Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

03 June 2013

A cruel conquerer's grand Assyrian feast, and a contest

One of the most magnificent feasts in history celebrated the completion of the Assyrian palace in Kalhu (also called Nimrud, a city that once lay north of Baghdad) in 879 B.C.E. (before the Christian era).

King Ashurnasirpal II (image free to use under GNU license)
King Ashurnasirpal II wasted no time upon becoming king of Assyria (part of modern-day  Iraq) in roughly 883 B.C.E. Thirsting for war and riches, he immediately invaded north, east, and west, conquering the people there. The Syrians soon rebelled against his savage rule. His response: Burn the small children to death, and mutilate the grown men. Some had their hands and feet cut off; others lost their ears, noses, and lips.

Content that no one would revolt again, Ashurnasirpal II took his plunder home to Assyria and celebrated by forcing thousands of slaves to build him a luxurious new capital city at Kalhu. When the palace—built from imported luxury woods, limestone, and alabaster—was completed in 879 B.C.E., he held a feast for nearly 70,000 people from several countries that lasted 10 days.

According to Ashurnasirpal's own words,  the supplies he ordered for the banquet included:
  • 1,000 fattened head of cattle
  • 1,000 calves
  • 10,000 stable sheep
  • 15,000 lambs
  • 200 head of cattle (for offerings to the goddess Ishtar) 
  • 1,000 sihhu-sheep (for offerings to Ishtar)
  • 1,000 spring lambs
  • 500 gazelles
  • 1,000 ducks
  • 500 geese
  • 500 kurku-geese (possibly cranes)
  • 1,000 mesuku-birds (a bird of prey)
  • 1,000 qaribu-birds (possibly crows)
  • 10,000 doves
  • 10,000 sukanunu-doves (possibly turtle doves)
  • 10,000 other assorted small birds
  • 10,000 assorted fish
  • 10,000 jerboa
  • 10,000 eggs
  • 10,000 jars of beer
  • 100 containers of fine mixed beer
  • 10,000 imported skins of wine
  • 1,000 wood crates of vegetables
  • 300 containers of oil
  • 100 pistachio cones
Unfortunately, Ashurnasirpal II failed to succumb to his high-fat, high-cholesterol, low-nutrient diet, either at his feast or later. He lived to crush his neighbors and create wall reliefs depicting these conquests for another 20 years.

Ashurnasirpal II is remembered today for two reasons: his great feast and his great brutality.


This blog post is part of the Summer Banquet Blog Hop, in which 31 authors of historical fiction blog about historical food in the first week of June. The following authors are taking part; click on a name  to see that person's post.

Many of the Summer Blog Hoppers are also offering prizes, including me. To enter to win one of two Kindle or Nook versions of my historical novel Like Mayflies in a Stream, set in ancient Mesopotamia, comment below or like my Facebook author page at Winners of prizes at all blogs will be announced on 10 June 2013.

Hop Participants
  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Anna Belfrage
  4. Debra Brown
  5. Lauren Gilbert
  6. Gillian Bagwell
  7. Julie K. Rose
  8. Donna Russo Morin
  9. Regina Jeffers
  10. Shauna Roberts
  11. Tinney S. Heath
  12. Grace Elliot
  13. Diane Scott Lewis
  14. Ginger Myrick
  15. Helen Hollick
  16. Heather Domin
  17. Margaret Skea
  18. Yves Fey
  19. JL Oakley
  20. Shannon Winslow
  21. Evangeline Holland
  22. Cora Lee
  23. Laura Purcell
  24. P. O. Dixon
  25. E.M. Powell
  26. Sharon Lathan
  27. Sally Smith O'Rourke
  28. Allison Bruning
  29. Violet Bedford
  30. Sue Millard
  31. Kim Rendfeld


ninthmuse (roz m) said...

I shudder to visualize a feast this vast, that much butchering for one event, and what the poor kitchen staff must have had to endure!

Charles Gramlich said...

A man of great appetites it would appear. The Donald Trump of his day.

