- Museum number
Object: The Mildenhall Great Dish
Object: The Mildenhall Bacchic platter
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 to 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.
- Production date
Diameter: 210 millimetres (foot-ring)
Diameter: 605 millimetres
Height: 21 millimetres (foot-ring)
Height: 61 millimetres
Weight: 8256 grammes
- 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
- Bibliographic references
Painter 1977a / The Mildenhall Treasure: Roman Silver from East Anglia
Hobbs 2008 / The secret history of the Mildenhall treasure
Roman Britain 1964 / Guide to the Antiquities of Roman Britain (p. 40)
Hobbs & Jackson 2010 / Roman Britain Life at the Edge of Empire (p.142, p.150, fig.121)
Hobbs 2016 / The Mildenhall Treasure: Late Roman Silver Plate from East Anglia (p.iv, p.1, pl.1, p.2, pl.4, p.3, p.4, p.5, pl.8, p.7, p.9, p.10, pl.13, pl.14, p.11, pl.15, pl.16, pl.17, p.12, pl.18, pl.19, p.14, p.15, p.16, p.19, pl.21, p.17, table.2, p.19, pl.21, p.20, pl.22, p.21, pl.23, p.22, pl.24-25, p.23, pl.26, p.24, pl.27-28, p.25, pl.29, p.26, pl.30-32, p.27, pl.33-34, p.28, pl.35, p.29, pl.36-38, p.30, pl.39-40, p.31, pl.41-43, p.32, pl.44-45, p.33, pl.46b-c, p.34, pl.46k, p.35, pl.46q, r, t, p.36, pl.47, p.37, table.3, p.45, table.4, p.50, table.5, p.51, p.52, table.6, p.55, pl.79, p.56, pl.80-82, p.57, pl.83, p.58, pl.84, pl.86, p.59, p.60, pl.89, p.63, p.70, p.71, p.74-76, p.77, p.80, p.86, p.87, p.90-91, p.104, p.125, p.138-139, p.140, pl.234, p.204, p.233, p.240, p.241, p.242, table.17, p.244, p.245, pl.403, p.247, p.266, table.28, p.267, pl.407, p.268, p.271, p.273, p.279, table.31, p.281, p.282, p.284, p.288, p.297, p.298) (cat.1)
Weitzmann 1979 / Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century (130)
- 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
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Found while ploughing in 1942 and declared Treasure Trove in 1946.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number