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Object: Silver Drachm of Alexander the Great

Figure 1 Drachm of Alexander the Great from Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Drachm of Alexander the Great from Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

336-323 B.C.
Materials: Silver

When Alexander the Great, or Alexander III of Macedon, came to power, he entered into an already expansive empire of Greek city-states built by the expeditions and military successes of his father, Phillip II. Alexander followed his father on campaigns, received the best education from tutors, such as Aristotle, and successfully gained the throne at the age of 20 after his father’s murder. Unfortunately, at the beginning of his reign, he inherited both the land his father had conquered as well as the great amount of debt his father acquired while trying to enforce his claim as hegemon of Greece. For this reason, Alexander had to borrow money early in his new reign in order to provide the financial means to secure the borders of his empire. He pursued his father’s legacy of conquest and after much warring, more debt, and victories against the Persian realm, Asia Minor, and various other territories, he finally gained the resources he needed to continue his military efforts and pay his debts. Alexander then ruled a massive empire that reached from the Adriatic Sea up to the Indus River. He wanted to extend his rule all the way to the end of the world. So, he required great sums of money to afford his expensive troops, pay for supplies, and provide presents to significant cities and persons in order to maintain important ties. His need for coined money was great while he was trying to fund his campaign, so be began introducing his own currency, the date of which is under dispute. This currency system would unexpectedly gain validity in years to come.

The most prevalent coins of Alexander’s reign were the drachm and tetradracm. While coins struck in that time often had minor differences because of the sloppiness of technique by which they were created, the drachm was usually about 18 mm wide and made of silver. The process of striking the coins, commonly believed to have been made of smelted silver and gold gained from Alexander’s campaign, involved “an oven for heating blanks (flans), tongs for handling hot flans, a table or bench on which an anvil was mounted, and a pair of dies struck with a heavy hammer to impress the design into the flans” (Classic Coins). Dies were made of hard bonze or iron. One (the obverse die) would be mounted on the anvil while the other (reverse die) would be struck to make the impression as the punch. There has been some debate about the techniques used for both creating the flans as well as the actual striking of the coins since artisans wanted to protect the security of the coins so they could not be illegally copied. To learn more about how we believe blanks and coins were most likely created in Alexander’s time, take a look at this video:

Similar to the coins made before his time, Alexander’s drachm portrayed the head of Hercules on the obverse (front) and Zeus, father of Hercules sitting in his throne holding a scepter and eagle on the reverse (back). There are many theories as to why Alexander chose the image of Hercules for this coin. Some contend that it was a way, in keeping with previous tradition, to proudly link the possible lineage of the Argead dynasty to the profound hero. Others believe it was to show the pronounced physical likeness between Alexander and the hero Hercules. Yet others believe Alexander wanted to portray himself as a symbolic figure of heroism to the people he was exchanging and trading with (Kampmann). Hercules was a renowned hero in Greek mythology, and the lion headdress he wears on the drachm is believed to have portrayed his heroic slaying of the Nemean lion. Lions were also an important symbol for Macedonia, where this specific coin is believed to have been created.

Coins created during Alexander’s reign were believed to be sound money because those who exchanged them knew they were regulated by magistrates and thoroughly inspected by their creators. Often these magistrates marked the coins with their official symbols or monograms, and it was not uncommon to find test cuts made in coins where a person had checked to make sure they were of good quality silver. During his lifetime, there were 26 mints producing his coins. After his death at the age of 32, there were nearly 52 mints, representing the peak of coin production for the Alexandrian Empire. Alexander’s empire devolved into many city-states after his death, and they were warred over by his generals. These conflicts were called the Wars of Diadochi, and they lasted until finally they decided to crown Alexander’s brother as king until Alexander’s son could come of age. In this time after his death, there are many who argue that the head of Hercules on coins began to show characteristics of Alexander’s features. This is believed to show both the prominence and acceptance of the coins in the Greek and non-Greek worlds as well as a way of remembering the legacy of the king who created them. However, coins differed across different regions and varied based on the reasons they were used. In any case, it is evident that the coins of Alexander the Great of Macedon left a great and lasting impression on the field of numismatics.

