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EMBELLISHING THE INTERIOR SPACES OF ASSYRIA'S ROYAL PALACES: THE BĒT ḪILĀNI RECONSIDERED

  • David Kertai
Abstract

The bēt ḫilāni is one of the most famous features of Assyria's royal palaces as well as one of its most elusive. The term is mostly known from Assyrian royal inscriptions, which describe it as an architectural feature inspired by the architecture of Syro-Anatolia. Such explicit references to the architecture of other cultures is exceptional and provides a rare glimpse into the valuations of Assyria's architects.

Modern attempts to identify the bēt ḫilāni archaeologically are almost as old as the field of ancient Near Eastern Studies. Unfortunately, the discourse has become more convoluted over time through the integration of disparate architectural features into a single bēt ḫilāni discourse and a narrow view of how architectural exchanges occur. Past research has generally assumed a morphological correspondence between the Assyrian bēt ḫilāni and the external porticoes that typify Syro-Anatolian architecture. This article will argue that Assyrian architects had a different set of ideals and interests which led them to change the external Syro-Anatolian portico into an interior feature used to add monumentality and ornamentation to the rooms of Assyria's palaces. This changes the bēt ḫilāni from a morphological category into a decorative one and contextualises it within the architectural traditions of Assyria.

Copyright
Corresponding author
David Kertai, The Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities and Social Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Room 352, Mandel Building, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, 91905, Israel dkertai@yahoo.com
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