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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:3, Fall 2023

Archaeology Argot: Rhyton

Throughout the ages, people have raised their glasses to celebrate victories, confirm treaties and unions, and honor memories. On certain occasions, some used a ryhton, a special drinking horn. These conical vessels have a spout at the bottom through which liquid could pour. In fact, the name rhyton comes from the Greek rheo, meaning “flow” or “stream.”

Drinking horns—often made from actual horns—abound from prehistoric Eurasia. The earliest rhyta come from Crete and date to the Bronze Age (second millennium BCE), with spectacular examples shaped like bull’s heads from the Heraklion palace. As the vessel spread throughout the Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds, the variety of animals—both real and mythical—depicted on the spouts increased. Rhyta became especially popular in Persia (ancient Iran).

Used in feasts and religious ceremonies, rhyta slowly dispensed liquids, such as wine and oil. Because they were not freestanding, they required at least two hands—if not two people—to fill: one to pour and another to hold the vessel and cover its second opening. Rhyta were made of various materials, including horn, metal, ceramics, stone, and even glass. This example of a silver griffin, which measures 9 inches tall and dates to the fifth century BCE, reflects Persian style and comes from eastern Turkey—when the region was under Achaemenid Persian control.

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