- Museum number
Black serpentine cylinder seal; the sun-god with rays, brandishing a serrated blade, ascends between two mountains and places his foot on the right hand one. He is bearded, with his hair in a bun and he wears a multiple-horned head-dress and a striped skirt. On either side an attendant god holds open a gate. One gate is surmounted by a lioness and one by a lion. An attendant god with both hands clasped, stands facing the sun-god. All the attendant gods are attired like the sun-god. In the field, a mace; a star-and-grid shape; a star-spade.
Diameter: 2.45 centimetres
Diameter: 1 inches
Height: 3.80 centimetres
Height: 1.50 inches
- Curator's comments
- "Treasures of the World's Cultures: The British Museum after 250 Years" catalogue entry
D Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals in the Ancient Near East (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
Cylinder seals were used in the Ancient Near East from about 3400 BC for over three thousand years. They were, as their name implies, cylindrical, generally made of stone and carved with a design in intaglio so that when they were rolled out on clay they left a continuous and repeating design in relief. Generally they were perforated longitudinally so that they could be worn round the owner's neck or wrist, or fastened to a pin attached to his or her garment. The cylinder seal was particularly adapted to use in Mesopotamia (now Iraq and north-eastern Syria) where clay was plentiful and where the cuneiform system of writing on clay tablets developed.
The seals are illustrated by their modern impressions and it is these which are described, generally from left to right. Dimensions are those of the height x diameter of the seal.
Cylinder seal depicting the Sun-god
Southern Iraq, Akkadian period, about 2300 BC
3.8 x 2.45 (ends) and 2.4 (middle) cm (concave-sided)
Purchased in 1873
The Sun-god is shown in the centre, facing right, rising between two mountains at dawn. Rays rise from his shoulders, he holds a saw-toothed knife with which he has cut his way through the mountains, and he places one foot on a mountain. The meaning of the symbols on either side is not clear but that on the right (the star-spade) is closely associated with the Sun-god. On either side, two attendant gods hold open the gates of dawn which are decorated on top with the figures of a recumbent lioness and lion. In front of one of these attendants is a mace and behind the other is a god with hands clasped in an attitude of worship. All the figures are bearded and wear the horned head-dress that indicates divinity and a pleated skirt which, at least in two cases, is open in front to allow freedom of movement.
It is only with the adoption in late Early Dynastic times, around 2400 BC, of the horned head-dress, that deities in anthropomorphic form can definitely be identified. In the succeeding Akkadian period there seems to have been a systematic organisation of the pantheon and an attempt to develop an iconography for major deities such as the Sun-god. In southern Iraq the sun rises behind the Zagros Mountains which mark the eastern borders with Iran and this determined the Sun-god's iconography.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2009 11 Dec-2010 10 May, Madrid, Canal de Isabel II, Treasures of the World’s Cultures
2009 1 May-20 Sep, Victoria, Royal BC Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2007 14 Sep-2 Dec, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2007 3 Feb-27 May, Taipei, National Palace Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2006 18 Mar-4 Jun, Beijing, Capital Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 27 Oct-2006 31 Jan, Haengso Museum, Keimyung University, Daegu, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 25 Jul-8 Oct, Busan Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2005 11 Apr-10 Jul, Seoul Arts Centre, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2000, Barcelona, 'Foundation of the City'
1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, The Enduring Image
1997 13 Oct-1998 5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, The Enduring Image
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number