[Destiny Trejo]


Art Institute of Chicago
2012    Launchpad: Coin Production in the Ancient Greek World. Facebook.

Classical Coins
N.D.    How Ancient Coins Were Made. Classical Coins. Kampmann, Ursula

2015    The Coins of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. CoinsWeekly.

British Museum
2007    Coin of Alexander the Great, III. Self made, Photographed at the British Museum.

2014    Alexander the Great: between god and man. Museum of the National Bank of Belgium.

Object: Replica of Phaestos Disk

Figure 1 Front of cast of Phaestos Disk from the Classics Collection at the SNOMNH, photo taken by author

Figure 1 Front of cast of Phaestos Disk from the Classics Collection at the SNOMNH, photo taken by author

Figure 2 Back of cast of Phaestos Disk from the Classics Collection at the SNOMNH, photo taken by author

Figure 2 Back of cast of Phaestos Disk from the Classics Collection at the SNOMNH, photo taken by author


Replica of Phaestos Disk
Late Minoan Period
Materials: Plaster

This Phaestos Disk replica is a modern cast of the Late Minoan Period original. It measures 16.5 centimeters in diameter and 1.5 centimeters in width. It was originally on loan from Dr. Allen C. Johnson, former professor of the Department of Classics at Princeton University, but since his death has become a permanent part of the Classics Collection at SNOMNH.

Figure 3 A view of the site of excavation of the Phaistos Disk; Photo "Festos1(js)" by Jerzy Strzelecki - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

Figure 3 A view of the site of excavation of the Phaistos Disk; Photo “Festos1(js)” by Jerzy Strzelecki – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

The original Phaestos (or Phaistos) Disk was unearthed on the island of Crete by Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in 1908. The excavation took place on the south coast of the island, and the disk gets its name from the ancient region and palacewhere it was discovered. Experts date the disk to the Minoan Neopalatial (New Palace) Period, about 1600-1450 BCE [1]. Currently, the original Phaistos Disk resides in the Heraklion Museum in Crete, along with other extremely well known objects from the Minoan time period. The Minoan people are known for their unique advancements in religion, art, and technology [2].

Figure 4 This map depicts the island of Crete during the Minoan period. Photo "Map Minoan Crete-en" by User:Bibi Saint-Pol - Own work (data from, map background from Image:Map greek sanctuaries-fr.svg).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

Figure 4 This map depicts the island of Crete during the Minoan period. Photo “Map Minoan Crete-en” by User:Bibi Saint-Pol – Own work (data from, map background from Image:Map greek sanctuaries-fr.svg).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

The most fascinating thing about the Phaistos Disk is its mysterious symbols and figures that are inscribed in a circular spiral on both sides. Archaeologists are still unsure as to what the markings mean, or even the original purpose of the disk itself [3]. In recent years, however, scholars have claimed to make significant strides in cracking the code of the disk, translating the text, and determining its purpose and significance. Yet the fact that we still don’t know for sure the meaning of the text or reason it was used has caused some critics to question the authenticity of the disk [4]. Despite such controversy and confusion, the fact that classical archaeologists and scholars have spent so much effort over the past 107 years trying to interpret the nature of this small circular object suggests that when we ultimately and definitively crack the Phaistos Disk code, we will be able to understand much more about the Minoan culture, and the ancient world as a whole.

In this TEDtalk, Dr. Gareth Owens shares the progress he and his colleagues have made in deciphering the Phaistos Disk.

