Rarely is a book devoted to a single piece of the so-called minor arts, but in this case, it is totally legitimate. The richly decorated late antique silver ewer discovered in 1992 in Trier, the late Roman imperial residence of Augusta Treverorum, is the topic of this long-awaited book by Annemarie Kaufmann-Heinimann and Max Martin, both well- known specialists in Late Antique silverware. This polygonal-shaped masterpiece with depictions of the Apostles was only known from short contributions and entries in exhibition catalogues.1 The ewer was discovered by a construction supervisor during earthmoving activities on the western fringe of the Roman city. It is especially important, as it is most likely to have been part of the huge fifth-century silver hoard consisting of 49 pieces (114.5 kg) that was unearthed in the same region in 1628. This hoard, the largest Late Antique silver treasure to date, was subsequently melted down after its discovery, but its inventory is known from contemporary records.
The volume is a collective work with contributions from ten authors. The contributions are not just set side by side, but are subordinate to an overall concept, as revealed by several cross-references. The first two chapters by Sabine Faust and Hartwig Löhr summarize the results of the large-scale excavations conducted in the area of Feldstraße. These excavations were conducted in several campaigns between 1977 and 2006 and revealed a late Bronze Age settlement, as well as Roman structures dating from the early imperial period to Late Antiquity. Special reference is given to the area of the find spot of the silver ewer. It is a stray find detected by chance during construction activities, but a detailed account is given on the circumstances of its discovery. The Roman buildings that were revealed in that area point to the context of a normal insula, not a monumental building.
The third chapter is an exemplary visual documentation of the ewer with 22 plates, including color photographs and drawings. The fourth chapter by Annemarie Kaufmann-Heinimann is devoted to a detailed description and commentary on form, typology, ornaments, and pictorial decoration. The form of the jug is closely related to examples from the silver hoard from Traprain Law, the famous Seuso treasure (pp. 55f.) and a piece recently sold on the art market (p. 125). Its figural decoration consists of eight haloed apostles distributed four by four in two zones. Only Peter and Paul are recognizable by their head types. Lambs with a halo represent the missing four apostles. The iconography of the apostles and the style of the figures are thoroughly discussed. Apart from the description and classification of the piece, the chapter includes a catalogue of 63 ewers made of precious metal from the fourth and fifth centuries, which are divided into six types (A-F). Chronological indications and a definition of frequently occurring ornaments are briefly discussed as an introduction to the catalogue. Each entry contains data about the find spot, measurements, weight, condition, decoration, dating, bibliography and an image. The author frequently refers to items listed in this catalogue.
The fifth chapter by Ludwig Eiden is devoted to the restoration and manufacturing techniques of the ewer. The condition of the piece before restoration, as well as the process of cleaning and reassembling is described in detail. In this context, several observations and clues regarding the manufacturing techniques were made. The thorough technical observations allow the reconstruction of the manufacturing process. The different stages of raising the body from a single sheet of silver are clarified by a number of instructive sketches.
Susanne Greiff presents the method and the results of the chemical examination of the ewer in the sixth chapter. The aim was to determine the chemical composition, using x-ray fluorescence, of the silver alloy, the niello inlays, and the applied technique of gilding. The results are an important supplement to the preceding contribution and the following metallurgical examination of the soft solder by Roland Schwab. The results of the lead-isotope-analysis of the solder point to the application of lead from a source in the mountains of Eifel in western Germany and this might indicate a manufacturing of the vessel in nearby Trier.
Barbara Niemeyer’s contribution is devoted to depictions of silver jugs in the figural arts of the second through sixth centuries. She aims to examine whether the typological criteria of the types A-F defined in the catalogue of ewers by Kaufmann-Heinimann appear in wall paintings, mosaics, sarcophagi, silver vessels and ivory tablets. The catalogue was composed solely on the basis of selected publications and does not claim to be complete. Furthermore the author clarifies that the quality of the published photographs limits the potential findings. The catalogue lists 134 vessels, each illustrated by a drawing. For each ewer bibliographical references are given in a footnote. According to the aim of the chapter, the typology of each jug and its possible affiliation to one of the types A-F is systematically discussed. The author concludes that in general, not contemporary but older vessel types are depicted in the pictorial sources. Only very few depictions of jugs show a clear typology affiliated to the types A-F. In most cases, features of these types are mixed in the pictorial representations.
