Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Cylinder seal and modern impression: bull-man wrestling with lion; nude bearded hero wrestling with a water buffalo

ca. 2250–2150 B.C.
Serpentine, black
1.42 in. (3.61 cm)
Stone-Cylinder Seals-Inscribed
Credit Line:
Bequest of W. Gedney Beatty, 1941
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 406
Although engraved stones had been used as early as the seventh millennium B.C. to stamp impressions in clay, the invention in the fourth millennium B.C. of carved cylinders that could be rolled over clay allowed the development of more complex seal designs. These cylinder seals, first used in Mesopotamia, served as a mark of ownership or identification. Seals were either impressed on lumps of clay that were used to close jars, doors, and baskets, or they were rolled onto clay tablets that recorded information about commercial or legal transactions. The seals were often made of precious stones. Protective properties may have been ascribed to both the material itself and the carved designs. Seals are important to the study of ancient Near Eastern art because many examples survive from every period and can, therefore, help to define chronological phases. Often preserving imagery no longer extant in any other medium, they serve as a visual chronicle of style and iconography.

The modern impression of the seal is shown so that the entire design can be seen. Two pairs of contestants flank a cuneiform inscription. One pair consists of a bull-man in combat with a lion, with a star and crescent moon between them. The other pair consists of a nude bearded hero in combat with a water buffalo, with a horned animal between them. The inscription in Akkadian reads, Shusiba, servant of the house/temple of [the god] Ishkur.
Acquired by the Museum in 1941, bequest of W. Gedney Beatty.
Imai, Ayako. 1983. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department, exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, no. 126.
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