The discovery of the ‘Barbarian Treasure’

Neues Museum

Plundering and looting – archaeologists probably have such activities to thank for the unique finds which will be on display from 20 December on long-term private loan in the Neues Museum.

It would be hard to imagine a better home for this unique treasure than the Bacchusaal. Centrally situated on the main floor of the museum, its wall paintings are reminiscent of Roman villas. Its sole occupant since 2009 has been the Xanten Boy, a Roman bronze statue discovered in 1858 at the bottom of the Rhine near Xanten. Now the Boy is to be joined by a wealth of other exhibits: iron tools and waggon parts, padlocks and ankle fetters, bronze cauldrons and silverware … all brought to light between 1967 and 1997 during dredging of a branch of the Old Rhine. The objects belong to the largest and most diverse hoard of metal objects ever discovered on German soil: over 1000 pieces weighing some 700 kilogrammes in total.

Under the title “Treasures from the Rhine”, a representative selection of 303 objects from the “Barbarian Treasure” will join the bronze boy to form an additional attraction in the permanent exhibition of prehistorical and proto-historical objects. But why did the objects end up in the river in the first place? During the turbulent 3rd century AD, the provinces of the Roman Empire came under great pressure: Germanic raiders repeatedly penetrated deep into Roman territory, attacking undefended settlements and even towns. One such raiding party failed in its attempt to struggle back through the river with heavily laden waggons and the rich booty sank beneath the waters of the Rhine.