History of Assyrian palace sculptures, £9.99
Height: 13.900 cm
Width: 14.200 cm
ME 123894;ME 123895
Room 52: Ancient Iran
Parthian, 2nd century AD
From Nineveh, northern Iraq
These gold masks come from graves on the site of the former Late Assyrian citadel at Nineveh. They were discovered in 1852. Excavations on this mound also suggest the presence there of important buildings. The graves date to a period when Nineveh was an an important town in the independent state of Adiabene, situated between the Parthian and Roman empires. Occasional finds of Roman pottery, coins and military equipment hint that Nineveh may have briefly been incorporated within the eastern Roman Empire.
In the graves bodies had been placed in stone-lined cists roughly built from slabs of stone. It is not clear exactly how many tombs were discovered. Some had been looted in antiquity, though the tombs still contained rich grave-goods.
The tomb from which these masks came possibly contained two bodies, one of which was identified by the excavator as a woman. A pair of fine earrings was also found in the tomb, together with a covering for the eyes, finger rings, gold buttons and beads and a coin of the Roman emperor Tiberius (reigned AD 14-37). The masks were placed over the faces of the corpses. This tradition is also attested from burials excavated in the eastern Roman Empire, reinforcing the evidence for cultural links between Rome and its eastern neighbours during this period.
J.E. Curtis, 'Parthian gold from Nineveh', British Museum Yearbook, 1 (1976), pp. 47-66