I attended a lovely reception last night (April 20) at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Randall Library for the opening of “Illumination,” a one month show focusing on research conducted by UNCW Art History students, under the guidance of Professor Nick Hudson, on a group of 100 ancient oil lamps and pottery vessels from the Levant. The lamps and vessels were a gift I arranged for one of my long term clients to make, and I worked closely with Prof. Hudson on completing this gift. The show continues through May 30 and is well worth a visit if you are in Wilmington. Here are a few images.
We’ve added a few nice Roman Imperial and Roman Provincial coins to our Etsy store. Here are images and links (links open in a new window or tab):
Roman Empire, Bronze Follis of Diocletian, AD 284-305, Treveri Mint, 29 mm. Link: https://www.etsy.com/listing/500901108/roman-empire-bronze-follis-of-diocletian?ref=shop_home_active_4
Roman Provincial Coinage, Pisidia, Antioch, Phillip the Arab, AD 244-249, Bronze 25 mm. Link: https://www.etsy.com/listing/514393637/roman-provincial-coinage-pisidia-antioch?ref=shop_home_active_3
Roman Empire, Silvered Antoninianus of Probus, AD 276-282, Kyzikos Mint. Link: https://www.etsy.com/listing/501122128/roman-empire-silvered-antoninianus-of?ref=shop_home_active_2
Roman Empire, Silvered Bronze Follis of Licinius II, AD 316-324, Nicomedia Mint. Link: https://www.etsy.com/listing/514617937/roman-empire-silvered-bronze-follis-of?ref=shop_home_active_1
Of course, we currently have many more ancient Roman, Greek and Byzantine coins available in our Etsy shop. Thanks for looking.
As an artist myself (yes, I have come to accept, to my own astonishment, that in addition to being an antiquities dealer / antiquarian / art historian, I am, at last, an artist) I often find myself influenced, even if sometimes subliminally, by the ancient and medieval art and artifacts I handle every day (see a few images related to this below). So when I saw a newly released YouTube video from The British Museum, in which they collaborated with both Turner Contemporary (one of the UK’s leading art galleries, situated on Margate seafront, on the same site as the boarding house where the great painter J. M. W. Turner stayed when visiting the town), I was ecstatic.
The British Museum and Turner Contemporary commissioned UK artist Hannah Lees to respond to a group of Roman Samian Ware bowls, part of the BM’s collections, that had been washed ashore from a Roman shipwreck quite near Margate. The result was a thoughtful collaboration between modern art and the art of antiquity, though it is worth noting that the Samian Ware bowls in question would not have been considered “art” in their own time, simply practical objects; that is, craft. This type of collaboration, when properly executed, can offer modern viewers a new level of insight into the art and artifacts of the ancient past. Some younger or more aesthetically extreme viewers might see the ancient objects as mere “dead people’s art,” while some more narrow minded viewers of any age might see the modern response to the artifacts as fluff or not even art at all. Well, where art is concerned one cannot please everyone. But collaborations of this sort are valuable and I wish they would become more common.
Here’s an image of a Roman Samian Ware bowl gifted by Clio Ancient Art to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, CA a few years ago, similar to those involved in this project:
Here is a piece I created last year that responds to both Medieval English tiles (a favorite topic) and Islamic “calligrams”- figurative calligraphy.
This is an example of a group of 13th Century English floor tiles at Exeter Cathedral.
And here is a 17th Century Persian calligram, with the “Bismillah” phrase in the form of a bird.
Here is an enameled copper pendant I made, responding to an ancient Egyptian faience flat amulet of the god Hapy, one of the four sons of Horus and god of the inundation – the annual flooding of the Nile. Flat amulets of this sort were often sewn into the wrappings of mummies, particularly from the New Kingdom period onward.
And here is an original example of a flat faience amulet of Hapy, dating to the 22nd Dynasty.
