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The Mildenhall treasure
The Mildenhall treasure, made famous by Roald Dahl's children's story, is one of the most important collections of silver tableware of the late Roman Empire. The objects were found during ploughing near Mildenhall in Suffolk in 1942 but were not declared Treasure Trove until 1946. Although no coins were found to give a reliable date, the tableware's style and decoration is typical of the fourth century AD. The artistic and technical quality of the silver is outstanding, and the vessels were probably owned by a person or family of considerable wealth and high social status.
The decoration found on some of the objects was achieved by chasing and engraving, while niello inlay was used to create black lines on the silver background. Much of the decoration relates to the mythology and worship of Bacchus, the god of wine, a theme that was very popular on silver tableware throughout the Roman period. But the decoration is not entirely pagan; Christian symbols, in the form of the Chi-Rho symbol, are also present on some of the spoons.
The staring face in the centre of the 'Great Dish' represents Oceanus, a Roman god of water, with dolphins in his hair and a beard formed of seaweed fronds. The inner circle, bordered by scallop shells, consists of sea-nymphs riding a sea-horse, a triton, a sea-stag and a ketos, a dragon-like sea-monster. The wide outer frieze features Bacchus himself, presiding over a celebration of music, dancing and drinking in his honour.