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A drinking horn is the horn of a bovid used as a drinking vessel. Drinking horns are known from Classical Antiquity, especially the Balkans, and remained in use for ceremonial purposes throughout the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period in some parts of Europe, notably in Germanic Europe, and in the Caucasus. Drinking horns remain an important accessory in the culture of ritual toasting in Georgia in particular, where they are known by the local name of kantsi.
Drinking vessels made from glass, wood, ceramics or metal styled in the shape of drinking horns are also known from antiquity. The ancient Greek term for a drinking horn was simply keras (plural kerata, "horn"). To be distinguished from the drinking-horn proper is the rhyton (plural rhyta), a drinking-vessel made in the shape of a horn with an outlet at the pointed end.
Drinking Horns in the Viking Age
Drinking horns are attested from Viking Age Scandinavia. In the Prose Edda, Thor drank from a horn that unbeknown to him contained all the seas, and in the process he scared Útgarða-Loki and his kin by managing to drink a conspicuous part of its content. They also feature in Beowulf, and fittings for drinking horns were also found at the Sutton Hoo burial site. Carved horns are mentioned in Guðrúnarkviða II, a poem composed about 1000 AD and preserved in the Poetic Edda:
Váru í horni - On the horn’s face were there,
hvers kyns stafir - All the kin of letters,
ristnir ok roðnir, - Cut aright and reddened,
- ráða ek né máttak, - How should I rede them rightly?
lyngfiskr langr, - The ling-fish long
lands Haddingja - Of the land of Hadding,
ax óskorit, - Wheat-ears unshorn,
innleið dyra. - And wild things inwards
Beowulf (493ff.) describes the serving of mead in carved horns.
Horn fragments of Viking Age drinking horns are only rarely preserved, showing that both cattle and goat horns were in use, but the number of decorative metal horn terminals and horn mounts recovered archaeologically show that the drinking horn was much more widespread than the small number of preserved horns would otherwise indicate. Most Viking Age drinking horns were probably from domestic cattle, holding rather less than half a litre. The significantly larger aurochs horns of the Sutton Hoo burial would have been the exception.