Horn vessel of graduated colour, tapers at one end
and sculpted in the shape of a kneeling ram wearing
collar; tooled decoration to shaft consisting of
tooled concentric circles to the base and head of the
shaft; two incisions.
Rhytons were ancient vessels used for drinking wine.
Wine would have been poured in at one end and
would have flowed out, in this case, from the sides
of the ram, which are drilled for this purpose. The
name comes from the Greek rhyta, meaning to run
Rhytons date back to the Bronze Age and were used
by both Minoans and Mycenaean’s. In ancient Cyprus
in particular there is a long and prevalent tradition
for these vessels throughout the Bronze Age and
through commerce and close contact with the
Aegean and Mycenaean settlement in late 13th
century BCE the praxis spread to mainland Greece.
Intermittent periods of Persian rule from 8th century
onwards likely lent to the appropriation of the vessel
by the Persians.
While the concept may be Hellenic, the horn
terminating in an animal is believed to have
originated in Persia and later spread to other
peoples by trade and military campaigns.
Persian kings and commanders often took rhytons
with them on military campaigns. Treasures had to
be small and portable so they could be carried to
wherever warring factions were fighting. The Greek
historian Herodotus described the aftermath of the
Battle of Platea between Greeks and Persians in 479
BCE. During a raid on the Persian camp, the
victorious Greeks found many rythons in gold and
silver, which served as inspiration for later Greek
There are several extant examples from Central Asia
dating to 5th century BCE, which similarly terminate
in the forepart of an animal, mostly horses. One
example in particular, with a lynx terminal, is also
decorated with grapevine leaves. The arrangement
of the concentric circles at the top of the vessel as
pendant clusters of three may well be interpreted as
a stylized grapevine derived from Hellenic sources
after the conquests of Alexander the Great during
4th century BCE. The tooled concentric circle is a
popular and widely intimated motif in Persian art
and can be seen across a plethora of mediums.
The choice of animal was dictated by the beliefs of
the culture that produced the vessel. The passage of
wine through the ram may have been a sacred rite –
a consecration of the liquid within.
A warriors prized possession, this fascinating object
elucidates the cross-pollination of cultures between
ancient peoples, a love of wine and the most
treasured objects of the ancient peoples.