- Museum number
Gilded silver plate showing a king hunting; the king sits astride a galloping fallow deer, which he grasps by the antlers with his left hand while plunging a sword into its upper neck; the king is wearing a crown with pendant, presumably pearl-drop, earrings; the tip of his beard is knotted; two pairs of ribbons flying behind, one pair attached to the back of his crown and the other apparently tied to his back; he wears a long-sleeved tunic with decorated shoulder-pads, flowing decorated trousers, and fluttering ribbon ties on his shoes; he carries an unusually large decorated empty scabbard, resembling a quiver, on his right thigh; the bodies of the stags are covered with dotting to represent fur; a fallen stag lies below, with a series of dots fanning out from its closed mouth; bowl has a rolled over rim; made by hammering with soldered and crimped additions and engraved details; gilded highlighting to the king's crown, shoulder-pads, cuffs, belt, trousers, parts of the quiver, the head, tail, hooves and bellies of the two stags.
- Production date
Diameter: 17.90 - 18 centimetres
Diameter: 0.20 centimetres (centering mark)
Diameter: 1.50 centimetres (concentric lines on the underside of the foot ring)
Height: 3.70 centimetres (minus the foot ring)
Height: 4.50 centimetres
Weight: 394.70 grammes
- Curator's comments
- The species of deer was previously identified as an elk by Francovich (1964), but re-identified as a fallow deer by Bokonyi. Ghirshman (1962, 213) comments on the recurrence of fallow deer on Sasanian reliefs. The king is riding the stag, not standing as stated by Erdmann (p.90).
Unpublished Cernuschi exhibition catalogue entry
Silver plate showing Shapur killing deer
Said to have been found in Anatolia
H 4.5 (3.7 minus foot ring), D 17.9 – 18.0 cm, weight 393.5 g
Dalton 1909; Bachhofer 1933: 65; Erdmann 1936: 199-200, pl. 59; Seyrig 1937: 28; Herzfeld 1938: 125-26; Trever 1937; Orbeli 1938: vol. I, 725, vol. IV, pl. 206; Erdmann 1943: 90, pl. 59; Haskins 1952: 328; Dalton 1964: 60-61, pl. XXXVI, no. 206; Barnett & Wiseman 1960: 76-77, no. 36; Francovich 1964; Lukonin 1967: 22; Marshak & Krikis 1969: 63; Pinder-Wilson 1971: no. 104; Nickell 1973/74: 72; Kent & Painter eds 1977: 144, no. 305; Harper et al. 1978: 34-35, no. 4; Hughes & Hall 1979: 328, table 2.5; Harper & Meyers 1981: 57-60, 160-61, 170, pl. 13; Philby 1981: 111; Marshak 1986: 25, fig. 5; Overlaet ed. 1993: 203, no. 59; Bivar 1995: 34, fig. 4; Collon 1995: 208, fig. 174; Nicolle & McBride 1996: 18, fig. 11B; Curtis 2000: 81, fig. 94; Harper 2000: 51, col. pl. X; Masia 2000: 215, 274, fig. 1b.
London, The British Museum, ANE 124091 (1908-11-18,1)
Hammered gilt silver plate (or bowl) with lightly inverted rim and low slightly flared circular foot ring; decorated on the interior with the scene of a king killing a fallow deer; the ruler is wearing a beribboned crenellated crown with korymbos over bunched curls, with pendant earrings, knotted beard, a long-sleeved tunic with decorated shoulder pads, loose flowing decorated trousers and beribboned shoes; two pairs of ribbons stream behind, one pair being attached to the crown and the other apparently tied to his back. The king's toes point downwards in the manner typical of riders without stirrups, where control of the mount was through the pressure of the knees. On his right thigh is suspended a large box quiver decorated with a geometric lozenge pattern below an elaborate foliated design; the presumed scabbard would be slung from the left side but is not visible. The king is depicted in full profile straddling a leaping fallow deer which he grasps and pulls by the antlers with his left hand while plunging a sword with an unusual butterfly cross-guard into the back of its neck and giving rise to a plume of blood. A second deer lies crouched below, with its raised head and blood pouring from its muzzle. The entire scene is enclosed within a medallion bordered by concentric circles, above which the rim is plain.
