Work The Storm God Tarhunda
Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia
Stele of Til Barsip
© 2005 RMN / Franck Raux
Near Eastern Antiquities
This monumental stela of the storm god Tarhunda was found during excavations at Til Barsip in Syria. It testifies to the renaissance of Hittite tradition in politics, art, and language that occurred in the early first millennium BC in the small states established on the borders of Anatolia and Syria after the fall of the Hittite Empire around 1200 BC.
A royal dedication
Discovered by the archaeologist François Thureau-Dangin at Til Barsip (today Tell Ahmar) in 1929, this monumental stela made of local basalt illustrates the highly popular cult of the great storm god worshipped under various names in the Middle East. The inscription, "I am Hamiyata of Masuwa[ri], king of this land, servant of the god Tarhunda of the heavens," gives the name of the god and of the king who dedicated the monument.
The god is presented in profile, the head and shoulders in three-quarter view. In his left hand he holds a thunderbolt in the form of a trident, and in his raised right hand he brandishes an ax. He wears a short tunic; tucked into the belt around his waist is a sword. On his head is a cap with two pairs of horns, symbols of divinity. From beneath the cap fall long strands of hair ending in scrolling curls, while the face is framed by a long, curled beard, the area around the mouth, however, being clean-shaven.
Above the god is a winged solar disk, a symbol that was Egyptian in origin but found throughout the Levant, which here appears in its Hittite form, combining the disk of the sun with the crescent of the moon.
The lower part of the relief is missing. It may perhaps have depicted a bull or a lion, animal attributes on which the storm god is often shown standing.
The monumental inscription is in a hieroglyphic script. The characters are carved in relief (rather than incised) on the two sides and the back of the stela.
A multiform deity
The storm god represented on this stela is a divinity venerated since the second millennium BC under different names, depending on the region: Teshub, Hadad or Adad, Baal, etc. On this monument, whose inscription allows it to be dated to the 9th century BC, he appears under his Hittite name. The god is sometimes shown standing on his usual mount, the bull, or gripping the forelimbs of a lion. He is a major figure in the pantheon of Mesopotamia and the Levant, a storm god with warrior attributes whose thunderbolts unleash the abundant and beneficial rain that is indispensable to all life.
The stela, a stone stood upright and carved that was intended to be viewed from every side, is one of the principal forms of votive monument in the ancient East, and was adopted by the Hittite civilization. This stela, when discovered, had been reused in a wall of later date, and on its upper part can be seen the notches made for this purpose. The presence of the Hittite hieroglyphics on three surfaces shows that it was originally intended to be seen from all sides.
Today it provides important written and iconographic evidence for the Neo-Hittite period, heir to the Hittite tradition in arts and letters, visible in the survival of certain architectural schemes and the persistence of inscriptions in Hittite hieroglyphics.
BibliographyLaroche E., "Études sur les hiéroglyphes hittites", Extrait de Syria, 31, Paris, Geuthner, 1931.
Thureau-Dangin François, "Tell Ahmar", Extrait de Syria, 10, Paris, Geuthner, 1929, pp. 185-205, pl 32-33.
Thureau-Dangin François, Til Barsip, Vol. I et II, Paris, Geuthner, 1936, p. 134, pl. 1 et 2.
Stele of Til Barsip
Neo-Hittite period, c. 900 BC
Tell Ahma (ancient Til-Barsip)
H. 2.10 m; W. 0.83 m; D. 0.43 m
Mesopotamia and northern Syria. Assyria: Til Barsip, Arslan Tash, Nimrud, Nineveh
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.