The Corbridge Lanx
Ephesus (?), late 4th—early 5th century
Silver 38.1 x 48.26 cm
The shallow rectangular dish has a straight-sided foot rim and a horizontal border whose inner and outer edges are detailed with bead moldings. From the border, the four sides of the dish slope inward, diagonals at the corners giving way to a seamless horizontal surface. The lanx is solid cast with figural, architectural, and floral representations in relief and details of surface modeling and decoration produced by chasing and engraving. An inscription on the back of the dish records its weight in Roman measure: fourteen pounds, three ounces, two scruples.
The sunken interior of the lanx is occupied by an elaborate scene in two registers, framed by a vine scroll on the raised border. The main scene depicts five figures in a landscape setting indicated by a small, open-air altar, a tree filled with birds and festooned with garlands, a freestanding column topped with a disc or sphere, and a small temple, possibly a tholos. The temple is preceded by a flight of stairs, somewhat awkwardly represented to the left. A figure of Artemis, dressed for the hunt and carrying a bow and arrow, approaches from the left; she is greeted by Athena who is clearly indicated by her aegis and military attributes of helmet, shield, and spear. Athena gestures in speech, and a third female standing to the right of Athena also gestures, apparently in witness to the approach of Artemis. The fourth figure, a seated, veiled female, grasps a spindle in her right hand as she turns in speech to the fifth figure, a standing Apollo Belvedere, who holds a branch in his right hand and a bow in his left. The Apollo is framed by the representation of the temple, and his lyre rests against one of its columns.
The seated female is identified as Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis; the standing figure to her right is understood as Leto's sister Ortygia. Distinguished by a staff, which she holds in her left hand, Ortygia is simultaneously a participant in the scene and a geographical personification, since Ortygia metamorphosed into the island of Delos, the birthplace and shrine of the twins Apollo and Artemis and the site of a shrine of Athena. The birds that perch in the tree above her head may allude to the literal meaning of the name Ortygia—"the place of quails." In the lower register, the plants, the second altar, the over-turned water jar, and the cliff or hillside associated with it may be seen as secondary references to the natural and religious topography of Ortygia-Delos. The hound, griffin, and fallen stag refer to the divine twins.
Although the individual figures are familiar, the assembly of characters is unique. The figural style, the facial type, and the details of costume, architecture, flora, and fauna show clear relationships to objects from both the Traprain Law and Esquiline treasures. Both of these treasures date to the late fourth or early fifth century and have been thought to originate in Western workshops, possibly in Rome. This lanx has been traditionally associated with Ephesus, a major center in late antiquity near Delos with its own ties to the worship of Apollo, Artemis, Leto, and possibly Ortygia. A second and perhaps more significant association is with the emperor Julian the Apostate. The subject matter of the lanx, complex and learned in its allusions, seems appropriate to the revival of pagan cults under Julian. Specifically, the lanx is associated with his official visit to the shrine of Apollo on Delos and his sacrifice to the cult in 363. Found in 1734 on the bank of the River Tyne, near Corbridge, England.