Thursday, July 29, 2021

Hannibal's Secret Weapons

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

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

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

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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Eudaimonia and the corruption of excess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about Eudaimonic Well-Being here: 

https://positivepsychology.com/eudaimonia/

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



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



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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Deciphering Iconography of a late Classical Period Etruscan sarcophagus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Red-figured fish plates of the 5th century BCE

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

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

You can see dozens of examples here:

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

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

 

 

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Monday, July 12, 2021

Sarmatians: Descendants of the Amazons?

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

Hippocrates described these warlike women.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Sunday, July 11, 2021

Domus del Chirurgo (House of the Surgeon) in Rimini, Italy

 I noticed the link to this archaeological site in an article with a suggested "tour" of the Roman Empire. This 2nd century CE Roman site does have an English version website and a few images of mosaics and structures a visitor would find there. I checked Wikipedia and was surprised to find the site barely mentioned on Rimini's page although it appears to be an extensively excavated site. 

The nearby museum houses the 150 surgical instruments found there. Eutyches, the Greek physician who owned the house is thought to have been an accomplished military surgeon as his instruments were designed for bone injuries and wound repairs, including a Diocles' spoon for extracting arrows. No gynecology-related instruments were found though so he probably worked in an all-male environment.  

Eutyches was also an admirer of the Epicurean philosopher Hermarchus as fragments of his statue were found In the garden. Hermarchus was a disciple and successor of Epicurus as head of the Epicurean school. Although none of his writings survives it is known from other sources that he wrote works directed against Plato, Aristotle, and Empedocles. A fragment from his Against Empedocles, preserved by Porphyry, discusses the need for law in society.

The villa suffered a catastrophic fire and was abandoned about 260 CE based on the dates of 80 coins discovered in the ruins.

The official website:  https://www.domusrimini.com/eng/the-surgeon-house/ 

Mosaic pavements in the 2nd century CE Domus del Chirurgo (House of the Surgeon) in Rimini, Italy

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Saturday, July 10, 2021

Nomads of the Golden Mountains of Altai

Yesterday when I was researching the post about horses in the ancient world, I was intrigued by the detail image of a Persian horseman on the so-called Pazyryk carpet that Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones included in his blog post. The Pazyryk carpet is considered the oldest surviving example of a pile carpet in the world and is thought to have been made around 400 BCE in Armenia or Persia.

It was discovered in a Scythian kurgan burial in the Pazyryk Valley of the Ukok plateau in the Altai Mountains, Siberia, south of the modern city of Novosibirsk, Russia. The tomb mounds discovered there are now part of the  Golden Mountains of Altai UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The horseman of the Pazyryk culture apparently  accumulated great wealth through horse trading with merchants in Persia, India and China as evidenced by the variety of grave goods including Chinese silk, the pile carpet,  horses decked out in elaborate trappings, and wooden furniture and a full-sized burial chariot found there.   Some horses were provided with leather or felt masks made to resemble animals, with stag antlers or rams’ horns often incorporated in them. Bearded mascarons (masks) of well-defined Greco-Roman origin were also found.  Scholars think these may have been inspired by the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Cimmerian Bosporus. 

These finds were preserved when water seeped into the tombs in antiquity and froze, encasing the burial goods in ice until their excavation by archaeologists M. P. Gryaznov in 1929 and Sergei Ivanovich Rudenko in 1947–1949.

In his book, "The frozen tombs of Siberia: the Payryk Burials of Iron-Age Horseman," Rudenko comments on the close similarities between the equestrian and animal motifs of the Pazyryk carpet and the sculptures of Achaemenid Persepolis.

"Arranged chain-like men and beasts in certain spaces, obviously remind us of Achaemenid and Assyrian styles. Decorating horse tail and foretop is also a Persian tradition. Stablemen pace on the horse's left while their right hand is on its neck both in Persepolis statues and Pazyryk."

He also points out that the deer design is a yellow deer known as a Persian Fallow Deer or Mesopotamian Fallow Deer.

