T hey are of great historical val- ue for the study of issues such as property differentiation, class society and the state, and eco- nomic, trade and cultural relations between ancient societies



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T

hey are of great historical val-

ue for the study of issues such 

as property differentiation, 

class society and the state, and eco-

nomic, trade and cultural relations 

between ancient societies. These 

ancient monuments are studied by 

a special historical subject - sphrag-

istics (from the Greek word Σφραγίς 

- stamp). Along with this, stamps rep-

resent a work of art. Ancient stamps 

were made from colored stones (ag-

ate, chalcedony, crystal, garnet, etc.), 

metal (gold, silver, bronze), glass, ce-

ramics, etc. They had various forms 

characteristic of certain periods and 

regions.  Images depicting various 

scenes are carved on the working 

surfaces of these objects, sometimes 

with the highest skill. Separate cop-

ies of stamps made of hard materials 

and decorated with artistic carvings 

on miniature surfaces are considered 

with good reason to be masterpieces 

of world art. They are all regarded 

as monuments of glyptics (from the 

Greek word γλνπtός - sculptured, cut) 

- the art of carving on solid materials, 

often on miniature decorative, semi-

precious and precious stones. Monu-

ments of glyptics are divided into 

two groups - intaglios and cameos

Intaglios carry engraved and cameos 

– convex images. Often, all carved 

stones are called by one term - gems. 

Only intaglios were used as stamps, 

and they depicted mirror images or 

texts. Cameos served only as adorn-

ments.


Religious images were usually 

carved on stamps: gods, goddesses, 

altars, and symbolized images of ani-

mals and plants. In ancient times, 



stamps carried out three main 

functions, serving as jewelry and 

amulets in addition to their pri-

mary purpose. For this reason, they 

can be used to study a wide range 

of historical issues. Ancient stamps 

were used more in the fourth mil-

lennium BC in Mesopotamia and 

      The ancient   

  stamp  

    


of Azerbaijan

Ilyas BABAYEV



Doctor of History, 

Corresponding member of the ANAS

DURING  ARCHAEOLOGICAL  EXCAVATIONS,  AND  SOMETIMES 

RANDOM DIGGING WORK, ANCIENT STAMPS ARE DISCOVERED 

AMONG OTHER FINDS.



Clay bulla imprints of stamps on clay blocks, 

3rd-2nd millennia BC

Clay bulla imprints of stamps on clay 

blocks, 3rd-2nd millennia BC

Clay stamps, late 

4th - first half of 3rd 

millennia BC

Focusing on Azerbaijan




www.irs-az.com

29

Egypt, when property differentiation 

was under way and the first states 

emerged here. In other countries, so-

cioeconomic conditions for the use 

of stamps emerged later.

In ancient times, stamps were 

very widely used. Anyone who 

owned property had their own 

stamp. Stamps were used to en-

dorse documents and seal the doors 

of warehouses, homes, and various 

goods and products. They were used 

to put imprints on a soft surface (clay, 

wax, etc.) like we seal doors, packets 

and parcels now. During excavations, 

such imprints are sometimes found 

in lumps of clay with traces of scrolls, 

rope, textiles, baskets, etc. Such finds 

are called bullas. Imprints of stamps 

are found in clay jars applied before 

firing. Usually, these are stamps of 

masters and manufacturers, in some 

cases - owners or customers of the 

product.

In Azerbaijan, the largest num-

ber of stamps and one bulla with 

12 different imprints of stamps 

were found during archaeological 

excavations in 1946-1953 in Min-

gachevir.

1

 They cover the period 

from the 6

th

 century BC to the 7

th

 

century AD and are represented by 

local and imported stamps. About 

100 bullas of the third century and 

the first half of the first century BC 

have been found in Gabala. This is a 

period when stamps were extensive-

ly used, which indicates that the fall 

of primitive society had ended, class 

society and the state had emerged 

and cities had taken shape. During 

this period, trade relations with other 

nations evolved and expanded.

At this time, trade acquired a 

global character and involved all 

the known countries of the then 

world, including the Southeastern 

Caucasus, where the Albanian state 

formed at the end of the fourth cen-

tury BC with its capital in the city of 

Gabala until the middle of the fifth 

century BC. 

Through the territory of Albania 

1  I. Babayev. Some questions of the study of monuments of glyptics in Azerbaijan. Reports of the Academy of Sciences 

of the Azerbaijan SSR. Baku, 1964, № 6, p. 77-79; G. Aslanov, I. Babayev. General characteristics of the monuments 

of glyptics found during excavations in Mingachevir. Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences of the Azerbaijan SSR, 

the series of social sciences. Baku, 1965, p. 94-101; I. Babayev, On three multidimensional glass stamps found in 

Mingachevir - Archaeological studies in Azerbaijan. Baku, 1965, p. 123-133; his own. Monuments of Azerbaijani glyptics 

of antiquity and the early Middle Ages (essays on the history of glyptics in ancient Azerbaijan). Author’s abstract of the 

candidate’s thesis. Baku, 1965, etc.

