Berthouville Treasure

The Berthouville treasure is a hoard of Roman silver uncovered by ploughing in March 1830[1] at the hamlet of Villeret[2] in the commune of Berthouville in the Eure département of Normandy, northern France. Purchased at the time of discovery for a modest 15,000 francs, the treasure is conserved in the Cabinet des Médailles at the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris.[3]

Berthouville Treasure
Luxe & Antiquité31a statuette Mercure nu.jpg
Silver figure of the Roman god Mercury
WeightCombined 25 kilograms (55 lb)
Created1st-2nd century CE
Discovered21 March 1830
Berthouville, Normandy, France
Present locationNational Library of France


Silver jug made in Italy, with votive inscription from Q. Domitius Tutus to Mercury (mid-1st century CE)

The Berthouville hoard was discovered in early 1830 when farmer Prosper Taurin struck a Roman tile while ploughing his field near the village of Berthouville, in Normandy, France.[4] Once dislodged, the tile uncovered the hastily buried temple treasure[5] a mere 20 cm beneath the modern surface.

The treasure belonged to a sanctuary of Mercury Canetonensis.[4] In the mid-1st century BCE, Julius Caesar had identified Mercury as one of the main deities of Gaul.[6] In his Gallo-Roman form Mercury is frequently found with a Gaulish epithet.

The trésor de Berthouville is one of only three known collections of valuable objects definitely associated with a local religious cult in Gaul or Britannia.[7]

The treasureEdit

Achilles mourning Patroclus on a silver jug, also from Tutus' votive offering
A phiale that was part of Tutus' gift to the shrine of Mercury Canetonensis

The treasure consists of silver and other metalwork, of varying type, quality and dates in the 1st to late 2nd centuries of the Common Era. The hoard was hidden in the late 2nd or early 3rd century, but contained heirloom pieces like the repoussé silver jug that was made in Italy in the 1st century CE. The find totalled 93 items, some of which were dissociated handles and silver appliqués, with a total weight of 25 kg.[4] Most of the items are bowls, cups and jugs,[8] but there is also a phiale for libations.[9]

There are also two silver statuettes of Mercury (the larger 60 cm tall) and a silver bust of a goddess, probably his mother Maia,[10] perhaps representing Romanized versions of Gallic deities. The pairing of a Roman god with a Gallic goddess would be characteristic of Gallo-Roman religion.[11]

Four of the bowls have incised emblematic designs associated with Mercury, and the formulaic Latin initialism VSLM, standing for votum solvit libens merito ("He fulfils his vow freely, as is deserved").[12] Nine of the vessels form a group of luxury domestic silver of 1st century date[13] with iconographic connections to Dionysus rather than to Mercury, marked as votive offerings (vota) of one Q. Domitius Tutus; they include a matching pair of silver drinking cups (scyphi) with Dionysiac imagery of centaurs,[14] and a pair of silver wine-jugs.[8]

Excavations near the find-spot in 1861-1862 and 1986[15] revealed a Gallo-Roman theatre and a shrine that may have been the shrine to which the silver objects had been dedicated.


The Berthouville treasure left France for the first time to be studied and conserved at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California, as part of collaborative multi-year conservation project between the Getty and the Cabinet des Médailles.[16] Study of the objects revealed previously obscured fine details on the works, and increased understanding of the interaction between Roman and Gallic cultures in what is now northern France.[4]

The restored treasure was exhibited at the Getty Villa from November 2014 to August 2015, then went on tour in the US and Europe before being returned to Paris.[4]


