Silver Roman Cup
2nd-3rd century AD

Gallery 35, Ancient Rome


Focus on the Object

The silver cup decorated with olive branches, now tarnished and dull, would when new have been brightly polished. Another very interesting aspect is less obvious; this cup which appears solid, is actually hollow. The reason for this is that there were originally legal limits on the amount of silver that was allowed at banquets, and the use of hollow ware gave an impression of greater luxury. The interior, the rim and the edge of the foot are gilded, which also enhances the richness of the silver cup. Such objects rarely survive partly because they are so delicate and partly because when they became unfashionable, they were often melted down to make up-to-date versions.
The bowl was made in two parts: an inner liner, and an outer casing with a junction skilfully made at the rim. The foot, made separately, is hollow and was soldered on to the underside. This practice began in the second century BC and continued well into the Roman imperial period (31BC - into 4th century AD).