Thursday, December 31, 2020

Roman scissors and the scissores gladiator

The earliest known scissors appeared in Mesopotamia 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. These were of the 'spring scissor' type comprising two bronze blades connected at the handles by a thin, flexible strip of curved bronze which served to hold the blades in alignment, to allow them to be squeezed together, and to pull them apart when released.

Spring scissors continued to be used in Europe until the 16th century. However, pivoted scissors of bronze or iron, in which the blades were pivoted at a point between the tips and the handles, the direct ancestor of modern scissors, were invented by the Romans around 100 CE. They entered common use in not only ancient Rome, but also China, Japan, and Korea.

A specialized weapon known as a scissor was also used by a class of gladiators called scissores. It consisted of a long, thin cylindrical-shaped pipe terminating in a crescent-shaped blade. A handle inside the tube allowed the gladiator to maintain control. The shape of the blade could produce a serious wound from even the slightest contact.

"The scissores class of gladiators often fought with the retiarius class whose specialty was the net-like weapon they used. So the scissors were used to cut this net and slaughter the opponent. The tube-like structure that is attached to the arm was also used as a shield to block attacks. The shape and nature of the weapon made it versatile, lethal, and capable of blocking an opponent’s blows from stabbing and slashing."

Inlaid shears with Egyptianizing motifs, 2nd century CE that may have served a ritual function at a sanctuary of Isis in ancient Trebizond (modern Trabzon) on the Black Sea courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Roman Scissore 54mm miniature by Pegaso Models beautifully painted by Alfonsito.

 A gladiator's scissor courtesy of 

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Parthian diplomacy

Nahavand, located on the fertile Nisaean plain in the southernmost part of ancient Media (modern day Iran), has been inhabited since at least 5,000 BCE.  According to the ancient geographer and historian Strabo it was (re-)founded by Achaemenid King Xerxes the Great.  Nahavand lay about 96 kilometers from Ecbatana on the trunk road from Babylonia through Media to Bactria. In the Seleucid period, it became a Greek polis with magistrates and a Seleucid governor.

According to the polymath Abu Hanifa Dinawari, in the Parthian period, Nahavand was the seat of the Parthian prince Artabanus, who later reigned as Artabanus I of Parthia from 127 to 124/3 BCE.  After Artabanus was killed in battle, he was succeeded by his son Mithridates II (known in antiquity as Mithridates The Great) who transformed the Parthian Empire into a superpower.

Mithridates II was the first Parthian king to extend Parthian rule into Caucasus, where the kingdoms of Armenia, Iberia, and possibly Caucasian Albania became Parthian vassal states. To the east, he defeated and conquered the nomadic tribes in Bactria who had killed both of his predecessors. Sakastan was also reconquered and he seized Dura-Europos in Syria from the Seleucids, and by 95 BCE, the northern Mesopotamian kingdoms of Adiabene, Gordyene, and Osrhoene had acknowledged his authority. Under Mithridates II, the Parthian Empire at its zenith extended from Syria and the Caucasus to Central Asia and India. It was under Mithridates II that the Parthian Empire for the first time established diplomatic relations with Rome and Han China.

 In 96 BCE Mithridates II sent one of his officials, Orobazus, as an envoy to Sulla. As the Romans were increasing in power and influence, the Parthians sought friendly relations with the Romans and thus wanted to reach an agreement that assured mutual respect between the two powers. However, negotiations followed in which Sulla apparently gained the upper hand, which made Orobazus and the Parthians look like supplicants, leading to the development of enmity that, 38 years later, culminated in the death of Marcus Licinius Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae.  If only Sulla had been more diplomatic instead of arrogantly egotistical, the entire trajectory of Roman-Parthian relations, even subsequent east-west relations, could have evolved quite differently. 

Images: Belt adornment with an eagle and its prey, 1st–2nd century CE, Parthian or Kushan, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Its mate from the same find spot along a gold necklace from Dailaman in the British Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Dominique Collon. I am a bit surprised that the bird-like figure is identified as an eagle because of its prominent ears.  Met curators point to it as an example of Parthian contacts with nomadic cultures of the Eurasian steppes. Parthian art typically displays a blend of Hellenistic and earlier Near Eastern traditions. Perhaps the figure is a zoomorphic depiction of Garuda, a legendary bird or bird-like creature in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain faiths. Garuda is generally a protector with the power to swiftly go anywhere, ever watchful and an enemy of the serpent.

