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Collections & departments Department of Near Eastern Antiquities

The historical and geographical context of our collection spans a nine-thousand year period from prehistory to the early Islamic Period, and encompasses an area stretching from North Africa to the Indus Valley and Central Asia, and from the Black Sea (Anatolia) to the Arabian peninsula (as far as the Indian Ocean).

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History of the collection

The collection of the Department of Near Eastern Antiquities stems from 19th-century excavations in western Asia by French diplomats and scholars who traveled to the Bible lands in search of the roots of European culture.
The world’s first “Assyrian Museum” opened at the Louvre in 1847; annexed to the “Department of Antiques”, it displayed 37 monumental bas-reliefs discovered by Paul-Emile Botta, the French consul in Mosul, at the site of Khorsabad. Shortly afterward, Félicien de Saulcy returned from his archaeological expedition with Palestinian and Jewish antiquities, Ernest Renan’s excavations in Lebanon supplied the core of the Phoenician collection, and the first Cypriot collection was established by Melchior de Vogué.

A “Department of Oriental Antiquities” was created in 1881 when Sumerian works excavated from the site of Tello (in Lower Mesopotamia) by the French vice-consul at Basra, Ernest de Sarzec, arrived in France. The ancient Iranian civilizations were essentially represented in this department by works from excavations at Susa (a city founded around 4000 BC); the cultural richness of the latter (associated with the civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Iranian hinterland, without interruption up to the Islamic period) reached its peak with the works of Darius and Xerxes, the great kings of the Persian Empire. In 1886, the first elements of the polychrome brick decoration of the Palace of Darius, discovered by the Dieulafoy excavations, entered the Louvre. The archaeological mission led by Jacques de Morgan discovered the “Code of Hammurabi” - the great emblem of Mesopotamian antiquity - in Susa in 1901, together with all the great Sumerian, Akkadian, and Babylonian sculpture of Mesopotamia.

The French archaeologist and philologist François Thureau-Dangin contributed to the deciphering of the Sumerian language in the early 20th century, and his name is linked to the construction of the department’s epigraphic collection. The principal contribution of the interwar period came from Claude Schaeffer’s excavations at Ras Shamra (Ugarit), and those conducted at Mari by André Parrot, who excavated there from 1933 to 1974 while pursuing his career as department curator, then as director of the Louvre  (1968-1972).

Significant collections of Cypriot (Enkomi) and other antiquities, derived from excavations by the Biblical School of Jerusalem at Tell el-Farah (Tirzah), further enriched the collection until the 1960s and were supplemented by donations and acquisitions. The Anatolian, Punic, and South Arabian collections were added to with loans from the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Institut. Large private collections (such as the one assembled by Louis de Clercq around 1900 and donated by Henri de Boisgelin in 1967, and the Coiffard collection of Luristan bronzes, acquired in 1958) completed certain series of objects and prompted the creation of others. Finally, the collections were extended toward Central Asia thanks to a number of acquisitions made in recent decades.

Rescue excavations at Meskene (Emar) unearthed a final set of objects which entered the Louvre in 1980. Current additions to the department derive essentially from loan agreements; thanks to one such arrangement with Jordan, a gypsum statue from Ain Ghazal (dated around 7000 BC) entered the department in 1997, and is currently the oldest major artwork in the Louvre.

Presentation of the collections

The evolution of research influenced the department’s organization into three major cultural and geographical areas: ancient Mesopotamia, the Iranian world (as far as Central Asia), and the lands west of the Euphrates (the Mediterranean Levant, including Cyprus, Anatolia, the Arabian Peninsula, and North Africa). Within these geographical areas, the scope and diversity of the collections allow for a historical approach; the exhibits are therefore arranged chronologically.

The Louvre’s expansion with the Richelieu Wing was an opportunity for the department to rearrange its collections. The first phase of this transformation occupied the new wing, and was inaugurated in 1993; it comprises the complete Mesopotamian section [Rooms 1 to 6] featuring Sumerian artworks, the Code of Hammurabi, and the Khorsabad Court, together with the first part of the Iranian section [Rooms 7 to 10]. Another section [Rooms A to D] in the west wing of the Cour Carrée opened the same year; it is devoted to Cyprus and the Levant from prehistory to the Phoenician period in the early first millennium BC.

Thanks to a generous donation, the second phase was inaugurated in 1997; it concerns the north wing of the Cour Carrée (now called the “Sackler Wing of Oriental Antiquities”). The Iranian section continues here, with the Iron Age collection (1st millennium BC), the remains of the palace of Persian king Darius I in Susa, and objects representing the Parthian and Sassanid empires. A section of the north wing houses galleries devoted to the Levant (until the conquest of Alexander), with royal sarcophagi from Sidon. Carthage and Punic North Africa represent the Phoenicians in the West. The last rooms are devoted to the civilizations of pre-Islamic Arabia from the 7th century BC to the 3rd century AD (essentially Yemen and Hauran), and to the caravan cities of Syria (Palmyra and Dura Europos). Finally, a section dedicated to Cyprus in the 1st millennium BC is structured around the monumental vase from Amathus.

A third phase, scheduled for the fall of 2012 in the Denon Wing, aims to organize joint exhibitions by the three Antiquities Departments, based on Roman objects from the eastern Mediterranean.

 

Practical information

Study and research center of the department
Email: marianne.cotty@louvre.fr
Tel.: +33 (0)1 40 20 68 30 (in the morning)
or +33 (0)1 40 20 59 66 (in the afternoon)

Opening hours: open from Monday to Friday,
from 1:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Admission: free admission
Bring identification
Location: Pavillon Mollien, 1st floor