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Home > Auctions > 21st February 2017 > Western Asiatic Sumerian Green Chalcedony Cylinder Seal of King Kurigalzu II

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LOT 0540

Sold for (Inc. bp): £24,800

2" (24 grams, 51mm).

An exceedingly rare chrome chalcedony cylinder seal with seated profile figure and Sumerian cuneiform inscription in eight columns; depicting a seated bearded divine figure facing left, holding a trident, three right-facing locusts above; the eight lines of scholarly Sumerian cuneiform text with a prayer to Ninurta for the prosperity of Kurigalzu's reign.

Accompanied by Professor Lambert's transliteration and translation for each column which reads:

(1) dkur-da-ru gada gìr / 'Ninurta, powerful lord'
(2) saĝ kal šà-aš-DU / 'special chief, foremost'
(3) ururu mah an-ta-ğál / 'the lofty city (?) being in heaven'
(4) ur-saĝ dili-ni rib-ba / 'champion on his own standing out'
(5) [diğir] ní-su-ši ri-a / 'the god moving with a halo of terror'
(6) ku-ri-gal-zu / '(on) Kurigalzu'
(7) nun nì tuku-tuku-zu / 'the prince who reveres you'
(8) bala šà dùg-ga ğar-bi / 'place a reign of sweet heart'.

The seal fitted with an antique gold pin passed through the original longitudinal perforation and a loop to enable it to be worn as a pendant; supplied with a museum-quality impression.

Property of a London gentleman; part of his family collection since the 1970s; inherited by the present owner from his father who acquired it between circa 1938 and 1950.

Lambert, W.G. Objects Inscribed and Uninscribed, in Archiv für Orientforschung, vol.23, Graz, 1970, p.49; Limet, H. Les légendes des sceaux cassites, Brussels, 1971, p.93, 6.26 and accompanied by copies of both articles, with images therein showing the gold pin in place. Accompanied by an Art Loss Register certificate.

Lüle, Çigdem, Non-destructive Gemmological Tests for the Identification of Ancient Gems, in Gems of Heaven, British Museum Research Publication 177, 2012, pp.1-3 for information on chrome chalcedony and its use in ancient times; examined by Dr. Ronald Bonewitz, with a scholarly note from him regarding the fabric of the seal, dated 17 December 2016.

The extremely rare green variety of chalcedony was only known to the ancients and the Romans, until circa 3rd century AD, when it disappears from history. It is only known from small worked pieces such as beads and intaglios. The source has been recently discovered as being from northern Turkey (Anatolia). The colour derives from the presence of chromium; this piece is also of an excessively rare large size; with a printout of the Çigdem paper.

Kurigalzu II (circa 1332-1308 BC on the short chronology) was the 22nd king of the Babylonian Kassite dynasty, placed on the throne by the Assyrian king, Aššur-Uballiṭ, who may have been a family member. He shares the same name as another king who apparently reigned earlier in the same century. Towards the end of his reign, Kurigalzu II turned against his Assyrian allies and defeated them in battle at Sugagu on the River Tigris. Kurigalzu's name is linked to a zaqiqu or 'incubation omen', in which a Kassite king (identified with him) tries to find out why his wife cannot bear a child.

The transliteration of the text by Professor Lambert (1970), differs in detail from that of Limet (1971), but generally agrees as to the content of the text. Lambert identifies the text as 'Sumerian of the Cassite period seals, that is, a totally artificial language expressing Babylonian syntax and phraseology in a Sumerian often rich in recondite words and sign-values' and offers a reconstructed Akkadian version of the text as well as an English translation.

'Kuradaru' is a name of the deity Ninurta which occurs only in this text and in two other citations. The text is construed as a 'prayer for the Cassite king Kurigalzu, the second and last of the name, who ruled in the 14th century B.C. 'The seal 'obviously belonged to a servant of the king, but his name is not given.'

The god shown seated in a long flounced robe raises his hand 'in a religious gesture ... a Cassite-period rendering of a very common figure on seals from the Old Akkadian to the latter part of the Old Babylonian period'. The three locusts above him may have been intended to identify the god, but if so the information is lost to us. The trident in the god's hand is less well executed than the rest of the design, leading Lambert to speculate that it may be a later addition.