A pyxis is used to describe the shape of a small vessel with a lid and comes from ancient Greece where it was first introduced. The pyxis was likely used for holding small items such as jewelry or cosmetics. This link has meant that the pyxis was usually associated with women during its time in use. As a result these items have varied greatly in their design and level of decoration.
The following few examples from the Roman period show the similar styles and details compared to this example, including the lid handle, lip and concentric circles. It should be noted that no other known examples exist with heavy gold inlays along with a bone base.
The piece was cracked in ancient times and has been repaired. It is also noted that one part of the pyxis suffered more from burial than the other, likely the anaerobic conditions that would have allowed the organic material to survive were not as strong on one side.
The decoration along the bottom and top consist of gold inlayed circles in two rows at the top and three rows at the bottom. The bottom gold inlay has larger circles that are evenly spaced around the pyxis and then two rows of smaller ones that run along the bottom. The circles appear to be solid gold wire that has been cut and then tapped into the piece.
The most prominent and decorative feature of this pyxis is the two large Ivy leaves which themselves are also inlaid. The Ivy leave have beautifully embossed lines to provide texture to the leaf along with dots along the border/edge.
The Ivy leaf is commonly used through out Roman history, mainly as a decorative addition to jewelry and military items. Many military fitting (Horse Cavalry tackle as an example) contained Ivy Leaf shaping decorations.
In classical mythology the ivy is attributed to the gods Apollo and Bacchus as a symbol of life. In early Christian symbolism it was also a sign for eternal life. That's the reason why it is used further on as a decoration on Christian tombstones and planted on graves. Clearly the owner of this pyxis wanted to add a symbol for eternal life.
The final accent of gold to the pyxis is the layer of gold added to the lid. This sheet of gold was put on the formed lid and then shaped to fit the design of the circular carvings. The handle was then added to the lid after that.
This pyxis clearly belonged to someone of wealth and power. The beautiful design and gold inlays would have been expensive to produce and make. The matching knife with its similar gold inlays make this an even more rare set. The knife may very well have been used to assist in cosmetic preparations.
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**Note on background. Close up view of the wall of the Colosseum of Pula, Croatia. Picture taken 2014