Rhyton with a Horse Protome

  • N.W. Iran or e. Anatolia
  • Persia, Achaemenid period
  • 5th to early 4th centuries B.C.
  • Silver
  • H-27 D-13
Catalogue Entry

This rhyton originally was made in two basic parts: the horizontally ribbed horn-now missing a section in the middle-with its plain, slightly flaring rim, and the terminal in the form of a horse protome with arched neck and with forelegs tightly folded under. The mane is dressed with a roached (clipped) central crest flanked by a short fringe along either side, and the forelock is tied upright, trimmed in a stiff brush. The treatment of the forelock, as well as the four long locks remaining on either side at the withers, are typical of both ridden and driven horses in the Achaemenid period.1 The roached mane, less common, was known primarily in Achaemenid Anatolia.2 The bridle, with its simple hatched bands, consists of only a single-strap headstall, a noseband, and a throatlatch-the latter fastened on the left side in a knot. Damage in the mouth area obscures the type of bitting, but small silver spikes or posts at the joins of the headstall and the noseband on either side and at the crossings of the headstall and the throatlatch suggest that other harnessing elements were added separately. A matching hatched breast strap encircles the chest, interrupted only by the small tubular spout in the center.

Horses appear frequently in Achaemenid art, primarily in glyptic and in metalwork. The compact form and general style of the Shumei horse, as well as some details of its harnessing and adornment, find close parallels in the stone reliefs from the Apadana at Persepolis, the Achaemenid capital in central Iran.3 These similarities argue for production of the rhyton in a royal atelier as opposed to a provincial workshop. Two excavated silver horse rhyta from Arinberd in Armenia provide provincial variations on the motif.4 Silver rhyta with ribbed horns have been excavated from a tomb in the Crimea dated to the first half of the fifth century B.C.,5 but the nearest counterpart to the Shumei horse rhyton in proportion, construction, and style is a gilt-silver example unfortunately without documented provenance; reputed to have come from eastern Anatolia, this elegant rhyton with a griffin protome is now in the British Museum.6 The Shumei rhyton, perhaps a silver version of the golden vessels used by the Persian Great King, like the British Museum example, may have graced a satrap's court in Anatolia.

1. See Littauer and Crouwel 1979, fig. 80.
2. See Ghirshman 1964, p. 176; Littauer and Crouwel 1979, p. 149.
3. See Ghirshman 1964, pp. 170, 176, 178-79, 184; Roaf 1983, p. 39, pl. XII.
4. See Harper et al. 1978, p. 30, fig. 1a; Arakelian 1971, pp. 143-48.
5. See Culican 1965, pls. 55, 62.
6. No. WA 124081.