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Cuneiform tablet case impressed with four cylinder seals in Assyrian and Anatolian styles, for cuneiform tablet 66.245.17a: loan of silver

Period:
Middle Bronze Age–Old Assyrian Trading Colony
Date:
ca. 20th–19th century B.C.
Geography:
Anatolia, probably from Kültepe (Karum Kanesh)
Culture:
Old Assyrian Trading Colony
Medium:
Clay
Dimensions:
5.5 x 5.8 x 2.8 cm (2 1/8 x 2 1/4 x 1 1/8 in.)
Classification:
Clay-Tablets-Inscribed-Seal Impressions
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Klejman, 1966
Accession Number:
66.245.17b
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 403
Kültepe, the ancient city of Kanesh, was part of the network of trading settlements established in central Anatolia by merchants from Ashur (in Assyria in northern Mesopotamia) in the early second millennium B.C. Travelling long distances, and often living separately from their families, these merchants traded vast quantities of goods, primarily tin and textiles, for Anatolian copper and other materials. Although the merchants adopted many aspects of local Anatolian life, they brought with them Mesopotamian tools used to record transactions: cuneiform writing, clay tablets and envelopes, and cylinder seals. Using a simplified version of the elaborate cuneiform writing system, merchants tracked loans as well as business deals and disputes, and sent letters to families and business partners back in Ashur. At Kültepe, thousands of these texts stored in household archives were preserved when fire destroyed the city in ca. 1836 B.C. Because the tablets document the activities of Assyrian merchants, they provide a glimpse into the complex and sophisticated commercial interactions that took place in the Near East during the beginning of the second millennium B.C.

This sealed clay envelope contained a tablet documenting silver owed to Ashur-idi (MMA 66.245.17a). The text of the tablet was repeated on the envelope, allowing the recipient to verify the contents. Text on the envelope, read from left to right, must have been written after the original text was placed inside the case, and this may account for slight discrepancies between the two. Impressions of four different seals appear on both sides and the edges of the case. On the front of the case, a stamp seal with a geometric motif was impressed repeatedly, and a cylinder seal with a Mesopotamian style presentation scene was rolled out here and on the right edge of the tablet. The reverse of the case contains two more impressions of cylinder seals that were also rolled out on the edges of the case: one depicts a presentation scene before a seated male, the other faces the opposite direction and features a procession behind a chariot driven by the weather god. While the use of the cylinder seal, rather than the stamp seal, was typically Mesopotamian, both of these scenes were carved in an Anatolian style that emphasized features such as the large eyes of the figures. The use of seals of different types and styles offers further evidence for the cultural interaction between Anatolia and Assyria.
Acquired by the Museum in 1966, gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Klejman, New York.
Pittman, Holly, in collaboration with Joan Aruz. 1987. Ancient Art in Miniature: Near Eastern Seals from the Collection of Martin and Sarah Cherkasky. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 13, fig. 2.

Spar, Ira. 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. 90b, pp. 131-132, pls. 97-98; seal impressions: nos. 46-49, pp. 183-184, pls. 97-98, 131, 151.
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