- Museum number
Gold belt-buckle or clasp; open-work with central repoussé figure of eagle with outstretched wings, facing right and clutching its prey, possibly a recumbent rabbit, in its talons; the whole surrounded by regularly spaced cloisons, now mostly empty; used as belt buckle; inlays of turquoise.
- Production date
Height: 6.50 centimetres
Weight: 111 grammes
Thickness: 0.60 centimetres
Width: 9.30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Another part of this object is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (presented by Pierpont-Morgan, inv. nr 1917- 17190-2055).
Typed note on the record card states "A Royal brooch or clasp, for holding a cloak (candys) together, as on monument of Antiochos I of Commagene at Nimrud Dagh: described by Curtius as one of insignia of Persian king "aurei accipitres velut rostris interse concurrent", Curtius III.8; Rostovtzeff, Social & Economic History of the Hellenistic World II, pl. XCIV. From the Treasure of the Karen Pahlavs (or of Zafar Sultan), found in a chamber tomb near Nihawand. Cf. Herzfeld, "The Hoard of the Karen Pahlavs", 'Burlington Magazine' 1928, p. 22 ... The companion piece is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Other items of the Treasure which are known: Roundels from bowls (1) with winged female bust en ronde bosse, partly gilded. (2) girl flying before a snake: (3) a large locust en ronde bosse on a vine branch: (3) [i.e. 4] solid silver bowl, 'Burlington Magazine', loc. cit. pl. (4) [= (5)] a smaller bowl of silver. All Arsacid period".
Unpublished Cernuschi catalogue entry
Gold belt buckle or clasp with an eagle attacking prey
Said to be from the Nihavand area, Iran
Possibly 1st century AD
H 6.5, W 9.3, Th 0.6 cm, weight 111 g
Dalton 1928; Herzfeld 1928: 22; Pope ed. 1938: vol. I, 465, vol. IV, pl. 138B; Ghirshman 1962: 100, fig. 112; Pinder-Wilson 1971: no. 70;Tait 1976: no. 179; Colledge 1977: 91, fig. 18; Herrmann 1977: 136; Philby 1981: 93; Collon 1995: 195, fig. 160; Curtis 2000: 71, fig. 81
London, The British Museum, ANE 124097 (1927-11-17,1)
Gold belt buckle or clasp formed by hammering and now somewhat crushed; the central scene consists of a repoussé figure of an eagle, displayed with outstretched wings clutching its prey, perhaps a dead rabbit, in its claws and facing right, with the top of its head rising into the border; the whole enclosed within a circular openwork border decorated with regularly spaced cloisons, mostly sub-rectangular; one of these still contains a small flake of turquoise. Two additional lozenge-shaped inlays originally set into the centre of each wing of the eagle, but again missing; the eagle's heart is indicated by a single inlay set in a heart-shaped cloison, and the feathers indicated by engraving; the ear and body of the bird’s prey were also highlighted with inlays. Although their colours vary, the identification of all the remaining inlays as turquoise was confirmed by Raman spectroscopy and SEM analysis. Semi-quantitative analysis by X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) analysis on the surface of the object indicates a composition of 94-97% gold, 2-3% silver and 1-2% copper.
The function of the object as a belt buckle is suggested by the projections on either side: a strap was originally passed through the left side and secured with the circular stud-like projection, whereas the tongue-shaped projecting hook on the right side helped secure a leather strap. Trousers were widely worn in Iran from the Achaemenid period onwards but a particularly large number of belt buckles survive from the Parthian period. Most are made of cast bronze, sometimes containing a high lead content, and they typically have figural compositions. They include representations of embracing couples, riders and kneeling animals. Their exact dating is still unclear although a variety of belt buckles are represented on sculptures from Hatra and rock reliefs in Elymais.