Read more about Parthian art here:

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Monday, December 28, 2020

Melon hairstyles and mummy masks of the Roman Period

 Plaster Romano-Egyptian mummy masks of the 1st - 2nd century CE appear to be individualized, much like the famous mummy portraits of the Faiyum region. But, in fact, most were made in a mold.  Distinguishing details were added while the plaster was still moist with a spatula or knife. Ears were added separately and, sometimes, eyes were inlaid then the mask painted or gilded.

"This woman's waved hairstyle is based on Roman court fashion, but three hanging corkscrew curls behind the ears and a short fringe of curls over the forehead and in front of the ears seem to reflect a local style. Toward the back of her head, above her ears, are traces of a smooth area that once represented a pillow. In general earlier Roman-period masks such as this one show the deceased as if reclining on a bier with the head on a pillow, while later masks have the head raised as if the deceased is rising from the bier. The underneath edge of this example is flat where it is meant to be attached to a body covering of wood or other materials." - Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The "melon" hairstyle used to cap the top of the head of this woman appeared in Greece before the 3rd century BCE.  In Egypt, it was worn by the Ptolemaic queens Arsinoe II and Berenice II.  More "masculinized" portraits of Cleopatra VII, such as the one that appeared on a 1st century BCE silver denarius,  feature a melon hairstyle. Roman women are thought to have copied the hairstyle, especially after Cleopatra's visit in 46 and 44 BCE. But, it fell out of favor when Octavian declared war on Cleopatra. Although the hairstyle was eventually replaced by the lavish Flavian hairstyles for a time, it reappeared during the Antonine period, most notably on portraits of Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus. It continues to be shown on female portraits through the 3rd century CE. 

Mummy mask of a woman with corkscrew locks and bang, 50–150 CE, Roman Period Egypt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

Roman female portrait of the 1st century BCE at The Louvre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen.

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Sunday, December 27, 2020

Roman influence in Buddhist art

This small bronze Buddha is probably one of the earliest iconic representations of Shakyamuni from Gandhara. He sits in a yogic posture holding his right hand in abhaya mudra (a gesture of approachability). His unusual halo has serrations that indicate radiating light. His hairstyle, the form of his robes, and the treatment of the figure reflect stylistic contacts with the classical traditions of the West. This Buddha shows closer affinities to Roman sculpture than any other surviving Gandharan bronze. - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Buddhism developed as early as the 6th century BCE. But, before the late 1st to early 2nd century CE, the Buddha was represented by symbols and not in human form.  In this early human incarnation of the Buddha, he is shown with a mustache, considered a symbol of princely status.  This aspect, found only on very early depictions of the Buddha, was not included when representations of the Buddha in a variety of postures with varying gestures were codified in the 4th century CE. The radiant halo is thought to be unique to this sculpture.  Some scholars have suggested that it is based upon depictions of the Roman emperor Nero who liked to be portrayed as Helios, the Sun God, with a radiant crown.  Depictions of Solar Apollo in Roman art from the same period also include the radiant crown of Helios.

Seated Buddha, early 2nd century CE, ancient Gandhara (modern day Pakistan) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Roman mosaic from El Djem, Tunisia depicting Solar Apollo with the radiant halo of Helios, late 2nd century CE, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Mathiarex.

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Saturday, December 26, 2020

Roman archery

During most of the Republican period, there is little evidence that the Roman army employed the wide-spread use of archers.  This changed after the defeat of the army of Crassus by the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae in 51 BCE. By the time Pompey's troops occupied the Middle East, the Romans had introduced units of auxiliary archers, primarily from Syria, armed with composite bows and arrows with trilobate heads.   Large  quantities of these types of arrowheads, dated between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE, have been found at Masada, Herodium, and Dura-Europos.

The discovery of a grave of a late Roman sagittarius, thought to be of Germanic origin, near Augsburg included arrows with heads ranging from bolt-like bodkin heads to leaf-shaped heads to barbed heads. The more rare incendiary arrows, with basket-like heads to hold combustible materials like oil-soaked hemp fibers, have been found at Straubing, Germany and at the site of the Illyrian fortified settlement at Tilurium, Croatia.

