A quick look at: smiting scenes in ancient Egyptian art. Why are they significant?

Both of the shown examples above are of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu. The first shows Ramesses smiting the enemies of Egypt before Amon-Re, who hands him a curved sword; the second image shows him smiting Canaanite enemies. 

The smiting scene is a traditional symbol of kingship in ancient Egypt, which is datable back to the Predynastic period, and is symbolic of a victorious king. These scenes include the king raising a weapon over the head of an enemy (or a large groups of them as shown in the first photo), ready to smite them. Their hair is often grabbed from above to hold them in place for their execution. These representations grew to also include lists of the conquered enemies, and reached their peak in the New Kingdom, where the inclusion of an anthropomorphic deity became standard (photo one). 

These scenes reinforced the king’s control over chaos, symbolically representing the bringing of justice (maat) to the defeated, chaotic enemy.

A few other examples:

  • One of the earliest examples, the ivory label of King Den, which was found in his tomb in Abydos, and dates to 3000 BCE. Den is shown to be striking down an Asiatic tribesman, with an inscription reading: ”The first occasion of smiting the East”. This artifact is currently at the British Museum.
  • Thutmose III at Karnak, presenting the Battle of Megiddo of the 15th century BCE. Here Thutmose III is shown to be smiting Canaanite enemies.

The first photo is courtesy of Kenzyb, and the second, arancidamoeba. S. Bar, D. Kahn & J.J. Shirley’s publication Egypt, Canaan and Israel: History, Imperialism, Ideology and Literature: Proceedings of a Conference at the University of Haifa (2011) was of use when writing up this post.

The Poulnabrone Dolmen, County Clare, Ireland. Classified as a portal tomb, this structure dates to the Neolithic period, radiocarbon dates place its use between 3,800 - 3,600 BCE.
During excavations the skeletal remains of up to 22 prehistoric individual were found, which included both adults and children, as well as one newborn. Extensive specialist analysis has been done on these remains, offering us a rare insight into the lives of these Neolithic people. 

[…] A variety of artefacts, presumably representing grave goods, were also recovered from the burial chamber. These included a polished stone axe, two stone beads, a decorated bone pendant, a fragment of a mushroom-headed bone pin, two quartz crystals, several sherds of coarse pottery, three chert arrowheads and three chert/flint scrapers.
The burial evidence from Poulnabrone has given us rare glimpse into the lives of our early ancestors. It appears that they endured a relatively tough existence, that involved hard physical labour, childhood illnesses, occasional violent attacks and early deaths. Although only a small section of the community were deemed worthy of burial in the tomb, there is little evidence for gender or age discrimination, with both male and female remains present as well as young and old. Prior to interment their bones appear to have been stored elsewhere and this may indicate that they were venerated as ancestor relics. Why certain individuals were chosen to be buried in the seemingly exalted location of a megalithic tomb, however, remains a mystery. 
-Irish Archaeology

Photo courtesy of & taken by Nicolas Raymond.

The Poulnabrone Dolmen, County Clare, Ireland. Classified as a portal tomb, this structure dates to the Neolithic period, radiocarbon dates place its use between 3,800 - 3,600 BCE.

During excavations the skeletal remains of up to 22 prehistoric individual were found, which included both adults and children, as well as one newborn. Extensive specialist analysis has been done on these remains, offering us a rare insight into the lives of these Neolithic people. 

[…] A variety of artefacts, presumably representing grave goods, were also recovered from the burial chamber. These included a polished stone axe, two stone beads, a decorated bone pendant, a fragment of a mushroom-headed bone pin, two quartz crystals, several sherds of coarse pottery, three chert arrowheads and three chert/flint scrapers.

The burial evidence from Poulnabrone has given us rare glimpse into the lives of our early ancestors. It appears that they endured a relatively tough existence, that involved hard physical labour, childhood illnesses, occasional violent attacks and early deaths. Although only a small section of the community were deemed worthy of burial in the tomb, there is little evidence for gender or age discrimination, with both male and female remains present as well as young and old. Prior to interment their bones appear to have been stored elsewhere and this may indicate that they were venerated as ancestor relics. Why certain individuals were chosen to be buried in the seemingly exalted location of a megalithic tomb, however, remains a mystery. 

-Irish Archaeology

Photo courtesy of & taken by Nicolas Raymond.

Details of the Statue of Idrimi showing the biography written in cuneiform which covers it.

