Myths from Persia, £8.99
Agate cylinder seal
Persian, 5th-4th century BC
Said to have been found in a tomb at Thebes, Egypt
'Darius the great king' shoots a lion
This agate cylinder seal is engraved with a scene showing the Persian king standing in a chariot and shooting arrows at lions. The scene is framed by date palms and above the king's head floats a figure in a winged disc, who is usually thought to be the Persian god Ahura-Mazda, but who may represent the spirit of the dead king or divine glory (khvarneh or farr) that was bestowed on the living ruler.
The cuneiform inscription written along one side is in three languages: Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian, and translates 'Darius the great king'. This is presumably Darius I (reigned 521-486 BC) who reorganized the administration of the Persian Empire and was the first Persian king to mint coins. He also introduced cuneiform for recording inscriptions in Old Persian and built a canal linking the Nile with the Red Sea.
During Darius' reign, Egypt was part of the Persian Empire with its former capital at Memphis now a seat of Persian administration. This seal is said to have been found in a tomb at Thebes which was the cemetery of Memphis. It is the most famous Persian-period object found in Egypt.
J. Curtis, Ancient Persia-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)