axe

A Monster-Headed Luristan Axe

As my chapter on war in the ancient near east before the Achaemenid period takes shape, I am reading books like Oscar White Musarella’s study of bronze and iron artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As I do so, it occurred to me that I have something to add to my earlier post about monster-headed axes.

The first axe belongs to the sad collection of artifacts known as Luristan bronzes. The ancient people there deposited many fine bronzes in their tombs, and in the 1920s the locals began to dig them up and sell them on a large scale. Once enterprising smiths began to cast their own “Luristan bronzes,” and dealers began to market objects looted from other regions under the “Luristan” label, a great deal of knowledge was lost forever. However, this axe resembles finds with inscriptions from the 12th century BCE or excavated from a temple built at at Tschogha Zanbil in the 13th (although there are others in contexts 400 years younger). Have a look at how the blade is attached to the socket.

An axehead with its blade emerging from the mouth of a duck attached to its socket
A bronze axehead from the Metropolitan Museum, NY, accession number 32.161.2; discussed in Muscarella, Iron and Bronze, p. 190 no. 304.

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Monster-Headed Axes

A relief of a man in a long tunic carrying a bowcase over his left shoulder and a pick in his right hand
The weapon bearer from the relief of the North Staircase, Apadana, Persepolis courtesy of Jona Lendering of Livius.Org.

On the great central relief of the North Staircase at Persepolis, which was presented front and center to visitors approaching the palace for an audience, a weapon bearer stands in the background with the royal axe and bow. His axe has a long, narrow head like a pick. A clever craftsman has formed the socket into the head of a strange creature, and the blade into something which comes from its mouth, while the back-spike becomes its tail. Several iron or bronze axeheads of this type survive, but none is so beautifully formed.Read more