- Museum number
Hematite cylinder seal; presentation scene; a bearded god and a bald, clean-shaven worshipper, both wearing fringed robes and standing with hands clasped, face a deified king behind whom, instead of an inscription are a lion and a bull-man (full-face with a horned head-dress) in conflict. In the field are a small figure in a cap, upside down, and a ball-and-staff; a couchant lion set at right-angles and a small suppliant goddess; two ostriches (?) on either side of a star-disc and crescent below which are four drill-holes round the hand of the king, with a fourth behind him, a small star behind his head and a monkey facing him; a merman (?) wearing a crested cap. Line border round the bottom of the seal.
- Production date
- 19thC BC (about)
Diameter: 1.35 centimetres
Height: 2.20 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Originally this was a standard presentation scene before a deified king and the unusual features of this seal are due to recutting. The god is, in fact, a recut suppliant goddess and the horizontals of her flounced robe can still be seen at the back of the figure which was carefully reworked to resemble the worshipper; the staff the god is holding possibly masks a fault in the stone. The lion and bull-man were quite possibly cut for the first owner - in any case there are no traces of an earlier inscription unless the fish-man was used to mask a sign. Of the filling motifs the ball-and-staff, and monkey and the sun-disc and crescent are original; the small lion may have been cut to mask traces left by the first suppliant goddess's raised hands and at the same time she was replaced by a diminutive substitute while the small male figure behind the god may incorporate the pot we would expect to find above the ball-and-staff. Unger's interpretation of these later filling motifs is most improbable but he is right in relating them to Cappadocian work.
Draft entry for Palace Museum catalogue, 2006:
Ancient cylinder seals from Iraq
For over 8000 years in the Middle East people have used small purpose-made objects to seal packages, mark ownership, witness transactions or confirm signatures. The earliest of these seals were small square, rectangular or triangular stamps with geometric designs carved on the face with a small handle on the reverse which was perforated for suspension by a cord around the wrist or neck of the owner. At about 3,000 BC in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), these were replaced by cylindrical seals which carried longer and more complex figural compositions. Different stones were preferred at different periods, perhaps because of a combination of changing patterns of fashion, availability and drilling technologies. Harder stones were preferred as they were the least susceptible to wear but cheaper locally available materials such as clay were used by poorer individuals. The name of the owner was sometimes added on the seal but most are uninscribed. The seals are broadly datable according to their style, and there has been much research into their iconography. Seals are occasionally found in excavated graves, thus proving how they were worn. Unsurprisingly, owing to their attractive appearance they have also been widely collected.
Old Babylonian cylinder seal with presentation scene
Height 2.2, diameter 1.35 cm
This seal dates to the 19th century BC, and stylistically belongs to the Old Babylonian period when southern Iraq was unified under the rule of king Hammurabi, best-known for his law code monument inscribed on a stone monolith. The seal is carved from haematite, which is a hard material which was part of a fashion for using imported dark stones in Mesopotamia during the late 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. The design is what is termed a standard presentation scene, of a bald suppliant individual and bearded god before a deified king, with a contest scene behind of a lion and bull-man wearing a divine horned head-dress. Traces also survive of an earlier composition, indicating that this object has been recycled and re-cut. This seal was part of the important collection of antiquities formed by Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803). As with other ancient Near Eastern seals from his collection, it was said to be from the site of the battle of Marathon, in Greece, which was fought between the Greeks and Persians in 490 BC. This is very unlikely and possibly reflects a combination of facts: "Persepolitan" was a term extended to all cuneiform inscriptions and sculptures (even Assyrian reliefs on the shores of the Mediterranean at Nahr el-Kelb) as academic preconceptions were effectively limited to Achaemenid remains from Persepolis, Mesopotamian art was practically unheard of in the 18th century, and the romantic connotations of a battlefield provenance embued with the resonance of ancient Greek writers probably proved irresistable.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2007 9 Mar-10 Jun, Beijing, The Palace Museum, 'Britain Meets the World: 1714-1830'
- Fair; small friable patch noted by conservation (16/12/05)
- Acquisition date
- 1791 (pre)
- Acquisition notes
- Hamilton Collection.
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number