The Calix Imperium - Drink like an emperor!

Review by Philip Matyszak

Have you noticed that a drink tastes better when it matches what you are drinking it from? Instant coffee seems natural enough in a plastic disposable cup, but its practically sacrilege to drink Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee that way. Likewise, to be fully appreciated, fine whisky and wines need a correspondingly fine drinking vessel. In our household this philosophy has led to the death of much expensive crystal , since alcohol and fragile glassware are not an ideal combination.

Beaker Base

Well, an outfit called Calix Imperium has sent me the answer. Calix is the Latin for "cup", from which we get the English "chalice". While the Greek kylix from which the word ultimately derives was a broad, shallow pottery vessel, the Calix Imperium offering is tall, deep, and made of sturdy pewter.

(In fact the Calix is modelled on a first century glass calathus called the "Poseidon beaker currently in the Yale University Art Gallery. However, even allowing for nineteen hundred years of wear and tear, the modern Calix is of considerably finer quality.)

What will immediately catch the eye of anyone interested in Roman history are the three panels set on the outside. Two of these show soldiers charging into battle, one a legionary and the other a centurion, while the other shows an aquilifer with his eagle and his comrades in battle array behind him. The detail on the panels is exquisite, and an evening with the beaker, a bottle of good Nebbiolo and a copy of H. Russell Robinsonís Armour of Imperial Rome allowed for a detailed scrutiny. The asymmetric pattern on the centurionís shield is interesting - though not necessarily unrealistic - and some might dispute the transverse centurionís crest. However it is fair to say that the depiction of the military gear on this calix is at least as realistic as anything you would find on a contemporary Roman beaker.

Roma Victrix Beaker

In fact, a detailed search for nits to pick could only come up with the observation that the columns which separate the panels have bases which look Ionic while the capitals are Corinthian. (The Corinthian base usually has a double ring above the stylobate, if you have to know.) I doubt this will disturb most people - on occasion it did not even disturb the more casual type of Roman builder.

The base is stamped with the words Roma Victrix a legend found on a number of Roman coins (e.g. of Galba) surrounded by a pattern of what appears to be lammellar armour scales. Above each panel is a small, but painstakingly detailed bust of Vespasian. Depictions of winged Victory on either on either side proffer laurel wreaths to the old reprobate. The overall effect is both handsome and impressive.

In the interest of research the beaker was tried with a number of beverages. Beer goes down well, because the pewter keeps it cool longer than glass does. However, the calix canít hold a full pint, and anyway, the kind of Roman who could afford this drinking vessel wouldnít put beer in it. Dry white wine felt somewhat metallic, but a full-bodied red was the perfect partner. So was whiskey and water, though this was somewhat unhistorical. Mead did not work - the taste felt wrong, and the sticky drops were difficult to clean from the outside (one does not put this fine pewter into a dishwasher, as this ruins the patina which gives the panels their fine embossed effect). Mulled wine was excellent.

Overall, this beaker has proven to be both a highly practical drinking vessel and an ornament to whatever surface it rests on. It makes an ideal Christmas present, though the amount of care and detail that has gone into the design and manufacture mean that it is not a cheap one. On the other hand, I can testify that Swarovski crystal glasses cost more and last less. You can find out more about the calix here.

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