E Mode

Reconstruction, published by Layard, of Ashurnasirpal's throne room at Nimrud.

The piece "Triumphant March," using the "E mode," isartu is one of the early seven tuning examples composed for Dr. Kilmer's lecture demo. Since the word isartu means something like "normal," or "regular" it has been suggested that this particular mode might have been a more commonly used one in ancient times. But since the few fragments of music text we have (except for the tuning procedures themselves) all refer to the mode nid qabli (our major mode) the predominance of isartu cannot be verified. The other piece on the Seven Modes CD which is in isartu tuning is "Twilight on the Water."

"Triumphant March" was envisioned as a huge ceremony at the King's palace in honor of his triumph in a recent war. Beginning with a fanfare of loud oboes, the marching theme is vigorously presented by harps and lyres together, several drums, and large tambourines. After a sumptuous meal with wine and delicacies, and the appropriate pronouncements and self-congratulations, an entertainment is planned in which there is a ceremonial reenactment of the final battle. The royal musicians (or perhaps even captive prisoner musicians) play for a group of dancers dressed as Assyrians and Elamites, who march around in separate lines until the battle scene arrives. (cont.)

Prisoners captured at Astartu, a town south of Damascus.

The Battle Scene:
At this point in the performance the composer has planned a choreographed version of the famous winning battle. The dancers go to opposite ends of the staging area and face each other in lines. Each side takes turns making measured symbolic advances toward the other, freezing in place while the opposite side makes its rebuttal. Two different sets of drums mark their efforts with noisy punctuation as the other instruments remain silent. The Assyrians of course, manage to brilliantly vanquish the hapless foe and march their humbled prisoners off grandly as the piece ends.

Elamite prisoners marching to Ninevah

Click for larger view

Left:The large photograph of marching harp players shown on the cover on Dr. Kilmer's "Sounds from Silence" album box, is also from a wall relief at Nineveh showing these Elamite prisoners who are also being forced to play music as they are marched into captivity. The raised foot indicates that the player is also dancing.

prisoners playing lyres

Left: Prisoners, probably from Phoenicia or Palestine, playing lyres. From Sennacherib's palace, Nineveh, about 700 B.C

These images of prisoners being made to perform music as they march into captivity seem to have held the interest of artists (or the kings who commissioned them) in ancient times, much as the beautifully drawn but gory scenes of battles and nobly hunted animals.

King Ashubanipal hunting

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How One Assyrian King Ruled in the Seventh Century B.C.

The reign of Ashurbanipal (Assurbanipal) in Assyra, (668-627 B.C.), is one of a long line of colorful regimes in ancient near eastern history, characterised by intrigue, sieges, devastating battles and frequent political upheval.

Although he was king in Assyria by inheritance from his father Esarhaddon, (son of Sennacherib) and had protected his older brother's kingdom in north Babylon as well, Ashurbanipal eventually was forced to fight and take over north Babylon when a rebellion there was led against him by his own brother, Shamash-shum-ukin. Ashurbanipal, after quelling the rebellion by holding the city under siege and starving it into submission, entered Babylon in 648. Finding his brother dead in the skirmish, perhaps from suicide, he proceded to kill surviving rebel leaders

"at the colossi where my grandfather Sennecherib had
been destroyed, making them a funerary offering for

Other survivors were deported from Babylonia. Many went to Jerusalem, where as returned exiles they started to build a temple to the Lord God of Israel as reported in the Bible (see Ezra 4:1 and onward).

Two soldiers in the bodyguard of Sennacherib (704 - 681 B.C.).From Nineveh

Most of the population of ruined Babylon fled east to Elam, who gave sanctuary to the fleeing population, many of whom were Chaldean enemies of the Assyrian king.
Ungrateful Elam had been aided in the past by Ashurbanipal, receiving large amounts of food during a drought, but Elam had the bad habit of planning treachery toward Assyria on several occasions by supporting his enemies. Though their plots were usually discovered and quelled, their support this time for Chaldeans from Babylon proved one too many Elamite thorns in the side of Ashurbanipal. The Assyrian King lost his patience, and ...

Arabs entered south Mesopotamia during Ashurbanipal's reign and battles began to include camels.

"resolved to deal with Elam once and for all. In two campaigns, in 647 and 646 B.C., he marched over large areas and devastated them, carrying off their huge flocks, deporting the population, and sacking major cities, among them the ancient capital Susa. Terrified, the king of Elam caught (Chaldean leader and refugee) Nabu-bel-shumati but before he could dispatch him to Ashurbanipal (to appease the enraged king), the captive and his groom stabbed each other in a suicide pact. As a mark of good faith, the king of Elam had Nabu-bel-shumati's body preserved in salt and transmitted with the head of the groom to Ashurbanipal."

*HWF Saggs, "The Babylonians," 2000, pp 161 and 162.

About these thumnail images from:
The objective of this Ancient Assyrian Art Gallery is for review purpose only.
All images have been scanned from the book Assyrian Sculpture, by Julian Reade
1. Berber Wedding Song
2. The Music Class
3. Twilight on the Water
4. Hurrian Moonrise
5. Ninkasi’s Dance
6. Lament for Linus
7. Solitary Theme
8. Long Ago Lullaby
9. Fortune-Telling Song
10. Hurrian Moonset
11. Ea, the Creator
12. The Queen of Sheba
13. Hal Libba Marya


©Bella Roma Music 2002