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The Phiale of Achyris May 1, 1998



Click on the images for larger versions
(All photographs © Ira Block)

Summary: Phiale mesomphalos

Material: Gold, 99 percent pure (almost 24-karat) (energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Period: Hellenistic (323-146 B.C.)

Decoration: Three rings of 36 acorns and a fourth, inside, of beechnuts. Alternating with the acorns in the outermost ring are bees, the two symbolizing the earth's "victual in plenty," as described by Hesiod. In the center is a large knob representing the omphalos, the mythic navel of the universe.

Dimensions: Diameter 23 cm, height 4 cm, weight 982 grams

Recent history: Collection of Vincenzo Pappalardo, Catania, Sicily, ca. 1977-1980. Collection of Vincenzo Cammarata, Enna, Sicily, 1980-1991. Collection of Michael Steinhardt, New York City, 1991-1995. Seized by U.S. Customs, 1995. Currently under litigation.


Translation: "[Dedication] of the demarch Achyris, [value or weight] 115 gold [staters]." (Stephen Tracy, Ohio State University)

Date: ca. 300 B.C. (Stephen Tracy, Ohio State University)

Bibliography: Giacomo Manganaro, "Darici in Sicilia e le emissioni auree delle poleis siceliote e di cartagine nel V-III sec. a.C.," Revue des Études Anciennes, 91:1-2 (1989), pp. 302-304. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, 39 (1989), no. 1034.

Comparison: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 62.11.1

Description: Very similar. Though about the same diameter (23.5 cm) and height (3.6), the Metropolitan's phiale weighs less (748 grams). The gold is 22-karat instead of almost 24. In each row of acorns, beechnuts, and bees, there are 33 elements instead of 36.

Recent history: Purchased from Robert E. Hecht, Jr., 1962.

Bibliography: Dietrich von Bothmer, "A Gold Libation Bowl," Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 1962, pp. 154-166.

* Abstract of "Case of the Golden Phiale," ARCHAEOLOGY's first report on the vessel
* Updates: "Golden Phiale Appeal," November/December 1998; "Phiale Appeal Heard," March/April 1999; "Steinhardt Loses Appeal," September/October 1999; "$1.2-Million Phiale Returned to Italy," February 11, 2000.
* Greek vase painting of a phiale in use (closer view), and more information on phialai, both from the Perseus Project

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America