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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Masterpieces : Bactrian Gilt Silver Bowl with Relief Decorations
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Bactrian Gilt Silver Bowl with Relief Decorations - PF.5882
Origin: Afghanistan
Circa: 300 BC to 100 BC
Dimensions: 5" (12.7cm) high
Collection: Near Eastern
Medium: Gilt Silver


Location: Great Britain
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Description
In the history of the ancient world, Bactria is somewhat of an anomaly: a Greek kingdom located in modern Afghanistan. When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, he acquired all its outlying provinces including Bactria. Greek forces then established and maintained control in Bactria. After Alexander’s death, his kingdom was divided among his generals and Bactria became part of the eastern section, ruled by the Seleucid Dynasty. There was extensive immigration of Greeks who found several cities based on the Greek model complete with gymnasiums and amphitheatres. Later, the Greco-Bactria Kingdom asserted its independence and quickly expanded its holdings to the upper reaches of the Indus River Valley. The Greek Kingdom in Bactria lasted for another two centuries, until it was finally overwhelmed by nomadic tribesmen invading from the central Asian steppes.

Unfortunately, few traces of the Bactrian Kingdom remain. Unlike other ancient civilizations that left behind monumental ruins, our knowledge of the Bactrian Kingdom is based upon ancient historical texts reinforced by the few archaeological artifacts that have survived. Yet while we cannot stroll down colonnaded avenues and envision what life might have been like, this gilt silver bowl gives us a tantalizing taste of the opulence of this ancient Kingdom. Holding this delicate bowl, we are transported back in time to a royal household where this vessel would have been a proud centerpiece. The inherent wealth of the materials alone, as well as the intricacy of the relief carvings, suggests that this bowl a treasured possession of the ruling elite. The gilt relief decorations adorning the inner center of the bowl and the outer sides of the body depict scenes of merriment that could easily be found painted onto an Attic amphora. Dancing revelers and musicians are juxtaposed to scenes of wrestlers and a satyr. The interior decoration portrays two disrobed women flanked by two men (possibly soldiers) in a composition that recalls the “Judgment of Paris.” This bowl was likely forged by either a Greek immigrant silversmith working the region or a local metalworker who absorbed the stylistic lesson of Hellenistic examples. Perhaps no other ancient kingdom is quite so intriguing and yet so little understood as Bactria. In this land kings once ruled over two thousand years ago, the East and West merged together, combining the best aspects of both cultures in luxurious splendor that is Bactria.
- (PF.5882)

 

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