Height: 8.000 cm (Minerva handle)
Bequeathed by R. Payne Knight
Room 49: Roman Britain
Silver handle from the Capheaton treasure
Roman Britain, 2nd or 3rd century AD
From Capheaton, Northumberland
The goddess Minerva
The fragments of highly decorated silver vessels that make up the Capheaton treasure were found in 1747. They may be treasure from a temple. The decoration is purely Roman, and depicts religious and mythological subjects.
This incomplete handle with gilded details features the goddess Minerva above a temple which is set close by a water-source. A figure makes an offering before the temple. The scene is highly reminiscent of the precinct of Sulis Minerva at Bath.
The largest handle features a bust of Juno, below which is a seated figure of Mercury, and in the lower register, Bacchus and Ariadne. Another handle illustrates six of the Twelve Labours of Hercules. The bust of Hercules itself has been lost, but the knotted lion-skin can be seen, as can a cup and his characteristic club. Beneath are the Nemean lion, the Kerynian stag, the Erymanthian boar, all creatures slaughtered by Hercules. Flanking an altar at the bottom are the tree of the Hesperides and the Hydra; the birds at the outer edges are two of the Stymphalian birds. It seems certain that the vessel to which the Juno handle belonged must have been one of a pair, and the other handle would have depicted the other six Labours.
A smaller handle depicts a woman holding a military standard and making an offering at an altar; she resembles Julia Domna, the Empress of Septimius Severus (AD 193-211).
A circular relief, also from a silver vessel, shows Hercules wrestling with Antaeus: one of the pepper-pots from the Hoxne treasure has a slightly later representation of the same scene from mythology.