Inspired by the original now housed in the British Museum, this object takes its name from its first owner in modern times, the art-lover and collector Edward Perry Warren (1860- 1928).
The British Museum's acquisition of the Warren Silver Cup in 1999 caused something of a stir when it was announced to the press as a result of its explicit homoerotic scenes. It is, in fact, a remarkably important and beautiful masterpiece of Roman art, created in the early 1st century AD and found in Bittir, near Jerusalem. Its scenes reflect the mores of the time and region in which it was created.
The cup was originally made up of five parts. The scenes on each side show two pairs of male lovers. On one side the erastes (older, active lover) is bearded and wears a wreath while the eromenos (younger 'beloved', passive) is a beardless youth. A servant tentatively comes through a door. In the background is a draped textile, and a kithara (lyre) resting on a chest. In the scene on the other side the erastes is beardless, while the eromenos is just a boy. Auloi (pipes) are suspended over the background textile, and folded textiles are lying on a chest. The surroundings suggest a cultured, Hellenized setting with music and entertainment.
Representations of sexual acts are widely found in Roman art, on glass and pottery vessels, terracotta lamps and wall-paintings in both public and private buildings. They were thus commonly seen by both sexes, and all sections of society. The Romans had no concept of, or word for, homosexuality, while in the Greek world the partnering of older men with youths was an accepted element of education. The Warren Cup reflects the customs and attitudes of this historical context, and provides us with an important insight into the culture that made and used it.