Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Beaker with birds and animals

ca. 4th century B.C.
H. 18.7 cm
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1947
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 404
The ancient land of Thrace encompassed a large area now divided into Bulgaria, southern Romania, eastern Yugoslavia, northeastern Greece, and European Turkey. The first inhabitants of Thrace came from the northern part of Europe and appeared at least as early as the second millennium B.C. Thracian tribes of the mid-first millennium B.C. adopted some of the decorative traditions and nomadic habits of their Scythian neighbors to the east, but they had closer cultural relations with European prehistoric peoples and preserved many of the traditions of the European Bronze Age. From the mid-first millennium, such objects as ceremonial helmets, armor, cups, and ornamental gear for horses—worked from silver and sometimes gilded—have been discovered in graves and in finds that must have been the buried hoards of Thracian princes and chiefs.

This silver beaker is a fine example of fourth century B.C. Thracian workmanship. It probably was made in the region of present-day Romania or Bulgaria, as similar beakers have been found in a princely tomb at Agighiol, near the delta of the Danube in eastern Romania. The beaker is raised from a single piece of silver with a stamped, chased, and repoussé design. The decoration depicts a horned bird of prey holding a fish in its beak and clutching what seems to be a hare in its claws. The bird is flanked by one horned and two antlered animals, and, facing the large bird, a tiny bird of prey hovers over the horned animal. Almost opposite the large bird is a staglike creature with eight legs indicating two stags. His antlers extend into a border of tines ending in bird heads that circle the upper portion of the cup. Around both the rim and the base of the beaker runs a pattern of overlapping semicircles; below, the pattern is fringed with scrolling that suggests waves. On the bottom of the cup a winged, griffinlike monster chews an animal leg and grasps a small beast in its clawed feet.

Although certain contemporary Scythian and Iranian stylistic influences can be seen, the iconography of these scenes is clearly Thracian and probably refers to a native myth or legend. The monstrous bird of prey with land and water creatures in its grasp appears to symbolize dominance over land and water. Though a precise interpretation of the iconography remains uncertain, scholars have suggested that these animals were symbols associated with a heroic ruler and served as protective spirits, avatars, and tribal totems.
#7029. Beaker with birds and animals
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1913-1914, said to be found in the Danube region; bought by Baron Eugene Kohner from a Budapest antiquarian; 1935, bought by Joseph Brummer from Dr. Simon Meller, Vienna; acquired by the Museum in 1947, purchased from the estate of Joseph Brummer, New York.

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“The Dark Ages: A Loan Exhibition of Pagan and Christian Art in the Latin West and Byzantine East,” Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, February 20–March 21, 1937.

“’Animal Style’ Art from East to West,” Asia House Gallery, New York, The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, de Young Museum, San Francisco, 1970.

“Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries: The Metropolitan Museum of Art,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 14, 1970–June 1, 1971.

“The Grand Gallery,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 19, 1974–January 5, 1975.

“Ancient Gold: the Wealth of the Thracians (Treasures from the Republic of Bulgaria),” Saint Louis Art Museum, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, New Orleans Museum of Art, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1998–1999.

“The Golden Deer of Eurasia,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Palazzo Reale, Milan, 2000–2001.

Rostovtzeff, Michael I. 1931. Skythien und der Bosporus. Berlin: H. Schoetz & co., p. 534.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. 1934. Ausstellung Eurasiatischer Kunst: Nomadenkunst und Tierstil, exh. cat. Wien: Koch & Werner, pl. I.

Griessmaier, Viktor. 1935. "Ein Silbergefäß mit Tierdarstellungen." Wiener Beiträge zur Kunst-und Kultur Geschichte Asiens, Vol. IX. Wien: Krystall-verlag, pp. 49-60.

Worcester Art Museum. 1937. "The Dark Ages. Loan exhibition of Pagan and Christian Art in the Latin West and the Byzantine East," Feb. 20 - March 21, 1937. Worcester, Mass.: Worcester Art Museum, no. 66.

Jacobsthal, Paul. 1941. "Imagery in Early Celtic Art." The Sir John Rhys Memorial Lecture, Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. XXVII. London: Humphrey Milford, pl. 15.

Minns, Ellis H. 1942. "The Art of the Northern Nomads." Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. XXVIII. London: H. Milford, p. 22.

Pijoan, José. 1942. Arte Bárbaro y prerrománico. Summa Artis, Historia General del Arte, Vol. 8. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, p. 3, fig. 1.

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Goldman, Bernard. 1963. "A Scythian Helmet from the Danube." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 42, pp. 64-72, ill. pp. 68-69.

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Farkas, Ann E. 1981. "Style and Subject Matter in Native Thracian Art." Metropolitan Museum Journal 16, pp. 34-35, 43-44, figs. 1-5.

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Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1984. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41 (4), Spring 1984, p. 34, fig. 40.

Taylor, Timothy. 1987. "Flying stags: icons and power in Thracian art." In The archaeology of contextual meanings, edited by Ian Hodder. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 119-120, 122, 125-127, 130, fig. 12.5.

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Taylor, Timothy. 1989. "An Agighiol-type Beaker in the Rogozen Hoard." In The Rogozen Treasure, Papers of the Anglo-Bulgarian Conference, 12 March 1987, edited by B.F. Cook. London: British Museum Publications, pp. 93-94, fig. 6C.

Zazoff, Peter. 1989. "Zur Bildsprache des thrako-getischen Silberbechers von Rogozen." In Archäologischer Befund und Historische Deutung, Festschrift für Wolfgang Hübener, edited by Hartwig Lüdtke, Friedrich Lüth, and Friedrich Laux. Hammaburg, NF 9. Neumünster: K. Wachholtz, pp. 78ff, fig. 4 a-c.

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Archibald, Zofia H. 1998. The Odrysian Kingdom of Thrace: Orpheus unmasked. Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 265.

Aruz, Joan, Ann Farkas, Andrei Alekseev, and Elena Korolkova, eds. 2000. The Golden Deer of Eurasia: Scythian and Sarmatian Treasures from the Russian Steppes, exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 270-271, fig. 91.
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