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Work Ceremonial ax head with flared blade, decorated with the head of a camel or horse; with winged heel

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Ceremonial ax head with flared blade, decorated with the head of a camel or horse; with winged heel

© 2005 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Kalensky Patricia

This ax head is typical of the metalwork of Bactria, between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, where Iranian-inspired objects dating from the late third and early second millennium BC have been found. These objects have decorative additions that are often exuberant in style. This ax, the blade of which has no cutting edge, was a ceremonial weapon used as a symbol of rank.

A ceremonial ax showing Elamite influence

This ax head has concave sides, a haft-hole of oval section and a perforation to take a rivet. The heel has a large wing with a scalloped margin. The flared blade recalls examples known from Elam and Luristan in the early second millennium BC.
The shape of the blade bears similarities to the axes of Attahushu, the founder of the Sukkalmah dynasty. The blade, which has no cutting edge, is surmounted by the head of a horse or camel, a detail characteristic of the traditional animal decoration of ancient Iranian art. The axes of Luristan were also often decorated with an animal on the heel or blade. This piece may in addition be compared with a votive ax found at Susa, also with a winged heel and with its blunted blade emerging from the jaws of a horned monster.
There is no evidence of the horse being used as a mount before the second half of the second millennium BC, while the Bactrian camel was only domesticated in the first, but both these animals were already known and depicted in art by the beginning of the second millennium, notably on small cosmetics jars bearing a Bactrian camel motif.

Axes and hammers as insignia of rank

Susa and the Iranian plateau have yielded several examples of bent-shaft hammers and axes with winged heels, both equally ineffective as either weapons or tools. The blunted blade and comparison with an item depicted on the seal of Kuk-Simut, a high official under Idadu II, prince of Elam at the very beginning of the second millennium, suggests that this weapon was in fact a symbol of rank. Axes and hammers are both variants of a type of object awarded by the rulers of Elam to dignitaries in recognition of merit. This Elamite custom had spread to Kerman, and from there to Bactria, by the Ur III Period (2112-2004 BC).
This ax is made of copper-arsenic alloy. It is noteworthy that this metalworking tradition persisted across the Elamite world, and in Bactria in particular, although by the second millennium bronze had been definitvely adopted for the production of weapons, with the exception of a few ceremonial items.

A significant donation

Pierre and Jean David-Weill, who donated this piece to the Louvre, followed the example of their parents in making a substantial contribution to the work of French museums. Jean was Curator of the Islamic Department at the Louvre, while Pierre was Chairman of the Artistic Committee of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux. Their role as both patrons and art-lovers is exemplified by this important donation of twenty-four Iranian bronzes in 1972.

Bibliography

Amiet P., "L'âge des échanges inter-iraniens", in Notes et documents des Musées de France, 11, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1986, p. 164, pp. 196-197, p. 315, n 167.
Amiet P., "Les Antiquités orientales de la collection David-Weill", in La revue du Louvre, volume 22, 1972, pp. 427-428.
Amiet P., Elam, Auvers-sur-Oise, Archée, 1966.

Technical description

  • Ceremonial ax head with flared blade, decorated with the head of a camel or horse; with winged heel

    Early second millennium BC

    Bactria (in modern Afghanistan)

  • Copper-arsenic alloy

    H. 8.6 cm; W. 15 cm

  • David-Weill Donation, 1972

    AO 24799

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran and Bactria
    Room 9

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