Warren Cup

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The Warren Cup
Warren Cup BM GR 1999.4-26.1 n1.jpg
Warren Cup, side A
Material Silver
Size height:11cm, width:9.9cm (max.), depth:11cm
Created Roman, AD 5 – 15
Present location Room 70, British Museum, London
Identification GR 1999,0426.1

The Warren Cup is an ancient Roman silver drinking cup decorated in relief with two images of male same-sex acts. The cup is named after its first modern owner, the collector and writer Edward Perry Warren. It was acquired by the British Museum in 1999. It is usually dated to the time of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (1st century AD), but doubts have been raised about its authenticity.[1]


Professor in Fine Arts Dr. John Clarke has approximated the dating of the cup with similarly styled objects found in Pompeii, due to the lack of archaeological context.[2] It was made in five sections: the main bowl, which was hammered thin from inside and subsequently finished off from the outside to produce the figures in relief; a separate plain inner liner bowl of thicker sheet silver with a solid rim, to make the cup easier to use and to clean; a base in solid silver; a cast foot soldered to the base' and two handles.[3] The cup shows signs of having been used over an extensive period; the handles are missing, and the gilding that may have been applied to certain features has been lost. Otherwise it is in an excellent state of preservation.


Representations of sexual acts are widely found in Roman art, although in contrast to Greek art, male-female scenes greatly outnumber same-sex couples. Illustrated drinking cups, often in pairs, were intended as dinner-party conversation pieces.[4]

One side of the Warren Cup depicts a mature bearded man (the active participant or in Greek terms the erastes) engaging in anal sex with a young man (the eromenos, "beloved"), who lowers himself onto the erastes using a rope or support from the ceiling in roughly the modern sexual position of reverse cowgirl. Meanwhile, a boy watches from behind a door.[5]

Warren Cup, side B

The other side depicts a younger adult male now as the "erastes" engaging in anal sex with a boy (now the "eromenos") . The boy's hairstyle is typical of the puer delicatus, a servant-boy or cup or armor bearer chosen for his good looks to serve as his master's favorite. The adult wears a wreath, perhaps indicating his role as "erotic conqueror." Roman same-sex practice differed from that of the Greeks, among whom pederasty was a socially acknowledged relationship between freeborn males of equal social status. Roman men, however, were free to engage in same-sex relations without a perceived loss of masculinity only as long as they took the penetrative role and their partner was a social inferior such as a slave or male prostitute: the paradigm of "correct" male sexuality was one of conquest and domination.[6]

Both scenes show draped textiles in the background, as well as a kithara (a string instrument) in the former scene and an aulos (pipes) in the latter. These, along with the careful delineation of ages and status and the wreaths worn by the youths, all suggest a cultured, elite, Hellenized setting with music and entertainment.[7]

Modern history[edit]

Warren purchased the cup from a dealer in 1911 for £2,000.[8] It was bought in Jerusalem and said to have been found near the city in Battir[9] (ancient Bethther), with coins of the emperor Claudius, possibly buried during the upheavals of the Jewish Revolt. According to Neil MacGregor, British Museum Director:[9]

We don't know for certain, but it's thought that the Warren Cup was found buried at Bittir, a town a few miles south-west of Jerusalem. How it got to this location is a mystery, but we can make a guess. We can date the making of the cup to around the year 10. About 50 years later, the Roman occupation of Jerusalem sparked tensions between the rulers and the Jewish community, and in AD 66 that exploded and the Jews took back the city by force. There were violent confrontations, and it is thought that our cup may have been buried at this date by the owner fleeing from the fighting.

View of the figure in the doorway

In the 1950s U.S. Customs refused the cup entry and a number of museums, including the British Museum, declined to buy it, thinking that they would never persuade the museum's trustees who were chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury.[10]

The cup was acquired by its present owner, the British Museum, in 1999 for £1.8 million, with funds provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, National Art Collections Fund and The British Museum Friends, to prevent its going abroad.[11] This was, at that time, the most expensive single item ever acquired by the British Museum, and many times the price at which it had been offered to them in the 1950s.[10]

It was the subject of a devoted exhibition in Room 3 at the Museum from 11 May to 2 July 2006, entitled "The Warren Cup: Sex and society in ancient Greece and Rome."[10] Curator Dyfri Williams said of the exhibition:

"We wanted to show this fantastic object in a context in which we could ask how much we understand about attitudes to sexuality when it was made. These objects seem extraordinary to us now, but there were many objects in common use, and wall paintings and mosaics in baths and in private houses, showing very similar imagery."

