Ancient Gold: The Wealth of the Thracians

Poised for flight, this 3-inch-high winged horse—possibly a representation of Pegasus, the winged steed in Greek mythology—once adorned a fourth-century B.C. Thracian rhyton, or drinking cup. The rhyton itself is now lost; all that remains are the front part of the horse and a detached piece of its wing. The sculptor’s exquisite workmanship and lavish use of precious metal suggest that the cup belonged to a noble family of Thracians—a people who ruled the area around southwestern Bulgaria in the first millennium B.C. At the height of their power (c. 600–400 B.C.), the kings of Thrace amassed huge fortunes in tribute and became famous for their hoards of silver and gold. For the Thracians, horses were sacred creatures; not only did they sculpt images of horses as ritual objects, but they elaborately decorated their horse’s bridles and chariots.