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Work Fragments of a jar seal with the stamp of a cylinder seal showing the priest-king fighting his enemies

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Fragments de bulle avec deux empreintes incomplètes d'un même cylindre

© 2009 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Agnès BENOIT

The development of cities in the Near East began in the Uruk period, and brought about major changes in human organization and the administration of goods and people. Cities were presided over by a priest-king, and to help control the movements of goods, cylinder seals came into use. These were rolled over strips of clay sealing doors and containers. The seal mark visible on this jar fragment illustrates this historical context.

Description of the scene

This seal stamp from Susa shows the "priest-king" drawing his bow in the direction of three adversaries who already riddled with arrows. The figure facing him tries to tear out the arrowhead piercing his thigh; the second, sitting on the ground, has been hit in the back; the third is crawling, struck in the lower back. On the right is a building on a terrace, decorated with horns in the upper part. Its interpretation remains controversial.

The emergence of cities

The "urban revolution" that took place in the 4th millennium in areas of the Near East gave rise to a radically new world, which was reflected in architecture, accounting and administrative tools, the development of trade and other forms of exchange and the figure of authority, the priest-king. Not all regions underwent this transformation at the same time. One of them, southern Mesopotamia, was clearly ahead of the others, with its key site, Uruk, which also gives its name to the period. The city of Susa, located farther east, was apparently under Uruk domination. The Susa seal stamp features a large building decorated with horns, erected on a platform. Does this edifice correspond to a monument that actually existed, or is it a symbolic representation of the city, before whose walls the priest-king slew his enemies?

A new figure of authority

The priest-king first appears in the city of Uruk, which was alone, along with Susa and the colony of Habuba Kabira, in illustrating this figure of authority. Immediately identifiable from his headband, rounded beard, bell-shaped skirt, plain or squared, the priest-king had both political and religious powers. He had numerous functions: a warrior who defended his people, as can be seen on this fragment of a jar seal; a shepherd of the flocks of the divinity Inanna, the great goddess of the city of Uruk; a religious officiator; and also a hunter. Sculpture in the round and on steles as well as glyptics, the art of seals, served to illustrate this new figure.

Bibliography

Amiet Pierre, Elam, Auvers-sur-Oise, Archée, 1966, n 45, Glyptique susienne, MDAI XLIII, 1972, n 695, La Glyptique mésopotamienne archaïque, Paris, 1980, n 659.
Pittman Holly, The Royal City of Susa, Catalogue de l'exposition Metropolitan Museum, New York, 1992, pp. 51-52.

Technical description

  • Fragments de bulle avec deux empreintes incomplètes d'un même cylindre

  • Argile

    H. 3 cm; L. 2.2 cm; th. 1.8 cm and H. 6 cm; L. 4.5 cm; th. 2.6 cm

  • Fouilles R. de Mecquenem, 1937 , 1937

    Sb 2125

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana, and the Iranian plateau
    Room 7
    Vitrine 5 : Instruments de gestion et de comptabilité aux époques de Suse I, Suse II et Suse III (4200 - 2800 avant J.-C.)

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