Five bodies were found in the Pazyryk burials during this period including a powerfully built man in his fifties thought to be a chieftain. The man was elaborately decorated with an interlocking series of striking designs representing a variety of fantastic beasts. The best preserved tattoos were images of a donkey, a mountain ram, two highly stylized deer with long antlers and an imaginary carnivore on the right arm. Two monsters resembling griffins decorate the chest, and on the left arm are three partially obliterated images which seem to represent two deer and a mountain goat. On the front of the right leg a fish extends from the foot to the knee. A monster crawls over the right foot, and on the inside of the shin is a series of four running rams which touch each other to form a single design. 

A carefully embalmed young female, dubbed the Siberian Ice Maiden, was discovered by archaeologist Natalia Polosmak in 1993 at Ukok, near the Chinese border. She had been buried over 2,400 years ago in a casket fashioned from the hollowed-out trunk of a Siberian larch tree. On the outside of the casket were stylized images of deer and snow leopards carved in leather.  Six horses wearing elaborate harnesses had been sacrificed and lay to the north of the chamber. Her hair was shaved off but she was wearing a wig and tall hat and was  clad in a long crimson and white striped woolen skirt and white felt stockings. Her yellow blouse was originally thought to be made of wild "tussah" silk but closer examination of the fibers indicate the material is not Chinese but was a wild silk which came from somewhere else, perhaps India. Like the chieftain, she had been tatooed with animal motifs including creatures with horns that transformed into flowers. Although Herodotus described the widespread use of cannabis by Scythian nomads, the seeds found in the tomb of the Ice Princess were only coriander, probably used to disguise the smell of the body.

In January 2007 a timber tomb of a blond chieftain warrior was unearthed close to the Mongolian border. Like the other individuals, the man was tattooed and he wore a well-preserved sable coat. What looks like scissors were found among his grave goods. Additional tombs were found as recently as the summer of 2012.

Detail of horseman on the Pazyryk carpet, 400 BCE, courtesy of Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones

The Pazyryk carpet 400 BCE, courtesy of the Hermitage Museum and Wikimedia Commons.

Detail of deer on Payryk carpet, 400 BCE, courtesy of the Hermitage Museum and Wikimedia Commons.

Funerary chariot found in a Pazyryk burial courtesy of Charles Recknagel and the Hermitage Museum.

Closeup of a felt saddle pad from a Pazyryk burial mound courtesy of Charles Recknagel and the Hermitage Museum

A saddle found in the Pazyryk tombs, showing the same kinds of tassels that can be seen on the saddles depicted in the Pazyryk carpet courtesy of Charles Recknagel and the Hermitage Museum.

Wooden table found in a Pazyryk burial mound courtesy of Charles Recknagel and the Hermitage Museum

A gilded wooden figurine of a deer from the Pazyryk burials, 5th century BCE courtesy of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia and Wikimedia Commons.

Fifth century BCE bridle with wooden Hellenistic motifs, Pazyryk Culture, courtesy of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

Wood and leather finial of a griffin with a stag in its beak, Pazyryk Culture, 5th century BCE, courtesy of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

Mask with Antlers for a Horse Head, Pazyryk Culture, 5th century BCE, courtesy of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

This plaque in the shape of a griffin standing on the defeated ibex served as decoration of the headdress of a noble warrior. The entire composition is raised in relief from a sheet of gold. The griffin's head is hollow. Its figure seems enormous as compared with that of the ibex. The ibex is depicted with its hind quarters twisted upwards, which is typical of Altaic art. The griffin's body was richly decorated in a cloisonne technique, but the insets have not survived. This composition is similar to that of the leather object found in the Pazyryk Barrow No. 2 in Altai. The ibex's posture and the decorative devices are identical to the depictions on the saddle covers from the Pazyryk Barrow No. 1. Thus this splendid aigrette can be attributed to the 5th to 4th century BCE. Besides, we see that the whole composition, particularly the griffin, was produced under the influence of the Achaemenid art, courtesy of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Leather, fur, and gold foil headdress, Early Iron Age, Pazyryk Culture, courtesy of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia


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Friday, July 9, 2021

The horse: A perfect gift to a Persian (or Parthian)

