boxwood, Magan-ash, cedar, cypress, terebinth, tarpi’u, and mehru beams; I sheathed doors made of cedar, cypress, juniper, boxwood and Magan-ash with bands of bronze; I hung them in their doorways; I surrounded them, the doors, with decorative bronze bolts; to proclaim my heroic deeds I painted on their (the palaces) walls with vivid blue paint how I have marched across the mountain ranges, the foreign countries and the seas, my conquests in all countries; I had lapis lazuli colored glazed bricks made and set them in the wall above the gates. I brought in people from the countries over which I rule, those who were conquered by me personally, that is from the country Suhi those of the town […] from the entire land of Samua, the countries Bit-Samani and Kirrure, the town of Sirqu which is across the Euphrates, and many inhabitants of Laqe, of Syria and who are subjects of Lubarna, the ruler of Hattina; I settled them therein the city of Calah.

I dug a canal from the Upper Zab River; I cut for this purpose straight through the mountains; I called it Patti-hegalli (“Channel of Abundance”); I provided the lowlands along the Tigris with irrigation; I planted orchards at the city’s outskirts, with all sorts of fruit trees.

I pressed grapes and offered them as first fruits in a libation to my lord Ashur and to all the sanctuaries of my country. I then dedicated that city to my lord Ashur.

I collected and planted in my garden, from the countries through which I marched and the mountains which I crossed, the trees and plants raised from seeds from wherever I discovered them, such as: cedars, cypresses, simmesallu-perfume trees, burasu-junipers, myrrh-producing trees, dapranu-junipers, nut bearing trees, date palms, ebony, Magan-ash, olive trees, tamarind, oaks, tarpi’u-terebinth trees, luddu-nut-bearing trees, pistachio and cornel trees, mehru-trees, se.mur-trees, tijatu-trees, Kanish oaks, willows, sadanu-trees, pomegranates, plum trees, fir trees, ingirasu-trees, kamesseru-pear trees, supur-gillu-bearing trees, fig trees, grape vines, angasu-pear trees, aromatic sumlalu-trees, titip-trees, hip/butu-trees, zansaliqqu-trees, swamp apple trees, hambuququ-trees, nuhurtu-trees, ursinu-trees, resinous kanaktu-trees [and others]. In the gardens in Calah they vied with each other in fragrance; the paths in the gardens were well kept, the irrigation weirs distributed the water evenly; its pomegranates glow in the pleasure garden like the stars in the sky, they are interwoven like grapes on the vine […] in the pleasure garden […] in the garden of happiness flourished like cedar trees.


I erected in Calah, the center of my overlordship, temples such as those of Enlil and Ninurta which did not exist there before; I rebuilt in it the following temples of the great gods: the temples of Ea-sharru and Damkina, of Adad and Shala, of Gula, Sin, Nabu, Belet-nathi, Sibittu and of Ishtar-kidmuri. In them I established the sacred pedestals of these, my divine lords. I decorated them splendidly; I roofed them with cedar beams, made large cedar doors, sheathed them with bands of bronze, placed them in their doorways. I placed figural representations made of shining bronze in their doorways. I made the images of their great godheads sumptuous with red gold and shining stone. I presented them with golden jewelry and many other precious objects which I had won as booty.

I lined the inner shrine of my lord Ninurta with gold and lapis lazuli, I placed right and left of it objects made of bronze, I placed at his pedestal fierce usumgallu-dragons of gold. I performed his festival in the months Shabatu and Ululu. I arranged for them the materials needed for scatter and incense offerings so that his festival in Shabatu should be one of great display. I fashioned a statue of myself as king in the likeness of my own features out of red gold and polished stones and placed it before my lord Ninurta.

I organized the abandoned towns which during the rule of my fathers had become hills of rubble, and had many people settle therein; I rebuilt the old palaces across my entire country in due splendour; I stored in them barley and straw.

Ninurta and Palil, who love me as their high priest, handed over to me all the wild animals and ordered me to hunt them. I killed 450 big lions; I killed 390 wild bulls from my open chariots in direct assault as befits a ruler; I cut off the heads of 200 ostriches as if they were caged birds; I caught 30 elephants in pitfalls. I caught 50 wild bulls, 140 ostriches, and 20 big lions with my own [hands] and stave.


I received five live elephants as tribute from the governor of Suhu, the Middle Euphrates Region, and the governor of Lubda (South East Assyria toward Babylonia); they used to travel with me on my campaigns.

I organized herds of wild bulls, lions, ostriches, and male and female monkeys and had them breed like flocks of domestic animals.

