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Gold-glass medallion showing Herakles


Height: 10.800 cm
Width: 10.200 cm

M&ME 1863,7-27,3

Britain, Europe and Prehistory

    Gold-glass medallion showing Herakles

    Late Roman / Early Christian, 4th century AD
    Probably from the catacombs in Rome

    A gift for Orfitus and Constantia

    The disc depicts a husband and wife and a small image of the Greek hero Herakles. The man is dressed in a tunic with a red strip and a toga, while she wears a gemstone necklace with pendant pearls, painted red and white. Herakles wears the skin of the Nemean lion and carries his club in his right hand and in his left, three painted apples.

    The Latin inscription may be translated: 'Orfitus and Constantia. Live happily in the name of Herakles, conqueror of the Underworld'. The fact that Herakles carries the apples of Hesperides, which were his wedding present to Jupiter and Juno, suggests that this was made specifically as a wedding gift. It is possible that Orfitus is Memmius Vitruvius Orfitus, a pagan aristocrat and prefect of Rome in the mid-fourth century AD.

    This gold-glass 'medallion' originally decorated the bottom of a bowl. Many similar objects have been found mounted in the walls of the Christian catacombs in Rome. It is thought that after the death of one of the partners, the bottom disc of the bowl was used to mark their burial place.

    D. Buckton (ed.), Byzantium: treasures of Byzant (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)


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