Horse and Rider

Greek; Boeotian
6th century BCE
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General Description

Common in ancient civilizations, offering figures such as this represented prayers for health, good fortune, or thanksgiving, providing a tangible form that worshipers could leave for the god or goddess he venerated. Shrines and temples were regularly given such offerings, which might be displayed for a time and then buried. Individuals might also have such figures in their home or family shrines, although some were left in tombs.

Horses remained an important status symbol throughout Greek history, highly prized animals in Greek culture considered symbols of wealth and rank. Unlike the glaze of a similar Boeotian horse figurine (1974.90.FA) in the DMA collection, this horse and rider are decorated with matte paint; the simple reddish bands over a white ground give both man and mount a zebralike appearance. The rider lacks features and clutches the neck of the creature with both arms. His legs are fused with the body of the horse beyond distinction. The legs of the animal are slightly splayed, and its neck is pulled back in coordination with the backward tilt of the horseman. The horse's pose gives the impression that it has come to a sudden stop, brought about by the body commands of the rider.

The Boeotian plain was one of the few regions of Greece where the great swiftness of horses could be appreciated, and the Boeotian cavalry played a significant role in the Persian wars. Homer also recounts how Achilles sacrificed four strong-necked horses to the dead Patroclus (Iliad 23.171-72), and archaeological excavation has shown that members of Mycenaean royalty had their favorite teams of horses buried outside their tombs. Across the straits from Boeotia at nearby Eretria, horses were still sacrificed in funeral ceremonies as late as Hesiod's time, but by the sixth century BCE they were apparently too valuable to the families of the deceased to be lost in this manner. For the Boeotians, the small terracotta grave offerings would have to substitute in the next life.

Adapted from

Anne R. Bromberg, and Karl Kilinski II, Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996. 47.