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© 1995 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Near Eastern Antiquities

Benoît Nicolas

The Louvre holds about twenty such Cypriot painted terracotta statuettes of horsemen, all dating from the late Cypro-Geometric period (8th century BC) to the Archaic period (up to the 5th century BC). These figurines were very common throughout Cyprus and have most often been found in graves. However, their precise symbolic significance is open to question.

A carefully made and delicately painted statuette

Robert Hamilton Lang, the British consul in Larnaca, found a large number of archeological specimens in Cyprus, most of which are now in the British Museum. Only a very few are held by the Louvre. Among them is this painted terracotta figurine of a horseman - a very common theme in Cyprus at the time the statuette was made. It was found in a grave in Castroulla on the southern coast of the Karpass peninsula and was acquired by the Louvre in 1872. The figurine dates from the 8th century BC and is thus one of the earliest examples of this motif, as well as one of the most finely crafted. The horse is standing firmly on slightly bandy legs. The low-slung body and the short tail, held at an angle from the body, form a striking contrast with the excessively long neck and head, made even longer by the long cylindrical muzzle and the rounded mane which stands out stiffly in the Greek style. The top of the horseman's head is shaped like a truncated cone, suggesting he is wearing a helmet. He and the horse literally form one body, as his tubular torso is melded with the horse's body at thigh level. A certain number of details, including a beard, fingers, and patterns on his outfit, have been added to the rider in black paint. The eyes, mane, and harness of the horse have likewise been painted on in black. The rider also has a small swastika marked on his neck. There are also touches of red paint added symmetrically to both the man's and the horse's ears, the rider's helmet, and the nose, tail, and legs of the horse.

A ritual offering or a child's toy?

Horses are thought to have been introduced to Cyprus in the early Bronze Age, although the earliest terracotta figurine of a horse dates from the end of the Middle Bronze Age. Towards the end of the late Bronze Age, horses - most often with their riders - became one of the most common themes for Cypriot craftsmen. The famous Royal Tombs of Salamis, which, like this statuette, date from the Geometric period, were found to contain horses in harness as ritual offerings. This demonstrates the religious symbolism of the horse as a sacrificial animal. Horses were also used in warfare, which also helps explain their popularity at a time when the island was under the rule of a series of great Oriental empires. Soldiers leaving for the war would leave statuettes of horses in shrines as a way of asking for divine protection. Statuettes of horses were often dedicated to Apollo, who was a major god in Cyprus and the male equivalent of the Great Goddess. Apollo was the god of fertility as well as of war, and in Cyprus, both bulls and horses were symbols of life and rebirth, which explains why they were so often placed in graves. However, their symbolic role as sacrificial or funeral offerings should not be allowed to overshadow a more obvious use for such statuettes, and one that is in fact better recorded in the texts - as childrens' toys. The statuettes were considered excellent for teaching children - so in fact this secondary use echoed the principal symbolic role of the statuettes.


Caubet Annie, "La collection Robert Hamilton Lang au musée du Louvre : Antiquités de Pyla", in Report of the Department of Antiquities Cyprus, 1976, Nicosie, Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
Ministry of Communications and Works, 1976, p. 168.
Caubet Annie, Hermary Antoine, Karageorghis Vasos (sous la dir. de),
Art antique de Chypre au musée du Louvre : du chalcolithique à l'époque romaine, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1992, Athènes, Kapon, 1992, pp. 95-96, n 106.
Caubet Annie, Fournier Sabine, Queyrel Anne (sous la dir. de),
L'Art des modeleurs d'argile : antiquités de Chypre, coroplastique,
musée du Louvre, département des Antiquités orientales, vol. 1, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1998, p. 118, n 140.
Monloup Thérèse, Les Figurines de terre cuite de tradition archaïque. Salamine de Chypre XII, fouilles sous la direction de Jean Pouilloux et Georges Roux, Paris, Maison de l'Orient méditerranéen, E. de Boccard, 1984, pp. 37-46.
Young John Howard, Young Suzanne Halstead (sous la dir. de),
Terracotta Figurines from Kourion in Cyprus, Philadelphia, The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1955, pp. 54-169.

Technical description

  • Rider

    Cypro-Geometric III (8th century BC)

    Castroulla, Cyprus

  • Polychrome terracotta

  • Acquired in 1872 , 1872

    MNB 370

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

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