Although wooden bows made from Yew were used for training, it is thought composite bows were used in combat, even in the wetter climates of Europe.  Bone remains from composite bows dating from the Augustan period have been documented at Oberaden, Germany and from the period of the Marcomannic Wars at Muŝov in the Czech Republic.  A weapons store excavated at Carnuntum, once the capital of Pannonia Superior, contained remnants of composite bows as well.  Another large cache of composite bow components were recovered at the Raetian Danube fort at Straubing/Sorviodurum where the Syrian archer unit cohors I Canathenorum milliaria equitata was stationed.

Wet climate would normally cause composite bows to split apart if exposed for long periods so bows were kept in leather cases when on campaign in Europe.  These cases have been depicted in artwork from the period but few examples have been recovered from the historical record.  Silver fittings thought to be from an ornate bow case/quiver was found in the grave of a Germanic prince, dated from the middle of the 3rd century, at Gommern, Germany.

Recommended reading: Army of the Roman Emperors: Archaeology and History by Thomas Fischer

Roman horse archer of the 6th century CE courtesy of Johnny Shumate.

Rare Roman incendiary arrowhead, 2nd century CE, found near Vienna, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
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Friday, December 25, 2020

Roman plunder

Yesterday I was looking through the collections of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens to see if a relief sculpture I had photographed at "The Greeks" exhibit at The Field Museum in Chicago was already included in the images uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and saw images of a spectacular bronze known as the Antikythera Ephebe.  The sculpture was found in the same location as the famous Antikythera mechanism. 

I've never had the opportunity to travel to Greece so have never seen this sculpture before but it looked so familiar.  I quickly realized that its face with the pouty lips as well as its artfully posed fingers looked very similar to the Victorious Youth, a Greek bronze sculpture I have photographed many times at the Getty Villa.

The two sculptures are dated to about the same time period so, thinking about how the remarkable Riace Warriors were found as a pair, I wondered if the Antikythera Ephebe and the Victorious Youth may have come from the same vicinity. When I checked the "find spot" for the Victorious Youth, I discovered it was supposedly found in the sea off the Italian Adriatic coast near the town of Fano where an Italian fisherman claims it was snagged in his nets,  quite a distance from the island of Antikythera south of Greece.

Scholars think the Victorious Youth may have been among sculptures of victorious athletes from Panhellenic Greek sanctuaries like Delphi and Olympia that were looted by the Romans.  The Roman ship carrying the sculpture was probably on its way to Italy when it foundered.  Of course the Antikythera  Ephebe may have been among such sculptures, too, but on a different ship that wrecked much closer to Greece. I think they would have made a marvelous pair!

Closeup of Antikythera Ephebe courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor George E. Koronaios.  

Full length Antikythera Ephebe courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Gary Todd. 

Victorious Youth that I photographed at the Getty Villa.

Victorious Youth that I photographed at the Getty Villa.


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Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Roman cavalryman's emergency brake

 A cavesson, also known as a Psálion, was a Roman or Thracian cavalryman's emergency brake. 

"Its lower curved bar was connected to a lead rope attached to the saddle or wrapped around the rider's arm. The cavesson presses on the horse's nose, a very sensitive area, and is used for reprimanding a spirited horse, or simply keeping some control of it, when the rider has to let the reins go for fighting. It was also used for leading a horse on foot. On this example, the long angled shanks have a leverage effect increasing the strength of the rider's action on the nose (like today's hackamores)." - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Developed as early as the 5th century BCE, it is described in the equestrian treaty of Xenophon (ca. 430-355 BCE).  Examples have been found throughout western Europe and in Britain as far as Hadrian's wall. Scholars think this distribution was the result of eastern cavalrymen, particularly Thracians, serving in the Roman army.

