Stories in Stone

The Material Imagery of Ancient Western Asia with Sam’al as Case Study

(Izak Cornelius)


‘Material imagery’ emphasizes the materiality of visual culture, the pictorial turn, moving from texts to images to images as objects. It is important to examine the material imagery of the ancient Near East or Western Asia as it is not only illustrations or ‘art’ (in the modern sense of the word), but also served a specific function as an independent medium of communication, e.g. of ideologies and values. What it communicated can be either complementary to or distinct from what can be surmised from textual sources.

The Aramaean site of Zincirli (ancient Sam’al dated ca. 10-8th centuries BCE) will be the case study. The excavations at these sites represent the start of German archaeological work in Western Asia, and left a significant corpus of material imagery with unique finds, of which a large collection is housed in Berlin. Some of the material will be viewed in the presentation. The research problem to be addressed is what these sources can contribute to our understanding of the world of ancient Western Asia and, more specifically, ancient Aramaean culture at large.



Izak (Sakkie) Cornelius is a Professor in Ancient Studies at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Stellenbosch lies 50 km from Cape Town and is famous for its wines. Izak is a rated researcher of the National Research Foundation of South Africa. He studied Theology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Stellenbosch and the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen. Izak specialises in the cultures of the Ancient Near East with an emphasis on the visual heritage or material imagery and its relationship with culture and religion.


He is the author of The Iconography of the Canaanite Gods Reshef and Baal (Fribourg/Göttingen 1994), The Many Faces of the Goddess: The Iconography of the Syro-Palestinian Goddesses Anat, Asherah, Astarte and Qedeshet (Fribourg/Göttingen 2004 and 2nd edition 2008) and co-author with Herbert Niehr (Tübingen) of Götter und Kulte in Ugarit (Mainz 2004).


Prof. Cornelius is a research associate of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung and the Käte Hamburger-Kolleg at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and a Gastprofessor at Leipzig Universität.


His current project in Tübingen with Prof. Herbert Niehr (Biblische Einleitung und Zeitgeschichte, Katholisch-Theologische Fakultät) as host, is on the material imagery of the Aramaean city states of Sam’al and Guzana.