Helen Hollick said...

Fascinating! Thanks for sharing (thoroughly enjoying the blog hop - do visit the other participating blogs, some interesting articles!)

Shauna Roberts said...

ROZ, I can't even imagine the logistics of putting on such an event. Some of the other posts in the blog hop also describe similarly huge and meat-laden feasts. I'm glad I wasn't present as either a guest or a kitchen worker.

CHARLES, an apt comparison.

Shauna Roberts said...

HELEN, thanks for dropping by. I've visited some of the others on the blog hop, but will spread them out over a few days. Reading about so many feasts at once got a little overwhelming!

Tinney Heath said...

After all that meat, one wishes that the pistachio cones had been lovely waffle cones filled with pistachio gelato! Fascinating post, Shauna (alarmingly huge feast, though!).

Sophia Rose said...

70K people all at one banquet. I'm amazed. Thanks for sharing about this incredible feast and for the giveaway opportunity. I love that you write about a place outside of Europe.

sophiarose1816 at gmail dot com

Regina Jeffers said...

We think alike, Shauna, in our approach to "indulgence." Thanks for sharing this information. I had no clue before I read your piece.

Anonymous said...

"Unfortunately, Ashunarsipal II failed to succumb..." I loved that! In Sweden we actually have a king who did die while feasting, this after having finished off his dinner with three dozen or so of Lenten buns (a baked goods consisting of a sweet wheat bun filled with marzipan and whipped cream)

Anonymous said...

The sheer quantity of food never fails to amaze me when I read about a feast like this! And some of it is so weird to our modern palates, I have a hard time imagining anyone wanting to eat it ;-)

cyn209 said...

i like a big feast, but oh boy, that's a bit much!!!!

Denise said...

Wow! What a party! I can't see anyone topping this for a feast. Thanks for the giveaway!

Sharon Lathan said...

Man alive! That was fascinating, and terrifying! I can't imagine trying to amass that much stuff for a feast. I think Noah might have had it easier. LOL!

Great post!

Shauna Roberts said...

TINNEY, I found the amount of meat disgusting too. By this time in history, they had good irrigation and good trade routes, so there wasn't much excuse for having so few plants on the menu.

Shauna Roberts said...

SOPHIA ROSE, one wonders how 70,000 people even fit into the palace. Did they have to stand? Or did everyone eat in the street?

Thanks for stopping by!

Shauna Roberts said...

REGINA, if you visit some of the other blogs taking part in this blog hop, you'll see a few other feasts almost as disgusting as this one, hard as that is to believe.

Shauna Roberts said...

ANNA BELFRAGE, your story reminds me of an Englishman who died at a feast because his bladder exploded. Lots of wine was served, and apparently it was rude to go to the privy while the king was still sitting at the banquet.

Shauna Roberts said...

CORALEE, Mesopotamian food would have rather bland for our tastes. In most of the (few) existing recipes, the meats were stewed with a few seasonings. Presumably some were roasted.

Shauna Roberts said...

CYN2009, I feel really sorry for the workers who had to clean up afterward.

Shauna Roberts said...

DENISE, thanks for stopping by. I can't imagine another such a feast either. It boggles the mind.

Shauna Roberts said...

SHARON LATHON, LOL. And it wasn't just the food that had to be collected. Presumably they needed a lot of new cooking pots and tables and chairs and servants to handle such a dinner. And all this in a country with no wood or mineral resources (except in the lands they conquered).

Pippa Elliott said...

Obviously not big into vegetarianism then!
Great post,
Grace x

Shauna Roberts said...

Grace, glad you enjoyed the post!

Most plants were hard to grow in Mesopotamia because of the high heat and low rainfall. They did eat lots and lots of dates, though. And they had irrigated fields for growing barley and wheat for beer and bread.

Shauna Roberts said...

The winners of a Kindle or Nook ebook of Like Mayflies in a Stream are Sophia Rose and Cyn209.

I've already sent emails to both of you. Please let me know if you haven't received yours.