Of course, I could go on with many more examples. But the key point here is that modern and ancient art share a great deal in common, at the most basic levels. If we stop to self-examine our response to one, we may gain valuable insights into the other. That is what made the British Museum’s collaborative project so important and, I think, groundbreaking. Here is the link to their YouTube video on this project:
Here is a link to artist Hannah Lees’ website, with examples of her work, including more detailed views of what she created for this project:
Lastly, here is a link to my own art, available on my personal (not Clio’s) Etsy shop:
Clio Ancient Art sells books on Amazon, including antiquities sale catalogs, research publications and popular works. Many excellent and hard to find titles have been added for the new year.
Find us on Amazon at: www.amazon.com/shops/ClioAncientArt
We’ve prepared a brief video on our Instagram account explaining the reasons why there is so much variation in price among different types of ancient pottery oil lamps. We hope you’ll find it useful.
Clio Ancient Art is now on Instagram! We’ll be posting featured antiquities, artifacts, ancient coins and related items, along with images from our photo archive that help place those objects in context. Follow us here – https://www.instagram.com/clioancientantiquities/
This week’s featured antiquity is a remarkable late Roman glass pendant in the shape of a vase or juglet. It belongs to a class of decorative pendants and related objects that first appear in the Eastern Mediterranean in the mid-Third Century AD and evolve into a variety of types and forms into the Fifth Century AD.
Dating to the Fourth Century AD, this example measures just over one inch in height. It is an especially uncommon form of glass pendant featuring two handles. One handle is broken away in this example but the connection points are visible. In addition, this piece is shaped like a slender glass vessel rather than the more typically jug form. The body of this object is formed of a very dark brown or purple glass, appearing black, with a fine applied rim trail of light brown. The surviving handle appears to be formed of the same color glass as the body. A disc base has been separately applied. Incorporated into the body are slices from at least four glass beads or canes, including two eye beads in red and yellow and two composite slices featuring canes of alternating colors.
Objects of this type were made not be glass blowers but by bead makers. In fact, if one were to remove the small handle and open the foot of this object it would become a bead. The strong dark colors are typical of the revival of that palette among Roman glass makers beginning in the mid to late Third Century, as seen on both glass beads and glass vessels in the late Roman world.
While it has been suggested that this type of glass pendant may have had a Christian religious significance, there is no real evidence one way or the other. Another theory is that these were miniature scent bottles worn on the body. While finds of these objects seem to be concentrated in the Levantine region, with another substantial grouping in Egypt, suggesting they may have been manufactured in both locations, examples have been found in Southern and Central Europe and in Rome itself.
An excellent reference on this class of objects is Maud Spaer, “Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects” catalog #s 343-354 for several similar examples, and pages 170-173 for a detailed description of the general type.
Readers interested in acquiring this item may find it in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/479831410/late-roman-glass-juglet-pendant-4th?ref=shop_home_active_1
This week’s featured object is a lovely marbled glass bottle sometimes referred to as an unguentarium, from “unguent” meaning a salve or ointment, though in the Roman world this would most commonly have been a scented oil either for personal use or for funerary rites. Reassembled from a few large fragments, like most of its kind, it is complete, measuring 10.2 cm (4 inches) in height, and dates to the early 1st Century AD.
The development of glass blowing made glass a common and affordable commodity rather then the preserve of the wealthy. As a result, blown glass unguentaria have survived in countless forms. The Corning Museum of Glass’ printed and online catalogs of unguentaria list dozens of distinct variations, though the great majority of these appear in plain, transparent, uncolored or naturally pale blue-green colored glass. What sets this glass vessel apart from others is its distinctive marbled glass. In this case, the semi-opaque glass is yellow and white, the white having been derived from antimony and the yellow from antimony and lead.
Throughout the Roman Republic and into the Augustan era Roman glass was still dominated by Hellenistic glass making techniques, focusing on opaque colored glass and utilizing time consuming and expensive techniques such as core forming, casting and slumping. The object featured in this article marks a moment of transition, with the introduction of glass blowing and a new preference for colorless transparent glass, and away from the older Hellenistic approach. It combines the new glass blowing technique with a lingering preference for colored glass. This combination allows the object to be dated to a narrow range of a few decades, from about AD 20-60.
