Introduction

This web site is about Sasanian seals from an Austrian private collection.

 

Sasanian seals are a distinct group among the seals of the Near East. They can be easily distinguished by their forms and motifs.

Their time of origin is the era of the Sasanian kingdom which existed from AD 244 to AD 651 roughly in the area of present day Iran and Iraq but temporarily occupied also parts of today's Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Anatolia, the Kaukasus and Pakistan.

 

Forms

Most Sasanian seals are stamp seals which were held with two fingers or were mounted in a holder. Ring seals, i.e. seals mounted as bezels in finger rings were much rarer than stamp seals.

 

The most common forms of the stamp seals are domes or ellipsoids.

 

Materials

The most common materials are various forms of quartz (Chalcedony, Carnelian, Agate, Jasper, Rock Crystal), rarer materials are bronze and haematite, very rare are e.g. lapislazuli and garnet.

 

Motifs

The motifs were influenced by the religious and mythological conceptions of the Sasanian era and also by ancient Oriental and Greek influences. The most common groups of motifs are:

 

Inscriptions only
A few seals have just an inscription but no image

 

People
Standing or walking female or male human figures
Gayomard (according to Zoroastrian mythology Gayomard was the first human being)
Riders

 

Busts
Female and male busts

 

Animals
Zebus, antelopes, ibexes, rams, hares, lions, fishes, various kinds of birds

 

Mythological Creatures
Gopatšah (a being with the body of a bull and the head of a man), griffins, winged horses

 

Plants
Flowers of pomegranate, leaves, branches

 

Inanimate objects
Fire altars, celestial bodies

 

Monograms
Monograms (Tamgas) were a kind of logos, similar to the coat of arms of the European Middle Ages

 

No Motif
The collection contais some unengraved seals. Very probably they are semi-finished products

 

Chronology 

The knowledge about the chronology of Sasanian seals is patchy. Most Sasanian seals currently extant were not found by scientific excavations but were aquired from the antiquities market.

 

Collections

A large number of sasanian seals is still extant in public and private collections, R. Göbl estimates their number at several ten thousand. Many collections are already published, some of the most important are:

 

Staatliche Museen / Berlin (about 700 items) [Horn, Steindorff, 1891)

Eremitage / St. Petersburg (about 800 items) [Borissov, Lukonin, 1963]

British Museum / London (about 800 items) [Bivar 1969]

Bibliothèque Nationale and Musée du Louvre / Paris (together about 1000 items) [Gyselen 1993]

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden and Koninklijk Peningkabinet / Leyden (together more than 1200 items) [Gyselen 1997]

 

The present collection cannot match the big collections.

But the publication on the internet offers the opportunity to show the items of the collection in colour photos of decent resolution and thus give a better idea of the beauty of Sasanian seals than printed publications with their black and white pictures can do.