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Library Exhibit Features Two Ancient Roman Plates

Ancient Roman plates in new exhibit

View images at: http://romanplates.byu.edu/

On Friday, March 2 The Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University opened its new exhibit space, located just inside the library’s entrance with the exhibition “Two Ancient Roman Plates: Bronze Military Diplomas and Other Sealed Documents.”

The Centerpiece of the exhibit, an extraordinary set of Roman plates, was brought to the library by a group of donors assembled by law professor and BYU Studies Editor in Chief, John W. Welch, who has served as the curator of this exhibit. This pair of metal plates conferred citizenship and military honors to a retiring Roman soldier in Dacia in 109 AD. The wording on the plates gave evidence of the ex-soldier’s honorable discharge and allowed him to freely move throughout the empire, as well as to wear the toga as a Roman citizen.

Shaun McMurdie, the Lee Library’s chair of exhibition services and art director for the exhibit, notes the appropriateness of the plates’ new home: “These plates have a natural place in the library because they are a historical record of ancient writing and record keeping,” he says. McMurdie was also delighted to work with such ancient artifacts. “It’s not every day you are able to handle a set of metal plates from 2,000 years ago.”

The new exhibit space is laid out to tell the story of these plates and their significance as fine examples of ancient writing on metal plates. Professor Welch sees this imperial artifact as illuminating important ancient documentary practices: “All people are amazed and fascinated to see these ingeniously designed plates, which feature an open presentation of the text and also an interior sealed portion. In the exhibit, we refer to such records as doubled, sealed, witnessed documents.”

A replica of the plates is on hand for visitors to handle, and a video presentation will answers 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,” says Mike Gee, director of multimedia projects for the library. “Through video clips, the plates can be understood and enjoyed by any age group.”

Two articles published in BYU Studies (Volume 45, No. 2) 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.

See the plates and learn more at: http://romanplates.byu.edu/