Missorium of Theodosius I

Missorium of Theodosius I

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Missorium of Theodosius I'
Start a new discussion about 'Missorium of Theodosius I'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia


The Missorium of Theodosius I is a large ceremonial silver dish preserved in the Real Academia de la Historia
Real Academia de la Historia
Real Academia de la Historia is a Spanish institution based in Madrid that studies history "ancient and modern, political, civil, ecclesiastical, military, scientific, of letters and arts, that is to say, the different branches of life, of civilisation, and of the culture of the Spanish...

, in Madrid
Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

, Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

. It was probably made in Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 for the tenth anniversary (decennalia
Decennalia
Decennalia were Ancient Roman festivals celebrated with games every ten years by the Roman emperors....

) in 388 of the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

, the last Emperor to rule both the Eastern and Western Empires. It is one of the best surviving examples of Late Antique Imperial imagery and one of finest examples of late Roman goldsmith work
Goldsmith
A goldsmith is a metalworker who specializes in working with gold and other precious metals. Since ancient times the techniques of a goldsmith have evolved very little in order to produce items of jewelry of quality standards. In modern times actual goldsmiths are rare...

.

Subject


It shows the Emperor framed in an arcade, giving a decree (possibly a letter of appointment) to a senior official, flanked by his two co-emperors, Valentinian II
Valentinian II
Flavius Valentinianus , commonly known as Valentinian II, was Roman Emperor from 375 to 392.-Early Life and Accession :...

 and his own son Arcadius
Arcadius
Arcadius was the Byzantine Emperor from 395 to his death. He was the eldest son of Theodosius I and his first wife Aelia Flaccilla, and brother of the Western Emperor Honorius...

, and bodyguards. This iconography
Iconography
Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing", and comes from the Greek "image" and "to write". A secondary meaning is the painting of icons in the...

 is known as the Traditio legis, and was transferred from Late Antique Imperial art to Christian art, eventually developing into the iconic "Christ in Majesty
Christ in Majesty
Christ in Majesty, or Christ in Glory, in Latin Majestas Domini, is the Western Christian image of Christ seated on a throne as ruler of the world, always seen frontally in the centre of the composition, and often flanked by other sacred figures, whose membership changes over time and according to...

". Below there is a scene of putti offering garlands up to the Emperor above. Theodosius is shown far larger than the other figures, as is common in the hieratic Late Antique style, despite the fact that Valentinian II had been an Emperor for longer. The three emperors have haloes
Halo (religious iconography)
A halo is a ring of light that surrounds a person in art. They have been used in the iconography of many religions to indicate holy or sacred figures, and have at various periods also been used in images of rulers or heroes...

 which is usual at this period. Although all were Christians, there are no specific Christian elements in the iconography.

Their clothing is early Byzantine dress
Byzantine dress
Byzantine dress changed considerably over the thousand years of the Empire, but was essentially conservative. The Byzantines liked colour and pattern, and made and exported very richly patterned cloth, especially Byzantine silk, woven and embroidered for the upper classes, and resist-dyed and...

 consistent with other Imperial portraits of the period. The two co-emperors have decorated tablions (patches showing rank attached to their main garment) at their knees, or possibly Epigonation
Epigonation
The epigonation , or palitza , is a vestment used in some Eastern Christian churches.-Description and usage:...

s (unattached ceremonial "handkerchiefs", which survive as an Eastern Orthodox vestment). These would have been highly decorated with embroidery
Embroidery
Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as metal strips, pearls, beads, quills, and sequins....

 and probably jewel
Gemstone
A gemstone or gem is a piece of mineral, which, in cut and polished form, is used to make jewelry or other adornments...

s. The official receiving the document wears clothes decorated with stripes and patches which would have been a kind of uniform for his office. The three Imperial figures have tightly curled hairstyles, and wear diadem
Diadem
Diadem may refer to:*Diadem, a type of crown-Military:*HMS Diadem was a 64-gun third rate ship of the line in the Royal Navy launched in 1782 at Chatham and participated in the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1787...

s of pearls. Their cloaks are fastened with large circular jewelled fibulae.

A commemorative dish


The missorium comes from a treasure of silver objects that also included two cups, discovered in 1847 in Almendralejo
Almendralejo
Almendralejo is a town in the province of Badajoz, Extremadura, Spain. It is situated 59 km south-east of Badajoz, on the main road and rail route between Mérida and Seville. , it has a population of 33,975. There was a battle and massacre here in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.Sights...

, close to Mérida
Mérida, Spain
Mérida is the capital of the autonomous community of Extremadura, western central Spain. It has a population of 57,127 . The Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993.- Climate :...

 in the Spanish province of Badajoz
Badajoz
Badajoz is the capital of the Province of Badajoz in the autonomous community of Extremadura, Spain, situated close to the Portuguese border, on the left bank of the river Guadiana, and the Madrid–Lisbon railway. The population in 2007 was 145,257....

