Largitio dish of the Emperor Licinius

Late Roman, AD 317
Found at Naissus (modern Nis in Serbia) (1901)

A silver anniversary dish with a Latin inscription

The Latin inscription around the inside of this dish reads LICINI AVGVSTE SEMPER VINCAS (‘Licinius Augustus, may you always be victorious’). In the centre a second text says ‘As ten, so twenty’. This refers to the fact that the dish was made on the tenth anniversary of the Roman emperor’s reign in AD 317.

Dishes like this were presented by the emperor to high-ranking soldiers, civil officials and faithful allies on special occasions. Thus when Licinius celebrated the beginning of his tenth year in office, he marked the occasion by taking vows for a second ten years and also by issuing commemorative tokens like this dish. These were known as largitio, a Latin word meaning largesse (the liberal bestowal of gifts) but also bribery!

This dish is one of a group of identical dishes that were found together at ancient Naissus, the birthplace of Constantine. The others are now in museums in Boston, Belgrade, and Vienna. We know from the small stamp at the top centre of the dish that the dish was actually made at the imperial workshops at Naissus. Very few dishes have stamps indicating their origins and, as silver objects were widely traded, very few have been found in the same city in which they were made.

Licinius was emperor in the eastern half of the Roman Empire from AD 308 to 324, at the same time that Constantine the Great controlled the western half. In AD 324 Constantine defeated Licinius and established a new capital at Constantinople (now Istanbul in modern Turkey).

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More information

Bibliography

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

R. E. Leader-Newby, Silver and society in Late Ant (Aldershot, Ashgate Press, 2004)

Dimensions

Diameter: 178.000 mm
Weight: 304.560 g (the equivalent of about one Roman pound)

Museum number

Britain, Europe and Prehistory
1969,0904.1

Location

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