White calcite (marble) cylinder seal with a combat scene

Probably from southern Iraq
Early Dynastic period, about 2700 BC

Bull-men and Heroes

This seal is engraved with a combat scene typical of the Early Dynastic period. It has been suggested that such scenes indicate the owner of the seal was male, while seals owned by women were carved with 'banquet scenes'.

Although similar figures are depicted earlier in Iran, the 'bull-man', with human head and torso, and the horns, lower body and legs of a bull, first appears in Iraq around 2750 BC. Bull-men are often seen on cylinder seals, where they appear either singly, in pairs or even in triplicate, fighting animals standing on their hind legs (generally, as here, lions). The meaning of the bull-man is unclear but he may represent the struggle between nature and civilization.

Generally the bull-man is shown in combat alongside a human figure, usually as here a 'hero' with prominent curly hair and a wide belt. Scenes of contest with bull-men fighting lions, and heroes protecting or fighting other animals become the most common theme in the glyptic art of the next phase of Mesopotamian history, the Akkadian period (2300-2100 BC)

Bull-men are usually shown in profile, with a single visible horn projecting forward. On this seal, one of them is depicted in a less common form; his whole body above the waist is in frontal view and shows that he was intended to be double-horned.

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More information


D.J. Wiseman, Catalogue of the Western Asiat (London, 1962)

J. Rawson, Animals in art (London, The British Museum Press, 1977)


Length: 4.120 cm
Diameter: 3.650 cm

Museum number

ME 89538


Acquired by E.A.W. Budge by 1888


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