Library exhibition on “Devotion and Decadence: The Berthouville Treasure and Roman Luxury”

By Gabriel McKee

In celebration of ISAW’s latest exhibit “Devotion and Decadence: The Berthouville Treasure and Roman Luxury from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France,” the ISAW Library is proud to announce a miniature exhibition of books relating to the exhibit. Curated by Gabriel Mckee and located on the second floor of ISAW, this library exhibition shows publications relating to silver hoards, including Roman hoards like the Berthouville Treasure and similar finds from other regions and periods of the ancient world.

The first case of this bibliographic exhibit focuses on hoards of Roman silver. The stories of these treasure’s discovery highlights the difficult paths such items, found by chance, can take. The Mâcon Treasure, represented by a catalog of silver objects in the British Museum, contained as many as 30,000 individual pieces when it was discovered in east-central France in 1764, but much of it was sold, stolen, or melted down, and only nine pieces (mostly statuettes) survive. The Suffolk farmer who found the Mildenhall Treasure in a field in 1942 displayed the objects in his home for several years, but an inquest several years later declared the find to be the property of the British Crown, and it entered the collection of the British Museum; our exhibit displays the provisional handbook of the find put out the following year. (A revised handbook, held in the library's collection but not on display, followed in 1955). 270 silver objects were found at Kaiseraugst, Switzerland in the early 1960s, on a site that is now an open-air museum of Roman antiquities; our exhibit displays a catalog of the silver objects from the site. Not all silver finds have clear stories of their discovery: for example, Croatia, Hungary, and Lebanon have all claimed to be the place of origin of the Sevso Treasure (represented by the Journal of Roman Archaeology’s detailed publication of the 14 items); in the absence of a clear find-spot, the treasure is named after the donor designated by an inscription on one of the items.

Our second display case explores non-Roman hoards. A catalog of objects found in the Kuban River region, primarily by archaeologist Aleksandr Leskov, displays a magnificent silver and gold rhyton found in a Maeotian burial mound near the town of Ulyap, Adygea, Russia. The Rogozen Treasure, represented by the Bulgarian Academy of Science’s catalog of the find, is a collection of 165 silver and silver-gilt objects from the Thracian period, found in Bulgaria in 1985 by a tractor driver digging a ditch for water pipes. The St. Ninian’s Isle Treasure, a collection of Pictish silver objects from the Shetland Islands, was found during a schoolboy volunteering to assist with an archaeological dig in an early medieval church in 1958, and is represented in our exhibition by a catalog of the find issued by the University of Aberdeen two years later.

The ISAW Library is excited to provide this bibliographical supplement to "Devotion and Decadence." If you are visiting the ISAW Library, please take a moment to visit this exhibit on the second floor. 

We are grateful to all those who have helped to make this display possible, especially Rachel Herschman, Joanna Salicki, and the entire ISAW Exhibition Department.