Until 879 BC, the city of Assur was the heart of Assyria in every way, and therefore, also the home of the king's main residence. Ever since Aššur-uballiṭ had proclaimed himself king in the 14th century BC, the palace, ēkallu in Assyrian, from the ancient Sumerian word for, “big house”, served as the centre of government. But in 879, King Ashurnasirpal II transferred the court to a new location. And Assur was stripped in one sweep of its function as the seat of royal power and as the hub of the state administration. We've previously linked the move away from Assur to the drastic change in the character of Assyrian kingship that took the ruler unambiguously out of the shadow of the god Aššur. Now I want to stress that Kalḫu, modern Nimrud, the new capital city, was a good choice because it was much more conveniently located than Assur. It is of key importance where in a state its centre is situated. Until the invention of telegraphy in the 19th century AD, all complex information had to travel physically, whether by letter or by envoy. Easy communication surely facilitates the cohesion of large states. There's an obvious advantage to a capital that is well-connected to the rest of the state, as it serves as the hub of state communication, as the most important meeting place for the king with his subjects and allies, and as the destination for taxes and tribute from across the realm. But as the kingdom of Assyria expanded, its traditional capital city of Assur occupied an increasingly peripheral position in the kingdom. Assur is situated on the western bank of the Tigris River, while the rest of the Assyrian heartland lies on the eastern bank. West of Assur lies the steppe region, with very few permanent settlements. And traversing the steppe to reach the Assyrian holdings on the Khabur River was not an easy journey. The most important east-west overland route, ran along the southern fringes of Taurus Mountains and connected the Mediterranean coast with Iran. Both Nineveh, (modern Mosul) and Arbela, (modern Erbil) are situated on that route, but Assur was far away from it. The new capital city, Kalḫu, was a much better choice in this regard. Situated some 70km north of Assur on the eastern bank of the Tigris, it lies close to the prominent east-west route at an important intersection of the inter-regional road network. The ancient city was completely transformed to fit its new purpose as the stage on which the king and the empire were presented and celebrated. The roots of the settlement went back 5000 years when it was first occupied during the Neolithic period like so many other places in the fertile fringes of the Taurus and the Zagros mountains. By the ninth century BC, the settlement mount had grown to a substantial height. This is due to the typical building style with mud brick. Where old houses were simply leveled to give way to new buildings that were built on top of the ruins. Over the decades, centuries and millennia, the settlement rises higher and higher until it appears as a mount in the landscape. The old settlement mount of Kalḫu, was now turned into a fortified citadel that housed only the royal palace and shrines for the most important deities of the Assyria such as Ištar, Ninurta and Nabû. But no temple Aššur whose only sanctuary remained in the city of Assur. The citadel occupied only a small part in a corner of the much larger city. With a size of 360 hectares, Ashurnasirpal’s Kalḫu covered twice the ground of Assur and was surrounded by a long city wall with a length of seven and a half kilometres. From a contemporary perspective, this city was gigantic. Now, it needed to filled with inhabitants. The king appointed his palace overseer, Nergal-apil-kūmū’a by edict to oversee this task. And this man hand-picked residents for the new imperial centre from all over the kingdom. We can certainly assume that only those who had shown enthusiasm for the king and his plans for the Assyrian state were chosen. Therefore, it was not merely a new political centre that was created in 879 BC, but one that was populated with loyal supporters of king and empire. The most impressive building at Kalḫu was, Ashurnasirpal’s palace. With a length of 200 meters and the width of 130 meters, it dominates its surroundings. Situated on top of citadel, it is visible from afar, and stood as a monument to the new found prominence and assertiveness of Assyrian kingship. The palace was organised in three distinct areas arranged around three courtyards: the state department where the king met with his court and his visitors. the administrative wing where the palace's income and business affairs were managed. and the private quarters that housed the royal family. Itself in many ways a novel form of architecture that combined structural and decorative elements from all over the empire, it served as the definitive model for the palaces constructed by all later Assyrian kings. It also served as the model for the palaces erected in all provincial capitals. These buildings were called palace, ēkallu, just like the main residence, and the king was seen as their master and owner. When the king traveled he would stay there, but usually these provincial palaces were occupied only by the governors who ruled on the king's behalf. This was part of the key strategy of Assyrian governance to ensure that the regional managers, the governors, had very little opportunity to develop a visible identity apart from that as the caretaker of the king. We will return to this in Module Four. It was always an honour to meet the king. Whoever desired to see him had to apply for an audience and wait until it was granted. Access to the palace and its various quarters was strictly controlled by protocol and various means of security. The king usually met with his visitors in the throne room where he sat elevated on top of a pedestal on the high chair with his feet on a footstool so that the caller effectively faced the royal toes when standing in front of the king. This at least made “kissing the king's feet”, so