  1. ^ The 21 March, by Prosper Taurin, according to Auguste Le Prévost, who had been born nearby at Bernay (Prévost, Mémoire sur la collection de vases antiques trouvée en 1830 à Berthouville (arr. de Bernay), Caen, 1832:6); Archives relative to the acquisition of the Berthouville Treasure, B.N. 8 AMC 35 (1830) Archived May 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Bouillett, Auguste (1 January 1897). Klincksieck, C. (ed.). "Un manuscrit inconnu du Liber Miraulorum Sancte Fidis" (PDF). Mémoires de la Société nationale des antiquaires de France. Sixth series (in French). Paris, France: Société nationale des antiquaires de France. 8 (1): 228–232. ISSN 2263-4428. OCLC 491892795. Retrieved 9 July 2021 – via Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Reporting M. Join-Lambert's excavations of two temples, a theatre and wells near the site in 1896 with date and location of excavation
  3. ^ Ernest Babelon (director of the département des monnaies, médailles et antiques, BN), Le trésor d'argenterie de Bertouville près de Bernay (Eure) conservé au Département de médailles et antiques de la Bibliothèque nationale, Paris 1916; Ruth E. Leader-Newby, Silver and Society in Late Antiquity: Functions and Meanings of Silver Plate (Ashgate) 2004; D.E. Strong, Greek and Roman Gold and Silver Plate (London 1968)
  4. ^ a b c d e Meier, Allison C. (13 November 2018). Howell, Jeremy; Mauney, Anna Claire; Carouthers, Peggy (eds.). "The Greatest Ancient Silver Hoard Was Unearthed by a Farmer's Plow". Art & Object. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States of America: Journalistic, Inc. Archived from the original on 17 November 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  5. ^ On Roman temple treasures in general, see A. Henwood Griffiths, Temple Treasures: A Study Based on the Works of Cicero and the Fasti of Ovid (Philadelphia 1943).
  6. ^ Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic War vi. §17.
  7. ^ Leader-Newby 2004:72. The other two are the Notre-Dame d'Allençon Treasure and the Thetford Hoard.
  8. ^ a b Lehman-Hartleben, Karl (1 January 1938). Swindler, Mary Hamilton (ed.). "Two Roman silver jugs". American Journal of Archaeology. Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America: Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). 42 (2): 82–105. doi:10.2307/498831. ISSN 0002-9114. JSTOR 498831. LCCN 79138605. OCLC 1480119. S2CID 191390488. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  9. ^ Waldstein, Charles (1 November 1882). Lightfoot, J.B.; Bywater, Ingram; Gardner, Percy (eds.). "A Hermes in Ephesian Silver Work on a Patera from Bernay in France". The Journal of Hellenic Studies. London, United Kingdom of Great Britain: Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies/Cambridge University Press. 3 (1): 107–110. doi:10.2307/623529. ISSN 0075-4269. JSTOR 00754269. LCCN 09020515. OCLC 436724650. S2CID 162005966. Retrieved 9 July 2021 – via Cambridge University Press.
  10. ^ Ruth E. Leader-Newby, Silver and Society in Late Antiquity: Functions and Meanings of Silver Plate Ashgate; 2004; p. 73
  11. ^ Rosmerta, for instance, was frequently associated with Mercury in Gaul.
  12. ^ Ruth E. Leader-Newby, Silver and Society in Late Antiquity: Functions and Meanings of Silver Plate Ashgate. 2004.
  13. ^ Similar to silver found at Boscoreale and in the House of the Menander at Pompeii, overwhelmed by the eruption of 79 CE, and similarly composed of drinking vessels (Leader-Newby).
  14. ^ van der Grift, Jon (1 January 1984). Ridgway, Brunilde S. (ed.). "Tears and Revel: The Allegory of the Berthouville Centaur Scyphi". American Journal of Archaeology. Boston, Massachusetts, United States: Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). 88 (3): 377–388. doi:10.2307/504559. ISSN 0002-9114. JSTOR 504559. LCCN 79138605. OCLC 1480119. S2CID 245265227. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  15. ^ Noted in Leader-Newby 2004:114 note 64.A bust of Hermaphroditus was discovered at Bernay in 1864 occasioned some correspondence with M. Cornu of Bernay in 1864-65 (Archives, B.N., 12 AMC 12, 12 AMC 14 Archived May 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine).
  16. ^ Maish, Susan Lansing; Sánchez, Eduardo P. (18 October 2011). "Welcoming the Berthouville Treasure to the Getty Villa". J. Paul Getty Museum. Malibu, California, United States of America: J. Paul Getty Trust. Archived from the original on 15 November 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2021.

Further readingEdit

Coordinates: 49°10′24″N 0°37′17″E / 49.17333°N 0.62139°E / 49.17333; 0.62139