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Work Stele of Untash-Napirisha, king of Anshan and Susa

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Stele representing King Untash Napirisha, "King of Anzan and Susa"

© 1999 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Herbin Nancie

This stele with four registers was commissioned by the Elamite king Untash-Napirisha for the city of Chogha Zanbil. It was later moved to Susa by one of his successors, probably Shutruk-Nahhunte I. The four registers depict the god Inshushinak acknowledging the monarch's power, two priestesses accompanying the king to the temple, minor deities - half-women, half-fish - holding streams of water, and two creatures - half-men, half-mouflons - who are guardians of the sacred tree.

A stele with four registers

King Untash-Napirisha dedicated this stele to the god Inshushinak in Al-Untash, now known as Chogha Zanbil, the new religious capital he had built 40 kilometers southeast of Susa. This region thus became the political and religious heart of the kingdom of Elam. The stele must have been moved to Susa by one of his successors, probably Shutruk-Nahhunte I, at some point in the 12th century BC. The stele is decorated with four registers separated by a guilloche frieze framed by two serpents whose heads confront each other at the top of the stele.

The king ceremonially acknowledges the deity

In the upper register, the deity Inshushinak welcomes Untash-Napirisha. Between the two figures is carved a dedication in Elamite, naming Inshushinak god of the Susa plain. He is sitting on a throne that seems to consist of the coiled bodies of serpents: the god is holding the horned head of one of the snakes. The god also bears his divine insignia of a ring and a stick. The Mesopotamian tradition is depicted in Elamite style. Snakes were honored in Iran as a symbol of fertility. In the 2nd millennium BC, snakes were closely associated with the "god with a serpent and flowing streams," corresponding to the Mesopotamian deity Enki/Ea, god of underground water. The two snakes along the edges of the stele are probably marking the borders of Enki's realm of Apsu, the body of fresh water that was believed to encircle the world.
The second register depicts Untash-Napirisha, flanked by his wife Napir-Asu and probably his mother, the priestess U-tik. The two women are accompanying the king to the temple for the ceremony. The names of the two women are carved on their forearms, which are crossed over their stomachs in the usual pose of sculpted figures of the Middle Elamite period.

Supernatural guardians of nature

The third register depicts a minor goddess with a fish's tail instead of legs. She is holding streams of water flowing from several vessels. By perpetuating the water cycle, she underlines its importance in nature, particularly for plants, represented by a stylized tree in the lower register. It was believed that supernatural beings like this deity lived in Apsu. Here, the streams rather resemble ropes, mirroring the sinuous lines of the serpents. It is clear that these are Elamite deities because of the cow's ears sticking up from their hair, in addition to their human ears.
In the bottom register, two creatures - half-men, half-mouflons - flank a stylized tree that represents plant life. These figures are the equivalents of the Mesopotamian half-man, half-bull figures. Their role here may be to replace the acolytes of the god Enki as nude heroes guarding his realm. By guarding the underground water, they protect the sacred tree, which represents the way that plants flourish when they are watered. These two lower registers have been carved to form a symmetrical composition.


Borne interactive du département des Antiquités orientales.
Malbran-Labat Florence, Les Inscriptions de Suse : briques de l'époque paléo-élamite à l'empire néo-élamite, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995, p.168-169.
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.13-14, pl.8.

Technical description

  • Stele representing King Untash Napirisha, "King of Anzan and Susa"

    C. 1340-1300 BC

  • Sandstone

  • J. de Morgan excavations

    Sb 12

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran, Susiana (Middle Elamite period)
    Room 304

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Additional information about the work

Ekta (slide) RMN 99DE23519 + drawing