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Work Statuette of a god riding a chariot, with a coiled snake on his head

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Statuette of a god wearing a coiled serpent and mounted on a chariot

© 2009 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Herbin Nancie

This god riding a chariot has the ears of a bull and a long beard edged with twisted locks, which enables us to identify him as Nergal, the Mesopotamian god of the devastating summer sun, sometimes associated with the Underworld. He is depicted here in a procession. His tiara headdress is crowned with a snake, a benevolent animal in Elamite mythology. This objects reflects the great skill of the Iranian metallurgists. It is part of a group of twenty-six objects found at the Susa acropolis.

A god with bull's ears

Sitting astride his chariot, the god is dressed in a kaunakes, a ruffled cloak in the Mesopotamian style. This garment was traditionally attributed to divine figures, while human beings customarily wore thin, draped fabrics. The figure is of human appearance but has the ears of a bull. This detail, along with the long beard divided into two separate parts edged with twisted locks, are the characteristics of the Mesopotamian death-god, Nergal, widely represented in Elam. This god of sickness and death was often portrayed in the form of terra-cotta figurines in Babylonia in the early 2nd millennium. However, none have been found at Susa. Holding a branch, the god is here shown in a procession, on the occasion of a religious feast of a visit to a deceased person. Texts attest to a funerary prayer that was addressed to a chariot-borne protector-god.

The snake, symbol of the forces of the underworld

The figure's tiara headdress is in the shape of a conical skull cap, formed in fact by a coiled snake whose head, facing right, is visible at the top. The presence of the snake places this figurine among the various images of the Elamite "snake god." This reptile, seen as a benevolent animal symbolizing the chthonic world and forces of the underworld, is a common motif in the art of ancient Iran. In the 2nd millennium, it was particulary associated with a god of uncertain identity known as the "god with snake and gushing water." Often shown coiled up, the snake was depicted with the god in various ways, notably on the latter's throne or headdress. Over time, its appearance evolved into that of a mythological creature, first a snake with a human head, later a dragon-snake.

A marked taste for metallurgy

The Susians were excellent metallurgists. This statuette is part of a series of twenty-six items found on the acropolis at Susa in 1904 near the temple of Inshushinak. Today, all are kept in the Louvre Museum. Some were plated with gold, like the figurine of the god with the golden hand (sb2823). The god and the chariot were each made in one casting, using the solid casting method. The metal of the chariot is more heterogeneous, however.

Bibliography

Borne interactive du département des Antiquités orientales.
Miroschedji Pierre de, "Le dieu élamite au serpent", in Iranica antiqua, vol. 16, 1981, Gand, ministère de l'Éducation et de la Culture, 1989, p. 20, pl. IV, fig. 1.
Tallon Françoise, "Un aspect de la métallurgie du cuivre à Suse. La petite statuaire au IIe millénaire", in Iranica Antiqua, vol. 24, 1989, Gand, ministère de l'Éducation et de la Culture, 1989, p. 123, pl. I, fig. 2.

Technical description

  • Statuette of a god wearing a coiled serpent and mounted on a chariot

    End of the Sukkalmah period, 16th-15th century BC

    Susa

  • Copper

  • J. de Morgan excavations

    Sb 2824

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana (Middle Elamite period)
    Room 10
    Display case 3: Representation of the serpent deity (2nd millenium BC)

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Additional information about the work

Ekta RMN 93 CE 2276