Cylinder seal with Mesopotamian deities


Once belonging to a scribe, this spectacular seal features a group of deities, some of whom are mentioned in Enheduanna’s temple hymns. In the middle, the water god Enki has streams of water and fish flowing from his shoulders. Behind him stands his attendant, the two-faced god Usmu. The figure rising between the mountains is the sun god Shamash, who holds a serrated knife as rays emanate from his shoulders. On the mountain to the left stands Ishtar, represented frontally with weapons rising from her winged body and holding a cluster of dates. The identity of the armed god behind Ishtar is uncertain. This divine gathering will culminate in a meeting with the supreme god Enlil, as shown on the next seal in this case.

Cylinder seal (and modern impression) with Mesopotamian deities
Mesopotamia, Akkadian, possibly Sippar (modern Abu Habbah)
Akkadian period, ca. 2200–2154 BC
Cuneiform inscription: Adda, scribe
The British Museum, London, Acquired by E. A. Wallis Budge, 1891; BM 89115

© The Trustees of the British Museum


Sidney Babcock: During the Akkadian period, there was a significant development in glyptic art: the specific iconographies of gods and goddesses were established and depicted in a consistent manner, allowing the deities to be identified. Carved on greenstone, the first of these two seals shows several deities—Enki, Usmu, Shamash, Ishtar, and an armed god—gathering at dawn. In the next seal, Ishtar and Enki honor Enlil, who sits enthroned in his mountain abode, by raising their hands in a gesture of reverence. The artists who created these objects not only paid close attention to the deities and their identifying characteristics, but they also approached the natural landscape thoughtfully and illustrated it in detail. Small round mounds grouped together form mountains. The seal that once belonged to a scribe named Adda even depicts a caprid, perhaps a mountain goat, in this terrain. Adorning the landscape, trees rise from the earth, their branches sprouting delicate leaves.