Rare cylinder seal with Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian engravings

€2,600
In stock
Object number
AR2448-04
This seal from Old Babylon has been reworked in Old Assyrian style, probably in Anatolia or Northern Syria. It tells a story of political and cultural diversity in the ancient Near East.
Object: Rare cylinder seal with Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian engravings

Material: Black stone, haematite.

Period: 1900 BC to 1600 BC,
Old Babylonian period.
Figures in another style have been added later during the period mentioned above to the Old Babylonian seal. Those belong to the culture and style of the Old Assyrian Empire.

Description:    Cylindrical seal with drill hole along the central axis. A mythological scene is carved into the mantle of the seal. The seal impression shows four standing figures. Right is the sun god Shamash holding out his saw. Left, facing the sun god is a worshipper offering a kid. There are two further figures on the left, behind the worshipper. A Lama goddess is standing behind him and introducing him. And behind her is a god with mace standing on a pedestal.
While this scene corresponds to the period and style of the Old Babylonian core land another scene has been engraved which is stylistically clearly different. That scene shows a lion griffin above an inverted lion attacking a hero. It is typical for Old Assyrian glyptics.
There are also remains of engravings which are so worn that they cannot be deciphered anymore. It could have been an inscription for the original ancient owner.

The absolutely stunning and rare combination of styles can be interpreted as follows. The seal was made in the core land of Old Babylon and later brought to one of the trade cities in Anatolia or Northern Syria. With the emergence of Old Assyrian power in that region starting around 1900 BC the seal was reworked (see also Keel-Leu & Teissier, no. 297, 299 and 303). This piece tells a story from times of political and cultural diversity in the ancient Near East.

Background: Cylinder seals have been invented by the early civilizations of Mesopotamia. From the 4th Millenium BC onwards they conquered the whole Near East and beyond. The emergence of this type of seal coincides with the first abundant use of scripture to manage the young highly organized city states. Such early seals are therefore a glimpse at the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia. Later seals broaden the view to all areas of administration, but also to trade and even personal matters. Many officials, traders and private persons must have possessed cylinder seals during the Bronze Age of Mesopotamia.
What a happy instance for today's historians. Cylinder seals were made of durable materials and survived the millenia nearly unchanged. A treasury of images and inscriptions is reaching out to us from the Bronze Age. Thanks to the diverse original owners many stray finds have been made in the Near and Middle East. After the interest in antiquity has been reborn in Europe such finds have been preserved and valued. Many pieces could be attended to in private and public collections. And because of academic excavations with documented find contexts a chronology could be worked out. Today, also the stray pieces on the art market and in collections can be dated by iconographic means.
For us it is a very special sensation to hold such seals in our hands and reflect the rise and fall of civilizations.

Dimensions: 25mm length, 14mm diameter.

Preservation: Almost perfect condition. Surface slightly worn with small chips at the ends. Inlcuding seal impression.

Provenance: Acquired 2018 on the British art market. Previously in an important London private collection containing several hundred ancient seals. The piece was acquired for the collection between 1970 and 1988, collection no. PL4. While in the London collection the cylinder seal was inspected and described by Professor Lambert. A copy of his notes is available.
Wilfred George Lambert (1926 to 2011), a British archeologist specialized on Western Asia, was a professor at the University of Birmingham. After his retirement he was active in the ancient near eastern department of the British Museum.

References: Cf. D. Collon, First Impressions, Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East (2005), no. 765 to 769 for depictions of Shamash.
Cf. Keel-Leu & Teissier, The Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals of the Collections BIBLE+ORIENT of the University of Fribourg, no. 297, 299 and 303 for seals reworked in a similar way.

Authenticity: We guarantee the authenticity of this object and all works of ancient art sold by us for life.