Bactria-Margiana Alabaster Goblet

SKU LO.842
Circa

2000 BC to 1500 BC

Dimensions

6.75″ (17.1cm) high x 4.9″ (12.4cm) wide

Medium

Alabaster

Origin

Central Asia

Gallery Location

UK


 

This piece pertains to an ancient culture referred to both as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BCAM) or as the Oxus Civilisation. The Bactria-Margiana culture spread across an area encompassing the modern nations of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Northern Afghanistan. Flourishing between about 2100 and 1700 BC, it was contemporary with the European Bronze Age, and was characterised by monumental architecture, social complexity and extremely distinctive cultural artefacts that vanish from the record a few centuries after they first appear. Pictographs on seals have been argued to indicate an independently-developed writing system.

It was one of many economic and social entities in the vicinity, and was a powerful country due to the exceptional fertility and wealth of its agricultural lands. This in turn gave rise to a complex and multifaceted set of societies with specialist craftsmen who produced luxury materials such as this for the ruling and aristocratic elites. Trade appears to have been important, as Bactrian artefacts appear all over the Persian Gulf as well as in the Iranian Plateau and the Indus Valley. For this reason, the area was fought over from deep prehistory until the Mediaeval period, by the armies of Asia Minor, Greece (Macedonia), India and the Arab States, amongst others.

Through local stone carvers inhabiting the regions of Margiana and Bactria experienced no shortage in material; the main raw material was soft steatite or a dark soapstone, but also various kinds of marble and white-veined alabaster. The main source for these stones, including semi- precious lapis-lazuli, was in Bactria, at Badakhshan in north-western Afghanistan, which provided material not only for the Bactrian and Margian carvers but also farther to the west into Mesopotamia, for the Assyrian kings. White- veined alabaster was indeed used for varied vessels, including small vases with disproportionately long stems and low capacity, such as the one here illustrated.

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