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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The value of finding Roman seal stamps in an archaeological site

Yesterday when I was translating the excavations records for the House of Sallust, I read about one of the finds there, a stamp with ring on the back.  The stamp found had a vase inscribed on the bevel portion of the ring and the words A • COSS•LBAN probably the last owner of the house or one of the guests staying at the hospitium (the House of Sallust was converted into a hospitium (a Roman hotel) during the last decades before the eruption of Vesuvius).

This morning while I was searching the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I found just such a stamp from the Villa at Boscoreale. Its ring is inscribed with a winged caduceus, the staff of Mercury, god of commerce.  Its letter inscription, L*HER*FLO, signifies Lucius Herennius Florus, the name of the owner of the villa at Boscoreale from which the Museum's Second Style frescoes come.  Of course, this is a little confusing since the frescoes are labeled as coming from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor.  The stamp was presumably the owner's property and likely served as the official seal of the household used to mark provisions. The museum curator tells us that many such bronze seals have been found in the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, although stamps with intaglio on both ring and plate are less common.

Roman seal stamp from Boscoreale 1st century CE



As for the actual ownership of the Boscoreale villa where the beautiful frescoes in the museum's collections were discovered, a set of bronze tablets was also found there inscribed with Lucius Herennius Florus as well. 

In my research, I've noticed how names given to excavated structures sometimes have little to do with the last actual owners of the property.  One of the first villas excavated in Pompeii was given the name "House of Diomedes" because early excavators found a tomb nearby inscribed with the name "Diomedes."  The suburban villa was discovered along the main road between Pompeii and Herculaneum and it was customary for wealthier Romans to build tombs along main roads leading into cities to publicize the family's wealth.  So, whether the individual buried nearby had anything to do with the excavated villa is questionable.  Finding one of these household seals in situ is far more convincing.

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