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Bactrian Copper Axehead

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: Bactrian
: late 3rd -early 2nd millennium B.C.
: Arsenical copper
: L: 21.9 cm

Ex-Guennol Collection, New York; Alastair Bradley Martin, New York, acquired before 1978.


Complete axehead in excellent condition, though upper blade slightly chipped. Solid cast, with a vertical elliptical eye for the handle, certainly made of a perishable material (wood?); circular opening for the attachment rivet of the handle; smooth metal surface with traces of black and green patina. Thick and slightly rounded blade.


reference 22527

The axehead has flared edges and a blade with a convex outline and terminates in a comma-shaped poll. The highly stylized decoration includes a Y-shaped reinforcement rib on the cheek, an incised lozenge around the hole for the rivet and two curved openings on the poll. With its perfectly balanced shape, as simple as it is pure, this object probably represents a zoomorphic figure, namely a stylized protome of a horse. The poll with the deep intaglios is equivalent to the mane of the animal, the lozenge around the rivet hole marks the eye, while the muzzle is located on the blade (according to M.-H. Pottier, the shape of the poll would rather suggest feathers and the creature represented would then be a bird). Given the excessively open angle formed by the handle and the blade, it is difficult to imagine that such an axe was at all effective; it was probably a ceremonial weapon or a symbol of civilian or military power. Known for several decades, this axehead, which is very similar to at least two others in New York, belongs to a large group of arsenical copper axes generally attributed to Bactrian workshops of the late 3rd and the early 2nd millennium B.C.

This group includes a variety of shapes; among the simple and functional specimens are far more elaborate blades, either with an extremely stylized artistic appearance, like our specimen, or decorated with entire scenes in relief (cf. the silver and gold axe housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, with a fantastic combat scene between monstrous creatures and a wild boar hunt) and even with statuettes or incomplete figures in the round.


CALMEYER P., Datierbare Bronzen aus Luristan und Kirmanshah, Berlin, 1969, pp. 181-184.

PITTMAN H. and PORADA E., Art of the Bronze Age: Southeastern Iran, Western Central Asia and the Indus Valley, New York, 1984, pp. 68-78, nos. 32-37.

POTTIER M.-H., Matériel funéraire de la Bactriane méridionale de l’Age du Bronze, Paris, 1984, pp. 18-21.

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