Object of the week: A large Roman knee brooch

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This week’s featured object highlights the nature of travel and mobility, as well as the adoption of regional clothing styles, in the Roman world. Among the countless varieties of Roman fibulae – brooches for securing clothing at the shoulders – there were some easily recognizable general categories, including plate brooches, bow brooches, disc brooches, etc. The earliest and by far the most common category of distinctly Roman brooches was the bow brooch. This simple clothespin-like form evolved into many shapes and styles, some of which were purely local. Our object for this week is a type of bow brooch that developed over time across a wide area, from the Roman Danube frontier in central Europe to England.

The earliest knee brooches, so named because of the dramatic bend in their bow, appear in the Roman province of Pannonia, what is today the Danube region of Hungary and Croatia, in the early 2nd Century AD. These have a very “industrial” feel, with strong, squared edges and right angles, with only simple geometric decoration either cast or incised just above the catch plate. Later, in the second half of the 2nd Century, these develop a semicircular head plate which is often decorated with rouletting along the edge. In the Danubian region finds of knee brooches seem to be exclusively associated with military contexts, such as the forts along the upper Danube.

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Upon arriving in Britain, presumably with military units reassigned from the Danube frontier, the knee brooch developed further. But instead of being found in strictly military contexts, Romano-British knee brooches, such as ours, are found as temple and shrine offerings, in civilian settings, and at military sites. Ours is very well preserved and shows the decorated semicircular head plate type in its fully developed form. The knee brooch continued as a common type in Roman Britain until about the beginning of the 4th Century, before being replaced by the crossbow type.

Readers interested in acquiring this object may find it on our Etsy site here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261523289/a-large-roman-bronze-knee-brooch-150-250?ref=shop_home_active_90

Or on our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/131920055095

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Our “Object of the Week” marks the transition from one era of Late Antiquity to another

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The simple pottery oil lamp illustrated above, while well preserved and displaying crisp molded decoration, may at first seem rather unremarkable. But a closer examination of its surface decoration, particularly the underside, and its form point to a specific period of cultural transition in the Levant (what is now Israel / Palestine, Lebanon and coastal Syria).

The lamp fits into a class that marks the transition from the predominantly Christian Byzantine Empire to the early days of the Islamic Empire under the first Caliphs. The Byzantine Levant had as its most important cities Damascus and Antioch in Syria and Jerusalem in Palestine. These territories had been Roman for four centuries before the last western Roman Emperor abdicated, leaving Constantinople as sole capitol of the Roman world. This split marks the transition to the Byzantine Empire. By the time Muslim armies invaded Syria and Palestine in the 630s AD, Byzantium had governed the region for another two hundred plus years. Exhausted by the endless struggles between Byzantium and the Sassanian Persian Empire over this region, neither of the great powers was prepared for the appearance of a new, fast moving foe out of the south. Damascus fell in 634 and Jerusalem in 637. After the conquest, the new Muslim government maintained the old Byzantine administrative system for a long while, and Greek remained the language of government for another fifty years. Conversion of the population to the new religion came slowly, and it was only after the Crusades of the late 11th to early 13th Centuries that the region became majority Muslim.

During the late 6th and early 7th Centuries, several types of pottery lamps in this region began to develop into the “slipper” shape of this lamp, a shape that would become typical of early Islamic pottery lamps. Well after the transition to the Islamic period, lamp makers seem to have made products for multiple types of clients, Muslim, Christian and Jewish. This lamp, which was almost certainly made shortly after the Muslim conquest, prominently displays on its underside two different Christian symbols. First, a large cross in relief at the rear, underneath the handle. Second, a large palm leaf running along the length of the underside from the base to just beneath the wick hole. The palm leaf had a long iconographic history in the ancient world and was easily adopted by early Christianity.

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Readers interested in acquiring this well preserved and iconographically important object may do so on our Etsy site here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/466182264/a-byzantine-period-holy-land-pottery-oil?ref=shop_home_active_1

or on our Facebook site here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/A-Byzantine-Period-Holy-Land-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-with-Cross-Circa-AD-650-700-/131943357728?hash=item1eb86fdd20:g:jLMAAOSwLnBX3toi

Clio Ancient Art Antiquities, Roman coins

This Week’s Featured Item: A Small Coin with a Big Story

This week’s featured object is a small bronze coin of the Roman Emperor Constantius II. That may not be a name that jumps out from the pages of history the way Roman Emperors like Augustus, Nero or Hadrian do but in his own way Constantius II was a remarkable ruler.

Born in what is now Serbia to Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, and the Empress Fausta, he was one of three sons, along with his brothers Constantine II and Constans. Constantine I elevated Constantius to the rank of Caesar in AD 324. While serving in this role Constantius fought against barbarian incursions along the Danube frontier and gained valuable experience that would serve him later.

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Upon the death of his father Constantine I, who by any measure was surely one of the most remarkable, energetic and dynamic figures in Roman history, the three sons met to divide the Roman domains among themselves as co-emperors. A purge had taken place upon Constantine’s death that included the murder of two male cousins whom Constantine had apparently intended to serve as co-rulers with his sons. Roman commentators place the blame for this purge squarely on Constantius but the bias in these sources makes this less than certain. Constantius’ share of the Empire included the Balkans and Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor (modern Turkey), while the European and North African provinces were governed by his brothers.

In the years that followed, Constantius demonstrated great vigor as both a military leader and an administrator. Clearly, the trust his late father Constantine had placed in him was justified. In addition to managing a long and bloody (though inconclusive) war against the resurgent Persian Empire in the east, he countered numerous barbarian thrusts into the west along the Rhine and Danube frontiers and put down multiple serious revolts led by usurper would-be emperors in Europe. At a time when the allegiance of the legions to the legitimate Emperor or a usurper was never a sure thing, the reverse legend on this coin – GLORIA EXERCITUS or Glory of the Army — conveyed the image of loyalty and stability. The mint mark visible on the bottom, reading SMANAI, refers to Antioch, then in the province of Syria (now in modern Turkey), where Constantius spent considerable time during his campaigns against the Persians.

Clio Ancient Art Antiquities, Roman coins

Bronze coin of Constantius II struck at Antioch

Constantius ruled as sole legitimate Emperor from AD 353 until his death in 361 but in total, from his elevation to the rank of Caesar in 324, he ruled for 29 years, making him one of the longest reigning Roman Emperors. He reigned in a troubled period of Roman history, one in which lesser men might have floundered. Whatever his shortcomings, he did hold the Empire together against many threats both internal and external. This tiny coin, worth very little in its day and still quite inexpensive today, as these were made in their countless thousands by the Imperial mints and a great many survive in excellent condition, tells part of that story.

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Marble portrait of Constantius II excavated in Syria and now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology

For those interested in acquiring this objects it may be found in our Etsy store here –

https://www.etsy.com/listing/478001671/roman-empire-constantius-ii-ad-337-361?ref=shop_home_active_1

And our eBay store here –

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Empire-Constantius-II-Bronze-AE-3-of-Antioch-/131935182141?hash=item1eb7f31d3d:g:XagAAOSwFe5X1H1d