- Museum number
Gypsum cylinder seal; above - banqueting scene - two kneeling worshippers approach and present their offerings of an ear of corn and a curved implement to seated figures on either side of seated person drinking from pot; below - contest frieze - goat, crossed lions, falling goat or ibex, pair of crossed lions, all joined by line.
Diameter: 20 millimetres
Height: 41 millimetres
- 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 with a banquet and animals fighting
Iraq, Early Dynastic period, about 2600 BC
Translucent pale green calcite
4.1 x 2.0 cm
Purchased in 1911
The design is divided into two registers. Above, three seated figures are shown feasting, accompanied by two standing attendants. The dominant figure faces left and is probably a man who is holding a drinking tube. Facing him is an attendant and a vessel on a stand with drinking tubes in it, one of which is held by a slightly smaller, seated male figure. Beyond is an attendant receiving a flower from a larger seated woman. All the figures wear fringed garments which were probably sheep-skins with the fleece hanging down. The liquid they are drinking was probably beer, but the brewing methods left a layer of scum on the surface, hence the need for drinking tubes. In the lower register there are crossed lions attacking goats, one of them inverted.
This scene is similar to many found on seals and other objects from the famous Royal Cemetery of Ur. Some 1840 graves dating between 2600 and 2000 BC in this cemetery were excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley in the late 1920. Some graves contained very rich artefacts and the bodies of sacrificed retainers. On this seal, the differing size of the figures indicates a hierarchy of importance but information is lacking as to whether the people depicted are a ruler, his son, and his wife or a priestess, or priests and a priestess, or even deities but this is unlikely. Lions were common in Mesopotamia until the second half of the twentieth century and heroes are often depicted protecting domesticated animals from their attack.
- 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
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
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number