To acquire this fine ancient Roman marbled glass vessel, visit it on Clio’s Etsy shop here –
or Clio’s eBay store here –
If you are thinking ahead to gift giving for the holidays, why not consider a unique ancient oil lamp from our selection. We currently have 25 ancient lamps available, ranging from the Greek Hellenistic period through the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire and early Islamic periods. Many of our ancient lamps come from the Holy Land, sacred to all three ancient western faiths, with many dating to the early years of Christianity. Others, with their fine ceramic bodies, decorated discus and red slip, date to the high point of the Roman Empire and evoke images of the splendor of ancient Rome. Prices range from as little as $60 up to about $400. You may find them here on our Etsy page – Clio Ancient Art: Ancient Oil Lamps
We currently have 108 items on our Etsy site, including ancient glass, pottery, metalwork and other materials, spanning many centuries, from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Near East and more. Find them all here – Clio Ancient Art on Etsy
Two news items appeared in the popular press during the second half of September, 2016 that addressed recent discoveries of possible East Asian migrants in a Roman period cemetery in London and Late Roman coins found in excavations of a Medieval castle on the Japanese island of Okinawa. While some aspects of the initial excavation reporting was misinterpreted in the popular press, these discoveries do fit into a larger pattern of exchange between the Mediterranean world and the Far East, including not only China but also Vietnam, Korea and Japan. In this brief article, I’d like to examine some of the inaccuracies in the recent news reporting and explore the implications of this surprisingly widespread pattern of exchange spanning distances of as much as 6,000 miles.
News outlets ran stories beginning on September 23 that attempted to summarize the results of a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, in which the authors had raised the possibility, based on a small sample of Roman period skeletons excavated in London (Roman Londinium), that a couple of the bodies might have had a far eastern origin. Unfortunately, popular reporting of scientific papers, and especially the often sensationalist headlines that result, tends to be misleading. Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove promptly wrote an article for Forbes magazine in which she pointed out the limitations of the initial study and the ways in which the results had been misinterpreted. In her view, put simply, while contact between ancient China and the Mediterranean world certainly did occur, in the form of trade and even diplomatic missions, and that with further study it was quite possible that human remains from the Mediterranean might be found in east Asia and visa-versa, the rush to assume that limited evidence might suggest a Chinese origin for two skeletons in a small sample from Roman London was premature.
A few days later, a flurry of news stories appeared covering the finding of a small number of Roman bronze coins of the Constantinian Dynasty during excavations at the medieval Katsuren Castle on the Island of Okinawa. Initial reports in the Japan Times online and other news outlets showed images of a 17th Century Ottoman coin also found at the site, with a caption indicating it was Roman (see image below). The Japan Times corrected this error the next day with an updated photo and caption. But the initial error underscores the need for popular news outlets reporting on archaeological or other science stories to fully understand their material before publication, something that rarely occurs.
The find on Okinawa is puzzling, given the difference in age between the coins themselves and the period in which the Castle was flourishing, a span of nearly a thousand years. A few possibilities present themselves: That the Castle has a much earlier origin than previously supposed and the coins have somehow been moved by burrowing animals out of their original context in earlier layers, to be found in the Medieval layers being excavated now. That the coins had been kept in the castle for centuries as exotic curiosities. That the coins had slowly traveled eastward over a period of centuries (less likely). That the coins had been part of the cargo of a ship wrecked on the Island’s coast and found by locals centuries later during a low tide or after a storm dislodged them from the buried wreckage. Perhaps future seasons of excavation at the Castle site will offer clues.
While the Okinawa find is unusual in that the Roman coins are so much earlier than the strata in which they were found, artifacts from the ancient Mediterranean world, from the later Hellenistic Period on through the Roman and Byzantine, are surprisingly common finds in east Asian contexts. The Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and China were not unknown to the later Hellenistic kingdoms or the Roman Empire. One literary source illustrates this in detail, while still leaving tantalizing questions. This is the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a trade and maritime navigation manual probably written in the mid-1st Century AD by an unknown author, and surviving as a 10th Century Byzantine copy. The Erythraean Sea encompassed, to the ancient Greek speaking world, what we now know as the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The work is so detailed that the trade routes and ports mentioned must have already been well known and frequently visited by the time the manuscript was written. It includes clear references to the Himyarite and Sabaean Kingdoms in southern Arabia, the ports of Bharuch in Northwest India and Kochi in Southwest India, and after rounding the tip of India, other ports that may be associated with the Ganges River Delta and beyond in what is now Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma). These most distant locales are more difficult to pinpoint on a modern map due to their ancient place names being so obscure.
