The texts of this group are a small sample of a very large documentary category, called "sealings," but at times referred to as "bullae": pieces or lumps of clay, of oblong or circular shape, bearing the impression of a stamp seal, and used to secure a knot or to hold fast a container of sorts. The fact that many objects shipped or transferred within the NA empire were sealed, is supported both by the many hundreds of extant sealings, official or private (cf. Herbordt, SAAS 1, passim) and by textual information regarding shipments (cf. e.g. SAA 1 5 1, gold; SAA 5 206, tunics; SAA 10 210, fingernail cuttings of the king for magic purposes).

As used here, the term "sealing" (which is at times replaced by "docket" ; cf. TCAE, p. 19 and n. 1) refers only to the inscribed exemplars of the category. As a textual genre its uniqueness lies, of course, in the fact of being, by and large, a mere "script" accompanying an "act": i.e. an occasional addition to the two essential administrative actions of securing a specific contents by means of the clay and sanctioning such a measure through the impression of the seal. Of course, a written text on the clay sealing would also seem to have had the effect of adding security against any unauthorized opening of the "package" or any tampering with the goods (cf. on this count e.g. SAA 10 348, a letter by Mar-Issar to Esarhaddon certifying that he has received jewelry from the king "with the seal intact," NA4 . KIŠIB šalmu).

This said, each specimen may yield a more precise picture of its function not only through the inscription itself - where the contents, the administrative occasion and often the date of the sealing may be indicated - but also from a study of the markings of string or other objects left on the clay, when present, which may provide a clue as to the nature of the container. The seal impres sion itself is, of course, also a factor to be reckoned with - although in general this material appears to bear the standard Assyrian royal seal, and sports only quite rarely seals of specific individuals (cf. Herbordt, SAAS 1, Abb. 7-1 1, Taf. 33-36). In a survey of the available material from all points of view, including the inscribed sealings from Calah, Herbordt has recently brought forth a functional classification of the NA sealings (SAAS 1, pp. 53ff) from which the following division of our material is drawn:

  1. sealings attached directly to bales or bundles, or tags attached to the wrappings by a string. This case - the most frequent among the uninscribed sealings from Nineveh - would seem to apply only to two laconic documents, no. 59 and no. 60, in which the provenience of unspecified goods is given; similar brief messages are also attached to four sealings from Khorsabad, nos. 6 1-64.
  2. sealings attached to sacks, discernible as such by the cloth marks on the clay of the reverse. This case applies to six silver shipments, nos. 50-54, and no. 5 7, all of which have texts indicating their ultimate provenance - from a specific place, i.e. Ekron, Judaea, Kumme, Has sutu or from an official or other individual. The sealing of the sacks could have taken place directly upon arrival from abroad or just before storage; notice, in any case, that all recorded shipments amount to one talent (pos sibly the "light" talent of 30.3 kilograms in all cases, as clearly specified in no. 50), and thus were probably the result of a subdivision of the original quantities by a standard measure - and one which a well-woven sack could hold. The inscribed exemplars are about one-half of the (quite limited) number of these particular sealings from Nineveh.
  3. sealings attached to jar necks. Following Herbordt (SAAS 1, pp. 59-60), two inscribed sealings out of a total of 27 for Nineveh pertain to this group: no. 55, a contribution of unspecified provenance relevant to "one talent, 2 minas of ...": apart from the slight variance in weight on the cases of group 2), should we imagine 31-plus kilos of silver stashed in a jar? The second sealing, no. 72, bears a note on a "completed account . .. ," which recalls the (exactly opposite) administrative formula on an olive-shaped sealing from Calah, GPA 256, on sheep and goats, " . . . incomplete accounts." It is thus clear that the formula has nothing to do with the type of sealing and the relevant container (pace Herbordt, p. 60) ; and in the present case, in view of the jar neck, the object of the "accounts" could have been grain or a liquid substance.
  4. sealings applied to a further document bearing a list. In the case of particular items which could not be sealed directly - such as the items of remitted ilku-service in no. 49, the various pieces of furniture in no. 65 , the bowls of wine in no. 66, the cloaks and other garments in no. 67, the 14 horses ready for the butcher in no. 68, and the group of deportees in no. 69 - the sealing was applied to a further tablet, scroll, or wooden waxed writingboard. A scroll might have been present in the case of no. 69, since the reverse shows an impression of "string and a rounded object" (TCAE, p. 20). The wooden writing board, lē'u - as described e.g. in SAA 1 99 and SAA 1 128, regarding lists of deportees - might have instead been present in nos. 49, 65, 66, 70, and 73, where impressions of a wooden surface are visible on the clay of the reverse. However, the same impressions could derive from the direct application of a clay sealing to a wooden box as well; and it is possible that this was indeed the case for no. 7 1, where a twice-repeated message indicates "letters" as the content. Further specimens from Calah (ND 3413, on incoming ilku-dues from the time of Shalmaneser III, on "king's men" which had been reviewed, etc., cf. TCAE, pp. 20ff, TFS 2 1-23) might also belong to this broad general category; but it is doubtful that a closer characterization of the accompanying documents may be found.
  5. sealings applied to a wooden knob. This type, which may be set apart from the others due to the strongly concave surface of the reverse, is represented by two exemplars from Nineveh. One of the two is no. 56: the inscription ("1 talent of silver, of Nabû-gabbu-le'i") makes it clear that the container was a wooden box of sorts, of which the knob - surrounded by leather bands or string - was part. Herbordt (SAAS 1, p. 64) adds a number of exemplars from Nimrud, GPA 233-237, to this group, although the inscriptions here (of the type "PN1 , care/charge of PN2") are hardly illuminating as regards the exact contents of the knobbed box.

Many of the sealings bear dates. A number belong to the reign of Sargon: no. 65 (719 BC, i.e. the eponymy of Sargon himself), no. 68 (717) , no. 49 (715), and no. 69 (713). Surprisingly enough, on the other hand, we have four sealings dated to the reign of Sennacherib: nos. 50 (699), 51, 53, and 54 (695). The two kings might also be entitled to share the two fragmentary dates, no. 70 (= 721 or 711 BC, cf. discussion in app. crit.), and no. 52, which according to Postgate might refer to 682 BC, on the basis of a professional designation attested in Aramaic ( cf. Fales Epigraphs, pp. 135ff). Other chronological indicators derive from the findspot of the documents: texts nos. 61-64 were found in Dur-Sarruken, and thus may be referred to Sargon's reign. Whether the lack of any inscribed sealings for the reigns of Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal is due to the ever-convenient chance element in discovery, or to a historical factor of sorts, is hard to say at present (the Calah exemplars are undated - except for the Shalmaneser exemplar mentioned above, and ND 807, which goes back to 716 BC!).

F.M. Fales & J.N. Postgate

F.M. Fales & J.N. Postgate, 'Sealings', Imperial Administrative Records, Part II: Provincial and Military Administration, SAA 11. Original publication: Helsinki, Helsinki University Press, 1995; online contents: SAAo/SAA11 Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2021 []

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SAAo/SAA11, 2014-. Since 2015, SAAo is based at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Historisches Seminar (LMU Munich, History Department) - Alexander von Humboldt Chair for Ancient History of the Near and Middle East. Content released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 [] license, 2007-20.
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