I added land to the land of Assyria, many people to its people.

When Ashurnasirpal, king of Assyria, inaugurated the palace in Calah, a palace of joy, and erected with great ingenuity, he invited into it Ashur, the great lord and the gods of his entire country. He prepared a banquet of 1,000 fattened head of cattle, 1,000 calves, 10,000 stable sheep, 15, 000 lambs – for my lady Ishtar alone 200 head of cattle and 1,000 sihhu-sheep – 1,000 spring lambs, 500 stags, 500 gazelles, 1,000 ducks, 500 geese, 5000 kurku-geese, 1,000 mesuku-birds, 1,000 qaribu-birds, 10,000 doves, 10,000 sukanunu-doves, 10,000 other, assorted, small birds, 10,000 assorted fish, 10,000 jerboa, 10,000 assorted eggs, 10,000 loaves of bread, 10,000 jars of beer, 10,000 skins with wine, 10,000 pointed bottom vessels with su’u-seeds in sesame oil, 10,000 small pots with sarhu-condiment, 1,000 wooden crates with vegetables, 300containers with oil, 300 containers with salted seeds, 300 containers with mixed raqqute-plants, 100 with kudimmu-spice, 100 containers with […] 100 containers with parched barley, 100 containers with green abahsinnu-stalks, 100 containers with fine mixed beer, 100 pomegranates, 100 bunches of grapes, 100 mixed zamru-fruits, 100 pistachio cones, 100 with the fruits of the susi-tree, 100 with garlic, 100 with onions, 100 with kuniphu seeds, 100 with the […] of turnips, 100 with hinhinnu-spice, 100 with budu-spice, 100 with honey, 100 with rendered butter, 100 with roasted […] barley, 100 with roasted su’u-seeds, 100 with karkartu-plants, 100 with fruits of the ti’atu-tree, 100 with kasu-plants, 100 with milk, 100 with cheese, 100 jars with `mixture’, 100 with pickled arsuppu-grain, ten homer of shelled luddu-nuts, ten homer of shelled pistachio nuts, ten homer of fruits of the susu-tree, ten homer of fruits of the kabba-ququ-tree, ten homer of dates, ten homer of the fruits of the titip tree, ten homer of cumin, ten honer of sahhunu, ten homer of urianu, ten homer of andahsu-bulbs, then homer of sisanibbe-plants, (iv) ten homer of the fruits of the simburu-tree, ten homer of thyme, ten homer of perfumed oil, ten homer of sweet smelling matters, ten homer of […] ten homer of the fruits of the nasubu-tree, homer of […], ten homer of the fruits of the nasubu-tree, ten homer of zimzimmu-onions, ten homer of olives.

When I inaugurated the palace at Calah I treated for ten days with food and drink 47,074 persons, men and women, who were bid to come from across my entire country, also 5,000 important persons, delegates from the country Suhu, from Hindana, Hattina, Hatti, Tyre, Sidon, Gurguma, Malida, Hubushka, Gilzana, Kuma and Mushashir, also 16,000 inhabitants of Calah from all ways of life, 1,500 officials of all my palaces, altogether 69,574 invited guests from all the mentioned countries including the people of Calah; I furthermore provided them with the means to clean and anoint themselves. I did them due honors and sent them back, healthy and happy, to their countries.


4 thoughts on “Biblical Archaeology: The Banquet Stela of Ashurnasirpal II”

  1. Excellent. OT History did not happen in a fish bowl. Cruel and mighty nations conquered surrounding nations which is why Israel & Judah struggled against their enemies throughout their days. When we look at the OT as a retelling of past history by the “God-inspired” authors against the historical facts, we can see why the only explanation for the defeats and humiliation suffered were attributed to God’s anger, allowing hostile nations to swoop down and conquer the disobedient people of Israel and Judah time and time again. When even greater, more cruel nations conquered the previous cruel nation it was credited to God as retribution for the previous nation’s haughtiness and excessive cruelty, i.e. Assyrian defeated by Chaldean/Babylonian empire and then Persia conquering them. History records man’s cruelty to man, time again. We cannot accept the fact we have done this to ourselves and believe God reigns supreme with ‘His will’ being worked out through our failings and self-serving motives throughout history. Thanks.

    • Indeed! The ancient east and the Mediterranean have provided thousands upon thousands of archaeological discoveries that verify certain biblical events. While they don’t prove 100% of the Bible, they do demonstrate your point…. The biblical events did not happen in a fish bowl.


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