Chalcedony Stamp Seal

Object type: Seal 
Museum: BM WA 2002,0515.1, British Museum
Findspot: Asia
 Culture, period: Neo-Assyrian
 Production date: End of 7th BCE (?)
Material: Chalcedony – Gold (?)

Dimension: Diameter: 1.50 cm – Height: 1.85 cm


The chalcedony stamp seal was acquired by the British Museum and its original provenance is unknown. The image engraved on it shows the king and the queen approaching a goddess, who is probably to be identified with Mullissu or Ishtar or a syncretic representation of the two goddesses, standing or seated on a throne with stars at its back and supported by a standing lion. A scorpion hovers above the scene.


Both queen and king follow the same etiquette: they occupy an upright position and their gaze is directed to the divine figure. In detail, the queen is depicted raising her both cupped hands to the level of the mouth before the deity. On the basis of some textual evidence from the Neo-Assyrian period which describes a gesture implying the raising of the hand(s), the Akkadian expressions used to describe such a gesture are conventionally šu’illakku and nīš qātī, which can be interpreted as an idiom for “prayer” and commonly include a physical movement. The king performs the appa labānu (“to stroke the nose”) gesture, which can be conceived as a gesture of humility.


The combination of acts performed by the queen and the king could be interpreted in two ways: the queen begins her prayer by lifting her hands as a sign of greeting, and the king completes the prayer by stroking his nose in a gesture of humility; alternatively, as it is attested in texts, the queen acts as a mediator or intercessor by praying for the king, while the king is praising the goddess.

Bibliographic references:

Radner K. 2008: “The delegation of power: Neo-Assyrian bureau seals”, in R. Briant – W.F.M. Henkelman / M.W. Stopler (éds.), L’archive des Fortifications de Persépolis. État des questions et perspectives de recherches. Actes du colloque organisé au Collège de France par la « Chaire d’histoire et civilisation du monde achéménide et de l’empire d’Alexandre » et le « Réseau international d’études et de recherches achéménides » (GDR 2538 CNRS), 3–4 novembre 2006, Paris, 498 (edition and study).


Radner K. 2012: “The Seal of Tašmetum-šarrat, Sennacherib’s Queen, and Its Impressions”, in G.B. Lanfranchi – D. Morandi Bonacossi / C. Pappi / S. Ponchia (eds.), Leggo! Studies Presented to Frederick Mario Fales on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, Wiesbaden, 687–698 (edition and study).  


Niederreiter Z. 2021: “Neo-Assyrian Seal Depicting «Istar, Worshipped by an Assyrian King and Queen» and a Scorpion as Well: Notes on the BM WA 2002-05-15, 1 Stamp Seal, Formerly Kept in the Southesk Collection”, Nouvelles Assyriologiques Brèves et Utilitaires 1, 42–49 (study).  


Portuese L. 2022: “A Gender-Centered Perspective on Manners and Etiquette for Understanding the Historical Role of the Assyrian Queen”, KASKAL Rivista di storia, ambienti e culture del Vicino Oriente Antico 19, 56–63 (study).


© Image credits: The Trustees of the British Museum.