The British Museum houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Egyptian antiquities (with over 100,000 pieces) outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. A collection of immense importance for its range and quality, it includes objects of all periods from virtually every site of importance in Egypt and the Sudan. Together, they illustrate every aspect of the cultures of the Nile Valley (including Nubia), from the Predynastic Neolithic period (10,000 BC) through to the Coptic (Christian) times (12th century AD), a time-span over 11,000 years.
With a collection numbering some 330,000 works, the British Museum possesses the world’s largest and most important collection of Mesopotamian antiquities outside Iraq. A collection of immense importance, the holdings of Assyrian sculpture, Babylonian and Sumerian antiquities are among the most comprehensive in the world with entire suites of rooms panelled in alabaster Assyrian palace reliefs from Nimrud, Nineveh and Khorsabad.
The Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum houses an extensive collection of objects which illustrate the cultures of the Nile Valley, from the Neolithic period (about 10,000 BC) until the present day. The Department also houses an important archive relating to Egyptology and Nubian Studies, and one of the leading research libraries in this subject area.
Alongside the permanent display, the collection, archive and library is made accessible through touring exhibitions, loans, by appointment and through Collection Online. The Department’s research staff develop exhibitions on aspects of the cultures of Egypt and Sudan, while also leading research on particular themes related to the collection, resulting in publications for both scholarly and other audiences. Fieldwork in Egypt and Sudan, often in collaboration with UK and international institutions, forms part of this research. The Department also provides training programmes and research scholarships for scholars, curators and archaeologists from Egypt and Sudan.
Further objects from Egypt and Sudan are housed in the Departments of Greece and Rome, Middle East, Africa Oceania & the Americas, Coins & Medals, Britain, Europe & Prehistory, and Asia.
Egyptian sculpture (Room 4)
2600 BC – 2nd century AD
Large-scale sculpture was an important feature of the great temples and tombs of ancient Egypt and was believed to be imbued with powerful spiritual qualities.
Sculptures on display in Room 4 include stylised depictions of kings, deities and symbolic objects ranging from the time of the Old Kingdom to the middle of the Roman Period. There are also architectural pieces from temples and tombs.
An imposing stone bust of the great pharaoh Ramesses II presides over the room, while the world-famous Rosetta Stone, with its inscribed scripts, demonstrates how Egypt’s ancient form of pictographic writing was deciphered for the first time.
The Department of the Middle East covers the ancient and contemporary civilisations and cultures of the Middle East from the Neolithic period until the present.
There is a wide range of archaeological material and ancient art from Mesopotamia (Iraq); Iran; the Levant (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel); Anatolia (Turkey); Arabia; Central Asia and the Caucasus. Highlights of the collection include Assyrian reliefs, treasure from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, the Oxus Treasure, Phoenician ivories and the library of cuneiform tablets from Nineveh.
The Islamic collection includes archaeological assemblages from Iraq, Iran and Egypt as well as collections of inlaid metalwork from medieval Iran, Syria and Egypt and Iznik ceramics from Turkey. In addition to Persian, Turkish and Mughal Indian works on paper, the department holds a major collection of contemporary art from the Middle East.
The department has an active fieldwork policy, and is currently involved in excavations across the Middle East. All material in the collection is made available to researchers in the Arched Room, one of the few rooms in the British Museum to have retained its Victorian splendour.
The department has a group of supporters known as the Friends of the Middle East, and a patrons group which supports the acquisition of Modern and Contemporary Middle eastern art (CaMMEA).
Assyrian sculpture and Balawat Gates (Room 6)
11th – 8th centuries BC
Large stone sculptures and reliefs were a striking feature of the palaces and temples of ancient Assyria (modern northern Iraq). An entrance to the royal palace of King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) at Nimrud was flanked by two colossal winged human-headed lions. A gigantic standing lion stood at the entrance to the nearby Temple of Ishtar, the goddess of war.
These sculptures are displayed in Rooms 6a and 6b alongside fragments and replicas of the huge bronze gates of Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC) from Balawat.
A Black Obelisk also on display shows the same king receiving tribute from Israel and is displayed with obelisks and stelae (vertical inscribed stone slabs) from four generations of Assyrian kings.
