BYU Unveils Exhibition of Two Ancient Roman Bronze Plates
Now showing at BYU's Harold B. Lee Library is an exhibit titled "Two Ancient Roman Plates: Bronze Military Diplomas and Other Sealed Documents." The set of well-preserved artifacts was given to BYU by donors assembled by John W. Welch, editor in chief of BYU Studies, who has served, along with BYU classics professor John F. Hall, as curator of the exhibit.
The plates granted citizenship and military honors to a retiring Roman soldier in the province of Dacia (modern-day Romania and parts of Bulgaria) in AD 109. The legal effect of the plates gave evidence of the soldier's honorable discharge and allowed him to move freely throughout the empire, as well as to wear the toga and be exempt from taxes as a Roman citizen.
"These plates have a natural place in the library because they are a historical record of ancient writing and record keeping," said Shaun McMurdie, the Lee Library's chair of exhibition services and art director for the exhibit. "It's not every day you are able to see up close such a remarkable set of metal plates from 2,000 years ago."
The new exhibit, near the library's main entrance, is laid out to tell the story of these plates and their significance as fine examples of ancient writing on metal plates. Welch sees this imperial artifact as illuminating important ancient documentary practices: "All people are amazed and fascinated to see how the Romans ingeniously designed such plates, which feature an open presentation of the text and also an interior sealed portion," he said. "In the exhibit, we refer to such records as doubled, sealed, witnessed documents."
A replica of the plates will be on hand for visitors to handle, and video presentations answer 10 questions about the plates and their ancient use.
"The video portion of the exhibit acts as a great form of supplemental material to give visitors a little more immersion into the culture and story behind the plates," said Michael Gee, director of multimedia projects for the library. "Through video clips, the plates can be understood and enjoyed by any age group."
Two articles recently published in BYU Studies (vol. 45, no. 2, 2006) describe this particular pair of plates in detail and explain the interest in the university's acquisition of one of the finest examples of ancient writing on metal. This issue can be obtained online at byustudies.byu.edu or at the Lee Library's Special Collections circulation desk.
To learn more about the "Two Ancient Roman Plates" exhibition, contact the library or visit online at www.library.byu.edu.