Cylinder Seal
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Basic Information

A Cylinder Seal is a smooth stone cylinder with pictures carved into it. If you roll the cylinder on clay, the depressions will leave a raised reverse-image on the clay. These were used as a form of signature or official seal among the governments and cultures of Ancient Mesopotamia.

Cylinder Seals were used in at least the following nations and cultures of the Ancient World:
Achaemenid Empire, Akkadian Empire, Assyrian Empire, Babylonia, Ancient Egypt, Hittites, Kassites, Mittania, and Sumer.

Many cylinder seals have long holes through the middle, suggesting that they may have been carried on a thong or necklace for safe-keeping. Given mankind's history of magical thinking, it's all but assured that at least some cylinder seals were regarded as magic amulets.

As you can see below, a well-crafted cylinder seal can basically make an impression of infinite length in a loop. In an era where clay tablets and clay jars were the most common form of record keeping, this was a pretty nifty thing to have around. In addition to formal functions, they were also a clever way to make easily reproduceable artwork for a decorating motif or mass production.




Game and Story Use

  • Most of the ideas on the Seal (Identity) page are valid in regards to cylinder seals as well.
  • They have artifact value in the modern day, and would have been a valuable treasure in earlier eras.
  • A fun extra level of detail (literally) to put on a magic talisman or protective amulet.
    • And it might have the ability to enchant the clay or pottery you mark with it.
      • Perhaps it "sets in stone" any contract marked by such a seal for as long as the original seal stone is intact. If so, the cylinder seal may be a fun McGuffin. The PCs may be hired to steal or destroy one so that an unscrupulous merchant or politician can safely go back on their word without magical consequences.
    • The motif version might be used to draw magical lines. "No demons can cross the line of the High Priest's seal." "I have set my personal seal around where I am practicing, and this effect will be confined to it." That sort of thing.
  • These sort of things are a good choice for a "key" in some ancient ruin or the other - for added amusement, the original might be destroyed and the characters will be left to reverse engineer a replacement from the impression left by the original.
  • Scaled up cylinders might be used for civic works. "This is Weaver Street, you can tell because there's drawings of cloth and looms rolled into it." "Don't go down there in the rainy season, the place decorated with drowning people is the storm drain."
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