Mounted rider pendant

Mounted rider pendant

Item description

  • Mounted rider pendant
  • Gold
  • Northeast Pontic,?Colchian, second half of the 3rd – 2nd century BC
  • H: 2.9 cm; L: 2.02 сm; Weight: 10 gr.
  • Provenance: English Private Collection
  • Literature: Christie’s, Ancient Jewelry, New York, December 9, 2004, p. 52, lot 103

The pendant is cast in the form of a mounted warrior wearing a hemispherical helmet or cap. Two rows of worn granulation mark the bottom of the cap and his hair below. He pulls the reins – made of a plain round wire – downwards with his left hand while in his right hand he holds a drinking horn. A quiver with a bow inside, separately made and soldered to his thigh, hangs on his left side. His right shoulder is decorated with a raised elements formed of plain round wire surrounding granulation, perhaps representing a brooch. The horse’s head is separated from the neck by a plain wire framed by two rows of granulation. Soldered decorations on the horse’s chest and haunches, again fashioned of rings of plain wire and granulation, seem to represent phalerae of the horse harness. The horse stands on a rectangular base decorated with granules arranged as rosettes. A ribbed loop is soldered to the back of the rider.

Images of armed warriors on horseback are well known in the art of the early Iron Age in the North Caucasus and in Central Asia. Another example of the figure of a mounted horseman is the famous gold figurine from the Siberian Collection of Peter the Great, perhaps originally the handle of a small vessel. It represents a rider wearing a bashlyk, a type of hooded Scythian headdress, and shooting from his bow.

Some features of our figure also allow us to compare it with Colсhian-type earrings whose elaborate pendants depict pairs of warriors on horses harnessed into a chariot. Two pairs of such pendants are known of, one found in the burial dated to the first half of the 4th century BC in Vani, Western Georgia, and the other in a Sauromatian burial of the kurgan cemetery “Sazonkin Bugor” in the Lower Volga basin, dated to the first half of the 5th century BC.

The oversize soldered decorations on the horse on our pendant may be interpreted as large shoulder phalerae; these first appeared in the Eurasian steppes no earlier than the 3rd century BC. It may also be noted that the mounted warrior is holding a rhyton in his right hand. The motif of a rider with a rhyton was widespread in northern and western Pontic art of the Hellenistic period and was a symbol of investiture or sacral marriage. It is worth to mention a fragmentary gold rhyton mount with a rider holding a rhyton in his hand approaching a goddess sitting on a throne from a barrow at Merdzhany near Anapa, which is dated to the 2nd century BC.

It may be suggested that the pendant is a product of a Colchian workshop and was executed in the second half of the 3rd or 2nd century BC. The object discussed is unique and represents one of the best examples of miniature gold sculpture of the Hellenistic period from the north-eastern Pontic area.

Gold figure of a rider in the Siberian collection, see Rudenko 1962, 61, pl. 22, 8-9; Артамонов 1973, pl. 265, Schiltz 1994, 246-247, figs. 179-181; Cat. Trieste 2001, 115, no. 80. – Earrings from Vani, see Chkonia 1981, no. 16, pl. 8-9; Dschwachischwili and Abramischwili 1986, figs. 13-14; Lordkipanidze 1991, 123, pl. 51, 9-10; Cat. Saarbrücken 1995, no. 273, fig. 146. – Pendants of earrings from the cemetery „Sazonkin Bugor“, see Cat. Rome 2005, 84-85, no. 13. – On the role of rhyta in the investiture, see Maразов 1978, 129 ff. – On the gold mount from Merdzhany, see bibliography to cat. no. 13. – On the Sarmatian phalerae in the North Pontic area and the problem of their appearance, see Mordvinceva 2001.

Technical Comments:

This is a beautifully realised sculpture in miniature and constructed in the labour-intensive manner so typical for the period. It is assembled from a very large number of separate components, including sheet gold, wire and minute gold grains. There are many hundred, perhaps over a thousand, separate pieces of gold. The wire appears to have been made by twisting and rolling a narrow strip of wire, a characteristic of much ancient jewellery. Two such wires are twisted together to form the tail, but the reins appear to have been made from a strip of gold for the sake of realism.