Sunday, August 30, 2020

An ideal worthy of imitation

 Mercury, the messenger of the gods, is typically depicted as a youth with wings on his hat or feet.  This monumental bronze statue, commissioned by Lorenzo Ridolfi in 1549 and completed in 1551, formerly stood at the center of the courtyard of the Palazzo Ridolfi in Florence. The inscription on the base states that the "Florentine friends Zanobi Lastricati and Ciano Compagni made the figure in order to learn." The latter was a perfume-maker employed by the duke of Florence, and, on the basis of an ancient marble sculpture of Mercury, he made a model which Lastricati then used for casting the bronze.  The inscription expresses the idea that the sculptures of antiquity represented an ideal worthy of imitation.  - The Walters Art Museum

Image: Mercury, bronze, 1551, after a Roman Imperial Period original, by Zanobi Lastricati that I photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland in 2015.

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Ancient Scythopolis, the leading city of Rome's Decapolis

Historically known as Scythopolis, Beth Shean (Beit She'an) is located at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley.   The city was founded in the Late Neolithic or Early Chalcolitic Period (sixth to fifth millennia BCE).  In the Biblical account of the battle of the Israelites against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, the bodies of King Saul and three of his sons were hung on the walls of Beit She'an.  In Roman times, after Pompey annexed Judea to the Roman Empire,  Beit She'an was refounded and rebuilt by Gabinius. The town center shifted from the summit of the mound, or tell, to its slopes. Thereafter, it became the leading city of the Decapolis, a league of Judean cities, and was the only Decapolis city west of the Jordan River.  

The city flourished under the "Pax Romana", as evidenced by high-level urban planning and extensive construction, including the best preserved Roman theatre of ancient Samaria, as well as a hippodrome, a cardo and other trademarks of Roman influence. Mount Gilboa, 7 km (4 mi) away, provided dark basalt blocks, as well as water (via an aqueduct) to the town. Beit She'an is said to have sided with the Romans during the Jewish uprising of 66 CE. Excavations have focused less on the Roman period ruins, so not much is known about this time. The University of Pennsylvania's excavation of the northern cemetery, however, did uncover significant finds. The Roman period tombs are of the loculus type: a rectangular rock-cut spacious chamber with smaller chambers (loculi) cut into its side. Bodies were placed directly in the loculi, or inside sarcophagi which were placed in the loculi. A sarcophagus with an inscription identifying its occupant in Greek as "Antiochus, the son of Phallion", may have held the cousin of Herod the Great.

Copious archaeological remains found dating to the Byzantine period (330–636 CE) were excavated from 1921–23. Beit She'an was primarily Christian during this period, as attested to by the large number of churches, but evidence of Jewish habitation and a Samaritan synagogue indicate established communities of these minorities. The pagan temple in the city centre was destroyed during this period, but the nymphaeum and Roman baths were restored. However, many of the buildings of Scythopolis were damaged in the Galilee earthquake of 363 CE, although by 409 CE it still became the capital of the northern district, Palaestina Secunda.

Image: Sarcophagus from the northern cemetery, tomb 202 A, Iron Age IA, 1200-1150 BCE that I photographed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia. 

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Friday, August 28, 2020

Yorkshire Museum reopens!

 The Yorkshire Museum in York, England, originally opened in 1830, has reopened to the public once more after its pandemic closure in March.  Its permanent collections  include archaeological remains, numismatics, astronomy, biology, and geology and objects on display are a selection of artifacts from its almost a million objects dating as far back as 500,000 BCE.  One of its permanent exhibits is "Roman York - Meet the People of the Empire."  A statue of the Roman God Mars is prominently displayed, and there is an interactive display describing the lives of some of the Romans whose remains have been found in York. The final record of the famous lost Roman legion, the Ninth Legion, is on display as part of the Roman gallery. The stone inscription, which has been dated to Trajan's twelfth year as emperor, between 10 December 107 and 9 December 108, commemorates the legion's rebuilding in stone of the south-eastern wall of Eboracum's legionary fortress.

I had the privilege of exploring the Yorkshire Museum back in 2006 when I attended an exhibition about Constantine.  Unfortunately, at the time photography was not allowed.  However, that policy has since been rescinded and now Wikimedia Commons has a wonderful selection of images of the Yorkshire Museum's collections from the museum itself as well as from visitors. 

Some of the objects I found particularly interesting are attached.  Most images are courtesy of the York Museums Trust except for a few by Carole Raddato which I have indicated in their captions.