Of course, sea routes were not the only method of contact between these widely separated cultures. The famed Silk Route, which was actually a network of many routes through Central Asia, connected the Roman Empire with the Chinese Han Empire (205 BC – 220 AD). The vast Roman output of gold coinage through Indian intermediaries for Chinese silks and Indian and Southeast Asian spices is proof of the frequency and volume of this two way trade. Many hoards of Roman gold coins have been found in southern India. But perhaps the most spectacular evidence of the reciprocal nature of trade along this land route is the Begram Treasure from Afghanistan, found in a Kushan royal storehouse at the Begram site. Begram had been the capital of one of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdoms. By the time the treasures found in this warehouse were deposited, the site had become capital of the Kushan Empire. Found there were classical bronzes and Romano-Egyptian painted glass vessels, probably made in Alexandria in the first decades after Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, alongside Han Chinese lacquer boxes and ivory carvings from India.
Finds of Roman antiquities still much farther east are surprisingly common. Han Dynasty Chinese tombs have turned up many examples of Roman gold, silver, bronze and glass artifacts. A particularly striking example, pictured below, is a large 2nd or early 3rd Century Roman gilt silver plate featuring a central image of Dionysus and his associated animal, a panther. This example was found by chance during construction work in Gansu Province, China.
The diffusion of blown and cast glass across what is now southern Russia and Northern China , which was highly valued by the semi-nomadic cultures of the Central Asian steppe and by far eastern cultures that had not yet adopted glass blowing, helps explain the presence of Roman glass vessels in the Silla Dynasty royal tombs of Korea. Excavated in the early 1970s, Silla royal tomb number 98 held the remains of King Nae-Mool and his Queen. The Silla Kingdom was focused on the Southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula yet the tomb goods originated in the Roman and Sassanian Empires and parts of Central Asia. Among these was a glass ewer and several glass cups, all of typically Late Roman type. Their rarity and value to the Silla royalty may be judged by the fact that the damaged handle on the ewer, pictured below, had been repaired using gold wire. This finding was not unique. Several other examples of Roman and Sassanian glass, including an early Roman Millefiori glass cup now in the National Museum of Korea, have been found in Gyeongju tombs.
This article began with a report on Roman coins found on Okinawa and we end it with impressive finds of Roman period glass in Japan. Having spanned the entire Asian Continent with a breadcrumb trail of Roman and related antiquities, the journey ends facing the Pacific Ocean. In 2012, researchers excavating a 5th Century tomb near Kyoto found three Roman glass beads among the burial accessories. Chemical analysis confirmed their origin as Roman, with traces of natron in their makeup. More spectacularly, in November, 2014, Japanese archaeologists announced the recover of two ancient glass vessels, essentially intact, from a high status 5th Century tomb in Nara Prefecture. Chemical and stylistic analysis made clear that the elegant blue glass dish was from the Roman Empire, while the painted glass bowl originated in the Sassanian Empire, Rome’s great rival. Unlike the puzzling coin find on Okinawa, these objects seem to have been interred with their owner’s remains within decades of their manufacture. At the time, Japanese glass making technology was limited to small, opaque, bean shaped glass beads, so large colored and clear glass vessels of this type would have been highly prized, just as they were in China and Korea.
No doubt, rapid improvement in bioarchaeological techniques will soon permit the identification of human remains in seemingly unlikely places, such as the possible Asian remains in Roman London. Combined with continuing finds of material culture such as those listed here, it may be possible in the future to dispel the old notions of a lack of mobility and communications in the ancient world.
Apart from the news stories mentioned here, which are easily found via web search, here are links to Kristine Killgrove’s thoughtful, cautionary article in Forbes – http://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2016/09/23/chinese-skeletons-in-roman-britain-not-so-fast/#1c9329b9ef9b
And to the Roman glass vessels in the National Museum of Korea – https://www.museum.go.kr/site/eng/relic/search/view?relicId=4452