Lid of a ceremonial box, late 1st century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Augustan
Gilt silver; H. 1 in. (2.5 cm), W. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm), D. 2 5/8 in. (6.7 cm)
Purchase, Marguerite and Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Fund and Mr. and Mrs. Christos G. Bastis Gift, 2000 (2000.26)
The exquisite craftsmanship of this lid only adds to the curiosity about its subject matter and function. It is decorated in high relief with sacrificial animals and religious objects, packed tightly on a stippled background within the rectangular frame. Featured prominently are the heads of three domestic animals—a ram, a bull, and a goat—that were commonly used as offerings at major public ceremonies. Below them are two more sacrificial animals, a rooster and a kid with its legs bound, together with a sheathed knife, a libation bowl, a burning torch, a pomegranate, a floral garland, and a bundle of wooden staves. Such elaborate and symbolic decoration strongly suggests that the box to which the lid belonged had some religious function. The decoration is unusual but not unique; another lid in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (attached to an ancient but alien silver box) has a very similar design, though there the projecting horn of the bull's head serves as the only handle to the lid.