This sculpture dates to the 16th century BCE, and was excavated by Leonard Woolley in the ruins of a temple at the site of Tell Atchana (ancient Alalakh, modern Turkey). You can view the full sculpture here. The statue is of Idrimi, a king of Alalakh, and is covered with his biography in cuneiform:

The statue is inscribed in faulty Akkadian, using a poor cuneiform script, with an autobiography of Idrimi. It is a unique type of text signed by the scribe who wrote it. Idrimi was one of the sons of the royal house of Aleppo, which was subject to the powerful kingdom of Mitanni. The territory of Aleppo included the smaller city state of Alalakh. Following a failed revolt, Idrimi and some of his family fled to Emar (now Meskene) on the Euphrates, which was ruled by his mother’s family.

From there he went south to live among nomads in Canaan (the earliest known reference to this land). Here he gathered troops and received popular support and help from his family. In time he made overtures to Parattarna, the king of Mitanni, who recognized his control of Alalakh. The inscription states that he had been ruling for thirty years when he had the statue inscribed, though it has been suggested that the text was actually added to the statue about three hundred years after Idrimi. The inscription ends with curses on anyone who would destroy the statue. (BM)

Courtesy of & currently located at the British Museum, London. Photos taken by Klaus Wagensonner. ME 130738A.

A quick look at: Germanicus, a prominent Roman general of the early Empire, and the grandson-in-law of Augustus Caesar.
"Germanicus, too, that he might be the better known, took his helmet off his head and begged his men to follow up the slaughter, as they wanted not prisoners, and the utter destruction of the nation would be the only conclusion of the war. And now, late in the day, he withdrew one of his legions from the field, to intrench a camp, while the rest till nightfall glutted themselves with the enemy’s blood. Our cavalry fought with indecisive success." -Tacitus, Annals (2.26), via The Internet Classics Archive.
Germanicus Julius Caesar (15 BC-AD 19), usually just referred to as Germanicus, was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the nephew and adopted son of Tiberius. He commanded 8 Roman legions on the Rhine frontier with distinction. He appears to have gained affection among the Roman people; Suetonius in Life of Caligula III describes his “…unexampled kindliness, and a remarkable desire and capacity for winning men’s regard and inspiring their affection." He died aged 33 on October 9 of AD 19, it was a suspected poisoning. 
Great honours were granted to Germanicus after his death and he was elevated to a god-like status:

[…] Five voting centuries were to be named after him; a curule chair was to be kept in the temple of the new god, the temples were to be closed on the day that Germanicus’ ashes were interred and sacrifices were to be made on that day each year at his tomb.
[…] In public, all due honours were granted to Germanicus. The only oddity was that Tiberius and his mother did not attend the internment. Some bad feeling may have been read into this by Germanicus’ supporters, but this would seem to be an over-reaction.
-Richard Alston in Aspects of Roman History AD 14–117, page 28.

Sculpture courtesy of & currently located at the Louvre, France. Photo taken by Jastrow. The sculpture dates to circa 40 AD, Accession number: Ma 1238.

A quick look at: Germanicus, a prominent Roman general of the early Empire, and the grandson-in-law of Augustus Caesar.

"Germanicus, too, that he might be the better known, took his helmet off his head and begged his men to follow up the slaughter, as they wanted not prisoners, and the utter destruction of the nation would be the only conclusion of the war. And now, late in the day, he withdrew one of his legions from the field, to intrench a camp, while the rest till nightfall glutted themselves with the enemy’s blood. Our cavalry fought with indecisive success." -Tacitus, Annals (2.26), via The Internet Classics Archive.

Germanicus Julius Caesar (15 BC-AD 19), usually just referred to as Germanicus, was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the nephew and adopted son of Tiberius. He commanded 8 Roman legions on the Rhine frontier with distinction. He appears to have gained affection among the Roman people; Suetonius in Life of Caligula III describes his “…unexampled kindliness, and a remarkable desire and capacity for winning men’s regard and inspiring their affection." He died aged 33 on October 9 of AD 19, it was a suspected poisoning.

Great honours were granted to Germanicus after his death and he was elevated to a god-like status:

[…] Five voting centuries were to be named after him; a curule chair was to be kept in the temple of the new god, the temples were to be closed on the day that Germanicus’ ashes were interred and sacrifices were to be made on that day each year at his tomb.

[…] In public, all due honours were granted to Germanicus. The only oddity was that Tiberius and his mother did not attend the internment. Some bad feeling may have been read into this by Germanicus’ supporters, but this would seem to be an over-reaction.

-Richard Alston in Aspects of Roman History AD 14–117, page 28.

