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Some Inscribed Sasanian Seals and Bullae

 Kiarash Gholami 
University of Waterloo, Cananada

Introduction

As one of the most abundant primary sources, Sasanian seals play a critical role in shining light on the political and administrative history of the Sasanians. A considerable number of these artifacts were inscribed, and thus very informative. Such information might include the seal owner’s personal name, patronym, administrative title, religion, etc. Sasanian seals have distinguished and standard shape, engraving techniques, and iconographies. Majority of these artifacts were inscribed in inscriptional Pahlavi, whereas a small number have book Pahlavi, Parthian, or Maḏnḥāyā Syraic scripts on them, which is an indicative of usage of these seals by individuals all around the Sasanian realm.[1]

The review of epigraphic detail on these artifacts demonstrates that they have been vastly used by a broad social spectrum starting from the high-ranked royalty and aristocracy and ending with the low-ranked farmers and beggars during the Sasanian period (A.D. 224-651). While a small number of seals have survived from the two former groups, seals of low-ranked officials and ordinary people are much more common. This is most probably due to the limited high-ranked official positions as well as the destruction of these seals or erasure of the inscriptions on them after the death or resignation of their owners in order to make sure that they will not be used illegally. Therefore, the Sasanian bullae, which are the impressions of the seals on clay, play a more important role in studying and identification of Sasanian nobility in the absence of their original seals. Combining the information retrieved from these two groups of artifacts allows us to have a better view of the business relations and administrative history of the Sasanian Empire.

The following article provides the reading and translation of the Pahlavi texts on twenty five inscribed seals along with a bulla from the authors’ and some other private collections. This includes the seal/bulla of two high-ranked officials, three priest, a dabir, and some other ordinary people.

The Seals

1- Bearded male bust with curled hair, necklace and earrings of pearl, facing left.

Inscription: plh’t ZY b’cy BRH ’pst’n wl yzdty

Translation: Farhād, son of Bāz[2], Reliance on God

Dimensions: 21 * 29 mm

(Private Collection)

 

2- Beardless facing male bust with a hair made up in three rows of curls and a necklace of pearls. The clothing decorated with six crescents.

Inscription: mtr ’twr plnbg’

Translation: Mihr-Ādūr-Farnabag

Dimensions: 14 * 19 mm

(Collection of K. Soleimani)

 

3- Female bust facing right wearing necklace and pearl earrings.

Inscription: gwhlyky ZY lwcw(y)hy

Translation: Gōharīg, (daughter) of Rōzbih

Dimensions: 11 * 15 mm

(Private Collection)

 

4– Woman standing left, offering a flower.

Inscription: nyw’n dwhty

Translation: Nēwān-duxt

Dimensions: 10 * 32 mm

(Private Collection)

 

5– Flower above pair of wings.

Inscription:’twr gwšnspy mgw

Translation: Ādur-Gušnasp the mage

Dimensions: 19 * 25 mm

(Private Collection)

 

6– Lion’s head left with open jaws and protruding tongue.

Inscription: ’twr hwlšwd ZY ’št’t’n

Translation: Ādur-Xuaršēd, son of Aštād

Dimensions: 31 * 31 mm

(Author’s Collection)

 

7– Bearded male bust facing left wearing kolah with diadem ribbons and bordered with pearls. Hair arranged in three strands. Necklace and earrings with one large pearl. The clothing decorated with five florets.

Inscription: bwlcyn m’h

Translation: Burzēn-Māh

Dimensions: 25 * 25 mm

(Private colllection; previously in the author’s collection)

8- Bearded male bust facing left wearing kolah with diadem ribbons and bordered with pearls. Hair arranged in three strands. Necklace and earrings with one large pearl. The clothing decorated with three florets.

Inscription: (erased on purpose)

Dimensions: 19 * 19 mm

(Collection of K. Soleimani)

 

9– Winged horse walking left.

Inscription: ’twr ’p’n

Translation: Ādur-Ābān

Dimensions: 20 * 20 mm

(Private Collection)

 

10– Humped bull walking right. Crescent on top and star on bull’s hind.

Inscription: ’pst’n wl yzd’n ’twr wlhl’n

Translation: Reliance on the Gods. Ādur-Bahrām

Dimensions: 28 * 28 mm

(Author’s Collection)

 

11– Man standing left, offering a flower.

Inscription: mtr šhpwhry

Translation: Mihr-Šāpūr

Dimensions: 16 * 22 mm

(Private Collection)

 

12– Female bust facing right wearing necklace and pearl earrings.

Inscription: pylwc dwhty

Translation: Pērōz-duxt

Dimensions: 13 * 20 mm

(Private Collection)

 

13– Monogram above pair of wings.

Inscription: wlhl’n Y plnbg’n

Translation: Bahrām, son of Farnabag

Dimensions: 24 * 26 mm

(Private Collection)

 

14– Protome of winged horse to left.

Inscription: l’styh W plhwm

Translation: truth and excellence!