The topic of the ninth chapter by Max Martin is the silver hoard of 49 objects discovered in 1628 and its evaluation in the context of silver tableware of the fifth century (submitted in November 2013). The author carefully presents the contemporary reports of the discovery of the treasure by the Jesuit Jakob Masen (1608-1681), the Luxembourgian humanist Alexander Wiltheims (1604-1682) and a manuscript in the library of the seminary at Trier. The latter is an eyewitness account ( Wägeprotokoll) written in Latin; it registers all the silver objects, their pictorial decoration and their weight. This record was the basis for the first edition of the inventory by Wolfgang Binsfeld in 1979.2 Binsfeld’s reading of the Latin manuscript is reproduced, as well as the reports of Masen and Wiltheims, which are based on this manuscript but differ in their (Latin) wording. This critical presentation of the sources is the basis for addressing a broad range of questions, such as typological characteristics, weight, ornamental and pictorial decoration, style, chronology, monetary value and cultural setting. In order to assess the historical significance of the hoard, the author constantly compares the inventory to all important silver treasures of the fourth and fifth centuries. The treasure is identified as the main part of a set of tableware, not as loot. The objects listed in the inventory are dated to the first half of the fifth century. Martin concludes that the pieces were hidden by its owner in the second quarter of the fifth century in connection with one of the sacks of Trier during that period. Based on the names inscribed on two of the plates (Nicetius, Audentia, Bassula) the owners are identified as belonging to the senatorial elite in Gaul. The historical and archaeological evidence for activities of the state and members of the aristocracy in Trier in the first half of the fifth century are compiled in order to embed the treasure into the historical circumstances at that time.
Annemarie Kaufmann-Heinimann summarizes the results of all contributions and this summary is also translated into English. An extensive index of objects, places and persons allows a purposive approach for the learned reader and is a great benefit for the book. An extensive overall bibliography follows.
This abundantly illustrated book enriches the academic discussion of Late Antique silverware in all respects. First, it offers a state of the art documentation and interpretation of a unique piece of high quality workmanship. The results of the manufacturing process by Eiden and the chemical examinations by Greiff and Schwab are of great value for future analyses of other silver objects. Second, the useful catalogues of ewers and depictions of such vessels in works of art make the book a basic work of reference for metal pitchers from the fourth and fifth centuries.3 Third, in the contributions by Kaufmann-Heinimann (pp. 81-88) and Martin (pp. 239-243), the Christian imagery on tableware and its function is considered in a broader perspective. They offer a survey of the limited amount of silver tableware with Christian images of the fourth/fifth centuries and determine that the decoration of the ewer, as well as the two plates with busts of saints recorded in the inventory, are an innovation in this type of luxury banqueting objects, which was dominated by traditional imagery. In this regard, the book complements the discussion on function and meaning of “Christian” silver plate by Ruth Leader-Newby.4 Fourth, the monograph constitutes an indispensable work of reference for the important silver treasure from Trier to which the ewer, in all probability, belonged. The accurate discussion by Martin goes far beyond the comments in the initial edition of the inventory by Binsfeld. For the first time this hoard is systematically compared to all the important contemporary treasures. Furthermore it is convincingly associated with the reestablishment of Roman rule in Gaul, the revival of Roman administration, including the mint at Trier in the 420s-450s, and the latest presence of members of the senatorial elite in this period.
To sum up: This study has brought out the best of a chance find of a single silver vessel, by making important contributions to the history of craft, technology, society and events of Late Antiquity. It represents an essential work for any future research in Late Antique silver, as well as a major contribution to the little-explored history of Roman Trier in the fifth century.
1. Annemarie Kaufmann-Heinimann, „Silberkanne,“ in: Benjamin Fourlas, Vasiliki Tsamakda (eds.), Wege nach Byzanz (Mainz, 2011), 296 no. III.3.5; Annemarie Kaufmann-Heinimann, Max Martin, “Die Trierer Silberkanne” in: Alexander Demandt / Josef Engemann (eds.), Konstantin der Grosse: Imperator Caesar Flavius Constantinus (Mainz 2007), 382-385 and no. I.11.1; Winfried Weber, “Archäologische Zeugnisse aus der Spätantike und dem frühen Mittelalter zur Geschichte der Kirche im Bistum Trier (3.-10. Jahrhundert)” in Heinz Heinen et al. (eds.), Im Umbruch der Kulturen. Spätantike und Frühmittelalter. Veröffentlichungen des Bistumsarchivs Trier 38 = Geschichte des Bistums Trier 1 (Trier 2003), 468-470 and fig. 35.
2. Wolfgang Binsfeld, „Der 1628 gefundene römische Silberschatz.“ Trierer Zeitschrift 42, 1979, 113-127.
3. The book is complemented by the recently published monograph of Tivadar Vida, Die frühbyzantinische Messingkanne mit Jagdszenen von Budakalász (Ungarn) (Budapest 2017), which is devoted to a unique copper alloy ewer of the late fifth-early sixth century with hunting scenes. Vida also addresses a broad range of questions and discusses the typology and the ornamental decoration of the ewer considering examples of precious metal as well as of bronze and brass from the period of the fourth-ninth centuries. Although the book has a different focus, it offers additional material for research in late antique metal ewers not included in the publication by Kaufmann-Heinimann and Martin.
4. Ruth E. Leader-Newby, Silver and Society in Late Antiquity. Functions and Meanings of Silver Plate in the Fourth to Seventh Centuries (Aldershot 2004).