Horse

CULTURE:
Greek; Boeotian
DATE:
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. This offering features a riderless horse covered in glaze except for the underside of its tail, body, legs, and head. Glazed bands on the face and muzzle might suggest a bridle, and the eyes are indicated by raised areas accented with dotted circles. The tail is arched and angled away from the body.

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 decased 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.

  • Anne Bromberg, Dallas Museum of Art: Selected Works (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1983), 95.