- Museum number
Copper alloy socketed axe-head; blade is gripped by the open mouth of a lion's head behind which a row of four identical animal-heads form a spike butt; blade has narrow neck; cutting edge shows signs of repeated whetting in antiquity.
- Production date
Diameter: 2.20 centimetres (interior of the socket)
Height: 13 centimetres
Weight: 342.50 grammes
Width: 20.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Type discussed by O.W. Muscarella, 1988: 'Bronze and Iron', pp.189-91, no.304; 130676 cited as parallel for lot 144 in Christie's 'Antiquities' sale, April 2007 (p.106). Other comparanda include: Boisgirard auction catalogue, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 16 November 2007, p.75, lot 130.
Original catalogue entry by St J. Simpson for Cernuschi loan (2008)
Shaft-hole axe with spiked butt
Between 12th-8th centuries BC
Height 13, Width 20.5, Diameter of shaft hole 2.2 cm (interior), Weight 342.50g
Gadd 1952b: 12, pl. III; Moorey 1974: 45, pl.1.A; Curtis 1989: 29, fig. 35
London, The British Museum, 130676 (ME 1945,1015.3)
Bequeathed by Oscar Charles Raphael (d. 1941) in 1945
Shaft-hole axe-head; copper alloy, cast in a two-piece mould. The blade issues from the roaring mouth of a lion’s head, behind which a row of four identical animal-heads form a spike butt. It was originally shafted on a wooden handle but no traces of this survive.
Spike-butted bronze axe-heads are among the best-known category of canonical “Luristan bronze”. They include three unprovenanced examples said to be from Luristan which carry cuneiform inscriptions of the Elamite king Shilhak-Inshushinak (reigned 1150-1120 BC) and the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I (reigned 1125-1104 BC); a fourth example excavated at the Kiririsha temple at Chogha Zanbil had an inscription of Untash-Napirisha (reigned 1340-1300 BC). Although there are differences of opinion over the origin of these, it is most likely that they are Elamite and Mesopotamian products rather than being made locally and they simply ended up in circulation in Luristan alongside the inscribed daggers (and doubtless many other imported objects without inscriptions). Uninscribed spike-butted axes have also been found in controlled excavations of graves at Bard-i Bal, Kutal-i Gulgul and Khatunban, a grave or hoard at Tang-i Hamamlan and the sanctuary at Dum Surkh (Overlaet 2003: 166-67). Although many of these sites showed signs of reuse or have evidence for deposition of heirlooms, the axes date between the 12th and 8th centuries BC: after this period they appear to have been replaced by iron axe-heads with solid butts.
The function of these objects is not entirely straight-forward. Some excavated at Dum Surkh or known from the art market are miniatures and imply that these were made for display and/or ritual deposition. Many of the larger examples have blunt or reinforced thickened “cutting” edges or the curved blade is at such an extreme angle to the line of haft that it would have been impossible to use them as axes in the usual sense. In other cases the blades do show signs of sharpening, implying that these were used as weapons and/or tools, and the fact that some are relatively elaborate does not exclude their practical function. The solution may lie in considering the manner in which they were hafted, perhaps on a heavily curved rather than straight shaft, and the fact that the spiked butt not only offered counter-balance to the long blade but also allowed the weapon to be swung backwards and forwards rather like a mace rather than an axe sensu strictu. In this case, the attention paid to reinforcing the edges of the blade make sense if the object was used to punch rather than cut through armour.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2008 9 Feb-22 Jun, Paris, Musée Cernuschi, "Bronzes du Luristan. Mystères de l'Iran ancien. IIIe-Ier millénaire avant notre ère".
1995-2005 17 Nov-14 Dec, BM, G52/IRAN/16/12.
1994 Jul-Dec, BM, G49/IRAN/16.
1975-1990 Jul-Dec, BM, Iranian Room [IR], case 3, no. 5.
Iranian Room, case 3/5.
Iranian Room case 2.
- Fair; previously cleaned to bare metal.
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number