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Cuneiform tablet case impressed with two cylinder seals, for cuneiform tablet 66.245.5a: record of a lawsuit

Middle Bronze Age–Old Assyrian Trading Colony
ca. 20th–19th century B.C.
Anatolia, probably from Kültepe (Karum Kanesh)
Old Assyrian Trading Colony
7 5/16 x 3 9/16 x 1 3/4 in. (18.5 x 9 x 4.5 cm)
Clay-Tablets-Inscribed-Seal Impressions
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Klejman, 1966
Accession Number:
  • Description

    When the merchants from Ashur in Assyria came to Anatolia early in the second millennium B.C., they brought with them the writing techniques invented in Mesopotamia: the script known as cuneiform ("wedge-shaped") and the medium of clay tablets encased in clay envelopes. The merchants also brought their art in the form of cylinder seals, which marked the traded goods, storerooms, and written records. The Assyrian merchants wrote in the Assyrian language, but tablets and cuneiform were later adopted in Anatolia by the Hittites, who wrote their own language with the imported techniques.

    The records of the Assyrian trading colonies, of which Kültepe (ancient Karum Kanesh) was one, provide detailed information about one part of a lively international trade in the early second millennium B.C. that extended from Egypt to the Caucasus to Central Asia and the Indus Valley. The Assyrian tablets describe the exchange of tin and textiles from Ashur for silver from Anatolia as well as detail the specifics of contracts and lawsuits, and tell about bandits and other misfortunes.

    The tablet contained in this case (MMA 66.245.5a) is the record of court testimony describing an ownership dispute of a business firm. The case is sealed with two different cylinder seals rolled across the front and back of the envelope in five parallel rows separated by plain clay. Both seals illustrate presentation scenes in which worshippers approach a larger seated figure holding a cup. The obverse, shown here, is also inscribed in cuneiform.

  • Provenance

    Acquired by the Museum in 1966, gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Klejman, New York.

  • Exhibition History

    "Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 17, 2008–March 15, 2009.

  • References

    Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1984. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41 (4), Spring 1984, p. 53, fig. 73.

    Spar, Ira, ed. 1988. Cuneiform Texts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume I: Tablets, Cones, and Bricks of the Third and Second Millennia B.C. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 84b, p. 120, pl. 85; seal impressions: nos. 31, 32, p. 178, pls. 85, 129, 147.

    Van De Mieroop, Marc. 2007. A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323 BC. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 95-96, fig. 5.1.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History