Ivory Pyxis

Late Antique (Christian)

 replica: from the British Museum, London

date of the original: c. 600 AD

provenance of the original: Alexandria, Egypt; now in the British Museum, London

description: Small resin cylindrical pyxis lacking base and lid, illustrating scenes from the martyrdom of Saint Menas. Resin replica; ivory original. Height 12.5 cm, diameter 12 cm.

pyxis, or box, was used to hold incense or relics. This pyxis has lost its cover, bottom, lock and hinge. It features scenes from the tragic martyrdom of the fourth century AD Egyptian saint, Menas (see also:Pilgrim Flask). St. Menas was an Egyptian camel driver who joined the Roman army and was martyred under the emperor Diocletian around AD 303.

The illustration begins with a prefect seated on a stool flanked by a guard and a scribe. Then comes Menas’ execution--the executioner grabs the saint by the hair and raises his sword. An angel appears on Menas’ left to receive his soul after death. Menas is then depicted as an orant (a stock figure of the martyr) with a halo, lifting his hands and eyes heavenward, declaring his faith while pilgrims approach. Finally, he stands under an arch, representing his sanctuary; two supporting columns are flanked by camels.