Cups in precious metal with mythological subjects were often made in pairs for use at a symposium. The sources for the scenes may have been wall paintings or from literature, as in the present example, which illustrates the Centauromachy. The Centaurs were invited to the wedding feast of Peirithoos, the king of the Lapiths, during which they imbibed too much wine and their bestial side emerged. When the bride was presented, the Centaurs leapt up and attempted to abduct the Lapith women, and a fierce battle ensued during which the Centaurs were defeated and exiled from Thessaly.
The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs was a well-known symposium theme and became a favorite motif for vessel-makers and painters. Over time the Centauromachy came to symbolize the struggle between order and chaos, civilized peoples and barbarians. The Romans also often incorporated such stories to illustrate their cultural supremacy. However, the depiction of the abduction of the Lapith women is rare, as most illustrations of the Centauromachy are focused solely on the battle itself. For an example on which they do appear, see the south metopes of the Parthenon 12, 22, 25, 29.
For a similar example of a silver vessel, depicting the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, see T. Sengelin, "Kentauroi et Kentaurides" in LIMC, vol. VIII, 2, 1997, p. 463, no. 405. For another example of this type of cup, see A. Oliver, Jr., Silver for the Gods, 1977, p. 123, cat no. 77.
The Karoshti inscription on the present example reads arsanobhadusa mogasa todirasa dra 20 10 4½ tra 1, which means "[Property] of the heir apparent's brother Moga [Maues], the todira; drakhma [wrong for sadera] 34½, trakhma 1." Richard Salomon has read and studied the inscriptions on the present and following lots, as well as examples in other collections; see R. Salomon and B. Goldman, "A Kharosthi Inscription of a Silver Goblet," Bulletin of the Asia Institute, 4, 1990, p. 149-157 . All of the inscriptions in this collection record the owner and weight of the vessel. The Karoshti script is based on Aramaic used extensively throughout the Persian Empire, suggesting the Parthian period in Gandhara immediately preceding Kushan, circa "Zeitwende" or year 1. For another example of this type with an inscription, see E. Errington, ed., The Crossroads of Asia, 1992, p. 96, fig. 99.