The Ideological Function of Liballi-Sharrat in the ‘Banquet Scene’ of Ashurbanipal

Sophie Walker, University of Manchester

Zainab Bahrani recently entered the discussion of women’s roles in the Ancient Near East, arguing that a more interdisciplinary, contextualizing approach should be taken. However, many scholars, including Bahrani herself, have made generalizations about the function of women’s representations in palace reliefs: namely, that the inclusion of women is merely a narrative marker used to indicate that the scene is occurring outside of battle. In this paper, I apply a more complex and in-depth contextualisation of representations of women in Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs. Specifically, this paper focuses on the representation of Queen Liballi-Sharrat in Ashurbanipal’s ‘Banquet Scene’ from 645BCE (ME124920). By situating this representation not only in an architectural context, but also in a social-historical context, which is available to us through Ashurbanipal’s library, it is possible to see the Queen’s image as performing an important ideological function. Liballi-Sharrat’s representation – rather than indicating a move away from the military sphere – actually further legitimises the militaristic and imperialistic ideology of the kingship by symbolising the consolidation of foreign conquests with the virility and stability of the empire. I argue that the audience would have certainly included elite women from the Elamite conquest depicted in the reliefs. As such, Liballi-Sharrat’s Elamite costume appears to reflect Assyrian appropriation of Elamite culture, which serves to both symbolize Elam’s defeat and reify their assimilation into the empire. Far from being a benign narrative marker, this paper argues that the image of Liballi-Sharrat interpellates the foreign elite audience, and so facilitates social cohesion throughout the empire.