Assessing the Damage at the Mosul Museum, Part 2: The Sculptures from Hatra
On Friday I published the first half of this post, assessing the damage to the Mosul Museum’s Assyrian collection as well as to the lamassu at the Nergal Gate. This post will assess the damage to the second major group of artifacts: statues from the Roman period city of Hatra.
Hatra was a wealthy trading city located in the desert south of Mosul, one of several such cities which sprung up in the space between Parthia and the Roman Empire. Hatra, Palmyra, Petra and Dura-Europos all made their fortune as intermediaries, trading stops between east and west. All of these cities were client states of either Rome or Parthia, with Hatra choosing Parthia.
This made Hatra a target for Rome, and Trajan besieged the city during his Mesopotamian campaign in 114 AD but failed to capture it. Septimius Severus launched several assaults on the city during his invasion of Parthia in 198 which also failed. The heat, the open plain which made it difficult to approach the walls undetected, and the lack of any water or food in the area around the city kept Hatra safe from protracted sieges. Hatra was destroyed in 240, not to Rome but to the forces of the Sassanid monarch Shapur I during his campaign against the last Parthian client states that stood between himself and renewed war with the Roman Empire.
Hatra’s unique position between east and west produced an outpouring of art unique in the Parthian empire. Influences from east and west mixed to create a very naturalistic but still unmistakably eastern artistic style. Here gorgon heads adorned temples to Near Eastern gods alongside Aramaic inscriptions. Mesopotamian deities such as Shamash and Nergal were depicted alongside Greco-Roman deities such as Hercules. Classical nudes and statues adorned in ornate Parthian robes existed side by side. One statue of Apollo the Roman sun god even featured symbols of Shamash the Near Eastern sun god on his clothing.
The damage by ISIS to the artistic legacy of Hatra has been catastrophic.
This tragedy is compounded by the fact that Hatrene sculpture has been chronically understudied. Almost all of it was excavated in the 20th century and the finds never left Iraq. The primary publication of the finds is in an Arabic-language book often inaccessible in the West. Very few scholars outside of Iraq have had the opportunity to study the statues.
Statues of the Kings of Hatra
These statues represent kings of Hatra. The statue on the left is of an unidentified king of Hatra, dressed in a Parthian style and holding an acanthus leaf in his left hand and a piece of fruit in his right. Its museum number is MM5.
The statue on the right has been called “the finest of all the sculptures unearthed in Hatra.” An Aramaic inscription on the base of the statue reads “The Image of King Uthal, the merciful, noble-minded servant of God, blessed by God.” All other details about this king’s life, including the dates of his reign, remain obscure.
Both statues were seen in 0:08 being hit with hammers without much effect. At the 2:50 mark the statue of Uthal is shown being snapped at the base and toppled. At 2:59, the prelude to this sequence is shown as a man strikes the base. Three men attack the statue with sledgehammers after it hits the ground. Both statues are seen broken into numerous pieces on the floor.
At 2:53 a third statue can be seen being toppled. This is a statue of Sanatruq II, the last king of Parthia before the city was destroyed by Shapur I in 240.
This statue was reconstructed from several fragments, so it shattered easily when it hit the floor.
Another sculpture is seen being unwrapped at 0:38. This is a depiction of an unidentified Hatrene king holding an eagle symbolizing the ancient near eastern sun god Shamash.
We have 27 known statues of kings of Hatra, so the destruction of four of them represents a loss of 15% of all statues of Hatrene kings in existence.
The statue was toppled but it took a number of blows with a sledgehammer to dismember it.
Other Large Standing Sculptures
At 0:40 the video shows two sculptures in a museum alcove. The sculpture on the right is a statue of a Hatrene nobleman dressed in the Parthian style. This is one of the earlier Hatrene sculptures found and dates to the 1st century AD. Its catalog number is MM14.
The statue on the left is believed to be of a priest based on its clothing. It was missing its head when excavated.
Both statues were broken into several pieces by toppling them over forwards onto the floor (2:43 of the video).
In another alcove at 3:16 a headless statue can be seen, clutching a sword in his hands and wearing long pleated trousers and a cape. An inscription identifies it as a depiction of a certain Makai ben Nashri.
The statue is toppled sideways off its base and snaps in half when it hits an architectural element along the wall. When it hits the floor the legs break into several more pieces.
Greco-Roman Influenced Sculpture
Greco-Roman influences in Hatra can be seen in this headless statue of Hercules, shown being toppled to the floor at 2:48: However, a later shot of the room at 3:59 shows the statue has shattered into hundreds of fragments and numerous steel rebars are sticking out. This is very different from even the reconstructed sculptures in the video, which sometimes have rebar inside to support the reconstruction but never shatter like the Hercules statue.
Near the beginning of the video at the 0:32 mark an ISIS fighter is shown unwrapping a nude female torso, believed to be a depiction of Venus/Aphrodite. The camera cuts away before the statue is unwrapped and the sculpture is not seen again, however, it may be one of the broken objects in the background of the shot of the Hercules statue shown above at 3:59.
A small statue appears in the background at the 2:55 mark:
While still blurry, this view allows us to match the statue with fragments on the floor at 3:18 and 3:41 of the video. The actual destruction of this statue is not shown.
