Byzantine and Russian icons, £15.99
Diameter: 85.200 cm
Excavated by Captain E. Clayton and Dr. Raynolds (1880)
Room 54: Anatolia and Urartu
Decorated bronze shield
Urartian, around 650 BC
From Toprakkale (ancient Rusahinili), eastern Anatolia (modern Turkey)
This bronze shield comes from Toprakkale (ancient Rusahinili) in Urartu, the site of a major temple of the god Haldi. A number of such shields have been discovered at Urartian sites. Some are plain and others, like this, are lavishly decorated with lions and bulls. They must have been dedicated in the Haldi temple, where a cult of weapons existed. There are three handles on the inside which were probably used for hanging the shield. It is designed to be viewed in one particular way, as the concentric friezes are laid out with the bulls and lions changing direction so that when the shield is upright no animal is upside down.
Texts show that Haldi was the principal deity of the Urartian pantheon, always named first in the trinity with Teisheba (storm god) and Shiwini (sun god).
The Urartian cuneiform inscription records the name of the dedicator. It can be reconstructed from other shields as '[Rusa, son of Erime]na, mighty king, great king, lord of the city of Tushpa' (now Van).
Urartu, centred on Lake Van, was the northern neighbour and rival of the Assyrian Empire during the ninth to seventh centuries BC. It had disappeared before 600 BC, possibly destroyed by raids of horse-borne warriors known to the Greeks as Scythians, associated with the Medes from western Iran. The name survives, however, in that of its highest mountain, Ararat.
D. Frankel, The ancient kingdom of Urartu (London, The British Museum Press, 1979)
R. Merhav, Urartu: a metalworking centre (Jerusalem, Israel Museum, 1991)
R.D. Barnett, 'The excavations of the British Museum at Toprak Kale near Van', Iraq-6, 12 (1950)