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Home - Collection - Curatorial Departments - Near Eastern Antiquities

Near Eastern Antiquities

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Near Eastern Antiquities

The Department of Near Eastern Antiquities is devoted to the ancient civilizations of the Near East and encompasses a period that extends from the first settlements, which appeared more than ten thousand years ago, to the advent of Islam.
La huitième campagne de Sargon II d'Assyrie
714 avant J.-C.
© Musée du Louvre/C. Larrieu
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Historical and Geographical Setting

Despite the immense geographic area and the vast time spans involved, the diverse civilizations that succeeded one another share unifying characteristics and form a whole. The first characteristic is the existence of a family of predominant written and spoken languages that date back five thousand years: Akkadian, Babylonian, Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arab all belong to the group of Semitic languages, some of which are still spoken today. The environment and lifestyles form the second unifying factor. The Tigris and the Euphrates define the "Fertile Crescent," which links the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. During the Neolithic period (starting in the 8th millennium), humankind adopted a sedentary way of life based on agriculture and created the first settlements. Hierarchical societies developed, which encouraged the birth of cities and states in the 5th  millennium. Economies grew increasingly complex and required accounting methods and tools. Writing developed around 3300 BC in Sumer, in the south of present-day Iraq. In the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st millennia, a series of empires emerged—those of Ur, the Akkadian dynasty, Babylonia, the Hittites, Assyria, and the Elamites in the southwest region of Iran—while trade flourished in the eastern Mediterranean, extending to Mari on the middle Euphrates and Ugarit on the Syrian coast. After the empire founded by Alexander the Great (332–323 BC) and continued by his successors, the Near East came under Roman rule (1st century BC).

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Creation of the Collection

The first archaeological excavations in the mid-19th century unearthed these lost civilizations, and their art was rightly considered to be among humanity's greatest creative achievements. The Department of Near Eastern Antiquities—the youngest of the Louvre's departments up until the recent creation of the Department of Islamic Art—was established in 1881. The archaeological collections were essentially formed during the 19th century and in the 20th century up until World War II. Rivaled only by the British Museum and the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin, this collection offers a comprehensive overview of these different civilizations, drawing on scientific excavations conducted on numerous archaeological sites. The first of these excavations took place between 1843 and 1854 in Khorsabad, a city constructed by King Sargon II of Assyria in the 8th century BC. This site brought to light the Assyrians and lost civilizations of the Near East. One of the aims of the Louvre, which played a leading role in this rediscovery, is to reveal the depth of the region’s cultural roots and its enduring values.

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Passing on Knowledge

Through writing, the Near East gave rise to a culture that handed down a dual heritage to the Western world: the biblical tradition on the one hand, and the transmission of Greco-Roman knowledge on the other. The exile of the Jews from various countries of the region to Babylon in the 6th century BC did have a positive consequence in that it enabled the people of the Holy Land to assimilate the store of knowledge that had developed in Mesopotamia since the 3rd millennium. With the rule of Alexander the Great in the late 4th century, the Near East from the Mediterranean to India became Greek, while retaining its intellectual heritage, which it bequeathed to scholars of various cultures. Greek and Hebrew authors, theologians, philosophers, and mathematicians thus safeguarded a tradition that is thousands of years old—despite the fact that the civilizations that created it have completely disappeared. Furthermore, in the Near East, this ancient knowledge was transmitted in written texts by Arabic, Turkish, and Persian scholars, who endeavored to conserve ancient texts from Babylonia and the Greek civilization.

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Thematic Trail

Les palais assyriens
Le palais assyrien, résidence officielle du souverain, est l'incarnation du pouvoir impérial, par son gigantisme architectural et le déploiement d'un faste nourri des richesses du monde. La majesté du décor de grands reliefs historiés exalte la puissance d'un empire qui à son apogée étend son hégémonie de l'Iran à l'Égypte.
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View many of the 35,000 works on display, and consult the relevant technical information and accompanying commentaries by curators.
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Resources

Explore the history of art and civilizations in the sections In-Depth Studies and A Closer Look. The Magazine takes a fresh, unconventional look at the museum and its collections.
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