Dimensions: 11 * 15 mm

(Private Collection)

 

15– Female body? without head.

Inscription: mtlydy ZY YWM ŠPYL

Translation: Mihrī, fortune!

Dimensions: 16 * 20 mm

(Timeline Auctions, Feb. 21th 2018, Lot 0652)

 

16– Reversed male body (or monogram ?).

Inscription: grdmny YWM ŠPYL

Translation: Gardōmān, fortune!

Dimensions: 24 * 30 mm

(Author’s Collection)

 

17– Pahlavi monogram.

Inscription: d’t ’whrmzdy dpyr

Translation: Dād-Ahurmazd, the secretary

Dimensions: 19 * 26 mm

(Timeline Auctions, Sept. 3rd 2016, Lot 2025)

 

18-Monogram.

Inscription: swhl’by l’sty

Translation: Sohrāb, true!

Dimensions: 14 * 15 mm

(Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, No F1993.15.62)

 

19– Ram standing right with ribbon around neck and ring with two pearls on its chest.

Inscription: m’h ’twr d’l’y Y mgw Y mtrš’t’n

Translation: Māh-Āzar-Dārāy, magus, (son) of Mīhr-Šād

Dimensions: 26 * 26 mm

(Sigilla Collection of Sasanian Seals, Nr 1555)

 

20– Lion lying right with a star above.

Inscription: gwšnsp bht’ Y mtr’ gwšnsp’n

Translation: Gušnasp-Buxt, (son) of Mīhr-Gušnasp

Dimensions: 17 * 17 mm

(Sigilla Collection of Sasanian Seals, Nr 1292)

 

21– Camel Walking left.

Inscription: d’t gwšnsp’

Translation: Dād-Gušnasp

Dimensions: 19 * 19 mm

(Sigilla Collection of Sasanian Seals, Nr 1554)

 

22– Camel Walking left.

Inscription: d’t plwltyn

Translation: Dād-Fravardīn

Dimensions: 11 * 11 mm

(Sigilla Collection of Sasanian Seals, Nr 1339)

 

23.1– Bearded male bust right wearing kolah with diadem ties. Necklace and earrings with one large pearl. The clothing decorated with three stars.

Inscription: d’l’y’ plhw’ ZY mgw ZY sthl

Translation: Dārāy-Farrox, priest of Istaxr

Dimensions: 24 * 24 mm

23.2

Inscription: sthly, dlgws’n y’tkgwby W d’twbly[3]

Translation: Istaxr, Judge and protector of poor

Dimensions: 22 * 22 mm

(Collection of A. Feili)

 

24– Winged horse walking left.

Inscription: ’twr b’ty

Translation: Ādūr-Bād

Dimensions: 11 * 13 mm

(Author’s Collection)

 

25– Monogram.

Inscription: hwp’ d’t bwlc mtr’

Translation: Xūb, Dād-Burz-Mihr

Dimensions: 10 * 10 mm

(Author’s Collection)

 

Bibliography

Bivar, A.D.H. Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Stamp Seals in the British Museum. Stamp Seals II: The Sassanian Dynasty. London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1969.

Brunner, C.J. Sasanian stamp seals in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978.

Frye, R.N. “Sassanian Clay Sealings in the Baghdad Museum.” Sumer, Vol. 26 (1970): 237-240.

Frye, R.N. Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973.

Göbl, R. Der Sasanidische Siegelkanon. Braunschweig: Klinkhardt und Biermann, 1973.

Göbl, R. Die Tonbullen vom Tacht-e Suleiman. Berlin: D. Reimer, 1976.

Gropp, G. “Some Sasanian Clay Bullae and Seal Stones.” The American Numismatic Society, Museum Notes 19 (1974): 119-144.

Gyselen, R. La géographie administrative de l’empire sassanide: les témoignages sigillographiques. Paris: Groupe pour l’étude de la civilisation du Moyen-Orient, 1989.

Gyselen, R. Sasanian Seal and Sealings in the Saeedi Collection. Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 2007.

Henning, W. B. “Mitteliranisch.” Handbuch der Orientalistik, I-4-1 (1958): 20-130.

Lerner, J. Christian Seals of the Sasanian Period. Istanbul: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 1977.

Notes

[1]

The inscription does not follow the usual name + BRH + patronymic formula.

[2]

So far, a large number of seal and sealing collections have been published. This includes, A.D.H. Bivar, Catalogue of the Western Asiatic Stamp Seals in the British Museum. Stamp Seals II: The Sassanian Dynasty (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1969); C.J. Brunner, Sasanian stamp seals in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978); R.N. Frye, “Sassanian Clay Sealings in the Baghdad Museum,” Sumer, Vol. 26 (1970): 237-240; R. Göbl, Der Sasanidische Siegelkanon (Braunschweig: Klinkhardt und Biermann, 1973); R.N. Frye, Sasanian Remains from Qasr-i Abu Nasr (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1973); G. Gropp, “Some Sasanian Clay Bullae and Seal Stones,” The American Numismatic Society, Museum Notes 19 (1974): 119-144; J. Lerner, Christian Seals of the Sasanian Period (Istanbul: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 1977); R. Göbl, Die Tonbullen vom Tacht-e Suleiman (Berlin: D. Reimer, 1976); R. Gyselen, Sasanian Seal and Sealings in the Saeedi Collection (Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 2007), ix-xviii.

