Missorium of Ardabur Aspar

Type: Plates
Date: 434
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Italy
Medium: Silver
Dimensions: 42 cm
Description: In the late Roman or late antique world, a missorium was a large plate associated with high-status gift giving (the word comes from the Latin for "dish"). This silver example commemorated the appointment of Flavius Ardabur Aspar (ca. 400–71) to the position of consul in Rome in 434. The silver may have been obtained by melting down damaged coins.

The Latin inscription around the (replaced) rim, once filled with niello, begins with a cross and advertises Aspar's name and titles to an unknown recipient. The inscription encircles the image of the toga-clad consul, seated on a lion-headed sella curulis alongside his standing son. Aspar's scepter is topped with small busts of the reigning co-emperors, Theodosius II in the East and Valentinian III in the West. The larger busts in medallions at the top depict Aspar's father, who was consul in 427, and another relative who held the title before that. Flanking Aspar and his son are female personifications of cities, almost certainly Rome on the left and perhaps Constantinople or Carthage on the right. Below these figures, in the lower part of the missorium (called the exergue), palm leaves and shields refer to the consul's responsibility to stage public games and celebrations, including those for military victories, in the circus. On such occasions, the consul would hand out commemorative tableware like this missorium, which may be the round object shown in the center of the exergue.

The fact that Aspar was an Arian Christian and originally an Alan—one of the groups that migrated westward from Central Asia in the first centuries CE—underscores how capable individuals of diverse origins could attain positions of high authority in the Roman world. In presenting someone with the costly missorium, Aspar, a military man who fought the Vandals, was imitating the practice of late Roman emperors.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 2

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Missorium of Ardabur Aspar, 434.jpg Missorium of Ardabur Aspar, 434 (1932)