Conical Cup with Trefoil Garland

  • Iran
  • Second half of the 2nd - first half of the 1st century B.C
  • Gilded silver, garnet (Silver gilt with garnet inlays)
  • H-6.5 D-14
Catalogue Entry

The wall of the conical cup rises from a rounded base to a slightly everted, molded rim. The rather massive walls suggest that the vessel was manufactured both by casting and hammering.1

This conical cup belongs to a group of Hellenistic silver and glass2 with provenances ranging from the northern shore of the Black Sea to the eastern Mediterranean. The trefoil garland of lanceolate foliage bound together in groups of three is a conventional motif of Near Eastern Hellenistic silver, which appeared in different techniques.3 In this case it might more accurately be called a trefoil wreath, because the trefoil groups actually form two branches running in opposite directions bound together by a taenia.

The technique of the trefoil groups and the garnet inlays appear on two hemispherical cups of alleged Near Eastern, perhaps Iranian, provenance in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu.4 As in the case of the Shumei cup, a late Hellenistic date is suggested by their central rosettes of five overlapping leaves. We are obviously dealing with an almost canonical decorative repertoire, which was possibly used by various Hellenized ateliers.

Greek styles reached the formerly Achaemenid Asia in the wake of the campaigns of Alexander the Great. After Alexander's early death in 323 B.C., the Asian territories of his empire were finally reunited under one of his former generals, who founded the Seleucid dynasty (312-64 B.C.). Although entirely based on Greek craftsmanship, this late Hellenistic cup should be primarily seen against a Parthian and not on a Seleucid background. The Parthians or Arsacids were a mostly nomadic people of Central Asian origin who first appeared in the last third of the third century B.C. in provinces close to the southeastern shore of the Caspian Sea. Within the subsequent century they conquered almost all the Iranian and Mesopotamian territories of the Seleucid realm. Notwithstanding this fact, the Arsacid kings loved to proclaim themselves philhellenoi, "friends of the Greeks," on countless issues of their coinage. This cultural preference is corroborated by the entirely Graeco-Hellenistic vessel shape and the Greek decoration of the Shumei cup, which adds another element to our picture of Hellenized craftsmanship in the formerly Seleucid sphere.

1. See the technical note in Metropolitan Museum 1996, pp. 189-90.
2. For the type and its parallels see Pfrommer 1993, pp. 43, 148-51, 228, nos. 22-24, with ills.
3. For trefoils see ibid., pp. 37-39.
4. Ibid., pp. 50, 184-85, nos. 69, 70, with ills.

Catalogue Entry(Bac#031)

Second half of the 2nd‐first half of the 1st century B.C.
Gilded silver, garnet
H. 6.5 cm, Dia. 14.0 cm
This conical cup has relief carving circling its rim, with a rope edge framework and inlaid garnets decorating a band of trefoils. This trefoil band extends in opposite directions from a knotted center, and the tips of the leaves meet at the other end, forming a diadem-type motif. A garnet is inlaid in the center of the base of the bowl and the garnet is set into the overlapping center of a 5 petaled rosette. This shape of cup can be widely seen in both glass and silver vessels of the Hellenistic period. Gold glass cups of either semi-spherical or conical shapes frequently have this trefoil band rim and rosette motif, and can be seen widely distributed from around the 3rd century BC on in the Mediterranean region and west Asia. However the rosette seen here with the overlapping five petals is something particularly found on metal vessels from the 1st century BC onwards. While it then appeared again frequently on the metal ware of the Hellenistic period, a similar type of simple combination of trefoil band and five petal rosette can also be seen a semi-spherical cup said to be from Iran and now in the J. Paul Getty Museum.