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Work Cheek plate in the form of a winged genius with horns

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Cheek plate in the form of a winged genius with horns

© 1997 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Near Eastern Antiquities
Iran

Author(s):
Benoit Agnès

By the second half of the second millennium BC, the horse had been domesticated for about 500 years and was not only used as a draft animal but also was ridden. New harnessing techniques developed, especially bits, to whose cheek plates were fastened the ends of the reins and the head straps. These cheek plates were true works of art in Luristan at the end of the Iron Age, in the eighth and seventh centuries BC.

Domestication of the horse

The horse was domesticated in the Near East and Central Asia at the beginning of the second millennium BC. It was first used as a draft animal and was only ridden several centuries later. A great variety of harness pieces then appeared. Production of bits, strap rings, breast ornaments, chamfrons, bells, pompoms, and various trimmings increased, especially from the eleventh century BC onwards. The Hasanlu site at the edge of lake Urmiah in northwest Iran has yielded the richest, best-documented finds dating prior to the eighth century BC, when Luristan became the leading producer of such items.

Different types of bit

The bit is an essential part of the harness used to control a riding horse. The harness consists of head straps and their rings, the bit, and the reins, all firmly connected. The bit is in two parts, a straight or jointed bar in bronze or iron that fits in the horse's mouth and cheekpieces or psalia in the form of sidepieces or plates. The sidepieces are often metal but sometimes made of antler, while plates are of bronze.
The Luristan hinged bits with sidepieces date from the Iron Age II period, that is to say, the tenth and ninth centuries BC; those with openwork cheek plates and a rigid crossbar terminating in scrolling in opposite directions, like the incomplete example presented here, date from the Iron Age III period, that is, the eighth and seventh centuries BC. The ends of the reins were attached to the plates, enabling the rider to guide his horse.

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An imaginary creature

The plate seen here is the survivor of a pair and was originally attached to the other plate by a rigid crossbar (finishing in scrolling), which is also missing and which ran through the hole in the centre of the creature's body. The remaining plate depicts an imaginary creature seen in profile, with the head turned in full face view. It is an androcephalous winged bull with two horns on its head, indicating its divine nature. Its wing finishes in an aggressive wild beast's head that seems poised to attack. The genius is affirming its dominant power by trampling a small animal, doubtless a kid, that also forms the line of the ground. The various straps ran through the two rings at the edge of the wing. The plates were probably backed with leather or cloth to soften the contact between the metal and the sensitive edge of the horse's mouth.
Images of real animals such as tigers, leopards, mouflons, bulls, and horses gradually replaced the earlier imaginary creatures.

Bibliography

Amiet P., "Les bronzes du Luristan de la collection Coiffard", in La Revue du Louvre, 1, 1963, p. 2, fig. 2.
Potratz J., "Die Pferdetrensen des Alten Orient", in Analecta Orientalia 41, Rome, 1966, pl. LXIL, fig. 148.

Technical description

  • Cheek plate in the form of a winged genius with horns

    Eighth or seventh century BC

    Luristan, Iran (precise origin unknown)

  • Bronze harness piece

    H. 18.7 cm; W. 18.2 cm

  • Collection of J. Coiffard; purchased 1958

    AO 20530

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran in the Iron Age (14th–mid-6th century BC) and during the Neo-Elamite dynasties
    Room 11

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