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Mistress of Animals Ivory Pyxis Lid

'This is a pyxis lid found in tombs of the former Ugaritic city of Minet el-Beida. The subject of the elephant ivory pyxis lid is one depiction of the Mistress of Animals[1] . The Mistress of Animals is also known as Potnia, an important female deity in Mycenaean culture that symbolizes a relationship with all of nature[2] . During the 13th & 14th Centuries BCE, Minet el-Beida was a trade city [See Vidal' (2006), 275]'.'[3] , thus, the origin of the pyxis lid is likely not Minet el-Beida.

Technial EvalutationEdit

The Mistress of Animals pyxis lid was carved out of elephant ivory during the Late Bronze Age. 'During' this time, ivory carving was a very common practice; however, goods carved out of ivory were usually attained only by the elite or royal members of societies'.[4] 'The ivory used in the Late Bronze Age was taken from large elephants found in the Savannahs, rather than the smaller, more common Asian elephant. [See Rehak and Younger 2006, 243.][5] This elephant ivory used to make this piece would have come to Minet el-Beida by way of sea trade with Egypt and Africa [See Monroe 2007, 14]. The artwork on the pyxis shows strong Mycenaean influence, and therefore could have been originally sculpted in pre-Hellenistic Greece, then traded or sold to royalty in Ugarit. The piece was found in 1929 by French Archaeologist Claude Schaeffer in the Ugaritic tombs of Minet el-Beida[6] . Today this piece is found in the Louvre Museum, Paris, France[7] .

Local Historical ContextEdit

Although the exact location in which the pyxis lid was created is not known, it is possible that the piece could have been sculpted in either pre-Hellenistic Greece or Ugarit. The reasoning behind these suspicions comes from the artwork’s detail on the pyxis lid. While the woman has Grecian  features such as curly hair, and Grecian nose and forehead [8] , it is possible that an Ugaritic artisan could have sculpted the piece due to the high Mycenaean influence [See Day 1992, 184.] on the Kingdom of Ugarit through trade. Another reason to believe the piece was created somewhere outside of Minet el-Beida is that ivory pieces were often traded and left in circulation for a while before finding a permanent home (like a tomb). [See Rehak and Younger 2006, 234.][9]

The Kingdom of Ugarit was taken over by the Hittite Empire under the rule of Suppiliuliuma in 1340 BCE. [10] The Hittite King granted the Ugaritic King land in return for his loyalty when one of the subjects threatened to revolt.[11] As Minet el-Beida fell under new rule, the economy of the port city began to flourish.

Minet el-Beida was also a very Cosmopolitan city, with people of several various races and languages living close to one another[12] . For this reason, the pyxis could have also been transported via an owner rather than a merchant. Due to its location, Minet el-Beida served as a central trade city for numerous cities including Cyprus, Mesopotamia and more from Greece to Egypt.[13]

Between the 13th and 14th century BCE several various Hittite Kings held power, until the Hittite Empire crumbled in 1195 BCE due to attacks from various sea raiders.[14] The object was most likely crafted by skilled artisans. Once the pyxis was completed, it would have began its journey along trade routes until its final elite owners obtained the piece in Minet el-Beida. '[See Rehak and Younger 2006, 233.] 'In the Kingdom of Ugarit merchants were appointed by the kings, receiving a royal endowment and salary to work on the royals’ behalf. [15] Visiting merchants were also treated with kindness, often allowed to stay in royal palaces in between their travels. Merchants were treated with such high respect in Minet el-Beida due to the importance of trade to the city.[16] Like several other ivory objects of the time, this pyxis contains a deity, and can be considered a religious object. Potnia, the Mycenaean Mistress of Animals is portrayed on the pyxis to symbolize a close relationship with nature.'[17]' The recipient of this pyxis would have been very wealthy which is demonstrated in numerous ways: 1) the owner could afford to buy highly sought after sculpted ivory goods from foreign countries, 2) the item is a makeup box, showing the wealth and status of the owner and finally, 3) a person who was not royalty could not afford an elaborate tomb system like the one the pyxis lid was found in[18] .

==World Historical Significance==


This pyxis lid is an important artifact because it shows the flourishing trade networks of the Late Bronze Age. [See Monroe 2009, 37.] While the lid was found in Syria, it is likely that the pyxis came from elsewhere, and the ivory was imported from Africa. The pyxis lid is also a testament to the wealth of Minet el-Beida, and the city’s importance to sea trade [See Monroe 2009]. The person who owned the pyxis was clearly wealthy because they were able to afford such a luxury item. In addition to the pyxis itself, the owner could afford a series of lavish tombs, complete with several other artifacts, many of which were also ivory. [19] This item would have circulated throughout the Mediterranean, possibly into Turkey and Africa as well. Due to the heavily Mycenaean influenced artwork, the influence of other cultures on Minet el-Beida and the Kingdom of Ugarit is apparent. Because the subject of the pyxis is Potnia, the pyxis is similar to other pre-Hellenistic Greek items that are sculpted out of ivory and feature a deity of some sort. The pyxis was buried in a tomb, suggesting that the object was valued by the owner, who may have wished to be buried with an anthropomorphic piety as in other cultures.The use of a Mycenaean deity also shows that various religions influenced Minet el-Beida, a testament to the cosmopolitan nature of the city. [20] The pyxis lid is evidence of a robust trading society that has been influenced by several other cities, cultures and religions.

==Bibliography== Peggy L. Day, "Anat: Ugarit's Mistress of Animals," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, (1992):181-190.


Christopher Mountfort Monroe, Scales of fate: trade, tradition, and transformation in the Eastern Mediterranean ca. 1350-1175 BCE. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2009.

Christopher Mountfort Monroe, "Vessel Volumetrics and the Myth of the Cyclopean Bronze Age Ship," Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, (2007): 1-18.

Paul Rehak and John G. Younger, "The International Styles in Ivory Carving in the Bronze Age" (2006): 230-255, accessed April 13, 2013. URL http://www2.ulg.ac.be/archgrec/IMG/aegeum/aegaeum18(pdf)/29%20Younger.pdf

Jordi Vidal, "Uragit and the Southern Levantine Sea Ports" Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, (2006): 269-279.


Louvre Museum "Lid of a pyxis with mistress of animals", http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/lid-pyxis-mistress-animals.

Pantheon "Mistress of Wild Animals", http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/mistress_of_wild_animals.html.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art "Ugarit", http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ugar/hd_ugar.htm


Oxford Art Online, "Ugarit [Ougarit; now Ras Shamra]", http://www.oxfordartonline.com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T086889

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