Phoenician Silver axehead
Culture: Phoenician, Levantine, Biblical
Period: 19th – 18th century B.C.
Dimensions: Height: 15 cm
Ex- Private Collection
Acquired in 2009
The weapon is made of silver, cast in a bivalve stone mold. The handle was inserted into the eye. The semi-ellipsoidal blade tapers gradually to the cutting edge, which is not completely sharp. There are two large openwork ovals adjoining the eye; looking like glasses or small windows, they give this type of tool the name of “fenestrated axe”. The outline is bordered with a thin lip, while a straight horizontal rib separates the blade into two halves.
Typologically, this axehead imitates a manifold and diverse morphology well attested through many bronze examples used in wartime. Excavations at several archaeological sites in the Syro-Palestinian and Anatolian world, in different areas of western Iran and, more rarely, in Mesopotamia have uncovered such related weapons. Many Syro-Palestinian statuettes dated to the same period depict standing warriors sometimes equipped with fenestrated axes.
The closest parallels for this example come from the city of Byblos, on the Phoenician coast, where excavations at the Temple of the Obelisks have revealed gold and silver fenestrated axes included in royal offerings along with many other objects made of noble metal (some specimens feature animal figures in relief on the blade, others present geometric patterns or figural scenes in granulation adorning the eye). Some molds used to manufacture the axeheads have also been found.
Now housed in the National Museum of Beirut, these spectacular votive or ceremonial weapons bear witness to the skills of Phoenician craftsmen and to their creative and technical ability in the early 2nd millennium B.C. (19th-18th century B.C.). In addition to axes, one should mention a gold, silver and ivory dagger recalling the examples found in the royal tombs of Ur (see n. 12), decorated with figural scenes on the handle and on the blade, and a harpe, a short sword with a hooked blade.
Ebla to Damascus: Art and Archaeology of Ancient Syria, Washington, 1985, p. 243, nos. 117-118.
Liban: L’autre rive, Paris, 1999, pp. 54-59.
MAXWELL-HYSLOP K.R., Western Asiatic Shaft-Hole Axes, in Iraq 11, 1949, pp. 119 ff.
MUSCARELLA O.W., Bronze and Iron: Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1989, pp. 386-387, nos. 510-511.
NEGBI O., Canaanite Gods in Metal, Tel Aviv, 1976, nos. 49, 51, 145, 179 (warriors armed with fenestrated axes).
PARROT A. et al., Les Phéniciens, Paris, 1977, pp. 64-68.
SEEDEN H., The Standing Armed Figurines in the Levant, PBF I, Berlin, 1980, pl. 129.