New Video: Mounting & Installing Staffordshire Hoard in New Gallery – A new video on the Staffordshire Hoard, featuring the mounting and installing of Hoard objects into the new Staffordshire Hoard gallery at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. The new gallery opened on 17th October.


Some Iconic Near Eastern Antiquities in The British Museum

The deeply troubling damage caused to antiquities and ancient monuments in the Near and Middle East, particularly Egypt, Syria and Iraq, as a result of war, insurgency, neglect, looting and deliberate destruction at the hands of religious fanatics is a subject I have addressed in this Blog before. It is likely to remain very much alive for the foreseeable future, causing me to reflect upon one institution, in particular, that has safeguarded a vast collection of antiquities from the region for two centuries. This institution is, of course, The British Museum in London.

A great many public and university museums in North America, the UK, Europe and beyond do house collections of Near Eastern and related antiquities, often collected long ago when there were no national laws or international regulations governing their acquisition from source countries. Acquiring antiquities, sometimes using methods that would be considered shocking today, was a normal and perfectly legal practice for large museums, private collectors, dealers and even ordinary tourists on the Grand Tour. In many cases, the modern nation states from whose territories these items were removed are entirely artificial creations on a map, holdovers from colonial occupations by the Ottoman Empire and later by European powers, with little sense of a cohesive national identity; e.g., Iraq and Syria. Many antiquities removed from their place of origin might well have been destroyed had they not been collected in this way. Even in Greece, with a much clearer sense of national identity and respect for its past, it was common well into the early 20th Century for antiquities and ancient monuments to be broken up for building material or road fill, burnt to make lime mortar or defaced because they were considered anathema to local religious beliefs. The British Museum, an island of stability, has safely housed some of the most iconic pieces of ancient Near Eastern art; objects that are now recognized as groundbreaking in the history of human artistic expression.

In this brief entry I would like to share just a very few of these objects, excluding the British Museum’s marvelous collection of Assyrian art, as I have addressed this in another recent article:

Sumerian antiquities, British Museum, Near Eastern Antiquities, Ur

The Standard of Ur, named by archaeologist Sir Leonard Wooley upon discovery, as it was thought by him to be a royal standard. It is actually a wood box decorated with shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli set in place with bitumen. It seems to depict tribute being brought to the ruling family of Ur (in today’s southern Iraq).

Ram in a thicket, Ur, Mesopotamian art, Sumerian antiquities, British Museum

The Ram in a Thicket. One of a pair, also found by Wooley during his excavation of the royal graves at Ur in the 1920s and 30s. It is made from gold leaf, copper, lapis lazuli, shell and red limestone over a now decayed wood core and dates to about 2,600 BC. It seems to have been a cult object associated with the royalty of Ur.

Queen of the Night, British Museum, Babylonian antiquities, Mesopotamian antiquities, ancient art

The Queen of the Night. An ancient Mesopotamian goddess, possibly Ishtar, goddess of sexual love and war, or perhaps her sister and rival Ereshkigal, who ruled the underworld. This plaque of baked clay tempered with straw was originally painted, with the goddess in red. She holds the rod and ring of justice, with the entire scene atop a scaly pattern representing mountains. It was originally housed in a small shrine. Babylonian, 18th Century BC, possibly from the reign of Hammurabi.


Tel Halaf, Syrian antiquities, ancient art, British Museum

Basalt reliefs from the 10th Century BC Aramaean palace at Tel Halaf (ancient Guzana) in northeastern Syria. Excavated between 1911 and 1921 by a German expedition under Max von Oppenheim. This section comes from the south wall of the palace, which was decorated with 187 relief segments in black basalt alternating with ochre colored limestone. The area of Tel Halaf is now disputed between ISIS and rival Jihadi militias and the fate of the site is unknown.

Persepolis, Iranian antiquities, British Museum

Winged male sphinx from Palace G at Persepolis, Iran, constructed by Artaxerxes III, 358-338 BC. This sphinx is quite late in date, having been put in place just a few years prior to Alexander the Great’s capture and destruction of the Persian capital of Persepolis. Stylistically it shares much with East Greek art of the Ionian coast.

To learn more about The British Museum’s collections of Near and Middle Eastern antiquities, visit their website, where visitors can explore their collections by place, by culture, by date, by name or by material:

News Item: Rich Grave Goods Point to East Anglian Royal Family

A remarkable excavation in the town of Exning, Suffolk, England may have uncovered members of the royal family of the ancient Saxon Kingdom of East Anglia. Twenty-one graves with rich grave goods, some imported from the Continent, dated to about 650 AD, point to this possible connection.

Here is a link to an article about this find in the British press (link opens in a new tab or window):

One of the key imported grave goods from this find is a glass bowl probably made in the Rhineland. The news article above includes an image of this, which would have been a very high status item in early Anglo-Saxon England. Here is an image of a similar bowl, on display in the Dover Museum.

ancient glass, Anglo-Saxon glass, Medieval glass

Glass bowl, dated AD 600-650, possibly from the Rhineland, in Dover Museum. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities

We will report further as more news of this discovery becomes available.

Remarkable News from Greece on the Amphipolis Tomb and More.

