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Plate with the Battle of David and Goliath

Made in Constantinople
Overall: 19 7/16 x 2 5/8 in., 203.9oz. (49.4 x 6.6 cm, 5780g) foot: 8 1/8 x 3/4 in. (20.6 x 1.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
  • Description

    In 628–29 the Byzantine emperor Herakleios (r. 610–41) successfully ended a long, costly war with Persia and regained Jerusalem, Egypt, and other Byzantine territory. Silver stamps dating to 613–29/30 on the reverse of these masterpieces place their manufacture in Herakleios’s reign. The biblical figures on the plates wear the costume of the early Byzantine court, suggesting to the viewer that, like Saul and David, the Byzantine emperor was a ruler chosen by God. Elaborate dishes used for display at banquets were common in the late Roman and early Byzantine world; generally decorated with classical themes, these objects conveyed wealth, social status, and learning. This set of silver plates may be the earliest surviving example of the use of biblical scenes for such displays. Their intended arrangement may have closely followed the biblical order of the events, and their display may have conformed to the shape of a Christogram, or monogram for the name of Christ.

    At the top of this magnificent plate, David confronts Goliath, and between them is a personification of the river from which David gathered stones for his sling. The major scene shows the decisive battle. Although David appears to be on the defensive, his men move forward, forcing Goliath’s soldiers into retreat. At the bottom, the victorious David beheads the giant (1 Samuel 17:41–51).

  • Provenance

    Cyprus Treasure, found at Karavas, Cyprus, 1902
    ; J. Pierpont Morgan, London and New York (until 1917)