Cuneiform Barrel-Cylinder

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Cuneiform Barrel-Cylinder

605-562 B.C.,
Neo-Babylonian, Babylon (Al-Ḥilla)
L: 9.6 cm, W: 4.4 cm



A clay barrel-cylinder, pierced at each end, and inscribed with nineteen lines of Akkadian reading:

I, Nebuchadnessar, king of Babylon, the son of Naboplassar, king of Babylon, have rebuilt Emah, the temple of the noble and lofty goddess Ninham on Babylon, I have put around it a strung terrace wall made of bitumen and burnt brick filled in with pure earth; O Ninmah, gracious mother, look with pleasure on it and may favour for me be established on your lips; may my seed widespread and may my offspring be prosperous and make my progeny successful.

The text records the rebuilding of the Emah, the great temple of the goddess Ninmah in Babylon. This is one of many documents recording the restoration works performed by king Nebuchadnezzar, which are also recorded in the Bible, Daniel 4:30:31. Clay cylinders such as this one were inscribed in cuneiform script, baked, and then buried into the foundations of buildings when they were built and restored. As in this example, these texts often recorded the restoration of structures in particular temples of the city.

Akkadian is the earliest documented Semitic language. It was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia from the third millennium B.C. until it was gradually replaced by Old Aramaic by the eighth century B.C.. It was written in cuneiform. Cuneiform is the logo-syllabic script used to write several languages between the early Bronze Age and the beginning of the Common Era. It was originally developed to write the Sumerian language of southern Mesopotamia, and is the earliest known writing system.

The archaeological site of Emar (modern Tell Meskene) is situated in the great bend of the mid-Euphrates. It ranks alongside Ugarit, Mari, and Ebla as one of the most important archaeological sites in Syria due to the number of cuneiform tablets excavated there. These texts, dating from the fourteenth century B.C. to the fall of Emar in 1187 B.C., reveal that Emar was an important Bronze Age trade centre due to its position between Upper Mesopotamia and Anatolia-Syria. Most of the tablets from this site, unlike those from other cities, are private rather than royal or official documents. These documents include private transactions, judicial records, real estate dealings, marriages, last wills, and formal adoptions.


Egyptian, Greek and Roman Antiquities, Sotheby’s, London, 4 July 1932, Lot 143.
Fine books and manuscripts from the library of the late Alan G. Thomas, Sotheby’s, London, 21 June 1993, Lot 1


Private Collection of Sir John Lubbock, 1st Lord Avebury (1834-1913).
Sold at: Egyptian, Greek and Roman Antiquities, Sotheby’s, London, 4 July 1932, Lot 143.
With Spink and Co., London, acquired from the above sale.
Private Collection of Alan Gradon Thomas (1911-1992), London, acquired from the above.
Sold at: Fine books and manuscripts from the library of the late Alan G. Thomas, Sotheby’s, London, 21 June 1993, Lot 1.
Private Collection of Jacques Carré (1927-2015), Antwerp, acquired from the above sale.
Thence by descent to Olivier Carré.
Jacques Carré Inventory Card, No. 2065.
ALR: S00234422, with IADAA Certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database.

Note on the Provenance

Sir John Lubbock, 1st Lord Avebury (1834-1913) was an English banker, Liberal politician, philanthropist, scientist, and polymath, who made significant contributions to the fields of archaeology, ethnography, and biology.

Lubbock was brought up on his family home on High Elms Estate, near Downe in Kent. In 1842, Charles Darwin moved into Down House in the village nearby, and young Lubbock became a frequent visitor and close friend of Darwin’s. Their relationship sparked his interest in science and evolutionary theory, and Lubbock would go on to write several books on animal behaviour, including The Origin and Metamorphoses of Insects (1873), British Wild Flowers (1875), Ants, Bees, and Wasps (1882), and On the Senses, Instincts, and Intelligence of Animals (1888).

Lubbock became a partner in his father’s bank at the age of 22, and succeeded him to the Baronetcy in 1865, as well as serving on commissions relating to coinage and other financial matters. He was elected as a Liberal MP for Maidstone, Kent, in 1870 and 1874. Although he lost this seat in 1880, he was immediately elected as member for the University of London, for whom he had been vice-chancellor since 1872. Lubbock had four main political goals: the promotion of scientific study in primary and secondary schools, focusing on the national debt and free trade, protection of ancient monuments, and securing additional holidays and shorter working hours for the working classes. He was successful in passing 30 acts of Parliament, including the Bank Holidays Act (1871), Ancient Monuments Act (1882), and the Shop Hours Act (1889).

