The Iraq Museum

Date: August 22, 2023

The Iraq Museum 

Baghdad, Iraq  



As we discussed in our previous museum blogs, after the 19th century exhibitions of Assyrian sites, most of the works were shipped to out of Iraq to museums around the world. However, not all of the discovered Assyrian treasures left their country of origin, as with the collection at The Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.  

Compared to the other museums we have discussed so far; The Iraq Museum was established more recently. The Baghdad Archaeological Museum was established in 1926 with the help of British author Gertrude Bell. She sought to prevent archaeologist Leonard Woolley from sending all of his discoveries from the ancient Sumerian city of Ur to Great Britain. She believed that the people of Iraq were owed access to their own history. In 1922, she began storing objects in a government building in Baghdad. The objects were then moved to another building, and the museum was established by the government. In the 1920’s it was under the Ministry of Public Works and was transferred to the Ministry of Education in the 1930s. The buildings of the museum were also constructed utilizing resources from foreign governments. The Old Museum building, Administration Building, Library, and Old Storage Building were built by the German government between 1964 and 1966, and the New Museum Building was built by the Italian government in 1983.  

The museum has artifacts from ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian civilizations. One of the most noteworthy collections is the Nimrud gold. This is a set of gold jewelry that was discovered in the royal tombs at Nimrud. The pieces provide insight into the inner workings of Assyrian royal life and funerary practices. The museum also owned a stone statue of Neo-Assyrian King Shalmaneser, son of Ashurbanipal II, from the eighth century BCE. These objects were discovered during a series of excavations at Kalhu (Nimrud) in the 1950’s. The end of WWI and the subsequent fall of the Ottoman Empire made for dramatic political changes in the area which afforded the British new opportunities to conduct excavations again, similar to those conducted in the 19th century by Henry Layard and Hormuzed Rassam. This 20th century excavation was to be led by Max Mallowan, husband of famed mystery author Agatha Christie. Mallowan was aware of the impact of Christie’s celebrity on the reception of the excavation. He even arranged “tea with Agatha” meet and greets with financial supporters of the excavation, such as the Iraq Petroleum Company. This excavation differed from those prior in a number of impactful ways.  

For the first time in the history of excavations at Assyrian sites, Iraqi authorities and professional archeologists were on site at the dig. Their presence served to ensure that the most significant discoveries stayed within the country at the Iraq Museum. Iraqi conservators also started the process of restoring and preserving the site of Nimrud, with the intention of preparing it for future visits from tourists.  

The conservators’ aspirations for the future of these archeological sites unfortunately never came to fruition. The Iraq Museum continued to operate and expand the collection of ancient Mesopotamian objects, until 1991. The Gulf War marked a time period of extreme political unrest in Iraq, and The Iraq Museum was forced to close as a result. The museum was reopened in 2000, during the reign of former president Sudam Hussain. Unfortunately, the reopening of the museum was done as an act of political propaganda, intended to present the appearance of stability and unity within the country. The safety of the museum staff and its contents was not assured by the reopening. During the Iraq War in 2003, museum staff was asked to exit the museum for their safety, as its location had put it in cross fire between American and Iraqi forces. This opened the museum up to looters. The worst of the looting took place between April 7-12th at which point museum staff returned to the institution. The staff fended off further looting attempts on their own until American forces arrived on April 16th to secure the building. Despite the efforts of the staff, the museum faced significant losses, many of which have never been recovered. The Iraq Museum was not the only historical site that suffered at the hands of looting. The result of this is that the current staff at the museum are regularly tasked with the challenge sorting through countless looted objects as they are seized at border crossings. Another challenge face by The Museum of Iraq is the preservation of historical objects, both in the museum and at the sites of their discovery. Historical sites such as Nineveh have been used as dumping grounds for garbage. Videos of terrorists’ groups destroying Assyrian monuments have been filmed and posted as recently as 2015. The destruction of a nation’s history in this manner is a war crime, and to this day the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.  

The Iraq Museum has faced significant challenges in obtaining, securing, and sharing its collection of ancient Mesopotamian art. However, despite the obstacles, the staff remains committed to protecting and continuing to learn from the diverse history of all of the peoples and civilizations within the region. Due to the persecution they faced in the region, many Iraqi Assyrians are not able to return to their home country. The presence of the Iraq Museum and its collection of Assyrian objects shows just how important and significant Assyrian history is to the region, and demonstrates the necessity in creating a space for all of the citizens of Iraq to engage with, learn from, and share their history with pride.  


Written by: Melanie Perkins 

Published by: Brian Banyamin 



Fantastic Jewlery from Nimrud – Accessed 16 Feb. 2023.  

“Iraq Museum.” Wikipedia, 5 Feb. 2023, Accessed 16 Feb. 2023. 

“Learning from the Iraq Museum.” American Journal of Archaeology, 1 Oct. 2010, 

“Remnants of Empire: Views of Kalhu in 1950.”, Accessed 16 Feb. 2023. 

‌ “The Iraq Museum | the Iraq Museum.”, 

The Louvre: The Department of Near Eastern Antiquities  

Date: March 16, 2023

The Louvre: The Department of Near Eastern Antiquities  


Musée du Louvre, Paris, France. 

