Ras Sharma is on the Syrian coast seven miles north of Latakia. The seal comes from the Imperial period (1480–1190BC). The city was destroyed in 1190BC and the whole empire came to an abrupt end ten years later in 1180BC. The Hittites were a very powerful people based at Hattusa north-eastern Anatolia. Their empire stretched over most of Turkey, Syria and the Levant. One great expert on Hittite seals was DG Hogarth of the Ashmolean who excavated at Charchemish before the First World War on the banks of the Euphrates. Seals both stamp and cylinder are common and were used on important documents for treaties with foreign powers or trade agreements.
Here the hare image occurs thirteen times on the seal. Something of a record. Hare and double-headed eagles often feature together in Hittite carvings and seals. Rundas, the Hittite god of the hunt and good fortune, is often represented in carvings by a glyph of a double-headed eagle with a hare in each talon.
Recently I sent a copy of the image to Dr Mark Weeden at SOAS who recognised it and identified the seal as “that of Taprammi (=LEPUS+ ra/i+mi), where the word for ‘hare’ in Luwian is ‘tapra-’. Taprammi is the name of a well-known official in the 13th century BC, from whom we have a number of other seal-impressions and inscriptions, including from the Hittite capital at Boğazköy (otherwise known as Hattusa)”.
“On this seal he is given the titles ‘Scribe’ (SCRIBA-la), ‘eunuch’ (where this does not necessarily mean that he had had his testicles removed but it is quite possible).”
My thanks to Dr Mark Wheeden for help in identifying this seal. So the linguistic symbolic language using the hare in Egypt was also alive and well in the Hittite empire c1300BC and it shows that there were important links between Ugarit and Hattusa hundreds of miles away in Northern Anatolia.
Also from the acropolis in Ugarit is a remarkable gold dish or patera showing four ibex in the centre with conjoined horns. This was found near the High Priest’s house and temple was found by the French archaeologist Claude Schaeffer in 1933 and is typical of the ‘international style’ of craftsmanship which flourished in the Levant, Cyprus and at the court of Egypt at this time (1500–1400BC).
This remarkable gold ceremonial dish or patera was one of a pair and was found near the High Priest’s house, behind a wall in the temple of Baal. Also in the High Priest’s house they found a library of mythological texts in Akkadian and in the local language. The two dishes were found behind the temenos wall. The other temple was that of Dagon. One dish is now in the Louvre, the other dish was left in the museum in Aleppo. One wonders where it is today. In the main outer frieze is the hunter, on a chariot drawn by two horses, accompanied by a dog. It is as if the ibex have been domesticated or tamed as they are walking round in a circle which animals do when they are treading out the corn. And on the outer rim is fabulous scene of the royal hunt. Offerings and libations.
Although made some two thousand years before the earliest known example of the Three Hares, the dish shows the strikingly similar ‘shared horns’ motif in the centre of a sacred vessel used for offerings or libations.3 On the outer rim is a royal chariot hunt. In the centre is a gold space between the horns which could symbolise either the sun, the full moon or even royal power. Priests were often used for ceremonies and sacrifices connected with agricultural events like ploughing, sowing and harvest. The transition from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural based economies is pivotal to understanding the Middle East. Hares and harvests go together. Another remarkable gold cup was discovered in NW Iran with a frieze of gazelles. Early first millennium BC. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
Animals that were hunted were obviously of very high status indeed and these cups and plates and bowl may well have had a religious and political importance as well. Hares were obviously an important part of this quasi-religious animal world.
Long-eared rabbits or hares are often found in Syro-Hittite cylinder seals but rarely elsewhere. The hares are depicted as held in the hand as for food, or by itself. It is also abundant in Egyptian art and is an important hieroglyph.2
There is also a spectacular haematite cylinder seal with multiple hares on it which came up for sale at Christies recently. c1850BC