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.
Our object of the week is an unusual type of pottery oil lamp dating from the later years of the Roman Empire, not long before the full transition of the Empire’s eastern half to what we now call the Byzantine Empire. This general type of pottery lamp seems to have been manufactured at workshops in northern Syria, and possibly further south into what is now Lebanon, over a period of nearly 200 years. Our example seems to date to the earliest phase of production and features some quite unusual characteristics, outlined below.
The most obvious and uncommon aspect of this lamp is the long, pointed handle. Most late Roman and early Byzantine period lamps manufactured in the Near East feature short handles of spike or thumb shape. The long, rather delicate form of this lamp’s handle is both aesthetically pleasing and uncommon.
The other interesting aspect of this lamp is its combination of decorative elements. The raised pellets around the central fill hole were a common theme on this broad category of lamps over a long period. But the cross-like image in low relief at the rear of the lamp, and continuing upward onto the handle, is puzzling. At first glance, this appears to be a Patriarchal cross, a type featuring two cross bars over the central vertical bar. But this type of cross did not appear in any numbers until the 9th and 10th Centuries in the Byzantine Empire. An alternative explanation might be that this was an attempt to depict the so-called “Tau” cross, the simple T-shaped crosses on which criminals were sometimes executed in the Roman Empire. But the image is still vague. In our opinion, any attempt to assign this cross-like relief image to a specific type of Christian iconography is no more than guess work.
Just as baffling is the maker’s mark or decorative element on the lamp’s flat base, shown below. Connected to a stylized palm frond that runs the length of the nozzle’s underside is a radiating sixteen pointed element set inside concentric raised circles with simple hatching between them. At first glance, this starburst design looks for all the world like the Union Jack on flags from Great Britain. But closer inspection shows another set of eight spokes in much lower relief between the eight main spokes. Is this a maker’s mark or is it simply a pleasant design? And in either case, does it carry any early Christian symbolism, as it resembles both a cross and a Chi-Rho symbol or Christogram?
In view of the date at which this piece was made, around 400 AD, and the combination of decorative elements (a possible cross on the upper surface, a palm frond – an image re-purposed from Pagan antiquity – and the cross-like design on the base,) it seems most likely that this lamp was made for sale to Christian customers. However, it is worth noting that at least in the Levantine region, pottery lamp makers did not seem to favor a specific category of client. Whether Christian, Jewish, Samaritan or Pagan, lamp makers seem to have created products for all types of customers and with all types of imagery.
This lamp is available in our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Late-Roman-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-AD-400-Holy-Land-/132102302002?hash=item1ec1e92932:g:BMoAAOSwCGVX8ENH
and in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/292086487/late-roman-pottery-oil-lamp-ad-400-holy?ref=shop_home_active_11
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.
Roman provincial coinage is an area of study in which non-academics, especially avid collectors and dealers, can make real contributions to the study of the ancient Roman world. While many thousands of different provincial types or variants are known, new ones are still routinely being discovered.They offer a much wider range of imagery than the Roman Imperial issues, with reverses that touch upon religious, economic and social phenomenon, political events and foreign relations. The images used in this article are Roman provincial coins sold by Clio Ancient Art over the last several years.
The Roman provincial coin issues dating between the late 1st Century BC and the end of the 3rd Century AD were initially struck in both the western and eastern portions of the Empire, from points as distant from one another as Rhesaina in the province of Mesopotamia to Emerita Augusta near the Atlantic coast of Hispania. But by the end of the 1st Century AD, provincial coinage had become an exclusively eastern phenomenon, with coins being struck at mints in southeastern Europe, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria/Palestine and Egypt.
Most Roman provincial coins were issued in the name of individual cities or leagues of cities. A city could receive permission from the Roman Senate or the Emperor to issue coins, and these would mainly be used as small change, supplementing the official coinage of the Roman state apparatus struck at Rome and a few other Imperial mints. City coinages were nearly always bronze.
Other provincial coins were literally that: coins issued by a particular province, such as Syria or Egypt. These coins usually included silver issues of several values based on the Tetradrachm, as well as a range of bronze denominations. These currencies were intended to be sealed into their provinces, creating a closed economic system.
Egypt, Alexandria. Potin Tetradrachm of Diocletian, AD 284-305.
Victory (Nike) advancing right, holding wreath and palm branch. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.
Both Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria had continuous histories of coin production in both bronze and silver, lasting from the time of Augustus until AD 298. The later Egyptian teradrachms were struck in an alloy called Potin, comprised of bronze, tin and lead. This alloy patinates in very particular ways during burial in the ground, resulting in some especially beautiful surfaces on the coins.
Provincial coins are an endless source of information and enjoyment. Because most were struck in bronze, even large and very well preserved examples sell for very reasonable prices, especially when compared to Imperial bronze coins of similar size and quality.
To learn more about Roman provincial coins, we recommend the following –
- The Roman Provincial Coinage Initiative online. Organized through Oxford University, the site includes an excellent overview of Roman provincial coins and an extensive database with good, clear images (over 19,000!) and descriptions. http://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/intro/
- The Wildwinds ancient coin site online. Although Wildwinds combines Greek with Roman Provincial coins, they are easily distinguished through use of an alphabetical list of issuing authorities, a geographically ordered index and other tools for narrowing a search. http://wildwinds.com/coins/greece/i.html
As 2016 nears it’s end, we are proud to share with you that Clio Ancient Art facilitated gifts of ancient pottery oil lamps and vessels from one of our clients to 3 colleges and universities:
* University of Missouri at Kansas City Department of Classical Studies
* University of North Carolina at Wilmington Department of Art and Art History
* Cape Fear Community College Humanities and Fine Arts Department.
