Update: Recent archaeology and antiquities related news

Below please find a selection of news items from the past few weeks dealing with archaeological discoveries and research, antiquities and ancient art that we felt to be of special interest. All links will open in a new tab or window. Enjoy –

collage art, Christof Maupin art, amphora

Articles of interest from our sister blog

As many of our regular readers know, I started a “sister blog” a few months ago, dealing with my exploration of the intersection of art from the past and art from the present, and specifically how this impacts my own work as an artist. As so much of my work is impacted by art from the distant past, I thought it worth sharing some of my posts from the other blog site. Comments welcome:

Some Thoughts on the Persistence of Classical Imagery

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/some-thoughts-on-the-persistence-of-classical-imagery/

A few thoughts on the art of printmaking, views of antiquity and modern prints

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/a-few-thoughts-on-the-art-of-printmaking-views-of-antiquity-and-modern-prints/

The art of enameling, ancient and modern

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/the-art-of-enameling-ancient-and-modern/

A case study in reinterpreting an old technique: English slip decorated earthenwares and modern counterparts (including my own)

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/a-case-study-in-reinterpreting-an-old-technique-english-slip-decorated-earthenwares-and-modern-counterparts-including-my-own/

Broken Things

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/broken-things/

 

This Week’s Featured Antiquity: A Roman Holy Land Pottery Oil Lamp

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.

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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?

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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

Roman Provincial Coinage: A Brief Review

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.

Roman provincial coins, Antioch coin, Philip II, ancient coins, Tyche

Syria, Antioch, Bronze 29 mm of Philip II, AD 247-249, with turreted, draped & veiled bust of Tyche right, leaping ram above, star below. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

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.

Roman coins, ancient coins, Augustus, antiquities

Bronze 24 mm coin of Julia Traducta in Spain, with head of Augustus. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

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.

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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.

Roman Syria, Roman Empire, Roman Coins, Ancient Coins

Syria, Antioch. Bronze 30 MM of Phillip I. 244-249 AD. Laureate and cuirassed bust of Phillip facing left holding spear and shield. 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.

Roman Provincial, Nicopolis, Roman coins, ancient coins, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

Moesia Inferior, Nicopolis Orichalcum 5 Assarion (28 mm) of Gordion III, AD 238-244 Reverse of Demeter standing, facing left, holding torch and ears of grain, VP CAB MODECTOV NIKOPOLEITWN PROC ICTR (in Greek). Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

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

Object of the Week: A Roman Glass Juglet Pendant

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.

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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

and our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Late-Roman-Glass-Juglet-Pendant-4th-Century-AD-/132009555359?hash=item1ebc61f59f:g:RsMAAOSwj85YMjZk

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

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

 

Object of the Week: A Superb Roman Bronze Brooch

One group of artifacts making up a large proportion of small bronze objects available on the legitimate antiquities market is the fibula or brooch —  an ornate pin, usually made of copper alloy but sometimes of precious metals or even iron, used to fasten and decorate clothing. Prior to the use of buttons becoming common with the introduction of new clothing types in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, fibulae made in their many thousands were an absolute necessity for many social classes, and both sexes, in Roman society.

Our “Object of the Week” this week is a small, inexpensive but finely crafted and well preserved Roman bronze fibula. This is a variant on”Kraftig-profilierte” type brooch, dating to the 1st Century AD. Despite measuring little more than one inch long, this lovely piece displays a great range of line and form in its cast bronze body.

Clio Antiquities

Fibulae already had a long history throughout what would become the Roman Empire. Many early Roman fibulae, including this week’s object, reflect prior local traditions and styles. While the great majority of Roman brooches were simple bronze sprung or hinged pins on a roughly bow shaped body with minimal cast, punched or filed decoration, some examples utilized more elaborate decorative techniques to enhance their otherwise simple form. A brooch’s owner might have an ordinary example enhanced to look “upmarket” with a layer of tin (to make it look like silver) or of silver or even gold or the addition of colored enamels or niello (black silver sulphide) in recessed areas. Fibula types evolved over time, of course, and varied greatly by region within the Roman Empire and beyond, meaning the range of types is truly enormous, including those dating from well before and well after the Roman period. The scope for collecting is great, particularly since the majority of types are quite affordable.

To purchase this item, click either of the URLs below –

https://www.etsy.com/listing/472315831/a-superb-roman-bronze-fibula-brooch?ref=shop_home_active_5

http://www.ebay.com/itm/A-Superb-Roman-Bronze-Fibula-Brooch-/131908457680?hash=item1eb65b54d0:g:i3YAAOSw6n5XsNPR

There are many excellent resources for this specific area of antiquities collecting available in print. Here a couple we recommend:

  • Justine Bayley & Sarnia Butcher, Roman Brooches in Britain: A Technological and Typological Study Based on the Richborough Collection, The Society of Antiquaries of London, 2004

and

  • Richard Hattatt, A Visual Catalogue of Richard Hattat’s Ancient Brooches, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2007

Clio Ancient Art

Antiquities News Update

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 –
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160707101031.html

* 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

A Large Late Roman Trail Decorated Barrel Shaped Glass Bead 4th-5th Century AD

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Our featured item of the week is a large and impressive example of a Late Roman to Early Byzantine barrel shaped glass bead, appearing black, decorated in both red and yellow trails. A set of four double trails of applied red divide the bead into a series of registers, each with a thick zig-zag trail of applied yellow. The surfaces are overall well preserved, with some surface weathering, particularly to the yellow trails; it is otherwise intact. This antiquity was formerly in a Canadian private collection.

The Roman glass industry was remarkably prolific and the remains of workshops or other tangible evidence of the industry’s presence have been found in every modern nation the Roman Empire once encompassed. Most Roman glass vessels are easy to categorize and date but glass beads can be more difficult. Glass beads, pendants and other small items seem to have been made by a separate set of craftsman operating in workshops distinct from those of glass blowers. Many bead types continued unchanged for centuries. This type of bead is typical of glass from the later Roman period and into the early Byzantine period, with a preference for very strong colors, and was widespread in Egypt, Israel / Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and beyond.

An excellent resource for readers with an interest in ancient glass beads is Maud Spaer, “Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects,” The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2001

Readers interested in purchasing this antiquity may find it on our eBay site here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/A-Large-Late-Roman-Trail-Decorated-Barrel-Shaped-Glass-Bead-4th-5th-Century-AD-/131894108807?hash=item1eb5806287:g:RwgAAOSwH3NXnPRG

And in our Etsy store here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/273956844/a-large-late-roman-trail-decorated?ref=shop_home_active_7

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