2014. “The Mythological Background of Three Seal Impressions Found in Urkeshˮ, Religio: Revue pro religionistiku 22/1, 29–53

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This article interprets the iconographic motifs on three seal impressions discovered at the north Syrian Tell Mozan site, which are dated to the last third of third millennium B.C. In ancient times, the city was known as Urkesh and the population of

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  The Mythological Background of Three Seal Impressions Found in Urkesh T IBOR  S EDLÁČEK * Archeological work on the Syrian Tell Mozan site began in the year 1984 under the lead of Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati. The site was convincingly identified with the ancient northern Mesopotamian city of Urkesh. A significant part of the archeological evi-dence found at this site has Hurrian characteristics 1  and can therefore be used to complement the image of early Hurrian history and culture. 2  As * This text was completed in the framework of the project “Epistemological problems in research in the study of religions” (project No. MUNI/A/0780/2013). I would like to thank my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Dalibor Papoušek, for his important remarks. My special thanks go to Dr. David Zbíral for his thoughtful corrections and suggestions. I also thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. All remaining mis-takes are my own. 1 See especially Giorgio Buccellati, “Urkesh and the Question of Early Hurrian Urbanism”, in: Michaël Hudson – Baruch A. Levine (eds.), Urbanization and Land Ownership in the Ancient Near East: A Colloquium Held at New York University,  November 1996, and the Oriental Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia, May 1997  , (Peabody Museum Bulletin 7), Cambridge: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University 1999, 229-250; id., “The Semiotics of Ethnicity: The Case of Hurrian Urkesh”, in: Jeanette C. Fincke (ed.), Festschrift für Gernot Wilhelm anläßlich seines 65. Geburtstages am 28. Januar 2010 , Dresden: Islet Verlag 2010, 79-90; id., “When Were the Hurrians Hurrian? The Persistence of Ethnicity in Urkesh”, in: Joan Aruz – Sarah B. Graff – Yelena Rakic (eds.), Cultures in Contact: From  Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C. , New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art 2013, 84-95; Giorgio Buccellati – Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, “Urkesh and the Question of the Hurrian Homeland”,  Bulletin of the Georgian National Academy of Sciences  175/2, 2007, 141-150; Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, “Andirons at Urkesh: New Evidence for the Hurrian Identity of the Early Trans-Caucasian Culture”, in: Antonio G. Sagona (ed.),  A View from the Highlands:  Archaeological Studies in Honour of Charles Burney , (Ancient Near Eastern Studies 12), Herent: Peeters 2004, 67-89. 2 For the early history of the Hurrians, see, e.g., Gernot Wilhelm, The Hurrians , Warminster: Aris and Phillips 1989, 7-12; Piotr Steinkeller, “The Historical Background of Urkesh and the Hurrian Beginnings in Northern Mesopotamia”, in: Giorgio Buccellati – Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati (eds.), Urkesh and the Hurrians: Studies in  Honor of Lloyd Cotsen , (Bibliotheca Mesopotamica 26: Urkesh/Mozan Studies 3), Malibu: Undena Publications 1998, 75-98; Mirjo Salvini, “The Earliest Evidences of the Hurrians Before the Formation of the Reign of Mittanni”, in: Giorgio Buccellati – Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati (eds.), Urkesh and the Hurrians: Studies in Honor of Lloyd Cotsen , (Bibliotheca Mesopotamica 26: Urkesh/Mozan Studies 3), Malibu: Undena Publications 1998, 99-115. XXII/2014/1/Studie  30 Tibor Sedláček  part of this archeological evidence, a number of seal impressions and some seals were also discovered, 3  some of them with short inscriptions but most of them uninscribed. The seal motifs generally reflect Syrian and Mesopotamian influences known from the Early Dynastic and Old Akkadian periods.Impressions without inscriptions were found together with the inscribed ones in the palace storehouse. The inscribed ones belonged to a local ruler, his wife, and people from the court. 