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Silver spoon and fork

Met curator Chris Lightfoot on ancient luxuries in Silver spoon and fork dating from Imperial Rome, c. 3rd century C.E.

View this work on metmuseum.org.

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Video transcript

When one thinks of the Roman world one tends to think of architecture and sculpture and the impressive ruins of the Roman Empire, but it’s the smaller objects that really speak to you directly as an individual, as a person. These are the the things that they had in their daily lives. The ancient Greeks, of course, are well known for their drinking parties, but the Romans enjoyed dinners. The emperor Nero, for example, even had a servant whose only job was to write invitations to dinner parties. This spoon and fork combination would have been used at a well-to-do dinner party, and as a gadget it clearly was meant to impress. It’s like pulling out your latest handheld device in the modern world. It’s also a very practical invention for the Romans. They didn’t sit at a table. They reclined on dining couches, and so they would’ve been supporting themselves probably with one arm, which meant that they only had one hand free to serve themselves. So having a spoon and fork combination, they could twizzle it around and use whichever end they wanted. And the Romans, because of their wealth, because of their power, were able to afford nonessential items: stuff, gadgets, trinkets, souvenirs. The Romans have unexpectedly a great deal in common with modern American society. Relating the ancient world to the world that I am surrounded with with makes it much more immediate and relevant to me personally. I can’t obviously get back into the ancient world, however much I would like to. So I have to relate it to the world I am fixed in.