"For a nomadic people like the Persians, the horse had a significant practical and symbolic purpose and the importance of horses among the Iranian nobility is evidenced by the fact that many of them bore names compounded with the Old Persian word aspa – ‘horse’, observes Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Edinburgh.  "Several of Darius I’s inscriptions note that Persia was a land containing both good men and good horses (DZe §1; DPd §2) and Herodotus famously states that Persian fathers were intent on teaching their sons ‘to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth’ (1. 136; see also Strabo 15. 3.18). The premium Persian horses were bred in the alfalfa-rich plains of Media, and it was here that the main royal stud farms were located (Polybius 10.70). Most prized of all were those steeds bred on the plains of Nisaea near Ecbatana and Bisitun, and Nisaean horses became celebrated for their magnificence, fine proportions, and swiftness (Herodotus 3. 106, 7. 40; Aristotle, History of Animals 9. 50.30). Nisaea is said to have sustained 160,000 horses (Diodorus 17.110), although stiff competition came from Media and Armenia which were also used for breeding good steeds (Strabo, Geography 11. 13.7; 11. 13.8, 14.9), as were the provinces of Babylonia (where one satrap possessed 800 stallions and 16,000 mares; Herodotus 1. 192), Cilicia (which provided an annual tribute of 360 white horses, Herodotus 3. 90), Chorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, and lands of the Saka which provided the Empire with its cavalry."

The Persepolis texts tell us that individuals who safeguarded the royal horses and officials serving as Masters of the Horse were paid well and enjoyed a diet of regular meat. Horses symbolized wealth and status and appeared in courtly ideology to model the ideal warrior image. They were also the center of aristocratic pastimes including hunting and racing.

According to Xenophon, the finest present to give a Persian was a horse and horses served as exceptional religious sacrifices.  

"As founder of the Empire, Cyrus II was honored with a horse sacrificed to his soul every month (Arrian, Anabasis 6. 29.7.)," states Llewellyn-Jones. "Moreover, the infamous tale recounted by Herodotus (3.85) of how Darius I acquired his kingdom through a trick involving the neighing of his horse is, in all probability, a Greek misunderstanding of the Iranian practice of hippomancy, or divination through the behavior of horses (see also Ctesias F13 §17), demonstrating the deep-set importance of the horse as a hallowed species in the Iranian consciousness."


Image: Procession of nobles, possibly from Palmyra, Syria, 100-150 CE, limestone, now in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, image courtesy of the museum.

Palmyra was a key center for trade between the Roman and Parthian Empires. This unique relief at the Cleveland Museum of Art has been associated with Palmyra only through stylistic comparisons because its find spot is unknown. 

"It depicts men in Parthian dress riding Arabian horses with bejeweled harness trappings ahead of riders on camels—a possible reference to the caravans that made Palmyra so wealthy. Although all of the riders are dressed and equipped as Parthians, the proportions and perspective of the scene seem to be informed by Greco-Roman conventions. It may depict a ceremonial procession." - Cleveland Museum of Art

The museum defines the horses as Arabians but their body structure is quite stocky, not at all like the Arabian horses of our time. Yet, a 2017 study by evolutionary biologist Barbara Wallner at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna concluded that nearly all modern horse breeds can be traced to two distinct, ancient Middle Eastern lines, the Arabian and the now extinct Turkoman horses from the Eurasian Steppe. Wallner and her colleagues studied variations in a segment of DNA along the Y chromosomes of 52 modern male horses that represented 21 modern breeds then expanded their analysis to include 363 males representing 57 modern breeds.  

 

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The transformative shrew in Greco-Roman-Egyptian mythology

When I saw this carefully detailed bronze sculpture of a common shrew from Egypt's Greco-Roman Period, I wondered why the ancients thought this creature worthy of such expense. Although this sculpture is part of the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a similar, though less detailed example from the same period as does the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest.  

According to The Met, the ancient Egyptians named the shrew, "the voracious", because of its feeding habits. In ancient Egyptian mythology, the shrew represented the blind aspect of the solar deity, “the one with no eyes in his face” (Mechenti-n-irti in old Egyptian) that was complemented by the ichneumon, “the one whose eyes (the Sun and the Moon) are in his face” (Mechenti-irti in old Egyptian), a creature with very keen eyesight. This god with the dual nature was revered in Letopolis as one of the aspects of Horus, who, as myth has it, was blind at birth. 

According to Egyptians, this Horus of Letopolis assists the Sun god during his nocturnal journey on the solar bark which lasted until the sixth hour of the night.