From 1 December 2006 to 21 January 2007 it was exhibited at the Yorkshire Museum,[12] and in 2010 in Nottingham.

The Warren Cup is the 36th object in A History of the World in 100 Objects, a BBC Radio 4 series first broadcast in 2010.[13]

Question of authenticity[edit]

In 2008, Maria Teresa Marabini Moevs argued in an article for Bollettino d’Arte that the Warren Cup is not in fact a Roman product of the early Imperial period, but rather was executed around 1900 by a gifted silversmith trained in the contemporary Liberty style, perhaps commissioned by the amateur archaeologist and dealer Fausto Benedetti (1874–1931), to meet what he knew to be the taste of his foreign client and friend Edward Perry Warren. Benedetti may have worked in collaboration with the Castellani brothers of Rome, who were leading goldsmiths in classical styles, and collectors and dealers in antiquities. Moevs, an authority on Roman pottery, claims that the images on the cup derive from fragments of several scenes on Greek and Roman ceramics, including some in the Castellani collection, which were combined and modified to create the scenes on the Warren cup. An appendix to that article by silversmith Claudio Franchi provides corroborating technical evidence. [14] Luca Giuliani, a professor of classical archaeology at Humboldt University, has also argued that the Warren cup was likely to be a modern fake, on the basis of the unique subject matter and serveral incoherencies in the iconography. [15] [16] [17] Nevertheless, at a King's College seminar on 12 March 2014 Giuliani conceded that, if the British Museum was to produce evidence for traces of silver chloride corrosion on the inner side of the cup's shell, this would be a decisive argument for the authenticity of the piece.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mary Beard took note of "strongly-held suspicions" that the cup may be 19th century in her 13 November 2010 Guardian review of Neil MacGregor's A History of the World in 100 Objects (accessed 12 November 2012). See discussion under "Question of authenticity".
  2. ^ Clark, John R. (March 5, 2001). Looking at Lovemaking Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C. – A.D. 250. University of California Press; 1st edition. pp. 70 [1]. ISBN 978-0520229044. 
  3. ^ How they would have appeared can be seen in an intact example of a skyphos from the Getty Museum.
  4. ^ John Pollini, "The Warren Cup: Homoerotic Love and Symposial Rhetoric in Silver," Art Bulletin 81.1 (1999), p. 37.
  5. ^ Pollini, "The Warren Cup," pp. 38–39.
  6. ^ Pollini, "The Warren Cup," passim.
  7. ^ Pollini, "The Warren Cup," pp, 21–55; Clarke, Looking at Lovemaking, pp. 70–72.
  8. ^ Ancient West & East, Volume 6, Brill, 2007, p. 447, ISSN 1783-8363, OCLC 637450000 
  9. ^ a b 10:00 - 10:45 (2008-09-04). "A History of the World - About: Transcripts - Episode 36 - Warren Cup". BBC. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  10. ^ a b c Kennedy, Maev (12 May 2006). "British Museum exhibition reveals saucy side of the ancient world". The Observer. 
  11. ^ "The secrets of Cupboard 55". The Telegraph. 19 June 1999. 
  12. ^ "Warren Cup on show in York". York Press. 2006-11-28. Retrieved 2010-06-10. 
  13. ^ Paul Roberts, curator, British Museum. "A History of the World - Object: Warren Cup". BBC. Retrieved 2010-06-10. 
  14. ^ M.T. Marabini Moevs, "Per una storia del gusto: riconsiderazioni sul Calice Warren," in Bollettino d'Arte, (Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali) 146, Ottobre -Dicembre 2008, pp. 1-16. (abstract)
  15. ^ Luca Giuliani, "Ein Kelch für Mr. Warren." Zeitschrift für Ideengeschichte VII, 3, 2013, 77-92.
  16. ^ £1.8m Roman goblet bought by Britain is branded a fake: German archeologist challenges British Museum's view that drinking vessel dates from the first century, Dalya Alberge, 12 March 2014, The Daily Mail
  17. ^ German archaeologist suggests British Museum's Warren Cup could be forgery, Dalya Alberge, 12 March 2014, The Guardian

Further reading[edit]

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