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Published / Translated Babylonian Clay Barrel Cylinder

Lot 0091A
Ancient Near East, Old Babylon, reign of King Sin-Iddinam of Larsa, ca. 1849 to 1843 BCE. A gorgeous terracotta barrel cylinder of a biconical form with a planar base and a small perforation. The cylinder displays roughly 70 lines of inscribed cuneiform text, formed by impressing a sharpened reed or wooden stick into the still-wet clay prior to the kiln-firing process. Cuneiform was a generally pictographic style of writing in its infancy, though it became a more abstract style of letter-based script around the 3rd millennium BCE. Ancient barrel cylinders were typically created to be buried with complex inscriptions meant to be read by the gods. Kings would inter these beneath structures they had commissioned in their kingdom as a sign of good luck and expressed faith towards the gods they worshipped. They were also a spiritual and historical guide for future kings who, upon digging them up, could honor the name of their predecessor when erecting new buildings. Size: 4.75" W x 3.625" H (12.1 cm x 9.2 cm).

This barrel cylinder commemorates King Sin-Iddinam's dredging of the Tigris River. The inscription is known from a number of examples and the standard reference is to Douglas Frayne, The Old Babylonian Period, 1990, pp. 158 - 160, E4.2.9.2.. Four examples in the Schoven collection were published by A. George, 2011, pp. 99-105, numbers 46-49, whose translation is largely followed here.

When translated, the barrel cylinder reads: "I, Sin-iddinam, the mighty man,: provider of Ur, king of Larsa, king of Sumer and Akkad, the king who built the Ebabbar, the temple of Utu, and restored to their former state rites of the temples of the gods. When An, Enlil, Nanna and Utu bestowed on me a pleasant reign of justice and long days in my great wisdom, pristine and pre-eminent, in order to bring fresh water to my cities and land as well as the course and praise to make my nature, honor and heroism supremely manifest to future time, I addressed the finest words to An and Enlil. Having concurred with my steadfast prayer by their irrevocable command they charged me that the Tigris be dug and restored to its former state, so to establish my name for a long life-span. At that time, by the command of An and Inanna, with the agreement of Enlil and Ninlil, and by leave of Iskur my (personal) god my helper, through the supreme power of Nanna and Utu, I did thoroughly dig, in my success, the Tigris, Utu's river of abundance. Having taken its intake back to my border, the old boundary, I did thoroughly improve its course as far as its (end in the) marshland. I established a permanent water supply and unceasing abundance for Larsa and my land. When I dug the Tigris, the great river, the wages for a single man were: 1 liter of barley each, 2 liters of bread each, 4 liters of beer each, and 2 shekels oil each, Such a ration was received daily. I let no man have less, and no man more. By the power of my people I completed that work. By the decisive command of the great gods I did restore the Tigris, the wide river, to its former state. For future time, in perpetuity, I did establish my fame."

Published in "Beloved by Time: Four Millennia of Ancient Art." Fortuna Fine Arts, Ltd., New York, 2000, p. 19, fig. 27.

A similar example hammered for $14,340 at Christie's, New York Antiquities Auction (sale 1163, December 12, 2002, lot 285): https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/an-old-babylonian-terracotta-cuneiform-barrel-reign-4026222-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=4026222&sid=432c40c6-aa91-4924-bde3-6c966b86acba

Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection

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Cylinder repaired from two large pieces with some small chips and light restoration along break lines. Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age as expected, fading to some inscribed characters, and small chips to perforated opening, body, and both sides. Nice earthen deposits within recessed areas.

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Published / Translated Babylonian Clay Barrel Cylinder

Estimate $9,000 - $15,000
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