Thursday, July 29, 2021

Hannibal's Secret Weapons

My friend Patrick Hunt from Stanford University presented this lecture in June for the Archaeological Institute of America.  Before I retired, Patrick kindly invited me to join him on one of his National Geographic-sponsored expeditions in the Alps but I had just returned to work after six months recuperation from a serious fall in Naples. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up with his cohort of burly Stanford athletes at the 8,000 foot altitude of the Clapier-Savine Coche pass. I really enjoyed this lecture and learned some interesting information about the battle of Cannae that I must have overlooked.  Patrick points out that at the battle of Cannae Hannibal took advantage of a seasonal dust storm that is known to blow sand from the Sahara desert into Italy at that time of the year and positioned his troops so that the wind was at their back while it was blowing in the faces of the Romans.  He also mentioned that Hannibal used troops dressed in captured Roman armor from the battles of the Trebia River and Lake Trasimene to help trick the Romans into advancing into his concave center where they could be outflanked.  Patrick's lecture is today's featured "Antiquity Alive" presentation.

Back in 2016, I wrote about another researcher who claimed the Col de Traversette pass was used by Hannibal because of finding a large deposit of horse manure there. Obviously, Patrick disagrees with that conclusion.  You can read my article about it here:

 https://ancientimes.blogspot.com/2016/04/hannibals-route-over-alps-or-just-horse.html

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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Eudaimonia and the corruption of excess

"Excess generally causes reaction, and produces a change in the opposite direction, whether it be in the seasons, or in individuals, or in governments." - Plato

In the case of drinking to excess, this change could result in the loss of virtue and well-being or, as the Greek philosophers termed it, Eudaimonia. Plato believed that individuals naturally feel unhappiness when they do something they know and acknowledge to be wrong.

Plato's student, Aristotle, agreed that although the pursuit of virtue, excellence, and the best within us was necessary to achieve eudaimonia, virtue in itself was not sufficient alone.  

"Aristotle believes that happiness and well-being come from how we live our lives,"   explains psychologist Catherine Moore, "And that's not in pursuit of material wealth, power, or honor."

Aristotle expounds upon ways to achieve the happy life in his work "Nichomacean Ethics."

"To be honest, a lot of Nichomacean Ethics is about what happiness isn’t," Moore points out, "Satisfying appetites is akin to a “life suitable to beasts." The pursuit of political power, material wealth, even fun and leisure, he (Aristotle) saw as “laughable things”, inferior to “serious things."

"Instead, happiness is an ‘intermediate’, or a ‘golden mean’ between deficiency and excess. One example of virtue as a mean between two extremes is courage – as a virtue, it’s halfway between recklessness and cowardice."

“He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.” – Aristotle, Nichomacean Ethics, Book I, Chapter 10

So, although Aristotle acknowledged  fate or luck does play a role in happiness, he believed an individual's disposition and talent could still be used to achieve it.

Which virtues does Plato value?  In his work "Republic" Plato describes a discussion among friends as to what a just republic would look like and four virtues are revealed:

Temperance (moderation) – or self-regulation, to avoid the vices and corruption caused by excess.

Courage (or fortitude) – to stand up for what we believe is right and good.

Justice – a social consciousness that plays a key part in maintaining societal order, and

Wisdom (practical wisdom, or prudence) – the pursuit of knowledge.

Again we see a reference to excess. These ideas were being exchanged at symposia of the 4th century BCE both in Greece and in the Greek colony of Magna Graecia in southern Italy. Plato, in his work "Gorgias", written about 380 BCE describes Magna Graecia as a place where discussion of the human soul abounded amid religious and philosophic speculation. Its proximity to and trade relations with Etruria would have also been a strong influence on Etruscan potters and may have served to inspire moralistic themes in art of the period. One possible example is a red-figured terracotta rhyton found in a tomb at Tarquinia.

"This unusual 4th century BCE vessel is composed of two mold-made faces set back to back: the upper one a bearded Greek warrior with curly hair and wearing a Corinthian helmet pushed up on top of his head, the lower one a caricature of a bearded man, perhaps a Syrian or Phoenician, with a broad nose, almond eyes, and thick, smiling lips." - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

As is characteristic of many Janiform representations, it may portray two contrasting aspects of a single individual - the friendly face of the Greek warrior rendered realistically that is transformed into a caricature of a belligerent barbarian once the guest overindulges - a subtle caution about the corruption of excess. I think the fact that the barbarian visage is rendered as a caricature points to the artist's metaphorical intent.

Read more about Eudaimonic Well-Being here: 

https://positivepsychology.com/eudaimonia/

Images:  Etruscan rhyton attributed to the Bruschi Group, Late 4th century BCE - Late Classical or Early Hellenistic Period, now in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, images courtesy of the museum.



Images:  Etruscan rhyton attributed to the Bruschi Group, Late 4th century BCE - Late Classical or Early Hellenistic Period, now in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, images courtesy of the museum.



