Lobed bowl with a royal inscription


On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 202

This silver drinking vessel is conventionally called a phiale (plural phialai), an ancient Greek term for any wide, shallow bowl. It has a carinated, or ridged, shoulder and a turned-out rim. In the center of the bowl is a raised boss, usually referred to by the Greek term omphalos, surrounded by fourteen tongue-shaped depressions. Between the depressions are deep, rounded lobes, or gadroons, and between these gadroons are smaller rounded lobes. A cuneiform inscription in Old Persian that runs around the interior of the rim reads "Artaxerxes, the great king, king of kings, king of lands, son of Xerxes the king, Xerxes son of Darius the king, the Achaemenid: in his house this silver bowl was made." The vessel was made by raising and sinking a single sheet of metal, and then adding chased details, a method that was employed for most Achaemenid metalware.

This bowl is part of a set of four, nearly identical vessels that all feature the same inscription and only vary slightly in size. The inscription implies that it was used at the royal table. Persian kings used banquets to display their wealth and power, and it was a great honor to be invited to dine with the king. It was a greater honor still to receive a drinking vessel as a gift – thus memorializing one’s status as a royal dinner guest – and this ostentatiously large inscribed bowl was likely intended for such a purpose. No doubt it took practice to drink adeptly from a vessel like this, but the omphalos in the base would have made it easier to hold with one hand, with the middle finger hooked inside the indentation and the thumb stretched out to grip the vessel at or near the rim.

Lobed bowl with a royal inscription, Silver, Achaemenid

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