Fineware painted cup

From the cemetery at Faras, Sudan
Meroitic Period, 1st to 2nd century AD

Cup with a geometric design in red and black

Meroitic graves often included fragile bowls, jars and cups. The fine quality of the manufacture and decoration of these vessels suggests that they were the prized possessions of the deceased, who wanted to continue to enjoy them in the Afterlife.

Although the vessels themselves were of local manufacture, the designs were often inspired by the artistic traditions of other countries, such as Egypt and the Mediterranean world. Symbols such as the ankh were borrowed from Egypt, as were the lotus and papyrus plants. Although still recognizable, the Meroitic artists interpreted them in their own way, often producing a geometric pattern, which would be unfamiliar to their Egyptian counterparts.

Other motifs, such as animals like frogs, snakes and fantastic beasts, were drawn from the Mediterranean world. The origin of the boat design on this cup is less clear. The tall prow and stern of the vessel, and the stick figure inside is reminiscent of the decoration of Egyptian pots in the Predynastic period, three thousand years earlier. The resemblance ends here though, and is purely coincidental.

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More information


S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Height: 8.900 cm

Museum number

EA 51615


Gift of Oxford University


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