- Museum number
Pottery: red-figured lekythos.
Ecstatic nocturnal procession including an Easterner on a camel, perhaps a Persian satrap or king or the god Sabazios. In the centre a camel with two humps moves slowly to right, led with a halter by a Persian, who looks upward at the rider, pointing forward as if indicating the road. Between the two humps of the animal a bearded man in Oriental dress (the Persian king or satrap or the god Sabazios?) is seated en face, but looking downwards to right, upon an embroidered saddle-cloth, with a projecting ledge for his feet; this is attached by a broad girth at each end of the camel's stomach. In his left hand, resting on his thigh, he holds a two-thonged whip, and extends his right horizontally, as if to keep his balance; at his left side appears to be part of a bow-case. The halter appears to be attached to the camel's nose, and there is no indication of bridle. The Persian leading it is beardless; he carries on his left shoulder a goad (?), and has a bow-case hanging at his side. Beside him in the background, on a raised plane, a second Persian moves to right, looking back and waving a fan. Beside him, on the right, a third Persian stands en face, but looks to left, playing upon a chelys with a plectrum. On each side of him is a figure in the lower plane: on the left a woman in a long chiton and wreath, bracelets and necklace, dances to right on tip-toe, looking back, so that she is nearly in full face, and playing on a tympanon. On the right a fourth Persian, bearded, dances, facing to left, with hands raised together above his head (dancing the oklasma dance). This figure is balanced on the extreme left by one exactly similar, dancing to right; he is preceded by two beardless Persians, of whom one plays on the kithara with a plectrum, the other holds aloft a long burning torch. Between these last, in the background, and on a higher level, a wreathed dancing woman moves to right, playing on the tympanon; she is dressed like the other, but has a jacket with laurel-wreaths on the sleeves beneath her chiton, and a broad black belt; her hair flies loose behind her. The dress of the Persians is very little varied, consisting throughout of anaxyrides with horizontal patterns of zigzags, a short chiton, over which is a jacket decorated with stars or dotted circles, with a wreath-pattern on the sleeves, and a broad maeander border at the neck and skirt; a kidaris, which has usually two or more gilt rays, a jewelled belt, and shoes. The head of Dionysos projects over the palmette border on the shoulder of the vase; his jacket has a broad stripe of crossed lines down the centre. The dancing Persian on the extreme right has no jacket, but sleeves decorated like his anaxyrides; the other Persians on the right have no ornamentation on their sleeves.
Brown inner markings. Eye in profile. Gilding is used throughout for jewellery, for the flames of the torch, the horns and ends of the cross-bar of the kithara, and a stud at the head of the whip; Purple (?), now faded, for the thongs of the whip, the halter, the ends of the flames, and the tie of the tympanon; the cords of the lyres are not represented. Below, a band of sets of three maeanders separated by dotted chequer squares (the squares unusually arranged). On the shoulder, a strip of single palmettes; round the base of the shoulder, tongue pattern. Beneath the handle, a quadruple palmette ornament, with long tendrils. The foot is modelled underneath with a series of concentric mouldings.
- Production date
- 410BC-400BC (circa)
Height: 23.50 centimetres
Weight: 631 grammes
Width: 15.50 centimetres
Depth: 15 centimetres
- Curator's comments
For a modern interpretation of the figure on the camel as Dionysos rather than a generic easterner or Sabazios, see Chapel 2002, 367 in the context of another vase showing Apollo returning to Greece from Hyperborea on the back of a griffin. The vase painter drew on stereotypical representations of Persian nobles to lend allure to the a god whose Eastern associations made him both exotic and dangerous at the same time. The broader context is the on-going struggles between the Greek states and the Persian empire, but also the high ambivalent attitude to eastern luxury in 5th and 4th century BC Athenian society (see Miller 2004; 2007).
Chapel, J. 2002, ‘Antiquarian taste’ in P. Hewat-Jaboor (ed.), William Beckford 1760-1844: An eye for the magnificent (New Haven; New York: Yale University Press), 366-76.
Miller, M. 2004. Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC: A Study of Cultural Receptivity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, M. 2007, 'Persians in the Greek Imagination'. Mediterranean Archaeology 19/20 (2006–7), 109–23.
[Text from BM Vase catalogue Vol. III (1896) - this is out of date so should be treated wth caution and read in the context of its date]
BM Cat. Vases
Mon. dell’ Inst, i, pl. 50, a; Ann. dell’ Inst. 1833, p. 99, and 1847, p. 301; Müller-Wieseler, Denkm. d. a. Kunst. ii, pl. 38, no. 447; Arch. Zeit. 1844, pl. 24, i, p. 395; O. Muller, Handbuch, § 384, 6; Welcker, Alte Denkm. iii, p. 360; Jahn, Bemalte Vasen mit Goldschmuck, p. 9, no. 13; cf. Munich Cat. p. ccvi, 1352; Stephani, Compte-Rendu, 1863, p. 231, 1; 1865, p. 58; 1875, p. 96, 4; Keller, Thiere des cl. Alt. p. 24; Daremberg and Saglio, i, part 1, p. 599; i, part 2, p. 857; Zeitschr. der deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellsch. xl, p. 558; Athen. Mittheil. 1892, p. 436; Graef, De Bacchi Expeditione Indica, p. 1.
This scene has been variously described as an episode in the story of Midas (Polyaen. Strat. vii, 5), as the triumph of the Indian Dionysos, of Dionysos as conqueror of the East, of Dionysos Bassareus. There is, however, little to distinguish the scene as Dionysiac. The object held by the rider is not a sceptre, but a whip; his kidaris (or tiara) differs in no respect from those of other figures in the same scene].
The Sabazios interpretation post-dates the BM Cat. Vases.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2018 May-Sep, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Museum of History, An Age of Luxury
2019 Apr-Aug, Barcelona, CaixaForum, An Age of Luxury
2019-2020 Sep-Jan, Madrid, CaixaForum, An Age of Luxury
2020 Feb-May, Seville, CaixaForum, An Age of Luxury
2022 6 Apr - 8 Aug, Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, The Classical World in Context: Persia
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The vase was included in the 1845 Beckford sale of his residence in Bath: English & Co, Beckford’s Tower contents, 20-29 November 1845, day 6, Crimson Drawing Room, lot 419, where it was 'sold' for the enormous price of 210 guineas. A long commentary on the sale and on the vase and its iconography was given in the Illustrated London News for 29 November and 6 December 1845. The fact that the vase was subsequently acquired by the BM at the Hamilton Palace sale in 1882 shows that the lot had been bid out and retained by the then Duke of Hamilton, Beckford's son-in-law and heir.
- Greek and Roman
- Registration number