- Museum number
Cylinder-seal of grey-brown chalcedony: showing a double combat scene. The pair to the left consists of a personage (royal hero?) who stands facing right with torso presented frontally with his unmarked, square-tipped beard shaped to the contours of his jaw and his faintly striated hair bunched at the nape of the neck with a row of round curls outlining the hairline; his prominent nose, fleshy lips, large full eye and high cheekbone are carefully modelled; he wears a dentate crown set on a wide base and is dressed in a so-called Persian robe worn hitched up at the belt, with long sleeves pushed back at the shoulders, decorated along the sleeve and hem borders with rows of dots. This personage carries at his side, in his right hand, a dagger with pommel, straight guard and ridged leaf-shaped blade, while his other arm is slightly raised and he lifts by a hind leg an inverted, snarling lion. The lion has its head turned backwards, its mane depicted by four rows of fine, overlapping lines, and its tail in double curls upwards.
The second pair consists of a bare-headed personage (royal hero?) leaping forward, also to the right with his torso shown frontally; his beard and hair are similar to those of the first figure but with a double row of round curls outlining his face; he wears a fringed calf-length robe, reminiscent of Neo-Assyrian dress, with the upper half making a long 'V' down the chest with all of the borders fringed and fringe extending round the thigh; he holds a two-strand whip at his side, in his right hand, slightly raises the left arm and seizes a rampant, regardant bull by its angled horn. The bull has undulating lines across its neck and a long, tufted tail that curls up and round.
The facial and bodily features of all the figures are very carefully detailed with fine and, in the main, naturalistic modelling, emphasized by well-intergrated large and small drill-holes used for the hair curls, eyes, noses, dress decorations, jaw and berry-like paws (but note the more realistic lion's second hind paw with one claw).
The battling pairs are placed on a ground line and the scene is bordered above by a narrow double line.
Both edges are worn and chipped; small chip below the hem of the figure in Persian dress.
- Production date
- 6thC BC
Diameter: 0.30 centimetres (perforation)
Diameter: 2.20 centimetres
Height: 4.80 centimetres
- Curator's comments
According to Merrillees catalogue "this seal is most unusual and there is no good provenanced parallel. However, the concept of the double combating pair is seen on" other seals. "A seal from Susa has a Median figure with spear standing to the side and a Neo-Babylonian figure in combat with an inverted bull, which is not unlike the one" in this seal ", even to the placement of one foot on the bull victim (cited by Porada as a Neo-Babylonian figure) .... Brandt has a Median figure combating two lions and a crowned figure at the side with a bow (this cylinder seems to be by the same hand as" one referenced by Amiet. "The engraving of" this seal "resembles that of archaic Greek gems, for example in the fine overlapping lines of the lion's mane".
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.
Achaemenid cylinder seal with combat scene
Height 4.8 cm, diameter 2.2 cm
This very fine chalcedony cylinder seal was part of the important collection of antiquities and manuscripts formed by Claudius Rich while he was East India Company Resident in Baghdad in the early 19th century. It has been stylistically attributed most recently to the 6th century BC, and probably dates to the early Achaemenid period. It depicts two hero figures in hand combat with a lion and a bull. Although the style of engraving of the right figure has been compared with Archaic Greek work, the hero on the left wears classic Achaemenid dress or so-called Persian royal robe, which in this case has been hitched up at the belt with the long sleeves rolled back to allow the hero to fight more comfortably. Similar scenes are depicted on the door frames of the palace of Darius at Persepolis. This seal was first published by Rich in 1813, and the design was later incorporated at an enlarged scale in a famous watercolour completed in 1845 by the Scottish artist James Stephanoff (c. 1876-1874) which purports to show “An Assemblage of Works of Art, from the Earliest Period to the Time of Phydias”. This reconstruction was mainly based on objects in the British Museum but in the case of this seal it is likely that Stephanoff’s source was an illustration in Isaac Cullimore’s influential publication of Oriental Seals, Impressions of ancient oriental cylinders, or rolling seals of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Medo-Persians (1842).