"The shrew assumed the form of the god Horus to enter the afterlife and descended into the darkness of the afterlife to revive the deceased/Osiris. In this phase of the journey, he helped to navigate the solar bark through the dark, while his reforming power accelerated the regeneration of the deceased. The more combative functions in the ascending phase of the Sun god’s journey, after the sixth hour of the night, were given to the companion animal: the ichneumon (mongoose)." - The Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary.

The process of transformation from the blind shrew into a seeing being  and from a being of the afterlife/inactive being into a perfectly reborn being able to act dynamically in the light of daytime was therefore viewed as having the ability to grant life in the afterlife. In fact, the hieroglyphic inscription on the front and right side of the plinth on which the shrew sculpture in Budapest stands, asks this temporarily blind aspect of Horus of Letopolis to grant such life to an individual named Imhotep.

As for the shrew's complementary creature, although I am familiar with a mongoose I had never heard it called an ichneumon so did a little research and discovered it was a name used not only for a mongoose but a creature called the pharaoh's rat. Sometimes the name was also used for an otter. It's name in Greek means "tracker" and it was said to be the enemy of the dragon.

According to Pliny the Elder (Natural History, Book 8, 88), "The ichneumon is known for its willingness to fight to the death with the snake. To do this, it first covers itself with several coats of mud, drying each coat in the sun to form a kind of armor. When ready it attacks, turning away from the blows it receives until it sees an opportunity, then with its head held sideways it goes for its enemy's throat. The ichneumon also attacks the crocodile in a similar manner."  

I was aware of the snake-killing reputation of the mongoose but wondered how such a relatively small creature could kill a Nile crocodile.  However, the 1st century CE geographer, Strabo backs up the claim by Pliny saying "The ichneumon [is] most destructive both to crocodiles and asps. The ichneumons destroy not only the eggs of the latter, but the animals themselves. The ichneumons are protected by a covering of mud, in which they roll, and then dry themselves in the sun. They then seize the asps by the head or tail, and dragging them into the river, so kill them. They lie in wait for the crocodiles, when the latter are basking in the sun with their mouths open. They then drop into their jaws, and eating through their intestines and belly, issue out of the dead body."

As late as the 3rd century CE, Marcus Aurelius Olympius Nemesianus, a poet at the court of the Roman emperor Carus, refers to hunting the Ichneumon on river banks among the rushes in his poem Cynegetica. Sadly, the poem is fragmentary and any longer passage describing such a hunt has been lost. If the creature could take on a crocodile, it would seem to me that hunting the beast would be a very dangerous endeavor!

Read more about the cult of the shrew: https://www.mfab.hu/shrew-a-sacred-glutton/


Image: Solid cast bronze sculpture of a shrew, Egypt, Greco-Roman Period, 305-30 BCE, now in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art, image courtesy of the museum. 

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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Meroitic Period and retainer sacrifice in ancient Nubia

Meroë in ancient Nubia, superseded Napata as the capital of the Kingdom of Kush under King Aspelta in about 591 BCE. Meroe's wealth was centered around a strong iron industry, as well as international trade in jewelry, pottery and textiles involving India and China. Meroitic metal workers engaged in both iron and Nubia's longstanding gold production were considered among the best in the world. The kingdom thrived until the 4th century CE and numerous kings and queens were buried in Meroë's royal cemeteries. 

The remains of Meroë were rediscovered by a French mineralogist Frédéric Cailliaud who published an illustrated folio in 1821. The first formal expedition led by Giuseppe Ferlini was launched in 1834. Ferlini primarily recovered mostly jewelry items which are now in the collections of museums in Berlin and Munich.  Then in 1844, C.R. Lepsius examined the ruins and produced plans and sketches of the site. These inspired E. A. Wallis Budge to lead an expedition to Meroë in 1902 and 1905. His finds were transferred to the British Museum. This was followed by excavations led by John Garstang of the University of Liverpool in 1910.

In 1931, British Egyptologist Walter Bryan Emery excavated the Ballana cemetery in Lower Nubia and uncovered 122 tombs dating from 350 to 600 CE.  In addition to objects of Nubian origin, there were many objects imported from Byzantine Egypt and other trading centers around the Mediterranean. His team found  royal crowns, horses, and servants buried with their masters.  

