Lanx with Ariadne
Eastern Mediterranean, mid-4th century
Silver with silver gilt and niello, 34.7 x 41 cm
The rectangular plate is composed of a series of elaborate borders that frame a small figural scene. Details such as the piercework scrolls, the undulating pelta motifs of the outer border, and the broad grooves that divide one design from another on the interior were probably cast in one piece. A rectangular foot was soldered to the back and decoration in various techniques was applied to the front. Dovetailed patterns of grooves detailed with stippling occur in two separate borders, on two distinct scales. Niello inlay is used in combination with geometric and floral incised motifs to accent the borders; niello is also used as a background color for the figures of the central panel and the twelve small panels of the outer border. The figures, the piercework, the broad grooves, and the details of the pelta motifs are gilded.
The small scenes of the outer border depict Erotes playing with sheep, goats, and, in one instance, with a panther on a leash in summarily indicated landscapes. Two of the twelve panels simply depict animals or birds flanking large vases. The central scene takes place in a similar environment: swags of drapery and a leaf garland hang from the upper border, while a plant, a panther, and a pedestal and column, both topped with vases, stand on an uneven groundline. A cornucopia, a stylized rock outcropping, and two vessels, possibly basins, float in midair. In the center, the partially draped Ariadne is seated on a rock, gazing at the figure of Dionysos, who leans on a column while holding a thyrsus in his left hand and gesturing toward Ariadne with his right. From the left Silenus approaches with animal-skin cloak, pedum, and full wineskin.
The plate is part of a treasure of 255 pieces of silver discovered in Kaiseraugst, Switzerland, in 1962. The objects were layered with hay in a container and buried for safekeeping just to the side of the ring road of the Roman fort of Kaiseraugst. The near perfect state of the silver vessels would indicate that the objects were manufactured shortly before their burial in the mid-fourth century. The size of the treasure and the iconography of the more elaborate pieces have caused scholars to associate the collection with the emperor Julian the Apostate or with a member of his retinue. Julian visited Kaiseraugst on several occasions between 355 and 361.