Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Horse + Rider = Votive (So they say...)

This figure is 99 mm tall.  I had no idea what the heck that meant so I asked Wiki and got the following answer:  Units of Measure question: How many inches is 99 mm? 99 mm = 3.89763 in.

Hmmmm...a nice size for a mounted knight.  Notice the remainder of red paint.  The description did not extend to whether the entire piece might have been painted at one time, or just these red markings were put here and there - for a particular purpose?  Not addressed.  Was red chosen for a reason?  Not addressed.  What was the pigment made from?  Not addressed. 

This figure is identified as 6th-5th century horse and rider figurine from Cyprus (Tel Dor).

More information on the piece from the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery:

Date: c. 600 BCE-475 BCE
Description: Acession number 1982A979. 
Little figures like this were left by worshippers at religious sanctuaries as offerings to the gods. Different types of figures were left at the sanctuaries of the different gods and goddesses.  Horsemen figures first became common on Cyprus during the 700s BC. Owning a horse would have been very expensive and it is probable that this kind of figure was left as an offering by nobles who wanted to emphasise how rich and important they were.
Hmmm, okay, but how would anyone know that a particular horse or horse/rider offering was actually left by a noble?  I mean, was someone there to watch (and possibly record???) what each person offered?  And if the horseman figure became so popular during the 700s BCE, could anyone have purchased one and offered it?  I mean, this dude on his horse isn't exactly an exquisite work of art.  So - was the purchase of a horse and rider figurine restricted to nobles only?  If not, say Mr. P, the dog-poop scooper-upper, ranked rather low on the totem pole of society back in the day, buys a figurine like this from a tired vendor at the end of a busy temple day at a discount price, sort of under-the-table.  Next day he scrapes the poop off his feet, takes a ritual bath, makes his offering at the temple of "X" god, and then dies of pneumonia a week later because he caught a draft in the bath, only the second time he was ever in a pool of water (the first time was in mother's womb).  Does Mr. P get into Heaven?  And if he does, is it the same Heaven that the nobles go to? 

Hmmm, I guess I don't buy the official supposition about the little horse and rider being a "nobles" thing --

Actually, it makes more sense to me that this was a game piece, offered up ritually at the conclusion of the game or a ritualized and much-shortened form of a game, perhaps to denote a "passage" to Heaven, i.e., the Land of the Gods.  I mean, we really don't know, do we, because perhaps we haven't been asking the right questions...  But we do know, for instance, that the ancient Egyptian game of Senet was a game of passage and that the pieces that managed to make it all the way to the end of the game and literally jumped off the board jumped into - yep - Heaven - became Imperishable Stars.  That concept was woven into just about all of Egypt's religious and symbolic art, from pre-dynastic right down to the 5th century CE, when the last Egyptian temples were forcibly closed by the Byzantine "christians" and the religious mystery schools were born, as the "pagans" went underground, so to speak.

There may be a reason that the shape of a "pawn" game piece hasn't changed very much over 5,000 years or so - from Sumer, to Egypt, to Staunton.

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