Category Archive 'Classical Antiquity'
20 May 2015
Antoninus Pius AE32 Orichalcum Sestertius, 138-161 A.D.
Gleaming cast metal called orichalcum, which was said by Ancient Greeks to be found in Atlantis, has been recovered from a ship that sunk 2,600 years ago off the coast of Sicily.
The lumps of metal were arriving to Gela in southern Sicily, possibly coming from Greece or Asia Minor. The ship that was carrying them was likely caught in a storm and sunk just when it was about to enter the port.
“The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century,” Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office, told Discovery News. “It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela’s coast at a depth of 10 feet.”
He noted that the 39 ingots found on the sandy sea floor represent a unique finding.
“Nothing similar has ever been found,” Tusa said. “We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects.”
Indeed orichalcum has long been considered a mysterious metal, its composition and origin widely debated.
According to the ancient Greeks, it was invented by Cadmus, a Greek-Phoenician mythological character. The fourth century B.C. Greek philosopher Plato made orichalcum a legendary metal when he mentioned it in the Critias dialogue.
Describing Atlantis as flashing “with the red light of orichalcum,” he wrote that the metal, second only in value to gold, was mined in the mythical island and was used to cover Poseidon’s temple interior walls, columns and floors.
Today most scholars agree orichalcum is a brass-like alloy, which was made in antiquity by cementation. This process was achieved with the reaction of zinc ore, charcoal and copper metal in a crucible.
Analyzed with X-ray fluorescence by Dario Panetta, of TQ – Tecnologies for Quality, the 39 ingots turned to be an alloy made with 75-80 percent copper, 15-20 percent zinc and small percentages of nickel, lead and iron.
Via Fred Lapides.
14 May 2015
Bronze handle attachment in the form of a mask
Period: Late Hellenistic or Early Imperial
Date: 1st century B.Câ€“1st century A.D.
Culture: Greek or Roman
Dimensions: H. 10 in. (25.4 cm)
Credit Line: Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971
Accession Number: 1972.118.98
Despite all the change and innovation in Hellenistic iconography, there was also continuity. The three masks in this case demonstrate the tendency to perpetuate, if not to revive, styles going back to the Classical and even to the Archaic period, a tendency that gained impetus from the second century B.C. on, as Greek artists were being called upon to cater to the demands of the Roman art market.
Images related to Dionysos, Greek god of intoxication and ecstasy, were well suited to the luxurious and hedonistic life that wealthy Romans led in their villas. These handle attachments were for wine buckets. The wreath of ivy leaves and the fillet crossing the forehead are associated exclusively with the god of wine and his followers. The mask brings to mind Archaic images of Dionysos, who until the fifth century B.C. was always shown with long hair and a beard. But the pointed, equine ears on these masks mark them as representations of satyrs or silenoi, the quasi-human woodland creatures in the rowdy entourage of the god.
Metropolitan Museum via Belacqui.
21 Jan 2015
The only library surviving from Classical Antiquity is that found in the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, thought to have belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus.
1,785 papyrus scrolls were found, packed carefully in cases and ready to be moved to safety, which were nonetheless overtaken by a 1,000 Â°C (1,830 Â°F) cloud of hot gas and rocks emanating from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The scrolls were charred black, but preserved under 20-25 meters (22-27 yards) of hardened volcanic ash.
New techniques apparently are beginning to permit scholars to read the scrolls.
io9 quotes a recently published paper in Nature Communications:
In recent years, new imaging techniques have been developed to read the texts without unwrapping the rolls. Until now, specialists have been unable to view the carbon-based ink of these papyri, even when they could penetrate the different layers of their spiral structure. Here for the first time, we show that X-ray phase-contrast tomography can reveal various letters hidden inside the precious papyri without unrolling them. This attempt opens up new opportunities to read many Herculaneum papyri, which are still rolled up, thus enhancing our knowledge of ancient Greek literature and philosophy.
Smithsonian reports what has been discovered so far, no lost plays of Sophocles or Aeschylus, no poems of Sappho, no treatises of Plato or Dialogues of Aristotles, instead they’ve found lots of Philodemus.
Most of the scrolls that have been unwrapped so far are Epicurean philosophical texts written by Philodemusâ€”prose and poetry that had been lost to modern scholars until the library was found. Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who developed a school of thought in the third century B.C. that promoted pleasure as the main goal of life, but in the form of living modestly, foregoing fear of the afterlife and learning about the natural world. Born in the first century B.C. in what is now Jordan, Philodemus studied at the Epicurean school in Athens and became a prominent teacher and interpreter of the philosopher’s ideas.
Modern scholars debate whether the scrolls were part of Philodemus’ personal collection dating to his time period, or whether they were mostly copies made in the first century A.D. Figuring out their exact origins will be no small featâ€”in addition to the volcano, mechanical or chemical techniques for opening the scrolls did their share of damage, sometimes breaking the delicate objects into fragments or destroying them outright.
12 Feb 2014
It seems that, either on land in Gaza or under the sea nearby, last summer, some ignorant and greedy barbarians came into possession of an unusually intact and highly artistically significant Hellenistic bronze statue of Apollo. Reports differ, but apparently the priceless statue was briefly being offered on Ebay for $500,000, probably only a fraction of its actual value. Its finder, we are told, chopped off a few fingers for testing, thinking that the statue might be gold. Police representing the Palestinian authority, Hamas, subsequently seized the statue, and it has disappeared.
We can only hope that the nearby civilized state of Israel will take steps to secure possession of this important art object on behalf of the rest of the nations of the West.
Businessweek, January 30th: The Apollo of Gaza: Hamas’s Ancient Bronze Statue
The Guardian, February 10th: ‘Priceless’ bronze statue of Greek god Apollo found in Gaza Strip — Hamas officials seize statue after it appears on eBay — Doubt cast on fisherman’s claim to have found item in sea
Businessweek, February 10th: New Details Emerge in Mystery of Bronze Apollo Held by Hamas
The Verge, February 11th: Ancient statue of Greek god Apollo discovered in Gaza strip
Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.
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