- Museum number
Banded brown and white sardonyx (probably artifically dyed) cylinder seal with parts that are particularly translucent. Both the very uneven brown and white-grey colouring of the broad central band and the concentration of brown in numerous fractures suggest that the seal was worked in agate (possibly pale grey and whitish) and then dyed using a honey-like solution, so that the induced colouring follows the natural banding of the material; drilled perforation with engraved scene; crowned figure (royal hero?) in combat with regardant monsters, ancillary monsters and symbol. The personage stands facing left with torso presented frontally, his square-tipped beard is marked by vertical striations, his hair is in full page-boy style, he wears a 'spiked' dentate crown and is dressed in a Persian robe, its upper section appearing more like a stiff covering with a narrow band across the chest; his arms are outstretched and slightly raised, and he seizes the horns of two rampant, regardant, winged bulls. Each bull has one foreleg raised and straight, and the other bent down; they have one well-defined ear, horns curving forwards, striated markings across the necks and ribs and long tufted tails curving upwards; the single wings sweep backwards with the feathers singled out along the lower edge and splayed at the curved tips. The whole group stands on the heads and haunches of two addorsed, couchant, winged, bearded sphinxes, with forelegs stretched out in front, and hairstyles and crowns similar to those of the personage; their upward-curving wings are similar to those of the bulls; while the tail of the sphinx facing left rises straight up, that of the other sphinx appears to stop short at the foot of the central figure. To the side and bottom of the main scene, a small figure facing left is seated on a low-backed chair or stool with animal feet; he is clean shaven and a tall crook-shaped feather (?) rises on top of his head; he is dressed in a full-length tunic, carries a quiver with arrows on the back and draws a curved bow; above him are two signs - a crescent moon with points turned down and a full moon within it, and three fox-tails tied together. Depending on which way the seal is rolled, the smaller group can form a secondary heraldic scene with the bulls on either side. However, this would not seem to be the intention of the seal-cutter, judging by the rather narrow space left for the side group and its less detailed cutting compared with the careful, lightly-modelled engraved of the main figures; worn and chipped on both edges so that the diametres of the ends are irregular. The stone seems to have been especially chosen because it had two bands of a lighter colour at each end. Certain differences in the engraving suggest that part of the design was cut at a later date. There are Egyptian hieroglyphic symbols at the end of the scene.
- Production date
- 6thC BC-4thC BC
Diameter: 0.95 - 1 centimetres
Diameter: 0.20 centimetres (perforation)
Height: 3.10 centimetres
- Inscription subject
- Curator's comments
- According to Merrillees catalogue "a stamp seal impression from Memphis shows the same combination of hieroglyphs; (note that the fox skins are not stylised, leading Petrie to comment that the seal must have been cut by a Greek). It is improbable that this could be Pharaoh Ahmose II (Amasis) of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty (570-526 BC), as it is too early for the style of this present seal. It is therefore more likely to be the name of his son, also called Ahmose, or that of a private individual. The fact that the inscription does not appear in a cartouche is not, unfortunately conclusive, as the names of both Ahmose II and his son occur without cartouches. However, Giovino (citing Dusinberre) points to the fact that pedestal animals are often found on seals bearing a royal inscription and are associated with royal and elite iconography". Same source also states "combats between figures in Persian robe and addorsed, regardant bulls occur on impressions from Persepolis and Nippur and on an unprovenanced seal.... The winged disc with downward wings can be seen on Phoenician scarabs. The depiction of the seated archer may have its origins in the iconography developed for Tutankhamun c.1327. His headgear is reminiscent of the ostrich-feather head-dress of Maat, Egyptian goddess of truth".
- Bibliographic references
Merrillees 2005 / Catalogue of the Western Asiatic seals in the British Museum: Pre-Achaemenid and Achaemenid periods (56)
Unger E 1966a / OAW (250/2, pp.56, 62, 67)
Cullimore A 1842 / Oriental Cylinders, Impressions of ancient oriental cylinders, or rolling seals of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Medo-Persians (103)
Micali G 1844 / Monumenti inediti a illustrazione della storia degli antichi popoli italiani (p.12, tav. I,5)
Lajard F 1847 / Introduction a l'etude du culte public et des mysteres de Mithra en Orient et en Occident (XIII, 8)
Ohnefalsch-Richter M 1893 / Kypros, die Babel und Homer (pls.XCIX:4, CIV:13)
Ward W H 1910 / The Seal Cylinders of Western Asia (1118)
Schmidt EF 1957a / Persepolis II: Contents of the Treasury and Other Discoveries (pl.4:7) (cf:)
Legrain L 1925 / The Culture of the Babylonians from their Seals in the Collection of the Museum (946, 952) (cf:)
Boardman 1968a / Archaic Greek gems (22) (cf:)
Curtis & Tallis 2005 / Forgotten Empire: The world of Ancient Persia (cat. 73, p. 94)
Giovino M 2006a / Egyptian hieroglyphs on Achaemenid period cylinder seals (pp.105-107, fig. 1)
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2006 7 Mar-11 Jun, Barcelona, Fundacion La Caixa, 'L'imperi Oblidat'
2005-2006 Sept-Jan, London, BM, 'Forgotten Empire'
Case 8, R Row 1
- Fair; complete; worn and chipped on both edges so that the diametres of the ends are irregular.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- According to register part of "collection of Babylonian signets and cylinders". Bought from Messers Bonomi and Catherwood (BM Central Archive, Committee minutes volume XIV, p.3984). and annotated "Bonomi" in WAA copy of Cullimore. Also described without details of method of acquisition in British Museum List of Additions, 1835, pp.467-8 (British Library shelf no: 732 f 13). No further details in Department's report to Trustees (BM central archive Reports, 1835, p.3923).
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number