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BYU’s Lee Library to unveil ancient Roman bronze plates in new exhibit March 2

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

The event will feature a lecture by exhibit curator John W. Welch, a BYU professor of law and editor-in-chief of BYU Studies, at 3 p.m. in the library auditorium on the first level, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. in the exhibit space on level three. Admission is free and the public is welcome.

The centerpiece of the exhibit, an extraordinary set of Roman plates, was brought to the library by a group of donors assembled by Welch. This pair of metal plates conferred citizenship and military honors to a retiring Roman soldier in Dacia in A.D. 109 The wording on the plates gives evidence of the ex-soldier’s honorable discharge and allows him to freely move throughout the empire and to wear the toga as a Roman citizen.

The exhibit tells the story of these plates and their significance as fine examples of ancient writing on metal plates.

The imperial artifact illuminates important ancient documentary practice, according to Welch. “All visitors should be amazed and fascinated by these ingeniously designed plates, which feature an open presentation of the text and also a sealed interior portion. In the exhibit, we refer to such records as doubled, sealed, witnessed documents,” he said.

Two articles published in BYU Studies (Vol. 45, No. 2) describe this particular pair of plates in detail, said Welch. (Visit for more information.)

“These plates have a natural place in the library because they are a historical record of ancient writing and record keeping,” said Shaun McMurdie, Lee Library chair of exhibition services and art director for the exhibit. “It’s not every day you are able to handle a set of metal plates from 2,000 years ago.”

A replica of the plates will be on hand for visitors to handle, and a video presentation will answer questions about the plates and their ancient use.

“The video portion of the exhibit gives visitors a little more immersion into the culture and story behind the plates,” said Mike Gee, director of multimedia projects for the library. “Through video clips, the plates can be understood and enjoyed by any age group.”

The exhibit will be open for a year, and will be available Mondays through Saturdays during regular library hours. To learn more, visit

Writer: Roger Layton

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