- Museum number
Object: The Hoxne 'Empress' pepper pot
Silver pepper pot in anthropomorphic form. The hollow vessel is designed as a female half-figure soldered to a separate base. It depicts a woman with an elaborate fourth-century hairstyle: the hair is parted in the middle, with rolls at the sides. The back hair is worked into a flat series of twisted locks at the neck that are drawn up over the back of the head, turned under at the front, and held in place with hairpins. Three knobs at the front and another at the crown of the head represent the hairpins: they are ungilded, while the hair itself is gilt. The woman wears a sleeved undergarment with tight gilded cuffs at the wrists, and a wide-sleeved tunic with stripes of gilded and engraved decoration over the shoulders representing applied bands of embroidered or patterned textile (clavi). In her left hand she holds a gilded scroll, to which she points with the index finger of her right hand. Almond-shaped earrings and a necklace of large beads are depicted in relief and gilded, and there is additional gilding on the face, covering not only the eyes but the entire eye sockets, and the mouth. The rectangular base plate with slightly convex sides is raised on four small baluster feet. The central area is recessed and has two large heart-shaped apertures flanking the projecting central catch, which turned the assembly. The catch is almost square, and its sides are indented to follow the shape of the saltire engraved on each side. The bottom edge is serrated. The internal turning disc has two large arcs cut out for the filling holes and two groups of perforations designed for dispensing pepper or another spice at the dining table.
- Production date
Diameter: 33 millimetres (internal disc)
Height: 103 millimetres
Weight: 107.90 grammes (approx)
Width: 57.90 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- 'Empress' pepper pot from the Hoxne hoard
Roman Britain, buried in the 5th century AD
From Hoxne, Suffolk
The Hoxne (pronounced 'Hoxon') hoard is the richest find of treasure from Roman Britain. Alongside the approximately 15,000 coins were many other precious objects, buried for safety at a time when Britain was passing out of Roman control.
This pepper-pot was one of four in the hoard. Pepper was first imported into the Roman world from India in the first century AD, but piperatoria, the special containers for this expensive spice, are very rare finds. This example takes the form of a hollow silver bust of an Imperial lady of the late-Roman period. Bronze steelyard-weights of similar appearance are well known in the late-Antique period and though many attempts have been made to see in them a portrait of a specific empress, it is more likely that they simply represent a generic Imperial image.
Details of the Empress's jewellery and rich clothing are gilded, and she holds a scroll in her left hand. The pot has a disc in the base which could be turned to three positions, one closed, one with large openings to enable the pot to be filled with ground pepper, and a third which revealed groups of small holes for sprinkling.
- On display (G49/dc23)
- Exhibition history
2019 15 May-9 Sep, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2018 19 Apr-22 Jul, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 28 Jun-08 Oct, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 1 Mar-31 May, National Museum of China, Beijing, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016-2017 08 Sep-29 Jan, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016 13 Feb-18 Jun, National Museum of Western Australia, Perth, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015-2016 20 Sep-11 Jan, Kobe City Museum, Kobe, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 14 Jul–6 Sep, Kyushu National Museum, Dazaifu, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 18 Apr–28 Jun, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2014-2015 13 Dec-15 Mar, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2014 23 Apr-01 Aug, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects’
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
1994-1995 Oct-Jan, Ipswich Museum, The Hoxne Treasure
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Treasure/PAS number: T304 (Treasure number)