Silver-gilt mouthpiece

Period: Cypro-Archaic or Cypro-Classical

Date: late 6th–5th century B.C.

Culture: Cypriot

Medium: Gilded silver

Dimensions: Other: 3in. (7.6cm)

Classification: Gold and Silver

Credit Line: The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76

Accession Number: 74.51.3004


On this silver gilt mouth-piece (epistomion), the embossed lips are realistically rendered and form a smile. The burial custom of fastening bands of silver or gold sheet over the mouth of the deceased dates back to prehistoric times and was observed throughout the Greek world. In Cyprus, similar gold and gilded silver bands were found in chamber tombs from Marion dating from the late fourth century B.C. down to Roman times. They were part of grave-good assemblages of rich female burials. It is very probable that the mouth-piece performed a function analogous to that of the inscribed gold lamellae (leaves) that promised eternal bliss and are often found in tombs of initiates in the Bacchic-Orphic mysteries.