Winged hero with scimitar, bull, and lion

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between 701 B.C. and 601 B.C.
38.5 x 18 mm
Morgan Seal 747
Curatorial Comments: 

Between 1885 and 1908, the American clergyman and editor William Hayes Ward assembled a collection of 1,157 cylinder seals for Morgan's library. These tiny objects, no more than one inch in height, were carved with simple tools on semi-precious stones. The seals served to identify their owners and could be worn as amulets to bring good luck. Each cylinder seal is engraved with scenes that appear in relief when the seal is rolled out over clay. This vibrant example of Neo-Babylonian art of the seventh century BC is carved on carnelian, a brownish-red mineral that is used as a semi-precious gemstone. We are witnessing a heroic struggle between the superhuman hero at left and a ferocious lion, who are fighting over the bull. The victorious winged hero, with his sickle-sword behind him, places his left foot firmly on the bull's head, holding the animal's tail in his left hand. His opponent, the ferocious lion, raises his sharp claws in a demonic gesture. Despite the violence of the combat, the warring figures are stately, as if arrested in time. A constant theme in Mesopotamian art and religion, such battle dramas symbolized the struggle for world order against the forces of chaos. Here the conflict has been transposed from the natural world to the realm of the supernatural, symbolizing the enduring vigilance with which civilization must protect itself.

Acquired by Pierpont Morgan sometime between 1885 and 1908.

"The earlier group (747-752), comprising cylinders for which a Neo-Babylonian classification is suggested, seems to reflect influence of the Middle Assyrian modeled style, while the later group (753-769) illustrates the specific character of the Neo-Assyrian modeled style of the late eighth and of the seventh century B.C., though in some cases a seal included in this grouping may have been made in Babylonia."--Porada, CANES, p. 90
Partly preserved copper setting on top and bottom.


Winged hero with scimitar holding reversed bull as he confronts attacking lion.

Southern Mesopotamia.