- Museum number
Gilt silver rhyton: hammered and horizontally fluted silver horn with attached lost-wax cast protome in the form of the foreparts of a horned winged griffin who wears a necklace, originally set with a gem pendant, subsequently detached and missing; around the rim is an ornamented band in relief, composed of palmettes and lotus-buds, every alternate flower being gilded; the gilded parts of the monster are the tips of the ribbed horns, the wings, crest, and the raised band passing from the ears across the forehead and that crossing the beak, cheeks, mouth, the conventionalised muscles on the forelegs, and the raised necklace. The wing feathers are executed in punched lines, and punched dots cover the front of the head and the cheeks; the eye sockets were originally inlaid; the upright mane, now missing, was held in the deep channel formed by the two ridges on the neck..
- Production date
- 5thC BC
Diameter: 13.40 - 14.50 centimetres
Height: 23 centimetres
Weight: 891 grammes
Volume: 1500 millilitres
- Curator's comments
This is one of the most famous and canonical examples of Achaemenid silverware. It was originally used as a wine pourer, the lowermost hole in the chest acting as the pourer. In addition to being cited, illustrated or published in detail in a large number of academic and secondary works, it has also been published in several commercially available sets of colour transparencies:
(1) British Museum, Western Asiatic Antiquities, colour transparency 88; (2) McDougal Littell, 'History from Visuals: World Art and Culture Transparencies' (1999), colour transparency 8
Cat. entry for "Alexander the Great and the opening of the world – Asian cultures in transformation" (Svend Hansen, Alfried Wieczorek and Michael Tellenbach, eds)
Gilt silver rhyton with winged griffin protome
Possibly found at Altıntepe, eastern Turkey; 5thC BC-4thC BC Achaemenid
Gilt silver; height 23 cm; diameter 13.40 - 14.50 cm; weight 891.00g
British Museum, London, Inv.-Nr. 124081
Bequeathed by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks in 1897
This is one of the most famous and canonical examples of surviving Achaemenid silverware. It was made in two parts: the horn was made by hammering and bears the distinctively Achaemenid characteristic of horizontal fluting but the protome was made separately using the lost-wax technique of casting. It was used as a wine-pourer and has a capacity of a litre and a half. According to Herodotus, “The Persians are very fond of wine” and other sources make it clear that many different varieties of wine were drunk throughout the Persian empire at this period. The specific function of the rhyton was to deliver a controlled amount into the bowl of the banqueter although Bacchanalian iconography of Greek and later craftsmen show rhyta being held directly to the mouth in orgies of excess.
Literature: O.M. Dalton, The treasure of the Oxus with other examples of early oriental metal-work, London 1964 (pp. 42-43, pl. XXII, cat. no. 178); W. Seipel (ed.), Weihrauch und Seide: Alte Kulturen an der Seidenstrasse. Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, 21 January - 14 April 1996, Milan 1996 (pp. 217, 394, cat. 61); J.E. Curtis & N. Tallis (eds), Forgotten Empire: The world of Ancient Persia, London 2005 (p.122, cat. 119).
- Bibliographic references
Sarre F 1922a / Die Kunst des Alten Persien (no.47)
Rogers R W 1929a / A History of Ancient Persia from its earliest beginnings to the death of Alexander the Great (fig.42)
Pope 1938 / Survey of Persian Art (pl. 114)
Frankfort H 1954a / The art and architecture of the Ancient Orient (p.191)
Von der Osten H H 1956a / Die Welt der Perser (pl.71)
Barnett & Wiseman 1960a / Fifty masterpieces of Ancient Near Eastern Art (no. 32, pp. 68-69)
Dalton 1964a / The treasure of the Oxus with other examples of early oriental metal-work (pp. 42-43, pl. XXII, cat. no. 178)
Pinder-Wilson 1971a / Royal Persia: a commemoration of Cyrus the Great and his successors on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire (no.32)
Wilson 1984 / The Forgotten Collector: Augustus Wollaston Franks of the British Museum (pp.48-49, fig.29)
Curtis 1989a / Ancient Persia (p. 50, fig. 59)
Miller M C 1993a / Adoption and Adaption of Achaemenid Metalware Forms (p.143, taf. 24: 5)
Summers G 1993a / Archaeological evidence for the Achaemenid period in eastern Turkey (p.96)
Simpson 1994 / Ancient Iran
Collon 1995a / Ancient Near Eastern Art (back cover) (illustration)
Time-Life 1995a / Persians: Masters of Empire (p.120)
Seipel W 1996a / Weihrauch und Seide: Alte Kulturen an der Seidenstrasse. Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, 21 January - 14 April 1996 (pp.217, 394, cat. 61) (cat. entry by St J. Simpson)
Shefton B B 1998a / Metal and clay: prototype and re-creation. Zoffany's 'Tribuna' and lessons from the Malacena fabric of Hellenistic Volterra (Calyx-krater, stamnos, situla and the Achaemenid rhyton (p.644, n.78)
Boardman 2000 / Persia and the West: An Archaeological Investigation of the Genesis of Achaemenid Art (pl.5.66)
Curtis 2000a / Ancient Persia (fig. 60)
Tokyo National Museum 2003a / Alexander the Great: East-West Cultural Contacts from Greece to Japan (p.43, cat 17)
Allen 2005a / The Persian Empire: A History (p.89)
Curtis & Tallis 2005 / Forgotten Empire: The world of Ancient Persia (cat. 119, p. 122)
Melikian A n.d. / Persian Rhytons - West and East (p.165, fig. 7)
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2017-2018 14 Sept-14 Jan, BM, SEG, 'Scythians: Warriors of ancient Siberia'
2006 7 Mar-11 Jun, Barcelona, Fundacion La Caixa, 'L'imperi Oblidat'
2005 Sept-2006 Jan, London, BM, 'Forgotten Empire'
1995 17 Nov-2005 Aug BM, G52/IRAN/7/12
2003 18 Oct-21 Dec, Kobe, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, 'Alexander the Great: East-West Cultural Contacts from Greece to Japan'
2003 5 Aug-5 Oct, Tokyo National Museum, 'Alexander the Great: East-West Cultural Contacts from Greece to Japan'
1996 17 Jan-14 Apr, Austria, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches museum, Weihrauch und Seide – geld und Luxus aus dem Antiken Orient
1994 16 Jun-23 Dec BM, G49/Iran, case 7/10
1990 28 Jun-23 Sep, Australia, Melbourne, Museum of Victoria, Civilization: Ancient Treasures from the British Museum, cat. no.16
1990 24 Mar-10 Jun, Australia, Canberra, National Gallery of Australia, Civilization: Ancient Treasures from the British Museum, cat. no.16
1975-ca 1990 Jul- BM, Iranian Room [I.R.], case 10/7
Persian Landing [P.L.], case 2
1971 BM, 'Royal Persia: a commemoration of Cyrus the Great and his successors on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire'
1931-ca 1939 BM, Room 20: Persian Room
1923-1931 BM, King Edward VII Building: Franks Display
- Largely complete but missing inlays in the eyes and on the necklace; also missing the mane.
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: OT 178 (cat. number)