Illustrated introduction to Ancient Persia, £8.99
Blue chalcedony cylinder seal
Achaemenid, about 6th-4th century BC
From Kirmanshah, Iran
This seal shows the varied foreign influences on the art of the Achaemenid Persian empire. The Persians had, at first, no clearly defined art of their own, but they made use of foreign craftsmen and expertise and welded the disparate traditions of their immense empire into a coherent and distinctive style. Greek and Egyptian motifs were particularly popular. Here is a representation of a falcon, perhaps the Egyptian god Horus, beside an incense burner. Along the border runs the Egyptian wedjat eye or 'Eye of Horus', a symbol of perfection. The winged goat is typical of Achaemenid art.
By the mid-first millennium BC alphabetic Aramaic was increasingly written on leather or papyrus and came to replace the cuneiform script written on clay tablets. Stamp seals were more suitable for sealing knotted twine around rolled documents and the cylinder seal gradually declined in popularity. However, under the Achaemenid Persians there was a brief revival in the use of the cylinder seal, and they produced some of the finest surviving examples. This is probably to be associated with the political reorganization of the empire under Darius I (521-486 BC).
D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder se (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)