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Interpreting Material Culture: Silverware in Ostrogothic and Byzantine Italy

Marco Aimone, University of Turin, Fellow 2016–2017, Spring

Rather than focusing on their aesthetic value, I considered official, domestic, and liturgical silver objects as part of “material culture” and as forms of social, political, and religious expression. A comprehensive study on sixth- and seventh-century silverware from Italy is still lacking. I have listed thirty-nine groups of objects, of which sixteen come from hoards that were hidden for protection. Nine were church property, five were funerary goods, two are of uncertain provenance—they could perhaps be added to the latter group—and one was part of the cargo of a shipwreck. For the remaining seven silver vessels, now in museums or private collections, we simply know that they were found in Italy. I addressed questions on the use of these objects and the criteria employed to date them, as well as issues of technique and decoration. Finally, my analysis centered on the historical and cultural contexts of the silverware to gather important information on the gradual transition of Italian society from antiquity to the Middle Ages. My study sheds new light on the economic, technical, and social contexts to which the Ostrogothic and Byzantine silverware belong, and opens the way for future research in the field.