The Clephane horn

From southern Italy, 11th century AD

An elephant tusk carved with a scene from the Hippodrome

Entire carved elephant tusks, known as oliphants, were used as sounding horns. This horn would have been encircled by silver bands to which a shoulder strap was attached. The Clephane horn is so called because it came from Carslogie Castle, the seat of the Clephane family in Fife. According to Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), the Scottish novelist, poet and historian, it was used for sounding the alarm from the battlements. According to tradition it had been in the castle since the Middle Ages.

A band of fantastic creatures, including sphinxes and griffins, encircle the upper section of the horn. The main section is carved with scenes derived from the horse races held at the Hippodrome in Constantinople (modern Istanbul in Turkey). Quadrigae (4-horse chariots) race around the top of the register. Staged hunting scenes with wild and domestic animals occupy the central section and at the bottom an official stands with palm fronds ready to be awarded to the victors.

Beautifully carved oliphants like this are believed to have been carved in southern Italy. The figural scenes would have been copied from Late Antique sources, such as ivory diptychs or mosaic pavements, which were still visible in eleventh-century Italy.

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More information

Bibliography

D. Buckton (ed.), Byzantium: treasures of Byzant (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

Dimensions

Length: 575.000 mm
Width: 115.000 mm

Museum number

M&ME 1979,7-1,1

MCB2512

Location

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