- Bibliographic references
Merrillees 2005 / Catalogue of the Western Asiatic seals in the British Museum: Pre-Achaemenid and Achaemenid periods (30)
Frankfort H 1954a / The art and architecture of the Ancient Orient (190 b&c)
Roaf M 1990a / Cultural atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East (p.73)
Barnett & Wiseman 1960a / Fifty masterpieces of Ancient Near Eastern Art (p.93, no.47)
Pope 1938 / Survey of Persian Art (vol. I, pp.386, 388, 395 and vol.IV, pl.124B)
Rich C J 1813 / Continuation of the Memoir on the antiquities of Babylon (p.199, pl.II:6)
Munter F 1827 / Religion der Babylonier (pl.II:23)
Cullimore A 1842 / Oriental Cylinders, Impressions of ancient oriental cylinders, or rolling seals of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Medo-Persians (102)
Micali G 1844 / Monumenti inediti a illustrazione della storia degli antichi popoli italiani (p.12, pl.I:10)
Lajard F 1847 / Introduction a l'etude du culte public et des mysteres de Mithra en Orient et en Occident (pl.XV:4)
Furtwangler A 1900 / Die antiken Gemmen (vol.I, pl.I:14, vol.II, p.5)
Ward W H 1910 / The Seal Cylinders of Western Asia (1127)
Wiseman 1959 / Cylinder Seals of Western Asia (105)
Lloyd S 1961 / Art of the Ancient Near East (illus.214)
Porada E 1961 / Review of D.J Wiseman "Cylinder Seals of Western Asia" (5/6, p.251) (probably of Greek workmanship)
Unger E 1966a / OAW (250/2, pp.33, 51, 56, 62, 67, pl.I)
Boardman 1968a / Archaic Greek gems (pp.91,100)
Collon 1987a / First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East (428)
Curtis 1995b / Catalogue entries (p.261, no.57)
Boardman J 1970 / Greek Gems and Finger Rings: Early Bronze Age to Late Classical (pls. 389, 391) (cf:)
Allen 2005a / The Persian Empire: A History (p.53)
Curtis & Tallis 2005 / Forgotten Empire: The world of Ancient Persia (cat. 72, p. 93)
Lippold G 1922a / Gemmen und Kameen des Altertums und der Neuzeit (p.168, pl. I:3)
Moortgat A 1926a / Hellas und die Kunst der Achämeniden (p.19, pl. X: 3)
Richter G 1946a / Greeks in Persia (pp.27-28, fig. 24)
Oates J 1979a / Babylon (p.197, no.93)
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2013 27 Sept-early Dec, Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 'Cyrus Cylinder'
2013 9 Aug-20 Sept, San Francisco, Asian Arts Museum, 'Cyrus Cylinder'
2013 21 June-2 Aug, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 'Cyrus Cylinder'
2013 3 May-14 June, Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, 'Cyrus Cylinder'
2013 15 Mar-26 Apr, Washington, Freer Sackler Gallery, 'Cyrus Cylinder'
2010 3 Dec - 2011 3 May, Madrid, Canal de Isabel II, Alejandro Magno: Encuentro con Oriente
2010 21 Mar - 1 Nov, Leobon, Kunsthalle Museumcenter, Alexander der Grosse und die offnung der Welt
2009 2 Oct - 2010 21 Feb, Mannheim, Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Alexander der Grosse und die offnung der Welt
2007 9 Mar-10 Jun, Beijing, The Palace Museum, 'Britain Meets the World: 1714-1830'
2006 7 Mar-11 Jun, Barcelona, Fundacion La Caixa, 'L'imperi Oblidat'
2005 Sept-2006 Jan, London, BM, 'Forgotten Empire'
1997 4 Dec-1998 31 Jan, Greece, Thessaloniki, Kyvernion, Alexander the Great and the East
1997 29 May-28 Oct, Germany, Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum, Das Siegel Im Alten Vorderasien
1996 1 Oct-1997 31 Mar, USA, St. Petersburg, Florida International Museum, Alexander the Great: History and Legend
1995 21 Dec-1996 21 May, Rome, Fondazione Memmo, Alexander the Great: History and Legend
1989 28 May-27 Aug, Germany, Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, 'Europa und der Orient: 800-1900 (Ex Oriente Lux)'
1986-1987 9 Oct-29 Mar, BM, 'Claudius James Rich. Diplomat, archaeologist and collector'
1977 BM, 'Animals in Art'
1960 BM, Room of Writing
- Fair; both edges are worn and chipped; small chip to design.
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: R.134