Kudurru (Boundary Stone)

Photo: Paul Macapia

Kudurru (Boundary Stone)

ca. 1300 B.C.

Kudurrus ("boundary stones" in Akkadian) were used in ancient Babylonia to commemorate gifts of land from a king. The feathery cuneiform script records a dedicatory inscription in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the ancient Near East. Because most Babylonians were unable to read, probably including the king and the recipient of his gift, images also adorned kudurrus. Any viewer would associate celestial disks, horned altars, turtles, snakes and hybrid goat-fish with the gods they represented. In both text and image, the message that this was a gift from a powerful man close to the gods would have been clear.
8 1/4 x 8 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. (21 x 21.6 x 8.9 cm)
Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection
Provenance: Collected by Dr. Richard Eugene Fuller; donated to Seattle Art Museum, 1948
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view

Interpreting SAM's Kudurru

Ancient Babylonians used kudurrus to designate gifts of land from the king. Explore the Slideshows and Insight below to learn more about the use of kudurrus in Babylonia as well as the specific imagery that adorns the kudurru in SAM's collection.
Image Coming Soon
Detail of solar disc, 48.45

What Are Kudurrus

Image Coming Soon
Boundary stone (kudurru) , ca. 1125-1104 B.C., Babylonian, Sippar (modern southern Iraq)
What do they look like?

Approximately 160 kudurrus and fragments exist today and range from one foot to one yard in height. Their shapes vary only slightly, with a generally rectangular form and more or less rounded edges. Their surfaces are covered (but not completely) with inscriptions and images arranged in registers, the traditional layering used in the art and writing of the ancient Near East.

Click on the additional images below to explore further.
Image Coming Soon
Boundary stone (kudurru) , ca. 1125-1100 B.C., Babylonian, Kassite (probably modern southern Iraq)
Who gave and received them?

Priests, wealthy men and scribes did not donate land; kings did. The custom of Babylonian (including Kassite) kings of giving land to specific individuals is commemorated by these kudurrus.

Dignitaries, including officials, priests, military personnel and family members, were often the recipients of land gifts and are named in the preserved inscriptions.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Kudurru (Boundary Stone), ca. 1300 B.C., Babylonian (modern Iraq), Kassite, 48.45
Where were they placed?

While the name "boundary stone" or "boundary marker" implies that kudurrus were placed at the boundaries of parcels of land, their extraordinary level of preservation indicates otherwise. What is more, many of the translated inscriptions from kudurrus commemorate the setting up of these stones before the gods. The Babylonian gods were omnipresent but "dwelt" specifically in their temples, where these stones may have been dedicated and stored like an archive.

Explore the Images on SAM's Kudurru

Image Coming Soon
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail showing various symbols, 48.45
Each symbol on SAM's kudurru has special meaning. While a Kassite would automatically associate the symbols with the proper characters and stories, today's viewer needs an interpretive guide.

Click the images below to look at different symbols on the kudurru.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of crescent moon, 48.45
Crescent Moon

The crescent represents the moon god Sîn and is sometimes depicted as a composite crescent and disc, symbolizing an eclipse. When written instead of depicted as a moon, the name "Sîn" was written with the number 30, the number of days in a lunar month.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of solar disc, 48.45
Solar Disc

The disc with four points stands for Šamaš, the sun god. Because the sun sees all that happens on earth as it passes across the sky, Šamaš was the patron god of justice.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of star, 48.45

With twice as many points as the solar disc, the star symbolizes the heavens generally and the goddess of love and war, Ištar, specifically. Her name is derived from the words meaning "Lady of Heaven," and with such vastness associated with her name, it is not surprising that Ištar (or Inana) was the most important female deity in ancient Mesopotamia.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of turtle and goat-fish, 48.45
Turtle and Goat-Fish

Both symbols were seen as protective and were associated with Enki (alternatively Ea), the god of fresh water and civilization. It is not difficult to draw a link between these two protectorates. The later Romans adopted the goat-fish as the astrological symbol Capricorn.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of snake, 48.45

Snakes are associated with the god Nirah and his place of worship—the temple dedicated to the earth god, Enlil, in the ancient city of Nippur. This temple was believed to be the rope tying heaven to earth (Enlil) -- an apt metaphor for the snake-god worshipped within.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of spade, 48.45

Resembling a hoe, the spade is the symbol for the god Marduk, who before being adopted as the national god of Babylonia had his origins as a patron god of agriculture.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of altars, 48.45

As the location where sacrifices were made to the gods, altars held a central place in Mesopotamian religion. Altars were the places where people could communicate directly (or through a priest) with their protective and vengeful gods.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of horned caps, 48.45
Horned Caps

Horns are associated with divinity in ancient Near Eastern art. Only the gods and deified kings are shown wearing horns or horned caps. Perhaps this association can be linked to the powerful bulls running wild in Mesopotamia, strong and virile symbols for gods and kings.
Photo: Paul Macapia
Detail of inscription, 48.45
The Inscription

In 1948, Professor I.J. Gelb of the University of Chicago read and translated the inscription on the Seattle Art Museum's kudurru. He noted that, "Unfortunately so little of the inscription is preserved that it is very difficult to make any sense out of it. It seems that the preserved part of the inscription deals with people attached to the property which was granted by the king to one of his officials." The missing sections may have provided more details about the land being given, the man receiving this gift, and what he had done to deserve such an honor. What do you think the missing words said?

1. [...] they came up, they seized
[...] K-UR? Na?-mar? i-lu-ú [ish]-ba-tu

2. [...] Taja, ox-herd
[...] Ta-a-a  I GUD.ŠAG.GUD

3. [...] child
[...] EN? .Ra    I DUMU

4. [...] .of the governor in the city CHalman
[...]EN.NAM      i-na URUCHal-man

5. [...] [keeper of the] horses EN-šerpa , his name
[...] ANŠE.KUR.RA   I En?-šir-pa MU.NI

6. [...] in É-CHanê
[...] -ki-u i-na É-Cha-ni-[e?]

7. [unknown]

8. [...] people
[...] a-me-lu-tu

9. [...] 21 ox-herds
[...] ÁŠ?   21 GUD.ŠAG.GUD

—Tentative translation and transliteration of kudurru inscription by I.J. Gelb, 1948

The Art of Writing

Writing is the technological innovation that helps us draw the line between prehistory and history. History is the written account of events, and the earliest writing appeared in Mesopotamia.

Cuneiform, the wedge-shaped characters invented by Sumerians to write their language in wet clay, was also used for Akkadian, the lingua franca of the ancient Near East. Stone is rare in the Middle East to this day, but there is clay in abundance. The inhospitably hot and dry climate bakes the soil to a rocklike consistency, a process deliberately mimicked in the baking of complete clay tablets.

The skill and art of writing was limited to a select few: scribes. Scribal schools taught math, science and writing and included studies of the nuance of the script, in which thousands of words could be denoted by several signs. Training took years, and those who successfully completed their studies entered the elite class of society and took the title dubsar ("scribe").
Detail of cuneiform, 48.45
Photo: Paul Macapia


Published ReferencesHandbook, Seattle Art Museum: Selected Works from the Permanent Collections, Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1951, p. 12 (b&w)

Snell, Daniel, The E.A. Hoffman Collection and Other American Collections, 1979 no. 219, p 21.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM

Supported by Microsoft logo