Sasanian, Kushano-Sasanian or Hephthalite Plate
British Museum 123093, 4th century AD

Culture/period: Kushano-Sasanian (?) or Hephthalite (?)
Date: 4thC (late) (?)
Found/Acquired: Rawalpindi (Punjab, Pakistan)
Materials: silver and gold
Technique: hammered, gilded (mercury), engraved, chased
    Diameter: 24.6 centimetres
    Height: 4 centimetres
    Height: 1.2 centimetres (foot ring)
    Weight: 519.5 grams

Fragmentary shallow silver plate with small foot ring; hammered sheet, engraved decoration with much of the low-relief portions formed by adding separate elements held on by crimping (many of these subsequently detached); traces of mercury gilding in the chased lines; decorative composition composed of a central roundel divided into two by a horizontal line, surrounded by an outer register; in the uppermost register a royal figure with long hair, surrounded by radiating lines with a pair of ribbons behind, seated on a bench-throne supported by a pair of griffins facing outwards; in his right hand he holds out a large ring to a bearded man; this second figure is wearing a long tunic and trousers, plus a long straight sword, and stands on the left of the seated figure and extends his right hand to receive the proffered ring; the seated figure wears a tunic, trousers and boots, and with his left hand grasps the hilt of a sword held vertically between his legs, with his feet resting on a flared foot-stool; in the air between the two figures hovers a male cupid or genius bearing a band or fillet; and behind the second figure is a plant or tree with triple leaves; in the lower register a male figure stands on the right, carrying a bow in his left hand, with ribbons flowing back from his head, and proffers in his right hand a large ring with pendant ribbons to a long-haired, possibly female, figure seated facing him, who is also wearing flowing ribbons and holds a rod or staff in his or her left hand. In the border in the centre of the right-hand side a male figure reclines on a couch or throne, holding in his right hand a conventionalised flower and a presumed cup (missing) in his left; before him sits a possibly female figure extending her right hand towards him, while behind her, on a long backless seat, are two other women, each holding a flower in their left hands; all turn towards the reclining figure, on the other side of whom, on a similar seat, sit two other figures, again probably female, with crossed legs, the nearest of whom holds a flower in her right hand; beyond these figures is a conventionalised tree with triple leaves, and beyond the first-mentioned group are a man blowing a curved horn (far left), a dancing or running youth (centre), and a standing male figure with flowing cloak and long-necked musical instrument in his hands (right), all looking towards the principal personage; centering mark between a pair of shallow concentric engraved lines on the underside; low slightly flared foot ring.

Curator's comments
The heavy wear implies that this plate has been in lengthy circulation. It has been attributed to the second half of the 4th century AD on iconographic grounds. Details of the dress, weapons and possibly the figures themselves are comparable to those in Sasanian iconography, yet the composition and subject-matter are unparalleled in that genre, and the tree motif instead resembles one found in eastern plates. Orbeli (in 'Survey of Persian Art') suggests that it may represent the investiture of Bahram II, and the banqueting scene may commemorate Nauruz. An eastern manufacture is more commonly accepted. V. Lukonin (1967) was the first to suggest that this plate might be of Kushano-Sasanian production and dated it to the fourth century, drawing comparison with coin portraits. Its reported acquisition in Rawalpindi is consistent with this eastern production. This was followed by P. O. Harper (1981) who suggested it was possibly made in an eastern Iranian centre such as Merv or Kabul in contrast to other Sasanian silver which is of so-called "Central Sasanian" manufacture. Tanabe (1989) generally concurs, suggests a third to fourth century date but prefers an origin in northern Afghanistan. On the other hand B. Marshak (1986) identifies it as late Hephthalite rather than Kushano-Sasanian.

The iconography is discussed in detail by Mehdi Moussavi in his unpublished doctoral thesis, "Sasanian Figural Silverwork: Imitation, Innovation and the Transformation of Meaning" (Bradford 2004). Among the issues and questions arising from this study although not specifically described, are that none of the figures wear crowns; if the central figures are "royal", are those in the periphery intended to be the clients?; the vegetation is employed as a form of visual punctuation; the 90 degree change in orientation between the central and peripheral scenes might be interpreted as non-conflicting and part of the process of handling and physically turning the bowl; the damaged areas are the least significant iconographically and might reflect gradual recycling of the added elements and the bottom left corner which evidently carried less important iconography.

Other details of the furniture have also attracted attention. V. Curtis (1993, 'Persian Myths', p. 15) suggests that the griffin-supports are "simurgh-like". The bench-throne is supported by an antithetical pair of winged griffins and several cast bronze furniture supports in the form of the foreparts of griffins are known, and represented by examples in the Louvre, Hermitage and Baku, a fourth was reportedly found near the modern village of Tuzandejan, near Nishapur, in north-east Iran (A. Mousavi, 1990: "Two bronze statuettes from Tuzandejan, Khurasan", 'Bulletin of the Ancient Orient Museum' 11, 121-34), and moulds for the casting of similar elements were excavated by the Italian archaeological expedition to Iraq at Veh Ardashir.

Registration number: 1897,1231.188
British Museum 12309

Fig. 6 in "The Painted Vase of Merv in the Context of Central Asian Pre-Islamic Funerary Tradition" by Matteo Compareti in The Silk Road, Vol. 9 (2011)
One interesting object is the so-called Strelka dish now in the Hermitage Museum [Fig. 5]. Carter mentioned the Strelka dish but without linking it directly with the scene on a piece of metalwork from the British Museum that was the object of her discussion about court scenes and Nawruz [Fig. 6]. In fact, both those dishes present a central scene divided into two parts, one above and one below. This does not seem to be a formula employed for metalwork produced for the central Sasanian court. While in the British Museum dish, the two sectors of the central part depict courtly scenes, the Strelka dish also includes a hunting scene in the lower part [Fig. 7]. The two dishes do not appear to be products attributable to a central Sasanian context meaning they are probably not from Fars or Mesopotamia. They are more likely to be eastern Iranian. According to Prudence Harper and Boris Marshak, the British Museum dish should be attributed to the Kushano-Sasanians and the Strelka dish to the same region, though a different period the 5th to 6th century CE.

See also Orlat Battle Plaque, early Sarmation [Kangju (K'ang-kiu) or Yuezhi] or Hun [Tashtyk, "White Huns" - the Hephthalites]
A Sassanian silver dish with Shapur II hunting with bow on horseback, Fourth century AD
The Investiture of Ardeshir II, IV century AD, Bas relief at Taq-i-Bustan
Plates with figures from Persia and Central Asia
Persian Illustrations of Costume and Soldiers
Ancient Illustrations of Costume and Soldiers