Beautiful objects have always stirred passion in people. In ancient Roman homes, silver cups, statues, and plates were status symbols. Cicero, in his Paradox, described how life was in a Roman home: “Bustling about, some of the slaves who took care of the paintings, the statues, the silver vases, the Corinthian bronzes were considered the lesser among their company because they gave themselves up to the passion of these objects.” The same Cicero tells us that the silver services not in use were displayed on tables in such a way that the owner could show his guests his good taste and wealth.

Many of these objects were found in Boscoreale in April, 1895 in the cistern of a Roman villa. One hundred and eighty-five silver objects were saved from the ashes of the eruption of Herculaneum in 70 BCE: plates, cups, mirrors, plates and brooches, as well as jewels and gold coins.

Archeologists think that this was the treasure of L. Caecilius Jucundus, his accounts being found written on clay tablets. The most important pieces of the find are four banquet cups inscribed with herons, boars, and the triumphs of Emperor Tiberio, and the famous Africa Cup with the allegory of Cleopatra-Selene. Some cups display fine etchings of vines of the leaves of life or grape leaves.

A variety of vessels were found — oval, round, cone shaped — used as bowls without decoration, as well as colanders for filtering the highly spiced wine, and silver ladles.

The four heron cups follow a succession, for instance, showing Augustus receiving homage from the province, and Tiberio at the height of his military conquest. The themes of the cups were great conversation pieces as well as a good way to kick off a celebratory dinner. At the end of the night, they were given as gifts to the guests.

Originally, these cups always came as a set of eight, the number of guests at the table. They depicted a wicker basket full of shrimp, a hare surprised while eating an apple, a flight of ducks on a pond. The same designs are painted on the walls of the homes in Pompeii.

Giovanna Napolitano
Antique Expert
Tel. 06/3200687 Fax. 06/3202958