Stag-Shaped Drinking Horn
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Parthian, about 50 B.C. - A.D. 50
Silver, gold, glass, and garnet
10 13/16 x 5 x 18 1/8 in.

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The forepart of a stag emerges from the curving body of this gilt silver rhyton. The stag is very naturalistic and highly detailed, down to the rendering of veins in the snout. The wide inlaid eyes and the outstretched legs heighten the realism as the stag seemingly bolts in flight. The term rhyton comes from the Greek verb meaning "to run through," and depictions of rhyta on Greek vases show that they were used to aerate wine. Wine poured into the top of the vessel came out of a spout between the animal's legs. The spout on this example is now missing, but the hole remains visible. Stylistic features suggest that this rhyton was made in northwest Iran in the period from 50 B.C. to A.D. 50. This region had been part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire until Alexander the Great's conquest. After his death in 323 B.C., the Hellenistic Greek Seleucid dynasty, whose kingdom stretched from Turkey to Afghanistan, ruled this area. As Seleucid authority began to weaken In the later 200s B.C., a group of semi-nomadic people called the Parthians, from the steppes of south central Asia, challenged the dynasty and by the mid-100s B.C. had firm control of this area of Iran. This complicated political history left its legacy in the art of the area. Rhyta of this form had a long history in earlier art of Iran, but the floral motifs were drawn from Seleucid art.

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