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Featured art object

Learn about the Stag Rhyton.

Stag Rhyton

Date Created: 100–1 BCE
Place Created: Eastern Seleucid Empire (west Asia)
Culture: Parthian/ancient Iran
Material: Gilt silver, garnet, glass
Maker: Unknown
Dimensions: 27.5 × 46 × 12.7 cm (10 13/16 × 18 1/8 × 5 in.)
Getty Museum
This silver horn decorated with a stag is called a
, a luxury wine vessel. Its name comes from the ancient Greek word for “pour” or “flow.” Wine was poured from the rhyton into a cup from a tiny spout (now missing) between the animal’s front legs. This added air to the wine to improve it. Sometimes drinkers also held the rhyton up high and poured the wine directly into their mouths. (That required practice and very good aim!) This rhyton is from Parthia, a region in modern Iran, and it was probably made sometime between 50 BCE and 50 CE.
Ancient Iran was overrun by many different cultures over time. Persians were in control in the 330s BCE when Alexander the Great conquered the area. After his death, his Greek generals took over. Then the local Parthians slowly expanded their own empire in Iran and beyond. These different peoples borrowed one another’s social and artistic practices. Persians, Greeks, and Parthians shared a custom of eating together at banquets to create community. Rhyta (plural) like this one were used in rituals and given as gifts at dinners by the Parthian king and other high-status people.
Although they are called “horns,” rhyta could be made of animals’ horns or tusks. Metal drinking vessels mimic the shape. Horns became a type of
when decorated. This rhyton is
(coated with gold) and has floral decoration and finely
(cut) details. Some horns, like this one, were also
, with animal foreparts (front legs, chest, and head) added to the narrow end. The animals chosen to decorate rhyta were considered noble or brave, such as lions, stags, and mythical beasts. Guests at banquets would have admired the craftsmanship and fine details on this rhyton, such as the veins on the stag’s snout and the curling leaves and flowers on the horn.


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