There are certain challenges inherent in modern-day attempts by experts when it comes to deciding on a definition of “Achaemenid toreutics”. The production of such artefacts spans in a timeline of nearly two and a half centuries and the locations where they have been found are all across the Middle East, the eastern Mediterranean, southern Russia, and the Caucasus. On top of this, the rich assembly of metal utensils, vases, and other pieces makes it even harder for someone to arrive at a strong definition. They are made of different materials, arrive in various styles, derive from varying workshops, and often have unknown or uncertain provenance. However, all of these small uncertainties surely make the exploration of artefacts even more intriguing.
Same is the case with this silver phiale that is part of the popular Vasil Bojkov Collection. The richest Bulgarian certainly has an affinity towards antique art and culture, for his privately owned assembly is among the world’s top collections ever known.
This particular phiale we are looking at is of the Achaemenid type due to its carinated shape and reportedly derives from Thrace. What is typical for this design is the joined rounded base to the sides of an inward sloping vases or amphorae. As we can see, the vase has chased and chiseled details. Its convex lower body is covered by 88 hypnotizing radial flutes. Punched arcs connect the roots of those flutes and a three-petal motif (supposedly a stylized lotus flower) is visible between their tips. Graffiti of three Greek letters are somewhat awkwardly carved under the omphalos. Most probably, this inscription refers to the owner of the phiale who is more likely to be either a Lydian or Thracian rather than Greek.
Interestingly, there are five parallel pieces that are almost exact as the VBC example – one derives from Thrace, two from Gökçeler Köyü and the Ikiztepe tumulus in Lydia, one of unknown origins in Madrid, and one in the art market. There might be some differences, such as the lack of tongue collar around the omphalos on the Ikiztepe piece or the presence of a row of beads on the Gökçeler Köyü example, but all of them (including the silver phiale from Vasil Bojkov Collection) share the same overall conception, style, as well as dimensions. Not to be mistaken though, this varying combination of tongue collar, beads, the lack or not of an omphalos, and the horizontal flutes which we see on the aforementioned six vases, do not signify a chronological evolution. Instead, such elements can be interpreted as creative variations of one and the same local workshop which additionally confirms the provenance of the pieces from the same place.
In conclusion, all six phialai could be dated to somewhere between the end of the 6th century BC and the first quarter of the 5th century BC. As stated before, clearly defining what Achaemenid toreutics“ may be a bit difficult for some people, while for others, that is what triggers their interest even more. And even though there are toreutic assemblages that are made by craftsmen within the empire, there is an abundance of pieces produced by toreuts who were Greeks, Lydians, Thracians, Iberians and others.