This particular object is exceptional as very few buckles survive made of precious metal survive. Turquoise falls within the category of "sky-coloured" (asman-gon) stones described in the Pahlavi Rivayat (chapter 64), and was presumably imported from ore mines in the Nishapur region of north-east Iran. Similar use of turquoise inlays in heart-shaped cloisons is found on some of the gold dress accessories from the 1st century Parthian or Kushan graves at Tillya-tepe in southern Bactria. The motif of an eagle with wings displayed or addorsed appears widely in Parthian and Sasanian art, and may be the result of Roman influence. In some cases the bird is depicted attacking prey, either another bird or a rabbit, or a large species such as a stag, bull, ram, goat, antelope or composite beast. Although some may be representations from nature, it is more likely that they had a symbolic significance as a scene of imaginary combat between noble or "royal" animals of different species. According to the Bundahišn (XXIV.33), "Birds are altogether clever" and their movements were studied by augurs; the varayna bird (hawk or falcon) was also regarded as the seventh form of the god Wahram, and not only possessed apotropaic value but also conferred a sense of royalty. This combination of power, magic and status therefore must have been appropriate for an important individual.
This object is said to have been found in a chamber tomb near Nihavand in western Iran in about 1910 or 1911. A companion piece with a mirror image (but of slightly different dimensions) was later presented by J. Pierpont Morgan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, although it was initially described as Carolingian, presumably on the basis of the inlays (Conway 1916; H[auser] 1917). According to Ernst Herzfeld (1879-1948), the tomb also originally contained two silver gilt bowls, and three roundels, originally perhaps attached to bowls, decorated with a partly gilded winged bust, a girl flying before a snake, and a large locust on a vine branch. The present object was purchased in 1927 from Herzfeld, who was then serving as archaeological adviser to the Shah, and who had acquired it himself in Nihavand. Shortly before this, Herzfeld had recorded digging in progress at Tepe Giyan and other sites in the Nihavand area, but whether he personally witnessed the alleged findspot of these objects is unclear.
St J. Simpson, S. La Niece & J. Ambers.
- On display (G52/dc6)
- Exhibition history
2005-2006 Sept-Jan, London, BM, 'Forgotten Empire'
G52/IRAN/13/40, from official opening 17/11/95-Sep 2005.
Iranian Room, case 16, no. 1.
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'
- Fair; missing some inlays
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Said to have been found in a chamber tomb near Nihavand and thence interpreted by Herzfeld to be part of the "Treasure of the Karen Pahlavs" or of Zafar Sultan. Initially mentioned as "my gold ornament" in correspondence between Dalton and Herzfeld, dated Berlin 6 October, 11 and 17 October 1927, the last letter also thanking Dalton for sending him a copy of the Oxus Treasure catalogue and stating that "These things interest me deeply, even more than before since I have seen the incredible treasures of the Ermitage [sic]. I myself have been insensible [sic] enough to purchase a marvellous silver cup, with some letters in Arsacidan pahlavi [sic], apparently dating from the time immediately preceding the Sasanian epoch. It has only one ornamental design: vine-scrolls coming out of acanthus-leaves, between cannelures in relief. As soon as my photographs are developed, I want to write some lines on it for the Burlington magazine. The piece is from Nihawand, where, about 16 years or more ago, a large treasure has been discovered. The place has been the main feudal possession of the Karen family of the Arsaciden and Sasanian epoch, and as many hundreds, perhaps thousands of Roman gold coins of the 1st and 2nd century have been discovered together with gold and silver ornaments and vessels, the period of these objects is rather well established. The greater part of the treasure has been melted down, but some large figures, e.g. of a lion and a bird, in solid gold and encrusted with jewels, are said still to exist". This last object is probably the same piece as that registered here, which the British Museum acquired and registered in the Dept of Medieval & Later Antiquities (reg. 12/60), wherein it was stated that it was "Obtained by the vendor at Nihavand, N.W. Persia [sic], and found with Roman coins: Scythic, 2nd century A.D.".
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number