Phoenician Gold Votive or Ceremonial Fenestrated Axehead
Period: early 2nd millennium B.C.
Dimensions: 10.4 x 7.2 cm
Acquired by Sleiman Aboutaam ca. 1985 and kept in the family collection.
Intact axehead in remarkable condition; inner net pattern barely deformed.
The weapon is made of solid gold, cast in a bivalve stone mold. The handle was inserted into the eye, whose inner wall incorporates a net pattern made up of thin gold strips arranged in a diagonal criss-cross. The semi-ellipsoidal blade tapers gradually to the cutting edge, which is not completely sharp. There are two large openwork ovals adjoining the eye; looking like glasses or small windows, they give this type of tool the name of fenestrated axe. The outline is bordered with a thick lip, while a straight horizontal rib separates the blade into two halves. This is a magnificent weapon, not only for its state of preservation and the use of gold, but also because of its shape and the pure elegant proportions that harmoniously combine the linear elements (net pattern of the eye, central rib) with the rounded lines of the silhouette and central openings. This formal clarity is perfectly pleasant to modern aesthetics. Typologically, this axehead imitates a manifold and diverse morphology well attested through many bronze examples used in wartime. Excavations at several archaeological sites in the Syro-Palestinian and Anatolian world, in diff erent areas of western Iran and, more rarely, in Mesopotamia have uncovered such related weapons. Many Syro-Palestinian statuettes dated to the same period depict standing warriors sometimes equipped with fenestrated axes. The closest parallels for this example come from the city of Byblos, on the Phoenician coast, where excavations at the Temple of the Obelisks have revealed gold fenestrated axes included in royal off erings along with many other objects made of noble metal (some specimens feature animal figures in relief on the blade, others present geometric patterns or fi gural scenes in granulation adorning the eye). Some molds used to manufacture the axeheads have also been found. Now housed in the National Museum of Beirut, these spectacular votive or ceremonial weapons bear witness to the skills of Phoenician craftsmen and to their creative and technical ability in the early 2nd millennium B.C. (19th-18th century B.C.). In addition to axes, one should mention a gold, silver and ivory dagger recalling the examples found in the royal tombs of Ur (see n. 12), decorated with figural scenes on the handle and on the blade, and a harpe, a short sword with a hooked blade.
On gold axes from the Temple of the Obelisks, see:
Liban: L’autre rive, Paris, 1999, pp. 54-59.
PARROT A. et al., Les Phéniciens, Paris, 1977, pp. 64-68.
SEEDEN H., The Standing Armed Figurines in the Levant, PBF I, Berlin, 1980, pl. 129.
On bronze examples, see:
CALMEYER P., Datierbare Bronzen aus Luristan und Kirmanshah, Berlin, 1969, pp. 44-46.
MAXWELL-HYSLOP K.R., Western Asiatic Shaft-Hole Axes, in Iraq, 11, 1949, pp. 119 ff., type R3-4, pl. 26. MUSCARELLA O.W., Bronze and Iron: Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1989, pp. 386-387, nos. 510- 511 (with bibliography). NEGBI O., Canaanite Gods in Metal, Tel Aviv, 1976, nos. 49, 51, 145, 179 (warriors armed with fenestrated axes).