Gisgis Relief

Alternative Names

Kesentaş, Ergani/Gisgis, Kela Imike


8th century BC

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

    The Gisgis rock relief is located 15 km southwest of Ergani, in the province of Diyarbakır. Situated on the summit of a relatively inaccessible natural rock formation (elevation: 3743 feet/1149 m), the relief faces southwest, overlooking the village of Kesentaş and the plain surrounding it. Among the series of Neo-Assyrian rock reliefs in the Upper Tigris region, the Gisgis relief represents the westernmost example (see also Eğil and Bırkleyn reliefs). The Mapping Mesopotamian Monuments team documented the site in 2015. Everyone whom the team met with in the village had long known the relief and felt responsible for its protection.

    The compositional field of the relief (1.10 m high x 1.63 m wide) was originally bordered by a rectangular frame, the traces of which are clearly visible along the ground line. On the left, the goddess Ishtar, wearing a horned polos, is shown standing on the back of a striding lion, her animal attribute. She wears a short, tasseled tunic over a long, fringed robe. She is armed with a shield on her left shoulder and a short sword slung from her belt. Her right hand is raised, while her left hand holds the reins attached to the poorly preserved head of the lion. Her stylistic and iconographical similarities to the figure on the stele dedicated by Aššur-dūr-pānīa, the prefect of Kār-Salmanassar (Til Barsib) for Ishtar of Arbela (mid-8th century BC) is unmistakable.1

    Before Ishtar, two more deities are represented through their divine symbols. The first symbol, a two-tasseled crescent standard placed upon a winged, scorpion-tailed hybrid creature, represents the moon god Sin. The second symbol, set upon the back of a bull, is not entirely preserved; the surviving traces have been interpreted as a standard crowned by a winged sun disk, the symbol of the sun god Shamash.2

    On the right, the figure of a king faces Ishtar and the divine symbols. He bears all his royal trappings, including the pointed conical headgear, ceremonial robes, and a scepter. He raises his right hand in the prayer gesture known as ubāna tarāṣu (“with outstretched finger”). He is followed by a eunuch with clasped hands.

    The composition of the Gisgis relief has no exact Neo-Assyrian parallel. However, certain of its components do. In addition to the stylistic and iconographical similarity of the Ishtar figure to the aforementioned Til-Barsib stele, the ceremonial robes of the king and eunuch are in line with those on Til-Barsib's wall paintings, which has led to the identification of the depicted king as Tiglath-pileser III (745–727 BC).3 The Gisgis relief has also been compared to the Karabur 2 relief in the Amuq Valley, raising the possibility that the eunuch figure behind the king represents the Assyrian governor responsible for this region.4

    • 1. See Thureau-Dangin and Dunand 1936, 157.
    • 2. Köroğlu and Yumruk 2014, 3.
    • 3. Köroğlu and Yumruk 2014.
    • 4. Köroğlu 2016, 10–11.

    'Description & Iconography' general sources: Thureau-Dangin and Dunand 1936; Köroğlu and Yumruk 2014; Köroğlu 2016.

    There is no visible inscription accompanying the relief.

    The dating of the relief to the mid- to late 8th century BC, suggested on the basis of stylistic and iconographical features, seems to fit well with the historical context.1 The region of the Upper Tigris where the Gisgis rock relief is located was one of the disputed areas between Assyria and Urartu in this period; rather than signifying the exact border between these two major states, however, the relief rather seems to indicate the westernmost territory of the Upper Tigris reached by the Assyrian armies. Additionally, with its remarkable location on the summit of a formidable rock formation, the relief follows the general tendency for Neo-Assyrian rock reliefs to be sited in symbolically charged, but not necessarily easily accessible and visible places.


    • 1. Köroğlu and Yumruk 2014.

    On July 24th, 1899, the American geographer Ellsworth Huntington wrote to the German historian Carl Friedrich Lehmann (who took the last name “Lehmann-Haupt” in 1905) that a “priest from Arghaneh [Ergani]” had informed him about a rock relief in a village called Hilar, situated “two hours south of Arghaneh [Ergani],” showing “a king and a priest,” with “inscriptions all around it.'1 Although E. Unger claims that Huntington saw the relief himself, Huntington actually states that he could not get an official permit to visit the site and had to cancel the trip; nevertheless, Unger’s account has been repeated by scholars discussing the relief.2

    In fact, Huntington was able to make a visit to Hilar only two years later, in 1901. His detailed account of his trip begins with the same mention of a local tip regarding the existence of a relief “represent[ing] a king facing a priest, while all around them were letters of a kind which no one could read.”3 Yet it is clear from his descriptions and the accompanying plan that he actually went to the site known as the “Hilar caves,” 13 km east of Gisgis/Kesentaş, located just south of the village of Hilar (modern Sesverenpınar), close to the mound of Çayönü. The remains he describes belong to a series of rock-cut tombs of the Roman era. In fact, his 'Tomb no. 8' bears a relief panel depicting two figures accompanied by a “Syriac inscription.” Therefore, there seems to be two possibilities: a) the local priest who tipped off Huntington was actually referring to 'Tomb 8' at the Hilar caves, and not to the Gisgis relief; or b) the priest did indeed refer to the Gisgis relief, but Huntington mistakenly associated Tomb 8 with it and did not feel the need to investigate further. As there is no inscription accompanying the Gisgis relief, the first possibility seems to be more likely. Nonetheless, it is clear that Huntington never went to the actual site of the Gisgis relief.

    • 1. See Lehmann 1900, 141; translation by Helen Malko.
    • 2. Unger 1925, 204; Huntington 1903, 141–142. Scholars referring to Unger's account include Börker-Klähn 1982, 193; Köroğlu and Yumruk 2014, 2.
    • 3. On the portion of Huntington's trip involving Gisgis, see Huntington 1903, 136–139, figs. 4 and 15.

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

    Huntington, Ellsworth. 1903. “The Hittite Ruins of Hilar, Asia Minor.” Records of the Past 2: 131–140. 

    Köroğlu, Kemalettin. 2016. “Anadolu’daki Yeni Assur Dönemi Stelleri ve Kaya Kabartmaları: İlk Sonuçlar.” Türk Eskiçağ Bilimler Enstitüsü Haberler 41: 8–12.

    Köroğlu, Kemalettin, and Şeref Yumruk. 2014. “Ergani/Gisgis (Kesentaş) Yeni Assur Kabartması.” Türk Eskiçağ Bilimler Enstitüsü Haberler 38: 2–8.

    Lehmann, C. F. 1900. “Hr. C.F. Lehmann macht Mittheilungen aus englischen Briefen des Hrn. Ellsworth Huntington über armenische Alterthümer.” Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 32: 140–152.

    Thureau-Dangin, F., and Maurice Dunand. 1936. Til Barsib. Paris: P. Geuthner.

    Unger, E. 1925. “Felsdenkmal.” Reallexikon der Vorgeschichte 3: 205–207.

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