Bronze lid and upper part of an oil flask

Period: Late Classical

Date: 4th century B.C.

Culture: Praenestine

Medium: Bronze

Dimensions: diameter 3 5/8in. (9.2cm)

Classification: Bronzes

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1910

Accession Number: 10.230.1


This bronze "medallion" portrays a naked youth being bitten on the right shoulder by a griffin. It was found at Praeneste and was originally part of the Barberini collection. The Barberini princes undertook extensive excavations in their estate near Praeneste, and their collection is the largest and most complete assemblage of Praenestine fourth century B.C. material. The high quality of this relief and its skillful manufacture recall objects of Greek craftsmanship. The beautiful modeling is clearly inspired by fourth century B.C. classical ideals—the musculature of the young warrior's body is softly rendered and his wavy hair is raised to suggest movement. The tense muscles and tendons of the griffin's paws transmit the animal's strength and power.
This "medallion" is shaped like a knob with a flat top. The underpart consists of three nested metal layers, not soldered to the top surface, thus suggesting they were originally two separate pieces. It is likely to be the lid of a vaso a gabbia—a container made of a conical bronze cagelike structure enclosing a leather bag, a local Praenestine fourth century B.C. production. The shape, the size, as well as a little hole that originally would have been attached to a chain with a strigil, all support such an identification.
The scene depicted is the myth of the Arimaspians, who were believed to have been one-eyed horsemen inhabiting a land beyond the Black Sea. The Arimaspians were involved in a perpetual struggle against griffins over gold, guarded by these fantastic animals. In the mid-seventh century B.C., Aristeas of Proconnesos wrote the Arimaspeia, a poem narrating his travels in eastern Europe. Later ancient writers, like Aeschylus and Herodotus, drew their knowledge of the Arimaspian myth from this poem.