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Work Goblet decorated with winged, two-headed monsters, grasping gazelles

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Iran

Gobelet orné de monstres bicéphales ailés, maîtrisant des gazelles

© 1997 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Near Eastern Antiquities

Benoit Agnès

In the second half of the second millennium BC, the Marlik culture, located southwest of the Caspian Sea, developed a very original art of vessels, made both in ceramic and precious metals. Ceramic vases, often polished, represented humans or animals. Goblets, made of gold, silver, or electrum, were decorated with mythological scenes or beings.

The Marlik culture

The people of Marlik were nomadic horsemen whose way of life and art are known only through their necropolis in the fertile Iranian province of Gilan, southwest of the Caspian Sea. They did not use writing, and no trace of their dwellings remains, but it is thought that they amassed their wealth as suppliers of raw materials to the neighboring great powers of Mesopotamia and Elam. Most of the Marlik pieces date from Iron Age I, between the fourteenth and twelfth centuries BC. The art of Marlik is often attributed to what were, strictly speaking, the first Iranians, that is to say, to an Indo-European population. Before this period the inhabitants of Iran are described as Elamite.

Description of the goblet

The most common status objects placed in tombs were large polished vases and goblets of precious metals. The anthromorphic and zoomorphic vases are very refined. The tall goblets, with concave sides and a slight swelling at the base, are always decorated with a single or double spiral design.
The vessel seen here, whose origin is unknown, appears to be related to such goblets. Made of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, it is worked in repoussé and engraved. On the outside of the goblet, repeated three times, is a monster with its jaws open, each paw holding a gazelle by the tail.

A hybrid monster

The monster is a two-headed composite being. The head and part of the body are feline (leopard or panther), with flecked fur, but it has wings and human arms and hands. Furthermore, the lower limbs look like coiled snakes but terminate in hawk's claws.
Each type of animal skin is incised differently, with great attention paid to detail: pointed circles for the feline, lines of oval plates for the snake, diamond-shaped hatching for the claws, chevrons and hatching for the wings, and tighter hatching for the fur of the gazelles.
The personality of this hybrid monster is not very clear. It is seemingly a being that dominates weaker species than itself, a counterpart of the Master of Animals. This status and the creature's two heads are clearly borrowed from Middle Assyrian glyptics of the fourteenth century BC, showing that nomad Marlik craftsmen were in contact with the great contemporary Mesopotamian empires.

Technical description

  • Gobelet orné de monstres bicéphales ailés, maîtrisant des gazelles

  • Electrum

    H. 11 cm; D. 11 cm

  • Acquisition 1956 , 1956

    AO 20281

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Iran in the Iron Age (14th–mid-6th century BC) and during the Neo-Elamite dynasties
    Room 306
    Vitrine 3 : La civilisation de Marlik (XIVe - XIe siècle avant J.-C.) orfèvrerie

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