Stele of King Untash-Napirisha

This stele in four registers was commissioned by King elamite Untash-Napirisha for the city of Tchoga Zanbil. The stele of King Untash-Napirisha was brought back to Susa by one of these successors, probably Shutruk-Nahunte I. The themes of the registers are the recognition of royal power by the god Inshushinak, the accompaniment of the king to the temple by two priestesses, women-fish with a gushing stream (minor deities perpetuating the cycle of waters); finally, two men-mouflons protectors of the sacred tree.

Stele of King Untash-Napirisha

Stele of King Untash-Napirisha

King Untash-Napirisha dedicated this stele to the god Inshushinak, at Al-Untash (currently Tchoga Zanbil), the new religious capital which he had built forty kilometers southeast of Susa. He made this region the political and religious heart of Elam. The stele must have been brought back to Susa by one of his successors in the 12th century, probably Shutruk-Nahunte I. The decor is organized in four registers separated by a frieze of guilloches. The whole is framed by two snakes, whose heads clash at the top.

The ceremony of recognition of a deity by the king

In the upper register, Untash-Napirisha is received by the god Inshushinak. The royal dedication is engraved in Elamite between the two figures. She names Inshushinak god of the Susian plain. The god is seated on a throne probably made up of coiled serpents of which he is holding one of the horned heads. He holds in his hands the insignia of his power: the ring and the staff. This ceremony of Mesopotamian tradition is rendered in an Elamite style.

Favorite animal in Iran, the snake is considered as a principle of fecundity. In the second millennium, he was closely linked to the “god of the serpent and the gushing waves”. This divine principle corresponds to Enki/Ea, the god mesopotamian groundwater. The two serpents running along the edges of the stele probably limit the Apsû, a liquid mass of fresh water encircling the world, over which Enki reigns.

In the lower register, Untash-Napirisha is surrounded by his wife Napir-Asu and probably his mother, the priestess U-tik, who accompany the ruler into the temple for this ceremony. The names of the two women are inscribed on their forearms, which they hold crossed on their stomachs in an attitude conventional to the Middle-Elamite period.

Supernatural beings protectors of nature

On the third register, a minor goddess, whose body ends in the shape of a fishtail, embraces the waves that spring from several vases. By perpetuating the water cycle, it emphasizes their beneficial role for nature, in particular vegetation, symbolized by a stylized tree in the lower register. Supernatural beings, like this goddess, populate the Apsû. The waves here have the appearance of ropes, reminiscent of the sinuous body of the reptile.

The belonging of these deities to the mythology Elamite is highlighted by the bovine ear which points behind their hair, adding to a human ear.

Finally, on the last register two men-mouflons frame a stylized tree, symbol of the vegetable world. These are the equivalents of the bull-men mesopotamians. They perhaps replace here the acolytes of the god Enki, naked heroes guarding his domain. By monitoring groundwater, they guarantee the development and protection of the sacred tree, which corresponds to the vegetation resulting from the beneficial action of water.

These last two registers are characterized by a symmetrical composition.