Archive for the 'Roman' Category

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

C/2000/1/1
Roman
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: http://www.ashmolean.org/ashwpress/latininscriptions/tag/latin-tombstones/

Latin Funerary Inscriptions: http://archaeologicalmuseum.jhu.edu/the-collection/object-stories/latin-funerary-inscriptions/

Roman Inscriptions: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/insc/hd_insc.htm

Sources:

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: Bronze Lion

C/1957/14/16
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.

            <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grbr/hd_grbr.htm>.

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

C/1957/14/9
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]

Object: Bronze Dog

C/1957/14/35
Bronze Sleeping Dog
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This bronze dog is shown sleeping.  It is .5 in. (1.3 cm) high, 2 in. (5.1 cm) long, and 1 in. (2.5 cm) wide.  Details of fur can be seen on the ruff and tail.  The bottom of the statuette is flat except for one hollowed out area.  One ear is partially gone, but the other ear is flat down against the head.

Romans had dogs for hunting, herding, guarding, draught, performing, and as pets. In fact, a dog could be both a hunting companion and a beloved pet.  The strong bond between a Roman and their dog can be seen in artwork and poems commemorating pets.  Dog artwork was often created after the dog had died, and the artwork reflected the owner’s grief and anguish, feelings that people today can identify with upon loosing a beloved pet.

It is clear the Romans were aware of the loyalty of dogs to their masters.  In one account from 28 A.D., during Emperor Tiberius’s rule, Titius Sabinus was arrested and his dog stayed outside his prison door. When Sabinus was killed and his corpse thrown outside, his dog howled beside his body. When Sabinus’s body was thrown into the Tiber River, his dog jumped in after it in an effort to keep it from sinking.

This bronze dog figure from the Classics Collection is shown sleeping, and so is clearly not actively working in any of its possible occupations. This may mean that this is artwork of a pet dog that lounges around with its masters or may be a representation of dogs in general, which were common in the Roman world. As a small bronze figure it may have been decoration on a larger object or part of a shrine to a god. The hunting dog was associated with the goddess Diana (Artemis), so figurines of dogs may be part of a dedication to the goddess.

Video: To see a quick video of the cave canem (“beware of the dog”) mosaic at Pompeii take a look:

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]

Object: Bronze Sheep

Bronze Sheep carrying Woolsack
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This sheep statuette is standing upright and carrying a triangular woolsack, or carrying bag, on its back.  It is 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 1 in. (2.5 cm) long, and 1 in. (2.5 cm) wide.  It also has small curled horns on the sides of its head.

Some wild sheep (mouflon) were used in venationes (animal hunts).  These sheep had shaggy wool and curly horns. Romans imported wild rams from Africa, which they said had a marvelous color. A sheep breed from Spain was also renowned for their gold tinted wool. These wooled sheep were sometimes used for public spectacles. As with other types of animals, Romans imported sheep from around their empire. Unlike with some imported animals that were used mainly for spectacles, imported wild sheep were often kept on estates and tamed.

There were native Italian sheep as well, the most famous of which were the Tarentines with their fat tails. Tarentines grazed on the Galaesus river banks. Romans praised the Tarentines for the quality of their wool, which they used for clothing. Another important use for sheep besides wool, milk, cheese, and spectacles was their role as sacrifices. Sheep were sacrificed to many deities, including Jupiter, Juno, Janus, Mars, Terminus, Faunus, and Silvanus. Sheep were part of the large state-sponsored sacrifices to the gods. One example of state sacrifices is the suovetaurilia, which called for the sacrifice of a ram, bull, and pig.

Sacrificed sheep were one of the most popular animals to use for divination. Haruspex priests, or diviners, inspected the entrails of the sheep, focusing mainly on the liver to predict the future.  Etruscans also practiced haruspicy. A bronze model of a sheep’s liver with Etruscan writing has been found, called the liver of Piacenza. By examining the liver, the haruspex would learn the will of the gods. Haruspices were used both by the senate and by private people. Later in Roman history, however, well-educated Romans looked down on consulting the haruspices. Emperor Claudius tried to bring back this practice and had the senate pass a decree for priests to look into reviving parts of haruspicy.

In art, sheep are most commonly shown in pastoral scenes. Mythological sheep scenes were created to depict the story of the golden ram carrying mythological figures Phrixus and Helle across the sea (which was termed the Hellespont after Helle fell into the sea). During the Christian era, sheep then became a common image in Christian art.

Sheep were useful in many ways for the Romans. In this bronze statuette, the sheep is shown in a practical role carrying a woolsack. The bronze sheep is therefore most connected to its role of giving wool.  This may be a depiction of one of the sheep popular for the quality of their wool, such as the Tarentines discussed above.

Works Cited

Smith, William

         1875 “Haruspices.” A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray.   586-587.      <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/ Haruspices.html>.