[3]

Henning has recorded the same impression on another Sasanian bulla (Henning, “Mitteliranisch,” 46., Gyselen, La géographie,” 113.).

Archeological Remains and Nation Afflicted with Drought

By Soodabeh Malekzadeh

Neither time nor natural phenomena are friends of ancient archeological remains. Daily reports, websites, and blogs bear news that narrates the gradual demise of one ancient archeological site or another all over the globe. One of these hotspots is Iran, home to two of the most ancient civilizations of the Iranian Plateau, the Achaemenids and the Sasanians. Consequently, this area is also the abode of countless archeological sites and remains, buried in every inch and corner. Sadly, not all those attracted to these ancient sites can be labeled as beneficent friends. The poignant and old story is that with no proper safeguarding or protection, these remains suffer from constant and gradual blows from smugglers and greedy thieves. The most recent instance of this matter is the Pahlavi inscription of Shapur in Tang e Boraq, Fars, which is left with no defense. It was vandalized by smugglers who used explosives in an attempt to remove the inscription from the main stone wall, in which it stood and reports pertaining to this valuable inscription speaks of it being abandoned with no protection whatsoever  (more info)

While not all those who scratch the face of these remains deserve to be called foes, the result is still the same; loss and destruction, which goes hand in hand with the water shortage that Iran and most specifically Fars has been facing for more than a decade. Suffering from a very long period of drought has lead farmers to seek water in any place possible and has ultimately resulted in jeopardizing the ancient remains of this area. For example, in 2009, villagers dug a well not only in close proximity but right below the Barm e Delak bas reliefs in search for water (more info). An earlier result of such “non-deliberate” attacks can be found on the face of the bas reliefs of Tang e Chogan, where we encounter a huge cut running across the bas relieves of Shapur I and Bahram II. It is said that the “cut” is a canal that was dug by farmers decades ago in an attempt to move water to their lands (photos) .
When the government and water organizations step in to heal the wound of people in need of water, the blows become heavier. With very little annual rain and the overuse of qanats, the agricultural economy of Fars calls for the construction of more dams most of which ultimately render as silent and deadly blows to ancient sites that are ultimately demolished and flooded with water. Achaemenid remains have suffered the most in this respect. The flooding of Sivand Dam back in 2007 led to the total destruction of Tang e Bolaghi, a priceless Ancient archeological site(more info) . In the same year, Didagan Dam, one of the most ancient water dams of Fars, dated to the Achaemenid period, was “accidentally” demolished by bulldozers working near the modern Dam of Dorudzan (more info) . More recently in 2013, the first generators of the Seimareh Dam in Kuhdasht, Lorestan became operational and will eventually fully cover the Sasanian site of Qaleh Guri, burying its hidden secrets forever (more info; also see ).
Unfortunately the future does not emerge as very bright. Unless new rescue plans are made and set in motion, so that what is left of ancient archeological remains can be conserved and restored, it won’t be very long until there is nothing left of the rock reliefs, stone inscriptions, palaces, fire temples, and other such remains, nothing but a distant recollection of them.

 

 

An archeological excavation on the Danish island of Bornholm

By Sif Goodale

An archeological excavation on the Danish island of Bornholm, south-east of Sweden in the Baltic Sea, has unearthed a cache of 152 Persian coins. The coins are primarily from the Abbasid period but the find also includes Umayyad, Tahrid, and Sasanian coins. Because cutting coins to make payment by weight was a common practice in the Viking Age and because the coins were found in a field and may have been damaged by plows, many of the coins are fragmented. Some twenty coins including the Sasanian coins shown here, are nearly intact. According to Dr. Michael Alram, Director of the Münzkabinett at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the pictured Sasanian coin is a drachm from the reign of Khusro II (590-682 CE) and was minted in Shiraz in 612. A shard of the coin is missing near the edge. Archeologists believe that the coin was once worn in a chain as a necklace and that perhaps the first hole which was drilled in the coin broke upon which a second hole was drilled. The Abbasid coins were minted between 750-861 CE in Bagdad or Tehran for Harun al-Rashid. One coin was minted in Tabaristan in 778 CE. The Tabaristan coin is a so-called Tabaristan drahma and is similar in style to Sasanian coins. In addition the treasure included two Tahrid coins, which were minted in Herat. The treasure was buried under the floor of a Viking house from the early Viking Age ca. 793-850 CE. Similar finds have been made in Sweden, Poland, and northern Germany, Russia and it attests to Bornholm’s involvement in the trade network which extended from the Baltic to the Persian Empire along the Volga River. The excavation was initiated after amateur archeologist Klaus Thorsen came across the first of the coins with a metal detector.



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