Mirrors in the ancient world were an item reserved for the wealthy. Difficult to produce, they were often small in size for this reason. The suspension hole to the frontal face however makes it clear that this object was meant to be hung, thus its use as a personal grooming tool was limited. Most likely, this plaque, held an apotropaic use. Mysticism and divination were popular ideas in Roman and Byzantine society, even with Christianity as the dominant religion. One form of divination that is well documented amongst the ancient sources is ‘catoptromancy’ – scrying via a mirror. Such objects are usually found in tombs however so their purpose was more than just utilitarian. One plausible explanation is that these plaques were apotropaic, suspended and used by the living to protect against the evil eye. They would then be placed in the deceased’s tomb to protect them in the afterlife.
Byzantine Terracotta Circular Mirror Plaque
A Byzantine terracotta circular mirror plaque with concentric circular decoration. In its centre sits a larger circular indent, which would have originally held the glass mirrored surface. Surrounding this are four smaller, now vacant, indents, which form a cross motif across the whole plaque. Interspersed complete concentric circles decorate the remaining space, whilst semicircular incised grooves form a border to the mirror’s edge. Remains of pigment, in black and red, are still slightly visible to the obverse. A small hole, used for suspension, perforates the top of the plaque. The reverse remains undecorated. Such items were usually mould-made, as attested to by the small lip of additional clay to the edge of the plaque.
Provenance: Ex major S.M., London, Collection 1970-2010.
Condition: Very fine and rare. Glass insets now missing. Some remains of stucco.