Et hellenistisk terrakottaværksted i Den persiske Golf


  • Aage Roussell


Hellenistic terra-cotta workshop, Hellenistisk terra-cotta værksted, Sa'ad wa Sa'aid


A Hellenistic Terra-Cotta Workshop in the Persian Gulf.

In the foregoing article Erling Albrectsen has described the historical background to the archeological investigations commenced on the island of Failaka. The area which became my particular excavation object, numbered F4 in our records, was a very low rise of ground close to high-water mark about midway between the two tells known as Sa'ad wa Sa'aid, F3 and F5.

Before digging commenced the site was marked by numerous scattered potsherds, appearing to me to be of many different periods, and - a very tempting sign - a large number of fragments of the tile-like baked bricks, measuring about 30 X 30 cms., which are so well known from ancient sites of Iraq and Persia. Admittedly it was somewhat suspicious that these titbits lay so openly upon the surface, but there must, it seemed, have been a brick-walled house in the immediate neighbourhood, and excavation was begun with high hopes. Which immediately afterwards were succeeded by disappointment. At the point where the bricks lay thickest trial trenches revealed immediately below the surface completely sterile sand, and at a meter's depth there was still no change. There were no ruins here. But a short distance away lay more bricks, and the second trial trench here soon encountered the side of a wall standing to a height of 50 cms. This was, however, not of brick but consisted of the natural limestone of the region, roughly shaped into rectangular form and set finely in clay to a height of four courses.

During the following weeks we excavated here a handsome rectangular house consisting of ten rooms and two open courtyards (Fig. 2). At most points the walls reached up to immediately below the present ground surface, but they also bore traces of the stone­robbery which is usually met with in these areas, some portions having been removed completely or as far as the foundation course. As no foundation trench had been dug it was quite impossible at these points to determine the original run of the walls. At first sight it appears remarkable that the walls were built upon the actual ground surface, but in an area where frost is unknown and the surface of the site is hard sand a foundation is in actuality superfluous for small buildings.

Later generations, perhaps right up to our day, have also exploited the ruins in another way. At several points along the inner face of the walls hearths had been built, consisting of piles of old bricks or of large, badly fired jars, a hearth type which the inhabitants of the island still employ.

But where did the bricks then come from? There were actually found portions of walling in the ruin, which measured 28.5 X 27.5 meters, which were brick-built (Fig. 3), and it may be assumed that large parts of the lacunae in the walls were of brick, which was later removed. The scattered fragments can therefore be explained as deriving from this removal, while the sterile area was the collecting point besides the ruin. The bricks showed clear traces of having been dried on a bed of twigs and coarse straw, which had set deep impressions in the surface and may even have been mixed with the clay. The superficial likeness of these impressions with cuneiform writing was the cause of many disappointments; no inscribed bricks were found. Probably the stone walling had never been higher than it was found on excavation. It should rather be regarded as a base for walling of sun-dried brick, small portions of which were found in situ, while these bricks, now returned to earth, formed the greater part of the earth filling the rooms.

The meagre furnishing of the house makes it difficult to attribute functions to the individual rooms. An exception is, however, provided by the little central room (7), whose floor is covered by an irregular tiling and which has in one corner a stone-set oven, presumably for industrial use. And the presence of this firing room makes it permissible to regard at least some of the surrounding rooms as workshops.

A series of interesting discoveries in the house explain the character of the industry carried on there. They consist of moulds, for the most part in fragments, of a light yellow terra-cotta. We took impressions from these moulds on the spot in plasticine, and impressions in plaster of paris have been taken in Aarhus after complete cleaning and partial reassembling of the fragments. A little mould produces a quite naturalistic rendering of a fish in high relief (Fig. 5), with no very definite period style. But the remainder of the moulds supplied a surprise in the form of human figures in unmistakable Hellenistic style. The most artistically valuable is 17.5 cms. high (Fig. 6). The mould lacks the lower part of the legs and the stomach portion, but both the stumps of the arms and the neck are intact, and rounded off in a way that shows either that it was only desired to produce a torso, or that arms and head were to be attached later after the joining surfaces had been cut to fit. - This female figure is clad only in a chiton, held up over the shoulder by a thin cord and leaving the breasts bare. Other fragments show draped women of very wellknown types. Particularly the largest of these (Fig. 4), 26 cms. high and tightly draped in a himation with the left arm and hand covered, is wellknown in Hellenistic art 1), though an identification would only be guesswork.

The case is different with the figure, 9.8 cms. high, whose mould it has proved possible to assemble from several fragments, though the head is unfortunately missing (Fig. 7). lts resemblance to the Nike from Olympia, carved by Paionios about 420 BC 2), is immediately apparent, though this badly damaged figure has been reconstructed with the left arm, raised, whereas our reproduction has its arm by its side, in agreement with terracotta figures found elsewhere 3). Completely preserved is a mould producing a relief of a male head, 6 cms. high, whose likeness to the usual portraits of Alexander is striking (Fig. 8). The head is surrounded by a remarkable rudimentary ring of ribs, suggesting a laurel wreath or more closely a halo of flames, and it is therefore possible that we should view the relief as a portrayal of Helios.

Despite its paucity of objects the terracotta material excavated here, of which the most characteristic pieces are described above, shows that this industry was carried on in this little island in the Persian Gulf in Hellenistic times. While it is disappointing to find the greater number of the moulds in fragments there is a natural explanation, as it is true of the majority, even of the little fish, that the moulds do not allow of removal of the casting without shattering the mould. While slight traces of bronze were found in the firing kiln it is most natural to imagine the figures as produced in plaster or clay, which would then, like the moulds, be fired to terracotta in the kiln.

Was it then to avoid the risk of carrying on this firing within the city that the workshop building was erected in isolation by the shore? And was it a little colony of Greek craftsmen and traders, who had established booths with souvenirs and perhaps articles of practical utility for sale to the crews of the ships which called in at the landing place? For no skipper of common sense could afford to pass by without calling in at the clear fresh-water springs of Failaka.

The longshore trade may have been based on barter, but we have also found a coin, struck in Susa for Alexander about 310--300 BC, showing on its obverse Alexander's head bearing an elephant skin 4). Taking everything into account, the date of Alexander's death, 323 BC, gives a good point for the dating of the whole site.

Two interesting small objects discovered here show that Hellenistic art was not the only art form in production at the site. On a fragment of a thin slate slab, 6.9 cms. high, is shown a richly clad man, sitting crosslegged, with either naked, hairy legs or more probably embroidered Persian trousers. He seems to be holding a fruit up before his face (Fig. 9). This little relief finds its closest parallel in a relief found at Dailem, south of Babylon 5). Also of non-Hellenistic origin is a little terracotta head (Fig. 10), 4 cms. tall, which can scarcely represent other than an Assyrian prince or warrior 6).

The excavation on Failaka in 1958 must only be regarded as a reconnaissance, aimed at determining whether the principality of Kuwait, so rich in other respects, also possessed an historic past. The results appear to promise well, and the Ruler, His Highness the Emir Abdulla Al-Salim Al-Sabah, has hospitably agreed to the continuation of the work of the Danish team in 1959. We hope that the result will be many years of fruitful work on this pleasant location.

Aage Roussell.





Roussell, A. (1958). Et hellenistisk terrakottaværksted i Den persiske Golf. Kuml, 8(8), 191–200. Hentet fra