Anglian helmet 8th century CE at the Yorkshire Museum in York, England courtesy of the York Museums Trust

Face urn thought to possibly depict Caracalla 200-300 CE courtesy of the York Museums Trust

Figurine of a Roman soldier at the Yorkshire Museum courtesy of Carole Raddato

Roman mosaic payment at the Yorkshire Museum courtesy of Carole Raddato

Roman Ophiotaurus mosaic pavement at the Yorkshire Museum courtesy of Carole Raddato

Roman relief at the Yorkshire Museum courtesy of Carole Raddato

Statue of a female deity or woman Roman 1st century BCE - 1st century CE courtesy of the York Museum Trust

Votive statue of Arimanes, Mithraic god of Evil, Roman, 43 - 410 CE. Male figure, winged and naked except for a fringed loin-cloth tied with a knotted snake; in his left hand he carries a pair of keys, and in his right hand he grasped a sceptre. A notch is cut between the feet.... VOL(VSIVS) IRE[NAEVS D(ONVM) [D(EDIT) ARIMANI V(OTVM) [S(OLVENS L(IBENS) M(ERITO) 'Volusius Irenaeus, paying his vow willingly and deservedly to Arimanes, gave (this) gift.' The dedication is to Arimanius, the Mithraic god of Evil. The missing head was most probably that of a lion, symbolic of all-devouring Death. The snake girdle represents the tortuous course of the sun though the sky; the wings signify the winds; while the keys are those of the heavens and the sceptre is the sign of dominion. - Yorkshire Museum

Tombstone of Flavia Augustina with her two sons who actually died before the age of 2 but are represented as older children. She is accompanied by her legionary husband who commissioned the tombstone. Image courtesy of the York Museums Trust. Inscription: D(IS) M(ANIBVS) FLAVIAE AVGVSTINAE; VIXIT AN(ANOS) XXXVIIII M(ENSES) VII D(IES) XI FILIVS; S...NIVS AVGVSTINVS VIXIT AN(NVM) I D(IES) III; ..... VIXIT AN(NUM) I M(ENSES) VIIII D(IES) V CAERESIVS; ....INVS VET(ERANVS) LEG(IONIS) VI VIC(TRICIS) CONIVGI CARI; SSIMAE ET SIBI F(ACIVNDVM) C(VRAVIT) 'To the spirits of the departed. To Flavia Augstina. She lived 39 years, 7 months, 11 days. Her son, ...nius Augustinus, lived 1 year 3 days, .... lived 1 year, 9 months, 5 days. Caeresius [August]inus, veteran of the Sixth Legion Victorius, has (this stone) made for his dearest wife and himself.'

Tombstone of Julia Velva whose head, with hair parted in the middle, and torso are alone visible, reclines on a couch and props her head on her left arm, which rests on a cushion. She holds a wine jar in her right hand. The couch has a very thick mattress, high sides and legs nobbed at the top but otherwise plain. In front of the couch, left to right, are shown a young girl seated on a basket chair and clasping a pet bird, a three-legged table on which are dishes are food, a boy standing with his right hand on the table and holding a jug in his left, while Aurelius Mercurialis, bearded, stands in front of a larger table with claw feet, and holds a scroll in his right hand. Found in 1922, in making Abermarle Road, 15 yds from The Mount. D(IS) M(ANIBVS) IVLIE VELVE PIENTISSI ME VIXIT AN(NOS) L AVREL(IVS) MERVRIALIS HER(ES) FACI VNDVM CVRAVIT VIVVS SIBI ET SVIS FECIT "To the spirits of the departed and to Julia Velva. She lived 50 years, most dutifully. Auelius Mercurialis, her heir, had (this tombstone) made. He made it while alive for himself and his family." Image courtesy of the York Museums Trust.

Anglian finger ring, gold, 410-866 CE, courtesy of the York Museums Trust

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Roman "home" schooling

To obtain a knowledge of the elements out of which we make and compose all discourses is not so very difficult if anyone entrusts himself, not to those who make rash promises, but to those who have some knowledge of these things.  Isocrates.  Against the Sophists.  Speech 13.  Section 16.

Prior to the 3rd century BCE. the Roman system of education was closely bound to the Roman social institution of patria potestas, in which the father acted as head of the household (paterfamilias), and had, according to law, absolute right of control over his children. It was the father's duty to educate his children and should he be unable to fulfill this duty, the task was assumed by other family members. It was not until 272 BCE with the capture of Tarentum, the annexation of Sicily in 241 BCE, and the period following the First Punic War that Romans were exposed to a strong influence of Greek thought and lifestyle and found leisure to study the arts.

In the 3rd century BCE, a Greek captive from Tarentum named Livius Andronicus was sold as a slave and employed as a tutor for his master's children. After obtaining his freedom, he continued to live in Rome and became the first schoolmaster (private tutor) to follow Greek methods of education and would translate Homer's Odyssey into Latin verse in Saturnian meter.

As Rome grew in size and in power, following the Punic Wars, the importance of the family as the central unit within Roman society began to deteriorate, and with this decline, the old Roman system of education carried out by the paterfamilias deteriorated as well. The new educational system began to center more on the one encountered by the Romans with the prominent Greek and Hellenistic centers of learning such as Alexandria.

In a system much like the one that predominates in the modern world, the Roman education system that developed arranged schools in tiers. The educator Quintilian recognized the importance of starting education as early as possible, noting that "memory ... not only exists even in small children, but is specially retentive at that age".  A Roman student would progress through schools just as a student today might go from primary school to secondary school and then to college. They were generally exempted from studies during the market days which formed a kind of weekend on every eighth day of the year. Progression depended more on ability than age with great emphasis being placed upon a student's ingenium or inborn "gift" for learning, and a more tacit emphasis on a student's ability to afford high-level education.

