Cage Cup

Listen as curator David Whitehouse describes a Roman cage cup. Cage cups are the most exclusive luxury glasses made in the later Roman Empire. They date from about AD 250 to the mid-fourth century. Cutting and grinding a single thick-walled blank was a laborious and risky process. If just one mesh of the cage was broken, the entire vessel had to be scrapped. For this reason, cage cups were exceptional objects, often owned by the most privileged members of Roman society. Some cage cups are shaped like beakers and inscribed with toasts such as "Drink! May you live for many years!" Others, including the example shown here, are shaped like bowls. The metal fittings indicate that this object was meant to be suspended. It is possible that bowl-shaped cage cups were hanging lamps rather than drinking vessels.