Rhyton terminating in the forepart of a wild cat

Period: Parthian

Date: ca. 1st century B.C.

Geography: Iran

Culture: Parthian

Medium: Silver, mercury gilding

Dimensions: H. 10 7/8 in. (27.5 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Vessels

Credit Line: Purchase, Rogers Fund; Enid A. Haupt, Mrs. Donald M. Oenslager, Mrs. Muriel Palitz and Geert C. E. Prins Gifts; Pauline V. Fullerton Bequest; and Bequests of Mary Cushing Fosburgh, Edward C. Moore and Stephen Whitney Phoenix, by exchange, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.447


Elaborate bowls, animal-headed drinking vessels, and rhytons—vessels which have a hole at the front from which liquid flows—were highly valued in ancient Near Eastern society. During the pre-Achaemenid, Achaemenid, and Parthian periods, examples made of silver, gold, and clay were used throughout a vast area extending both to the east and west of Iran. The animals on these vessels included the ram, horse, bull, ibex, supernatural creatures, and female divinities; some were engraved with royal inscriptions. Rhytons made of precious materials were probably luxury wares used at royal courts. Both the rhyton and the animal-headed vessel were adopted by the Greek world as exotic and prestigious Oriental products.

Dating from the Parthian period, this silver rhyton is a fine example of the enduring influence of Hellenistic culture, which owes much to the artistic traditions of Achaemenid Iran. The horn-shaped vessel ends in the forepart of a panther; a spout for pouring is in the middle of the chest. A gilded fruit-laden grapevine winds around the panther's chest; at the other end of the rhyton, an ivy wreath encircles the rim. These are the symbols of the Greek wine god Dionysus, whose cult spread eastward with the invasion of Alexander. Dionysiac images—panthers, grapevines, and dancing females—were absorbed by the Parthians and continued to appear in the art of Near Eastern cultures in the Sasanian period (A.D. 224–651).