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Praying figure clutching a young goat

© 2008 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Caubet Annie, Prévotat Arnaud

This prayer figure sculpted in gold was found in a cache with numerous other objects made of precious materials (lapis lazuli, carnelian, agate, gold, silver) on the Susa mound, near the temple of Inshushinak, the great god of the city. Given the material used - gold - and the details of the costume and hair style, the figure depicted is almost certainly the king.

A precious statue

The figure is standing on a small rectangular pedestal, which has a tenon underneath for fixing it onto a support. The figure raises his right hand in a gesture of prayer and in his left hand holds a goat in miniature, whose head with oblique horns is visible above the donator's hand. The latter is clad in a flared, fringe-edged robe from which emerge joined, shod feet. The skirt of the robe is decorated with a pattern of engraved dots, while above the draped belt, the close-fitting bodice with elbow-length sleeves is decorated with rosettes. The Near East, unlike Egypt, has few preserved remains of its sumptuous ancient textiles, which we know of through descriptions in texts, and this figurine is evidence of these lost techniques. The figure's head is very carefully molded and reengraved: the face is serene, the eyes large and oval under thick eyebrows that meet in an arch on the bridge of the nose. The beard rises over the cheeks and falls over the chest in a wavy mass trimmed horizontally. The figure's cap of short hair, shown with cross-hatching, comes down low over the forehead and bulges over the nape of the neck. A diadem-shaped plait is wound around the head.

A treasure

A treasure known as the "Golden Statue Find" was discovered hidden "in a confined space" under a paving of glazed bricks, on the acropolis in front of the southern facade of the ziggurat, not far from the temple of Inshushinak. The circumstances of the excavation raise a number of questions, and we do not have the exact list of findings. Other than the gold statue, the discoveries included animal bones - the remains of a sacrifice? - a limestone chariot wheel, nine earthenware statuettes of praying figures, a silver statue - an exact replica of the gold statue - a lapis lazuli dove studded with gold, a pendant in the shape of a bull's head in lapis lazuli, a whetstone mounted on a gold handle with a lion's head decorated with filigree, two animal statuettes (a reclining lion and a hedgehog) in limestone on casters, and numerous carnelian and agate beads of various shapes. The interpretation of this collections of objects remains uncertain: was it perhaps a foundation deposit related to the Inshushinak sanctuary, or an offering made to this sanctuary; or were these the furnishings of a plundered royal tomb?

A royal offering

At Susa, as in Mesopotamia, the supreme act of piety consisted in bringing divinities offerings, a sacrifice or foodstuffs, and of preserving the eternal memory of this act by depositing a figurine of the worshipper himself. Most figurines were in terracotta, more rarely in earthenware or bronze. None of those dating to the Middle-Elamite period feature such a magnificent costume. The clothes of these figurines are devoid of ornaments and fringes; the hair is cut in a similar style forming a thick mass on the forehead, but has no plaited diadem. Here, the choice of a precious metal, the majesty of the figure and the complexity of the hair style and costume are indications that this may well be the figure of the king himself, depicted as the bearer of an offering.

Technical description

  • Praying figure clutching a young goat

    Middle Elamite period, c. 1500-1200 BC

    Tell of the Acropolis, Susa

  • Gold and copper

  • J. de Morgan excavations, 1904 , 1904

    Sb 2758

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

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