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Home > Auctions > 25th May 2021 > Achaemenid Cylinder Seal with Battle Scene

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LOT 0192

GBP (£) 6,000 - 8,000
EUR (€) 6,940 - 9,250
USD ($) 8,330 - 11,110

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£5,400 (EUR 6,243; USD 7,497) (+bp*)

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Achaemenid Cylinder Seal with Battle Scene

6th century BC

A chalcedony cylinder seal engraved with a double register, the upper register showing Persian dignitaries and guardsmen in Median dress, armed with bows and arrows and riding on a war chariot, defeating unidentified enemies, possibly Babylonians, some of the defeated enemies lying dead beneath advancing horses; the lower register showing the defeated enemies giving offerings of animals to the victorious Persian king; accompanied by a museum-quality seal impression. 2.5 grams, 32mm (1 1/4"). Fine condition.

Property of a London gentleman; previously acquired on the UK art market in the 1990s; formerly in a 1980s collection; accompanied by an archaeological expertise by Dr. Raffaele D’Amato; this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.10702-175398.

See Schmidt, E.F., Persepolis I, Structures, reliefs, inscriptions, Oriental Institute Publications Volume LXIX, Chicago, 1957; Schmidt, E.F., Persepolis II, Contents of the Treasury and other discoveries, Oriental Institute Publications Volume LXIX, Chicago, 1957; Zoka, Y., Arteshe Shahanshahi Iran Az Kurosh Ta Pahlavi (The Royal Army of Iran from Kurosh to Phalavil), Tehran, 1971; Head, D., The Achaemenid Persian Army, Stockport, 1992.

Cylinder seals of this type and period are generally rare, but what is really intriguing is the representation of the battle scene and the successive procession. The seal possibly depicts the decisive victory of Cyrus over the Medians, or the suppression of a Median revolt, or the conquest of Babylonia and the triumph of the Achaemenian Persians over the Neo-Babylonians. The warriors represented are dressed in the so-called Median dress (Head, 1992, fig.6.e, pl.A3), but, as stated by Herodotus, the Median dress was worn in war both by Persians and Medes, as confirmed by the artistic sources of Persepolis and other seals. At Persepolis, the costume visible on our seal is worn by Median and other tributaries, but also by guardsmen, officers and servants more or less dressed alternately with the ‘Persian’ robes (Schmidt, 1957, pls.22,52). The high domed cap is characteristic for this dress and it is sometimes represented having a single ribbon or lappet hanging down at the rear. Also the king’s bow bearer from an audience relief at Persepolis, carrying a Median bow-case over his shoulder, is represented in Median dress (Head, 1992, p.26.fig.13b). An interesting aspect of the seal is the representation of war chariots, similar to the royal chariot of Darius I hunting from his chariot represented in the king’s cylinder seal (Head, 1992, fig.31.a). Persian chariots are frequently shown in the sculptures of Persepolis and on seals, but they are mainly depicted in hunting scenes (Schmidt, 1957, pls.12,38). It seems that their only military function was being the commanding vehicle. The seal instead, represents actual war chariots in action, whose introduction, according to Xenophon, was attributed to Cyrus the Great in the form of scythed chariots. This is consistent with the circumstance that the seal could be of Cyrus’s age, and the scene representing one of his military victories.