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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Achaemenid Art : Achaemenid Silver Rhyton Terminating of Lion Head
Achaemenid Silver Rhyton Terminating of Lion Head - FA.201
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 550 BC to 450 BC
Dimensions: 5" (12.7cm) high
Collection: Near Eastern
Style: Achaemenid

Location: Great Britain
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The Achaemenid Empire was an ancient Iranian empire founded by Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II of Persia, c.600 BC- 530 BC) in 6th century BC. The Empire was one of the most dynamic and historically significant socio- political entities of the period. As the First Persian Empire, it originally based in Persia but its border extended eastwards and into the Mediterranean region. The empire continued to grow until Cyrus’ death, by which time the kingdom extended as far as the Hindu Kush in present day Afghanistan. The economy of the Achaemenids was affluent, fueled by an introduction of stable gold currency, and the road system allowed the spread of trade, luxurious works, and ideas. In particular, the cultural achievements of the Achaemenids were considerable, as free trade and social tolerance went to provide a comparatively enlightened environment in which the arts could flourish. As a result, the artists and craftsmen of the time were able to produce a wide variety of elite artworks such as this.

This silver lion-headed rhyton terminating originated in the Achaemenid Empire, combining the older Near Eastern traditions of animal- headed cups and Iranian traditions of animal-shaped vessels. The horn-shaped vessels ending in a head of animal have a long history in the Near East. Notably the rhytons, vessels which have a hole at the front from which liquid flows, were highly valued in ancient Near Eastern society. During the pre-Achaemenid and Achaemenid periods, examples made of silver and gold were used throughout a vast area extending both to the east and west of Iran. The animals on these vessels included the ram, horse, bull, ibex and supernatural creatures.

Early Iranian examples are straight with the cup and animal head in the same plane. Later, in the Achaemenid period, the animal decoration was often connected at a right angle and the head placed horizontally to the beaker as the part of terminating. The lion's head, delicately expressed in curly fur, was probably the part of the decoration that leaped out from the curved body of a silver rhyton. In Near Eastern art, the lion was a symbol of nobility and courage and it had a royal association. The Achaemenids used rhytons at royal courts, where the king displayed his wealth and power. The rhytons especially made of precious materials, such as this silver cup, were the symbol of the high status because these luxury wares were used by the upper status who had been invited to royal banquets. -MK

(Reference: Béatrice André-Salvini. Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia. University of California Press, 2005; Thomas Harrison. The Great Empires of the Ancient World. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009.)
- (FA.201)


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