There is a single line below the rim on the exterior, and two concentric circles around a broad centering mark on the underside of the base. These were previously interpreted as evidence for spinning or polishing on a lathe. However, there is no evidence that this technique was used at this period for forming vessels but they do suggest that a lathe was used to rotate the dish while it was finished. The plate itself was formed by hammering, and the decoration created through a combination of soldering and crimping a number of separately cast details to form the raised areas, and then chasing and engraving the intervening areas of the design. The composition has been tested using two different scientific techniques, which yielded sufficiently similar results. Spot gilding was used to highlight the crown, shoulder pads, cuffs, belt, trousers, parts of the quiver, and the heads, tails, hooves and bellies of the stags. XRF analysis in four places suggests a composition of 94.3 – 94.7% silver, 3.8 – 4.5% copper and 0.9% gold. Neutron activation analysis indicates that the plate is made of 95.6% silver, 3.72% copper and 0.66% gold, whereas the foot has a marginally different composition of 95.8% silver, 3.53% copper and 0.64% gold. Differences in the relative amounts of the trace element iridium detected by the latter analyses confirm that two different ore sources were used, and suggest that the foot ring may be a later replacement. The addition of between 4% and 8% copper is typical of most analysed Sasanian silver objects, including coins, and reflects the knowledge that this improved the mechanical properties of the silver during working. The relative purity of the copper suggests that it was probably freshly smelted metal whereas the recycling of scrap played a more important role in urban industries, particularly those far removed from ore sources.
This plate was purchased in 1908 from the Durlacher Brothers, a family of dealers, and according to some reports was found in Anatolia. The plate is invariably regarded as being one of the earliest Sasanian plates but despite considerable discussion, the royal figure cannot be certainly identified. The crown is usually compared with those of Shapur II (r. 309-379), but it differs from the coin portraits of this ruler in the omission of a beaded band below the crenellations or a row of curls or volutes above a plain band. Instead it appears to most closely resemble the crown worn by Shapur I (r. 240-272) on rock reliefs at Naqsh-i Rustam and Bishapur II which commemorate his victory over the Roman emperor Valerian at the battle near Edessa in AD 360. Nevertheless, the bowl has been stylistically placed within the 4th rather than 3rd century. Two possibilities follow: either the craftsman was unaware or did not care about the discrepancies of detail of the crown type, or the plate was made during the reign of Shapur II in commemoration of that ruler's father.
The subject on this plate falls within the general genre of Sasanian royal hunting scenes, but differs from later plates which either show the king mounted on a horse (or camel) or despatching his quarry on foot. Later plates are also larger, flatter and tend to rely on mercury gilding of the background in order to throw the decoration into greater relative relief; in contrast, the use of spot gilding on the present example accentuated the key attributes of the king and his prey. The scene itself demonstrates royal prowess not only through the improbable feat of riding a stag, but also in the deliberate portrayal of skilful swordsmanship as it provides an early illustration of a type of fencing grip: the positioning of the forefinger over the top of the quillon or crossbar of the sword enabled a more controlled thrust and swing. This detail is also present on later Sasanian silver plates, was adopted by the Arabs and eventually became known in Europe as the Italian grip. The manner in which this king is shown killing the deer has also been likened to Mithraic hunts where the god typically pulls a bull's head back and stabs it in the throat. This act of sacrifice recurs in the Zoroastrian celebration of Mihragan and a similar scene with a stag is depicted on a Sasanian silver plate reportedly found in Daylaman (Ghirshman 1962: 213, fig. 254).
