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Work Three cups from the Tod treasure

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Le trésor de Tôd

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Pierrat-Bonnefois Geneviève

The treasure found in the foundations of the temple at Tod (in Upper Egypt) contained lapis lazuli and 153 (mostly silver) vessels. The latter had been flattened and folded over several times so that they would fit into two small copper chests. Once archaeologists had restored their shape, they realized that these were not Egyptian - but their origin remains a mystery.

Shape and decoration

The Tod treasure was divided between the Cairo museum and the Louvre, which received 56 silver vessels, essentially more or less convex cups. These had been hammered into shape and decorated with repoussé work. Most of them are adorned with a variety of vertical, slanting, or spirallling gadroons; some have beaded rims, and the bases are either smooth or decorated with concentric rings or rosettes.
The cups were folded - usually with four flaps, like an envelope - before being stored in the chests. They were reshaped, so that they could be studied and presented for display in museums, but traces of the folds are still visible. The restorers consider that the cups have recovered their original forms, despite undergoing this process.

A variety of styles

The sides of cup E 15160 are decorated with deep gadroons, separated by thick ridges. The excavations at Knossos (in Crete) yielded some very similar vessels made of ceramic (First Palace Period, c. 1900-1700 BC), the resemblances concerning both shape and decoration.
The cylindrical-handled cup (E 15148) is ovoid in shape, with slightly incurving sides and a flat base. The body of the handle consists of a hollow cylinder made of a rolled metal sheet, simply soldered to two tongues that are riveted to the body of the cup. Ceramic handles of this type existed from the early 2nd millennium in Anatolia (Assyrian trading post of Kanesh). They reappeared on concave cups found in the Mycenean tombs of the 18th century BC. The incurving walls evoke cups from the excavations at Tell Arqa in the Lebanon (c. 2400-2000 BC).
The solid appearance, matt gray color, and mediocre craftsmanship of the ribbon-handled cup (E 15149) suggest that it was a utilitarian item. It is one of the rare cups from the treasure to have such thick sides. Unlike the other cups described here, it may really have been used; perhaps it came from a region which was rich in ore but did not develop a strong metalworking tradition. This type of ribbon handle is attested to in the royal tombs of Alaca Huyuk in Anatolia (dated between 2200 and 2000 BC), and on Cretan silver vases from the First Palace Period (c. 1900-1700 BC).

Drinking cups, or trading items?

Most of these cups are characterized by their delicate sides. They are fragile, easily misshapen containers; indeed, their practical usefulness is doubtful. Moreover, they are of low quality craftsmanship, of no great artistic value. The cups whose sides are less than 1 mm thick were probably intended as gifts or means of payment. Thanks to these ersatz items, a tradition of diplomatic silverware gifts could be maintained without taking up too much of the silversmiths' time - the principal consideration was the weight value of the silver. These thin-walled Tod cups no doubt met the fate originally intended for them: ending up in a deposit of raw silver.


Bisson de la Roque (F.) et alii, Le Caire, 1953, pl. XXXI bas droite.
Bietak (M.) et alii, Pharaonen und Fremde Dynastien im Dunkel, Vienne, 1994, n 237, p. 210-211.
Davis (E.N.), The Vapheio Cups, an Aegean Gold and Silver Ware, 1977, p. 73-75.
Matthäus (H.), "Die bronzegefässe der Kretish-Mykenischen Kultur", in Prähistorische Bronzefunde II, 1, München, 1980, p. 250, fig. 10b.
Warren (P.), "Problems of Chronology in Crete and the Aegean in the Third and Earlier Second Millenium B.C.", in American Journal of Archaeology, 1980, p. 495-496.
Desroches-Noblecourt (Ch.) et alii., Un siècle de fouilles françaises en Egypte, Paris, 1981, n 175, p. 150. R. Maxwell-Hyslop, Anatolian Studies XLV, Londres, 1995, pl. XXXVI A.
Bisson de la Roque (F.) et alii, Le Caire, 1953, pl. XVI bas gauche. Ch. Desroches-Noblecourt et alii., Un siècle de fouilles françaises en Egypte, Paris, 1981, n 173, p. 149

Technical description

  • Le trésor de Tôd

  • argent, lapis-lazuli, or, coffres en bronze

    Slightly convex cup with vertical gadroons:Diam. 11.6 to 12 cm; H. 5 to 5.2 cm; Diam. of the base : 4.4 cm Cup with cylindrical handle: Diam. of the mouth : 6.3 to 6.6 cm; H. without the handle : 7.2 to 7.5 cm. H. of the handle : 5.1 cm; H. of the cylinder of the handle: 2.5 cm; Diam. of the base: 3.1 cm Cup with ribbon handle: Diam.: 8.3 cm; H. without the handle: 5 to 5.3 cm; Diam. of the base: 3.1 to 3.3 cm; H. of the handle: 6 cm

  • E 15128 à E 15318

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The temple
    Room 12
    Vitrine 07 : Le dieu Montou à Tôd

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