Biblical Archaeology Review 23:3, May/June 1997


Oxus River Valley, Persia

Winged monsters face off on a fifth-century B.C. golden armlet from Persia. Brilliant semi-precious stones or pieces of colored glass originally filled the empty gold cloisons, or cells, that make up the bodies of the beasts.

The armlet, along with 150 gold and silver artifacts and more than 1,500 coins, was reportedly found in 1877 on the banks of the Oxus River, on the northern border of modern Afghanistan. Three years later, merchants transporting the treasure to India were attacked by robbers, who ran off with the hoard. Informed of the theft by the merchants’ servant, Captain F.C. Burton, a British officer in the region, surprised the robbers as they were divvying up the spoils in a cave and recovered most of the treasure. Upon returning the loot to the merchants, Burton spied an armlet matching the example shown here. Burton purchased the piece, which now belongs to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Most of the treasure, however, was eventually sold in India to a collector who donated the artifacts to the British Museum.

The Oxus Treasure dates primarily to the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., when the Persian Empire, led by the Achaemenid dynasty, reached from northwestern India to Egypt. The richness of the artifacts suggest the treasure may have belonged to the rulers themselves.

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