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Object of the month: Fantastic Beasts

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

When we think about ancient Greece, we don’t usually think about the animals and wildlife that existed in nature alongside the people. In fact, wildlife was quite different in ancient Greece compared to today!

Ancient Wildlife: Corinthian black-figure pyxis (590–565 BCE). On loan from the Benaki Museum, Athens.

On this ancient vessel, called a pyxis, we can see two animals.

Can you tell what they are?

The animal with the horns is called an ibex. Ibexes are wild goats, remarkable for their large, powerful horns! Ibexes can still be found in parts of Greece today, though hunting and the growth of human populations since ancient times have caused there to be fewer ibexes than in ancient times.

And what about the other animal?

It’s a lion! Or rather, a lioness. (The lack of a mane means that it is female.)

Lions used to roam wild throughout Europe, and lived freely in Greece until 1700 years ago! So when the ancient Greeks painted lions, they weren’t painting exotic creatures from a far-off land — they were a real danger!

Both the ibex and the lioness are vicious creatures, but here on the pyxis, they seem calm and serene.

Pyxis vessels were typically used for storing jewellery. It’s as if the ibexes and the lionesses are guarding the jewellery inside the pyxis. The jewels were so precious, that even these majestic animals think them worth protecting!

You can see this pyxis up close at the Hellenic Museum, as part of our Gods, Myths, and Mortals collection!

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