Ancient Assyria was one of the great civilizations of the ancient world. The empire reached its height between the 9th and 7th centuries B.C., occupying a territory that extended from the eastern Mediterranean to western Iran. Art and architecture flourished. The Assyrian kings built lavish palaces lined with exquisitely cared stone wall panels depicting mythological creatures, military battles, and the royal hunt. The fall of Assyria was an iconic event that was recorded in passages of the Bible and in the literature of ancient Greece and Rome. This ensured that Assyria’s great cities and legendary kings were never forgotten. Such accounts attracted travellers to the Mosul region from the Middle Ages onwards, who returned with tales of buried cities and ancient ruins. Systematic exploration of these ancient sites became possible through the expansion of the British and French empires into the Middle East during the 19th century, when the region was part of the Ottoman Empire. Gareth Brereton, archaeologist and curator at the British Museum, traces the history and impact of these early discoveries, which caused a media sensation and captured the public imagination.
Dr Gareth Brereton is curator for ancient Mesopotamia in the department of the Middle East at the British Museum. He was awarded his PhD in archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. Brereton is a specialist in the funerary archaeology and material culture of early Mesopotamia and was lead curator for the major British Museum exhibition I am Ashurbanipal: King of the World, King of Assyria. He has worked as an archaeologist in Iraq, Turkey and Oman, and currently serves as a Council Member and Trustee for the British Institute for the Study of Iraq.