Byzantine and Russian icons, £15.99
Height: 10.000 cm
Width: 6.400 cm
Excavated by Captain E. Clayton and Dr Raynolds (1880)
Room 54: Anatolia and Urartu
Ivory figure of a griffin-headed demon
Urartian, 8th-7th century BC
From Toprakkale (ancient Rusahinili), eastern Anatolia (modern Turkey)
Decoration from a throne
Ivory carvings were widely used to decorate important pieces of furniture in antiquity. This very fine example may have been part of a throne. Griffin-headed demons were protective deities, and would therefore have been appropriate as giving divine protection to the throne's occupant.
While similar creatures are depicted on Assyrian wall reliefs at Nimrud, this carving comes from Toprakkale (ancient Rusahinili) in Urartu. This fortified citadel site had within it a major temple of the god Haldi. Excavations were carried out there in 1880 on behalf of The British Museum. A rich collection of objects was found, many in a distinctive local style. It was not clear whether the ivories were locally made copies of Syrian or Assyrian ivories, or were actually imports. Local production of ivories does, though, seem indicated by the fact that elephant tusks are listed by the Assyrians as booty from Urartian temples and palaces. Furthermore, the closest parallels were excavated at the Urartian site of Altintepe.
The kingdom of Urartu, centred on Lake Van, was the northern neighbour and rival of the Assyrian Empire from the ninth to the seventh centuries BC. Elephant tusks are listed by the Assyrians as booty from Urartian temples and palaces. Urartu 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)
D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
R.D. Barnett, 'The excavations of the British Museum at Toprak Kale near Van', Iraq-6, 12 (1950)