The Sion Treasure (BZ.1963.36.1-3,11 and BZ.1965.1.1,5,12) is an extensive and varied group of liturgical objects and church furnishings discovered in the early 1960s in southern Turkey. A significant part of this treasure is in Dumbarton Oaks, while much of it is housed in the Antalya Museum, with a few pieces in private collections. The treasure’s name derives from the niello inscription on an oblong polycandelon mentioning “Holy Sion,” possibly the church or the monastery for which the objects were made. Many Sion Treasure items are inscribed for a Bishop Eutychianos, who is otherwise unknown. Several other individuals are named, but they, too, are unknown among historical sources. Many objects are unique—for example, a cross-shaped polycandelon and a peacock censer. Almost all the objects in the treasure are of exceptionally high quality, and many were in excellent condition when they were found, like the patens. Some pieces, however, were bent or crushed, suggesting that they were going to be melted down and their metal reused. If, as is supposed, the treasure was buried during the early seventh century, when Sasanian invasions were followed by Arab incursions, the Byzantine imperial authorities most likely were calling in church silver to mint coins in order to pay the wages of the emperor’s army.
Patens were used to hold the consecrated bread during the celebration of the Orthodox Eucharist. Bread in the early Church, as it continues to be in many Orthodox traditions, was a leavened loaf and therefore required a sufficiently sized plate. Although other silver patens survive from the sixth century, this and the other patens in the Sion Treasure are among the largest known. The largest paten in the Treasure is also the most elaborately decorated. It has an elegant, gilded chrismon—the overlapping X (chi) and P (rho), the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek—in the center. Framing this is a niello inscription, “This was presented in the time of our most holy and most blessed bishop, Eutychianos." Beyond this the paten’s rim is formed by twenty-four concavities filled with leaves and surrounded by a classical egg-and-dart motif. This broad rim is formed in repoussé, the technique of tamping sheet metal from the back in order to create a raised surface. Here the result is a multilayered surface that is highly animated by reflections of light, a variety of textures and the application of gilding.
- S. Zwirn
Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 18, no. 63.
F. Baratte, "Une Coupe en Argent Paléochrétienne Trouvée en Gaule," in Mélanges de Numismatique, d'Archéologie et d'Histoire Offerts à Jean Lafaurie ed. P. Bastien (Paris, 1980), 43-45.
C. Mango, "The Byzantine Collection," Apollo 119 (1984): 21-29, fig. 4.
S. A. Boyd, "A 'Metropolitan' Treasure from a Church in the Provinces: An introduction to the Study of the Sion Treasure," in Ecclesiastical Silver Plate in Sixth-Century Byzantium: Papers of the Symposium held May 16-18, 1986, at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, and Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. ed. S.A. Boyd and M.M. Mango (Washington, D.C., 1992), 5-37, esp. 12 n. 50, 14-16, 17, 19, fig. S1.1-5, checklist no. 1.
I. Sevcenko, "The Sion Treasure: The Evidence of the Inscriptions," in Ecclesiastical Silver Plate in Sixth-Century Byzantium: Papers of the Symposium held May 16-18, 1986, at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, and Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. ed. S.A. Boyd and M.M. Mango (Washington, D.C., 1992), 39-56, esp. 39 n. 2, 40, 41, 46 nn. 59, 60, 62.
E. C. Dodd, "The Question of Workshop: Evidence of the Stamps on the Sion Treasure," in Ecclesiastical Silver Plate in Sixth-Century Byzantium: Papers of the Symposium held May 16-18, 1986, at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, and Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. ed. S.A. Boyd and M.M. Mango (Washington, D.C., 1992), 57-63, esp. 58, 60.
J. Lowden, Early Christian & Byzantine Art, Art & Ideas (London, 1997), 79, fig. 41.
M. Collins and M. A. Price, The Story of Christianity: 2,000 Years of Faith, 1st American ed. (New York, 1999).
G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 90-91, 102, pl. p. 103.
Purchased from George Zacos (dealer) by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, Switzerland, 1963.
Given by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss to Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., 1963.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.