- Museum number
- Series: Oxus Treasure
Ceremonial gold scabbard covering decorated with embossed hunting scene; presumably originally slightly repoussé and originally overlaid onto a narrow leather sheath with a double-convex profile, with a chape or scabbard tip of different material, subsequently detached in antiquity and now missing.
The upper end has a curved lateral projection; the reverse is plain; the embossed scenes occupy compartments into which the broad upper end is divided and the whole length of the narrow part in which most of the blade was contained; the scenes are framed in borders of conventional design; inner borders and divisions are marked out by narrower bands, mainly in herring-bone pattern. The principal compartment at the broad upper end is divided into two parts by a horizontal herring-bone band with a smaller space below; in the large upper space a lion, standing in the centre, with its head bowed, facing left and with the right forepaw raised, receives spear thrusts in the back of the neck from two mounted figures whose confronted horses rear above him; the winged disc is seen in the air below a slightly curved tasselled canopy-like line, and the whole has a rigid symmetry.
The riders are indicated as wearing Persian gowns and tall headdresses although they are apparently barefoot; they are seated on rounded saddle-cloths, the surfaces covered with small punched circles, the edges finished with decorative borders or fringes. The smaller space below is divided into two equal halves by incurving serpentine heads with open mouths, which issue from the two ornamental bands framing the sides of the panel; in each half a rampant lion turns his head backwards towards the threatening serpentine head.
The lateral projection, one side of which follows the curve of the outer edge, has three panels, two of irregular outline. One of the latter, much larger than the other, bears a similar subject to that above, with a lion in the centre transfixed by the spears of two confronted riders whose horses rear upwards to the right and left, but in this case the lion stands almost erect on his rear legs and looks back at one of his assailants to the left; beneath the lion and one of the riders is a small longitudinal space bordered by herring-bone and enclosing a slain lion; behind the rider above this space is a small triangular compartment containing a lion rampant to the right, with a head reverted to the left.
On the long narrow body of the sheath a series of five identical riders gallop to the right, each shooting a bow at as many lions which vary in appearance, as two confront the horsemen and the remainder turn their heads back.
Just below the mouth of the scabbard is an applied loop with floriated ends, through which a cord was originally passed; the weight of the dagger was however mainly supported by a cord inserted in a loop or hole at the top of the curved part of the mouth.
- Production date
- 5thC BC (probably)
Length: 27.60 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Dalton speculates a Median origin, followed by Barnett and others, whereas Moorey and Stronach argue more persuasively for an Achaemenid origin (Moorey suggests 5th century and possible eastern Iranian origin on the basis of similarities of the rider costume to that worn by Arians and Parthians on the Apadana reliefs). Moorey also observes that the scalloped border ultimately reflects a Scythian motif, and that of the addorsed predatory bird-heads on the guard is a "northern" rather than "western" tradition. The 6th century date suggested by Dalton is based on loose iconographic parallels with Assyrian art but a later date is equally possible, and Stronach argues for a date after 440 BC on the basis of more detailed comparisons with representations on a decorated scabbard from Chertomlyk, sarcophagi from Sidon, Lycian art, and the Parthenon sculptures.
This scabbard has sometimes been compared with Assyrian art of the seventh century BC because of the lion hunt theme and the tall fez-like hats of the riders; however, the horse harness is not Assyrian and has Scythian parallels, particularly with the rounded saddlecloths. David Stronach believes, partly because of the form of the winged disc, that this scabbard cannot be earlier than the reign of Darius and possibly dates from the reign of Artaxerxes II (404-359 BC).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2012 24 May - 30 Sep, London, BM, 'The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot'
2006 7 Mar-11 Jun, Barcelona, Fundacion La Caixa, 'L'imperi Oblidat'
2005-2006 Sept-Jan, London, BM, 'Forgotten Empire'
1995-2005 17 Nov-Aug, BM, G52/IRAN/28b
1994 16 Jun-23 Dec, BM, G49/IRAN/28b
1989 Temporary display, BM, Room 35 (Hinton St Mary mosaic staircase)
1975-ca 1990 Jul-, BM, Iranian Room [IR], OT case, no 53.
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'
1965 summer/autumn, BM, exhibition: Dept of Oriental Antiquities
1931-ca 1939 BM, Room 20: Persian Room
1923-1931 BM, King Edward VII Building: Franks Display
1900- BM, Gold Ornament Room
- Incomplete, missing chape and organic lining; restored from seven fragments.
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: OT 22