Four Furniture Ornaments Depicting the Tyches of Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople and Antioch. From the Esquiline Treasure, Late 4th Century CE
The Esquiline Treasure is a collection of over 57 different silver objects discovered in 1793 at the foot of the Esquiline Hill in Rome. All of the pieces date to 4th century CE, during the Late Roman Empire.
The Esquiline Treasure is important for the presence of silversmithing in the Late Roman Empire.
Although a number of large late Roman hoards have been discovered, most are from the fringes of the empire (such as Carthage or Roman Britain), and very few objects from the period can be presumed to have been made by silversmiths in Rome itself. The Esquiline treasure is also considered some of the finest examples of metalwork in the Late Antiquity.
The Esquiline Treasure is also important for the syncretism between Hellenistic religions and Christianity during Late Antiquity. The iconography of the figurative decoration of the treasure is purely pagan, depicting nereids, mythical creatures, and figures like Venus, Tyche and the muses. However, inscriptions on the Project Casket and other pieces in the treasure, suggest that some of the objects had Christian owners. The Esquiline Treasure reflects the survival of Hellenistic traditions, and that many Christians still embraced pagan images, despite the proscription of Hellenistic religion and establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the late 4th century CE.
The four Tyches, as well as the rest of the Esquiline Treasure, are on display at the British Museum
Shown is a 6th century mosaic found in Madaba, Jordan. Here I will provide 3, quick lines of thought in relation to such depictions, largely following the scholarship of art historian Kristin Aavitsland (2012).
One symbolic meaning for the birdcage iconographic imagery comes from the classical world, where the bird may be viewed as a metaphor for the human soul. Neo-Platonists and Stoics (such as Porphyry, Seneca) paralleled the birdcage to human life on earth: the soul (like the bird) yearns for its freedom, wishing to return to its heavenly origin (this is achieved by death). The soul is confined within the body, like a bird in a cage.
We occasionally see a similar use of the image of the caged bird in the Jewish tradition. The interpretation of this differs, here it can given a more positive meaning: the cage being viewed as protection rather than a confining prison. The secure cage protects those inside from the dangers of the outside world. Thus, the bird within the cage can here be viewed as a metaphor for the chosen people of God, who are proceeded by the Lord.
Alluding to both classical and Jewish texts, a similar image is again found in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. For example: “We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped” (Psalm 124). Here the image is used as a metaphor for deliverance, and the completeness of this deliverance is portrayed not only by merely escaping, but in that the danger itself is destroyed (the snare is broken).
The Projecta Casket is a silver-gilt toilet case found in a large treasure cache on the Esquiline Hill in 1753. Dating to 380 CE, the casket is the not only the grandest object in the Esquiline treasure, it is one of the finest examples of metalwork in the Late Roman Empire. Based on the inscription, the casket was most likely a wedding gift.
The Projecta Casket is also extremely important for its insight on interactions between Hellenistic religion and Christians. The images on the case are exclusively Roman. The bottom of the case depicts the bridal preparations before a Roman wedding while the lid depicts Nereids riding sea monsters, and the goddess Venus on a conch shell. The center of the lid contains a depiction of the newlywed couple flanked by amorini, which were a common motif used in depictions of marriage in Classical Antiquity.
The inscription on the Projecta Casket, however, reveals that the couple who owned it were not actually Pagan but Christian, as the inscription reads: “Projecta and Secundus, may you live in Christ.” The Projecta Casket reflects the survival of the Roman religious iconography in the Late Roman Empire, and shows that many Christians still embraced Roman Pagan images and traditions, despite the fact that Christianity was the official religion of the empire by this time.
The Projecta Casket is on display in the British Museum.
my heart has broken and crumbled so many times
i’m starting to think
that my heart really is clay and He is
a personal Potter.
but i break and i break and i break
and clay cannot break when it is soft and malleable
it can only break after it has hardened.
He is breaking me, and i am resisting so i am breaking
so much the more.
when will i give in?
when will i rest and allow Him
to mold me to whatever He will?
He is the Maker and i have stubborn pride that refuses
to be what He says is best, but rather what will fulfill my wants.
but my wants are not always best
and i do not specialize in pottery;
i cannot spin the wheel and hold my foot against the pump
and mold clay into an immaculate creation.
but He can, and that is what He is here for
and i am here to be molded-
not to mold
i am His i am His i am His
even on the days that i break
after he has worked on me for months and months
even after that relapse, even after that slip-up;
i am His i am His i am His
and i wouldn’t have it any other way.