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Model of a temple, called the Sit-shamshi, made for the ceremony of the rising sun

© 1998 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Caubet Annie, Prévotat Arnaud

This large piece of bronze shows a religious ceremony. In the center are two men in ritual nudity surrounded by religious furnishings - vases for libations, perhaps bread for offerings, steles - in a stylized urban landscape: a multi-tiered tower, a temple on a terrace, a sacred wood. In the Middle-Elamite period (15th-12th century BC), Elamite craftsmen acquired new metallurgical techniques for the execution of large monuments, statues and reliefs.

A ceremony

Two nude figures squat on the bronze slab, one knee bent to the ground. One of the figures holds out open hands to his companion who prepares to pour the contents of a lipped vase onto them. The scene takes place in a stylized urban landscape, with reduced-scale architectural features: a tiered tower or ziggurat flanked with pillars, a temple on a high terrace. There is also a large jar resembling the ceramic pithoi decorated with rope motifs that were used to store water and liquid foodstuffs. An arched stele stands by some rectangular basins. Rows of dots in relief may represent solid foodstuffs on altars, and jagged sticks represent trees. The men's bodies are delicately modeled, their faces clean-shaven, and their shaved heads speckled with the shadow of the hair. Their facial expression is serene, their eyes open, the hint of a smile on their lips. An inscription tells us the name of the piece's royal dedicator and its meaning in part: "I Shilhak-Inshushinak, son of Shutruk-Nahhunte, beloved servant of Inshushinak, king of Anshan and Susa [...], I made a bronze sunrise."

Chogha Zambil: a religious capital

The context of this work found on the Susa acropolis is unclear. It may have been reused in the masonry of a tomb, or associated with a funerary sanctuary. It appears to be related to Elamite practices that were brought to light by excavations at Chogha Zambil. This site houses the remains of a secondary capital founded by the Untash-Napirisha dynasty in the 14th century BC, some ten kilometers east of Susa (toward the rising sun). The sacred complex, including a ziggurat and temples enclosed within a precinct, featured elements on the esplanade, rows of pillars and altars. A "funerary palace," with vaulted tombs, has also been found there.

The royal art of the Middle-Elamite period

Shilhak-Inshushinak was one of the most brilliant sovereigns of the dynasty founded by Shutruk-Nahhunte in the early 12th century BC. Numerous foundation bricks attest to his policy of construction. He built many monuments in honor of the great god of Susa, Inshushinak. The artists of Susa in the Middle-Elamite period were particularly skilled in making large bronze pieces. Other than the Sit Shamshi, which illustrates the complex technique of casting separate elements joined together with rivets, the excavations at Susa have produced one of the largest bronze statues of Antiquity: dating from the 14th century BC, the effigy of "Napirasu, wife of Untash-Napirisha," the head of which is missing, is 1.29 m high and weighs 1,750 kg. It was made using the solid-core casting method. Other bronze monuments underscore the mastery of the Susa metallurgists: for example, an altar table surrounded by snakes borne by divinities holding vases with gushing waters, and a relief depicting a procession of warriors set above a anel decorated with engravings of birds pecking under trees. These works, today mutilated, are technical feats. They prove, in their use of large quantities of metal, that the Susians had access to the principal copper mines situated in Oman and eastern Anatolia. This shows that Susa was located at the heart of a network of circulating goods and long-distance exchange.

Technical description

  • Model of a temple, called the Sit-shamshi, made for the ceremony of the rising sun

    12th century BC

    Tell of the Acropolis, Susa

  • Bronze

  • J. de Morgan excavations, 1904-05

    Sb 2743

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana (Middle Elamite period)
    Room 10
    Display case 13: Sit-Shamshi

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