Length: 3.300 cm
Width: 2.100 cm
Gift of Sir A.W. Franks
GR 1880.4-28.1 (Gems 39)
Room 12a: Greece Minoans
Carnelian seal with a man driving a chariot
Minoan, about 1450-1300 BC
From Knossos, Crete
An early find from the Knossos area
Minoan craftsmen were particularly skilled in the art of seal engraving. Seal-stones, though small, often bear beautifully carved designs that provide us with a fascinating miniature picture of Minoan Crete.
Seals had a practical purpose, being used to impress a pattern onto lumps of clay around the fastenings of doors, jars, boxes, perhaps even bundles of documents. This impression could indicate ownership or the identity of a controlling authority. Use of the seal was an integral part of Minoan administrative systems that controlled movements of goods and produce. Seals were also decorative, and were worn suspended at the wrist or neck.
This carnelian seal shows a figure in a chariot drawn by a pair of horses. He holds a whip in one hand and reins in the other. The zigzag effect over the horses' backs presumably indicates a complex form of harness. The seal came from the Knossos area before excavation there had revealed a Minoan palace. Seals and gems were particularly popular with European collectors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who often included unrecognised Greek Bronze Age pieces in their collections.
R. Higgins, The Greek Bronze Age (London, The British Museum Press, 1977)