- Museum number
Grey-brown chalcedony cylinder seal; a bearded figure, either a worshipper or an apotropaic figure, wearing a fringed and tasselled kilt with a double belt, stands facing right, with both hands extended. He stands between two bearded gods who face him; they have the same shoulder-length hair as the worshipper and wear tall head-dresses which flare outwards slightly at the top, with a long tassel or streamer, indicated by a row of small drill-holes, hanging down behind; in their left hand they each hold a ring made up of drill-holes and they extend or raise the other hand. The god on the left has a globe on top of his head-dress, wears a vertically-pleated and tiered robe which hangs open over a kilt, and holds reins attached to the muzzle of a couchant monster, with a lion-griffin's head and the tail of a bird of prey, on which he stands. The god on the right has a winged disc on top of his head-dress, wears a belted robe with a deep fringe, and stands on a couchant bull. Behind the gods, set one above the other, are the Pleiades, a globe-centred star and a goat with splayed horns and bunched legs, turned towards the right. In the upper field, between the left-hand god and the worshipper, is a crescent; between the worshipper and right-hand god is a rhomb. This seal is not particularly well executed and betrays a somewhat careless use of the cutting-wheel and drill. Edges chipped, particularly at the bottom. Ends slightly convex.
- Production date
- 7thC BC(early)
Diameter: 1.70 centimetres
Height: 3.95 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Acccording to catalogue "This is one of the earliest cylinders to be recorded in a European collection. It is not particularly well executed and betrays a somewhat careless use of the cutting-wheel and drill. The theme recalls that of the Maltai reliefs, it is possible that the seal is not far removed in date and belongs to early seventh century. It is likely that, as at Maltai, the winged disc above the right-hand god's head-dress is his attribute, rather than being part of a row of astral symbols in the upper field. By anology with the Maltai reliefs the other deity is probably the moon god Sin. In favour of the indentification of the 'worshipper' as an apotropaic figure is the fact he is wearing a kilt with tassels. The horned quadruped with bunched legs may be the attribute of the god Assur."
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.
Late Assyrian cylinder seal
Height 1.95, diameter 1.7 cm
This is one of the first cylinder seals to be recorded from a European collection. It first belonged to the collector Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), and is said to come from the site of the battle of Marathon. However, as with other objects reportedly from this battlefield, this seal is considerably older and possibly dates to the early 7th century BC. It is carved from grey-brown chalcedony and shows a bearded man wearing a kilt standing in the centre and flanked by a pair of gods, each of whom is supported by a recumbent animal (a lion-griffin on the left and a bull on the right). A radiant sun or star, crescent moon and a stellar constellation (the Pleiades) fill the skies, and a horned animal stands on the left. The meaning of this combination is uncertain, but it has been compared with a Late Assyrian rock relief at Maltai in northern Iraq, and the god on the left therefore identified with the moon-god Sin. The winged disc above the god on the right suggests he may be the Assyrian principal deity Ashur. The individual in the centre therefore may represent the owner invoking the protection of these supreme deities. The use of grey-brown chalcedony is characteristic of Mesopotamian and Achaemenid seals of the first half of the 1st millennium BC, but there are many sources for this type of stone.
Jenkins & Sloan 1996
D'Hancarville thought the various signs indicative of the religion of Zoroastrianism practised at the time of Cyrus the Great (559-529 BC).
LITERATURE: D'Hancarville, MS Catalogue, 11, p.568; Tassie, nos 642-5, pl. 9.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2007 9 Mar-10 Jun, Beijing, The Palace Museum, 'Britain Meets the World: 1714-1830'
- Fair; edges chipped, particularly at the bottom.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- According to xerox of Barnwell catalogue "see Official Reports for 1833, Central Archive".
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number