The first ever museum collection of Assyrian artifacts began in 1847 with the Musée de Louvre in Paris. The first, and some of the most noteworthy, pieces from this collection were uncovered at Sargon II’s Palace at Dur-Sharrukin. The remains of this ancient palace reside in what is now modern-day Khorsabad, Iraq. The palace at Dur-Sharrukin began construction under the reign of Sargon II. The King had intended to establish a new Assyrian capital at Dur-Sharrukin as a way of asserting his authority. Dur-Sharrukin was on its way to becoming the largest city in the ancient world. However, upon his untimely death, Sargon’s son and heir, Sennacherib, moved the capital to Nineveh, leaving the palace at Dur-Sharrukin behind unfinished. After the fall of the Assyrian empire in the 7th century, the artifacts of this great nation were buried by both literal and metaphorical sands of time. The Bible, as well as select ancient Greek texts, remained the only literary recourses Western archeologists and explorers had to learn about ancient Mesopotamia up until the mid-19th century. Though, sources such as the tale of Ahiqar the Wise, Ahiqar Hakima, as well as other writings in Syriac or Aramaic kept the memory of the great nation alive in the Assyrian community. The rise of European interest in ancient objects, coupled with the political interests of Britian and France, initiated a series of excavations in the middle east conducted by these foreign governments. 

Paul-Émile Botta was a French Consular Agent in Mosul, who had been selected to lead the excavation due to his background as a naturalist, historian, and diplomat, as well as his ability to speak multiple languages. He initially began digging at Quyunjik, but was unsuccessful in unearthing any major discoveries. Based on advice from local citizens, Botta turned his attention to Khorsabad in hopes of discovering undisturbed artifacts. Compared to other Assyrian monuments, Dur-Sharrukin was buried fairly close to the surface, and within a week’s worth of digging, Botta’s team was successful in uncovering large sections of the palace. 

The Palace of Sargon II contained a number of groundbreaking discoveries. Botta and his team unearthed large gypsum alabaster slabs which featured bas-relief sculpture telling the story of King Sargon’s royal life and legacy. This included scenes of hunting and military campaigns, as well as depictions of Assyrian gods. These alabaster slabs lined the mud brick walls of the sprawling palace, which contained around two hundred rooms and courtyards. The doorways were flanked by Lamassu statues; the first of their kind to be discovered by archeologists.  

Given the significance of Botta’s discoveries, the French government supplied the team with further resources for excavation and documentation. This included sending artist Eugène Flandin, who illustrated the site and finds. Time was of the essence when it came to illustrating the artifacts, as being suddenly exposed to the desert elements and heat started to damage them. Soon after unearthing the objects, Botta began shipping them back to France by way of boats up the Tigris River. This process was fraught with difficulty. The sheer amount and size of the objects being transported overwhelmed the ships. Throughout the journey, the crews were attacked and seized by pirates, who managed to sink one of the ships. In an effort to make the transportation process easier, some controversial choices were made. This includes breaking artifacts into smaller pieces and then reassembling them onsite at the Louvre. By today’s standards, Botta’s transfer of antiquities can be seen as a lesson in “what not to do.” However, the challenges faced and mistakes made did help to inform later academics in developing standardized and regulated means by which valuable historical objects are acquired, handled, transported, and maintained. Given that this was the first ever major excavation in the Near East, they still had a lot to learn.  

After their treacherous journey, the objects arrived at the Musée de Louvre in February of 1847. On May 1st 1847, King Louis-Phillip inaugurated The Ninevite Museum. This was the first exhibition of Assyrian antiquities in the world, and there was a great deal of public interest in the collection. In the years to come, the collection continued to expand. Contributions were made by Ernest Renan in the 1860’s, and Ernest de Sarzec in the 1870’s. Sarzec discovery of Ancient Sumerian objects prompted the Ninevites Museum’s transition into The Department of Near Eastern Antiquities in 1881. At this time, Léon Heuzey was appointed head curator of the department. He was incredibly devoted to garnering recognition of and knowledge about the antiquities, and also worked as a professor in Near Eastern Antiquities. Today, The Department of Near Eastern Antiquities at the Musée de Louvre remains one of the most remarkable collections of ancient Assyrian artwork in the world. Assyrians have had their own history systematically obfuscated from them from centuries. This has been done both through the separation of the community from their native homeland, and through the destruction of historical artifacts. Though the process of the excavations of these artifacts was imperfect, the exhibitions provide modern Assyrians the ability to stand face to face with their own history during a time when that is becoming increasingly more difficult. Assyrians can also take pride in knowing how significant and awe inspiring their history is to the global community, who continue to flock to the Louvre to experience the wonders of The Department of Near Eastern Antiquities. After all, they are the decedents or the artisans and laborers who’s work now contributes to the prestige of this world rebound museum.  

Written by: Melanie Perkins

Published by: Brian Banyamin



“Early Excavations in Assyria.”, Aug. 2021, 

“The Opening of the Assyrian Museum at the Louvre.” Gouv.Fr, Accessed 16 Jan. 2023. 

“The Palace of Sargon II.” Le Louvre, Accessed 16 Jan. 2023. 

Albrecht, Lea. “Louvre Shows Mideast Relics with Dubious Past.” Deutsche Welle, 23 Nov. 2016, 

Wikipedia contributors. “Dur-Sharrukin.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Dec. 2022,