Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Lullingstone Roman Villa

Lullingstone Roman Villa  was built during the Roman occupation of Britain, is situated near the village of Eynsford in Kent, in southeast England. Constructed in the 1st century, perhaps around 80-90 CE, the house was repeatedly expanded and occupied until it was destroyed by fire in the 5th century CE. The occupants were wealthy Romans or native Britons who had adopted Roman customs.  

About 150 CE, the villa was considerably enlarged, with a bath block heated by a hypocaust added, and may have been used as the country retreat of the governors of the Roman province of Britannia. Two sculpted marble busts found in the cellar may be those of Pertinax, governor in 185-186 CE, and his father-in-law, Publius Helvius Successus. 

In the 3rd century, a larger furnace for the hypocaust as well as an expanded bath block were added, as were a temple-mausoleum and a large granary. In the 4th century fine mosaic floors were installed in the dining room including one illustration of Zeus, disguised as a bull, abducting Europa and a second depicting Bellerophon killing the Chimera. A room, already in religious use as a pagan shrine dedicated to local water deities depicted as water nymphs in a niche that can still be seen today, was converted to a Christian chapel or house church, the earliest that has been found in the British Isles. 

According to English Heritage: "The evidence of the Christian house-church is a unique discovery for Roman Britain and the wall paintings are of international importance. Not only do they provide some of the earliest evidence for Christianity in Britain, they are almost unique – the closest parallels come from a house-church in Dura Europus, Syria. Perhaps almost as remarkable as the discovery of the house-church is the possibility that pagan worship may have continued in the cult room below. What is not clear is whether this represented the family hedging their bets, trumpeting their apparent acceptance of Christianity, while trying to keep the old gods happy, or whether it represents some members of the family clinging to old beliefs in the face of the adoption of Christianity by others."

The villa complex also includes a Romano-Celtic Temple-mausoleum that was constructed around 300 CE.  It held the bodies of two young people, those of a male and a female, in lead coffins. Although the young woman's coffin was robbed in antiquity, the other remained in situ and undisturbed, and is now on display at the site.

Images from my visit to the villa in 2006 as well as other images by Carole Raddato, and other contributors to Wikimedia Commons:

Overall image of the covered archaeological site of Lullingstone Villa courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (no author given)

Complete mosaic in the triclinium of Lullingstone Roman Villa courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (no author given)

Detail of triclinium mosaic in Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed in 2006.

Detail of triclinium mosaic in Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed in 2006.

Detail of triclinium mosaic in Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed in 2006.

Detail of triclinium mosaic in Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed in 2006.

Detail of triclinium mosaic in Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed in 2006.

Detail of triclinium mosaic in Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed in 2006.

Detail of triclinium mosaic in Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed in 2006.

Detail of triclinium mosaic in Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed in 2006.

Detail of triclinium mosaic in Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed in 2006.

Male burial that I photographed at Lullingston Roman Villa in 2006.

Modern restoration of the fresco containing the Christian symbol of the Chi Rho from the Roman Villa at Lullingstone, now at the British Museum, London courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor udimu

Christian paintings in the former pagan shrine at Lullingstone Roman Villa courtesy of Carole Raddato

Christian paintings in the former pagan shrine at Lullingstone Roman Villa courtesy of Carole Raddato

Closeup of a painting of a Christian worshiper found in a former pagan shrine at Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed at the British Museum in 2008.

Closeup of a painting of a Christian worshiper found in a former pagan shrine at Lullingstone Roman Villa that I photographed at the British Museum in 2008.

One of the busts found at Lullingston Roman Villa thought to be possibly Pertinax, governor of Britannia from 185-186 CE or his father-in-law, Publius Helvius Successus courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Ethan Doyle White

Monday, September 28, 2020

Diadems symbols of wealth, victory, and royalty

 The diadem, an ornamental headband worn by monarchs as a symbol of royalty and sometimes by others, such as victorious athletes in the classical world, may have had its origins in central Asia.  One of the oldest examples of a diadem worn by a priest king of the Indus Valley Civilization dates to approximately 3000 BCE.  Originally the term referred to an embroidered white silk ribbon but was later replaced by a circlet of precious metal, sometimes in the shape of a wreath.

