The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III
Discovery of the Black Obelisk
Archaeology in the Area of
Paul Emile Botta
Austen Henry Layard
World Empires and Assyria
Assyrian & Bible Timeline
Shalmaneser III and Assyria
King Jehu and Israel
Text on the Black Obelisk
Kings of Israel and Judah
Map of Ancient Assyria
of Modern Iraq
What is The Black Obelisk
Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III
is a four-sided monument or pillar made of black limestone. It
stands about 6 1/2 feet tall. It was discovered in 1846 by A.H.
Layard in the Central Palace of Shalmaneser III at the ruins of
Nimrud, known in the Bible as Calah, and known in ancient
Assyrian inscriptions as Kalhu. It is now on display in the British Museum.
The Obelisk contains 5
rows of bas-relief (carved) panels on each of the 4 sides, 20 panels
in all. Directly above each panel are cuneiform inscriptions
describing tribute offered by submissive kings during Shalmaneser's
war campaigns with Syria and the West.
The "Jehu Relief" is the
most significant panel because it reveals a bearded Semite in royal
attire bowing with his face to the ground before king Shalmaneser
III, with Hebrew servants standing behind him bearing gifts. The
cuneiform text around it reveals the tribute bearer and his gifts,
"The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I
received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with
pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a
king [and] spears."
The Assyrians referred to a northern
Israel king as a "son of Omri", whether they were a direct son of
Omri or not. Other Assyrian inscriptions reveal Israel's southern
kings from Judah, as recorded on Sennacherib's Clay Prism (also
known as the Taylor Prism) which reads "Hezekiah the Judahite".
The Black Obelisk has
been precisely dated to 841 BC, due to the accurate Assyrian dating
methods. One modern scholar refers to the accuracy of Assyrian records:
"Assyrian records were carefully
kept. The Assyrians coordinated their records with the solar year.
They adopted a system of assigning to each year the name of an
official, who was known as the "limmu." In addition, notation was
made of outstanding political events in each year, and in some cases
reference was made to an eclipse of the sun which astronomers
calculate occured on June 15, 763 B.C. Assyriologists have been able
to compile a list of these named years, which they designate
"eponyms," and which cover 244 years (892-648 B.C.). These records
are highly dependable and have been used by Old Testament scholars
to establish dates in Hebrew History, particularly during the period
of the monarchy."
Walter G. Williams, "Archaeology in Biblical Research" (Nashville,
Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1965) p. 121.
Shalmaneser III ruled ancient Assyria
from 858-824 BC., and was the son of Assurnasirpal II.
British Museum Excerpt
The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III
Neo-Assyrian, 858-824 BC
From Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq
The military achievements of an Assyrian king
The archaeologist Henry Layard discovered this black limestone
obelisk in 1846 during his excavations of the site of Kalhu, the
ancient Assyrian capital. It was erected as a public monument in 825
BC at a time of civil war. The relief sculptures glorify the
achievements of King Shalmaneser III (reigned 858-824 BC) and his
chief minister. It lists their military campaigns of thirty-one
years and the tribute they exacted from their neighbours: including
camels, monkeys, an elephant and a rhinoceros. Assyrian kings often
collected exotic animals and plants as an expression of their power.
There are five scenes of tribute, each of which occupies four panels
round the face of the obelisk and is identified by a line of
cuneiform script above the panel. From top to bottom they are:
Sua of Gilzanu (in north-west Iran)
Jehu of Bit Omri (ancient northern Israel)
An unnamed ruler of Musri (probably Egypt)
Marduk-apil-usur of Suhi (middle Euphrates, Syria and Iraq)
Qalparunda of Patin (Antakya region of Turkey)
The second register from the top includes the earliest surviving
picture of an Israelite: the Biblical Jehu, king of Israel, brought
or sent his tribute in around 841 BC. Ahab, son of Omri, king of
Israel, had lost his life in battle a few years previously, fighting
against the king of Damascus at Ramoth-Gilead (I Kings xxii. 29-36).
His second son (Joram) was succeeded by Jehu, a usurper, who broke
the alliances with Phoenicia and Judah, and submitted to Assyria.
The caption above the scene, written in Assyrian cuneiform, can be
The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold,
a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers,
golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.
Height: 197.85 cm
Width: 45.08 cm
Excavated by A.H. Layard
Room 6, Assyrian sculpture
"He will raise a signal for a nation from afar
off, and whistle for it from the ends of the earth; and lo, swiftly,
speedily it comes."