Historical knowledge

Rome and the Barbarians

On the two silver cups from Hoby one of the picture scenes illustrates the Roman perception of the relationship between them and the Germanic populations of north and central Europe. It is the scene in which the Trojan king Priam kneels before Achilles and asks him to hand over his son’s body. Achilles is portrayed as the ideal athletic Roman – short-haired, clean-shaven, with a naked muscular torso, loincloth and bare feet. On the other hand Priam has a full beard and is dressed in a so-called Phrygian cap, shirt, trousers and shoes. In other words, he is dressed like a Germanic person – a Barbarian. The depiction shows the Barbarian submitting to the Roman and the scene is a symbol of the Romans’ perception of themselves.

No one knows if the Chieftain from Hoby understood that the magnificent cup described his own submission to the Romans. This and the other scenes on the Hoby cups show that they most likely were commissioned by a high-placed officer in the Roman army. The frieze’s military and power symbolism is very clear. Silius, the Roman commander-in-chief of the army in the northern-most province of the Empire, may have placed an order for the two cups with a Greek silversmith.

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