Eğil Relief

Alternative Names

Eggil, Eghil, Aggel, Ingila


Late 8th century BC

MMM Documentation Dates
Spring 2015
Site Type
Rock Reliefs and Tombs
Eğil (Turkey)
Diyarbakır Province (Turkey)

    The Eğil rock relief is located 50 km north of Diyarbakır, on the southwestern bank of Tigris, at an elevation of 838 m (2750 feet) above sea level. It is found on the eastern outskirts of the small city of Eğil. The relief is carved onto the western face of a formidable natural rock formation overlooking the valley of the Tigris (see the panorama);1 it dates to the Neo-Assyrian period, possibly to the reign of Sargon II. On the northwestern face of the rock formation, there is a rock-cut opening unrelated to the relief.

    • 1. Since the completion of the Tigris Dam (Dicle Barajı) in 1997, the water level in this section of Tigris seems to have risen. See the photographs taken before and after the construction of the dam in Bartl 1999–2001, figs. 1 and 2.

    The rock formation onto which the Eğil relief was carved was possibly integrated into a fortress, the exact date of which is disputed.1 The compositional field of the relief, measuring 1.40 m high x 1.80 m wide, takes the shape of a niche with its top corners rounded, but there is an additional, more rectangular contour on the field's rightward edge. This is the only known rock relief with such double-contouring; the feature has been taken as evidence for an alteration in the composition of the relief subsequent to its original conception.2

    A bearded male figure is depicted on the left of the relief's field, occupying almost its full height. Shown in true profile, the figure stands on a pedestal with his left foot advanced. He wears a horned conical polos with a band of feathers crowned by a star and a short-sleeved tunic under a fringed robe.3 He is armed with a long-handled axe, which he holds in his left hand, and a short sword, which hangs from his belt. His right hand is raised, but whether it is clenched into a fist or extended in the ubāna tarāṣu gesture (“with outstretched finger”) is not possible to ascertain due to the relief's poor state of preservation. Five divine emblems appear in front of the figure's raised right hand, including, from left to right: a ram headed staff on a pedestal (Ea), a three-pronged lightning bolt on a pedestal (Adad), a spade with two tassels on a pedestal (Marduk), a double lion-headed staff (Nergal),4 and a winged sun disk (Shamash).

    Both the identity of the figure and the dating of the relief have been the subject of debate. A deity—specifically the storm-god Adad—has been suggested due to the figure's horned headdress, while the presence of the pedestal may indicate that the figure represents a statue of the god; it has also been argued that the figure represents a deified king.5 Although varied dates within the Neo-Assyrian period have been proposed for the relief, the most recent analysis supports a date in the late 8th century BC, possibly during the reign of Sargon II.6

    The remainder of the compositional field is void of any other figurative elements. However, the original composition appears to have included either an inscription or additional figures, possibly representing the typical scene of a worshipper standing before deities. This partial erasure of the relief seems to have been carried out in antiquity. The reasons behind the chiseling away of the presumed additional figures (and the aforementioned alteration in the contours) cannot be ascertained. Additionally, although earlier travelers claimed to have seen traces of cuneiform inscriptions in this space, no such inscription can be observed today (see the discussion in “Inscriptions”). The numerous bullet holes around the relief, particularly concentrating on the anthropomorphic figure, were already noted by travelers in the early 20th century.7

    • 1. Börker-Klähn (1989, 192) and Kreppner (2002, 72) consider it Urartian. Contra Bartl 1999–2001, 27.
    • 2. This position is argued by Wäfler (1976, 293, 304ff).
    • 3. This garment corresponds to Hrouda’s “Schalgewand Nr. 1” (1965, 25).
    • 4. This symbol is badly preserved; therefore, Wäfler’s interpretation (1976, 295) has been followed here.
    • 5. Adad: Wäfler 1976, 293, 296; deified king: Börker-Klähn 1989, 193.
    • 6. Wäfler (1976) compares the stylistic details of the robe and the polos with late 8th century BC examples and dates the relief to the reign of Sargon II (721–705 BC). Börker-Klähn (1989, 193), along with her identification of the figure as a deified king, favors a much earlier dating, namely within the reigns of Assurnasirpal II (883–859 BC) and Shalmanassar III (858-824 BC). Bartl (1999–2001) has provided a new drawing of the relief, disproving Börker-Klähn’s conclusions and corroborating Wäfler’s dating of the late 8th century BC . 
    • 7. King 1913, 68, n. 5.

