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The First Cyprus Treasure

Silver Bowl from the First Cyprus Treasure

Constantinople or Tarsus? 641 AD - 651 AD

Silver, niello; D. 243.00mm


This bowl, together with a paten, hexagonal censer and twenty-four spoons, was found at the end of the nineteenth century by villagers quarrying the ruins of ancient Lambousa for building materials (see First Cyprus Treasure). In the centre of the bowl is a half-length image of a saint, possibly Sergius, an officer in the Roman army who incurred the anger of Emperor Maximian (died AD 310). He is shown beardless and with short curly hair, wearing a military costume which includes a chlamys (cloak) held by a crossbow fibula (brooch) at the shoulder and a type of torc called a maniakion. He holds a Latin cross and is nimbed. A band of engraved and nielloed wave scrolls and linked circles surround him. Another decorated band of acanthus leaves and beading runs along the upper rim of the bowl. Although the subject matter is Christian, the bowl itself was probably made for domestic use, perhaps by a military man devoted to this particular saint. This is one of the last silver objects to bear the control stamps which were placed on silver made in official workshops of the Byzantine Empire. Five stamps dated to the reign of emperor Constans II (AD 641-51) are arranged inside the foot-ring. Tarsus in Asia Minor is named twice on one stamp, thus the bowl may have been made there.

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Silver Censer from the First Cyprus Treasure

Constantinople, 602 AD - 610 AD

Silver, D. 110 mm


This censer, together with a bowl , a paten, and twenty-four spoons, formed part of a hoard of silver found at the end of the nineteenth century known as the First Cyprus Treasure. Each of the six sides bears a medallion formed by the branches of palm leaves which define the edges of the censer. Within each medallion is a nimbed bust. These represent Christ, flanked by the Apostles Peter and Paul and on the opposite side, the Virgin with John and James. Christ can be distinguished by his cruciform nimbus; Peter by his cross-staff. John, James and Paul all hold books, while the Virgin wears a veil and palla (shawl).This small vessel, used for burning incense, would have been carried and swung by its three chains, now missing. Incense was introduced into the Christian liturgy after the reign of Constantine the Great, the emperor (306-337) who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Open censers like this represent an early form, known from depictions on Early Byzantine mosaics at San Vitale in Ravenna. They were only rarely made in precious metal. This example can be dated by five control stamps on the bottom, one of which is of the emperor Phocas (602-10).

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Silver Spoons from the First Cyprus Treasure

Found in Cyprus, c. 650 AD

Silver, L. 257.00mm


These spoons formed part of the first hoard of silver found at Lambousa in Cyprus, near the modern village of Lapithos. Other items from the treasure are a silver bowl with a bust of a military saint and a hexagonal censer. These spoons were a set of eleven from the Treasure, all decorated with leaping animals. All have pear-shaped bowls, engraved on the underside with a foliate pattern, and attached by means of a disc to an elaborate baluster handle. The spoons have depictions of a ram, griffin, panther, lion, lioness, stag, bear, boar, bull, hare and horse. This combination of animals probably alluded to the hunt, and would have been an entertaining and appropriate subject for high-status domestic cutlery. The tradition of decorating the spoons of bowls with floral patterns, inscriptions, and occasionally animals, goes back to the fourth and fifth centuries AD, but none of the earlier examples have such beautiful detail.

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