An Important Pink Chalcedony Cylinder Seal for the Eunuch Bel-isse’a, Neo Assyrian,


The whole scene depicted between two border lines; facing left and center stands the bearded storm god Adad, here associated with divination and justice, wearing a square-topped, horned headdress with a globe on the top and a tiered, striated open robe over a fringed kilt.  There is a sword at his waist and crossed, globe-tipped bow-cases on his back; his left arm is outstretched and his right arm raised, the palm facing outward.  As is the common method of depicting a divine character in the Mesopotamian world, he stands, right leg advanced, on the back of his attribute, a rampant scorpion-tailed and horned lion-dragon with bird wings and talons for paws from whose jaws issue the feathered end of an arrow by which it was defeated by the god.  Behind him, also facing left, stands Šamaš portrayed in the role of treaties, oaths and business transactions. He is similarly posed, attired and armed and standing upon the back of a recumbent horse.  Adad was also associated with divination and justice.  Paired with Šamaš, Adad is addressed as 'lord of prayers and divination', and invoked to preside over haruspicies or as a witness in legal contexts (Schwemer 2001a: 221-6, 323-7, 683-7; Foster 2005: 754-6; Starr 1983: 30ff.).

Facing right, before the deities stands a beardless worshipper wearing a long fringed robe, different to that of the gods, and an ornamented belt around the waist, who points with his raised right hand and extends his left hand, palm up.  Above the worshipper is the seven dot inscription identified as the symbol of the Sebittu or Seven gods representing the pleiades; behind him is an open winged bird surmounting a vertical wedge or stylus of Nabu.  A cuneiform inscription, directly in front, identifies the worshiper and owner:  "of (=belonging to)  Bel-isse’a, eunuch"

Between the worshiper and the first god in the upper field stands the sun god Shamash, god of justice and divine witness to business transaction, encircled by a radiate star, and below him a rampant mouflon, the head turned backward toward the gods.  Thereafter is a long plough and lastly, the tassled spade of Marduk on a stand being parallel with the stylus of Nabu for both emblems flank the worshipper.

Between the two deities in the upper field is a crescent moon, representing the god Sin, and interestingly a protective Egyptianized "eye of Horus" in the middle right field, another plough to the left, together with a long cuneiform inscription that runs the length of the seal, written in positive and therefore reversed on the impressed, that reads:  "Of (=belonging to) Palil-ahu-iddina"

Notes:  Eunuchs were high-ranking servants employed only by the king or high officials;  Bel-isse’a “eunuch”  is attested in clay tablets dating to 795-756 BC, and he is the eunuch of the governor of the city Kalhu (=Nimrud).  Palil-ahu-iddina is attested in the Governor's Palace Archives otherwise his relationship to Bel-isse’a is unknown.

Bibliography:  Black, J., & Green, A. 'Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia. An Illustrated Dictionary, 2nd ed. ', London:. British Museum Press (1992)

Fales, F.M., (2012). "The Eighth-Century Governors of Kalhu: A Reappraisal in Context", in H.D. Baker, K. Kaniuth and A. Otto (eds.), Stories of Long Ago: Festschrift für Michael D. Roaf (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 397), Münster: Ugarit Verlag, pp. 117-139.

Postgate, J. N.  (1973).  The Governor's Palace archive.  London (Institute of Archaeology, 31 Gordon Sq., W.C. 1) :  British School of Archaeology in Iraq.

Dimensions:  Height: 1.57 inches (4 cm)

Condition:  In two parts, the seal has been professionally rejoined: it is complete and in very good condition overall.

Provenance:  Private Texas collection, acquired in the 1960's and then by descent.

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