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Friday, May 29, 2020

Figurines with articulated limbs: Children's toys or adult apotropaic objects?

Terracotta figurines with articulated limbs are often described as dolls or children’s toys, and are sometimes thought to have been dressed in clothes. While one cannot simply dismiss these assumptions, it must be pointed out that this hypothesis is based on an inaccurate reading of an ancient epigram, which was originally interpreted to say that a girl named Timareta dedicated to the goddess (at a sanctuary) her dolls and their dresses. However, more recently it has been convincingly argued that she in fact dedicated her hair and her own clothing. Another point to be made against the figurines being play things is that they are too fragile to be constantly handled by children. The fact that these “dolls” are often discovered in the graves of adults indicates their possible chthonic connection or apotropaic function. In addition, the movement these figurines were capable of when swinging, as well as the clanking noise they produced, might have made them attractive charms. - The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Terracotta jointed doll thought to represent a ritual dancer Corinthian Greek 5th century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bone figurine with articulated limbs, Greek, Late 4th or 3rd century BCE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ivory doll found in female burial along the Via Cassia near La Giustiniana Roman 2nd century CE photographed at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome, Italy

Ivory doll Ivory doll found in female burial Roman 2nd century CE at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome, Italy

Ivory jointed doll found in a female's sarcophagus in Tivoli, Italy Roman 2nd century CE photographed at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome, Italy

Segmented Roman bone dolls, 275-300 CE photographed at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, California.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Roman boxing: More Bloodsport than Gentlemen's Competition

Roman boxing, far different than the boxing developed by the Greeks, was considered more of a gladiatorial show than an athletic contest. While the crowds were smaller than at the amphitheater and circus, boxing was an important part of public entertainment. Unlike Greek boxers, who wore leather thongs around their knuckles for protection and performed for prizes at the prestigious Panhellenic games, Romans used gloves with pieces of metal placed around the knuckles (caestus) to inflict the most damage possible. Moreover, there was no time limit or weight classification. Proclaiming a winner resulted from either a knockout or the conceding of defeat by one of the boxers. - The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Image: Bronze hand of a boxer 1st to 2nd century CE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The hand is clad in a caestus (boxing glove), comprising a semicylindrical strip and a projecting spike, tied with cords running from the wrist. Although Roman boxers are represented on statues, mosaics, terracotta plaques and lamps, and bronze figurines, few objects show the actual boxing glove with such clarity of detail as the present piece. The hand is probably not a fragment of a larger composition; it was, perhaps, a votive, dedicated by a boxer on his retirement.




Images: Boxer Resting, a 1st century BCE copy of a 3rd century BCE Greek original. Notice the difference in the wrappings in my closeup of his hands. Photographed at the Palazzo Massimo, Rome, Italy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Symbols of Faithfulness: Dogs in Ancient Art

Domesticated dogs appeared in prehistoric paintings at sites like Bhimbetka in central India that date back more than 100,000 years. During the Bronze Age statues, children's toys, and ceramics depicted dogs. Hunting dogs were most commonly portrayed but pet dogs, valued for their faithfulness and courage were also subjects of ancient art.

Dogs were often seen on Greek and Roman reliefs and ceramics as symbols of fidelity and given as gifts among lovers.  Homer's Odyssey reinforced this concept of a dog's faithfulness by telling the story of Odysseus' dog who was the only one that recognized him when he returned home after years of wanderings, even though he was disguised to conceal his appearance. Sadly, because dogs were revered for their loyalty, they were also sometimes sacrificed in special religious rituals.  During Xanthika, a spring purification of the Macedonian army, a dog was sacrificed.  The Spartans sacrificed a dog to Enyalius, the son of Ares, in one of their military festivals as well. At the Robigalia, a festival in ancient Roman religion held on April 25, a dog was sacrificed to protect grain fields from disease.

The ancient Romans kept three types of dogs: hunting dogs, especially sighthounds, a dog like a whippet that hunts primarily by sight and speed rather than by scent and endurance like a beagle, Molossus dogs like the Neapolitan Mastiff for protection, often depicted in reliefs and mosaics with the words "Cave Canem", and small companion dogs like the Maltese, used as women's lap dogs.  Like the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Sarmatians, Baganda, Alans, Slavs, and Britons, the Romans used large dogs as military sentries and on patrol and sometimes they were taken into battle.  The earliest use of war dogs in a battle recorded in classical sources was by Alyattes of Lydia against the Cimmerians around 600 BCE where the Lydian dogs killed some invaders and routed others.  During Late Antiquity, Attila the Hun used Molossus dogs in his campaigns.

