Height: 4.100 cm
Diameter: 1.600 cm
Room 55: Mesopotamia
Chalcedony cylinder seal
Middle Assyrian, about 1300-1200 BC
In the fourteenth century BC the rulers of Assyria became increasingly independent of the Mitannian Empire, which had dominated much of northern Mesopotamia for over a century. An archive of cuneiform tablets recovered from Ashur shows that Mitannian seals were still frequently used at this time, but new styles were developing.
This seal dates to the thirteenth century BC, when some very beautiful examples were produced in northern Mesopotamia, depicting fights between animals. The animals are often shown protecting their young against attack.
The triangular composition is typical of the reign of the Assyrian king Tikulti-Ninurta I (1243-1207 BC), a powerful warrior who conquered and ruled Babylonia for over thirty years.
Winged animals, demons and humans continued to be carved on seals right into the first millennium BC. The theme spread into the Mediterranean world, where, for example, the winged horse Pegasus appears. The image of the winged horse proved so attractive that not only was it adopted wherever the myths of the classical world were influential (for example, Etruria and later in Renaissance Italy) but also as far away as China.
D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder se (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
J. Rawson, Animals in art (London, The British Museum Press, 1977)