Fangs bared and ears laid back, the forepart of an attacking lynx leaps forth from the curving body of this gilt silver rhyton. Its collar may indicate that this is an animal sacred to Dionysos, the god of wine.
The term rhyton comes from the Greek verb " to run through." Depictions of rhyta on Greek vases show that they were used to aerate wine. Wine poured into the top of the vessel came out of a spout between the animal's legs. Stylistic features suggest that this rhyton was made in northwest Iran in the first century B.C. Iran had been part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire until Alexander the Great conquered it. After his death in 323 B.C., the Hellenistic Greek Seleucid dynasty, whose kingdom stretched from Turkey to Afghanistan, ruled this area. As Seleucid authority began to weaken In the later 200s B.C., a group of semi-nomadic people called the Parthians, from the steppes of south central Asia, challenged the dynasty; by the mid-100s B.C., the Parthians had firm control of this area of Iran. This complicated political history left its legacy in the art of the area. The rhyton's form with its slender horn is Persian, the lynx is Greek, and the Aramaic inscriptions indicate a Parthian owner.