Cylinder seal with goddesses Ninishkun and Ishtar


The eight-pointed Venus star, Ishtar’s astral emblem, hovers at the top of this scene. Below, the goddess herself is shown subduing a lion by pulling its reins and pressing down with her foot. She is approached by the minor deity Ninishkun, who raises her hand in reverence. Ishtar’s martial qualities are evident from the weapons seen above her shoulders, the sickle axe with a fenestrated blade that she wields, and the veins protruding from her leg. In “A Hymn to Inanna,” Enheduanna describes the goddess as “mounted on a harnessed lion cutting down those who are not afraid.” When encountering Ishtar, fear was the necessary response, and utter destruction befell those who did not react in terror. For this transgression, Ishtar violently obliterated an entire mountain range.

Cylinder seal (and modern impression) with goddesses Ninishkun and Ishtar
Mesopotamia, Akkadian
Akkadian period (ca. 2334–2154 BC)
Cuneiform inscription: To the deity Niniškun, Ilaknuid, [seal]-cutter, presented (this)
The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Acquired 1947; A27903

Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago


Sidney Babcock: The inscription carved onto this cylinder seal reveals that it was dedicated to the goddess Ninishkun by Ilaknuid, a seal cutter. Not much is known about this minor deity, who is shown on the left in the impression, reverently raising her hand as she approaches the goddess Ishtar. Here Ninishkun acts as an intermediary, presenting requests to Ishtar on behalf of the seal cutter. This was a form of supplication in ancient Western Asia. Ishtar, the goddess of sexual love and war, is depicted with wings and martial attributes. Ready for battle, she wields an axe with a fenestrated blade in one hand. Several of these axes appear above her shoulders along with maces. With the other hand she restrains a lion as she presses her foot down on the animal. Her dominance is also expressed by the presence of her astral emblem: the eight-pointed Venusor Ishtar, that hovers above the scene.