[Elizabeth Rischard]

Object: Roman Tombstone

Figure 1    Roman Tombstone with Latin Epitaph from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Roman Tombstone with Latin Epitaph from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Unknown Date
Materials: Stone

This ancient Roman stone is from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. It has an interesting epitaph, or inscription, in Latin, which roughly translates as “To the shades of the departed ( or ‘for/to the god Mercury’), Plutianici (Latin-ized Greek name) lived 23 years, 4 months and 3 days. L. Plutius (Latin-ized Greek name) Stephanus made this (stone) for his most sweet (dear) wife.” The inscription identifies it as a Roman tombstone or funerary monument erected by L. Plutius Stephanus for his wife Plutianici, who lived only 23 years, 4 months and 3 days.

Funerary monuments in Roman cemeteries were important symbols to the people of Rome because they served as a way to commemorate the deceased as well as a way to remember them for the years to come. According to Valerie Hope, “monuments were frequently designed to catch the eye of the passer-by: scale, decoration, words, and images all combined to provide a final snapshot of the deceased” (Hope 2007:141).

The tombstones were also a way to show social identity in Ancient Rome. In Hope’s research, she declares that erecting a tombstone inscribed in Latin is a “Roman act” because it symbolizes “the attainment of citizenship or at least a claim that such citizenship was deserved” (Hope 1997:119). These tombstones served as a form of identity for Roman citizens to show that they were a part of the empire and belonged to Roman society when they were alive.

On the epitaph found on the tombstones, the Manes, believed to be the spirits of the dead, were commemorated with the phrase Dis Manibus, which was shortened to DM. This commemoration was exclusive to tombstone inscriptions. The Manes were celebrated in February during Parentalia, a nine-day festival commemorating the ancestors. During this time, the ancestors were honored and appeased with food, offerings, and prayers to show piety towards them by their living descendants and family members (Yasin 2005:439).

After the commemoration of Dis Manibus on Roman tombstones, the first name of the deceased was displayed, then the exact age of the person in years, months, and days. The inscriptions on the stone also usually included the occupation of the deceased and concluded with the name of the person who erected the stone in their honor. All of the information presented in an epitaph showed the identity and social status of the person so that he or she could be remembered for the years to follow. Ultimately, just like tombstones today, the tombstones of Ancient Rome served as a physical monument that gave the living a glimpse into the life of the deceased.

[Sarah Noel Rodriguez]

Further Links:

Latin Inscriptions:

Latin Funerary Inscriptions:

Roman Inscriptions:


Hope, Valerie M. 2007. Death in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Hope, Valerie M. 1997. Constructing Roman Identity: Funerary Monuments and Social Structure in the Roman World. Morality 2(2):103-121.

Meyer, Elizabeth A. 1990. Exploring the Epigraphic Habit in the Roman Empire: the Evidence of Epitaphs. The Journal of Roman Studies 80:74-96.

Yasin, Ann Marie. 2005. Funerary Monuments and Collective Identity: From Roman Family to Christian Community. The Art Bulletin 87(3):433-457.

Object: Aryballos

Figure 1    Arybollas with incised lion, bird and rosette pattern from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Aryballos with incised lion, bird and rosette pattern from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Aryballos with incised lion, bird and rosette
Greece: Corinth
Unknown Date, Late Corinthian
Materials: Terracotta

This jar, or aryballos, from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History measures 2 5/16” high with a circumference of 6 1/2”, the lip of the vessel is 1 1/4” wide while the handle is 1” L X 1/8” wide. The images on this vase include (from left to right) a lion, a bird (perhaps a goose or swan), and rosettes (flower shapes).