Update: Dr. Lucinda Dirven states that the statue published by Safar and Mustafa is safe in storage at the Baghdad museum, but many very similar Nike statues were uncovered at Hatra and not all of them have been published.
This statue of a seated goddess holding a sphere in her left hand first appears at 0:47 of the video. This statue was broken at 2:55 by being flipped off its stand and onto the floor, breaking off its head.
According to Dr. Lamia al-Gailani Werr and Dr. Lucinda Dirven this statue is a plaster copy of an original kept in Baghdad.
This still from 0:48 shows a number of Hatrene reliefs. The relief on the bottom shows the goddess Marten receiving a worshiper. The right relief depicts the goddess Maren. The upper middle relief depicts Marten again, and the relief on the far left depicts the moon god Barmaren.
Oddly, these reliefs appear undamaged at the end of the video:
Update: Dr. Lucinda Dirven suggests the mask is a cast made from a mask like the one seen below on the right. These type of masks seem to be built into the walls of the temple of Hatra and cannot be removed.
A large eagle is seen being toppled over and shattered. This eagle also matches architectural elements from Hatra.
Three small reliefs are shown being destroyed at 3:46. All are pulverized with sledgehammers and ripped out of the wall. All are from Hatra, the middle published by Safar and Mustafa, the right unpublished and the left is too blurry to be identified in the video but other pictures from inside the museum make it clear that it is a relief of a reclining woman.
In the background at the 0:32 mark a statue of a lion can be seen:
This lion was published by Safar and Mustafa.
Its final disposition is not seen in the video but it is likely one of the blurry piles of rubble in 4:02:
Update: Dr. Lucinda Dirven writes that this eagle relief was discovered during excavations at the north gate of the city and was not published until 1978.
There are some pictures from before the museum was destroyed, which may be of aid:
It is important to note that there are many more items from the Mosul Museum which were not shown in ISIS’ video. The Islamic art wing was not shown at all, and most of the Assyrian section does not appear in the video either. This does not mean that these artifacts have survived. Their destruction may have been cut from the video before release. Alternately, such items may have been smuggled out and sold on the antiquities market or may still be in the museum.
Regardless, from what we can see in this video the loss for the study the Roman and Parthian Near East is absolutely devastating.
Special thanks to Dr. Suzanne Bott for uploading many pre-destruction pictures of the Mosul Museum, Hubert Debbasch for providing photos from his travels, to Dr. Lamia al-Gailani Werr for information about replicas in the museum, and to Dr. Lucinda Dirven for more information about museum replicas and bibliographic information.
Update 10/4/2015: A translation of both articles is now available in Kurdish.
 Shinji Fukai, “The Artifacts of Hatra and Parthian Art,” East and West 11, No. 2/3 (June-September 1960): 142-144, pl. 2-3; Fu’ad Safar and Ali Muhammad Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God [Arabic title al-Ḥaḍr, madīnat al-shams] (Baghdad: Wizarat al-Iʻlām, Mudīrīyat al-Athār al-ʻĀmmah, 1974), 197-198, pl. 208-210.
 Safar and Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God, 23, pl. 4.
 Fukai, “The Artifacts of Hatra and Parthian Art,” 144 pl. 4; Henri Stierlin, Cités du Désert: Pétra, Palmyre, Hatra (Fribourg: Seuil, 1987), 198, pl. 178; Safar and Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God, 212, pl. 199.
 Michael Sommer, Hatra: Geschichte und Kultur einer Karawanenstadt im römisch-parthischen Mesopotamien (Mainz: Zabern, 2003), 75, pl. 106; Lucinda Dirven, “Aspects of Hatrene Religion: A Note on the Statues of Kings and Nobles from Hatra,” 209-246 in The Variety of Local Religious Life in the Near East in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2008), 220-221.
 Safar and Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God, pl. 19, p. 75.
 Safar and Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God, pl. 24, p. 78.
 Safar and Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God, pl. 84, p. 110.
 Safar and Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God, pl. 102 p. 125.
 Safar and Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God, pl. 250, p. 256-257.
 Safar and Mustafa, Hatra: The City of the Sun God, pl. 187, p. 198.
 Wathiq Isma’il al-Salihi, “Inscriptions from Hatra,” Sumer 34, No. 1 (1978): 69; al-Salihi, “Hatra – Excavations in the Southern Gate – A Preliminary Report,” Sumer 36, No. 1 (1980): 158-189, pl. 3-4 [both in Arabic]; Aggoula, Inventaire des inscriptions hatréennes (Paris: P. Geuthner, 1991), 155, pl. XXVI; Inscription published in: Basile Aggoula, “Remarques sur les inscriptions hatréennes (VI),” Syria 58. No. 3/4 (1981): 363-378; Aggoula, “Remarques sur les inscriptions hatréennes. XIII Ibr. IX, XIV, XX, XXI,” Syria 64. No. 3/4 (1987): 223-229; J.B. Segal, “Arabs at Hatra and the Vicinity: Marginalia on new Aramaic Texts,” Journal of Semitic Studies 31 (1986): 57-80; Klaus Beyer, Die aramäischen Inschriften aus Assur, Hatra und dem übrigen Ostmesopotamien (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998), p. 90.
Article © Christopher Jones 2015.