Image: Pedagogue and boy, Greek, 3rd-2nd century BCE, terracotta with traces of paint, that I photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.


If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Syncretistic religions of the Roman Imperial Period

Many religions of the ancient world were syncretistic, meaning that as they grew and came into contact with other religions, they adopted new beliefs and modified their practices to reflect their changing environment. Both Greek and Roman religious beliefs were deeply influenced by the so-called mystery religions of the East, including the Egyptian cult of Isis, which revealed beliefs and practices to the initiated that remained unexplained, or mysterious, to the uninitiated. Most popular Roman cults had associations with these mystery religions and included the prospect of an afterlife. Zeus Labraundos was a local version of Zeus from Mylasa in Caria (southwestern Asia Minor), of whom very few representations exist except on Roman coins. The front of his apron-like garment is decorated with images of divinities and astral symbols. On his head, he wears a tall headdress with lotus elements reflecting Egyptian influences and the eagle of Zeus at the front. - Walters Art Museum

Remains of the sanctuary of Zeus Labraundos still exist today.  The site in Mylasa was rediscovered in the 19th century.  Frenchman A. Laumonier carried out initial surveys in 1932 but the first archaeological excavations did not begin until 1948, under the direction of the Swedish archaeologist A.W. Persson.  Dedications inscribed on the architraves of the monuments reveal the structure was built by Mausolus (of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus fame) and his brother Idrieus.  Although the building was organized like a typical Greek sanctuary, it also contained banquet halls in the Persian fashion.  These banquet halls, by their size, location and use were central to the political and religious functioning of Labraunda. The satraps held council and received ambassadors from foreign cities there.  An Achaemenid sphinx and the head of a second were found nearby and thought to have symbolized the authority and protection of the Persian Empire.  

The ancient geographer Strabo described the sanctuary as "connected to the city by a causeway of nearly 60 stadia, which is called the sacred way and which is used for pumps or processions. The High Priest is invariably chosen from among the most illustrious citizens of Mylasa and always appointed for life." 

Image: Zeus Labraundos, bronze, 1st century CE Roman Imperial Period that I photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.  

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Staged royal discoveries in Pompeii

 I'm continuing to translate portions of the Pompeianarum antiquitatum historia and have become increasingly skeptical of finds made in front of royal patrons in Pompeii. I have read months of records dated to 1813 where excavators are working on the amphitheater, a basilica, and a house "behind" the House of Actaeon which I think is really the gardens at the rear of the House of Actaeon complex. The excavators have previously assumed the rooms around the fresco of Actaeon is the "House" of Actaeon when in reality it was a later addition to the central complex of what is now known as the House of Sallust.

Anyway, month after month the excavators report nothing but hauling away donkey carts full of volcanic material. Most rooms are almost empty with the exception of the occasional broken vase or fragments of hinges. Then the Queen shows up, and I assume this is Queen Caroline Bonaparte, Queen of Naples and Sicily at the time. Conveniently, the Queen "discovers" several pieces of bronze, which served as a seal for a door, a beautiful silver vase with "delicately decorated handle and foot" with an historical bas relief, three plates and other pieces of silver as well as two candelabra and a kitchen vase with an elliptical shape. Then the excavator says he will send them back to M.S. This would indicate the items were previously in storage and being returned to storage. Whether they originated at the site and were uncovered in earlier excavations in 1806-1807 or just items selected from storage regardless of find site is unclear. I have already translated the reports from 1806-1807 but don't remember anything silver being uncovered. I'll review those reports again to be sure.

19th century woodcut print of Pompeii excavations (PD)

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Friday, August 21, 2020

Salus, personification of the security and welfare of the Roman people

  Salus, personification of the security and welfare of the Roman people, 200-250 CE

Salus was the Roman personification of health and well being, and came to be very closely associated with the Greek goddess Hygieia, the daughter of the healing god Asclepius. She is often represented in works of art with the same attributes as Hygeia – in particular both are frequently depicted with a snake wrapped around one arm. However, they each kept their own separate identities, and served very different functions. While both deities protected individual health, Salus was also responsible for the prosperity of the Roman state and its rulers. In this regard, she personified the security and welfare of the Roman people, and was therefore an especially important deity for the city of Rome. She had a temple and cult on the Quirinal Hill in Rome, and various representations of the goddess appeared on Imperial Roman coins. Because the Getty’s statue is close to life-size, it may have been a cult image that was set up in a public space or a temple. In this setting she would have represented public welfare. Smaller versions of Salus, however, were often set up in domestic spaces and private shrines, where an individual could offered prayers for personal health.

This statue is unique in that the attributes of Salus – the snake and the egg – are combined with images commonly associated with Venus (Greek Aphrodite), the goddess of love. Here Salus is accompanied by Cupid, usually a companion of Venus. Her hairstyle tied in a bow on top of her head is also characteristic of Venus. However, unlike Venus, who is often depicted nude, Salus is represented as a heavily draped goddess. It was not uncommon for Roman goddesses to use a combination of attributes from different deities. Salus was sometimes depicted with a rudder and a globe, which were typical attributes of Fortuna, the goddess of Fortune. However, this statue is the only known example in which Salus and Venus are paired together.  - J. Paul Getty Museum

Image: Salus, personification of the security and welfare of the Roman state, 200-250 CE, courtesy of the Getty Museum

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Riace Warriors: Remnants of a sanctuary in Magna Graecia or Roman plunder?

 I first learned of the Riace warriors while listening to the Great Courses lecture series "Classical Archaeology of Ancient Greece and Rome presented by John R. Hale of the University of Louisville.  Dr. Hale made them sound so intriguing I had to research them further and see what they actually looked like since I was listening to an audio version of the course while I commuted to work at my university.  When I finally saw them I found them absolutely breathtaking, too!

 The Riace Warriors, are two full-size Greek bronzes of naked bearded warriors, cast about 460–450 BCE that were found in the sea near Riace, Italy in 1972. The bronzes are now in the collections of the  Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria, Italy.  Stefano Mariottini, then a chemist from Rome, chanced upon the bronzes while snorkeling near the end of a vacation at Monasterace. While diving some 200 metres from the coast of Riace, at a depth of six to eight metres, Mariottini noticed the left arm of statue A emerging from the sand. At first he thought he had found a dead human body, but on touching the arm he realized it was a bronze arm. Mariottini began to push the sand away from the rest of statue A. Later, he noticed the presence of another bronze nearby and called the authorities.  Surprisingly, no associated wreck site has been identified, but in the immediate locality, which is a subsiding coast, architectural remains have also been found. Authorities also reported a helmet and shield as well as a third statue with open arms but these objects were stolen before the official recovery occurred and it is thought they were sold to a collector abroad.

The two bronze sculptures are simply known as “Statue A”, referring to the one portraying a younger warrior, and “Statue B”, indicating the more mature-looking of the two. The most popular theory is that two separate Greek artists created the bronzes about 30 years apart around the 5th century BCE. “Statue A” was probably created between the years 460 and 450 BCE, and “Statue B” between 430 and 420 BCE. Some believe that “Statue A” was the work of Myron, and that a pupil of Phidias, called Alkamenes, created “Statue B.”  They are considered to be exquisite examples of contrapposto - their weight is on the back legs, making them much more realistic than with many other Archaic stances. Their musculature is clear, yet not incised, and looks soft enough to be visible and realistic. The bronzes' turned heads not only confer movement, but also add life to the figures. The asymmetrical layout of their arms and legs adds realism to them. The eyes of Statue A are formed of calcite (originally supposed to be ivory), while their teeth are made with silver. Their lips and nipples are made of copper. At one time, they held spears and shields, but those have not been found. Additionally, Warrior B once wore a helmet pushed up over his head, and it is thought that Warrior A may have worn a wreath over his.  

It is thought the two warriors originally formed part of a votive group in a large sanctuary and it has been speculated that they represent  Tydeus and Amphiaraus respectively, two warriors from the Seven Against Thebes monumental group in the polis of Argos, as Pausanias noted.  Other scholars think they may have originally been part of a monument to the Battle of Marathon.  Still others have expressed their opinion the pair may be Erechtheus, son of Athena, and Eumolpos, son of Poseidon.  The Greek temples at Olympia, Argos, and Delphi were plundered after the Roman occupation and some scholars have posited that these warriors were being transported to Rome as booty when a storm overtook their ship, but no evidence of a wreck has been found. 

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Luca Galli

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Effems 

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Effems

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Effems

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Effems

Riace Warrior now in the collections of the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia in Reggio Calabria, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributors Effems

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Senhouse Roman Museum reopens!

Senhouse Roman Museum is built upon the site of Alauna, a castrum or fort in Roman Britannia just north of the town of Maryport in Cumbria. It was linked by a Roman road to the Roman fort and settlement at Derventio (Papcastle) to the southeast, and thence by another road northeast to the regional hub of Luguvalium (Carlisle). The fort was established around 122 CE as a command and supply base for the coastal defences of Hadrian's Wall at its western extremity. There are substantial remains of the Roman fort, which was one of a series along the Cumbrian coast intended to prevent Hadrian's Wall being outflanked by crossing the Solway Firth. 

Geo-magnetic surveys have revealed a large Roman town surrounding the fort. An archaeological dig discovered evidence of a second, earlier, larger fort next to, and partially under the present remains. The Roman fort site was owned from the 16th century by generations of the Senhouse family. The main building on the site was constructed as a naval artillery drill hall in 1885. It was converted into the Senhouse Roman Museum in 1990. The Senhouse family's collections contained numerous Roman artefacts including dedicated altars. Beginning in Tudor times, the site has yielded more altars than any other Roman site in Britain.  One of the best known, now in the British Museum, has an inscription dedicated by Gaius Cornelius Peregrinus, a decurion (town councilor) from Saldae (present-day Bejaia in Algeria), who was tribunus (military commander) of the auxiliary garrison. 

Another interesting artifact in the collections of the local museum is a column base bearing a relief of the Celtic horse goddess Epona, discovered in the 18th Century in the Headquarters Building within the fort. This is one of only two representations of Epona in Britain. Epona is depicted riding sideways on a prancing horse with a basket of fruit in her lap. She was the personification of the horse and protector of horses, particularly going into battle or breeding stock. Auxiliary cavalrymen brought the belief in Epona with them from their tribal territories. The Celtic goddess was also revered as the patroness for wagoners. She was popular among the military particularly in the provinces of Gaul and Germania.

A column base bearing a relief of the Celtic horse goddess Epona, discovered in the 18th century in the headquarters building within the fort. This is one of only two representations of Epona in Britain. 

Epona, Roman, Second or Third century CE, from Contern, Luxembourg at the Musée National d'Art et d'Histoire, Luxembourg City courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Owen Cook

Relief depicting the "Lady of Animals", Epona, sitting on a throne holding a fruit basket on her lap, 200 CE at the Kunst der Kelten, Historisches Museum Bern courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Rosemania

Epona relief, Gallo-roman, from Allerey, Dijon Archeological Museum, France courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Siannan

Epona relief, 70-100 CE, later incorporated into the city wall of Bregenz, revered as "Ehre-Guta" at the Vorarlberg Museum, Bregenz, Austria

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The legacy of Etruscan fashion

Etruscan fashion reflected the influence of Ionia and the Near East especially in pointed footwear, soft conical hats, and generally highly decorative patterns. Increased trade with Greece and Magna Graecia resulted in the adoption of long dresses secured at the shoulder by a brooch, light shawls, a long, simple white cloak (himation) with a red or black border, and a short-sleeved tunic (chiton) made from linen.  However, the Etruscans' flamboyant taste was expressed in much more vibrant colors than the Greeks or Romans as indicated by their tomb murals, although scholars think they were depicted in ceremonial finery rather than everyday dress. The clothing of both men and women often featured lavish embroidery. The Greek scholar Posidonius observed that even the clothing of Etruscan entertainers was "more beautiful than is fitting for slaves" (Heurgon, 172).

It was the Etruscans who ultimately gave the basic toga, known as the trebenna, to the Romans, although the Romans would lengthen it and change the drapery of the folds.

I highly recommend Mark Cartwright's detailed article on Etruscan clothing:

 Conceived primarily in two dimensions—front and rear silhouette—this small bronze dancer probably once belonged to an elaborate candelabra or incense burner. The exaggeratedly long fingers and pointed shoes characterize the work as Etruscan, as do the stylized folds of the figure’s dress, which add visual interest but not verisimilitude. While her right hand holds above her head a cylindrical support, her left squeezes a small object, perhaps a fruit or clapper. - Cleveland Art Museum

Image: Etruscan Candelabrum Stand of a Dancing Maenad 525-500 BCE at the Cleveland Art Museum in Cleveland, Ohio courtesy of the museum.

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Marsyas - Example of Hubris or Free Speech?

Although many of us are familiar with the story of Marsyas, a musically gifted satyr who found an aulos (a type of flute) discarded by Athena and challenged Apollo to a musical contest and lost, being flayed for his hubris, the Romans viewed Marsyas quite differently.  Among the Romans, Marsyas was cast as the inventor of augury and a proponent of free speech and "speaking truth to power". The earliest known representation of Marsyas at Rome stood for at least 300 years in the Roman Forum near or in the comitium, the space for political activity. Depicted as a silen carrying a wineskin on his left shoulder and raising his right arm, The statue was regarded as an indicium libertatis, a symbol of liberty, and was associated with demonstrations of the plebs, or common people. It often served as a sort of kiosk upon which invective verse was posted. 

Marsyas was sometimes considered a king and contemporary of Faunus, portrayed by Vergil as a native Italian ruler at the time of Aeneas.  The plebeian gens of the Marcii claimed that they were descended from Marsyas. In 213 BCE, two years after suffering one of the worst military defeats in its history at the Battle of Cannae, Rome was in the grip of a reactionary fear that led to excessive religiosity. The senate, alarmed that its authority was being undermined by "prophets and sacrificers" in the forum, began a program of suppression. Among the literature confiscated was an "authentic" prophecy calling for the institution of games in the Greek manner for Apollo, which the senate and elected officials would control. The prophecy was attributed to Gnaeus Marcius, reputed to be a descendant of Marsyas. The games were duly carried out, but the Romans failed to bring the continuing wars with the Carthaginians to a victorious conclusion until they heeded a second prophecy and imported the worship of the Phrygian Great Mother, whose song Marsyas was said to have composed that would protect them from invaders. 

The Romans considered the power relations between Marsyas and Apollo reflected the continuing Struggle of the Orders between the elite and the common people, expressed in political terms by optimates and populares. 

However, during the Principate, Marsyas became a subversive symbol in opposition to Augustus, whose propaganda systematically associated him with the silens’ torturer Apollo. Augustus's daughter Julia held nocturnal assemblies at the statue, and crowned it to defy her father.

Apollo and Marsyas ceiling fresco in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Marsyas the satyr who was flayed alive by Apollo for challenging him to a music contest Roman imperial period copy of 2nd century BCE Greek original that I photographed at the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Wild boars in ancient art

 The wild boar features prominently in the cultures of Indo-European people, many of which saw the animal as embodying warrior virtues. Cultures throughout Europe and Asia Minor saw the killing of a boar as proof of one's valor and strength. Neolithic hunter gatherers depicted reliefs of ferocious wild boars on their temple pillars at Göbekli Tepe some 11,600 years ago. Virtually all heroes in Greek mythology fight or kill a boar at one point. The demigod Herakles' third labor involves the capture of the Erymanthian Boar, Theseus slays the wild sow Phaea, and a disguised Odysseus is recognised by his handmaiden Eurycleia by the scars inflicted on him by a boar during a hunt in his youth. To the mythical Hyperboreans, the boar represented spiritual authority. Several Greek myths use the boar as a symbol of darkness, death and winter. One example is the story of the youthful Adonis, who is killed by a boar and is permitted by Zeus to depart from Hades only during the spring and summer period. This theme also occurs in Irish and Egyptian mythology, where the animal is explicitly linked to the month of October, therefore autumn. This association likely arose from aspects of the boar's actual nature. Its dark colour was linked to the night, while its solitary habits, proclivity to consume crops and nocturnal nature were associated with evil. The foundation myth of Ephesus has the city being built over the site where Prince Androklos of Athens killed a boar. Boars were frequently depicted on Greek funerary monuments alongside lions, representing gallant losers who have finally met their match, as opposed to victorious hunters as lions are. The theme of the doomed, yet valorous boar warrior also occurred in Hittite culture, where it was traditional to sacrifice a boar alongside a dog and a prisoner of war after a military defeat.

The boar as a warrior also appears in Scandinavian, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon culture, with its image having been frequently engraved on helmets, shields and swords. According to Tacitus, the Baltic Aesti featured boars on their helmets and may have also worn boar masks. The boar and pig were held in particularly high esteem by the Celts, who considered them to be their most important sacred animal. Some Celtic deities linked to boars include Moccus and Veteris. It has also been suggested that some early myths surrounding the Welsh hero Culhwch involved the character being the son of a boar god.

Here is a selection of ancient art I have photographed depicting wild boars:

Amulet depicting a boar between two lion heads Italic 500-400 BCE Amber Getty Villa, Pacific Palisades, California

Closeup of Plate depicting a boar hunt Persia (Iran) Sasanian Period 4th century CE Silver and Gilt Smithsonian Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C.

Boar Corinthian-style Etruscan helmet incised with images of boars Bronze 5th century BCE at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas

Boar attacked by two dogs from the peristyle garden of the House of the Citharist Pompeii 1st century CE

Boar fresco in the House of the Ceii in Pompeii 1st century CE

Mosaic depicting a boar confronting a hunting dog from 5th-6th century CE Carthage at the British Museum

Boar in a Roman mosaic of Orpheus Taming the Animals 204 CE at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas

Closeup of Sarcophagus depicting the Calydonian hunt, representing the hero Meleager and the goddess Artemis. Proconnesian marble, Roman, (2nd century CE?) at the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Italy.


If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Eros, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest with his glittering wings, depicted on a bronze lamp holder, 1st century BCE, at the Dallas Museum of Art

 Eros, the Greek god of love, is shown as a beautiful youth with both male and female characteristics. The figure was originally part of a lamp holder and would have had an oil lamp on the tendril he holds in an outstretched hand. The sculpture shares in the expressive, dynamic qualities of later Greek Hellenistic art; it appears to be flying on the beautifully detailed wings. The lamp from which the figure came was probably made in the eastern Mediterranean for a wealthy house or villa in Italy. The bronze has been associated with a trove of Greek luxury goods recovered from an ancient shipwreck near the town of Mahdia on the coast of Tunisia. - Anne Bromberg, Dallas Museum of Art.

A cult of Eros existed in pre-classical Greece, but it was much less important than that of Aphrodite. However, in late antiquity, Eros was worshiped by a fertility cult in Thespiae. In Athens, he shared a very popular cult with Aphrodite, and the fourth day of every month was sacred to him (also shared by Herakles, Hermes and Aphrodite). The Orphic and Eleusinian Mysteries portrayed Eros as the child of Night (Nyx).  Influenced by Orphism, 5th century BCE playwright Aristophanes described his birth:

  "At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night (Nyx), Darkness (Erebus), and the Abyss (Tartarus). Earth, the Air and Heaven had no existence. Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Darkness, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Love (Eros) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in the deep Abyss with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see the light."

Images: Eros, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest with his glittering wings, depicted on a bronze lamp holder, 1st century BCE, that I photographed at the Dallas Museum of Art.
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Antonine Female Portraiture

 This nobly restrained composite statue depicts a virtuous Roman matron of a distinguished family. She is commemorated as both a chaste wife and mother of children, and her portrait celebrates marriage as an enduring value and symbol of Roman life. This figure provides a notable contrast with the DMA's luxuriant Roman portrait head of a youth (1984.163) in both style and character. Whereas the boy exudes exuberant youth with his active gaze and foppish curls, the Roman matron embodies the discreetly refined dignity of an aristocratic lady.  She holds her mantle like a veil over her shoulder and stands in modest dignity, as though she were a priestess of the home.

Often found in imperial female portrait statues, the body type is based on Greek draped figures from the 4th century BCE. Associated with the work of Late Classical sculptors such as Praxiteles or Lysippus, figures like this of the so-called Small Herculaneum type were frequently adapted in Roman art. Here the heavily draped figure, suggesting the virtuous character of the woman, was either a commemorative funerary portrait or a civic/religious dedication. The portrait head used with this standard body type is graceful and pensive. The complete figure radiates a gentle nobility that embodies the best traditions of Roman family life and the high value accorded to distinguished Roman women. In appearance, the lady recalls imperial Antonine women such as the younger Faustina, wife of Marcus Aurelius, though the figure is not sufficiently close to either her or her daughter, Lucilla, to be an actual royal portrait.  - Dallas Museum of Art

 Figure of a woman Roman 2nd century CE photographed at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas.

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Monday, August 10, 2020

Roman worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis

Greeks were aware of Egyptian deities, including Isis, at least as early as the Archaic Period (c. 700–480 BCE), and her first known temple in Greece was built during or before the fourth century BCE by Egyptians living in Athens. The conquests of Alexander the Great late in that century created Hellenistic kingdoms around the Mediterranean and Near East, including Ptolemaic Egypt, and put Greek and non-Greek religions in much closer contact. The resulting diffusion of cultures allowed many religious traditions to spread across the Hellenistic world in the last three centuries BCE. 

Isis's cult reached Italy and the Roman sphere of influence at some point in the second century BCE. It was one of many cults that were introduced to Rome as the Roman Republic's territory expanded in the last centuries BCE. Authorities in the Republic tried to define which cults were acceptable and which were not, as a way of defining Roman cultural identity amid the cultural changes brought on by Rome's expansion. In Isis's case, shrines and altars to her were set up on the Capitoline Hill, at the heart of the city, by private persons in the early first century BCE. The independence of her cult from the control of Roman authorities made it potentially unsettling to them. In the 50s and 40s BCE, when the crisis of the Roman Republic made many Romans fear that peace among the gods was being disrupted, the Roman Senate destroyed these shrines, although it did not ban Isis from the city outright.

Egyptian cults faced further hostility during the Final War of the Roman Republic (32–30 BCE), when Rome, led by Octavian, the future emperor Augustus, fought Egypt under Cleopatra VII. After Octavian's victory, he banned shrines to Isis and Serapis within the pomerium, the city's innermost, sacred boundary, but allowed them in parts of the city outside the pomerium, thus marking Egyptian deities as non-Roman but acceptable to Rome. Despite being temporarily expelled from Rome during the reign of Tiberius (14–37 CE), the Egyptian cults gradually became an accepted part of the Roman religious landscape. The Flavian emperors in the late first century CE treated Serapis and Isis as patrons of their rule in much the same manner as traditional Roman deities such as Jupiter and Minerva. The cults also expanded into Rome's western provinces, beginning along the Mediterranean coast in early imperial times. At their peak in the late second and early third centuries CE, Isis and Serapis were worshipped in most towns across the western empire, though without much presence in the countryside. Their temples were found from Petra and Palmyra, in the Arabian and Syrian provinces, to Italica in Spain and Londinium in Britain.

Image:  Oracle statue of Isis, Roman, Bronze, 150 CE, that I 
photographed at the Neues Museum in Berlin.

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Roman Mithraism

 Although scholars argue about whether Roman Mithraism arose in the 1st century BCE or the 1st century CE, Plutarch mentions the pirates of Cilicia were practicing secret rites of Mithras in 67 BCE. Plutarch says these pirates were especially active during the Mithridatic wars (between the Roman Republic and King Mithridates VI of Pontus) in which they supported the king. The association between Mithridates and the pirates is also mentioned by the ancient historian Appian. The 4th century commentary on Vergil by Servius says that Pompey settled some of these pirates in Calabria in southern Italy. However, the unique underground temples or mithraea appear suddenly in the archaeology in the last quarter of the 1st century CE.  

The earliest monument showing Mithras slaying the bull thought to have been found in Rome bears an inscription that tells us it was dedicated by a certain Alcimus, steward of T. Claudius Livianus, commander of the Praetorian guard in 101 CE. The first important expansion of the mysteries in the Empire seems to have happened quite quickly, but not until late in the reign of Antoninus Pius (b. 121 CE, d. 161 CE) and under Marcus Aurelius.  Mithraism reached the apogee of its popularity during the 2nd and 3rd centuries in parallel with the worship of Sol Invictus. It was a religion of redemption and taught Mithras guided souls from their earthly life back to the light from which they issued upon their death. Mithraism survived until the late 4th to early 5th century CE when Christianity became strong enough to exterminate it by force supported by the anti-pagan decrees of the emperor Theodosius.

Image: Fresco of Mithras and the bull from the Temple of Mithras in Marino, Italy dated to the 2nd century CE courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The symbolism of the Centauromachy

The Lapiths were a group of legendary people in Greek mythology, who were horsemen in the grasslands of Thessaly, in the valley of the Peneus and on the mountain Pelion, said to have invented the bridle's bit.  They were an Aeolian tribe, like Achilles' Myrmidons, and descendants of Lapithes, a twin to Centaurus and son of the god Apollo and the Nymph Stilbe.  

Lapithes was a valiant warrior, but Centaurus was a deformed being who later mated with mares producing the race of half-man, half-horse Centaurs.  Lapith warriors and kings, included Ixion, Pirithous, Caeneus, and Coronus, and the seers Ampycus and his son Mopsus. In the Iliad the Lapiths sent forty manned ships to join the Greek fleet in the Trojan War, commanded by Polypoetes (son of Pirithous) and Leonteus (son of Coronus, son of Caeneus).

At the wedding of the Lapith King Pirithous and the horsewoman Hippodameia, the famous Centauromachy erupted when the invited centaur, Eurytion, unused to wine, upon meeting the bride leapt up and attempted to abduct her. In the battle that ensued, Theseus came to the Lapiths' aid. They cut off Eurytion's ears and nose and banished the centaurs from Thessaly.

In later retellings, the battle between Lapiths and Centaurs eventually took on aspects of the struggle between civilized and wild behavior and was used to demonstrate the necessity of tempering wine with water to avoid the consequences of excess. The Greek sculptors of the school of Pheidias depicted the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs as a symbolic struggle between the civilized Greeks and "barbarians" on the Parthenon and on Zeus' temple at Olympia (Pausanias, v.10.8). The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs was also a familiar theme for classical Greek vase-painters.

Image:  A centauromachy relief on an ancient Roman sarcophagus, c. 150 CE, at the Museo Archeologico Ostiense courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor, Sailko.
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Brading Roman Villa to reopen on selected days beginning Friday, August 7, 2020

The museum on the site of Brading Roman Villa preserves the West Range of the structure, built around 300 CE, which is the last and grandest of three buildings on the site. The foundations of two earlier North and South Ranges are now outlined in chalk outside. The South Range was erected around 100 CE, not long after Claudius' Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE and was followed by the completion of the grander North Range around 200 CE.

For those living here, this location was a perfect choice. It enabled the  freedom to communicate with and travel to local Island settlements, mainland Britain and cross the Channel to Gaul (France). Fertile arable lands around the Villa complex allowed good crops of grain to be grown. Sheep and cattle could fertilize the land between seasons and springs nearby gave a good water supply. 

By the early fourth century this high status house was completed. As a winged corridor villa, common in southern Britain, it provided separate private living accommodation for the owner and their family together with space for entertaining guests. Like modern homes today the West Range had many changes and adaptions to the living space. This included removing and moving internal walls and adding new mosaics.

The villa was rediscovered in 1879 by Captain John Thorpe and excavated from 1880-1883.  Over 100,000 artifacts were recovered including board games, jewelry, and farming implements.  The villa's mosaics are among the best preserved in Britain and depict mythological subjects including Orpheus, Bacchus, Ceres and other gods and goddesses framed with geometric patterns.

Image: The Orpheus Mosaic at Brading Roman Villa courtesy of their museum.
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Sunday, August 2, 2020

VENUSTAS. GRACE AND BEAUTY IN POMPEII through January 2021 at the Palestra grande (eastern portico) of the Pompeii excavations

An immersion in what were the canons and aesthetic tastes of the populations of the Vesuvian area in ancient times (from the VIII / VII century BC to the first century AD), based on the finds, about 300 , found in the various sites of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii:  the protohistoric village of Poggiomarino, the protohistoric necropolis of Striano and that of the Archaic Age of Stabia, the sanctuaries of Pompeii and Stabia, the villas of Oplontis and Terzigno, and finally the town of ancient Pompeii and its surroundings.

Related video (no audio):

Note: Since the video has no audio, it runs rather slowly to give viewers a chance to read the text (in Italian). I tried to turn on translation but it doesn't work with this particular video.  However, the video does provide a selection of images of the frescoes, artifacts, and sculpture included in the exhibit.  I noticed from viewing information on past exhibits on this official website that apparently these types of displays have been presented since about 2017, some within the houses where the artifacts were actually found. I applaud this effort to provide a richer experience for visitors to Pompeii.

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!