4  The images on several seal impres-sions even signalize the type of container they were used to seal. 5  Sealing was performed by authorized officials, who probably sealed containers elsewhere in the city or at adjacent farms and transported them to the store-house for further redistribution. 6  Different kinds of commodities were 3 See especially Giorgio Buccellati – Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati,  Mozan  I: The Soundings of the First Two Seasons , (Bibliotheca Mesopotamica 20), Malibu: Undena Publications 1988, 67-81; iid., “The Royal Storehouse of Urkesh: The Glyptic Evidence from the Southwestern Wing”,  Archiv für Orientforschung  42-43, 1995-1996, 1-32; iid., “The Seals of the King of Urkesh: Evidence from the Western Wing of the Royal Storehouse AK”, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes  86, 1996, 65-100; iid., “Urkesh: The First Hurrian Capital”,  Biblical Archaeologist   60/2, 1997, 77-96: 80-89; iid., “Mozan/Urkesh: A New Capital in the Northern Djezireh”, in: Michel Al-Maqdissi – Maamoun Abdul Karim – Amr Al-Azm – Moussa Dib Al-Khoury (eds.), The Syrian Jezira: Cultural Heritage and Interrelations: Proceedings of the Interna-tional Conference Held in Deirez-Zor, April 22 nd  -25 th , 1996, Damascus: Direction générale des antiquités et des musées de la République arabe syrienne 2002, 127-133: 129-132; iid., “Tar’am-Agade, Daughter of Naram-Sin, at Urkesh”, in: Lamia al-Gailani Werr – John Curtis – Harriet Martin – Augusta McMahon – Joan Oates – Julian Reade (eds.), Of Pots and Plans: Papers on the Archaeology and History of  Mesopotamia and Syria Presented to David Oates in Honour of His 75 th  Birthday , London: Nabu Publications 2002, 11-31; Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, “Nuzi Viewed from Urkesh, Urkesh Viewed from Nuzi: Stock Elements and Framing Devices in Northern Syro-Mesopotamia”, in: David I. Owen – Gernot Wilhelm (eds.),  Richard F. S. Starr Memorial Volume , (Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians 8), Bethesda: CDL Press 1996, 247-268; ead., “The Workshop of Urkesh”, in: Giorgio Buccellati – Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati (eds.), Urkesh and the Hurrians: Studies in Honor of Lloyd Cotsen , (Bibliotheca Mesopotamica 26: Urkesh/Mozan Studies 3), Malibu: Undena Publications 1998, 35-50: 41-50; ead., “L’Arte di Urkesh”, in: Sophie Bonetti (ed.), Gli Opifici di Urkesh: Conservazione e restauro a Tell Mozan , (Biblio-theca Mesopotamica 27: Urkesh/Mozan Studies 4), Malibu: Undena Publications 2001, 47-60: 47-55. 4 See, e.g., G. Buccellati – M. Kelly-Buccellati, “The Royal Storehouse of Urkesh…”; iid., “The Seals of the King of Urkesh…”; iid., “Urkesh: The First Hurrian Capital…”. 5 See G. Buccellati – M. Kelly-Buccellati, “The Royal Storehouse of Urkesh…”, 7. 6 G. Buccellati – M. Kelly-Buccellati, “Urkesh: The First Hurrian Capital…”, 84; M. Kelly-Buccellati, “The Workshop…”, 41. See also ead., “Uqnitum and Tar’am-Agade: Patronage and Portraiture at Urkesh”, in: Jeanette C. Fincke (ed.), Festschrift für Gernot Wilhelm anläßlich seines 65. Geburtstages am 28. Januar 2010 , Dresden: Islet Verlag 2010, 185-202: 187-188, 191, 192.  31 The Mythological Background of Three Seal Impressions… stored, and after the opening of the containers the broken impressions were left on the ground. 7 Some elements in the iconography and style of the uninscribed impres-sions appear to make them converge with the inscribed ones, 8  which dem-onstrates their local tradition and srcin. 9  Therefore, as Buccellati and Kelly-Buccellati put it, “it is possible that even those seals which follow closely southern models were carved in Urkesh given the lively seal cut-ting tradition exhibited in the city”. 10  It is impossible to identify their owner, but most probably they belonged to officials in the service of the palace. In this study, I will focus on three of the uninscribed seal impressions (fig. 1, 5, and 7). Each of them bears a different motif: (1) the motif of a man flying on a bird, which can be identified as the “Etana” type, (2) a double-faced figure, which is easy to identify as a god thanks to the horned headress, and (3) a figure in the mountains. The seal impressions bearing the first two motifs were found, along with other impressions, within the area of the Urkesh royal palace and date from the Old Akkadian period. 11  The first two motifs are very similar to the glyptic documented from the Akkadian/southern environment. 