Fresco of Endymion and Selene with a dog from the House of the Dioscuri in Pompeii

Roman funerary monument to a dog with footprint from the Vidy Roman Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Rama

2nd century BCE sculptural group of Roman sight hounds found near Lanuvio, Italy in 1774 now in the Museo Pio-Clementino at the Vatican courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Henry Townsend

Roman Terracotta figurine of a dog 1st century BCE-1st century CE at the British Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor AgTigress

Terracotta askos in the form of a dog 2nd-1st century BCE Greek at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, courtesy of the museum.

Emulate the judgement of men who exercise great forethought

We, however, ought to emulate the judgement of men who exercise great forethought and are no less jealous for the reputation of the state than for their own—men who prefer a moderate competence with justice to great wealth unjustly gained. (condensed) Isocrates.  On the Peace.  Speech 8.  Section 93.


Image: Fragmentary Augustus equestrian statue from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens courtesy of Carole Raddato.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

So-called "bed niches" and the function of rooms in a Pompeian house

Reconstruction of a cubiculum in a Roman villa in Oplontis near Naples, Italy courtesy of the University of Michigan's exhibit, "Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero."  
I've been studying more about the material culture of Pompeian Households and learned that since the excavations in Pompeii of the late 19th century, archaeologists have associated narrow wall recesses with bed installations, calling them bed niches and using their presence to determine a room to be a cubiculum (bedroom).  However, in the study of atrium houses conducted by current archaeologist Penelope Allison, correlating the find assemblages in 84 small closed decorated rooms off the front halls of these houses, less than 15 percent were found to have these types of recesses and only 16 percent of this subset contained identifiable evidence of bedding with only one actual instance of bedding found in conjunction with the so-called "bed niche."  She points out, though, that evidence of bedding may have gone unrecorded in the earliest excavations.  However, ten of thirteen rooms with recesses were excavated in the 20th century and she thinks such evidence would not have gone unrecorded in those structures.  Therefore, she concludes that there is no direct relationship between evidence of bedding and recesses attributed to "bed niches".

"More common  were assemblages consisting variously of the remains of small chests and caskets; a variety of  bronze serving, pouring, and storage vessels; ceramic vessels that were usually small and of fine  quality, but occasionally included large amphorae; and items related to dress, toiletries, needlework, and lighting. These were found, generally  in small quantities, in thirteen to eighteen decorated rooms of this type."  - Allison, Penelope M.. Pompeian Households: An Analysis of Material Culture (Monograph Book 42) (p. 72). Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press. Kindle Edition.

Since things like toiletries and needlework sounded more "bedroom" related, I was a little confused by this conclusion but she went on to clarify it:

Actual evidence of bedding was rare, however,  implying that decorated rooms of this type functioned as a type of “boudoir” rather than as a  sleeping space. - Allison, Penelope M.. Pompeian Households: An Analysis of Material Culture (Monograph Book 42) (p. 72). Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press. Kindle Edition.

In the case of the House of the Prince of Naples, though, she associates the finds there with "industrial" use, a space where craftsmanship was practiced. That actually coincides with my theory that cubiculum (c), immediately to the left of the front entrance, could have served as a physican's treatment room due to the discovery of a surgical instrument, an apotropaic figurine of a herm, and a human skeleton (as well as other surgical instruments and physician-related tools elsewhere in the house.)

However, earlier in the book Allison observes that there are multiple cases where skeletons are found in close proximity to "robber" or access holes as was the case in cubiculum (c), that I thought may have been an unsuccesfully treated patient.  Allison proposes that somehow the holes may have been created by these victims of the eruption and not salvagers or looters. I'm hoping she will explore this proposal more in a later chapter.

I found other things she mentioned quite enlightening as well.  She points out that 19th century archaeologists were not really interested in human remains or evidence of destroyed organic material like the wood of cabinetry or storage chests.  They did make note of metal hinges, though, whenever they found those.  She also said they rarely mention unmarked amphora either.  I noticed that in the find summaries for the House of the Prince of Naples, only amphora with inscriptions were noted. They also virtually ignored pottery or glass  fragments, too. Flinders Petrie must have been appalled!