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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Deciphering Iconography of a late Classical Period Etruscan sarcophagus

The sarcophagus of Etruscan priest Laris Partunus found in the Tarquinian necropolis was produced in the late Classical Period.  This exquisite sarcophagus crafted of Parian marble is painted with scenes of the Amazonomachy.  The Greeks are shown in hoplite armor while the Amazons are wearing chitons. Surprisingly, the Amazons are depicted winning most of the paired battles instead of an equal number of victories as depicted on the Amazon sarcophagus also from Tarquinia.

The Partunus sarcophagus also depicts blue-skinned demons, but unlike the fearsome blue demons seen in the Tomb of the Blue Demons, also in Tarquinia, these figures appear to be gently guiding an aristocratic lady to her family like Greek psychopomps,  creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife. 

The painting on the long side of the sarcophagus depicts the execution of Trojan prisoners. They too are accompanied by winged blue-skinned demons who symbolize their impending deaths and journey to the underworld.  Such inclusion of mythical beings may have also served a heraldic or apotropaic function.

"This scene has inappropriately been seen as influenced by the sacrifice of Roman captives by the Tarquinians in 358 BCE (Livy 7.15.10-11), and the subsequent slaughter of Tarquinian prisoners by the Romans in 353 BCE (Livy 7.19.2-3), points out Allison Weir in her PhD thesis "Footsteps of the Dead: Iconography of Beliefs about the Afterlife and Evidence for Funerary Practices in Etruscan Tarquinia", "There are, though, many significant problems with the attempt to connect a mythological scene in a tomb with an alleged historical event. It goes without saying that the historical accuracy of Livy’s account cannot be taken for granted, especially for an episode alleged to have occurred in the 4th century. The uncertain dating of the sarcophagus aside, there is nothing in the scene to suggest a human sacrifice, rather, the scene depicts the execution of prisoners of war. Therefore, the decoration on the sarcophagus should be seen for what it is: a mythological scene fused with local Etruscan chthonic demons. "

Weir also discounts the implausible suggestion that the presence of victorious female fighters on the sarcophagus indicate the women of Tarquinia in the 4th century were emancipated.

The image of Laris Partunus lying fully flat on the lid of the sarcophagus reflects the style of the  mid 4th century BCE where sarcophagi had either a fully reclined image or no image of the dead at all. It reminded me of tomb effigies I have photographed from the medieval period - no dogs or lions at their feet, though!

"As the Hellenistic period progressed, the pose of the figure on the lids of sarcophagi and cinerary urns became progressively more upright," Weir observes.

This is illustrated by the sarcophagus of Laris' son, Velthur Partunus, also found in the same family tomb. He is depicted in a position halfway between that of his father and the upright pose of sculptures on later sarcophagi.

To read more about Funerary Practices in Etruscan Tarquinia, check out Allison Weir's full thesis at:

  https://dt01-s1.123dok.com/pdf/123dok_us/pdf/2020/01_22/xz7brd1579688774.pdf?X-Amz-Content-Sha256=UNSIGNED-PAYLOAD&X-Amz-Algorithm=AWS4-HMAC-SHA256&X-Amz-Credential=94NFDWF3B17T3R35S85K%2F20210721%2F%2Fs3%2Faws4_request&X-Amz-Date=20210721T142719Z&X-Amz-SignedHeaders=host&X-Amz-Expires=600&X-Amz-Signature=f74d1bc7e60980fd614ff8d6657d6575700ba08a66b213b762843827335c0d8d

Images: Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Fully recumbent effigy of Etruscan pries Laris Portunus on the lid of his sarcophagus found in the necropolis at Tarquinia, Italy, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Scenes of the Amazonomachy including prisoners and blue demon-like beings acting as guides to the underworld on the Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

A bound prisoner on the Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Closeup of one of the blue-skinned demons acting as a psychopomp on the Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

A winged blue-skinned demon preparing to take a dying warrior to the underworld on the Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko

Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko


A blue-skinned demon preparing to guide a soldier to the underworld on the Sarcophagus of Laris Portunus, priest, depicting scenes from the Amazonomachy and the Trojan War, Parian Marble, 350 BCE, now in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum at Tarquinia, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko
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Monday, July 19, 2021

Red-figured fish plates of the 5th century BCE

Throughout my travels to various museums around the world I have often encountered red-figured fish plates. First developed in Athens, these beautifully detailed serving pieces became especially popular in South Italy and Sicily in the 400s BCE. I stumbled across this excellent video about them and learned that fish plates produced in Magna Graecia were usually more colorful with white accents and the fish are portrayed with their bellies facing inwards towards the small central depression that is thought to have contained dipping sauce like garum. Fish on plates produced in Athens are painted with their bellies facing outwards. I thought this is quite a peculiar style difference. 

There also seems to be disagreement among scholars as to whether these plates were actually used in everyday life or produced for funerary purposes only, as almost all of the 1,000 examples that have been recovered came from ancient burials. Art historian Lucas Livingston points out that many of the recovered examples have a crack in the bottom of the dipping well produced during firing. This would indicate many of the plates were never actually used in the way they are designed.

