My watch list  

Missorium of Theodosius I

    The missorium of Theodosius I is a large ceremonial silver dish preserved in the Real Academia de Historia, in Madrid, Spain. It was probably made in Constantinople for the tenth anniversary (decennalia) in 388 of the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I, the last Emperor to rule both the Eastern and Western Empires. It is one of the best surviving examples of Late Antique Imperial imagery and one of finest examples of late Roman goldsmith work.


It shows the Emperor framed in an arcade, giving a decree (possibly a letter of appointment) to a senior official, flanked by his two co-emperors, Valentinian II and his own son Arcadius, and bodyguards. This iconological motif is known as the Traditio legis, and was later transferred from Late Antique Imperial art to Christian art, in the iconic "Christ in Majesty". Below there is a scene of putti offering garlands up to the Emperor above. Theodosius is shown far larger than the other figures, as is common in the hieratic Late Antique style, despite the fact that Valentinian II had been an Emperor for longer. The three emperors have haloes which is usual at this period. Although all were Christians, there are no specific Christian elements in the iconography.

Their clothing is early Byzantine dress consistent with other Imperial portraits of the period. The two co-emperors have decorated tablions (patches showing rank attached to their main garment) at their knees, or possibly Epigonations (unattached ceremonial "handkerchiefs", which survive as an Eastern Orthodox vestment). These would have been highly decorated with embroidery and probably jewels. The official receiving the document wears clothes decorated with stripes and patches which would have been a kind of uniform for his office. The three Imperial figures have tightly curled hairstyles, and wear diadems of pearls. Their cloaks are fastened with large circular jewelled fibulae.

A commemorative dish

The missorium comes from a treasure of silver objects that also included two cups, discovered in 1847 in Almendralejo, close to Mérida in the Spanish province of Badajoz. It is one of the most beautiful examples of silversmith's work of imperial largesse, that is to say of the category of luxury articles made for imperial celebrations such as accession to the throne and anniversaries and given on these occasions by the emperor to high-ranking dignitaries of the empire: they were mainly dishes, plates, cups, and bowls in silver.


Few examples of this imperial silver have survived; only nineteen items, all dating from the 4th century and produced for six different emperors. In this series, the missorium of Theodosius I is distinguished because it is both the latest - although the practice probably continued for a further two centuries - and because it carries the most elaborate decoration: the only other well-preserved examples are the Kerch plate, preserved at the Winter Palace in St Petersberg, showing Constantius II on horseback, and that of Valentinian I or Valentinian II in Geneva. A fragment from a treasure found at Groß Bodungen was probably the closest to the missorium of Theodosius I in design, but is too damaged to allow an identification or a precise dating. More examples have survived of aristocratic, rather than imperial silver, such as the Mildenhall Treasure probably dating from a few years earlier, or the Sevso Treasure.

The Madrid dish is made of solid silver and has traces of gilding on the inscriptions. Its size is exceptional compared to other contemporary silver dishes, measuring 74 cm in diameter with a thickness which varies between 4 and 8 mm. It rests on a ring, 3 cm thick with a diameter of 26 cm, which was welded to the base. This ring has a Greek inscription specifying the official weight of the object:

ποc ↑Ν ΜεΤ i.e. ποσότης λιτρῶν 50 μετάλλου (“50 metal books”)

The 50 "books" correspond to an official weight of 16.13 kg of silver, whereas the dish actually weighs only 15.35 kg; the difference could be because the dish was weighed and marked before being decorated: a piece of the dish is also missing. The decoration, at the same time engraved and with repoussé decoration (pushed out from the back), would have removed a little metal, although this is unlikely to account for the whole difference.


The subject of the decoration is the emperor enthroned with his co-reigning emperors. An inscription along the side of the rim makes it possible to identify him with certainty:


that is to say: “Our Lord Theodosius, Perpetual Augustus, on this very happy day of the tenth (anniversary of his reign).”

The inscription indicates that the dish was made at the time of the decennalia of an emperor named Theodosius. The presence of two co-regents makes it possible to exclude immediately Theodosius II, for he had one co-regent — his uncle Flavius Honorius — at the time of the tenth anniversary of his reign, celebrated in 412. This leaves the decennalia of Theodosius I, on January 19 388. It was celebrated when the emperor was staying at Thessaloniki from September 387 to April 388. Some have concluded that the missorium was the work of a Thessalonician workshop, but it is more likely that it was ordered from the Imperial workshops in Constantinople.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Missorium_of_Theodosius_I". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE