3rd–2nd century B.C.
H. 2 1/4 in. (5.7 cm); W. 1 1/2 in. (3.8 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1918
Not on view
This small ornament is one of a pair of belt buckles designed as mirror images. Enclosed in a braided frame, an ox stands with its lowered head in three-quarter view and its tail tucked between its hind legs. Numerous objects of this type have been found in both northern China and Inner Mongolia. They were made in China for the semi-nomadic people known as the Xiongnu, who wore them on a belt buckled over a long tunic as a decoration and mark of status. Different techniques and metals were used in the production of the buckles; it is probable that those of gold and silver were more prized above gilded examples such as this one, which in turn were more highly valued than tinned or plain bronze pieces.
Although references to the Xiongnu are common in early Chinese histories, their origins remain unclear. During the third century B.C. this confederacy, of mixed ethnic and linguistic stock, controlled a vast Central Asian territory that extended as far west as the Caucasus. Relations between the Chinese and these powerful northern neighbors were always complicated and included military conflict, tribute payments of grains and silk, official exchanges of other goods, and trade both sanctioned and unsanctioned.
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