Symbolic Representations and History Intertwine in Vasil Bojkov’s Silver Dish with Rider
Nothing speaks louder about the past, antique cultures, historical politics, and early-day traditions and routine life than the traces left behind by ancient civilizations. There are stories intertwined within old crafts, rituals forever immortalized by the very material, shape or ornamentation discovered on different pottery examples, and ideologies that are very subtly and masterfully concealed in imagery or a scene of a historical moment. One such ancient piece, which is part of the famous collection of artefacts owned by , is an extraordinary dish with a figure of a rider who is hunting a bear.
Silver dish with rider killing a bear from Vasil Bojkov Collection
Made of silver, this vessel first strikes with its shape which is unusual in metal, to some extent. It has a shallow flat-bottomed body and a wide flaring lip. What really seems to be the most impressive thing about it, however, is the relief and partially gilded figure of a rider holding a spear and chasing a bear. This image is portrayed on the interior of the silver dish, covering almost entirely this particular side of the vessel.
Silver dish with rider
There is a particular feel of a movement, as the maker has masterfully managed to catch the whole action. We see a scene that comes to life in front of us thanks to the exquisite details and skillful work. The posture of the rider, the horse, and the bear suggest a certain perspective of something that is not static and is rather taking place at this moment. Exploring the rider more closely, we can see that the garment he is wearing represents a typical Median-style cavalry costume. The man is dressed in a belted sleeveless tunic, trousers, and leather shoes. This is what typically the cavalry costume looked like, but eventually, a more elaborate cloth version appeared. It had long sleeves and a wide V-shaped neck opening.
An interesting fact is that the best-documented item of clothing from the Median and Achaemenid periods is the headgear. When it comes to cavalry types of headgear, there are four basic types. Type 1 represented a simple ribbon wrapped around the hair and tied in the back. It was worn by members of Delegation XV. Type 2 consisted of a plain rounded cap most commonly worn by “Median” dignitaries. Type 3 was a bonnet with three knobs in front, a short extension like a tail, and earflaps, worn by the members of Delegations III (Armenians), IX (Cappadocians), and XVI (Sagartians). Lastly, type 4 was a hood or cap of felt, leather, silk and it covered the head, the neck, ears, cheeks, and the chin as well. This particular type of headgear was termed by Greeks as tiára, kídaris or kítaris, or kyrbasía.
As depicted on the male figure on the VBC example, the headgear worn by him clearly covers his ears and cheeks. One other interesting detail is that there is a Persian short sward, called akinakes, hanging from the belt of the man.
For those who may not know, the theme of hunting was not very popular among Greek and Achaemenid arts. Nevertheless, the hunt played a big part royal activities and, especially, in the education of princes. There is a significant symbolic value hidden behind such scenes of hunting. Since the king was always considered the leader, be that in war or in hunting, there appeared to be an equality between these two events. Quite often, then, the wild animal that was depicted as being chased, in fact, represented the enemy.
Obviously, there are a lot of things going on on this silver dish. The more we explore it, the more we will be able to discover and link back to ancient traditions, political understandings, and even symbolic representations.
Even though the exact origin of this piece is unknown, it is dated back to the middle of the 4th century BC, somewhere around 360-340 BC.