Romulus supposedly established a cavalry regiment of 300 men called the Celeres ("the Swift Squadron") to act as his personal escort, with each of the three tribes supplying a centuria of men.  The royal cavalry may have been drawn exclusively from the ranks of the Patricians (patricii).  But  the patrician monopoly on the cavalry seems to have ended by around 400 BCE probably due to an increasing demand for trained cavalrymen.  According to Polybius, Roman cavalry was originally unarmoured, wearing only a tunic and armed with a light spear and ox-hide shield which were of low quality and quickly deteriorated in action. This had changed by the Second Punic War.  A stone monument dating to this period shows a rider wearing a variant of a Corinthian helmet and greaves.  Although his body armor is obscured by a small round shield, scholars think he was probably also wearing a bronze breastplate.   A coin of 197 BCE shows a Roman cavalryman in Hellenistic composite cuirass and helmet. Polybius says that by 150 BCE, cavalrymen of the "First Class" were expected to to provide themselves with mail. 

The Jugurthine War is the last war in which Roman citizen cavalry is attested as having played a significant part. After that references to the citizen cavalry become rare and the Roman army seems to have become largely dependent on non-citizen cavalry, either recruited in the subject provinces or supplied by allied kings. As part of the army reforms of Gaius Marius around 107 BCE, citizen legionary cavalry was abolished and entirely replaced by native allied cavalry. The equites had long since become exclusively an officer class (a role they retained throughout the Principate), as the empire had become simply too large and complex for aristocrats to serve as ordinary troopers. At the same time, many of the First Class of commoners had developed major business interests and had little time for military service. Although commoners of the lower classes could, of course, have been recruited and trained as cavalrymen in larger numbers, that must have seemed costly and unnecessary when subject countries such as Gaul, Spain, Thrace and Numidia contained large numbers of excellent native cavalry which could be employed at much lower pay than citizens.

Image: Roman or Thracian cavalryman's cavesson (also known as a Psálion), bronze, 1st -2nd century CE at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Securing valuables in the ancient world

Security of possessions has been a primary concern since humans began accumulating anything of value. Locks were invented to address this issue about 6,000 years ago as evidenced by examples discovered in the ruins of Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria.  Locks evolved in ancient Egypt to a wooden pin lock consisting of a  bolt, door fixture or attachment, and key. When the key was inserted, pins within the fixture were lifted out of drilled holes within the bolt, allowing it to move. When the key was removed, the pins fell part-way into the bolt, preventing movement. 

This design evolved further into a warded lock, a type of lock that uses a set of obstructions, or wards, to prevent the lock from opening unless the correct key is inserted. The correct key has notches or slots corresponding to the obstructions in the lock, allowing it to rotate freely inside the lock. Warded locks were used in both Rome and ancient China.

The Romans were the first to introduce steel ward springs in the locking mechanism between 100-200 CE. An example found in Sweden and now on display in the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm uses dual ward springs. When locked, the springs rest against a wall of the lock body with two notches that match a key with corresponding dual bits. The two curved bits of the key fit into the notches and depress the springs to free the shackle.  

Keys to Roman locks varied in complexity and ornamentation.  Some were small and light with easy-to-grasp bows while others were shaped like humans or animals.  Still others included the shapes of the architecture containing the related lock.  Tiny keys that unlocked jewelry boxes were sometimes fashioned into finger rings that were worn as status symbols indicating the wearer had property valuable enough to protect.

Key with a horse-head handle Roman 100-200 CE Bronze and iron that I photographed at the Getty Villa

Roman key with bronze boar and Pan portrait 1st century CE at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Keys from the grounds of a villa rustica in Bondorf, near Böblingen, 2nd-3rd century, at the Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart, Germany courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Anagoria.

Iron key with a bronze lion handle probably from a Roman temple 100-150 CE courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Gryffindor.

Roman key finger ring, 2nd -3rd century CE at the Staatliche Antikensammlungen courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Mattes

Key with a Dog-Shaped Handle Roman 1-100 CE Bronze and Iron that I photographed at the Getty Villa

A variety of Roman keys at the Landesmuseum Württemberg - Stuttgart, Germany, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Daderot.

Diagram of Roman padlock with chain 500 BCE - 300 CE courtesy of

Diagram of a Roman padlock with shackle and ward springs courtesy of

Key with Bow, 2nd - 3rd century courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Hekate: The Dark Side of Artemis?