An important update on continuing work at the Amphipolis Tomb: Human remains have been found in a built structure beneath the 3rd chamber, as well as sophisticated ornamentation from the now disintegrated wood coffin. Details here:

As if the news from Amphipolis were not amazing enough, now comes news of an unlooted high status male tomb in northern Greece (Vergina) from the time of Alexander the Great:

Superb New Video from Getty Museum on Making of a Roman Silver Cup

This is an excellent video, utilizing computer graphics and drawing upon the latest research. Worth watching and thinking about the next time you view a complex artifact in a museum context. Link to the video on YouTube:

Getty Villa, Antiquities, Museums, Ancient Art

Getty Villa Plans to Expand Focus Beyond Ancient Greece and Rome

In an interview published November 3 for THE ART NEWSPAPER web edition, J. Paul Getty Museum director Timothy Potts reveals plans for the Getty Villa to redisplay its exhibits and expands its focus to include broader Mediterranean cultures formative to and related to ancient Greece and Rome including making new acquisitions. Visitors may need to wait up to one year before the physical changes begin. In this writer’s view, it is a sensible move and should make a visit to the Getty Villa, a pleasure at any time, all the more satisfying. Here is a link to the web article: A more complete version of the article is available in their print edition.

Temple of Portunas, Piazza della Bocca della Verita, Roman antiquities

The Aventine Hill: One of Rome’s Lesser Known Treasures

When in Rome, most visitors focus on major tourist itinerary monuments clustered in and around the Capitolium, Forum and Palatine. Yet many Roman neighborhoods are home to very important monuments of the ancient past and it can be well worth the effort to get off the beaten path to visit these. This writer’s favorite such neighborhood is the Aventine Hill, located along the eastern bank of the Tiber. It is the southernmost of Rome’s famed Seven Hills.
Compared to the frenzy and traffic found in much of the central City, the Aventine is a relative island of calm. Most of the area is residential, with several large green open spaces, and it is connected to the equally quiet Trastevere neighborhood across the Tiber by two bridges. Getting there is easy, with major transit stops at Circo Massimo and Bocca della Verita. Alternately, one may take a long leisurely stroll along the Tiber from central Rome, starting where the Ponte Fabricio connects to the Tiber Island.
Most of the neighborhood’s major monuments, and those with the most charm in this writer’s view, are to be found in a small area centered on the Piazza della Bocca della Verita. This Piazza is so named for the famous “Mouth of Truth” located inside the portico of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, which has foundations going back to the 6th Century. According to a many centuries old tradition, the visitor would insert their hand in the mouth and the mouth would snap shut if the visitor had told lies. The Mouth was made all the more famous by a scene in the 1953 film ‘Roman Holiday” with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. In fact, this huge white marble disc with the face of a river god may simply have been a large drain cover during the Roman imperial period.
ClioAncientArtBocca della Verita, Portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Roma

Bocca della Verita, Portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin

Just around the corner is the Arch of Janus. Dating from the first half of the fourth century, probably during the reign of Constantine the Great or one of his sons, the Arch today is almost completely stripped of its original decorative elements, giving it a strangely stark and modern look. It is an imposing structure, just the same.
Arch of Janus, Roman antiquities, Aventine Hill, ancient Romw

Arch of Janus

Alongside the Tiber, just a couple of hundred steps away from the Arch of Janus, shaded by umbrella pines, are the temples of the Forum Boarium. These two small temples are famed for both their remarkable state of preservation and for being almost unique in the repertoire of Roman architecture as survivors from the Roman Republic. Both buildings date from the 2nd Century BC. The more conventional of the two is the Temple of Portunus, dedicated to the god of rivers and ports, as there were once docks and related facilities here for the unloading of goods coming up the Tiber. Set on a high podium, the harmonious facade features simple lines and beautiful Ionic columns. The more unusual of the two, due to its circular format, may have been dedicated to Hercules and features elaborate Corinthian column capitals.
Temple of Portunas, Piazza della Bocca della Verita, Roman antiquities

Temple of Portunas, Piazza della Bocca della Verita

Temple of Portunas, Piazza della Bocca della Verita, Roman antiquities

Detail, Portico of the Temple of Portunas, Piazza della Bocca della Verita

Temple of Hercules, Piazza della Bocca della Verita, Rome

So-called Temple of Hercules, Piazza della Bocca della Verita

Among the many churches with ancient foundations in this area, one stands out – San Giorgio in Velabro. Dating mainly to the 7th Century and incorporating many ancient Roman columns, along with a Roman “mini-arch” of the Severan period, a charming 12th Century bell tower and 13th Century frescoes in the apse, the church also incorporates numerous inscribed ancient fragments in its portico and in the walls of the nave itself. This building is a sort of palimpset of Rome itself and is well worth a visit.
Late Roman Funerary Inscriptions, San Giorgio in Velabro, Roman antiquities

Late Roman Funerary Inscriptions Embedded in Walls of the Portico, San Giorgio in Velabro

While there is much more to see in this small area, one more spot at the southernmost end of the Aventine is also worth visiting. Very close to the Pirimide Metro station is the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius. This is actually a tomb constructed for a Roman official of the same name who died in 30 BC. This was the time when Egypt had come under Roman control with the death of Cleopatra VII and “Egyptomania” was all the rage in high end Roman artistic circles – some things never change! Unlike the true Egyptian pyramids of over 2,000 years earlier, this structure was built of concrete encased in white marble. In the late 3rd Century AD it was incorporated in the Roman defensive walls completed by Aurelian.
Pyramid of Gaius Cestius, Aurelian Walls, Porta San Paolo

Pyramid of Gaius Cestius on the Aurelian Walls at Porta San Paolo

Just across the street from the Pyramid – and watch out for the traffic here – there is an island of peace at the Protestant Cemetery, so called because during the many centuries of Papal rule non-Catholics could not be buried inside the walls of Rome, the same walls built by Aurelian. Here one finds the final resting place of many famous visitors to the Eternal City, including the great English romantic and poets and lovers of antiquity, Percy Shelley and John Keats.
This post is a slightly expanded version of a “Travelogue” from the Clio Ancient Art website
If you found this post useful or interesting, please let us know and we will post additional stories about travel to Rome and other ancient sites.