One of the most lavish burials was found in tomb 118 which consisted of a main burial chamber and two storage rooms.  Fortunately, the tomb's roof had collapsed so was apparently overlooked by looters. The body of the person buried there was found on a bier. It was most likely that of a king. Upon his head was found a crown. Under the bier, were the remains of a large wooden gaming board, weapons and an iron folding chair. There were also skeletons of a young male servant and a cow. In the two storerooms, more skeletons of servants, as well as pottery and several bronze lamps were discovered.

Human sacrifice was a longstanding tradition of Nubian civilization.  During the Classic Kerma Period (1700–1550 BCE), funerary monuments of Kerman kings could be up to one hundred meters long and included hundreds of sacrificed individuals.  One of the largest Kerma burials contained the remains of 322 individuals, most them female.  Archaeologist George Reisner speculated that the women could have been members of the royal harem.

The practice of retainer sacrifice appears to have abated while Nubia was under the rule of Egypt during the New Kingdom period and the reign of the 25th dynasty during the Third Intermediate Period.  But the sacrifice of retainers was revived when the royal cemetery was moved south to Meroë during the reign of Arkamaniqo (270-260 BCE).  At least 16 royal tombs including those of five kings, a queen, a prince, and eight of unknown status dating to as late as the 1st century BCE contained human sacrificial victims. I hope none of them were members of Gaius Petronius' retaliatory force!


Image: Nubian royal crown from the royal cemetery at Ballana Tomb 118 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor John Campana (digitally enhanced)


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Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Napatan Period and Rome's clash with Kush

Napata was founded by Thutmose III in the 15th century BCE after his conquest of Kush. Napata’s location as the southernmost point in the empire led it to become an important religious center and settlement. In 750 BCE, during the political instability of the Third Intermediate Period, the Kushite ruler, Kashta, attacked Upper Egypt. His policy was pursued by his successors Piye, and Shabaka (721–707 BCE), who eventually brought the whole Nile Valley under Kushite control and ruled Egypt as the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. Religion, the arts, and architecture were restored to their Old, Middle, and New Kingdom forms under such pharaohs as Taharqa who built or restored temples and monuments throughout the Nile, including at Memphis, Karnak, Kawa, Jebel Barkal, and elsewhere.

However the dynasty was relatively brief. Taharqa and his successor cousin, Tantamani were constantly in conflict with the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Neo-Assyrian emperor Esarhaddon conquered Lower Egypt about 670 BCE then enlisted the conquered to assist him against the Kushite rulers of Upper Egypt. Necho, who became the ruler of Sais in 672 BCE and subsequently Esarhaddon's vassal, was given new territories possibly including the city of Memphis, 

Taharqa convinced some rulers of Lower Egypt, including Necho, to break with the Assyrians. However, Assurbanipal, who had succeeded Esarhaddon in the meantime, overpowered the coalition and deported the Egyptian conspirators to his capital at Nineveh, killing part of the population of the cities they governed. But, Necho was pardoned and reinstated at Sais with even more new territories.  Some scholars think Ashurbanipal hoped to rely on the loyalty of an Egyptian ally in the event of another offensive led by the 25th Dynasty pharaohs, and perhaps to inspire and strengthen a rivalry between the Kushites and the Saites. 

However, Necho I as slain in 664 BCE near Memphis while defending his realms from a new Kushite offensive led by Taharqa's successor Tantamani while Necho's son, Psamtik, fled to Nineveh under Ashurbanipal's aegis. This Nubian invasion into the Egyptian Delta was subsequently (664-663 BCE) repelled by the Assyrians who proceeded to advance south into Upper Egypt and performed the infamous sack of Thebes. Tantamani eventually abandoned his attempt to conquer Lower Egypt and retreated to Napata. However, his authority over Upper Egypt was acknowledged until the 8th regnal year of his reign at Thebes (or 656 BCE), when Psamtik I dispatched a naval fleet to Upper Egypt and succeeded in placing all of Egypt under his control.

The Napatan dynasty continued to rule the Kushite state, though, which flourished in Napata and Meroë until at least the second century CE. Napatan architecture, paintings, writing script, and other artistic and cultural forms were Kushite in style, but Egyptian burial customs continued, the building of pyramids resumed, and Kushites worshipped several Egyptian deities including Amun and Mut.