An aryballos is an oil jar used by Greek athletes during bathing. This type of jar could be carried on the wrist using a string looped through the small handle.[i] This usually spherically-shaped vessel originated in Corinth, Greece. However, other aryballoi jar shapes include oval, animal or even human-shaped vessels.[ii]

Corinth became the leading center for ceramic production in Greece during the Orientalizing period of the 7th century BCE. The term “Orientalizing” refers to the spread of Near Eastern or Egyptian themes to Greece during a time of intensive trade. The Near East and Egypt inspired both the shapes and designs of this type of pottery as well as the images painted on the vessels. Corinth experienced great success in the production of containers and through the invention of the black-figure firing technique. In this technique, incisions and color highlights were added to existing black silhouettes of figures.[iii]

Corinthian style vessels may be recognized by their yellow or beige-colored clay as well as by their decorations. Orientalizing period vessels, such as this aryballos, display floral decorations along with images of animals surrounding the body of the jar. Images of vegetation and animals spread from the Near East and Egypt, most likely through trade, and heavily influenced the themes of Greek vase decoration.[iv]

The aryballos from the Classics Collection, is an example of a Late Corinthian vessel style and most likely dates to around 600 BCE. The date may be assumed to be around this time because earlier vessels tended to be more precisely painted, sometimes with miniature figures. Because this aryballos does not appear as detailed, it was most likely created towards the end of the Corinthian period. Earlier Corinthian aryballos often featured one large figure, while animal images and small fillers like the rosettes are seen in later examples. [v] This aryballos therefore presents an interesting example of a Corinthian oil jar used by Greek athletes that was heavily influenced by Near Eastern and Egyptian design elements.

[Cacie Thomas]


[i] Clark, Andrew J., and Maya Elston. 2002. Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Harvard Art Museum Aryballos Collection., accessed February 14, 2015.

[iv] Boardman, John. 1998. Early Greek Vase Painting: 11th-6th Centuries BC : A Handbook. New York City: Thames and Hudson.

[v] Boardman, John. 1974. Athenian Black Figure Vases. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Object: Marble bust of Alexander the Great

Modern Cast of 3rd. Century Original
Materials: Marble, Metal, Wood

This marble bust Alexander III of Macedonia, otherwise known as Alexander the Great, is a modern copy of the original bust that was created in the town of Pella, the capital of ancient Macedon. Alexander the Great was a famous conqueror of the ancient world. By the end of his life, his empire spread from Greece all the way east to India. At age 16, Alexander was already leading troops for an army led by his father, Philip II. After his father was assassinated, he was proclaimed king by the army and led them to victory after victory. Among the many features that set Alexander apart from other military leaders of the time was his preference to actually ride out in front of his men when they charged into battle.

Little is now known about Alexander’s physical appearance, but most agree that he was of average height, for a Greek of that time, and had brownish hair (not blonde) as figure 2 illustrates. One thing that cannot be questioned was his intelligence. As a boy he was educated by one of the most brilliant minds of the time, the Greek scholar Aristotle, who instructed him in a variety of subjects ranging from philosophy to the arts. Alexander won almost every battle he fought, not so much with brute force, but with cunning and brilliant military strategies. He would use the geography of the land to pin his enemies against a cliff or river. After years of campaigning he was planning to continue, but fearing mutiny from his army he decided to turn back for home. On this journey he received a fatal wound and then became very sick. He died in Babylon in 323 BC.

The legacy of Alexander continues even today. People everywhere know of him and his accomplishments. Some say that he was a great man while others claim him to be a devil. Since his death, military leaders have tried to imitate his actions. There have been many movies and books written about him. Below you will find a documentary on Alexander.


Work Cited

2013  Aristotle Biography – Facts, Birthday, Life Story.

History of Macedonia
2013  Alexander the Great of Macedon Biography: King of Macedonia and Conqueror of the Persian Empire.

[Rob Million]

Object: Bronze Lion

Bronze Lion
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This lion is couchant, or in a reclined position with a raised head, with its mouth open, as if resting and looking down. The mane is raised, but not decorated to show individual hairs.  The statuette sits flat and is 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 2 in. (5.1 cm) long, and .5 in. (1.3 cm) wide.

