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Paleo-babylonian cylinder seal
Paleo-babylonian cylinder seal - Ancient Art Style
Ref : 93894
Period :
BC to 10th century
Ancient Art  - Paleo-babylonian cylinder seal
Emmanuel Soubielle Works of Art

Sculpture and works of art

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Paleo-babylonian cylinder seal

Paleo-Babylonian period, beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. J.-C.
H. 1.8 cm

The head turned to the right and wearing a cap, a prayer leader, the sex visible and wearing a two-row belt, raises his right arm as a sign of adoration. In front of him, a man wearing a cap and wearing a belt performs with a naked woman a coitus a tergo. Leaning forward, she drinks from a blowtorch from a pitcher on the ground; his arm and waist are grasped by the male figure. Located under the bust of the woman, a miniature figure holds the jug on his knees. In the field, above the woman, a starry motif on a crescent. Behind the orant, two vertical lines of cuneiform inscriptions.

Provenance: private collection, United Kingdom.

Very rare

This iconography finds parallels in the corpus of terracotta reliefs from the Paleo-Babylonian period from the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. Bab 3576-BAb 29608). Associated with brothels and taverns, but also with the ritual of "sacred marriage" or hierogamy, these plaques were probably used during magical ceremonies intended to increase sexual potency (note 1). Even if this remains debated (note 2), the drink contained in the jar is very probably beer, a drink which, unfiltered, needed to be drunk through a straw to remove its impurities. In glyptics, the iconographic repertoire of the early Paleo-Babylonian period consists mainly of scenes of presentation to deities (note 3). The erotic scene located in front of the praying person must therefore be interpreted as that of a hierogamic union. This reading is reinforced by the presence of the divine attribute which is the crescent containing the star disc, attribute located above the group. Our cylinder also presents certain details characteristic of the glyptic of this period, such as for example the theme of the naked woman where, usually represented from the front with the arms folded at the waist, this goddess seems, according to D. Collon (note 4), associated with a cult of fertility (note 5). We can then easily consider that our scene, certainly more suggestive, is a variant in the representation of this cult of fertility. The little kneeling figure holding the jar here is also found on other seals from this period, like n ° 111 and n ° 122 from the Chiha collection, or on the lapis lazuli seal of Sin-Ishmeanni (British Museum, inv. 134757). Finally, we find the sartorial detail of the two-row belt on the figure of orant presented on the above-mentioned cylinder from the Chiha collection (n ° 122).

Note 1: see Babylone catalog, Louvre, 2008, edited by B. André-Salvini, page 93.
Note 2: see Catherine Breniquet, Did we drink beer with a blowtorch in Mesopotamia during the protodynastic period ?, in Cahier transversal themes ArScAn (vol. IX) 2007 - 2008
Note 3: see C. Doumet in oriental seals and cylinders: the Chiha collection, page 61.
Note 4: see D. Collon in Catalog of the Western Asiatic Seals in the British Museum , volume 3, p / 131,132
Note 5: see C. Doumet in oriental seals and cylinders: the Chiha collection, page 68, number 122

Emmanuel Soubielle Works of Art


Ancient Art