The Avar Treasure

Date: 600s (bucket)–700s

Culture: Avar or Byzantine

Medium: Gold and silver

Classification: Metalwork-Gold

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

Accession Number: 17.190.1673–1701, 1704–1705, 1707–.1712a

Description

This ensemble of objects, all found together in Vrap, in modern-day Albania, attests to the wealth of the Avars, a nomadic tribe of mounted warriors from the Eurasian steppe. The Avars maintained a complex relationship with the Byzantine empire from the sixth to the eighth century, at times protecting the empire's borders, at times raiding the very lands they had agreed to defend. Tribute payments from the Byzantine empire and war booty provided the Avars with enormous amounts of gold and silver. Avar goldsmiths created works of exceptionally high quality and were counted among the ruling class.

This treasure contains an array of belt fittings, some richly decorated, some unfinished or defectively cast. It also includes several vessels: a ewer with a Greek inscription, a sixth-century Byzantine bucket used for drawing water, several simple goblets with covers, and a more elaborate goblet decorated with personifications of four ecclesiastical centers in the Byzantine world, including its capital, Constantinople. Why this varied group of objects was brought together remains a mystery. Some scholars have suggested that the objects were part of a treasure belonging to an Avar chief; others have speculated that they were materials belonging to an Avar craftsman. Though some have asserted that the vessels were created by a provincial Byzantine artist, it is more likely that most of them were made to emulate Byzantine works admired from afar.

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