Persian Horn Rhyton

Zippori (Sepphoris), Israel
4th century BCE
Persian period
Terra cotta, double mold, wheel made
H: 29.5, D: 34.5 cm
Israel Antiquities Authority

Accession number: IAA 1979-956

This terra-cotta rhyton, consisting of a long horn terminating in the body of a winged hybrid creature, was found by chance at Zippori in Lower Galilee. The lower part of the vessel is made in a double mold while the horn (partly restored) is wheel-made. The protome is in the shape of a mythical beast, with the head of a horned lion and the body of a horse. The modeling of the ferocious lion's head, its open mouth, bulging eyes, and thick lower mane, combined with pointed horse's ears and mane, and the addition of horns (now broken) all contributed to the charming peculiarity of this imaginary creature. The red-painted decoration over black glaze serves to accentuate various details, as well as to delineate ornamental elements. Thus, the wing feathers are outlined by grooves and emphasized in paint. The reclining creature rests on its forelegs, between which a small hole, serving as an outlet for the wine, was pierced. The horn-rhyton with an animal protome probably originated in Achaemenid Persia, where it was first produced in precious metals - gold and silver - and later imitated in faience, alabaster, and clay. The manufacture of this vessel in a less costly material proves its popularity among many classes of society. Such drinking vessels were also manufactured in Greece, in imitation of Achaemenid prototypes that were probably brought as booty from the Persian Wars which ended in 480 BCE. The use of such a rhyton is shown on a late Attic krater. The rhyton was held upraised, with the thumb covering the hole at its bottom. Releasing the thumb allowed a stream of wine to spurt into a phiale (wine cup), held in the other hand. The present rhyton combines eastern and western features and is executed in the Attic style. Its attribution to the fourth century BCE is supported by a number of black-glazed Attic sherds found with the vessel.