The Seal of an Official or an Official Seal? The Use of Court Seals in Old Babylonian Susa and Haft Tepe.

Author:De Graef, Katrien


A large and intriguing seal is impressed on MDP 23 321-2 (BK 1723), a large so-called "Quasi-Hullentafel" recording the contestation of an inheritance in late Sukkalmah Susa. The same seal is also found at Haft Tepe, where it is impressed on HT 21 (Herrero and Glassner 1993: no. 206 = Negahban 1991: no. 386), a fragment of a legal document, most probably a royal donation by Tepti-ahar according to Glassner (1991: 111), and HTs 24, HTs 295, and HTs 296 (Negahban 1991: nos. 387, 388, and 389), three fragmentary seal impressions. Both its legend, a fifteen-line inscription in Akkadian, and its presentation scene, not to mention the size of the cylinder seal, are absolutely exceptional.

Earlier attempts to interpret the inscription were undertaken by Scheil (MDP 23: 188) and Amiet (1973: 37-38) on the basis of the Susa tablet and by Glassner (1991: 122) on the basis of the Haft Tepe impressions. None of these scholars, however, was able to present a complete and coherent transcription and translation of the seal legend, due to incomplete information. Recently, I was able to collate the Susa tablet at the National Museum of Iran, which, by comparison with the photographs of HT 21 and HTs 24 published in Negahban 1991 (Pl. 47, nos. 386 and 387), resulted in a new and nearly complete reading of the seal legend. This new reading has enabled me to reinterpret the inscription, which, in combination with the analysis of the texts on which the seal was impressed, has led to a new hypothesis on the meaning and function of this particular seal, which is supported by the impressions of a similar seal on two other Susa tablets: MDP 23 242 (BK 875), a verdict, and 325 (BK 1339), a litigation. (1)


The seal under consideration is impressed on the reverse, lower edge, and left edge of MDP 23 321-2, a large so-called "Quasi-Hullentafel" dealing with the charges Anih-Susim and Lulu, sons of Damqiya, pressed against Beli, son of Ahuhutu, concerning the possessions Beli had inherited from his father Ahuhutu, who had been adopted as a brother by Damqiya.

The tablet bears no date, but can be dated indirectly on the basis of the persons mentioned. Indeed, the persons involved belong to a family well known to us from other Susa texts (see De Meyer 1961 and Vallat 2000: 12-13). Six generations of this family are documented, five of which can be dated approximately on the basis of the rulers mentioned in the oaths of the texts (Fig. 1). The protagonists in MDP 23 321-2, Anih-Susim, Lulu, and Beli, belong to the fourth generation, active during the reign of Temti-raptas, (2) to be dated ca. 1550-1500 BCE, which is the latter part of the so-called Sukkalmah period. (3) This dating is supported by the presence of three witnesses, Silli-Ilabrat, the ippu, (4) Sulanu, and the scribe Insusinak-abi, (5) who also witnessed MDP 23 315, a legal document in which Abi-ili approaches Temti-raptas regarding linen he held in pledge, as already noted by Glassner (1991: 123).

In total, the seal is impressed eight times on this tablet: twice on the reverse at the bottom, under the end of the text, twice on the upper edge, and four times on the left edge. The impression on the left side of the upper edge continues on the left side of the reverse (Fig. 2). In none of these cases is the seal completely impressed, but on the basis of these eight partial impressions, a composite sketch of the seal can be made.

This composite sketch shows that the seal consists of a fifteen-line inscription in Akkadian and a presentation scene featuring at the left a deity, standing on a platform shaped like a building with a gate in the middle, facing another deity on a smaller scale, who is holding the rod and ring and sitting on a snake throne placed on a platform, supported by two snakes entwined around a stake. At the bottom, the stake is held by two naked heroes kneeling symmetrically on mountains (Figs. 3 and 4).

First of all, I must remark that the use of cylinder seals in the mid and latter parts of the Sukkalmah period is rather rare in Susa. On most of the economic and legal texts from this period, the parties involved impress their fingernail (Akk. suprum). Since these marks are not very distinct from each other, a by-script supur PN, "fingernail of PN," or simply supursu(nu), "his/their fingernail(s)," is often added. So the mere fact that a cylinder seal is impressed on this tablet is uncommon.

Moreover, both the inscription and presentation scene on this cylinder seal are exceptional.


The first three lines are only partly preserved on the Susa tablet, but can be completed thanks to the photographs of HT 21 and HTs 24 from Haft Tepe, published in Negahban 1991 (Pl. 47, nos. 386 and 387).


  1. [sup.d]is-me-[??]-[ra-ab]

  2. lugal [sup.?uru?][su-si-im]

  3. u.?[dug.sub.4]-am i-ze-er-mah

  4. [??]ah-na [sup.uru]su-si-im

  5. ki-?mah ad-da-la-ti-[??]

  6. u-[??]se[??]-?i

  7. ku-nu-uk-u-am id-di-in

  8. sa [??]egir[??]-sa u-bi-la su-u

  9. u be-el di-ni-[??]