Sculpture courtesy of & currently located at the Louvre, France. Photo taken by Jastrow. The sculpture dates to circa 40 AD, Accession number: Ma 1238.

Flake with drawing of Osiris seated on his throne within a shrine. Egyptian Ptolemaic Period, 305- 30 B.C.E.

Even if he were not labeled by the hieroglyphs at the right (“Osiris, the great god”), this deity would be easy to identify. Osiris, lord of the underworld, is always shown as a mummy, often wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt adorned with two feathers of Ma’at (cosmic harmony). Here the god holds his characteristic crook and flail and is seated in a shrine or under a canopy.
Though the almond eye, long nose, and full lips suggest a New Kingdom date (Dynasties XVIII–XX, circa 1539–1070 B.C.), many other details indicate that the sketch was made in the Ptolemaic Period. The meticulous detail, manifest in the delineation of the ear, the eye, the plaited beard, the nostril, the thumbnails, and the feather pattern of the throne, is diagnostic for Egyptian drawing and relief of the fourth through first centuries B.C.

Courtesy of & currently located at the Brooklyn Museum, USA. Via their online collections. Accession Number: 37.52E.

Flake with drawing of Osiris seated on his throne within a shrine. Egyptian Ptolemaic Period, 305- 30 B.C.E.

Even if he were not labeled by the hieroglyphs at the right (“Osiris, the great god”), this deity would be easy to identify. Osiris, lord of the underworld, is always shown as a mummy, often wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt adorned with two feathers of Ma’at (cosmic harmony). Here the god holds his characteristic crook and flail and is seated in a shrine or under a canopy.

Though the almond eye, long nose, and full lips suggest a New Kingdom date (Dynasties XVIII–XX, circa 1539–1070 B.C.), many other details indicate that the sketch was made in the Ptolemaic Period. The meticulous detail, manifest in the delineation of the ear, the eye, the plaited beard, the nostril, the thumbnails, and the feather pattern of the throne, is diagnostic for Egyptian drawing and relief of the fourth through first centuries B.C.

Courtesy of & currently located at the Brooklyn Museum, USA. Via their online collections. Accession Number: 37.52E.

Cave 19 at the Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra, India.

Ajanta contains 30 excavated rock-cut caves which belong to two distinct phases of Buddhism: the Hinayana phase (2nd century BC-1st century AD) and the Mahayana phase (5th century AD-6th century AD). These caves are considered to be one the finest examples of early Buddhist architecture, cave-paintings, and sculpture.

The Archaeological Survey of India, Aurangabad Circle, speaks specifically of Cave 19:

The small chityagriha [prayer hall] is considered one of the most perfect specimens of Buddhist art in India. The exquisitely decorated facade and beautiful interior form a grand combination of richness of detail and graceful proportion. The inscription in Cave 17 records that a feudatory prince under Vakataka King Harisena was a munificent donor of this cave, datable to the 5th century AD. It consists of a small but elegant portico, verandah, a hall, and chapels. The apsidal hall is divided into a nave, an elaborate and elongated drum, and a globular dome which stands against the apse. 

The pillars and the stupa are intricately carved with the figures of Lord Buddha and other decorative motifs. The sidewalls are also adorned with countless figures of Buddha while the ceiling is filled with painted floral motifs in which animals, birds, and human figures are cleverly interwoven. The chapel contains the panel of Nagaraja with his consort known for its serenity and royal dignity.

The first and second photos were taken by Kirk Kittell, the third is by Arian Zwegers.

Scenes from Aeschylus’s Oresteia portrayed on an Apulian red-figure bell-krater. This play was first performed 458 BC.
Following his return from Tory, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra, and her lover. Orestes, the son of Agamemnon seeks revenge and kills Clytemnestra. The Erinyes (also referred to as the “Furies”) pursue Orestes for revenge.
Shown is side A, where Orestes is being purified by Apollo. Visible to the left is Clytemnestra trying to awake the sleeping Erinyes.
The following section is from Peter Burian & Alan Shapiro’s The Complete Aeschylus: Volume I: The Oresteia, Oxford University Press, 2011, pages 17-18:

The ghost of Clytemnestra, who stirs the sleeping Erinyes to continue their terrifying pursuit of her murderer-son, belongs entirely to the old world of retribution. […] The punishment they promise Orestes has the balance of an accountant’s ledger:
You’ll have to pay with your own blood for hers,
you’ll feel me suck the half-caked gore out of your living flesh;
swill from your very veins the vile dregs of the drink I crave.
I’ll shrivel you up and drag you, still alive into the underworld
where you will pay in currencies of torment for the murder of your mother. 
(1300-1309/ 264-68)
For the Erinyes, Apollo’s very sanctuary is polluted by the welcome Apollo has given to the blood-stained Orestes. Orestes, on the other hand, repeatedly emphasizes the purifications he has received there. Apollo confirms that he has purged his suppliant of the stain of guilt, and Athena accepts him as “a proper suppliant who is clean, who bears/ no danger to us”. Despite all that, the Erinyes still track him by the scent of blood […].

