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Friday, April 10, 2015

“Tiberius Cup” from Boscoreale


This is a silver scyphus (a two-handled drinking cup), one of a pair discovered in a villa at Boscoreale (near Pompeii, and so also buried by Vesuvius in AD 79) and bearing historical reliefs from the Julio-Claudian age.  The two cups are thought to be small-scale copies of reliefs from some major monument that has not survived.  They each have two panels and it has been argued that together the four panels form a sequence.  Here we are looking at one panel on the cup known as the “Tiberius Cup.”  It shows the future emperor riding in a triumphal quadriga (four-horse chariot).  Dressed in a toga, he holds a laurel branch and a scepter with an eagleJupiter’s bird—at its tip.  Behind him, a slave is placing a victory wreath over his head.  It is tempting to imagine the slave whispering into Tiberius’ ear to remind him that he is only a mortal, not a god…  (This element of the triumphal procession has recently been challenged as fanciful by Mary Beard in her book The Roman Triumph (2007) 85-92.)  A later stage of the same event is shown on the other side of the cup.  There Tiberius is shown presiding over the sacrifice of a bull in front of the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline hill, where the triumphal parade ended.  The triumph to which this cup refers may be that one that Tiberius celebrated in 7 BC after his German campaigns, or else the one he celebrated in AD 12 after his subjection of Illyria.

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