Collection online

The Mildenhall Great Dish / The Mildenhall Bacchic platter

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Mildenhall Great Dish
    • The Mildenhall Bacchic platter
  • Description

    A large concave silver platter with beaded rim (135 beads in total) on a circular vertical foot-ring positioned exactly one-third in from the rim. The entire upper surface is decorated in raised relief executed by chasing with details added with the use of fine incised lines. This is divided into 3 decorative zones in a circular arrangement, alluding toto the worship and mythology of Bacchus on land and in the sea. In the central medallion is a facing head of Oceanus, with dolphins in his hair and a beard formed of seaweed fronds, enclosed in a border of 91 circular pellets. The inner frieze, bordered by scallop shells, consists of four scenes of naked nereids riding mythical marine creatures, a triton, a half-stag/half-sea creature, a ketos in association with a triton and a hippocamp. The wide outer frieze features 6 different scenes with the central figures being Bacchus, holding a bunch of grapes and a thyrsus and resting a foot on his panther. The god presides over a celebration of music, dancing and drinking in his honour. The participants include the hero Hercules, overcome by the consumption of wine and having to be supported by two satyrs, the goat-legged god Pan, and various satyrs and maenads dancing or playing musical instruments. In the field there are a variety of objects associated with the thiasos, including a krater, pedum, skin with grapes, drums or tambourines and a mask of Silenus on a pedestal.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 4thC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Diameter: 605 millimetres
    • Weight: 8256 grammes
    • Height: 61 millimetres
    • Height: 21 millimetres (foot-ring)
    • Diameter: 210 millimetres (foot-ring)
  • Curator's comments

    Ploughman Gordon Butcher, along with his employer Sydney Ford, an agricultural engineer who collected local antiquities, unearthed the Mildenhall treasure in 1942. Ford took the finds to his home, where he displayed them on the sideboard. Dr H.A. Fawcett, a local amateur antiquarian, visited Ford in April 1946, and was reluctantly shown the hoard which Ford had concealed for more than four years. Pieces were sent to the British Museum for analysis to convince Ford they were made of silver, as Ford had persistently claimed that he thought the pieces were made of pewter and therefore not subject to Treasure Trove. The coroner was told and a Treasure inquest held. The collection was declared Treasure Trove at Bury St Edmunds in 1946, was subsequently acquired by the British Museum.This hoard is one of the most important collections of late-Roman silver tableware from the Roman Empire. 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 objects is outstanding, and though we do not know who owned them, it was probably a person or family of considerable wealth and high social status.

    So far little is known about the production centres for silver plate in Britain, though we do know about the manufacturing techniques, as for example, the decoration found on some of the Mildenhall objects. This is 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.

    The most famous object in the Mildenhall treasure is the large, highly decorated circular platter usually known as the 'Great Dish', or as the 'Neptune' or 'Oceanus Dish'. Bacchic imagery had a long history in Greek and Roman art, and this example, on a magnificent silver vessel, is one of the finest to survive from the late-Roman period.

    K.S. Painter, The Mildenhall Treasure (London, 1977)
    R. Dahl, The Mildenhall treasure, with pictures by Ralph Steadman (London, Jonathan Cape, 1999)
    R. Hobbs, 'The Mildenhall treasure: Roald Dahl's ultimate tale of the unexpected?', Antiquity, 271 (March 1997), pp. 63-74


  • Bibliography

    • Painter 1977a bibliographic details
    • Hobbs 2008 bibliographic details
    • Weitzmann 1979 130 bibliographic details
    • Hobbs 2016 cat. 1 bibliographic details
    • Hobbs & Jackson 2010 p. 142 bibliographic details
    • Hobbs & Jackson 2010 p. 150, fig. 121 bibliographic details
    • Roman Britain 1964 p. 40 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G49/dc22

  • Exhibition history

    2013 23 May - 4 Aug, BM, Room 3, Silver Service: Fine dining in Roman Britain
    2012 25 Jul - 28 Oct, Ipswich, Christchurch Mansion, Spotlight: The Mildenhall Dish
    2005 25 Jul-2006 13 Jan, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
    2005 12 Feb-26 Jun, Newcastle, Hancock Museum, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
    2004 1 Oct-2005 15 Jan, Manchester Museum, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
    2004 30 Apr-21 Sep, Cardiff, National Museums & Galleries of Wales, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
    2003 21 Nov-2004 14 Mar, London, BM, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
    1990 28 Jun-23 Sep, Australia, Melbourne, Museum of Victoria, Civilization: Ancient Treasures from the British Museum, cat no.93
    1990 24 Mar-10 Jun, Australia, Canberra, National Gallery of Australia, Civilization: Ancient Treasures from the British Museum, cat no.93
    1977-1978 18 Nov-12 Feb, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Early Christian Art

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Found while ploughing in 1942 and declared Treasure Trove in 1946.

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


The Great Dish from the Mildenhall treasure

The Great Dish from the Mildenhall treasure

Image description



If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: 

View open data for this object with SPARQL endpoint

Object reference number: BCB12873

British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.

View this object

Support the Museum:
donate online

The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.

About the database

The British Museum collection database is a work in progress. New records, updates and images are added every week.

More about the database 


Work on this database is supported by a range of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

More about supporters and how you
can help