The Mildenhall treasure

This hoard is one of the most important collections of late-Roman silver tableware from the Roman Empire. The objects were found during ploughing near Mildenhall in Suffolk, eastern England, in January 1942 or '43 and were declared Treasure Trove in 1946. Although no coins were found to give a reliable date, the tableware's style and decoration is typical of the fourth century AD. The artistic and technical quality of the silver objects is outstanding, and though we do not know who owned them, it was probably a person or family of considerable wealth and high social status.

It is not known precisely where the Mildenhall treasure was made - one of the imperial centres, such as Rome, Carthage, or Trier, are possibilities - but we do know how the treasure was manufactured and decorated. The decoration is achieved by chasing and engraving, while niello inlay was used to create black lines on the silver background. The only examples of gilding are seen on the dolphin-shaped handles of the round ladles. Much of the decoration relates to the mythology and worship of Bacchus, the god of wine, a theme that was very popular on silver tableware throughout the Roman period.


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