Toynbee, J. M. C.

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

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Object: Bronze Hare

C/1957/14/38
Bronze Hare
Roman (?)
Unknown location
Unknown date
Materials: Bronze

This bronze hare is 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 1.5 in. (3.8 cm) long, and .5 in. (1.3 cm) wide.  The long ears are pointed and its short tail is also rather pointed.  The face is turned to one side.  The other side of the hare looks like it may have been attached to something.  This hare statuette does not appear to be a depiction of a hunted hare.  It is resting couchant, or positioned lying down with its head raised, unconcerned. Therefore, it is not likely that it is being chased.  One leg is tucked in, and its long ears stretch straight back from its head.  Details of an incised mouth and faint traces of eyes also survive.

Romans wrote that they used to have leporia (game reserves) just for hares. These reserves were fenced in and planted with abundant foliage so that the hares would be protected from predators such as eagles. Later, these reserves held many types of animals, including deer, cattle, and boars.  Hares continued to be important to the Romans and were used in spectacles held in the amphitheaters.  In one of Emperor Nero’s favorite spectacles, lions had actually been trained to play with hares without harming them.

As a game animal, hares were regularly hunted in Roman sport. Virgil and other authors mention hunting hares in fields on foot or on horseback. The hunting of hares also appears in artwork, as on the Neumagen tombs at Trier.

Roman mosaic of a dog hunting a hare, image courtesy of the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, Republic of Tunisia.

Roman mosaic of a dog hunting a hare, image courtesy of the Bardo National Museum in Tunis, Republic of Tunisia.

Hares fascinated Romans.  In amphitheater spectacles, snowy white hares were considered a marvel. Hares’ preference for fruit was another oddity for the Romans. When depicted in artwork separate from humans, hares are shown feasting on figs and grapes. Hares are found in mosaics, along with other animals in nature or hunting scenes.  Hares were also valued as pets, and a captured hare could be tamed and kept as a pet for a child.

Video: To learn more about Roman mosaic artwork and how they make designs like the hare, see this video on ancient mosaics:

Works Cited

Toynbee, J. M. C.

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

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Object: Bronze Lion

C/1957/14/7
Bronze Lion
Roman
Italy
c. 200 B.C.
Materials: Bronze (cast)

This lion statuette is 1 in. (2.5 cm) high, 1.75 in. (4.4 cm) long, and .5 in. (1.3 cm) wide.  There are short horizontal lines that start from the head and go down to the front legs and along the lion’s rump.  The statuette’s mouth is open with the head angled down.  The lion’s nose and eyes are exaggerated.  The upper lip has a detail of whiskers.  A line around the back of its face indicates the mane.  The lion is couchant, or positioned lying down with the head raised, and the tail curved up at the end.  The lion has a hollow body and a small hole in the top of its back, possibly for suspension.

Romans imported the majority of their lions from Africa, Arabia, Syria, and Mesopotamia. The first recorded lions came to Rome in 186 B.C. and were put on display by Consul Marcus Fulvius Nobilior. Lions and other strange animals were used for public entertainment in grand spectacles.  These were held in the amphitheater or circus.

Some of the animals, like lions, were not just displayed, but also used in spectacles.  These spectacles could be animal fighting animal or animal fighting humans. At Nobilior’s lion show he put on venationes (animal hunts). The venationes were staged hunts with trained hunters, the venatores, who attacked the animals (with the possibility that the animals could kill the humans). In other cases there was no pretense of a hunt, and animal fights were held against a trained gladiator or an untrained criminal.  The trained hunters were the bestiarii gladiators who fought the animals.

Some lions were kept as house pets by the wealthy Romans.  These lions were used to shock audiences, as when Mark Antony famously used lions to pull his chariot.  At house parties, some wealthy Romans even had tame lions brought in to surprise the guests.

In Roman art, lions are found on several mediums.  Ivory diptychs from the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. show detailed depictions of the venationes, illustrating lions in real events and not just as symbols in the piece. Artwork is useful in reconstructing the past, as demonstrated in relief carvings that show lions being transported to Italy. One carving depicts a ship in port with three cages holding lions. Other artwork has a religious nature. The god most associated with lions is the great mother goddess Cybele, who is associated with the strength and power of lions and whose chariot is drawn by lions. Additionally, lions sometimes appear in a funerary context.   In the context of a Roman tomb, the lion is supposed to be a symbol of man’s power and victory over death.

It is clear lions were a widespread image in art and spectacle.  Lions in art could have several meanings, and sometimes were a depiction of real life.  At spectacles, both in the amphitheaters and in homes, lions were a grand sight.

Video: See the major arena for venationes in Rome and the importance of animals and venationes in Roman politics by watching the video found here.

Works Cited

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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