Length: 54.900 cm
Height: 27.900 cm
Room 41: Europe AD 300-1100
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The Projecta Casket
Late Roman, around AD 380
A silver-gilt toilet casket from the Esquiline treasure
This casket is one of the most important and magnificent examples of late antique silver made in Rome. On the top of the lid busts of a richly attired woman and man appear within a wreath held by naked Erotes. They are identified by an inscription around the rim of the lid: SECVNDE ET PROIECTA VIVATIS IN CHRI[STO] ('Secundus and Projecta, may you live in Christ'). Projecta may be the woman of same name (died AD 383) who was commemorated in an epitaph written by Pope Damasus (AD 366-84). She was evidently Christian, but her husband, probably Turcius Secundus, was a member of a prominent family who would have been pagan. The inscription suggests that the toilet casket was a marriage gift.
Three sides of the lid are decorated with pagan mythological themes - the goddess Venus on a cockleshell, and Nereids (sea-nymphs) riding a ketos (a dragon-like sea monster) and a hippocamp (a beast with the front quarters of a horse and the tail of a fish).
The other scenes depict processions which may represent the bride's preparations, which we know took place the evening before a Roman wedding. On the back of the lid a woman is led to a domed public bath house by attendants, one of whom carries a large rectangular casket like this piece. The same woman appears again, seated on a folding throne, on the front panel of the casket body. Her gestures mimic those of the Venus above as she pins her hair and inclines her head towards the mirror held by an attendant. She is flanked by eleven servants bearing caskets, vessels and candles, under a continuous arcade around the casket. One of the containers is shaped like the Muse Casket from the Esquiline Treasure. Ivy scrolls, garlands, baskets of fruit and peacocks complete the luxurious atmosphere.
The original weight of the casket is inscribed on the base: twenty-two Roman pounds, three and a half ounces.
D. Buckton (ed.), Byzantium: treasures of Byzant (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)
A. Cameron, 'The date and owners of the Esquiline Treasure: the nature of the evidence', American Journal of Archaeolog, 89 (1985)
K. Shelton, The Esquiline treasure (London, The British Museum Press, 1981)