Conference Proceedings

Looking for Realism: Neo-Assyrian Horses Through the Prism of Reality



Neo-Assyrian reliefs have been studied as a coherent whole in number of publications, including the notable works by Pauline Albenda and Elena Cassin. Choosing the representation of equids, largely represented in the reliefs, and more precisely the depiction of their expressions, allows us to raise new questions. What was the essence of the relationship between humans and horses in the empire? Did neo-Assyrians really observe their stallions? Are the depictions of horses really accurate?


In order to carry out this project, a comparative analysis method has been designed, using tools developed by veterinarians to help understand the animal’s expression (EquiFACS). It brings into perspective photographs of actual horses taken during etiopathy sessions and the representations within the reliefs. The main idea is to compare images of horses in stressful or painful context to neo-Assyrian stallions depicted in violent scenes, where they might express the same feelings. This research enhances our perception of the observation quality of the Neo-Assyrian artists themselves.


For the present paper, only two reliefs from Ashurbanipal’s reign will be studied (BM 124858 and BM 124876). Now held in the British Museum, they bear specific representations of horses being harnessed, or in lion hunting scenes. Bulging eyes, ears pointed to the back, mouth wide open are signs expressing difficult emotions such as fear, distress or pain – emotions which can also be observed on real life horses. These characteristic signs reflect the subtlety and the ability of the Neo-Assyrian artists in their depictions of these animals – emblematic of the empire.


How to Cite: Spruyt, M. (2022) “Looking for Realism: Neo-Assyrian Horses Through the Prism of Reality”, Papers from the Institute of Archaeology. 33(1). doi: