The Parthians, formerly a central Asian nomadic
tribe, upon defeating the Seleucids towards the
end of the 3rd century BC , went on to find a vast
empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to
the Indus. This empire, located on the Silk Road
trade route between the Roman Empire and the
Han Empire of China, flourished through the
control of caravan cities along the Silk Route and
became a center of trade and commerce. In
contrast to their fiercely hostile relationship to
Rome, the Parthians seem to have had thriving
commercial relations to the Chinese Han Dynasty.
As early as the 2nd century BC the Chinese
explorer Zhang Qian visited Parthia and
described it as an advanced urban civilisation.
Embassies were sent in both directions and trade
Although the shapes of the vessels reveal a
reliance on previous Greek and Anatolian forms,
glazed turquoise/green ceramic vessels are one
of the most distinctive Parthian legacies in
pottery. Glazed ceramics were extremely rare in
the Middle East prior to the Islamic period. At
this early date the only glazed wares known were
exclussively coming from China, possibly
encouraged by diplomatic and trading ties in the
Parthian lands. Despite their dazzling beauty
these wares were used for purely practical
purposes such as the storage and transportation
of liquids and grains. Their colour was achieved
by mixing copper and iron oxides to an alkaline
glaze. This was subsequently applied on top of a
fine white paste so that the reddish surface of
the clay would not show through.
It has been suggested that in regards to the
colour and the form, there is some obvious
attempt to imitate metallic vessels, which were
undoubtedly more costly. The green glaze has
been likened to the patina acquired by bronze
over time and some of the decorative elements
have also been compared to twisted metal.
Buff earthenware jar coated with green lead glaze
and decorated by appliqué rope-like ornament.
Large ovoid body resting on a low foot-ring, with
short waisted cylindrical neck; four square-
section handles connect the neck to the wide
sloping shoulder; everted slightly projecting
flattened rim; the flange is an indication that our
jar may originally had a cover. The meandering
rope-like band in relief which runs below the
shoulder is perhaps imitating metallic
prototypes. This jar is exceptional for its size and
quality of the glaze. The tone of the turquoise
becomes lighter towards the base and the
surface has a wonderful iridescent glow.
Iran, Sasano/Islamic, 7th or 8th century.