Height: 4.300 cm
Diameter: 1.800 cm
Acquired by 1835
Room 55: Mesopotamia
Garnet cylinder seal showing Ishtar
Neo-Assyrian, 720-700 BC
The supreme Mesopotamian goddess
This very finely cut seal depicts Ishtar, Mesopotamian goddess of sexuality and warfare. She appears frequently on seals, relief carving, and in descriptions as a mighty warrior who protects the king by defeating his enemies. One Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal (reigned 669-631 BC), was even described as crying before the goddess like a child asking his mother for help. Her strength as a warrior is stressed here, as she is shown with weapons rising from her shoulders.
Ishtar appears to have been associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion. The iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar's astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus. The goddess could be worshipped as both male and female Ishtar, reflecting her dual role of sex and war as well as the evening and morning aspects of the planet.
In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan.
D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder se (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939)