One ancient story relates the taming of a lion.  This story does not involve training a lion; instead an act of kindness makes a lion friendly to humans. Androcles, a slave who ran away to Africa, took a thorn from a lion’s foot. After being captured, Androcles was sent to Rome to be part of a spectacle in the amphitheater where he was to be eaten by a lion. All did not go as planned; the lion refused to eat Androcles, because it was actually the very same lion he had treated in Africa. The Emperor Caligula freed Androcles and the lion, after which Androcles could be seen leading the lion around Rome on a leash. People were amazed by this curiosity and gave Androcles money and scattered flowers over the lion.

Bronze statues and statuettes were a common form of artwork in the Greek and Roman world. Artwork traveled along with the Romans, who spread far into the north, reaching the Netherlands, where bronze lion statuettes have been found. One lion is solid bronze and is shown standing, looking to the right, with its mouth open. This lion                                                                                   is on a hollow terminal and was                                                                                     used as a chariot mounting.

The lion statuette from the Classics Collection was made by casting bronze. Bronze is better than copper for making statues because of its lower melting point. Since the bronze stays liquid longer, it fills a mold better and has superior tensile strength. Cyprus was a major source of copper for the Romans. The copper was mixed with tin to create bronze. Romans imported tin from southwest Turkey, Afghanistan,                                                                               and England (Cornwall).

Beginning in the late Archaic period (ca. 500-480 B.C.) lost-wax casting of bronze was the most common method of creating these types of bronze figures. There are several methods for lost-wax casting, the earliest of which was the solid lost-wax casting. A solid wax model is made, which is then surrounded with clay and heated so the wax comes out and the clay hardens.  Liquid bronze is poured into the hard clay mold. Once the metal hardens, the clay is broken off and the solid bronze statuette is revealed. Bronze cannot be used to make large solid statues, so only small statuettes could be made of solid bronze, like this lion statuette. Lost-wax casting can be used to make hollow statues as well, though the process is slightly different.

Video: To see how lost-wax casting works:

Works Cited

Hemingway, Colette and Sean Hemingway

            2013 “The Technique of Bronze Statuary in Ancient Greece” in Heilbrunn                      Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed April 25,              2013.


Jitta, A. N. Zadocks-Josephus, W. J. T. Peters, and W. A. van Es

            1969 Roman Bronze Statuettes from the Netherlands II: Statuettes Found                    South of the Limes. Netherlands: Wolters-Noordhoff.

McKeown, J. C.

            2010 A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts                   from the World’s Greatest Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Object Bronze Fox

Bronze Fox
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze (cast)

This bronze fox has clear details of fur all over its body. The fox is couchant, meaning it is lying down with the face lifted up.  It measures 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 2.5 in. (6.4 cm) long, and .75 in. (1.9 cm) wide.  It has an exaggerated tail that widens towards the tip.  There is an incised line down the center of the tail.  The bottom of this statuette is flat except for a small pin sticking down; likely for attachment to something.

Foxes are native to Italy.  They were part of a Roman ritual for Ceres held in the middle of April (many say on the 19th) every year, the Cerealia. The foxes did not survive the ritual.  The festival involved a spectacle in the Circus Maximus where the Romans tied lighted torches to the foxes’ tails and set them lose in the Circus, where they were burned to death. The author Ovid says this ritual comes from an incident when a child had wrapped a vixen in straw and set her on fire. The female fox then ran into a wheat field, setting the crops on fire. The ritual for Ceres was supposed to show the foxes atoning for the burning of the crops. Fox hunts, like hare hunts, are depicted in many places throughout ancient Rome, including mosaic floors.

Also like hares, a fox could be kept as a pet. The aurita lagalopex, likely a long-eared fox, is one example.  The Romans made pets of many kinds of animals, from the exotic (lions) to the tame (dogs). This fox statuette from the Classics Collection is couchant, not running or standing.  It is thus unlikely this fox was meant to depict a fox in the Ceres ritual or in a hunt.  Instead, this may have been a depiction of a native Italian animal or a pet.

Works Cited

McKeown, J. C.

            2010 A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts                  from the World’s Greatest Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

Toynbee, J. M. C.

            1973 Animals in Roman Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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