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Work The Birth of Horus

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

The Birth of Horus

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Raphaël Chipault

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Chevalier

This carved ivory plaque embellished with gold was part of the decoration of a piece of furniture, as is shown by the presence of four mortises on the back, together with two Aramaic characters intended to guide assembly. The subject, the birth of Horus on a lotus flower, is borrowed from the Egyptian iconographic repertoire. The theme is very freely interpreted here, the god Horus being flanked by two winged genii. The scene has been found depicted on twelve other plaques.

The ivories of Arslan Tash

The Aramaean city of Hadatu (present-day Arslan Tash), known for its vast circular wall, was annexed by the Assyrians, who in the second half of the 8th century BC built an enormous palace there. To the east of this a smaller palace was found, and it was in clearing Room Number 14 that a magnificent group of ivories was discovered. This discovery gave its name to the "Ivories Building," which had been used, at least towards the end of its existence, for storing furniture.
The archaeologists discovered more than a hundred ivory plaques that had been used to decorate wooden furniture - probably a throne and one or more beds, as mentioned in certain passages of the Bible (I Kings 10:18 and Amos 6:4).
Although found at the governor's residence, this furniture was not Assyrian, but represented booty taken from the palaces of Aramaean and Phoenician princes during the Assyrian conquest. Some of these plaques may have come from Damascus, the capital of the Aramaean state, which was taken by Tiglath-Pileser III in 732 BC. In fact, an inscribed plaque dating from the 9th century BC bears the name of Hazael, king of Damascus and enemy of Jehu, king of Israel. Comparison with ivories found at Samaria in Israel and Khorsabad in Assyria, however, suggests a date for these ivories in the late 8th century BC.

The iconographic themes

Like the plaque depicting the birth of Horus, many of these ivories are carved with scenes whose subjects are inspired by or borrowed from Egypt, but integrated into the Syro-Phoenician repertoire: the ram-headed or human-headed sphinx, probably representing a biblical cherub; the genii tying papyrus stems, inspired by the Nile gods who tie together the emblematic plants of Upper and Lower Egypt; the head of a woman with an Egyptian headdress at a window, which may represent the goddess Astarte but no doubt also evokes the Egyptian funerary theme of the deceased greeting the sun god at the window of the tomb. Some plaques are decorated with animal scenes showing a deer passant, or a cow suckling her calf, themes which appear in 2nd-millennium Mesopotamia and developed in the time of the Aramaean kingdoms. Others - less frequently - depict Syrian dignitaries. Like those made in the great Mesopotamian capitals of the 1st millennium, and more especially at Nimrod, this discovery in the provincial city of Hadatu testifies to the Assyrian conquerors' passion for Syro-Phoenician ivories.

Bibliography

Thureau-Dangin François, Barrois Augustin-Georges, Dossin Georges, Dunand Maurice, Arslan Tash, 1931, pl. XIX-21.

Technical description

  • The Birth of Horus

    Late 8th century BC

    Arslan Tash (ancient Hadatu), Syria

    Syria

  • Carved elephant ivory embellished with gold

    H. 8.5 cm; W. 9.9 cm; D. 1.2 cm

  • Thureau-Dangin and Barrois expedition, June 1928

    AO 11470

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia and northern Syria. Assyria: Til Barsip, Arslan Tash, Nimrud, Nineveh
    Room 6

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