A horse bit, consisting of a rigid mouthpiece, the ends of which curled in opposite directions, and a pair of cheek pieces, cast in the form of horses, standing on a horizontal ground line. This is the typical form for a Luristan horse bit, although the cheek piece can show a variety of animals. The horses on this example show a broad mane, executed in detail, and prominent ears. Two legs of the animals are connected by a twisted rope. The obverse of the cheek pieces is in relief, whereas the reverse is mainly hollow, a phenomenon seen on most of these pieces.
Figured cheek pieces seem originally to have developed in Iran, and there are more examples surviving from Luristan than from any other area. Horses (and possibly the chariot, although not many of these were found) played an important role in Luristan; as Muscarella (1988, p. 155; 1990) pointed out, the quantity of horse bits found probably indicates an organized cavalry (or chariot) force.
It should be added that there is discussion among some scholars whether horse bits were made for a funerary purpose, to be put under the head of deceased human beings as is sometimes claimed, or for real use in daily life; most scholars prefer the latter option, as many examples show some wear; see Porada (1964, p. 27 note 66) for a possible ceremonial use.
Cheek pieces in the form of horses, worn by royal chariot horses, were depicted on Assyrian stone reliefs from the time of Sennacherib (ca. 705-681 B.C.) and in the triumph of Ashurbanipal (ca. 668-627 B.C.) (Porada 1964, p. 27; 1965, pl. 21; Wolff 1936-1937, p. 233; Layard 1853, pl. 49); these however show galloping horses whereas the Luristan examples prefer walking horses and have ground line, but Muscarella indicates that without doubt the Assyrian cheekpieces are adaptations of Luristan ones.
Muscarella (1990) mentions, based on previous studies by Porada and Potratz, that figured cheekpieces first appeared in the 8th century B.C.
- Austen Henry Layard (ed.), A Second Series of the Monuments of Nineveh: Including Bas-Reliefs from the Palace of Sennacherib and Bronzes from the Ruins of Nimroud; from Drawings Made on the Spot, During a Second Expedition to Assyria (London, 1853), esp. pl. 49;
- Oscar White Muscarella, “Luristan,” in Bronze and Iron: Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988), especially p. 155-166 for cheek pieces in the shape of horses;
- Oscar White Muscarella, Encyclopædia Iranica, Vol. IV, Fasc. 5, (London, 1990) p. 478-483;
- Edith Porada, “Nomads and Luristan Bronzes: Methods Proposed for a Classification of the Bronzes,” in Roman Ghirshman a.o., Machteld J. Mellink (ed.), Dark Ages and Nomads c. 1000 B.C., Studies in Iranian and Anatolian Archaeology (PIHANS XVIII) (Leiden, Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten; Istanbul, Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut, 1964), p. 9-31;
- Edith Porada, The Art of Ancient Iran: Pre-Islamic Cultures (Art of the World, the Historical, Sociological, and Religious Backgrounds; Non-European cultures) (New York, Crown Publishers, 1965);
- Johannes A.H. Potratz, Die Pferdetrensen des Alten Orient (Analecta orientalia, 41) (Rome, Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1966);
- D. Max Wolff, “Ein historischer Wagentyp im Feldheer Sanheribs”, Archiv für Orientforschung 11 (1936-1937), p. 231-234, esp. p. 233.
Circa 8th - 7th century B.C.
Width 10 cm, length 15 cm.
French private collection, acquired from the French art market in the 1980s; thereafter with Artcurial Paris.
Intact with a black patina; some encrustation; very minor pitting and other surface wear; minimal damage (a few mm only) to the middle of the horizontal mouthpiece. Comes with a custom made acrylic base.