Luristan Horse Bit Cheek Plate, 8th-7th Century BC
In the form of a winged genius with horns.
By the second half of the second millennium BC, the horse had been domesticated for about 500 years and was not only used as a draft animal but also was ridden. New harnessing techniques developed, especially bits, to whose cheek plates were fastened the ends of the reins and the head straps. These cheek plates were true works of art in Luristan (western Iran) at the end of the Iron Age, in the eighth and seventh centuries BC.
The plate seen here is the survivor of a pair and was originally attached to the other plate by a rigid crossbar (finishing in scrolling), which is also missing and which ran through the hole in the centre of the creature’s body. The remaining plate depicts an imaginary creature seen in profile, with the head turned in full face view. It is an androcephalous winged bull with two horns on its head, indicating its divine nature. Its wing finishes in an aggressive wild beast’s head that seems poised to attack. The genius is affirming its dominant power by trampling a small animal, doubtless a kid, that also forms the line of the ground. The various straps ran through the two rings at the edge of the wing. The plates were probably backed with leather or cloth to soften the contact between the metal and the sensitive edge of the horse’s mouth. Images of real animals such as tigers, leopards, mouflons, bulls, and horses gradually replaced the earlier imaginary creatures.