Bowl with a relief bust of King Psokhas

Bowl with a relief bust of King Psokhas

Item description

  • Bowl with a relief bust of King Psokhas
  • Silver, parcel gilt
  • North Pontic area, middle – third quarter of the 1st century AD
  • Diam: 12.16 сm; H: 4.52 cm; Diam (central mеdallion): ca. 6 сm
  • Provenance: Latvian Private Collection

The low cup has a bi-partite body with a plain rounded bowl divided from a spreading decorated lip by a median channel. The lip is engraved with a frieze of barbarized Lesbian kymation, which was originally gilded. A separately made ring with a vertical outer edge is soldered to the bottom of the cup. The strap handles with ball terminals were also made separately and soldered to the lower body and to the upper edge of the cup. In the medallion in the centre of the cup is a bust of a beardless man, executed in high relief. His long curled locks are tied up with a gilt diadem and he wears a torc of twisted strands, with dotted ball-shaped terminals around his neck. A pointillé inscription in the right field over the tie of the diadem reads: ΒΑСΙΛΕΥС ΨΟΧΑС (King Psokhas). On the forehead of the bust and on the body of the vessel there are incised signs or characters. On the bottom of the cup within the base-ring a dotted inscription gives the personal name, Todzeugos (ΤΟΖΕΥΓΟС), above tamga-shaped signs.

The shape of the cup and its handles, together with particular features of the decorative frieze, suggest that the vessel may be attributed to a North Pontic workshop of the middle to third quarter of the 1st century AD. Similar elements of form and decoration characterise two series of silver vessels which are represented by finds spread from the north-western Black Sea area (Оlbia) to the Lower Don area and Kuban basin. The inscription in the field of the medallion – “King Psokhas”– testifies that this is a king portrait, a unique occurrence in the metalworking of this period.

On the whole, bowls with bust medallions are extremely rare in the Hellenistic period and came in fashion since the 1st century AD. Elements of the image of the king, such as the tied diadem and flowing locks, are typical of royal portraits in the Hellenistic period. At the same time, the manner of execution of the portrait medallion on the cup varies from royal images in the Hellenistic and Early Imperial art, as well as from idealized images of the gods and heroes on the bust medallions of the 1st century AD phialai from Hildesheim in Germany and Ashmunein in Egypt. In a certain way our image is comparable to that of the bust on the 2nd – 1st century BC bowl from Yakimovo in Bulgaria, showing a bust of a bearded man. It is worth noting, that like Psokhas on the medallion of our bowl, the unknown bearded man is decorated with a torque, which probably suggests that this a portrait image of a Thracian prince.

The name of the King, Psokhas, is not recorded amongst known Greek personal names. The name finds parallels in the names of the Adygo-Abkhazian language group, reflected in modern geographical place names. Name Psokhas may be connected with the Adygean word “psy”, designating water or river. The names of some rivers (Psat, Psatii) and places (Psekhano) of the north-western Caucasus, as well as the name of the Maiotian tribe Psessoi, can also be associated with this word. The name “Todzeugos” dotted on the bottom of the vessel is also not registered in the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names. It finds a parallel however, in the dotted inscription ΤΟΖΕΥ ΑΛΕΞ on the bottom of the foot of a silver cup from the Sarmatian burial of the first half of the 1st century A.D. in the Zhutovo necropolis in the Lower Volga region. Todzeugos was most probably one of the owners of the cup. The incised signs and tamgas on the forehead and cheek of the king, as well as on the body of the vessel, suggest that the cup changed hands, probably more than once; writing such signs could also have had a protective function.

Bearing in mind the suggested dating of the cup, and the region of its possible manufacture, it may be suggested that the cup’s medallion represents a portrait of a king of one of the barbarian tribes inhabiting the northern-eastern Pontic region, – north-western foothills of the Caucasus. The cup therefore is not only a unique item of Northern Black sea metalworking, but also an important historical document.

On the 2nd century BC - 2nd century AD silverware from the North Pontic area in general, see Мордвинцева и Трейстер 2007. – For the discussed vessels from the Lower Don area, see Cat. Tokyo 1991, no. 106; Cat. Daoulas 1995, no. 119; Cat. Paris 2001, no. 204; Кат. Ст. Петербург 2008, no. 39; from the Kuban area, see Гущина и Засецкая 1994, 31 ff.; 58, no. 270; Kат. Москва 2002, no. 535. – On the bowl with bust medallion from Yakimovo, see Marazov 1979, 7 ff., fig. 5; Cat. Saint Louis 1998, no. 200. – On the phialai from Hildesheim, see Cat. Hildesheim 1997, 37-40, nos. 3-4; from Ashmunein, see Mielsch and Niemeyer 2001, 5 ff.; 24-27, nos. 1, 3, figs. 3-4, 8-9, 24. – On the inscriptions on the silverware from the North Pontic area, see Трейстер 2007, 420-427. – A cup with the inscription on the bottom found in the Zhutovo cemetery, see Cat. Rome 2005, no. 137. – On the tamga-shaped signs from the North Pontic area and their meaning, see Яценко 2001. – On the Adygean word „psy“, see Анфимов 1987, 122.