Illustrated introduction to Ancient Persia, £8.99
Height: 6.900 cm
Diameter: 10.300 cm
Capacity: 3.900 litres
On loan to
Silver bowl with applied gold figures
Achaemenid Persian, about 5th-4th century BC
This silver bowl is decorated with applied gold sheet cutouts. It dates to a period when vessels of precious metal became widespread. While a variety of styles and forms are found throughout the Achaemenid empire, because of its great size, there is also a recognizably Achaemenid style, perhaps promoted outside Iran by satraps (provincial governors) and other representatives of the Persian court. Large silver dishes and pourers (rhyta) are the best-known types yet others included hemispherical drinking cups such as this; a plain gold cup of the same shape forms part of the Oxus treasure.
The two rows of figures - each carrying a bow and quiver on his back - beneath the crenellated battlements are similar to the guards depicted on Achaemenid palace reliefs at Persepolis. However, each wears a crown, which might suggest identification as a Persian king. Like the sculptures from Persepolis, the whole purpose of the decorative scheme was to glorify the king; his majesty and his power. Such images do not illustrate the king's achievements, as the earlier Assyrian reliefs had done. Rather, the king is presented both as an absolute monarch and as the embodiment of positive virtues. Royal inscriptions emphasize that the king was a good horseman, spearman, and bowman, as shown here. These roles were clearly an important part of Persian kingship.
This bowl originally formed part of a collection of Iranian objects formed by Captain Spencer-Churchill, who exhibited it in the Second Exhibition on Persian Art at the Royal Aacdemy in London in 1931.
J. Curtis, Ancient Persia-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)
St J. Simpson, 'Becher' in Weihrauch und Seide: alte Kult (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, 1996)