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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Iron Age : Bactrian lead goat
Bactrian lead goat - CB.009
Origin: Central Asia (Afghanistan)
Circa: 1300 BC to 600 BC
Dimensions: 6.6" (16.8cm) high x 5.3" (13.5cm) wide
Collection: Late Iron Age to Pre-Achaemenid
Medium: Lead
Condition: Intact

Location: Great Britain
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Adult stocky mountain goat standing on four short legs. Medium-size and curving backward horns, exceptionally long beard, rounded nose, both ears pointing towards the rear, short and hanging down tail. Both male and female goats have beards; from the absence of genitalia on this figurine and bearing in mind that artists in antiquity almost always made a clear point of indicating with precision the gender of an animal, we may assume that this is a female goat. The surface of this piece has acquired a light green patina, interrupted by spotty light white and green calcite deposits; there is a certain wear all over the exterior of the statuette, an indication of its great age. The domestic goat (Capra aegagrus hircus) is a subspecies originating from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. Domestic goats are one of the oldest domesticated species and for thousands of years they have been used for their milk, meat, hair, and skins over much of the world. Goats were worshipped in both their natural caprine form and under a phallic appearence throughout Greece, Italy and Egypt during most of the antiquity. The most plausible reason for their ithyphallic embodiment and adoration seems to have originated from the goat’s increased sexual urge and amazing reproductive ability, where a male goat is deemed capable of fertilizing around 150 females. The hugely popular Greek god Pan was also portrayed as having goat characteristics, along being the protector deity of flocks, pastures and quite naturally goats. Besides Pan, the Greek god Dionysus, also in his Roman appellative of Bacchus, was equally and closely related to goats. Cultist rites associated with his worship were characterized by maniacal dancing to the sound of loud music and crashing cymbals, in which the revelers, called Bacchantes, whirled, screamed, became drunk and incited one another to greater and greater ecstasy. The rite climaxed in a performance of frenzied feats of strength and madness, such as uprooting trees and tearing a goat apart, an act called in ancient Greek “sparagmos” and eating the goat’s flesh raw, an act called “omophagia”. This latter rite was a sacrament during which the participants assumed the strength and character of the god by symbolically eating the raw flesh and drinking the blood of his symbolic incarnation, in this case the goat. Having symbolically eaten his body and drunk his blood, the celebrants became possessed by Dionysus. Centuries later ancient Romans during the feast of Bacchanalia, in honor of Bacchus, would also tear apart a goat and eat it alive. Guests to the sacred rites would prepare a white goat for the ceremony much in advance, cleaning the predestined animal’s coat and painting its horns gold. At the point of blind intoxication, celebrants would apparently turn on the sacrificial goat, tear it to pieces limb from limb and devour the raw meat, rejoicing that the consumption of divine flesh and blood signified Bacchus’ mythic death and rebirth. Among the remains of the ancient city of Banias, located in Northern Israel at the foot of mount Hermon, a cult structure has been excavated which was erected on the purpose for the burial of the remains of the sacred goats related to the god Pan, the principal divinity of the area. Excavations in Central Asia and in particular in the area of Afganistan brought to the light ancient ritual goat-burials that show a predominant religious significance of the goat in the area. These findings have been used as evidence for a goat-cult of Asia originating either in the Neolithic or Bronze Ages. This rare artifact is a hollow cast lead antiquity in the form of a standing goat. There is the possibility that the pegs on which the figurine’s hooves are attached to may have once supported wheels, which would in consequence have made this piece being used as a toy; it is though much more likely that these pegs were secured into a wooden fitting or joined into a flat base, as this figurine was in all probability a votive offering. There is a cunning similarity between this figurine and the bronze fragmentary figurine of an ibex discovered in Iran, which has been dated in the period 1900 to 1300 BC., a number of six hundred years ranging between the Middle Bronze and the Early Iron Age. This turbulent period is dominated by conflicts in the area between the Elamite state of southeastern Iran and the neighboring Mesopotamia. Susa becomes one of the most important sites during this era, a locus of cultural and commercial interchange between the mountain folk of the Zagros and the inhabitants of the Mesopotamian plain. This example though seems to be dating to a later period, somewhere between the years 1300 and 600 B.C. - (CB.009)


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