- Museum number
Gold foil face-mask; details of human face crudely indicated by repoussé work; four holes, one at each corner, for attachment.
- Production date
- 2ndC (about)
Height: 16.50 centimetres
Width: 15.30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Additional graves dating to the 1st-2nd century AD and containing gold face-masks, eye- and mouth-covers, diadems and appliqués belonging to types now paralleled from eastern Roman sites in Lebanon. Others were apparently discovered near the northern end of Sennacherib's palace on the mound of Kuyunjik at Nineveh, in 1852 by Christian Rassam, although whether these belonged to a single cemetery or a series of intramural burials is unclear, as is the exact position of discovery (Curtis 1976; 1995)
Curtis, J.E. (1976): "Parthian gold from Nineveh". 'British Museum Yearbook. I. The Classical tradition', London: BMP, pp. 47-66.
__________ (1995): "Gold Face-Masks in the Ancient Near East", 'The Archaeology of Death in the Ancient Near East' (Campbell, S. & Green, A., eds): pp. 226-231. Oxford; Oxbow Monograph 51.
"Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years" catalogue entry
(ANE 24, 25, 22, 23)
Two funerary masks, eye cover and mouth cover
Northern Iraq, Parthian, 2nd century AD
L13.9, W14.2 cm; L16.5, W15.3 cm; L13.2, W3.9 cm; L9.4, W4.5 cm
ANE 123894, 123895, 123896, 1856.9-9.76
J E Curtis, 'Parthian gold from Nineveh', British Museum Yearbook, 1 (1976), pp. 47-66, fig. 87, no. 1
The gold masks come from graves on the site of the former Late Assyrian citadel at Nineveh. They were discovered in 1852. Excavations on this mound also suggest the presence there of important buildings. The graves date to a period when Nineveh was an important town in the independent state of Adiabene, situated between the Parthian and Roman empires. Occasional finds of Roman pottery, coins and military equipment hint that Nineveh may have briefly been incorporated within the eastern Roman Empire.
In the graves, bodies had been placed in stone-lined cists roughly built from slabs of stone. It is not clear exactly how many tombs were discovered. Some had been looted in antiquity, although the tombs still contained rich grave-goods.
The tomb from which these masks came possibly contained two bodies, one of which was identified by the excavator as a woman. A pair of fine earrings was also found in the tomb, together with coverings for the eyes and mouth, finger rings, gold buttons and beads and a coin of the Roman emperor Tiberius (reigned AD 14-37). The masks were placed over the faces of the corpses. This tradition is also attested from burials excavated in the eastern Roman Empire, reinforcing the evidence for cultural links between Rome and its eastern neighbours during this period.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2022 26 Mar-19 Jun, Lakeside Arts, University of Nottingham, Ancient Iraq
2020 7-18 Mar and 1 Sep-1 Nov, Newcastle upon Tyne, Great North Museum: Hancock, Ancient Iraq
2019 March 11-June 23 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 'Between Parthia and Rome'
1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, 'The Enduring Image'
1997-1998 13 Oct-5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, 'The Enduring Image'
1995-2003 17 Nov-Oct, BM, G52/IRAN/10
1994 16 Jun-23 Dec, BM, G49/IRAN
1975-1990 Jul-end, BM, Iranian Room [IR], case ?, no. 14
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number