Elamite Empire The Art of Elamites (2)

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The Art of Elamites (2)

Elamit Empire art

It is interesting to note some evidence of similarly oral business practice in the records found in the Hurrian region of northern Mesopotamia, in Nuzi near Kirkuk.

Furthermore, other characteristics common to the legal documents of both Susa and Nuzi exist. This points to a relationship also manifested in the considerable proportion of Hurrian proper names found among the princes who played a role in the political history of the country. Such relations between the populations of northern Mesopotamia and Elam are also reflected in the numerous Mitannian or Hurrian-style cylinder seals found at various sites in Iran. Only at Susa and in its immediate vicinity, where local Susian seal-cutters established a distinctive Elamite tradition was there a pronounced scarcity of seals of Mitannian or Hurrian style in the excavations.

  The Art of Elamites (1)

These cylinder seals which were found at Susa and at the neighbouring site of Tchoga Zanbil serve to establish a framework of glyptic art in Elam from the Old Elamite period of the early second millennium BCE, through the Middle Elamite period of the second half of the second millennium, to the Neo-Elamite period of the early centuries of the first millennium BCE. Occasionally this framework may serve for the classification of larger works of art which are uninscribed and undated. For this reason we begin the discussion of Elamite art with the cylinder seals.

Cylinder seals were produced in great numbers in the Old Babylonian period, about 1900 to 1600 BCE The same is true of Susa, where we call the style of the seals Old Elamite. These Old Elamite cylinders conform to the Old Babylonian ones in the ubiquitous rendering of scenes of worship, a motif inherited from the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur. But certain details characterize seals as originating in Susa: for example, a tree at the end of a scene, or the placing before the deity of an offering-table bearing a bird, or some sacrificial animal, rarely a fish. [In Babylonia the tree design is not found in seals of that period, and the deity or its image is never shown partaking of food or even receiving a food offering.] Here distinctive ritual practices of Elam manifest themselves, practices which are reflected several centuries later in Assyria. These Old Elamite cylinders are often made of the black bitumen found near the oil-fields of the region. This material can be worked very easily, and the seal-cutter could indicate the surface of an object by a series of short incisions, as in the throne and the palmtree of Figure 20. The imprint of such a cylinder seal shows ragged outlines and looks crude. A second style is smoother. The example of the latter shown here has a curious tree growing from a knoll. The branches of the tree with their leaves or blossoms not only grow upward but also point downward. This might have been a means to fill the field, but one should not rule out the representation of a candelabra-like artificial construction. Perhaps the style of this cylinder is slightly later than that of Figure 20.

A God of Susa
 God Susa

A Middle Elamite style of the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BCE is here represented by a cylinder which can be dated approximately on the basis of similar imprints found on tablets of Nuzi. It shows a carefully engraved scene with several figures. One of these is marked as a deity by a horned crown and sits on a throne, the back of which ends in an animal's head. This feature can be traced to other cylinders of the group, in which the god actually sits on an animal. We encounter here the characteristic Iranian practice of decorating and enlivening inanimate objects with animal heads. Both deity and worshipper  have narrow waists; the worshipper who carries a sacrificial goat in his arms has his hair cut 'en brosse' or swept upward, a feature often observed in renderings of Elamites. In a subsidiary scene a worshipper appears before a standing deity, and in the upper register a lion pursues a horned animal, an ancient Mesopotamian and Iranian motif which appears in many different styles until the latest periods of Iranian art. This cylinder was found in a sanctuary in Luristan where it had probably been brought from Susa.

The Art of Elamites (3)

The next stage of Elamite cylinder seals became known through Ghirshman's discovery of a deposit of such seals in chapels of the sanctuary of Tchoga Zanbil. With few exceptions these cylinder seals probably belong to the latter part of the Middle Elamite period, in which King Untashgal (c. 1265-1245 BCE)  built the sanctuary. A considerable number of these cylinders, of which we give one example here, resemble the early Kassite cylinders of Babylonia, dated in the fifteenth century BCE, in the use of attenuated figures carved with thin lines by means of a fine drill. However, the scene of adoration or worship shown here is characterized as typically Elamite by the servant who holds a fan behind the throne. The shelf with vessels in the upper field and the small goblin, more human than ape-like, are also long-lived Elamite motifs. This scene of worship of a deity may not have differed much from an audience with one of the great lords of Elam.

Most of these cylinders of Kassite style, which are among the finest found at Tchoga Zanbil, and others of good quality were made of deep blue glass. Such use of glass may ultimately go back to Egyptian influence. The seals of a much cruder style, here called common style, were made of a related composition, namely faience. An example of the common style shows a simplified version of the scene just described. Here the worshipper has taken over the function of the servant with the fan. The seated figure, probably a deity, raises a vessel to his mouth. The action here depicted and the shape of the vessel are most characteristic of this group of cylinder seals.


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