  10. i-tu-ur-ru-ma i-na-ak-ki-ru-su

  11. ?kl?-di-na sa [sup.d]gal u ?[sup.d]mus.eren[??] la-pi-it

  12. ?u? sa-a ku-nu-uk-ka an-na-a i-in-[??]

  13. [i]-na a-wa-at [sup.d]?garm u [sup.d]?mus.eren li-[??]i[??]

  14. ?a-ah-?u sa [sup.d]is-me-ka-ra-ab

  15. i-na qa-[??]-qa-[??]-su li-[is]-?sa-ki-in[??]


(1) Isme-karab, (2) king of the city of Susa, (3) hated the utukku demon and (4) to the city of Susa, (5) when out of his doors (6) he caused (him) to leave, (7) he gave a seal, (8) to which he afterwards gave power. He (9) or his adversary in court, (10) should they contest the agreement again, (11) the kidinnu of Napirisa and Insusinak has been touched upon. (12) And he who shall alter this seal(ed tablet), (13) may he go away upon the command of Napirisa and Insusinak. (14) The sceptre of Isme-karab (15) may it be put upon his head.


Line 1, [sup.d]is-me-[??]-[ra-ab]: According to Amiet (1973: 17), the first line should be restored [sup.d]is-me-[??]-[ra-ab-dingir], since he believed the owner of the seal to be Isme-karab-ili, who appears as the twenty-third and penultimate witness in the text. This hypothesis is followed by de Miroschedji (1980: 3), who furthermore supposes that Isme-karab-ili was a judge. Several persons named Isme-karab-ili are known to us from the Susa tablets, (6) not one of whom, however, is a judge. De Miroschedji's error is probably due to the fact that Scheil (1932: 187) ascribed the seal to the judge mentioned in the text, but this was Habil-kini, not Isme-karab-ili. Amiets proposition can no longer be sustained because the Haft Tepe impressions show that there was nothing written after Isme-karab. It is now clear that we are not dealing with the name of a person, but with the deity (see Glassner 1991: 121-22). There are, moreover, two reasons why this could not have been Isme-karab-ili's seal in any case: First, Isme-karab-ili is the penultimate witness in a list of twenty-four witnesses, among whom are high functionaries such as a hassa (a kind of city ruler? (7)), a kiparu (a chief of police or provost marshal? (8)), a kuduhtas, (9) a teppir (an important judicial official (10)), and a hupirririsa. (11) It is thus very unlikely that he of all people would seal this tablet. Second, the second line of the seal inscription mentions the title lugal Susim, "king of Susa," which would imply that this Isme-karab-ili would have been the ruler of Susa. As the penultimate witness without a title, this is impossible.

Line 3, u. [??][dug.sub.4]-am i-ze-er-ma,: utukkam izer-ma, "he hated the utukku demon." Glassner (1991: 122) reads [x x] li-i-zi-ir-[mah] and translates "May Isme-karab damn" (Qu' Isme-karab maudisse). Collation of the Susa tablet showed that the sign before /i/ is certainly not /li/, but most probably /am/. Moreover, a precative would not make sense here, given the-ma connecting this verb to usesi in line 6, a 3rd person singular preterite S of wasum.

Lines 5-6, ki-?mah ad-da-la-ti-[??] u-[??]se[??]-?i: kima addalatisu usesi, "when out of his doors he caused (him) to leave." The conjunction kima clearly indicates the beginning of a subordinate clause, addalatisu is to be understood as ana dalatisu, with the loss of the final vowel /a/ of the preposition ana and the assimilation of the consonant /n/ to the initial consonant of dalatisu, which results in andalatisu becoming addalatisu. This phenomenon is not uncommon in the Susa texts, as already pointed out by Salonen (1962: 82-84).

Line 7, ku-nu-uk-u-am id-di-in: Note the erroneous spelling of kunukkuam, which should be kunukkam. Such "broken" spellings are not uncommon in the Susa texts, as already pointed out by Salonen (1962: 42-43).

Line 8a, sa [??]egir[??]-sa u-bi-la: sa warkisa ubilla, "to which he afterwards gave power." Scheil (1932: 188) interpreted u-bi-la as a 3rd person masculine plural preterite of wabalum ("Apres qu'ils lont emportee"). This is, however, impossible, as this would have been ublunim. The only possible way to interpret this verbal form is as a 3rd person singular factitive preterite of belum followed by a ventive: ubillam, "he gave power." The loss of the mimation on the ventive is not at all surprising since the use of mimation was inconsistent in the Susa texts (see Salonen 1962: 92-93).

Lines 9b-11, su-u u be-el di-ni-[??] i-tu-ur-ru-ma i-na-ak-ki-ru-su [??]ki[??]-di-na sa [sup.d]gal u rd[sup.d]mus.eren[??] la-pi-it: su u bel dinisu iturru-ma inakkirusu kiddina sa Napirisa u Insusinak lapit, "he or his adversary in court, should they contest the agreement again, the kidinnu of Napirisa and Insusinak has been touched upon." Scheil (MDP 23: 188) interpreted su u bel dinisu as the subject of the verb in line 8 u-bi-la ("Apres qu'ils lont emportee,--celui-la et son adversaire en justice"). As stated above, ubilla is to be interpreted as a 3rd person singular factitive preterite and the subject is clearly...

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