Posts Tagged 'classical'

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

C/1981/1/10
Macedonian
Greece
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]

Sources:

Art Institute of Chicago
2012    Launchpad: Coin Production in the Ancient Greek World. Facebook. https://youtu.be/naA87x15MiU

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

2015    The Coins of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. CoinsWeekly.
http://www.coinsweekly.com/en/archive/8?&id=67&type=a

British Museum
2007    Coin of Alexander the Great, III. Self made, Photographed at the British Museum. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/s/coin_with_head_of_alexander.aspx

Tsweb
2014    Alexander the Great: between god and man. Museum of the National Bank of Belgium. http://www.nbbmuseum.be/2014/04/alexander-the-great-between-god-and-man.htm

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

 

C/1985/9/1
Replica of Phaestos Disk
Minoan
Crete
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 - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Festos1(js).jpg#/media/File:Festos1(js).jpg

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 – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Festos1(js).jpg#/media/File:Festos1(js).jpg

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 http://metamedia.stanford.edu/imagebin/minoan%20crete%20map.JPG, map background from Image:Map greek sanctuaries-fr.svg).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_Minoan_Crete-en.svg#/media/File:Map_Minoan_Crete-en.svg

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 http://metamedia.stanford.edu/imagebin/minoan%20crete%20map.JPG, map background from Image:Map greek sanctuaries-fr.svg).. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_Minoan_Crete-en.svg#/media/File:Map_Minoan_Crete-en.svg

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

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 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]


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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