Unique Cups of Antiquity


Studying the unique phenomenon of the art – the Parthian rhytons, the historians, archeologists, art historian put forward many original hypotheses. It was the topic of our talk with the deputy director for scientific activity of the State Museum of the East (Moscow), Doctor of Art history Tigran Mkrtychev.

- Tigran, let’s start from very beginning and remind the readers when, where and who found the rhyton.

- It is interesting and even something mystic story. In 1948, the day before Ashgabat earthquake, the young archeologist, postgraduate student of the archeology department of Tashkent University Yelena Davidovich became the leader of archeological crew, which worked in Old Nissa. Working here, she opened a stratum, which contained a large quantity of fragments from ivory. According to the technical reasons, the works were stopped on this day in the site. The finding was remaining under stratums of earth in order to protect the ancient articles from influence of sunrays and atmosphere. On next day, it was planned to continue the works but it seemed that fate has decreed otherwise, because the destructive earthquake took place on night of October 6. They say “a blessing in disguise”, because if these articles were drawn then after earthquake it is doubtful whether something will be preserved. It is quite probable that we will never see the Nissa rhytons. In the period of restoration of Ashgabat, this most interesting finding was preserved. Then, the archeological excavations have been continued. M. Masson came to Nissa and opening of unique treasure has started. As a result, nearly 50 samples, which are called the rhytons from Nissa, appeared to the light.

- What were the rhyton intend for?

- Rhyton is translated from the Greek language as “flow”. Many scientists consider that they were used for ritual libations, but taking into account that such large volume of liters could be kept in Nissa wine storage then a conclusion inevitably comes to mind that rhytons also took part in magnificent royal feasts. We have fine art objects thanks to which it is visible that rhytons were used for two purposes. A feast maker held in his one hand a rhytons closing with his finger a pouring hole and in the other hand a bowl. When the rhytons was filled with wine the hole was opened and a string of wine run into the bowl and from the bowl the holder drank. The other method: a man holds a rhytons over himself so that the string of wine runs into his mouth.

There are research workers who consider that rhytons were used in feasts of Achaemenid kings. It is not known how they used them as we have no visual material .however, we know that in 490 BC Greeks defeated Persians at the battle of Maraphone and they took much booty among which were also rhytons. Moreover, Achaemenids made them from precious metals and were considered them status objects. It means that they were considered as valuable as we consider today expensive cars. That is, the man who possesses such vessel was of high rank in his society. Further the form of rhytons entered into the Greek culture where they took the attribute of feasts. In entire ancient Greece they became fashionable.

Nobody knows where rhytons were produced. There are several versions by which some scholars think that they were produced in Parthia and other scholars think that they were Hellenistic states, but I think that it was Greek-Bactrian territory where today northern Afghanistan and middle course of the Amyderya are located. The political relations between these two states were always very complicated and remain unexplored well. Rhytons perhaps either in the form of presents or in the form of contribution to the Greek-Bactrian kings entered Parthia and were used rather for long time , about 20-30 years or so.

- How and for what were rhytons were used by Parthians?

- Doctor of Historical Science V.N. Pilipko, is always very careful in relation to suppositions and has set forward the viewpoint, which shows that Old Nissa might be the centre of the dynasty. That time there existed cults of the dynasties of kings that is definite rituals were devoted to the ruling dynasty and there were carried out definite procedures and special buildings were constructed for this purpose. And in all probability Old Nyssa was namely such centre. And among rituals which were observed here and collective meals were also made here. Probably rhytons of Nissa were also used in these gorgeous feasts.

For unknown reason rhytons fell into disuse and as valuable object of household they were stored in the treasury. And in 1948 Yelena Davidovich became the man who dag the right place where a wonderful finding was discovered. Nissa rhytons which have been recognized now familiar items of Hellenistic art, have acquired a world fame and speak of ancient Nyssa as a monument which keeps many secrets and riddles.

- Tigran, you were the curator of Nissa rhytons in the state museum of the Orient, please tell us of their exposition in other museums.

- Our museum holds four rhytons from the treasure of Old Nissa, which were donated to our museum by Turkmenistan yet in the 1950-ties. The authority of the museum decided to open a special hall where those rhytons would be displayed.

The rhytons from the museum of the Orient were exhibited in one of the largest museums of the world—Metropolitan, museum of New York. At that the authority of the New York museum was very happy to have an opportunity to display these unique rhytons from Nissa in its exposition even for temporarily. Several years ago in Germany there was held an exhibition devoted to Alexander the Great and in its exposition, one Nyssa rhytons from the collection of our museum was also displayed. This exhibition was displayed in Spain and Austria. I can add that any museum of the world will be glad for the opportunity to display Nyssa rhytons in its exhibition halls.



                                                              THRACIAN HERITAGE OF BULGARIA – TREASURE RHYTONSFROM BOROVO, BULGARIA

Author:Guljahan Tursunova




... Judging from the Greek inscription, these silver gilded vessels date back to the OdrisKing Cotys I (383/5 - 359 BC.). Afew years later, some of the scientists suggested that these vessels and Rogozen treasure are twoparts oflargeKingdomtreasure.For some reason the owner (or owners) was forced to hide their wealth.

Most of the treasureswereburied near the modern village of Rogozen, but the set of precious rhytons - royal luxury vesselswere kept. Later, however, the circumstances forced the owner to leave them.

Rhytons wereburied at the Belém hill, where many years later grew Bulgarian village of Borovo. And in December 1974, duringcompletely random circumstances - tractor working on a field, came across a hidden treasure in the land - these precious vessels again saw the light ...