Period: Hittite Empire
Date: ca. 14th–13th century B.C.
Geography: Central Anatolia
Medium: Silver, gold inlay
Dimensions: H. 18 cm
Credit Line: Gift of Norbert Schimmel Trust, 1989
Accession Number: 1989.281.10
By 1700 B.C., people speaking Hittite—an Indo-European language—had founded a capital at Bogazköy (ancient Hattusha) and, under a series of powerful kings, established a state in central Anatolia. The Hittite army attacked and partly destroyed Babylon in 1595 B.C., and in 1285 B.C. fought a battle against the Egyptian king Ramesses II at Qadesh in Syria.
This silver rhyton—a drinking vessel in the form of an animal with a pouring hole in its chest—in the form of a stag was hammered from one piece that was joined to the head by a checkerboard-patterned ring. Both the horns and the handle were attached separately. A frieze depicting a religious ceremony decorates the rim of the cup, suggesting the uses for which the cup was intended. A prominent figure, thought to be a goddess, sits on a cross-legged stool, holding a bird of prey in her left hand and a small cup in her right. She wears a conical crown and has large ears, typical of Hittite art. A mushroom-shaped incense burner separates her from a male god who stands on the back of a stag. He, too, holds a falcon in his left hand, while with his right he grasps a small curved staff. Three men are shown in profile, moving to the left and facing the deities. Each holds an offering to the divinities. Behind the men is a tree or plant against which rests the collapsed figure of a stag. Hanging from the tree is a quiver with arrows and an object that appears to be a bag. Two vertical spears complete the frieze and separate the stag from the goddess.
Cult scenes or religious processions are commonly represented in the art of the Hittite Empire, and texts make frequent reference to trees and plants associated with rituals or festivals. The texts also tell us that spears were venerated objects, so it is possible that the stag, killed in hunt, as is suggested by the quiver and bag, was being dedicated to the stag god. Hittite texts also mention that animal-shaped vessels made of gold, silver, stone, and wood, in the appropriate animal form, were given to the gods for their own use. Though the precise meaning of the frieze on this vessel remains a matter of conjecture, it is possible that it was intended to be the personal property of the stag god.