 Hecate or Hekate is a goddess in ancient Greek religion and mythology, most often shown holding a pair of torches or a key. In later periods she is often depicted in triple form. She is variously associated with crossroads, entrance-ways, night, light, magic, witchcraft, knowledge of herbs and poisonous plants, ghosts, necromancy, and sorcery. Her earliest appearance in literature was in Hesiod's Theogony in the late 8th century BCE as a goddess of great honor with domains in sky, earth, and sea. Her place of origin is debated by scholars, but she had popular followings amongst the witches of Thessaly and an important sanctuary among the Carians of Asia Minor in Lagina. 

Hecate was one of several deities worshiped in ancient Athens as a protector of the oikos (household), alongside Zeus, Hestia, Hermes, and Apollo.  Some scholars have suggested Hecate was originally considered an aspect of Artemis prior to the latter's adoption into the Olympian pantheon. Artemis would have, at that point, become more strongly associated with purity and maidenhood, on the one hand, while her originally darker attributes like her association with magic, the souls of the dead, and the night would have continued to be worshiped separately under her title Hecate.

The general motif of a triple Hecate situated around a central pole or column, known as a hekataion, was used both at crossroads shrines as well as at the entrances to temples and private homes. These typically depict her holding a variety of items, including torches, keys, serpents, and daggers.  Sometimes she is depicted with Charites dancing around her.  Charites are sometimes called the Graces (Gratiae in Roman mythology) and refer to three or more goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity, goodwill, and fertility.

Hecate was closely associated with dogs and her approach was heralded by the howling of a dog. Although in later times Hecate's dog came to be thought of as a manifestation of restless souls or demons who accompanied her, its docile appearance and its accompaniment of a Hecate who looks completely friendly in many pieces of ancient art suggests that its original signification was positive and thus likelier to have arisen from the dog's connection with birth than the dog's underworld associations. 

Triple-formed representation of Hecate, Marble, Roman copy after an original of the Hellenistic period courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marie-Lan Nguyen

Gilt bronze Hekataion, 1st century CE Musei Capitolini, Rome courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Daderot (digitally enhanced)

Hekataion with the Charites, Attic, 3rd century BCE at the Glyptothek, Munich courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Bibi Saint-Pol.

Juniper wood Hekataion from Ptolemaic Egypt, 304–30 BCE, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Marble hekataion, Roman, 2nd century CE, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art


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Monday, December 21, 2020

Autonomy differences between Carthaginian and Roman commanders

Competition among the elites of Rome in both the political and military spheres is well known. It was also used by one of Rome's most fiercesome opponents as well.  In Carthage, command was sometimes shared between two or even three generals and sometimes commanders were expected to seek approval from the council of 104 and the two suffetes (roughly equivalent to Rome's consuls) for important decisions such as declaring a truce, to sue for peace, or withdraw from a conflict altogether.

Furthermore, punishment of command officers was draconian (in every sense of that word!). It ranged from large fines to crucifixion of the offending general.  Even the families of those committing suicide were not spared humiliation.  Ancient sources record that the council crucified the corpse of one commander named Mago (out of the many men named Mago in the history of Carthage) in 344 BCE.  Scholars think these severe punishments rather than simply a loss of command may have made some Carthaginian generals over-cautious, although that could hardly apply to some of the spectacular risks taken by Hannibal Barca during the Second Punic War.

Although Carthage was known for employing mercenaries rather than raising citizen levies like the Romans, Carthage actually did have an elite group of 2,500-3000 infantry soldiers drawn from their own citizenry known as the Sacred Band.  Known by their iconic white shields, the Sacred Band, named after the famous unit from Greek Thebes, was barracked within Carthage itself and not relied upon for foreign campaigns.

In his excellent article on the Carthaginian Army in the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Mark Cartwright points out that Carthaginian officers dressed up for battle with plenty of gold jewelry and animal skins.

"Shields were decorated with motifs related to Punic religion, classic motifs such as Medusa, the Evil eye, or even personalised – Hasdrubal Barca had his own portrait on his silver shield." Cartwright observes, "Carthaginian officers would have further stood out in the heat of battle due to their impressive helmet plumes and glinting precious-metal armour. Generals often had expensive scale armour, such as that worn by Hannibal made from gilded bronze scales and inherited from his father."

