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Stèle du scribe Tarhunpiyas

© 2000 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Caubet Annie, Prévotat Arnaud

In the 8th century BC, Marash, the ancient Gurgum, was the capital of a prosperous Neo-Hittite kingdom in southeastern Anatolia. It was also a center of production for stelae strongly marked by Hittite tradition, especially in their use of hieroglyphs. This stela shows the young Tarhunpiyas standing on his mother's knees while she holds him by the legs. On the field is a writing tablet; in his hands he holds a stylus and a leash attached to a hawk, signs that he belongs to a wealthy class.

A mother and her child

Its style and imagery connect this stela to those discovered at the city of Marash, the ancient Gurgum, in southeastern Anatolia. These funerary monuments, thick, carved slabs of basalt whose roughly dressed lower sections were inserted into the ground, can represent a single person, a couple, or a mother and her children. The front is carved in low relief, the motifs standing out against a plain background. Here, a grown child is shown standing on his mother's knees. Both figures wear a short-sleeved tunic trimmed with braid, over which the woman wears a stiff veil. The plump-cheeked faces with their heavy chins are enlivened by wide, globular eyes. The mother's relationship to the child is unusual; its size and age mean that it cannot be held against the maternal breast, as is more commonly found, but the relationship finds physical expression in the way the mother holds the child around the legs. Both are richly dressed, and the stool with its vertical slats is an uncommon item of furniture, the sign of a superior social class: it can be related to the wooden stools covered in metal of similar date, discovered at Gordion in Phrygia.

Elite activities

The objects associated with the child are also unusual: the writing tablet and stylus indicate the provision of a serious education, while the hawk alludes to characteristic princely pleasures. In his left hand, the child holds a leash attached to the foot of the bird: this is most likely not a falcon, but a goshawk, a raptor widely distributed between Turkey and India. Hunting with the goshawk was one of the most valued diversions in the ancient Orient, and this stela from Marash offers one of the oldest known images of falconry. The other object is a writing tablet, an identification confirmed by the stylus the child holds in his hand. Tablets of this type, in ivory or wood, have been found in the Assyrian capital Nimrud and in the Aramaean world. They consist of two leaves, connected by hinges, allowing them to be closed together. Intended to take notes written in ink or inscribed in wax, before the text was committed to a more perishable medium, they came into use in the Aramaean and Assyrian world in the period of this stela. Such tablets succeeded the slate tablets used by earlier scribes, and mark the gradual transition from cuneiform to alphabetic writing.

Hittite hieroglyphics

In the field, above the scene, is the name of the deceased in hieroglyphic characters: Tarhunpiyas. This inscription tells us very little about the identity of the two subjects. The use of hieroglyphics for the name of the deceased was probably the result of a political decision, an affirmation of Hittite continuity or of belonging to an ancient line. The hieroglyphic script was used to transcribe not the Hittite language, but a dialect of Luwian, an Indo-European language of Anatolia. This script is attested in Anatolia from the mid-second millennium, and then in the Neo-Hittite cities of Northern Syria in the 9th to 7th centuries, as an element of the Hittite renaissance. In Northern Syria, Hittite hieroglyphics gradually give way to more flexible alphabetic script, more particularly to Aramaean, whose usage would spread throughout the whole of the Middle East thanks to the Persian Achaeminid Empire.

Technical description

  • Stèle du scribe Tarhunpiyas

    Epoque néo-hittite, fin du VIIIe siècle avant J.-C.

    Sans doute Marash, ancienne Gurgum

  • Basalte

    H. : 74,50 cm. ; L. : 28,30 cm. ; Pr. : 15,50 cm.

  • Acquisition 1936 , 1936

    AO 19222

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

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