Napata began to lose its economic influence after an Achaemenid Persian raid in 591 BCE. The importance of iron propelled Meroe into prominence and it replaced Napata as the capital of Kush. 

In 23 BCE, the Governor of Roman Egypt, Gaius Petronius, invaded Kush with 10,000 men after an initial attack by the queen of Meroë, Kandake, razing Napata to the ground, according to the  Res Gestae Divi Augusti.  In retaliation, the Nubians crossed the lower border of Egypt and looted many statues (among other things) from the Egyptian towns near the first cataract of the Nile at Aswan. 

The destruction of Napata was not a crippling blow to the Kushites, though, and did not frighten Kandake enough to prevent her from again engaging in combat with the Roman military. Indeed, it seems that Petronius's attack might have had a revitalizing influence on the kingdom. In 22 BCE, a large Kushite force moved northward with intention of attacking Qasr Ibrim. Alerted to the advance, Petronius again marched south and managed to reach Qasr Ibrim and bolster its defenses before the invading Kushites arrived. Although the ancient sources give no description of the ensuing battle, we know that at some point the Kushites sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace settlement with Petronius and possibly accept a status like "Client State" of Rome. 

Napata was restored by King Natakamani, who renovated the temple of Amun and constructed a palace. But eventually the site was abandoned and its buildings plundered and destroyed. This may have been the result of a change in religious practices.  The first archaeologist to excavate the site, George Reisner, discovered two caches of statues, thought to have once adorned the Temple of Amun, comingled with ash indicating they had been purposefully destroyed.

Amethyst lion's head pendant, Napatan, Egypt, Dynasty 25, now in the collections of the Cleveland Art Museum, image courtesy of the museum. This pendant consists of two parts: a superbly carved lion’s head in amethyst that has been set into a D-shaped gold base consisting of a platform surrounded by eight seated baboons. The lion’s head is an heirloom from the New Kingdom, most likely a gaming piece that had been adapted in the Napatan period to serve as an pendant amulet.

Sandstone Omphalos depicting Nubian shrine, Meroitic Period, 100-200 CE, from Gebel Barkal Temple B 500, now in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, image courtesy of the museum. Once thought to be a shrine imitating the form of a traditional African shelter, this hollow dome-like object of sandstone can now be identified as a model of Gebel Barkal, the "Pure Mountain" of Napata, which was the chief sanctuary and coronation center of Kush and the site of the oracle of Amun, said to select each new king following the death of his predecessor. The form of the object imitates the unique Napatan hieroglyphic symbol for Gebel Barkal, which appears several times in the stele of Nastasen (cat. 265). As a hieroglyph, the mountain is shown as a dome with a uraeus or cobra diadem rising from one side.
From the Egyptian New Kingdom onwards, Gebel Barkal was believed to be the residence of the southern (and primeval) form of the Theban god Amun, who was known as "Amun of Napata, dweller in the Pure Mountain." Because of the 75-meter high pinnacle on the southern corner of Gebel Barkal, which in silhouette looks like a rearing uraeus, the mountain was not only identified as the dwelling place of Amun, but was also identified by the Kushites as the true source of kingship in the Nile Valley, from which derived the legitimacy of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty.

Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.



Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Closeup of Shrine of the 25th dynasty pharaoh and Kushite King Taharqa Egypt 7th century BCE that I photographed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Statuette of a Kushite ruler, probably Taharqa, Dynasty 25, 690-664 BCE, Bronze, now in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, image courtesy of the museum

Amulet of Pataikos, Napatan Period, reign of Shebitka or Taharqa, 712-664 BCE, Meroe now in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, image courtesy of the museum. This faience figure of Pataikos has a faded glaze. He has a scarab on head, hawks on his shoulders and crocodiles under his feet. Winged Sekhmet is at the back, and there is an incised eye on the base.

Statuette of King Taharqa, Napatan Period, Gebel Barkal, 690-664 BCE, Bronze, now in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, image courtesy of the museum

Cowroid of blue-green glazed steatite; back carries an incised border of line decoration. Base inscribed with throne name of Third Intermediate Period ruler Taharqa (Khuinefertemre), now in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, image courtesy of the museum.

 

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