You can read Mark's full article here:

Image: Punic cuirass courtesy of Alexander van Loon (CC BY - digitally enhanced)

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Sunday, December 20, 2020

Fish and Fishing in the Roman World

In her paper, "Fish and Fishing in the Roman World," Annalisa Marzano of the University of Reading observes:

"On the whole, fishermen in antiquity had a low social status and although fishing could be the topic of literary works, of mosaics in elite dwellings, and a recreational activity, the ordinary men who engaged in large-scale fishing and supplied the many fish-salting establishments of the Roman world remain almost invisible. It seems very likely that the same individuals engaged both in fishing and salting the fish, but to date we do not have definite evidence. There are only few surviving attestations of groups of fishermen from the Roman Mediterranean. Some clearly refer to proper collegia, which seemed to have worked in collaboration with the fishmongers, who sold only fresh fish. Others were business partnerships (societates) formed in order to operate large-scale fishing, and, possibly, also fish-salting operations."

Sought after fish that could command high prices were large specimens of bass, sea bream, mullet, and gilthead while anchovies and smaller fish species were considered affordable by people of modest means. Marine fish was, generally, more sought after than freshwater fish and, in terms of status and monetary value, fresh fish was superior to preserved fish. In a meal consisting of more than one dish, preserved fish was mainly consumed as appetiser, while fresh fish could be either the main dish or, especially for small types of fish, also feature among the appetisers.

Of course location played an important role in whether fresh fish was readily available or preserved fish was more often part of a Roman's meal.   Sewer analysis from Herculaneum, primarily a port city, indicate consumption of fresh seafood across social strata. However, for inland agricultural laborers, Marcus Aurelius in a letter to his friend Fronto points out that, at least on one of his imperial estates,  small preserved sardines, boiled beans, and onions were the foods eaten by the agricultural laborers.  Salted fish was also served to ship crews, as attested to in an excavation of sixty small vessels in the Rhône at Arles, and to the Roman army.

Culinary "fashion" also changed over time. During the Republican period, a sturgeon was prized because it was a non-Mediterranean species. It subsequently went out of fashion for a time until it was once more considered worthy of an emperor's table.  The social value of fish as a gift also seemed to be disputable. Martial ridicules a social climber named Papylus, who tries to impress people by sending gifts of fresh mullets and oysters, while he dines on much simpler fare at home.  In contrast, a military verteran named Tiberius Bellenus Gemellus selected a gift of fresh fish and one artaba (about 27 liters) of olives for an Egyptian official whose favor he wished to gain.

To read more of Marzano's paper that appeared in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology:

Image:  Bollard with a Fisherman, early 5th century CE, Late Roman or Byzantine, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This young fisherman, wearing a tunic and boots, stands before a weighted bollard, used to tie large boats to a wharf. With a net cast over his shoulder, he holds a rudder in his left hand. The cleat itself, used to secure a line from a boat, is formed by two fingers protruding from the bollard. Image courtesy of the museum (digitally enhanced).

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Saturday, December 19, 2020

Water distribution in the ancient world

The Mesopotamians introduced the world to clay sewer pipes around 4000 BCE, with the earliest examples found in the Temple of Bel at Nippur and at Eshnunna.  They were utilized to remove wastewater from sites, and capture rainwater in cisterns. The city of Uruk also contains one of the first examples of brick constructed latrines, dated from about 3200 BCE. Clay piped plumbing has also been found in the Hittite city of Hattusa, founded in the 6th millennium and abandoned about 1200 BCE.

The Indus Valley Civilization also developed public water supplies with a number of advanced features.  In the Indus city of Lothal (c. 2350 BCE), archaeologists discovered houses with their own private toilets connected to a covered sewer network constructed of brickwork held together with a gypsum-based mortar.  Many of the buildings at Mohenjo-daro collected water from roofs and upper story bathrooms that was channeled through terracotta pipes to street drains. There were also public and private baths.

The Minoan capital of Knossos on Crete had a well-organized water system for bringing in clean water, taking out waste water, and storm sewage canals for overflow when there was heavy rain. It was also one of the first to use a flush toilet, dating back to the 18th century BCE.

The later Greeks on the mainland enjoyed pressurized showers.  The famous Greek inventor Heron of Alexandria, developed a system of pressurized piping for fire fighting purposes there.