. It is one of the most beautiful examples of silversmith's work of imperial largesse, that is to say of the category of luxury articles made for imperial celebrations such as accession to the throne and anniversaries and given on these occasions by the emperor to high-ranking dignitaries of the empire: they were mainly dishes, plates, cups, and bowls in silver.

Few examples of this imperial silver have survived; only nineteen items, all dating from the 4th century and produced for six different emperors. In this series, the missorium of Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

 is distinguished because it is both the latest - although the practice probably continued for a further two centuries - and because it carries the most elaborate decoration: the only other well-preserved examples are the Kerch plate, preserved at the Winter Palace
Winter Palace
The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia, was, from 1732 to 1917, the official residence of the Russian monarchs. Situated between the Palace Embankment and the Palace Square, adjacent to the site of Peter the Great's original Winter Palace, the present and fourth Winter Palace was built and...

 in St Petersberg, showing Constantius II
Constantius II
Constantius II , was Roman Emperor from 337 to 361. The second son of Constantine I and Fausta, he ascended to the throne with his brothers Constantine II and Constans upon their father's death....

 on horseback, and that of Valentinian I
Valentinian I
Valentinian I , also known as Valentinian the Great, was Roman emperor from 364 to 375. Upon becoming emperor he made his brother Valens his co-emperor, giving him rule of the eastern provinces while Valentinian retained the west....

 or Valentinian II
Valentinian II
Flavius Valentinianus , commonly known as Valentinian II, was Roman Emperor from 375 to 392.-Early Life and Accession :...

 in Geneva. A fragment from a treasure found at Groß Bodungen was probably the closest to the missorium of Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

 in design, but is too damaged to allow an identification or a precise dating. More examples have survived of aristocratic, rather than imperial silver, such as the Mildenhall Treasure
Mildenhall Treasure
The West Row Treasure is a major hoard of highly decorated Roman silver tableware from the fourth-century AD, found at West Row, near Mildenhall in the English county of Suffolk...

 probably dating from a few years earlier, or the Sevso Treasure
Sevso Treasure
The Sevso Treasure is a hoard of silver objects from the late Roman Empire, that may be illicit antiquities.The treasure trove consists of 14 large decorated silver vessels and the copper cauldron which contained them, and has been dated to the late fourth or early fifth century AD.Most notable is...

.

The Madrid dish is made of solid silver and has traces of gilding
Gilding
The term gilding covers a number of decorative techniques for applying fine gold leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, or metal to give a thin coating of gold. A gilded object is described as "gilt"...

 on the inscriptions. Its size is exceptional compared to other contemporary silver dishes, measuring 74 cm in diameter with a thickness which varies between 4 and 8 mm. It rests on a ring, 3 cm thick with a diameter of 26 cm, which was welded to the base. This ring has a Greek inscription specifying the official weight of the object:

ποc ↑Ν ΜεΤ i.e. ποσότης λιτρῶν 50 μετάλλου (“50 metal books”)

The 50 "books" correspond to an official weight of 16.13 kg of silver, whereas the dish actually weighs only 15.35 kg; the difference could be because the dish was weighed and marked before being decorated: a piece of the dish is also missing. The decoration, at the same time engraved
Engraving
Engraving is the practice of incising a design on to a hard, usually flat surface, by cutting grooves into it. The result may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold, steel, or glass are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing...

 and with repoussé decoration (pushed out from the back), would have removed a little metal, although this is unlikely to account for the whole difference.
The subject of the decoration is the emperor enthroned with his co-reigning emperors. An inscription along the side of the rim makes it possible to identify him with certainty:

D (ominus) N (oster) THEODOSIVS PERPET (uus) AVG (ustus) OB DIEM FELICISSIMVM X

that is to say: “Our Lord Theodosius, emperor forever, on the most happy occasion of the tenth anniversary (of his reign).”

The inscription indicates that the dish was made at the time of the decennalia of an emperor named Theodosius. The presence of two co-regents makes it possible to exclude immediately Theodosius II, for he had one co-regent — his uncle Flavius Honorius
Honorius (emperor)
Honorius , was Western Roman Emperor from 395 to 423. He was the younger son of emperor Theodosius I and his first wife Aelia Flaccilla, and brother of the eastern emperor Arcadius....

 — at the time of the tenth anniversary of his reign, celebrated in 412. This leaves the decennalia of Theodosius I, on January 19 388. It was celebrated when the emperor was staying at Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki , historically also known as Thessalonica, Salonika or Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the region of Central Macedonia as well as the capital of the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace...

 from September 387 to April 388. Some have concluded that the missorium was the work of a Thessalonician workshop, but it is more likely that it was ordered from the Imperial workshops in Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

.

External links