- Bibliographic references
Dalton 1964a / The treasure of the Oxus with other examples of early oriental metal-work (pp. 60-61, pl. XXXVI, no. 206) (not part of the Oxus Treasure)
Dalton 1909b / On a Persian Silver Dish of the Fourth Century (pl. XXVI, no. 206) (not part of the Oxus Treasure)
Barnett & Wiseman 1960a / Fifty masterpieces of Ancient Near Eastern Art (pp.76-77, no.36)
Harper 1965 / The Heavenly Twins (pp.192-93, fig.10)
Philby H StJ B 1981a / The Queen of Sheba (p. 111) (illustration)
Bivar A D H 1995a / The Royal Hunter and the Hunter God: Esoteric Mithraism under the Sasanians? (p. 34, fig. 4)
Strathern P 1993a / The Silk and Spice Routes. Exploration by Land (p. 25) (illustration)
Harper P O et al. 1978a / The Royal Hunter: Art of the Sasanian Empire (pp 34-35, no. 4)
Curtis 1989a / Ancient Persia (title page) (illustration)
Collon 1995a / Ancient Near Eastern Art (p. 208, fig. 174)
Overlaet B 1993a / Splendeur des Sassanides. L'empire perse entre Rome et la Chine [224-642] (p.203, no. 59) (cat. entry by Overlaet)
Harper P O 1992b (p.54)
Pope 1938 / Survey of Persian Art (vol.IV, 206)
Hughes M J & Hall J A 1979a / X-ray Fluorescence Analyses of Late Roman and Sassanian Silver Plate (p.328, table 1) (4 spots analysed)
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. 104)
Nicolle D & McBride A 1996a / Sassanian armies : the Iranian empire early 3rd to mid-7th centuries AD (p.18, fig.11B) (sketch of detail of fencing grip)
Curtis 2000a / Ancient Persia (p.81, fig.94)
Harper P O 2000a / Sasanian Silver Vessels: The Formation and Study of Early Museum Collections (p.51, col. pl. X)
Kent & Painter 1977 / Wealth of the Roman World. Gold and Silver, AD 300-700 (p.144, no.305)
Erdmann 1943 / Die Kunst Irans zur Zeit der Sasaniden (p.90, pl.59)
Harper P O & Meyers P 1981a / Silver vessels of the Sasanian period: Royal Imagery (pp.57-60, 160-61, 170, pl.13)
Haskins J F 1952a / Northern Origins of 'Sasanian' Metalwork (p.328) (regarded as Shapur I)
Marshak & Krikis 1969 / Čilekskie čaši (p.63) (regarded as Shapur II)
Bachhofer L 1933 / Sasanidische Jagdschalen (p.65) (regarded as Shapur II)
Curtis 2000b / Mesopotamia and Iran in the Parthian and Sasanian Periods: Rejection and Revival c. 238 BC - AD 642 (Proceedings of a Seminar in memory of Vladimir G. Lukonin) (pl.36)
Farrokh K 2005a / Sassanian Elite Cavalry AD 224-642 (p.30)
Demange F 2007a / Les Perses sassanides. Fastes d'un empire oublié (224-642) (27, pp.86-87) (entry by St John Simpson)
MacGregor 2010 / A History of the World in 100 Objects (43)
- On display (G52/dc7)
- Exhibition history
2021 29 May-12 Sep, London, V&A, Epic Iran
2019 15 May-9 Sep, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2018 19 Apr-22 Jul, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 28 Jun-08 Oct, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 1 Mar-31 May, National Museum of China, Beijing, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016-2017 08 Sep-29 Jan, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016 13 Feb-18 Jun, National Museum of Western Australia, Perth, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015-2016 20 Sep-11 Jan, Kobe City Museum, Kobe, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 14 Jul–6 Sep, Kyushu National Museum, Dazaifu, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 18 Apr–28 Jun, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2014-2015 13 Dec-15 Mar, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2014 23 Apr-01 Aug, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2006 14 Sept-30 Dec, Paris, Cernuschi Museum, 'Les Perses Sassanides ou les Fastes d'un empire oublié'
2005 29 Jun-2006 8 Jan, BM, G69a, 'Iran before Islam: Religion and Propaganda, AD 224-652'
2004 26 Jun-29 Aug, Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 10 Apr-13 Jun, Fukuoka Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2004 17 Jan-28 Mar, Kobe City Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2003 18 Oct-14 Dec, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
1995-2005 17 Nov-18 Aug BM, G52/IRAN/22/4, from official opening
1994 16 Jun-23 Dec BM, G49/IRAN, case 22, no. 4
1993 12 Feb-25 Apr, Belgium, Brussels, Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Splendeur des Sassanides / Hofkunst Van des Sassanieden , no.59
1977 BM, 'Wealth of the Roman World. Gold and Silver, AD 300-700'
1975-ca 1990 Jul- BM, Iranian Room [IR] case ?, no. 6
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'
- Some deep scratches on the reverse, including a deep vertical scratch near the rim on the side opposite the head of the king.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Acquired and registered in the Dept of Medieval & Later Antiquities (reg. 9/160)
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Treasure/PAS number: OT.206 (not part of the Oxus Treasure)