By the 1st century CE, the  Roman consul Sextus Julius Frontinus, curator aquarium of the city's water supply, reports Rome had nine aqueducts which fed 39 monumental fountains and 591 public basins, not counting the water supplied to the Imperial household, baths, and owners of private villas. Each of the major fountains was connected to two different aqueducts, in case one was shut down for service.

Bronze water spouts in the form of lion masks, ca. 100 BCE–100 CE, Greek or Roman, from Cyprus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I was researching the House of Sallust in Pompeii, I noticed that the rainwater from the roof was channeled through water spouts shaped like lion heads like these into the impluvium there.

Waterspout in the form of a hound, early 1st century C.E., Roman, Terracotta courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum

Waterspout in the form of a bear, Roman, Bronze, 2nd century CE courtesy of Christies

Waterspout in the form of a wolf, Roman, Bronze, 1st-2nd century CE, courtesy of Christies,

"Cupid with goose" (detail) - bronze fountain (1st century BCE-1st century CE) from the Exhibition "Herculaneum and Pompeii: Vision of Discovery" at the Archaeological Museum of Naples by Carlo Raso (PD)

Child with fruit, fountain ornament (1st century CE) from Pompeii - Exhibition "Myth and Nature" at Archaeological Museum of Naples by Carlo Raso (PD)

Bronze fountain sculpture of a viper found in the peristyle garden at the House of the Citharist Pompeii 1st century BCE that I photographed at Pompeii: The Exhibition" at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon.

A Roman fountain on a street corner that I photographed in Pompeii in 2005.
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Friday, December 18, 2020

Scythian gorytos

A gorytos is a type of leather case for a short composite bow and arrows used by the Scythians in classical antiquity. They are a combination of bow case and quiver in one, and are worn on the archer's left hip with the opening tilted rearward. Many gorytos were highly decorated and sometimes gilded. At least one surviving specimen was determined by scanning electron microscope to be made of human skin.

Some have been found in Macedonian tombs, such as the tomb of Philip II in Macedon in Vergina of the 2nd half of the 4th century BCE. It is thought to have belonged to his sixth wife, the Thracian princess Meda of of Odessos, who hurled herself on his funeral pyre.  Her remains were found in the antechamber of Philip's tomb.  They were also used by the Persians. Indo-Greeks adopted the composite bow and the gorytos as part of their mounted archery equipment from around 100 BCE, as can be seen on their coins.

In his 1913 book, Scythians and Greeks: A Survey of Ancient History and Archaeology on the North Coast of the Euxine from the Danube to the Caucasus, Ellis H. Minns states these quivers found in Scythian graves contained from 200 to 300 shafts.  Later sources point to burials with 180 and 128 arrows. 

"Those are remarkable numbers. Soldiers in Babylonia in the same period usually carried 30 to 60 arrows, [and] the Strategikon recommends that Roman soldiers carry 30 or 40 in a quiver," observes Sean Manning of, "These western Scythian (to use the Greek name) or Kimmerian (to use the Babylonian name) bows were designed for a style of fighting which involved putting vast numbers of arrows into the air. Such small, light arrows might not penetrate shields or inflict immediately disabling wounds, but if enough arrows were in the air that would not matter. The peoples of the western steppes were accused of poisoning their arrows, and that is certainly a common solution for archers forced to use short or light bows."

You can read his full article here:

Copies of a Gorytos and sword sheath excavated from a 4th century BC Scythian king burial in the Azov History, Archaeology and Paleontology Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Altes.

Gilded gorytos found in the antechamber of the tomb of Philip II thought to belong to his sixth wife, Meda of of Odessos courtesy of Trip Advisor contributor Ольга Р

Reconstruction of an armored 5th century BCE Scythian warrior with shield, short sword, spear and gorytos, based on finds from a burial at Gladkovscina in the Ukraine courtesy of Book and Sword.
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Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Arch of Galerius

 The Roman emperor Galerius commissioned the triple Arch of Galerius, built in 298-299 CE and dedicated in 303 CE,  as an element of the imperial precinct linked to his palace in Thessaloniki, Greece. Galerius served as Caesar during the tetrarchy of Diocletian and married Diocletian's daughter.  Entrusted with the care of the Illyrian provinces, he campaigned against Sarmatians and Goths along the Danube then was  dispatched to Egypt to fight the rebellious cities Busiris and Coptos. From there, Galerius was sent to command the eastern forces between Carrhae and Callinicum in Syria.

