The Parthians defeated the Seleucids towards the end of the third century BC and went on to found an Empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley. Formerly a Central Asian nomadic people, the Parthians acquired great wealth by controlling caravan cities along the Silk Road. Led by the Arsacid Dynasty, they were Rome’s strongest opponents in the East. The Romans disputed territory in Syria, Armenia and Mesopotamia but were often defeated in battle by the superiority of the Parthian cavalry.
In contrast to their hostile relationship with Rome, the Parthians seem to have courted the favor of the Chinese explorer Zhang Qian who visited Parthia and described it as an advanced urban civilization. As a result, trade soon flourished with China. A detailed account of Parthian civilization has yet to be written partly because so little of their own literature has survived. Historians are thus forced to rely on foreign histories and numismatic evidence. It is nevertheless clear from Parthian coins that their Kings were consciously modeling themselves on their Achaemenid predecessors and attached great significance to the visual arts.
Glazed turquoise green vessels are one of the most distinctive Parthian art forms. Glazed ceramics were extremely rare in the Middle East prior to the Islamic period. Only in China were glazed wares common at such an early date. Trade and diplomatic ties most likely encouraged such a development in the Parthian region. Even despite their elegant form such vessels were used for practical purposes such as the storage and transportation of liquids and grains. Their color was created from copper and iron oxides mixed with an alkaline glaze which was applied on top of a fine white paste so that the reddish surface of the clay would not show through. The shapes of the vessels reveal a reliance on Greek and Mesopotamian forms while the green glaze has often been likened to the patina that bronze acquires over time.
This elegantly shaped Parthian glazed terracotta jar has an elongated body with a short neck and one handle. It is light turquoise in color and has an elaborate spout that resembles the ripples of a ribbon bunched close together.
The elegance of Parthian wares continued to be influential hundreds of years later with similar decorations, forms, and techniques found in the sophisticated ceramic arts of the Islamic period. As such, this beautiful Parthian vessel would serve as an excellent addition to any collection of Islamic pottery.