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Work Obelisk

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Obelisk

© 2005 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Chevalier Nicole

This pyramidal stele bears a long cuneiform inscription in Akkadian.
Erected by Manishtusu (2270-2255 BC), son of Sargon and third king of the
Akkadian dynasty, it is a significant document in legal history. Like
a number of other Mesopotamian monuments, including notably a statue of this same king (Sb 47), in the 12th century BC this obelisk was carried off to Susa among the spoils of war by the Elamite ruler Shutruk-Nahunte.

Diorite, a royal stone

Carved in diorite, this stele bears witness to the Akkadian kings' preference for this stone, which they imported from the distant land of Magan (Oman), and which was their material of choice for their statues and victory steles. In a text on a clay tablet, Manishtusu himself reports that, "From mountains beyond the lower sea [the Persian Gulf] he took black stones; he loaded [them] on boats and docked [them] on the quay at Akkad. He fashioned his statue [and] dedicated [it] to Enlil." The decorative quality of the inscription derives from the skill with which the artists of the Akkadian period were able to work this particularly hard stone, as may be seen in the statue of the same king, which unfortunately survives only in very fragmentary condition.

Cuneiform of exceptional quality

The cuneiform inscription covering the four faces of the stele is contained in 1519 boxes. This form of writing, invented by the Sumerians, was adapted by the Semitic Akkadians for the written expression of their own tongue when it became the official language. The text on Manishtusu's obelisk is notable for the exceptional quality of the cuneiform, here represented in consistent form for the first time, and so responding to the ideals laid down by Akkadian rulers for the official art of the dynasty.

The king and his officers

The text records that King Manishtusu made large purchases of land in the region of Kish, where the dynasty originated. From these he formed four large estates which he divided up among his officers, the pillars on whom his kingdom rested, in order to ensure their loyalty. Each face gives a summary of the purchases relating to one of the four districts. Later on, grants of land by the Kassite sovereigns of the second half of the second millennium would be recorded on stone steles known as kudurru, often bearing images of deities. One of the most celebrated of these is the stele of Meli-Shipak, who reigned in the twelfth century BC.

Technical description

  • Obelisk

    Akkadian Period, reign of Manishtusu (c.2270 BC)

    Susa (Iran), where it was taken as spoils of war in the twelfth century BC

    Mesopotamia

  • Diorite

    H. 1.40 m; W. 0.6 m; Th. 0.6 m.

  • Excavations by Jacques de Morgan, 1897-1898

    Sb 20

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia, c. 2350–2000 BC
    Room 2

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