According to the mythological tradition of ancient Greece, the winged sphinx was a hybrid creature: it had the head of a human, the body of a lion, and the wings of a bird. The Sphinx is usually characterised as treacherous and merciless. Typically, it asks a person a riddle, and should the person be unable to answer correctly, they are killed and eaten by the Sphinx. The creature appears in a variety of myths and stories – perhaps most famously as part of the myth of Oedipus, who was made king of Thebes for answering the Sphinx’s riddle correctly: one of the first steps in the realisation of his fate.
Scythia was an area in central Eurasia, which bordered the Black Sea and largely consisted of nomadic tribes. Scythian art was primarily decorative in its nature, and the Scythians were famed for their highly ornate and carefully crafted jewellery. This gold mount would have been affixed to garments as decoration, usually as part of a pattern, with multiple gold mounts on a single item of clothing. So integral was gold to Scythian fashions that even horses were richly decorated in gold ornamentation.
The reverse of this piece clearly shows the three suspension holes, by which it would have been attached to a garment. Animals are a frequent motif in Scythian art, particularly in the earlier tradition.
To discover more about Scythian culture, please visit our relevant blog post: Scythian Gold.