In each case the gift consisted of 100 pottery lamps and vessels, mainly from the Eastern Mediterranean, ranging in date from the Late Hellenistic through Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic periods. All were from a private collection assembled in the Middle East in the mid-1960s.
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 –
Recent news reports out of the City of Paphos, Cyprus describe a clash between the Mayor of Paphos on the one hand and the Cyprus antiquities department and its local Museum in Paphos on the other, with official pronouncements, competing press conferences and plenty of mudslinging. The Mayor indirectly accuses staff at the Museum and organized crime (directly) of being involved in trafficking antiquities and the Museum of not completing a long term project to catalog and digitize their collection of some 20,000 0bjects. In a surprising twist, the Museum staff and antiquities department head have denied there is any illicit trade in antiquities in the area, despite police evidence to the contrary. Something is fishy on the coast of Cyprus.
This row is in many respects a manifestation of long term problems in antiquities-rich nations involving how to store, record and care for countless archaeological and casual finds. Many Mediterranean nations have found themselves increasingly pressed to adequately store and preserve the wealth of archaeological materials excavated or accidentally unearthed in their territories. The situation has been described as “a crisis in curation” and a problem that “continues to be widespread and serious.” At the same time, local governments are eager to benefit financially from tourist revenue generated through the display of antiquities in Museums or in situ. An excellent paper on this issue is: Kersel, Morag M. “Storage Wars: Solving the Archaeological Curation Crisis?” Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies 3.1 (2015): 42-54.
Here are two articles on this ongoing clash, one from The Committee for Cultural Policy website: https://committeeforculturalpolicy.org/cyprus-mayor-accuses-museum-staff-of-stealing-antiquities/
The other from the “incyprus” news site: http://in-cyprus.com/fedonos-organised-crime-behind-antiquities-looting/
All links open in a new tab or window.
Roman chariot race mosaic revealed in Cyprus, best collection of pics and a video from the “incyprus” news site (opens in a new tab or page) – http://in-cyprus.com/unique-akaki-ancient-mosaic-revealed-pictures
There have been several exciting antiquities related developments in the news over the past month, particularly in the field of Roman archaeology. Here is a roundup of some we found especially interesting (links open in a new tab or window). –
* A great short video on one artifact from The British Museum’s multicultural Sicily exhibition – https://youtu.be/rLhfKLGEY2U
* Rare discovery of Late Roman official buried in Leicester –
* Roman Ceramic Factory Found in Israel – http://www.livescience.com/55523-roman-pottery-shop-israel-photos.html
* Bronze figure of Roman goddess unearthed at Arbeia
in South Shields – http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/bronze-figure-roman-goddess-unearthed-11673851
* August Blog update on excavations at Vindolanda Roman Fort – http://www.vindolanda.com/_blog/excavation
Clio’s featured object this week is a very small and inexpensive bronze coin dating from Late Antiquity; specifically the reign of Theodosius I (sometimes referred to as Theodosius the Great). The coin is in remarkably good condition with very clear imagery and text.
Before examining the context and significance of this coin, let’s review the details of the object itself. The obverse features a rather stylized pearl diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Theodosius facing right, with a fairly standard Latin inscription: DN THEODO-SIVS PF AV is an abbreviated form of “Our Lord Theodosius, the dutiful, the fortunate, Augustus.” The reverse features a winged figure of Victory advancing left, a military trophy over one shoulder, dragging a captive behind her, with another fairly standard late Roman Latin inscription: SALVS REI-PVBLICAE, roughly meaning “Health of the Republic.” In the left field is the early Christian symbol comprised of the Greek letters Chi and Rho, a monogram for Christ. A mintmark, beneath the ground line, shows the coin was struck at the Antioch mint. Antioch was capitol of the Roman province of Syria and is today in the territory of Turkey. The coin measures just 14 mm and weighs a mere 1.35 grams. Its pinkish color is sometimes referred to as a desert patina, indicating burial in dry soil with a high iron content.
The Emperor in whose name this coin was struck was certainly one of the most determined and forceful men of action in Roman history. He could be diplomatic and conciliatory one day, brutal and unforgiving the next. Theodosius came to power following the disastrous defeat of a large Roman field army at the hands of a combined force of Visigoths and Alans, in the Province of Thrace in 378 AD. The Emperor Valens, along with two thirds of his army, perished, leaving only Gratian ruling in the West. Needing a co-ruler, he selected an officer from the province of Iberia (Spain), Flavius Theodosius, to rule in the East and deal with the Goths who were now marauding virtually unchecked through the Balkans.
Once in power, Theodosius decisively defeated two usurpers in the west and, after a grinding four year war with the Goths and their allies, came to a peace agreement that allowed them to settle within the Empire, provided they served as military allies when called. But he is perhaps best known to history for having made the final break with Rome’s ancient “pagan” religious past. In 391 he issued an edict forbidding pagan worship and closing all pagan temples. The dynastic line he founded would come to an end about fifty years later, marking the final split between the rapidly dissolving Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, known to us today as the Byzantine Empire.
For an excellent study of this important Roman Emperor, as well as a thoughtful examination of the Battle of Hadrianopolis and its long term implications for the Western Roman Empire, we recommend the following work: Theodosius: The Empire at Bay by Gerard Friell and Stephen Williams, 1995, Yale University Press.
For those interested acquiring this coin, it may be found on our Etsy site, here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/265233500/roman-empire-bronze-ae-4-of-theodosius-i?ref=shop_home_active_16 and on our eBay site here: http://m.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Empire-Bronze-AE-4-of-Theodosius-I-AD-383-392-Extremely-Fine-/131843167047?nav=SELLING_ACTIVE