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The Barber Cup

 

Height: 13.500 cm
Diameter: 9.500 cm

Acquired with the assistance of the British Museum Friends, in honour of Nicholas Barber

GR 2003.12-2.1

Room 70: Roman Empire

    The Barber Cup

    Roman, 1st century AD
    Found on the border between Syria and Turkey

    Fluorspar one-handled cup

    This remarkable one-handled cup was carved from a single piece of fluorspar (also known as fluorite) and is richly veined with purple, green, yellow and white. It has been further decorated with a low-relief panel of vine leaves, grapes and tendrils, and under the handle is a bearded head, probably Dionysos or one of his companions. The shape is unusual and it is likely that the craftsman intended to create a two-handled vessel but for some reason had to change his mind during the carving process. Fluorspar vessels (vasa murrina) were highly prized for their rarity and because of the special flavour given to the wine drunk from them, a result of the resin used to help hold the crystals together during production. The Emperor Nero was known to have paid over a million sesterces for a fluorspar cup.

    The cup was found during the First World War by an Austro-Croat officer in a Roman tomb near the border between Turkey and Syria. In the tomb he discovered a lead casket containing two fluorspar vessels, this cup and a two-handled goblet, as well as some gold medallions. The goblet was presented to the British Museum in 1971 and is now known as the Crawford Cup (see Related Objects). The other objects were dispersed, the one-handled cup going to a collector in Brussels from whose estate it was acquired in 2004, thanks in part to the British Museum Friends, and it is now named in honour of their former Chairman, Nicholas Barber.

    A.I. Loewental and D.B. Harden, 'Vasa Murrina', Journal of Roman Studies-1, 39 (1949), pp. 31-37

    D. Williams, 'Crystalline Matter', British Museum Magazine-3, 48 (Spring 2004), p. 47

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