Casket with Warriors and Dancers

Date: 11th century

Geography: Made in Constantinople

Culture: Byzantine

Medium: Ivory and bone; gilded copper mounts

Dimensions: 8 x 11 3/8 x 7 1/2 in. (20.3 x 28.9 x 19.1 cm)

Classification: Ivories

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

Accession Number: 17.190.239


"If perchance you wish to exempt certain pagans from punishment, my Christ,/ May you spare for my sake Plato and Plutarch,/ For both were very close to your laws in both teaching and way of life./ Even if they were unaware that you as God reign over all,/ In this matter only your charity is needed,/ Through which you are willing to save all me while asking nothing in return."
—John Mauropous (ca. 1000–1081)

Classical literature and classical images were preserved throughout the Byzantine period. The erotes who dance and wage mock battles on the sides of this casket and tame a female panther on the lid recall imagery associated with the ancient pagan cult of the god Dionysus. On the truncated pyramidal top, we see a series of erotes framed by a vine scroll, cavorting in various poses that emphasize their dancing movement through space. The erotes play instruments such as drums, cymbals, and tambourines, elements of the thiassos, or Dionysiac procession. On the back and right side panels of the box, the erotes rush confrontationally toward one another wearing chitons and carrying weapons in the guise of soldiers. There is an element of joviality and satire found in this imagery that is only seen in such objects that were part of the private life of the Byzantine citizen.