Artifact courtesy of & currently located at the Louvre, France. Greek, possibly from Armento, Eumenides Painter, 380–370 BC. Accession number: Cp 710. Photo taken by Bibi Saint-Pol.

Scenes from Aeschylus’s Oresteia portrayed on an Apulian red-figure bell-krater. This play was first performed 458 BC.

Following his return from Tory, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra, and her lover. Orestes, the son of Agamemnon seeks revenge and kills Clytemnestra. The Erinyes (also referred to as the “Furies”) pursue Orestes for revenge.

Shown is side A, where Orestes is being purified by Apollo. Visible to the left is Clytemnestra trying to awake the sleeping Erinyes.

The following section is from Peter Burian & Alan Shapiro’s The Complete Aeschylus: Volume I: The Oresteia, Oxford University Press, 2011, pages 17-18:

The ghost of Clytemnestra, who stirs the sleeping Erinyes to continue their terrifying pursuit of her murderer-son, belongs entirely to the old world of retribution. […] The punishment they promise Orestes has the balance of an accountant’s ledger:

You’ll have to pay with your own blood for hers,

you’ll feel me suck the half-caked gore out of your living flesh;

swill from your very veins the vile dregs of the drink I crave.

I’ll shrivel you up and drag you, still alive into the underworld

where you will pay in currencies of torment for the murder of your mother.

(1300-1309/ 264-68)

For the Erinyes, Apollo’s very sanctuary is polluted by the welcome Apollo has given to the blood-stained Orestes. Orestes, on the other hand, repeatedly emphasizes the purifications he has received there. Apollo confirms that he has purged his suppliant of the stain of guilt, and Athena accepts him as “a proper suppliant who is clean, who bears/ no danger to us”. Despite all that, the Erinyes still track him by the scent of blood […].

Artifact courtesy of & currently located at the Louvre, France. Greek, possibly from Armento, Eumenides Painter, 380–370 BC. Accession number: Cp 710. Photo taken by Bibi Saint-Pol.

Human-headed winged bull and winged lion (lamassu). Neo-Assyrian, ca. 883–859 B.C. Nimrud (ancient Kalhu).

The so-called Standard Inscription that ran across the surface of most of the reliefs described Ashurnasirpal’s palace:
"I built thereon [a palace with] halls of cedar, cypress, juniper, boxwood, teak, terebinth, and tamarisk [?] as my royal dwelling and for the enduring leisure life of my lordship." 
The inscription continues: “Beasts of the mountains and the seas, which I had fashioned out of white limestone and alabaster, I had set up in its gates. I made it [the palace] fittingly imposing.” 
Such limestone beasts are the human-headed, winged bull and lion pictured here. The horned cap attests to their divinity, and the belt signifies their power. The sculptor gave these guardian figures five legs so that they appear to be standing firmly when viewed from the front but striding forward when seen from the side. These lamassu protected and supported important doorways in Assyrian palaces. (met)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections. Accession Number: 32.143.1–.2

Human-headed winged bull and winged lion (lamassu). Neo-Assyrian, ca. 883–859 B.C. Nimrud (ancient Kalhu).

The so-called Standard Inscription that ran across the surface of most of the reliefs described Ashurnasirpal’s palace:

"I built thereon [a palace with] halls of cedar, cypress, juniper, boxwood, teak, terebinth, and tamarisk [?] as my royal dwelling and for the enduring leisure life of my lordship."

The inscription continues: “Beasts of the mountains and the seas, which I had fashioned out of white limestone and alabaster, I had set up in its gates. I made it [the palace] fittingly imposing.”

Such limestone beasts are the human-headed, winged bull and lion pictured here. The horned cap attests to their divinity, and the belt signifies their power. The sculptor gave these guardian figures five legs so that they appear to be standing firmly when viewed from the front but striding forward when seen from the side. These lamassu protected and supported important doorways in Assyrian palaces. (met)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections. Accession Number: 32.143.1–.2