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Work Rhyton

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: The Middle East after Alexander's Conquest


© 2005 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
The Middle East after Alexander's Conquest

Demange Françoise

This strange composite vase comprises a jug, with a female head emerging out of the body; a long curved horn extending the neck and ending in an animal head, the pierced muzzle of which is the spout of the rhyton. The object is covered inside and out with a blue-green glaze. These rhyta were drinking vessels: the drinker held the recipient above his head and let the liquid stream into his mouth.

A strange composite vessel

This vessel could be called a "jug-rhyton." The upper part is a jug, with a female head emerging out of its ovoid belly. The face, surrounded by fluffy hair, appears at the front of the vase while at the back by the handle side, the hair is pulled into a big bun, tied with a fancy ribbon. The neck extends in a long curved horn ending with an animal's head, the pierced muzzle of which is the spout of the rhyton. The potter has used three different manufacturing techniques. The jug has been made on the wheel, but the lower part has been molded in two parts. The animal's muzzle seems to have been modeled directly. A thick glaze covers the outside and the inside, which was usual for recipients containing liquids such as water or wine, the taste of which could be altered by contact with porous terra-cotta. The glaze, now a very pale blue-green, was probably originally the darker colour that is still visible in some areas.

A rhyton from the Parthian-Sasanian period

There are a very few examples of this type of vessel; one of the most complete is in the British Museum. The body of the vessel, above the woman's head, is decorated with the relief bust of a man, which may represent king Shapur I (241-272), the son and successor of the founder of the Sasanian empire. Shapur I could also be the royal horseman stamped on the body of another rhyton, the female head of which is similar to that on this vessel. The same female head decorates the lid of a glazed pottery sarcophagus discovered in the Parthian levels of the city of Nippur in Mesopotamia. These similarities suggest that our vase dates from the very end of the Parthian period or the beginning of the Sasanian empire.

Drinking vessels used at banquets

These rhyta were drinking vessels. The drinker held the recipient above his head and let the liquid stream directly into his mouth. But they were not part of everyday crockery; they are the popular echo of the splendor of princely banquets where the guests used similar vessels made of precious metals. Did they have a ritual function or were they simply luxurious utensils used at banquets during profane festivals? It is hard to say because we know nothing about popular religious rites, which were certainly very different from official forms of worship.

Technical description

  • Rhyton

    IIe - IIIe siècle après J.-C.

    Iran ?

  • Terre cuite à glaçure bleu-vert

    H. 0.32; W. 0.17

  • Acquisition 2001 , 2001

    AO 31560

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Anatolian civilizations, from the earliest times to the 1st millennium BC
    Room 230

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