You can see dozens of examples here:

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=ancient+Greek+fish+plates+in+art&qs=n&form=QBIR&sp=-1&pq=ancient+greek+fish+plates+in+art&sc=0-32&cvid=B677B9B0A24547C0B59A1F1E97C1E345&first=1&tsc=ImageHoverTitle

As producer of the Ancient Art Podcast, Livingston, who has worked at the Art Institute of Chicago since 2002, has a number of other ancient video lessons available on YouTube including a discussion of Hadrian and Antinous, Medusa, the Roman Lycurgus Cup, Cleopatra's ethnic origins, and ancient astronomy.

 

 

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Monday, July 12, 2021

Sarmatians: Descendants of the Amazons?

Herodotus (4.110–117) tells us some Amazons were captured in battle by Greeks in Pontus (northern Turkey) near the river Thermodon, and the captives were loaded into three boats. They overcame their captors while at sea, but were not able sailors. The boats were blown north to the Maeotian Lake (the Sea of Azov) onto the shore of Scythia near the cliff region (today's southeastern Crimea). After encountering the Scythians and learning the Scythian language, the Amazons agreed to marry Scythian men, but only on the condition that they move away from Scythia and not be required to follow the customs of Scythian women.

Hippocrates described these warlike women.

"Their women, so long as they are virgins, ride, shoot, throw the javelin while mounted, and fight with their enemies. They do not lay aside their virginity until they have killed three of their enemies, and they do not marry before they have performed the traditional sacred rites. A woman who takes to herself a husband no longer rides, unless she is compelled to do so by a general expedition. They have no right breast, for while they are yet babies their mothers make red-hot a bronze instrument constructed for this very purpose and apply it to the right breast and cauterize it, so that its growth is arrested, and all its strength and bulk are diverted to the right shoulder and right arm."

Their descendants settled beyond the Tanais (Don) river and became the cultural group known to the Romans as Sarmatians. Strabo said the Sarmatians extended from above the Danube eastward to the Volga, and from north of the Dnieper River into the Caucasus and at some point had intermarried with the Thracians (7.3.2).

These "wagon-dwellers" and "milk eaters" wore long flowing robes similar to those of the Persians according to Tacitus and by the third century BCE, the Sarmatian name appears to have supplanted the Scythian in the plains of what now is south Ukraine.

With iron a rare commodity on the steppes, the eastern Sarmatians used bone and wood for weapons and armor made of horse's hooves. Pausanius, who found a Sarmatian breastplate among votive offerings near the Athenian Acropolis in the 2nd century CE, describes the process:

"Each man keeps many mares, since the land is not divided into private allotments, nor does it bear any thing except wild trees, as the people are nomads. These mares they not only use for war, but also sacrifice them to the local gods and eat them for food. Their hoofs they collect, clean, split, and make from them as it were python scales. Whoever has never seen a python must at least have seen a pine-cone still green. He will not be mistaken if he liken the product from the hoof to the segments that are seen on the pine-cone. These pieces they bore and stitch together with the sinews of horses and oxen, and then use them as breastplates that are as handsome and strong as those of the Greeks. For they can withstand blows of missiles and those struck in close combat."

They also used lassos during combat in which they would lasso an enemy then turn quickly to unseat the rider. Their weapons and tactics were formidable enough to defeat two Roman legions in Pannonia in late 374 CE as recorded by Ammianus Marcellinus. This was in spite of the fact that Sarmatians had previously served in the Roman army. In the fourth and fifth centuries when the Huns expanded and conquered both the Sarmatians and the Germanic tribes living between the Black Sea and the borders of the Roman Empire, the Sarmatians fought with the Huns against a combination of Roman and Germanic troops but their alliance was shattered at the brutal  Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451 CE followed by the death of Attila two years later.  The Sarmatians returned to their traditional homeland and were eventually assimilated and absorbed by Proto-Slavic tribes during the early Middle Ages.

I have greatly condensed key points in the rise and fall of the Sarmatians. I highly recommend reading much more about them here:  https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2017/10/14/the-sarmatians/

Gold diadem with amethyst, almandine, garnets, turquoise, coral and glass inlays, Sarmato-Alanian Culture, 1st century CE, found near the modern city of city of Novocherkassk, Russia, now in the collections of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, image courtesy of the museum.

Gold bridle ornament depicting a stag, Sarmatian, 5th-3rd century BCE, now in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, image courtesy of the museum.

Reconstruction of Sarmatian chieftain. Araltobe mount, Kazakhstan, III-II cc. BC. Excavation of Z. Samashev. "Heritage of the Great Steppe" exhibition, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Аимаина хикари.

Disc brooch, Sarmatian, c. 150-100 BC, gold, chalcedony, carnelian, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Daderot.

Sarmatian cataphracts (who fought for the Dacians) during the Dacian Wars as depicted on Trajan's Column, 113 CE, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Oval brooch with intaglio of Athena, Sarmatian, c. 100 BC, gold, carnelian, garnet, rock crystal, glass, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Daderot.

Battle between the Slavs and the Scythians (Sarmatians) — painting by Viktor Vasnetsov (1881), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


 

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