1st century Ancient Romans held their personal belongings in cute containers

During the first century, what did the Ancient Romans use to hold their stuff? Answer: Very cute containers!

The Art Institute of Chicago’s collection has this adorable 1st century Roman container for personal items:

Pyxis (Container for Personal Objects)

I love how this looks like a ceramic container someone would make in a basic ceramics class. Rough around the edges, a little lop-sided. Some blue glaze loosely applied.

What would this hold?

This vessel is not currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. What does it hold today? Since has such a home-made feel, I like to think someone is using it to store 20th century bouncy balls. I don’t know why. Maybe I have some pinchpots at home holding bouncy balls.

The official specs for this container list the actual size as very petite—about 2-1/2 inches wide, 3 inches tall. Thus, it wouldn’t hold bouncy balls. And the container is not ceramic! The medium listed for this piece is “glass, mold-blown technique”. Surprise, surprise!

Other than silly guesses, what would a container like actually this hold? Wikipedia’s article for pyxis (vessel) explains:

pyxis (πυξίς, plural pyxides) is a shape of vessel from the classical world, usually a cylindrical box with a separate lid. Originally mostly used by women to hold cosmetics, trinkets or jewellery

The trinkets part is particularly curious. We need some trinkets in the Art Institute’s collection. I couldn’t find anything “trinkety”, but there are some fun 1st century rings that would certainly fit inside this small vessel.

Openwork Ring, 1st century Roman
Finger Ring with Engraved Gemstone, 1st century Rome
Finger Ring with Engraved Gemstone, featuring Silenos, 1st century Rome

Let’s look closer at this ring

Yipes!
Finger Ring with Intaglio Depicting the Head of a Woman

Coins, coins, and more coins

Coins would fit in this vessel too. The Art Institute’s collection has a lot of 1st century Roman coins—over 100! Here’s a few that popped out to me.

Tetradrachm (Coin).
The primary side has the typical portrait of an Emperor. The obverse side has this cool eagle.
Drachm (Coin) Portraying King Gotarzes II.
The King’s repeated styling of his hair, diadem (headband), and beard makes this a cool coin.
A couple horses pulling a chariot (called a Carpentum)

If you really like 1st century Roman art, then you should check out the online publication, “Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago“.

This publication has lots of other artworks not in this blog post. In fact, none of the images from this blog post are in the publication (except for the horse ring)

Update

Doing a reverse image search on Google for this pyxis vessel resulted in a very nice, clean version of a pyxis from Christie’s.

You can better see the glass material in this pyxis. At a sale price of GBP 62,500; the buyer probably wouldn’t have any more coins to store inside!

Christie’s has some great insight into what this would hold:

Pyxides were luxury goods, used to hold the trinkets or cosmetics of upper-class Roman women. They were probably also used to contain medicines, perfumes and other precious toilette accessories.

Still no bouncy ball mentions.

Where to buy cobalt blue pyxides

If you’d like to own your own pyxide, there are glass foundries that continue to make these cute containers! United Kingdom Glassmakers Mark Taylor and David Hill produce a cobalt blue pyxide for £35.

However, they currently don’t have any in stock. Maybe that will change over time. For now, I’ll be searching eBay.

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