Imprints of gem stamps, 1st cetury BC - 2nd century AD



30

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passed separate brisk branches of 

the  Great Silk Road, which existed 

from the end of the second century 

BC to the 16

th

 century AD.



Along with written records, Al-

bania’s (Caucasian Albania’s) broad 

trade relations are also proved by nu-

merous archaeological finds, includ-

ing ancient imported stamps.

However, in Azerbaijan, stamps 

were also found during excavations 

of earlier monuments. The oldest of 



them belong to the era of the late 

Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age  

– the 4

th

-3

rd

 millennia BC. Thus, two 

clay stamps were found during ex-

cavations of the Chalcolithic settle-

ment of Boyuk Kasik in Agstafa Dis-

trict. They are hemispherical in shape 

with an incised image of a goat on 

the flat working surface.

2

The use of stamps at such an 



early period in the South Caucasus is 

of great interest. Now, in light of the 

latest archaeological research, it has 

been established with a high degree 

of probability that in the Ubeyd and 

Uruk periods (4

th

-3

rd



 millennia BC), 

some tribes migrated from Meso-

potamia to the Caucasus. This view, 

first expressed by the Azerbaijani 

archaeologist  Ideal Narimanov on 

the basis of excavations of the Ley-

latapa monument in Agdam District 

in 1984,


3

 was later supported by new 

archaeological data.

4

  Researchers 



link this migration mainly to the ex-

pansion of metal production and the 

search for sources of copper ore.

Thus, the earliest stamps iden-



tified on the territory of Azerbai-

jan are likely to have belonged 

to migrants from Mesopotamia, 

which was developed from a so-

cioeconomic point of view.

During archaeological excava-

tions, and sometimes random dig-

ging work, metal, stone and ink cy-

lindrical stamps imported from the 

Middle East were found in the ter-

ritory of northern Azerbaijan. They 

belong to the Middle Bronze Age 

and mostly, to the late Bronze and 

early Iron Age, i.e. the first few cen-

turies of the first millennium BC.

5

 



These stamps are provided with a 

longitudinal hole for wearing on a 

cord. Imprints of these stamps were 

produced by rolling. At that time, 

property differentiation was already 

noticeable in Azerbaijan. Most of 

the abovementioned stamps were 

found in rich burials probably be-

longing to tribal chiefs, who could 

use the stamps as items of decora-

tion. However, it is possible that so-

cioeconomic conditions had formed 

by that time under which individual 

members of society could use these 

stamps for their intended purpose. 

Starting from the 7

th

 century BC, 

stamps were very widely used in 

northern Azerbaijan. At this time, 

the disintegration of primitive so-

ciety had already ended here and 

all conditions were right for the 

emergence of class society and 

the state, while trade and cultural 

relations with other regions expand-

ed. In the 7

th

-6



th

 centuries BC, stamps 

were brought to Azerbaijan mainly 

from  Assyria,  Iran and other coun-

tries of the east.

6

Stamps of this period discovered 



in Mingachevir cover mainly the pe-

riod from the 6

th

 century BC to the 



7

th

 century AD. Some of them, be-



longing to the 6

th

-4



th

 centuries BC, 

are represented mainly by bronze 

stamp-rings made by casting. On the 

oval flat surface of the rings, images 

of different animals, and in some 

cases, a man and various fantastic 

2  Najaf Museyibli. The Chalcolithic settlement of Boyuk Kasik. Baku, 2007, p. 124-125

3  I. Narimanov. Ubeyd tribes of Mesopotamia in Azerbaijan. All-Soviet archaeological conference «Achievements of Soviet 

archeology in the 11th five-year period». Abstracts of reports. Baku, 1985, p. 271-272.

4  R. M. Munchayev. Uruk Culture (Mesopotamia) and the Caucasus - The latest archaeological and ethnographic re-

search in the Caucasus. Proceedings of the international scientific conference. Makhachkala, 2007, p. 8-9; N. A. Musey-

ibli, Leylatapa culture of the late Chalcolithic and its influence on the early bronze culture of Azerbaijan. Ibid, p. 65-67.

5  G. F. Jafarov. Azerbaijan’s relations with countries of the Near East in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age (based on 

archaeological materials of Azerbaijan). Baku, 1984, p. 34-40.