    'Description & Iconography' general sources: Wäfler 1976; Börker-Klähn 1982, 193; Bartl 1999–2001.

    John G. Taylor, British Consul-General for Diyarbakır, visited the site in 1862 and referred to “traces of a long inscription in cuneiform (contained in a niche, 6 feet by 4), which, however, is so defaced as (though easily traceable) to be utterly illegible.”1 Similarly, British Army officer Charles W. Wilson mentions, in his 1895 travel guide, the existence of an “illegible cuneiform inscription,” though it is not clear whether he visited the site himself.2 On the other hand, the Assyriologist L. W. King was at the site in 1904, and his observations are worth quoting here at some length: “[I]t is sometimes impossible to tell without a close examination whether or not it [a panel cut in limestone cliffs] bears an inscription. An example in point is the panel sculptured in the cliff above the village of Egil on the Upper Tigris, to the north of Diarbekr, which has the credit of being inscribed […] And from below it certainly has the look of a weathered cuneiform inscription. But on examining it by means of tackle from above I found that this appearance was due partly to weathering, and partly to the marks of bullets which had pitted the limestone and had knocked away pieces of the surface.”3 In line with King’s observations, neither Peter Bartl's relatively recent reinvestigation of the relief4 nor its close examination by the MMM team in 2015 identified any traces of an inscription.

    • 1. Taylor 1865, 36.
    • 2. Wilson 1895, 248.
    • 3. King 1913, 68, n. 5.
    • 4. Bartl 1999–2001.

    In the second half of the 8th century BC, particularly during the reigns of the Assyrian kings Tiglath-pileser III (744–727 BC) and Sargon II (721–705 BC), there was constant military conflict between Assyria and Urartu. The region of the Upper Tigris where the Eğil rock relief is located was one of the disputed areas between these two major states, and this likely played an important role in the decision to site the relief here. Certainly, Neo-Assyrian rock reliefs often appear in symbolically charged places like river sources, mountain passes, and springs, though not necessarily in easily accessible places. With its formidable position overlooking the Tigris valley and its relatively visible location close to the modern/ancient road, the Eğil rock relief is a remarkable example of Assyrian monuments on the “periphery.”

    The earliest modern mention of the Eğil rock relief is found in the travel notes of the British Consul-General for Diyarbakır, John G. Taylor, who visited the site in August 1862 and claimed to have observed a figurative relief as well as an inscription.1 Following him, the British Army officer Charles W. Wilson gave a brief description of the site in his travel guide and affirmed the existence of the inscription, but it is not clear whether he visited the site himself.2 The same goes for the German chemist and traveler/amateur archaeologist Waldemar Belck, whose interest in copying the assumed inscription is indicated in his travel reports, though he apparently later cancelled his visit.3 The Assyriologist L. W. King conducted a close examination of the relief in 1904, arguing against the existence of an inscription.4

    • 1. Taylor 1865, 36.
    • 2. Wilson 1895, 248.
    • 3. Belck 1901, 486, 501.
    • 4. King 1913, 68, n. 5.

    Bartl, Peter V. 1999–2001. “Zum Felsrelief von Eğil.” State Archives of Assyria Bulletin 13: 27–37.

    Belck, W. 1901. “Forschungsreise in Klein-Asien.” Verhandlungen der Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte, Sitzung vom 21. December 1901. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 33: 452–522.

    Börker-Klähn, Jutta. 1982. Altvorderasiatische Bildstelen und vergleichbare Felsreliefs. Mainz am Rhein: P. von Zabern.

    Hrouda, Barthel. 1965. Die Kulturgeschichte des assyrischen Flachbildes. Bonn: Habelt.

    King, L. W. 1913. “Studies of Some Rock-Sculptures and Rock-Inscriptions of Western Asia.” Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 35: 66–94.

    Kreppner, Florian Janoscha. 2002. “Public Space in Nature: The Case of Neo-Assyrian Rock Reliefs.” Altorientalische Forschungen 29: 367–383.

    Taylor, J. G. 1865. “Travels in Kurdistan, with Notices of the Sources of the Eastern and Western Tigris, and Ancient Ruins in Their Neighbourhood.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 35: 21–58.

    Wäfler, Markus. 1976. “Das neuassyrische Felsrelief von Eğil.” Archäologischer Anzeiger: 290–305.

    Wilson, Charles, ed. 1895. Handbook for Travellers in Asia Minor, Transcaucasia, Persia, etc. London: J. Murray.

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