Then, in about 295 CE, Narseh, son of the king Shapur I and the seventh emperor of the Sassanid Persian Empire, declared war on Rome and invaded western Armenia. Narseh then moved south into Roman Mesopotamia, where he inflicted a severe defeat on Galerius. Diocletian may or may not have been present at the battle, but presented himself soon afterwards at Antioch, where the official version of events was made clear: Galerius was to take all the blame for the affair. In Antioch, Diocletian forced Galerius to walk a mile in advance of his imperial cart while still clad in the purple robes of an emperor. The message conveyed was clear: the loss at Carrhae was not due to the failings of the empire's soldiers, but due to the failings of their commander. 

However, after Galerius' army was reinforced in 298 CE, Galerius lead an offensive into northern Mesopotamia by way of Armenia. To Narseh's disadvantage, the rugged Armenian terrain was favorable to Roman infantry, but not to Sassanid cavalry. Local aid gave Galerius the advantage of surprise over the Persian forces, and, in two successive battles, Galerius secured victories over Narseh. At the Battle of Satala, Roman forces seized Narseh's camp, his treasury, his harem, and his wife. Narseh's wife would live out the remainder of the war in Daphne, a suburb of Antioch, serving as a constant reminder to the Persians of the Roman victory. The Romans, in any case, treated Narseh's captured family well, perhaps seeking to evoke comparisons to Alexander and his beneficent conduct towards the family of Darius III.

At the crux of the major axes of the city of Thessaloniki, the Arch of Galerius emphasized the power of the emperor as embodied by his conquests.The arch is composed of a masonry core faced with marble sculptural panels celebrating his victories. 

I found this closeup of one of the arch's panels up on Flickr courtesy of Dan Lundberg  (cc by sa 2.0).  In the center an eagle brings a victory wreath to a mounted Galerius who is overpowering the Persian shah Narseh on his own horse—a confrontation that never occurred.

More images of the arch panels can be found here:

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Triumphal Regalia

In Republican Rome, truly exceptional military achievement merited the highest possible honors, which connected the vir triumphalis ("man of triumph", later known as a triumphator) to Rome's mythical and semi-mythical past. Triumphs were tied to no particular day, season, or religious festival of the Roman calendar. Most seem to have been celebrated at the earliest practical opportunity, probably on days that were deemed auspicious for the occasion. Tradition required that, for the duration of a triumph, every temple was open. The ceremony was thus, in some sense, shared by the whole community of Roman gods, but overlaps were inevitable with specific festivals and anniversaries. 

The dates selected for some triumphs may have been coincidental with other official festivals while others were maneuvered to coincide. For example, March 1, the festival and dies natalis of the war god Mars, was the traditional anniversary of the first triumph by Publius Valerius Publicola (504 BCE), who, along with Lucius Junius Brutus, led the overthrow of the monarchy, as well as six other Republican triumphs, and of the very first Roman triumph by Romulus. 

According to Plutarch, Romulus' first Roman triumph complete with chariot and the "kingly" garb of the triumphator celebrated the defeat of King Acron of the Caeninenses, and is thought to coincide with Rome's foundation in 753 BCE. Like much in Roman culture, elements of the triumph were based on Etruscan and Greek precursors. In particular, the purple, embroidered toga picta worn by the triumphal general was thought to be derived from the royal toga of Etruscan kings. Arrian, however, attributes similar Dionysian elements to the emulation of a victory procession of Alexander the Great. 

Roman historians from the Principate identify the association of a triumph with Alexander the Great to the celebration of the victories of Scipio Africanus. The triumphal general was also  linked to the demi-god Hercules, who had labored selflessly for the benefit of all mankind. His sumptuous triumphal chariot was bedecked with charms against the possible envy (invidia) and malice of onlookers.  Of course, the demeanor of a triumphal Republican general would have been closely scrutinized by his aristocratic peers, as well as the symbols which he employed in his triumph. They would be alert for any sign that he might aspire to be more than "king for a day".

Images: Enameled Harness Ornaments, 200–400 CE, Late Roman or Byzantine at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This large group of enamels, noteworthy for the vivid colors and exuberant presentation of classical motifs, likely adorned the yoke and harness of a ceremonial chariot.

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