Seals and Sealings in Iranian History
Another region of the eastern Iranian lands where evidence of seals has recently increased, thanks to the discovery of seal-impressions, is Sogdiana.
A comprehensive study of Sogdian seals has yet to be undertaken, and, apart from the sealings, knowledge of these materials is due mainly to a small corpus of inscribed seals (Abdullaev and Raimkulov, 1994; Livshits, 2000) and to two gems found in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent (Callieri, 1997, p. 131); several unpublished Sogdian gems and metal seals are also said to be in the Oriental Department of the Hermitage Museum (Livshits, 2000, p. 48). The presence of a Sogdian inscription, however, is in itself proof of a Sogdian origin only if the image and the inscription are homogeneous in technique and linked in composition; two gems with Sogdian inscriptions in the Indian Museum and in the British Museum belong to the same group of Hunnish gems that are more likely to have been engraved in the Indo-Iranian frontier area (see above). At the same time, the sealings from Mount Mugh (q.v. at iranica.com) Kanka (Bogomolov and Burjakov, 1995), Paikend (Semenov, 2001), and Kafir Kala (Cazzoli and Cereti, 2005), dating to various ages despite the fact that they were found in seventh or eighth-century C.E. contexts, evidence the circulation in Sogdiana and ??? (q.v.) of gems of various provenance, from the Hellenistic East to Sasanian Iran. However, the extremely naturalistic traits which characterize stylistically a few intaglios with portrait busts, present both at Kanka and Kafir Kala, and which differ from the groups found in Bactria, in the northwest, or in Sasanian Iran, suggest the existence of a highly refined gem production which further study might possibly attribute to Sogdiana.
In the case of the Tarim basin, too, a comprehensive study of the seals is still wanting. Local glyptic output includes stone, metal, bone, and glass seals and shows how the region was open to the influence of the surrounding cultures (Maillard, 1977). Largely of circular and lozenge shape, the seals of this area display animal iconography, showing the important role of the nomadic culture, along with human figures influenced by the Iranian and Hellenistic worlds; the latter makes itself felt particularly at Niya and Hotan (Khotan), both with gems imported from the Mediterranean area and those produced in Hellenistic workshops in Asia. Sealings were often present on the many containers and documents that were preserved by the dry climate (Stein, 1912; Andrews, 1935).
PLATE 1. Cat 7.17 (after Callieri, 1997) PM, Sir John Marshall’s Collection. Ring bezel. Ba. Agate with beige and brown bands, blemished; whole. L. 20 x 16 Kashan king (?) on horseback in profile to the right, the stationary horse turned slightly to the right. The bearded rider’s facial features are detailed; he wears a tunic and wide trousers and on his head is a tall, three-pointed diadem with two long streamers hanging down the back. He holds the reins and his feet seem to be in stirrups (?). The treatment of the horse’s body is also detailed. Behind the head, top left, is a monogram, top right a Kharo??h? inscription consisting of three characters reading from the outside: I?harva, ‘I?harva’; and centre right a Kushan tamgha.
PLATE 2. Cat 7.24 (after Callieri, 1997) PM, Sir John Marshall’s Collection. Ring bezel, probably trapezoid in section. E6a? Honey-colored chalcedony; whole. L. 9.5 x 8; base: 1. 12 x 11. Male bust in profile to right, the frontal upper body rendered by three roughly circular segments. A narrow beard frames the face and the features are summary. The hairstyle shows a raised band (curls?) on the forehead.
PLATE 3. Cat 7.34 (after Callieri, 1997) PM, Sir John Marshall’s Collection. Ring bezel. Ba. Cornelian; whole. L. 12 x 10.5. Male bust in profile to right, the frontal upper body rendered by four roughly circular segments. The facial features are detailed and there is a raised band of hair round the head. An earring hangs from a bar, and the tunic has a high neckline.
PLATE 4. Cat 7.42 (after Callieri, 1997) PM, Sir John Marshall’s Collection. Ring bezel. Ca. Garnet; whole. L. 17 x 13.5. Male bust, frontal but turned slightly to the right, the right arm passing front of the body and holding an open flower to the right of the face. The eyebrows are long, the eyes open, the straight nose starts high on the forehead, the moustache is long and thin, the hatched hair forms round the forehead a curved band that seems much wider that the face. A diadem with three three-pointed elements (flowers?) crowns the centre of the forehead. The tunic with high round neckline and vertical folds reveals the characteristic polygonal segments of the upper body, partly concealed by the arm. To the right of the face, above the flower, is a tamgha, and to the left a Bactrian inscription: Bando, a personal name?
PLATE 5. Cat 8.1 (after Callieri, 1997) PM, Sir John Marshall’s Collection. Ring bezel. Eb. Amber-coloured chalcedony; rim slightly chipped. Diam. 14. An apparently girdled male figure in profile to left moves, left leg and right arm forward, towards a winged horse in profile to right. The body of the horse is well modeled and its head lowered. Sogdian characters, above prn, below ?r(y), Farnvare, ’bringing fortune’ (presumably personal name).
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