an expression of paying homage to the ruler, much easier. But while protocol heavily shaped royal encounter, the king was keen to meet with his people in ways that reinforced feelings of group identity and togetherness, while highlighting his superior position. The royal banquet was a key instrument in this. For visitors, the honour of eating and drinking with the king not only brought the pleasure of dining exquisitely and drinking the finest wines. An invitation to a banquet with the king also had a material, lasting component, as one was presented with the dinnerware as a farewell gift. Its material was an indication of one's social standing. Gold for royalty, then silver, bronze and fine pottery. No wonder that such dishes often accompanied their proud owners into the grave. The concern for limited and controlled access is already reflected in the very architecture of the palace. It is separated architecturally from the rest of the city. It could not be overlooked from the outside. And it had few and easily controllable entrances, both from the outside and between the different palace quarters. Gatekeepers controlled gateways and doors and whenever deemed necessary, these were equipped with bolts and locks. In addition to such protection, entrances were also secured by supernatural means. All major entrances of the palace were furnished with monumental images of protective deities. And underneath the thresholds, small statuettes of protective spirits or dogs were buried sometimes inscribed with short prayers. Together with the execution of the appropriate rituals, these representations were thought to offer potent protection against malevolent forces of all kinds, including human intruders. lucky were those whose link with the king were so close that they could hope to bypass all these layers of protection easily and have free access to the king. These royal companions held an honorary title that literally means, “he who is close”, and were at the very top of the court hierarchy. Enjoying the king's confidence and trust, they were his preferred choice of envoy. Many of them had a military background, highlighting how much of his time the Assyrian king spent with the army, and what a comparatively good opportunity the military campaigns and camp life provided for getting to know the ruler. Although the palace at Kalḫu was enormous, it effectively served as the home of only one family, albeit an unusual one. As the continuation of the royal bloodline was paramount, the king only had only one queen, but many wives, and all their children were his legitimate offspring. This sets the royal family apart from the otherwise monogamous Assyrian society. In 879 BC, not only was the extended royal family relocated, but the entire royal court, which meant moving hundreds of people from Assur to Kalḫu. Trusted Nergal-apil-kūmū’a, also took care of this task. And this was presumably no less challenging than selecting inhabitants for the rest of the city. The new palace was much larger than the old palace in Assur and much more elaborately constructed and decorated. It was a much improved version in every way, but one. The old palace in Assur served as the burial place of the Assyrian rulers, mirroring also the practices of other Assyrians who too buried their dead underneath the family home. When the royal court moved, the old palace in Assur did not lose this function. Even Ashurnasirpal himself was buried in the ancient warrens of tombs beneath the palace at Assur. And his successors continued to use it as their final resting place. In 1989, just before the second Gulf War, the Iraqi State Department of Antiquities made a sensational discovery when its archaeologists found several underground tombs beneath the private quarters of Ashurnasirpal’s palace in Kalḫu. These turned out to house the burials of royal women and children. One of the tombs was the last resting place of Ashurnasirpal's queen, a woman with the long name, Mullissu-mukannišat-Ninua. The means, “the goddess Mulissu is the one who brings together the people of the city of Nineveh”. Her burial inscription identifies her as the daughter of the king's cup bearer, one of the most prominent courtiers. Unfortunately, we don't know whether he held the function because he was the king's father-in-law, or whether the king married his daughter because of his prominence in the realm. Mullissu-mukannisat-Ninua and the other loyal women were buried with rich grave goods, with golden jewellery and dinnerware and richly coloured garments made out of exotic materials like silk and cotton. They give a vivid impression of the luxury in which the king and his entourage lived at court. While all well-to-do Assyrians had slaves living with them in their family home, some times even a few dozens, the loyal court housed several hundreds of people who served the king and his family as retainers, guards, scribes, scholars, cooks, bakers, pastry makers, dancers, musicians and so forth. Not all of them were slaves either. Being a member of court was a great honour and Assyrian families sent their sons to enter the palace. Crucially, those who entered the palace were made eunuchs, and we'll discuss the benefits of this to the king, in Module Four. The palace overseer, Nergal-apil-kūmū’a, who oversaw the move from Assur to Kalḫu, was one of these royal eunuchs. But not all courtiers were castrated, as there were also many “bearded ones” at court. Some of these were the sons of foreign rulers or other nobles, who either were placed in the Assyrian king's care as part of an alliance, or had been captured in battle. These hostages lived as honoured members of the court. At least some were sent back to their home countries where they were expected to act in the Assyria interest when they assumed positions of power. We may see this as a cynical exploitation of Stockholm Syndrome, but on the whole, this strategy worked very well and constituted an important element in keeping the neighbouring state in line as co-operative parts of the empire.