Assyria: Nimrud (Rooms 7–8)
883 – 859 BC
The Neo-Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) built his magnificent Northwest Palace at Nimrud (now in northern Iraq). Its interior decoration featured a series of remarkable carved stone panels.
The detailed reliefs on display in Rooms 7-8 originally stood in the palace throne-room and in other royal apartments. They depict the king and his subjects engaged in a variety of activities. Ashurnasirpal is shown leading military campaigns against his enemies, engaging in ritual scenes with protective demons and hunting, a royal sport in ancient Mesopotamia.
Assyria: Nineveh (Room 9)
700 – 692 BC
The rooms and courtyards of the Neo-Assyrian Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib (704-681 BC) at Nineveh (in modern northern Iraq) were decorated with a series of detailed carved stone panels. Many of them are on display in Room 9.
The panels depict a variety of scenes, including the transport of huge sculptures of human-headed winged bulls (lamassu) that weigh up to 30 tons and were intended for the main entrances to the palace.
These illustrations provide an insight into ancient quarrying and transport techniques, as well as Sennacherib’s keen interest in his building projects. Other panels on display depict the king’s military campaigns.
Assyria (Room 10)
Assyria: Lion Hunts (Room 10a)
645 – 635 BC
Please note: between 16 July and 3 August 2018 Room 10 will be closed to the public in order to move some objects to the BP exhibition Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria.
In ancient Assyria, lion-hunting was considered the sport of kings, symbolic of the ruling monarch’s duty to protect and fight for his people. The sculpted reliefs in Room 10a illustrate the sporting exploits of the last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal (668-631 BC) and were created for his palace at Nineveh (in modern-day northern Iraq).
The hunt scenes, full of tension and realism, rank among the finest achievements of Assyrian Art. They depict the release of the lions, the ensuing chase and subsequent killing.
Assyria: Siege of Lachish (Room 10b)
710 – 692 BC
Lachish was one of the chief cities of the kingdom of Judah in the southern Levant and in 701 BC it was captured by the Assyrian King Sennacherib (704-681 BC). The siege followed the refusal of Lachish to pay tribute to the Assyrian Empire (based in modern northern Iraq) and is mentioned in the Bible.
Many of the relief sculptures on display in Room 10b depict the capture of the city, alongside a selection of items and weaponry used in the siege. A “prism” inscribed with an Assyrian account of the campaign is also on show.
Assyria: Khorsabad (Room 10c)
710 – 705 BC
The city and palace at Khorsabad (in modern northern Iraq), was built for the Assyrian King Sargon II (721-705 BC). The palace entrances were originally dominated by pairs of colossal human-headed winged bulls, which were intended as guardians, accompanied by protective spirits with magical powers.
Two of these impressive statues now stand in Room 10c, along with carvings depicting the king and crown prince, royal courtiers and hunting scenes. Inscriptions on display in the gallery come from a similar winged bull from the palace of Sennacherib (704-681 BC) at nearby Nineveh and were badly burnt when the city was destroyed in 612 BC.
British Museum, London, United Kingdom
The British Museum, located in the Bloomsbury area of London, United Kingdom, is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection numbers some 8 million works, and is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence having been widely sourced during the era of the British Empire, and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. It’s the first national public museum in the world.
The British Museum was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. The museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759, in Montagu House, on the site of the current building. Its expansion over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of expanding British colonisation and has resulted in the creation of several branch institutions, the first being the British Museum of Natural History in South Kensington in 1881 (it is nowadays simply called the Natural History Museum).
In 1973, the British Library Act 1972 detached the library department from the British Museum, but it continued to host the now separated British Library in the same Reading Room and building as the museum until 1997. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and as with all other national museums in the United Kingdom it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions.
In 2013 the museum received a record 6.7 million visitors, an increase of 20% from the previous year. Popular exhibitions including “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum” and “Ice Age Art” are credited with helping fuel the increase in visitors. Plans were announced in September 2014 to recreate the entire building along with all exhibits in the video game Minecraft in conjunction with members of the public.