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Work Ritual basin decorated with goatfish figures

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Arabia

Bassin cultuel orné de poissons-chèvres

© 2005 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Herbin Nancie

This limestone basin dates from the 13th or 12th century BC. It was used for ritual libations. The decoration depicts goatfish figures around a sacred tree in reference to the Mesopotamian god Enki/Ea. This reveals the full extent of the mutual influence of the Iranian and Mesopotamian cosmogonies. The sacred palm, the ancestor of the Assyrian sacred tree, reflects the importance of dates as a food source in the region.

A basin symbolizing the water cycle

This basin was broken into several pieces when it was found and has been reconstituted. Used by priests in their ritual libations, liquid was poured out over the basin and was then collected for re-use. There were two types of ritual libations. The first reflected the water cycle, with water rising up from underground, filling rivers and wells. The other was an offering of beer, wine or honey, poured out for the deity in anticipation of his meal. The decoration of this basin suggests it was used for the first type of ritual libation. It is made in the shape of the realm of Enki/Ea, Apsu, the body of fresh water lying beneath the earth and feeding all the rivers and streams. Apsu is likewise represented in the bronze model called Sit-Shamshi (Louvre, Sb2743). The fact that it was found in Susa indicates that the Elamites adopted certain aspects of Mesopotamian mythology.

Goatfish figures around a sacred palm

The rim of the limestone basin is decorated with a single repeated motif: two goatfish figures, or Nou, on either side of a stylized tree. These creatures were the attributes of Enki/Ea, the Mesopotamian god of underground water, symbolizing his power to replenish vegetation, represented by the sacred palm tree. A similar stylized tree can be seen on the stele of King Untash-Napirisha (Sb12). The tree consists of a central trunk with a number of offshoots curved at the tip and with three palmettes on the upper part. The image is completely stylized, bearing only a very distant resemblance to actual date palm trees. This symbol of plant life reflects the importance of date palms in the region. Dates were a staple foodstuff for the local population. This type of sacred palm was the predecessor of the sacred trees of Assyria. A relief from the palace of Assurnazirpal II in Nimrud depicts a winged spirit with a bird's head in front of just such a sacred tree (AO19849). The upper part of the basin is decorated with an intertwining pattern resembling flowing water. The inside of the basin consists of a series of squared steps leading down to the bottom of the dish. Traces of an inscription, too worn to be read, indicate that there was originally a text along the edges of the basin.


Amiet Pierre, Élam, Auvers-sur-Oise, Archée, 1966, p. 394 et pp. 467-468, fig. 298 A-B.
Borne interactive du département des Antiquités orientales.
Contenau Georges, Manuel d'archéologie orientale depuis les origines jusqu'à l'époque d'Alexandre, vol. II, Histoire de l'art : IIIe et IIe millénaires avant notre ère, Paris, A. Picard, 1931, pp. 912-913, fig. 629.

Technical description

  • Bassin cultuel orné de poissons-chèvres

    Epoque médio-élamite


  • Calcaire

    H. 62.8 cm; W. 92 cm

  • Fouilles J. de Morgan 1904 - 1905

    Sb 19

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana (Middle Elamite period)
    Room 10

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