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07.05.2021

Mildenhall Treasure

The Mildenhall Treasure is a large hoard of 34 masterpieces of Roman silverware from the fourth century AD, and is by far the most valuable Roman object artistically and bullion weight in Britain. It was found in West Row, near Mildenhall, Suffolk, in 1942. It consists of more than thirty objects, including the Great Dish, which weighs more than 8 kilograms.

The collection is on display at the British Museum because of its great importance and value, and exact replicas are on display at a local museum in Mildenhall.

The treasure was discovered while plowing in January 1942 by Gordon Butcher, who extracted it from the ground with the help of Sidney Ford, for whom he was then working. Many of the details of the discovery remained unclear, not least because it occurred during wartime. Apparently, they didn't recognize the objects for what they were at first, although Ford collected ancient objects. Ford cleaned the items and displayed them in his home, using some of them as everyday utensils and some, such as the Great Dish, for special occasions with his family. Ford declared the treasure to the authorities in 1946 after an acquaintance saw them in his home. An investigation was conducted in the summer of that year, when the find was officially declared a "treasure trove" and acquired by the British Museum in London. At the time, academic opinion was not generally inclined to think that Roman silver of such high quality could have been used in Roman Britain, so there were many imaginative rumors and even doubts that this was a genuine British find. Numerous well-documented discoveries of high quality Roman materials in recent decades, including the Hoxne hoard, also found in Suffolk, have dispelled all these doubts.

The treasure of Mildenhall contains objects that undoubtedly belong to the first level of Roman art and craftsmanship on the international quality scale. Although it was found at the time and in a way which leaves many unanswered questions about the reasons and date of its concealment, the general dating of the 4th century is certain, and the decoration with its traditional pagan themes simply touched off the influence of the new faith, Christianity, in some minor works, characteristic of that period of change in the Roman Empire. We cannot yet say where items such as the Big Dish were made, but it is safe to assume that it was somewhere in the Mediterranean region.

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