12  In the case of the third motif, Akkadian influences are debatable. The particular interest of these three seal impressions lies in the fact that the motifs seem to be mythological; this is almost certain in the case of the first two, and worth examining in the third. 13  Written sources dealing with Urkesh mythology are not extant, and traces such as these three seal im-pressions are, therefore, rare remnants allowing a tentative reconstruction of at least some fragments of the mythological ideas current in Urkesh in the last third of the third millennium B.C. This reconstruction will be the aim of my analysis. In addition, these findings can have some impact on 7 G. Buccellati – M. Kelly-Buccellati, “The Royal Storehouse of Urkesh…”, 6; M. Kelly-Buccellati, “The Workshop…”, 41. See also G. Buccellati – M. Kelly-Buccellati, “Urkesh: The First Hurrian Capital…”, 84. 8 G. Buccellati – M. Kelly-Buccellati, “Urkesh: The First Hurrian Capital…”, 85; M. Kelly-Buccellati, “The Workshop…”, 42. 9 See G. Buccellati – M. Kelly-Buccellati, “Urkesh: The First Hurrian Capital…”, 84-85; M. Kelly-Buccellati, “The Workshop…”, 41-50. 10 G. Buccellati – M. Kelly-Buccellati, “The Royal Storehouse of Urkesh…”, 24 and 26. For the seal cutting tradition in Urkesh, see M. Kelly-Buccellati, “The Workshop…”. 11 G. Buccellati – M. Kelly-Buccellati, “The Royal Storehouse of Urkesh…”, 6. 12 Cf. ibid  ., 7, 24. Similar influences are also documented, e.g., from Habur location Tell Brak (see Donald M. Matthews, The Early Glyptic of Tell Brak: The Cylinder Seals of Third Millennium Syria , [Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis: Series Archaeologica 15], Fribourg: University Press – Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1997). 13 There may be mythological motifs also on other glyptics from the same site but they are less pronounced.  32our understanding of the early mythological imagination of the Hurrians, 14  and on our understanding of intercultural communication in the region; as mentioned above, the first two impressions bear noticeable traces of Akkadian style, which supports the hypothesis of southern Mesopotamian influence on the cultural environment of Urkesh. 15  The questions to be answered in this article are, therefore, the following: (1) With what myth-ological evidence can the discussed motifs be associated? (2) Apart from mythological motifs known in Urkesh, can they also be used as a source of early Hurrian mythology? (3) Which are the specific thematic and sty-listic elements representing Akkadian influences on these seal impressions? 16 I will interpret the visual material using textual evidence and draw com-parisons with some Akkadian glyptics. When analyzing the seal impres-sions, possible variations should be taken into consideration. What seems as a deviation of iconography from the text or vice versa  may be the result of, for example, parallel traditions, transformation over time, or idiosyn-  14 The oldest known Hurrian mythological texts date from the second half of the second millennium B.C. (see below). 15 Cuneiform writing and the Akkadian language are evident in the seal impressions themselves. In addition, southern Mesopotamian influences are documented, for exam-ple, on a school tablet discovered in Tell Mozan (see Giorgio Buccellati, “A LU E School Tablet from the Service Quarter of the Royal Palace AP at Urkesh”,  Journal of Cuneiform Studies  55, 2003, 45-48). Another important piece of evidence is a Samarra tablet from Urkesh, written in Akkadian (see Douglas Frayne, Ur III Period (2112-2004  BC) , [The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia: Early Periods 3/2], Toronto – Buffalo – London: University of Toronto Press 1997, 461-462, E3/2.7.2; M. Salvini, “The Earliest Evidences of the Hurrians…”, 105-106). For the spread of southern Mesopotamian scribal art in regions of the ancient Near East, see, e.g., Alfonso Archi, “Transmission of the Mesopotamian Lexical and Literary Texts from Ebla”, in: Pelio Fronzaroli (ed.),  Literature and Literary Language at Ebla , (Quaderni di Semitistica 18), Firenze: Università di Firenze, Dipartimento di Linguistica 1992, 1-39; Marc Van De Mieroop,  A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC  , Malden: Blackwell 2 2007, 59-62, (Czech translation: Marc Van De Mieroop,  Dějiny starověkého Blízkého východu, okolo 3000-323 př. Kr. , [Orient 8], trans. Jiří Prosecký, Praha: Academia 2010, 70-72); Wilfred H. van Soldt, “The Adaptation of the Cuneiform Script to Foreign Languages”, in: Alex de Voogt – Irving Finkel (eds.), The Idea of Writing: Play and Complexity , Leiden – Boston: Brill 2010, 117-127. 