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Home>Collection & Louvre Palace>Curatorial Departments>Cylinder Seal of Ibni-Sharrum

Héros acolytes d'Ea abreuvant des buffles

© 2000 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Demange Françoise

Fine engraving, elegant drawing, and a balanced composition make this seal one of the masterpieces of glyptic art. The decoration, which is characteristic of the Agade period, shows two buffaloes that have just slaked their thirst in the stream of water spurting from two vases held by two naked kneeling heroes.

A masterpiece of glyptic art

This seal, which belonged to Ibni-Sharrum, the scribe of King Sharkali-Sharri, who succeeded his father Naram-Sin, is one of the most striking examples of the perfection attained by carvers in the Agade period. The two naked, curly-headed heroes are arranged symmetrically, half-kneeling. They are both holding vases from which water is gushing as a symbol of fertility and abundance; it is also the attribute of the god of the river, Enki-Ea, of whom these spirits of running water are indeed the acolytes. Two arni, or water buffaloes, have just drunk from them. Below the scene, a river winds between the mountains represented conventionally by a pattern of two lines of scales. The central cartouche bearing an inscription is held between the buffaloes' horns.

A scene testifying to relations with distant lands

Buffaloes are emblematic animals in glyptic art in the Agade period. They first appear in the reign of Sargon, indicating sustained relations between the Akkadian Empire and the distant country of Meluhha, that is, the present Indus Valley, where these animals come from. These exotic creatures were probably kept in zoos and do not seem to have been acclimatized in Iraq at the end of the 3rd millennium BC. Indeed, it was not until the Sassanid Empire that they reappeared. The engraver has carefully accentuated the animals' powerful muscles and spectacular horns, which are shown as if seen from above, as they appear on the seals of the Indus.

The production of a royal workshop

The calm balance of the composition, based on horizontal and vertical lines, gives this tiny low relief a classical monumental character, typical of the style of the late Akkadian period. Seals of this quality were the preserve of the entourage of the royal family or high dignitaries and were probably made in a workshop whose production was reserved for this elite.


Amiet Pierre, Bas-reliefs imaginaires de l'ancien Orient : d'après les cachets et les sceaux-cylindres, exp. Paris, Hôtel de la Monnaie, juin-octobre 1973, avec une préface de Jean Nougayrol, Paris, Hôtel de la Monnaie, 1973.
Amiet Pierre, L'Art d'Agadé au musée du Louvre, Paris,
Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1976.
Art of the First Cities, New York, 2003, n 135.
Boehmer Rainer Michael, Die Entwicklung der Glyptik während der Akkad-Zeit, Berlin, W. De Gruyter und C , 1965, n 724, fig. 232.
Boehmer Rainer Michael, Das Auftreten des Wasserbüffels
in Mesopotamien in historischer Zeit und sein sumerische Bezeichnung,
ZA 64 (1974), pp. 1-19.
Clercq Louis (de), Collection de Clercq. Catalogue méthodique et raisonné. Antiquités assyriennes, cylindres orientaux, cachets, briques, bronzes,
bas-reliefs, etc., t. I, Cylindres orientaux, avec la collaboration de Joachim Menant, Paris, E. Leroux, 1888, n 46.
Collon Dominique, First Impressions : cylinder seals in the Ancient
Near-East, Londres, British museum publications, 1987, n 529.
Frankfort Henri, Cylinder Seals, Londres, 1939, pl XVIIc.
Zettler Richard L., "The Sargonic Royal Seal. A Consideration of Sealing in Mesopotamia", in Seals and Sealing in the Ancient Near East,
Bibliotheca Mesopotamica 6, Malibu, 1977, pp. 33-39.

Technical description

  • Héros acolytes d'Ea abreuvant des buffles

  • Diorite

    H. 3.9 cm; Diam. 2.6 cm

  • Don H. de Boisgelin 1967. Ancienne collection De Clercq , 1967

    AO 22303

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia, c. 2350–2000 BC
    Room 228
    Vitrine 1 : Glyptique de l'époque d'Akkad, 2340 - 2200 avant J.-C.

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