Description Although the Achaemenid used stamp seals for private documents, cylinder seals continued to be used for official royal business. This seal depicts the king fighting a lion-griffin in two scenes. First, he engages in close combat with the lion-griffin. Second, the king, standing on a reclining sphinx, aims his bow at the mythical beast, also standing on a sphinx. Between them is the benign god Ahura Mazda in an oval cartouche, with a winged disk above. Based on the crowned figure's Persian dress and his triumphant pose, this seal dates to the reign of King Darius I (ca. 521-486 BCE) or after. During his reign Darius was involved in a great deal of political restructuring. Around his 6th year of rule the Achaemenid “court style” emerges, which visually reflected some of these changes. This seal depicts this style's most common theme, a conquering hero holding defeated creatures. Cylinder seals are cylindrical objects carved in reverse (intaglio) in order to leave raised impressions when rolled into clay. Seals were generally used to mark ownership, and they could act as official identifiers, like a signature, for individuals and institutions. A seal’s owner rolled impressions in wet clay to secure property such as baskets, letters, jars, and even rooms and buildings. This clay sealing prevented tampering because it had to be broken in order to access a safeguarded item. Cylinder seals were often made of durable material, usually stone, and most were drilled lengthwise so they could be strung and worn. A seal’s material and the images inscribed on the seal itself could be protective. The artistry and design might be appreciated and considered decorative as well. Cylinder seals were produced in the Near East beginning in the fourth millennium BCE and date to every period through the end of the first millennium BCE.
- Ancient Persia: The Art of an Empire. University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin, Austin; The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1978.
Provenance Henry Walters, Baltimore, [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Sadie Jones (Mrs. Henry Walters), New York, 1931, by inheritance; Joseph Brummer, Paris and New York, 1941, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 1941, by purchase.
Credit Museum purchase [formerly part of the Walters Collection], 1941
Download Image Add to Collection Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Creative Commons License