16 Apart from these three artifacts, a miniature fragmentary relief is also documented from Urkesh, upon which, according to Kelly-Buccellati, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, known from the Sumero-Akkadian tradition, are depicted (Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, “Gilgamesh at Urkesh? Literary Motifs and Iconographic Identifications”, in: Pascal Butterlin – Marc Lebeau – Jean-Yves Monchambert – Juan Luis Montero Fenollós – Béatrice Muller [eds.],  Les espaces syro-mésopotamiens: Dimensions de l’expérience humaine au Proche-Orient ancien: Volume d’hommage offert à Jean-Claude Mar gue-ron , [Subartu 17], Turnhout: Brepols 2006, 403-414). However, this article will focus only on seal impressions and seals, with only a casual reference to the reliefs from the Yazılıkaya shrine. Tibor Sedláček   33crasy. The aim will be to identify as many parallels as possible using vis-ual material as well as its probable written analogies. Obviously, the greater the number of features that constitute such a network of parallels, the more likely the link between visual representation and the text will ap-pear. It is important to see the partial motifs as parts of a whole – in this case the whole scene – without removing them from their context. Of course, the project of searching for correlations between visual and textual material is not unequivocal and has raised some criticism. 17  On the other hand, it is clear that some of the visuals are supported by their written counterparts, and to refrain from using at least the available possibilities of comparison would mean giving up an important possibility with respect to understanding the scene. Facing the assumption that no connection be-tween iconography and text can be attested for southern Mesopotamian material in general, Piotr Steinkeller stated: [T]here is no reason why Third millennium mythological seals should not be studied and compared with texts … [T]he mythological motifs which appear on these seals reflect, by and large, the early Akkadian mythology, of which precious little survived into the Second millennium. … [S]ome of these motifs involve genuinely Sumerian myths or, at the very least, … they incorporate elements of such myths. 18   There is no reason to suppose that this interaction between iconography and text was restricted to southern Mesopotamia. I indeed think that it is also relevant for Urkesh (and far beyond) and will take Steinkeller’s state-ment as a point of departure for my view of seal impressions from this site. Of course, there are various possible relations between texts and visual material. Seals can be iconographic records of myths which are not preser-ved in the written form, or whose written form has not yet been discove-red. It is also possible that the corresponding myths were only transmitted 17 See, e.g., William W. Hallo in: Briggs Buchanan,  Early Near Eastern Seals in the Yale  Babylonian Collection , New Haven – London: Yale University Press 1981, xv. For the correlation between iconography and texts, see also Paolo Matthiae, “Figurative Themes and Literary Texts”, in: Pelio Fronzaroli (ed.),  Literature and Literary  Language at Ebla , (Quaderni di Semitistica 18), Firenze: Università di Firenze, Dipartimento di Linguistica 1992, 219-241, especially 219-223. 18 Piotr Steinkeller, “Early Semitic Literature and Third Millennium Seals with Mythological Motifs”, in: Pelio Fronzaroli (ed.),  Literature and Literary Language at  Ebla , (Quaderni di Semitistica 18), Firenze: Università di Firenze, Dipartimento di Linguistica 1992, 243-283: 245. Davide Nadali and Lorenzo Verderame even consider the “development of mythological themes” as the principal function of Akkadian glyp-tic: Davide Nadali – Lorenzo Verderame, “The Akkadian ‘Bello Stille’”, in: Robert D. Biggs – Jennie Myers – Martha T. Roth (eds.), Proceedings of the 51 st   Rencontre  Assyriologique Internationale Held at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, July 18 th - 22 nd   , 2005 , (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilizations 62), Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago 2008, 309-320: 311. The Mythological Background of Three Seal Impressions…
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