Warren Cup

Bittir (ancient Bethther), near Jerusalem, Roman, AD 5 – 15

Warren cup

Download this video to watch in your favourite media player, or to view this video online please enable javascript.

Using this on a mobile device? Tap the image to watch.
On desktop, requires Flash player or click image to download.


Watch more BSL video descriptions

A silver cup with relief decoration of homoerotic scenes, this object takes its name from its first owner in modern times, the art-lover and collector Edward Perry Warren (1860-1928).


After Warren's death the cup remained in private hands, largely because of the nature of the subject matter. Only with changing attitudes in the 1980s was the cup exhibited to the public, and in 1999 the British Museum was able to give this important piece a permanent home in the public domain.

The cup was originally made up of five parts - the thin-walled bowl with its high relief scenes, raised by hammering; an inner liner of thicker sheet silver with a solid rim, which would have made both drinking and cleaning easier; a pair of handles (now lost) and a cast foot soldered to the base.

The scenes on each side show two pairs of male lovers. On one side the erastes (older, active lover) is bearded and wears a wreath while the eromenos (younger 'beloved', passive) is a beardless youth. A servant tentatively comes through a door. In the background is a draped textile, and a kithara (lyre) resting on a chest.

In the scene on the other side the erastes is beardless, while the eromenos is just a boy. Auloi (pipes) are suspended over the background textile, and folded textiles are lying on a chest. The surroundings suggest a cultured, Hellenized setting with music and entertainment.

Representations of sexual acts are widely found in Roman art, on glass and pottery vessels, terracotta lamps and wall-paintings in both public and private buildings. They were thus commonly seen by both sexes, and all sections of society.

The Romans had no concept of, or word for, homosexuality, while in the Greek world the partnering of older men with youths was an accepted element of education. The Warren Cup reflects the customs and attitudes of this historical context, and provides us with an important insight into the culture that made and used it.


Ancient Rome

Portland

In legend Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus, its first king.

Ancient Rome world culture

Related products

Book

A History of the World in 100 objects

 
By Neil MacGregor

Accompanies the BBC Radio 4 series


Object details

Height: 11 cm
Width: 9.9 cm (max.)
Depth: 11 cm

 

GR 1999.4-26.1

Room 70: Roman Empire

     

    Acquired with the assistance of The Art Fund, the British Museum Friends, the Caryatid Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

    References

    D. Williams, 'The Warren silver cup', British Museum Magazine: th-12, 35 (Autumn / Winter 1999), pp. 25-28

    J.R. Clarke, Looking at lovemaking : constructions of sexuality in Roman art, 100 BC - AD 250 (London, University of California Press, 1998)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    J. R. Clarke, Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art 100 BC–AD 250 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998)

    J. R. Clarke, and M. Larvey, Roman Sex: 100 B.C. to A.D. 250 (New York, Harry N Abrams Inc, 2003)

    J. Davidson, The Greeks And Greek Love: A Radical Reappraisal of Homosexuality In Ancient Greece (Michigan, 2008)

    M. Skinner, Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture (Oxford, Blackwell, 2004)

    D. Sox, Bachelors of Art: Edward Perry Warren and the Lewes House Brotherhood (London, Fourth Estate, 1991)

    D. Williams, The Warren Cup (London, The British Museum Press, 2006)