During this period, Lubbock also published several books, including the seminal textbook Pre-historic Times (1865) and The Origin of Civilisation and the Primitive Condition of Man (1870), in which he coined the terms ‘Palaeolithic’ and ‘Neolithic’ to refer to the Old and New Stone Ages (respectively). Lubbock’s work helped to establish archaeology as a scientific discipline, and he held a number of influential academic positions: Lubbock was President of the Ethnological Society from 1864 to 1865, Vice President of the Linnean Society in 1865, and President of the International Congress of Prehistoric Archaeology in 1868. Lubbock was also President of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland from 1871 to 1872, and Vice President of the Royal Society in 1871. In 1864, Lubbock became one of the founding members of the X Club, an elite dining club of nine gentlemen with the aim of promoting the theories of natural selection and academic liberalism. Lubbock was also close to Sir Augustus Franks and son-in-law to General Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers. A collection of Iron Age antiquities he excavated alongside Sir John Evans at the site of Hallstatt in Austria is now in the British Museum.

Alan Gradon Thomas (1911-1992) was born in Hampstead, North London, on 19 October 1911. At the age of sixteen he went to work at Commin’s bookstore in Bournemouth, which was at that time owned and run by Ernest Cooper. It was here that he met the novelist Lawrence Durrell, who introduced him to the Durrell household and formed a lifelong friendship. At this stage, Durrell recalls that Thomas, despite his limited means, had ‘managed to start a collection which was housed in a large suitcase under his bed. It consisted of only four or five books but each one was so choice that I soon realised that he was going short of food in order to save money for this secret vice’. In 1937, Thomas corrected the proofs of Durrell’s novel Panic Spring, and he later edited his Spirit of Place: Letters and Essays on Travel (1969). Thomas compiled the bibliography of Durrell’s work and bequeathed his own collection of material relating to Durrell to the British Library.

In 1936, Thomas was able to acquire Commin’s. During the Second World War, he served as an artillery sergeant in the Royal Air Force, and afterwards he shifted the bookstore towards genuinely antiquarian works. He sold Commin’s in 1956, along with its 95,000 books, and began to operate as a private catalogue bookseller of rarer material. Thomas served as president of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association from 1958 to 1959. Under his direction, the first London Antiquarian Book Fair took place, establishing the event which has now become a global circuit.

Thomas moved to Hobury Street in Chelsea in 1965, where he lived for the rest of his life. He continued to issue catalogues, which were known for their imagination, insight, and humour. He refused to specialise too narrowly, and handled a vast range of manuscripts and print, as well as publishing several titles on antiquarian book collecting. He was also good friends with T. E. Lawrence. Thomas’ seventieth birthday was marked by the publication of a festschrift, Fine Books and Book Collecting (1981), comprised of thirty-three essays by friends and customers in tribute to Thomas’ long career. The Times described him as ‘the doyen of the British antiquarian book trade’. Thomas often wore a long cloak or cape, specially commissioned with pockets large enough to hold a Sotheby’s catalogue, or bottle of wine. He loved lively conversation and had great interest in music, art, and architecture. Thomas’ passions were not dimmed as he got older; according to Martin Hamlyn, ‘Above all, he was as much an enthusiast – for the arts, literature, the history of ideas and beliefs – at eighty as he was at twenty’.

Jacques Carré (1927-2015) grew up in Paris, where he studied electrical engineering, before moving to Antwerp. He began collecting in the 1960s, initially with a focus on Japanese art and, over the next thirty years, became one of the most important European collectors of his generation, with an outstanding collection of netsuke and lacquer. His interest in Japanese art began when he selected a netsuke he spotted in a dealer’s window on the Île Saint-Louis as a gift from his mother for graduating engineering school in 1947. His passion and curiosity drew him towards the arts of other cultures, and in the late 1970s he started to collect more broadly: Carré acquired Islamic and ancient art from Egypt and the Near East, as well as a select collection of Roman glass. According to his son, Carré was never happier than when visiting fellow collectors and connoisseurs, both abroad and at home.

Carré acquired his collection of 21 cuneiform texts in London and Paris between 1982 and 1993. Their appeal lay in their status as the earliest form of writing and an account of everyday life from over four millennia ago. These texts trace the history of cuneiform, and feature letters as well as business and administrative documents. Professor Wilfred Lambert (1926-2011), one of the key post-war scholars of Assyriology, supplied notes and translations for all of the pieces.