Diameter: 32.700 cm
Height: 26.700 cm
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
The Muse Casket
Late Roman, 4th century AD
A domed silver casket from the Esquiline Treasure
This unusual casket from the Esquiline Treasure was probably made at the same time and in the same workshop as the Projecta Casket. It probably also belonged to the same woman, Projecta. The casket was designed to be suspended from chains and was fitted out inside to hold five small silver bottles for perfumes and unguents.
The panels around the scalloped body of the casket bear repoussé figures of eight of the nine Muses. They can be distinguished by their costumes and individual attributes: for example, Terpsichore (Muse of lyric poetry and the dance) holds a lyre, Calliope (Muse of epic poetry) has a scroll, and Urania (Muse of astronomy) has a globe. The seated figure on the top of the lid has no attribute and therefore may not be the ninth Muse but rather a substitute in the form of a real woman. Just as the Projecta Casket identifies its owner with the beauty of Venus, the iconography here associates the owner with the accomplishments of the Muses.
Representations on Roman mosaics and wall paintings suggest that caskets of this form were made specifically for use in the bath. Ancient Romans valued the health-giving and restorative powers of the bath highly, and the inhabited vine scrolls emerging from kantheroi (two-handled drinking cups) on the body and lid of the casket evoke a delightful, paradisaical atmosphere.
A. Cameron, 'The date and owners of the Esquiline Treasure: The nature of the evidence', American Journal of Archaeol-3, 89 (1985), pp. 135–145
K. Shelton, The Esquiline treasure (London, The British Museum Press, 1981)