Lot 72
  • 72

A Marble Sigma-shaped Table with Relief Border depicting the Birth of Aphrodite and a Marine Thiasos, Eastern Mediterranean, late Roman/early Byzantine, Theodosian Period, circa 390-430 A.D.

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • A Marble Sigma-shaped Table with Relief Border depicting the Birth of Aphrodite and a Marine Thiasos, Eastern Mediterranean
  • marble
  • 126 by 122.5 cm.
of sigma-shape, the entire perimeter carved in raised relief within a bead-and-reel border with a lively cortege of sea-creatures converging towards Aphrodite Anadyomene in the center of the straight side, the goddess seated in a conch held by two sea-centaurs and squeezing the sea-foam from her hair, the thiasos composed of nereids riding sea-centaurs, sea-griffins, sea-horses, and ketoi, some accompanied by erotes, a reclining female personification in the left corner, a male one in the right corner, several figures holding implements, such as a box, basket, rudders, fishplate, or dolphin.


reportedly found in Egypt in Minya Province
Vincent (1886-1967) and Olga (1906-2000) Diniacopoulos, Montréal, Québec, acquired in Egypt
Khalil Rabenou (d. 1961), New York, acquired from the above in the mid 1950s
seen with the above by Ernst Kitzinger in 1958
by descent to the present owner


Ernst Kitzinger, "A Marble Relief of the Theodosian Period," Dumbarton Oaks Papers, vol. 14, 1960, p. 22, under note 10, under "New York" (repr. in E. Kitzinger, The Art of Byzantium and the Medieval West: Selected Studies, Bloomington, Ind., 1976, p. 22, note 10)
G. Roux, "Tables chrétiennes en marbre découvertes à Salamine,” in Salamine de Chypre, vol. IV, Paris, 1973, p. 184, no. 40
Gunhild Ploug, The Graeco-Roman Town (Hama, fouilles et recherches, 1931-1938; III,1), Copenhagen, 1985, p. 199
Jutta Dresken-Weiland, Reliefierte Tischplatten aus theodosianischer Zeit, (Studi di Antichità Cristiana, 44), Vatican City, 1991, cat. no. A4, pl. 40, fig. 74
Jens Kremb, Bemalte Tischplatten des Mittelalters, Cologne and Weimar, 2016, p. 145

Catalogue Note

The present table is exceptional in three respects. First, it is the most complete of all known Byzantine marble table tops with relief-decorated borders, almost entirely preserved except for a few fragments in the central flat area. Second, it was never tampered with: the fragments were not permanently joined together and are still loose, and the reddish layer of incrustation covering almost the entire surface was not cleaned off. Third, it is the only known example of its type in private hands with a documented collection history going back almost sixty years outside of its presumed country of origin.

Early Byzantine table tops with relief decoration were produced by various workshops along the Eastern Mediterranean during a relatively short period time of about 40 years or so, during a period sometimes known as the Theodosian Renaissance. J. Dresken-Weiland records about 110 known examples in her comprehensive 1991 monograph. The great majority of them are in a fragmentary state. The subjects of their relief decoration vary from Christian symbols or imagery derived from Biblical episodes, to purely Pagan mythological iconography, such as the deity and fantastic sea-creatures used on the present example. Professor Ernst Kitzinger is recorded as having told the owner of the present table that "It is unusual and important that it shows Aphrodite with maritime themes. The table depicts magic, fertility, love and success.”

Sigma-tables were designed to be used with a stibadium, a semi-circular dining couch wrapping around the rounded end of the table and accommodating several diners. A table with plain border from a Byzantine house at Sardis was found smashed on the floor of a slightly raised platform at the end of the house's main hall. The platform was covered in square terracotta tiles with central holes probably designed for the wooden legs that would have supported both the table and the couch. Small animal bones and shells filled the interstices between the tiles, testifying to the feasts that took place there, perhaps accompanied by musical and theatrical performances. On the subject in general see Joanita Vroom, "The Archaeology Of Late Antique Dining Habits In The Eastern Mediterranean: A Preliminary Study Of The Evidence," in Objects in Context, Objects in Use. Material Spatiality in Late Antiquity, 2008, pp. 311-362.