Persian Bronze Axehead
Period: late 2nd millennium B.C.
Dimensions: L: 19 cm
Bonham’s, London, April 13, 2000, Lot 260.
Virtually intact axehead, except for minor repairs (especially upper blade); surface covered with a dark green patina and reddish brown marks in places. Axehead cast in a single piece.
The weapon is composed of three elements: a) the narrow cylindrical eye decorated with the fi gurine of a recumbent wild boar (depicted vertically on its back) and four thick ribs (gadroons); b) an intermediate element in the shape of a lion protome with a wide open mouth spitting the blade; c) the blade, slanting downwards in relation to the handle of the weapon, in the shape of a wedge with a slightly curved outline and a rather thick blunt blade.
Typologically, this piece – which can be classified in group D1 as theorized by J. Deshayes – recalls spiked axes, weapons that are characterized by sharp spikes, sometimes modeled in the shape of human heads or animal protomes (lions, boars) attached to the back of the eye, with what originally would have been a precise meaning as an offensive weapon. Here, according to an exceptional typology for axes of this type, though usual for halberd axeheads (see n. 14), the figurine of an animal replaces the four spikes. Along with halberd blades, such objects were the most widespread class of Lorestan arts and crafts in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. This origin is also confi rmed by the iconographic choice of the boar and the lion’s head from which the blade extends (see n. 1, 14, 18), a popular artifice in Iranian art already in the early 2nd millennium B.C. (axes, but also daggers); the first animal symbolizes indomitable courage in battle (a boar does not retreat before any aggressor and does not hesitate to attack any opponent), while the second embodies domination and power (the lion is the king of animals). These two species were part of the surrounding wildlife and they are widely represented throughout contemporary Near Eastern images. The simple stylized features of the lion’s head and the elegant elongated body of the wild boar are typical of Lorestan art. As often in these cases, only a few elements were enough for the artist to clearly indicate the species of the animals represented: the raised snout, the rounded ears and the tusks for the boar; the massive square head, the globular eyes and the mouth with the clearly visible fangs for the lion.
The chronology of spiked axes ranges between the late 2nd and the early 1st millennium B.C., with a development of the blade that becomes increasingly curved, while presenting a progressively more acute angle in relation to the eye. Their precise use often remains enigmatic; in most cases, several elements (blunt blade, position of the blade in relation to the handle, small eye, etc.) exclude a concrete purpose as a weapon. The presence of a number of specimens in tombs and as off erings in shrines rather suggests weapons with a ceremonial, official or votive function.
AMIET P., Les Antiquités du Luristan: Collection David-Weill, Paris, 1976, pp. 36-39, nos. 51-52.
DESHAYES J., Les outils de bronze, de l’Indus au Danube (IVe-IIe millénaire), Paris, 1960, pp. 181-183 (type D1).
MOOREY P.R.S. et al., Ancient Bronzes, Ceramics and Seals: The N.M. Heeramaneck Collection of Ancient Near Eastern, Central Asiatic and European Art, Los Angeles, 1981, pp. 25-26, nos. 38-41. Paradeisos: Frühe Tierbilder aus Persien aus der Sammlung E. und P. Suter-Dürsteler, Basel, 1992, pp. 42 ff., no. 6.
On Lorestan bronzes, see:
ENGEL N. (ed.), Bronzes du Luristan: Enigmes de l’Iran ancien, IIIe-Ier millénaire av. J.-C., Paris, 2008 (pp. 94-99 on spiked axes).