Illustrated introduction to Mesopotamia, £8.99
Height: 3.500 cm
Diameter: 1.400 cm
Claude Scott-Stewart Collection
On loan to
Chalcedony cylinder seal
Neo-Elamite, about 625-500 BC
This grey-blue chalcedony seal, which shows the traditional Near Eastern scene of conflict with a lion, is inscribed in cuneiform with the name of the owner: 'Akka, son of Pira-atashna'.
It dates to the so-called Neo-Elamite period. Elam is the name given to south-western Iran in antiquity, areas of which were often united under powerful rulers. However, at the time this seal was made the Elamites were blocked by the Assyrian empire to the north-west, and they were unable to maintain control of the important trade routes along the foothills leading toward Mesopotamia. To the north and north-east the kingdom of the Medes held the uplands.
By the seventh century several important centres re-emerged in Elam. These included Susa, which, along with highland Elamites, allied with Babylonia and challenged the powerful armies of Assyria. Towns like Madaktu and Hidalu, mentioned in texts, also appear to have been major centres of political and military activity. The struggle with Assyria, and the existence of the Elamites as a major political force, was effectively brought to an end in 646 BC when the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal marched into the eastern districts of Elam and returned to sack Susa. However, the Elamites continued to be an important element in the population and Elamite was one of the chief languages of the Achaemenid empire.
C.B.F. Walker, 'Elamite inscriptions in the British Museum', Iran-3, 18 (1980), pp. 75-82
D.J. Wiseman and W.B. Forman, Cylinder seals of Western Asia (London, Batchworth Press, 1959)