Myths from Persia, £8.99
Chalcedony cylinder seal
Achaemenid Persian, about 6th-5th century BC
From Borsippa, southern Iraq
During the first millennium BC alphabetic scripts, written on parchment and other perishable materials, began to replace cuneiform written on clay. Stamp seals also generally came to replace cylinders, but examples such as this cylinder seal had a brief revival in popularity during the Achaemenid Persian empire.
In 539 BC the Persian king Cyrus captured Babylon, and Mesopotamia became part of the Achaemenid empire. From the fifth to end of the fourth century BC the empire stretched from the Nile to the Indus and included most of Anatolia (modern Turkey). Here the Persians came into both contact and conflict with the Greeks. The Persians had, at first, no clearly defined art of their own so they made use of foreign craftsmen and expertise and created a distinctive style. This seal shows Greek influence.
Seal impressions seem to suggest that the use of such cylinder seals was restricted to officials, and this is perhaps the reason for their high quality. It seems that the development of the new style of seal was connected with the political reorganization and building programmes in the reign of Darius I (522-486 BC). The most common subject is a crowned figure wearing Persian dress, here shown fighting a lion alongside a hero in Babylonian dress shown fighting a bull.
D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder se (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
D.J. Wiseman and W.B. Forman, Cylinder seals of Western Asia (London, Batchworth Press, 1959)