6   Babayev, Some questions ... p. 78.



Ring with a gem, 1st-2nd centuries AD

Ring with carved stone,  

3rd century AD

Bronze ring stamp, 

5-4th centuries BC

Color stone stamp, 

4-5th centuries AD

Focusing on Azerbaijan




www.irs-az.com

31

creatures are engraved. Similar im-

ages are found on so-called Greco-

Persian gems. Judging by the images 

on the rings, they were made under 

the cultural influence of Iran. Many 

of these products are made by lo-

cal craftsmen, but imported stamps 

were used as well.

Gems with ancient stories are 

often found in Azerbaijan. Many of 

them are made from semiprecious 

stones and inserted into metal rings. 

A large number of bullas are found 

in the Hellenistic layers of the ancient 

city of Gabala - the capital of Cauca-

sian Albania. These valuable finds in-

dicate the extensive use of stamps in 

Caucasian  Albania in the Hellenistic 

period. Some imprints were made 

on highly artistic gems with typi-

cal stories and were imported from 

the Hellenistic world. Such expen-

sive stamp-gems could belong to 

noblemen, representatives of the lo-

cal nobility and wealthy merchants. 

Imprint-gems - stamps depicting 

Heracles resting there - are found 

on several bullas. These gems also 

depict gods and goddesses of the 

ancient pantheon and symbolic im-

ages of plants and animals. On the 

imprints of local stamps, we see im-

ages of people, animals and birds.

Stamps and imprints on the bul-

las, like other imported products, 

especially numerous silver coins and 

ornaments testify to Caucasian Al-



bania’s close contacts not only 

with neighboring, but with all the 

countries of the Hellenic world – 

the Seleucid, Parthian, Greco-Bac-

trian kingdoms, Egypt and other 

countries on the Mediterranean 

basin.  After the Roman campaign 

led by Lucullus and Pompey in 69-65 

BC,  Albania came under the influ-

ence of Rome. From that time, Alba-

nia received Roman goods of the re-

publican and imperial periods, items 

of toreutics, coins, jewelry, gems, etc. 

The  Roman gems are mainly small, 

flat or flat-convex carved stones and 

glass items embedded on the top of 

bronze, silver and iron ring frames. 

Most of them depict gods and god-

desses of the ancient pantheon - 

God of the Sun Helios with a radiate 

wreath on his head, God of War Ares-

Mars with a helmet on his head and a 

spear and a shield in his hands, God-

desses of Beauty and Love Aphrodite 

and  Venus,  God of Love Eros, and 

Goddess of Fortune Tyche-Fortuna 

with a cornucopia. There is also an 

image of a handshake - a symbol of 

concord on a wedding ring, poppy 

and ears - symbols of abundance, an 

alter with a flame, etc.

Among the finds in Azerbaijan, 

there is a gem which depicts the 

head of Alexander of Macedon with 

the horns of Egyptian God  Amun. 

Such images were common in the 

Hellenistic period, are found on coins 

such as those of the King of Thrace 

Lysimachus (306-281 BC). The Roman 

author,  Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, 

recorded that Octavian Augustus 

used a stamp with an image of Alex-

ander of Macedon for some time and 

a stamp with his own image.

7

On antique gems, gods are usu-



ally depicted in statutory positions. 

This indicates that they depicted an-

tique statues standing in well-known 

sanctuaries.

In the 3

rd

-7



th

 centuries, stamps 

of Caucasian Albania, both in shape 

and by the plots, resemble stamps 

of Sassanid Iran under the influence 

of which the country was. Stamps of 

this period are represented by local 

and imported ones and are made of 

colored stones, glass and metal. They 

depict people, cult stories, fantastic 

creatures, animals, birds, altars with 

flames, scorpions, plants, various 

signs and monograms. In general, 

stories on Sassanid stamps do not 

stand out for their diversity, which 

was noted by the major expert on 

these products, V. G. Lukonin.

8

 Most 



of these stories are associated 

with the religion of Zoroastrian-

ism, and researchers rightfully re-

gard them as true illustrations to 

Avesta - the holy book of Zoroas-

trians.

9

 Some of these stamps were 

made locally, as evidenced by the 

semi-manufactured articles discov-

ered during excavations.

With the spread of Islam, stamps 

with such plots were no longer used, 

giving way to stamps with Arabic 

script, the name of the owner, and 

religious expressions. 

7  Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. Biography of the twelve Caesars. Divine Augustus. Ch. 50. Moscow, 1964, p. 55.

8  A. Y. Borisov, V. G. Lukonin, Sassanid gems. Leningrad, 1963, p. 31.



9  Ibid, p. 34-45.

Imprints of bronze ring imprints, 

5-4th centuries BC



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