Ivory figure of a griffin-headed demon


British Museum

British Museum

Ivory carvings were widely used to decorate important pieces of furniture in antiquity. This very fine example may have been part of a throne. Griffin-headed demons were protective deities, and would therefore have been appropriate as giving divine protection to the throne's occupant. While similar creatures are depicted on Assyrian wall reliefs at Nimrud, this carving comes from Toprakkale (ancient Rusahinili) in Urartu. This fortified citadel site had within it a major temple of the god Haldi. Excavations were carried out there in 1880 on behalf of The British Museum. A rich collection of objects was found, many in a distinctive local style. It was not clear whether the ivories were locally made copies of Syrian or Assyrian ivories, or were actually imports. Local production of ivories does, though, seem indicated by the fact that elephant tusks are listed by the Assyrians as booty from Urartian temples and palaces. Furthermore, the closest parallels were excavated at the Urartian site of Altintepe. The kingdom of Urartu, centred on Lake Van, was the northern neighbour and rival of the Assyrian Empire from the ninth to the seventh centuries BC. Elephant tusks are listed by the Assyrians as booty from Urartian temples and palaces. Urartu had disappeared before 600 BC, possibly destroyed by raids of horse-borne warriors, known to the Greeks as Scythians, associated with the Medes from western Iran. The name survives, however, in that of its highest mountain, Ararat.

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  • Title: Ivory figure of a griffin-headed demon
  • Date Created: -799/-600
  • Physical Dimensions: Width: 6.00cm; Height: 14.00cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Subject: devil/demon
  • Registration number: 1880,1216.42
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Toprakkale
  • Period/culture: Urartian
  • Material: ivory
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Excavated by Clayton, Emilius. Excavated by Raynolds, G C. Excavated by Rassam, Hormuzd


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