Height: 9.700 cm
Diameter: 10.700 cm
Gift of the
Room 70: Roman Empire
The Crawford Cup
Roman, 1st-2nd century
Found on the border between Syria and Turkey
Fluorspar cantharus from a Roman tomb
This cantharus (goblet) was carved from a block of fluorspar (also known as fluorite), a relatively rare mineral which in the Roman period could only be found in the kingdom of Parthia (modern Iran). Vessels made from this mineral (vasa murrina) were prized by the Romans for their beautiful banded appearance, their rarity, and the special flavour which they gave to the wine drunk from them. The flavour was probably due to the resin which was commonly applied to fluorspar during the shaping process to keep it from shattering. We know from the Roman writer Pliny the Elder (AD 23/4-79) that at least one Roman noble used to enjoy chewing the edge of his vessel. The mineral is extremely valuable and emperor Nero himself is reputed to have paid over a million sesterces for one fluorspar vessel.
The cup is named after the Earl of Crawford, in whose honour the National Art Collections Fund presented the piece to the British Museum in 1971. The cup was originally found during the First World War by an Austro-Croatian officer, who discovered a Roman tomb while digging near the border between Syria and Turkey. With the cup were found some gold medallions and another fluorspar vessel. These were sold to a merchant and dispersed, although the vessel later reappeared in a collection in Brussels. It was purchased by the British Museum in 2004 and is now known as the Barber Cup (see Related Objects).
S. Walker, Roman art (London, 1991)
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