During the Hellenistic period, High-ranking or wealthy Greek women often wore elaborate diadems and hairnets of gold and gemstones as part of their jewelry.  Greek and Macedonian diadems were sometimes adorned with a large Hercules knot, inspired by the one the hero used to tie the paws of the lion skin he wore. Due to its protective quality, the Hercules knot also became important in marriage symbolism and was a common motif for women's jewelry of the Hellenistic period, and in royal Macedonian art more generally. The Roman author Pliny (23-79 CE) even attributed healing qualities to the Hercules knot. 

Roman emperors from the time of Diocletian onwards wore a diadem and it was this object that the Foederatus general Odoacer returned to Emperor Zeno (the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire) after his expulsion of the usurper Romulus Augustus from Rome in 476 CE.

Two segments of a Diadem Greek late 3rd-2nd century BCE Gold that I photographed at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas.

Gold and garnet strap diadem with Herakles knot Greek 3rd-2nd century BCE that I photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Closeup of Gold Diadem with Rams' heads possibly Hyksos Egypt or southern Levant 2nd Intermediate Period Dynasties 15-16 1640-1550 BCE that I photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A reproduction of A diadem of King Tutankhamun New Kingdom 18th Dynasty 1332-1323 BCE that I photographed at the "Discovery of King Tut" exhibit in New York City.

Gold Diadem featuring Dionysos and Ariadne from a tomb at Madytos on the European side of the Hellespont Greek 330-300 BCE that I photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The centerpiece of this Hellenistic diadem is a Herakles knot, known for its apotropaic powers and its status as a symbol of fertility. Walters Art Museum, c. 3rd – 2nd century BCE courtesy of the museum and Wikimedia Commons.

Funerary diadem produced around 150 BCE from the Crimean Peninsula at the Glyptotek Munich courtesy of the museum.

Gold diadem. Greek, probably made in Alexandria, Egypt, and belonging to a noblewoman of the Ptolemaic dynasty (220–100 BCE): the clasp is shaped as a Herakles knot now in the Getty Villa courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Wolfgang Sauber

Diadem Greek 2nd century BCE Gold and glass that I photographed at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas

Diadem with Ornamental Frieze Greek 4th century BCE Gold that I photographed at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Chain mail use in the ancient world

Often when I am looking for images of ancient people or events I encounter art, usually medieval, with ancient people dressed anachronistically in medieval clothing.  This morning, however, I happened across a wall painting from a synagogue in Dura Europos dated to 250 CE clearly depicting soldiers in chain mail at the battle of Eben Ezer between the Israelites and the Philistines as retold in the Book of Samuel.  The Philistines inhabited the coast of Canaan from the 12th century BCE until 604 BCE when they were destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia. I was pretty sure that was before chain mail was used for body armor.  Just to be sure, though, I looked it up and as I suspected, chain mail did not become common military armor until the 3rd century BCE. 

The Romans adopted mail after observing its use by the Celts. The earliest depiction of Roman mail armor was found on the Aemilius Paulus Monument in Delphi.  The mail shirt was long and completely covered the thighs.  Such long mail shirts are also depicted on the Altar of Domitius and on defeated Galatians on a weapons relief from Pergamon dated to the 2nd century BCE. These shirts also featured, according to depictions, broad epaulets to provide added protection for the shoulders although this aspect has not yet been found in the archaeological record. The shirts were fastened by leather straps, then later by hooks.  During the Flavian period, S-shaped bronze fastening clasps were introduced.

By the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, a T-shirt-like mail garment was introduced that could be slipped over the head, without fasteners or shoulder doubling, although  examples have been found that still had a sheet metal fastener in the chest area.  It was suggested these were included simply for decoration but this has been considered refuted by current scholars.  

Although various scholars have suggested mail was worn by both citizen legionaries and auxiliary soldiers, Trajan's column depicts legionaries in segmented armor while auxiliaries are shown wearing short mail shirts with a lower serrated edge.  However, this type of mail has not been found in the archaeological record.

Image: Fresco from a synagogue in Dura Europos dated to the 2nd century CE depicting the battle of Eben Ezer between the Israelites and the Philistines courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marysas.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Roman auxilia cavalry

 Prior to the Republican period, Rome depended on their non-citizen allies to provide, train, and equip cavalry known as the Foederati. But, when the Republic transitioned into the Empire, Augustus created a regular Auxilia corps. Although still non-citizens, these troops were now a regular part of the Roman army that were paid and trained by the Roman State. A typical cavalryman of an ala would be paid 20 percent more than a typical citizen legionary. Roman auxilia cavalry were usually heavily armored in mail and armed with a short lance, javelins, the spatha long sword, and sometimes bows for specialist horse archer units. These men primarily served as medium missile cavalry for flanking, scouting, skirmish, and pursuit.  Riders and horses were housed together in the same barracks.

Structurally, a cavalry alae of the type ala quingenaria consisted of 480 horseman (ideally) divided into 16 turnmae of 30  men each under a decurio. The ala milliaria, however, contained 1008 horseman divided into 24 turmae of 42 men each.  The overall commander of either type was always a praefectus alae of equestrian rank.

Although commanders of auxilia infantry were appointed by the governors of the provinces in which they served, praefectus alae were appointed directly by the emperor in Rome.  In the middle of the second century another rank was added, the prefectus alae milliariae.  This rank, seldom awarded, was the highest rank an equestrian could attain. It paved the way for a procuratorship, managing the financial administration of an entire province.

From the late 1st century CE onward, a new type of non-citizen force arose in the provinces, the numeri. Numeri, consisting of 100-200 guard and reconnaissance units, were stationed along fixed lengths of frontier and were not sent outside their assigned province on campaign.  Mounted units of numeri were referred to as exploratio and were used to explore and secure areas beyond the frontiers, particularly in remote forest regions such as the Dacian limes.

Technical Reference: Army of the Roman Emperors: Archaeology and History by Thomas Fischer © 2019.

Roman parade helmet from the vicus of Theilenhofen, Bavaria 150-200 CE.  It bears the names of its owners and their troop units: (Turma) PATERCLIANA ATTONIS; behind the left ear protection: (Turma) ATAVLVANI FL(avi) FLAVIANI; on the right side IVLIA ALIQAN; on the forehead: ALIQANDI COHOR(tis) III BRACARAV(gustanorum Turma) NONI.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Pirkheimer. 

Image:  Much less ornate Type "B" Roman auxiliary cavalry helmet, 1st century CE, at the British Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Michel wal.  

Friday, September 25, 2020

Iron Age Warriors of Eastern Iberia

 The Iron Age Tartessian culture of southeastern Spain, previously influenced by the Phoenicians, began to transform when exposed to Greek influence during the 6th - 4th centuries BCE.  Aristocratic power increased and numerous fortified oppidums began to appear.  Referred to as the Iberian culture, the people engaged in commerce that served to reinforce aristocratic power and control.  Iberian funerary customs became dominated by Greek-style mud-brick rectangular burial mounds and their script, once a modified version of the Phoenician alphabet, began to include a variant of the Greek alphabet.  Their mythology also began to include creatures such as winged griffins, often seen in Greek art.

An early warrior figure of this period appears to fight mostly nude adorned only with what appear to be tatoos on his chest and an ornate belt.  A century later, an Iberian warrior depicted in a statue at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art dated from the 3rd to 2nd century BCE is shown wearing body armor  and helmet.  This would have been the appearance of the Iberian warriors facing the Romans who conquered the area beginning in 220 BCE.

Iron Age figure of a warrior once holding weapons 600-400 BCE southern or eastern Iberian peninsula at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada courtesy of the museum

Iberian warrior of the 3rd - 2nd century BCE at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art courtesy of the museum.

Recreation of an Iberian warrior from the 5th-4th century BCE, with his weapons (falcata, shield, plate bib, linothorax) courtesy of the Museo de Prehistoria de Valencia

Iberian equestrian statue 490 BCE from the Provincial Archaeological Museum of Albacete.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Mysterious names of ancient ceramics

As I study ancient history I am always intrigued by the names that have been given to various ceramic vessels that have been recovered from archaeological sites.  Sometimes, the names of objects can be found in ancient sources.  Sometimes the names are given to objects by archaeologists because they resemble other fixtures that have been previously named.  In my translation of the Pompeianarum Antiquitatum Historia I have been a bit flustered by some of the names given objects by 18th and 19th century archaeologists because these names have not carried through to the 21st century or the objects have acquired a more common name since then. So, without accompanying illustrations, I have no idea what the artifacts actually look like. I've purchased texts purporting to be dictionaries of ancient ceramics but even they do not contain the terms I have found.

Anyway, although I have photographed hundreds of Greek ceramics in museums around the world, this morning while searching the Royal Ontario Museum's online database, I encountered the name exaleiptron for the first time. 

According to the Getty Museum, an exaleiptron, takes its name from the Greek word meaning "to anoint." The vase once held scented oil, and a sharply inward-curving lip prevented the precious liquid from spilling. Containers of this type were typically made of clay, but some examples were carved from marble as luxury items for wealthy women. They were used in the home and also deposited in graves.

An Oxford description explains that other names such as kothon or plemochoe are also used to describe these vessels. When I looked up "kothon" I discovered in antiquity it refered to an artificially created harbor basin, especially the circular port facilities of Carthage. During the Third Punic War, a decisive tactic used by the Romans included the sealing off of the "Kothon" with an underwater dam.

I also learned that in the sixth century BCE some exaleiptra (plural) had three feet which may explain why I had never seen the word before as I have actually photographed such vessels but they were referred to by the museums as tripods.  Later examples were designed with a high splaying foot.  Oxford scholars point out that these vessels are often depicted on white-ground lekythoi being carried by women approaching a grave.

This example of an exaleiptron I found at the Royal Ontario Museum is a 6th century BCE Etrusco-Corinthian black-figured wheel-thrown earthenware vessel decorated with a frieze of birds from the Archaic Etruscan period dated to between 600-580 BCE.  It has a subtle "foot" and appears to have been suspended, as indicated by the perforations of the three scroll-like attachments.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The ancient city of Tiryns in history and myth

 Tiryns is the site of a Mycenaean palace and city where the hero Heracles is thought to have resided while he performed his twelve labors.  Although it originated before the Bronze Age, it reached its height between 1400 and 1200 BCE and was considered one of the most important centers of the Mycenaean world, especially in Argolis.  Tiryns is first referenced by Homer, who praised its massive walls. Ancient tradition held that the walls were built by the Cyclopes because only giants of superhuman strength could have lifted the enormous stones.  Tradition also associates the walls with Proetus, the sibling of Acrisius, king of Argos. According to the legend Proetus, pursued by his brother, fled to Lycia. With the help of the Lycians, he managed to return to Argolis. There, Proetus occupied Tiryns and fortified it with the assistance of the cyclopes.

The city's  acropolis was constructed in three phases, the first at the end of the Late Helladic II period (1500–1400 BCE), the second in Late Helladic III (1400–1300 BCE), and the third at the end of the Late Helladic III B (1300–1200 BCE).  The palace of the king inside the citadel was similar in construction to that of Mycenae. The walls were decorated with alabaster slabs along the lower zones with rosettes and flowers in relief with frescoes embellishing the upper zones. Mycenaean frescoes were similar in style to those of Minoan Crete and depicted religious ceremonies, processions, hunters, and warriors.

Tiryns was affected by the social collapse at the end of the Bronze Age but survived and was inhabited continuously until the middle of the 8th century BCE. Then in the 5th century BCE, when Cleomenes I of Sparta defeated the Argives, their slaves occupied Tiryns, according to Herodotus.  The Argives eventually avenged their defeat, though, in 468 BCE when they  completely destroyed both Mycenae and Tiryns, and, according to Pausanias, transferred the residents to Argos.

Tiryns was one of the sites excavated by Heinrich Schliemann in 1884-1885. Schliemann initially thought the ruins were medieval and almost destroyed them to excavate deeper seeking Mycenaean treasures.  Excavations continue today under the  direction of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens and the University of Heidelberg. 

Watercolor of a fresco depicting a Mycenaean hunt scene from the palace of Tiryns, Greece at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada courtesy of the museum (enlarged with AI software).

Fragment of a fresco depicting a female figure participating in a procession, carrying offerings to the goddess. Her elegant head is shown in profile, while her body is shown frontally. She is holding a lily in her hand as an offering to the goddess at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marsyas

Tiryns wall-painting fragments with a representation of a procession of women bearing offerings, from the later Tiryns palace, 14-13th century BCE, National Archaeological Museum of Athens courtesy of Carole Raddato.

Tiryns wall-painting fragments with a representation of wild-boar hunt, from the later Tiryns palace, 14-13th century BCE, National Archaeological Museum of Athens courtesy of Carole Raddato.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Dogs, symbols of fidelity in the ancient world

 There are illustrations of dogs on the walls of caves and tombs dating back to the Bronze Age, as well as statues, children's toys, and ceramics depicting dogs.  The Ancient Greeks and Romans, contrary to the Semitic cultures, favored dogs as pets, valuing them for their faithfulness and courage.  Homer's Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus, who raised a dog called Argos, and who was the only one that recognized him when he returned home after his travels, disguised to concealed his appearance. This theme has been often depicted in ancient Greek vases, and in Roman reliefs and sculptures.  Dogs were given as gifts among lovers and kept as pets, guardians, and for hunting. 

The ancient Romans kept three types of dogs: hunting dogs, especially sighthounds, Molossian dogs like the Neapolitan Mastiff, often depicted in reliefs and mosaics with the words "Cave Canem", and small companion dogs like the Maltese, used as women's lap dogs. Greyhounds were often represented in sculptures. Large dogs were used in war by the Roman army, most often used as sentries or on patrol, although they were sometimes taken into battle arranged in attack formation. 

The earliest use of war dogs in a battle recorded in classical sources was by Alyattes of Lydia against the Cimmerians around 600 BCE. The Lydian dogs killed some invaders and routed others.   In the war waged by the Ephesians against Magnesia on the Maeander, their horsemen were each accompanied by a war dog and a spear-bearing attendant. Dogs were released first and broke the enemy ranks, followed by an assault of spears, then a cavalry charge. In 525 BCE, at the Battle of Pelusium, Cambyses II used a psychological tactic against the Egyptians, arraying dogs and other animals in the front line to effectively take advantage of the Egyptian religious reverence for animals. In 490 BCE, At the Battle of Marathon, a dog followed his hoplite master into battle against the Persians and was memorialized in a mural.  In 480 BCE, Xerxes I of Persia was accompanied by vast packs of Indian hounds when he invaded Greece.  In 281 BCE,  Lysimachus was slain during the Battle of Corupedium and his body was discovered preserved on the battlefield and guarded vigilantly by his faithful dog. In 231 BCE, Roman consul Marcus Pomponius Matho, the maternal grandfather of Scipio Africanus, led the Roman legions against hostile Sardinians. The inhabitants engaged in guerrilla warfare against the invaders so Matho used "dogs from Italy" to hunt out the natives who tried to hide in surrounding caves. In 120 BCE, Bituito, king of the Arverni, attacked a small force of Romans led by the consul Fabius, using just the dogs he had in his army. During Late Antiquity, Attila the Hun used Molossian dogs in his campaigns against the Romans and others.

Image: Ancient Roman amber sculpture of Eros and his dog at the Archaeological Museum of Udine, Italy courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Giovanni Dall'Orto.  The carving may have been used as a wedding gift with the pregnant dog a symbol of marital fidelity and a wish of fertility to the bride.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Chariots in ancient warfare

 The origin of the chariot is not definitively documented but it is thought to have been a technology developed in the Eurasian steppe by cultures such as the Sintashta, a Middle Bronze Age civilization dating to the period 2200-1800 BCE.  The earliest remains of chariots have been found in Sintashta burials.

Russian archaeological analysis indicates the preceding Abashevo culture was already marked by endemic intertribal warfare. Intensified by ecological stress and competition for resources in the Sintashta period, this drove the construction of fortifications on an unprecedented scale and innovations in military technique such as the invention of the war chariot.   Many Sintashta graves are furnished with weapons, although the composite bow associated later with chariotry does not appear.

The Sintashta economy included the production of copper from ore in nearby mines  and arsenical bronze, that uses arsenic rather than tin, which was smelted on an industrial scale.  The metal was exported to the cities of Bactria-Margiana in Central Asia, for the first time connecting the steppe region to the ancient urban civilizations of the Near East.  It was through these trade routes that domesticated horses and chariots were introduced to the Near East and ultimately the rest of the Mediterranean basin.

The oldest testimony of chariot warfare in the ancient Near East is the Old Hittite Anitta text (18th century BCE), which mentions 40 teams of horses at the siege of Salatiwara.  The Hittites became renowned charioteers. They developed a new chariot design that had lighter wheels, with four spokes rather than eight, and that held three rather than two warriors. It could hold three warriors because the wheel was placed in the middle of the chariot and not at the back as in Egyptian chariots. Typically one Hittite warrior steered the chariot while the second man was usually the main archer; the third warrior would either wield a spear or sword when charging at enemies or hold up a large shield to protect himself and the others from enemy arrows.  The Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE is likely to have been the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving over 5,000 chariots.

The Persians may have been the first to yoke four horses to their chariots. They also used scythed chariots. Cyrus the Younger employed these chariots in large numbers at the Battle of Cunaxa. Herodotus mentions that the ancient Libyan and the ancient Indian (Sattagydia, Gandhara and Hindush) satrapies supplied cavalry and chariots to Xerxes the Great's army. However, by this time, cavalry was far more effective and agile than the chariot, and the defeat of Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE), where the army of Alexander simply opened their lines and let the chariots pass and attacked them from behind, effectively marked the end of the era of dependence on chariot warfare in Mediterranean battlefield tactics.

The Romans encountered the use of chariots in warfare by the Britons but never used chariots for warfare themselves.  Julius Caesar reported that, unlike earlier Near Eastern tactics where warriors or archers fought from chariots, the Britons would drive their chariots "in between the troops of horse, leap from their chariots and engage on foot. The charioteers in the meantime withdraw some little distance from the battle, and so place themselves with the chariots that, if their masters are overpowered by the number of the enemy, they may have a ready retreat to their own troops."  

The last mention of chariot use in battle in Brittania was reported to be at the Battle of Mons Graupius in modern Scotland in 84 CE (Agricola 1.35-36).  "The plain between resounded with the noise and with the rapid movements of chariots and cavalry." But the chariots did not win even their initial engagement with the Roman auxiliaries.

Fragmentary terracotta model of a four horse chariot from Cyprus, 700-500 BCE, Cypro-Archaic I-II Period, at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada courtesy of the museum.

Nike mounted on a quadriga that I photographed in the King Victor Emmanuel II Monument in Rome, Italy.

Bronze Etruscan chariot inlaid with ivory, 2nd quarter of 6th century BCE found near Monteleone di Spoleto with scenes of the battles of Achilles that I photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A reconstructed four-wheeled Gallic "chariot" at the Musée archéologique de Strasbourg courtesy of Wikimedia contributor Chatsam

A four-horse Qin Dynasty chariot of the tomb of Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang, 210 BCE, that I photographed at the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

A Lucanian tomb fresco from Paestum depicting a biga, two-horse chariot, courtesy of Carole Raddato.

A Roman mosaic depicting a quadriga, four-horse racing chariot courtesy of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier, Germany.

A reconstructed four-wheeled Gallic "chariot" at the Musée archéologique de Strasbourg courtesy of Wikimedia contributor Chatsam


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Cornelius Gallus, poet, orator, politician and first Roman prefect of Egypt

Gaius Cornelius Gallus (c. 30 – 26 BCE) was a Roman poet, orator and politician who supported Octavian and was appointed prefect of Egypt after Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra VII.  While in Egypt, he led a campaign to subdue a revolt in Thebes then, perhaps, went too far and erected a monument in Philae to glorify his accomplishments. Octavian recalled him and appointed a new prefect, Aelius Gallus, who was the one who led the disastrous campaign in Arabia Felix (modern day Yemen).  Cassius Dio reports Cornelius Gallus committed suicide upon returning to Rome.  

Gallus enjoyed a high reputation among his contemporaries as a man of intellect, and Ovid  considered him the first of the elegiac poets of Rome. He wrote four books of elegies chiefly on his mistress, Lycoris, (a poetical name for Cytheris, a notorious actress), in which he took for his model Euphorion of Chalcis. He also translated some of this author's works into Latin. He is often thought of as a key figure in the establishment of the genre of Latin love-elegy, and an inspiration for Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid. It was thought little of his works survived until a papyrus was found at Aqsr Ibrim in Egyptian Nubia in 1978.

Four lines which probably once stood at the beginning of a poem pay homage to Julius Caesar shortly before his assassination, on the eve of his projected campaign against the Parthians:

Fata mihi, Caesar, tum erunt mea dulcia, quom tu maxima Romanae pars eris historiae postque tuum reditum multorum templa deorum fixa legam spolieis deivitiora tueis.

'I will count myself blessed by fortune, Caesar, when you become the greatest part of Roman history; and when, after your return, I admire the temples of many gods adorned and enriched with your spoils.'

Scholars think this obsequious compliment need not be taken seriously, though. Later Augustan poets tended to distance themselves from the world of high politics and often drew a humorous contrast between the martial ambition of their ruler and their own ignoble love affairs. The next, missing, stanza may have subverted the sense, e.g. 'As it is, while you're off winning renown by conquering Parthia, I'm stuck here in Rome, with nothing to do but make love to Lycoris.'

Impression of a seal depicting a bust of Cornelius Gallus from Edfu, Egypt, 29 - 26 BCE, at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada courtesy of the museum.

Image: Portrait head thought to be that of Cornelius Gallus, 30 BCE, at the Cleveland Museum of Art, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Sailko.