Black Cuneiform Tablet

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Black Cuneiform Tablet

Circa 1865-1833 B.C., Reign of King Sin-Kashid of Uruk
Babylonia, Mesopotamia
H: 9.3cm



A rectangular steatite tablet, with one flat side and one convex, inscribed with twenty-three lines of Sumerian cuneiform. The text commemorates the restoration of the Temple of Lugulbanda and Ninsun, and records the prices of commodities reading: ‘For Lugalbanda, his god, and for Ninsun his mother, Sin-kashid, king of Uruk, king of Amnanum, and the provider of the Eanna temple, when he had built the Eanna Temple, he built for them the Ekankal, their dwelling house which makes the heart happy. For the period of his kingship, 1 shekel of silver could buy, at the market rate of his land: 3 kor of barley, 12 minas of wool, 10 minas of copper, or 3 ban of vegetable oil. May his years be years of abundance.’

King Sin-Kashid was ruler of the southern Babylonian city of Uruk, which he captured from the control of the city of Larsa, during the first half of the eighteenth century B.C.. His inscriptions record the construction of many buildings, including a large palace and several temples for various gods. This black stone tablet records the construction of a temple for the king’s personal god Lugalbanda and the god’s wife Ninsun. The text also announces that the economy was strong, with low prices for the basic commodities, reflecting the favour of the god’s during Sin-Kashid’s reign.

The standard designation of this inscription is RIME, and this is the twenty-eighth known example of this text. All the others are written on clay cones, except for one late Neo-Babylonian copy on which the colophon states, ‘Copy of a royal inscription on diorite stone, property of Ezida. Nabu-balassu-iqbi, son of Misiraia, wrote it’ (British Museum, London, 91081). The present example is the only case of this inscription carved in stone, and may well be the very one copied by scribe Nabu-balassu-iqbi in the Ezida temple.


Antiquities, Christie’s, New York, 4 June 2015, Lot 112.
Database of Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) no. P480737, artifact entry 2015
Database of Neo-Sumerian Texts (BDTNS) no. 020952.



Previously in the Private Collection of Elias S. David (1891-1969), New York, most likely before the 1966 appraisal conducted by Piero Tozzi, and listed in the appraisal as ‘Babylonian Black Stone Tablet’.
Thence by descent to his son, from 1969 to 2015.
Sold at: Antiquities, Christie’s, New York, 4 June 2015, Lot 112.
Private Collection, US, acquired from the above sale.
ALR: S00234849, with IADAA Certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database.

Note on the Provenance

Elias S. David (1891-1969) was one of the most prominent dealers of ancient Near Eastern art in the mid-twentieth century. He was born in the east, probably in Lebanon or Iraq, and was sent to boarding school in Paris at the age of twelve. It was here that he first began dealing in ancient art, before moving to New York in 1914 at the start of World War I. David briefly operated from a gallery, but preferred working from home. Many masterpieces passed through his hands, and are now in museums around the world, including the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. David was friends with other key figures in the art world, including dealer Pierro Tozzi, scholar Edith Porada, and collectors such as Natacha Rambova, Leon Pomerance, Norbert Schimmel, and Alastair Bradley Martin. David was also close with the curator of Near Eastern art at the Metropolitan Museum, Charles K. Wilkinson, who was a frequent dinner guest at his home. David’s activities as a dealer can be traced through Wilkinson’s correspondence with others at the Met from the 1940s to the 1960s, and demonstrates how his generosity towards the museum led to his being honoured as Fellow of the Museum for life (a privilege that was granted to David’s wife after his death in 1969).

Most of David’s collection was appraised by Tozzi in the years following his death, before being kept in storage for more than forty years. The collection’s strongest point is the many cylinders, barrels, cones, and tablets inscribed with cuneiform texts. Most of these tablets, in terracotta, bronze, and stone, were made to be foundation deposits. He also collected silver and bronze vessels, small-scale sculpture, and a large group of early amulets and seals from the Near East. Other pieces in David’s possession included rare Egyptian items, including a group of gold and faience amulets, small bronze statues, and a small alabaster head of Ptolemy, and some Classical pieces, such as Archaic Greek carnelian scarabs, too.