The Polyxena Sarcophagus, discovered during a rescue excavation in 1994 at the Kızöldün tumulus, Gümüşçay district near Biga, Çanakkale province. 

Ionian Late Archaic, ca. 520-500 BCE, Proconnesian marble. This sarcophagus contained the skeleton of an adult male, and is the earliest stone sarcophagus with figures to be found in Anatolia. These figures are carved onto all four sides, and the lid is carved to resemble a pitched roof.

On the front, the Greeks sacrifice Polyxena at the tomb of Achilles. The girl twists and screams as the soldiers hold her still; Trojan women tear their hair and rend their garments.

Where the modern eye might focus on the tragedy of a young girl’s murder, in its original context the bloodthirsty ghost of the hero is at least as important. It follows that what might appear to us as an image of unmatched brutality could, to Greek eyes, have seemed more like a case of extreme piety.

-Richard Neer in Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice: Ancient Victims, Modern Observers (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Artefact courtesy of & currently located at the Çanakkale Museum, Turkey. Photos taken by Dan Diffendale.

semiticmuseum:

Record shots of a reportedly cursed scarab donated to the Semitic Museum in 1952.  The scarab was mounted on a silver ring earlier in the twentieth century, after which it is said to have wreaked substantial havoc on the Arizonan family that owned it.  Ultimately, they saw no solution other than putting some considerable distance between themselves and the artifact.

In the second picture, carved hieroglyphics are visible on the back of the scarab.  These symbols indicate that the artifact was originally used as a stamp seal; its original owner would press this object into a substance like soft clay or wax to sign his or her name.  These days, an artifact like this is likely to stay in Egypt after being excavated, but legislation governing the sale of antiquities was much more lax in the early- to mid-twentieth century.  Non-Egyptians who subscribed to Orientalizing trends would sometimes collect funerary artifacts and use them in ways their original owners never intended — hence, the problematic mounting of this ancient stamp seal on a modern ring.

Similar scarabs are on view in our Egypt: Magic and the Afterlife exhibit, though experts consider those artifacts far less hazardous to our visitors’ health.

romkids:

The Ishtar Gate And The Animals It Holds

The Ishtar Gate is a part of the fortified walls that surrounded the ancient city of Babylon. The Ishtar Gate was actually the eighth and final gate into the city and served as the city’s main entrance. Pictured is a reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate from Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. They were built by King Nebuchadnezzar in 575 BCE as part of his plan to beautify his capital city. Just like any modern-day city beautification project, the Ishtar Gate was just a part of a series of construction projects that included restoration to the Temple of Marduk and the world famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The Gate stood as high as 11.5 metres in some places and was decorated all over with glazed brick tile reliefs. The mosaics that these bricks formed depicted creatures of importance to the Mesopotamian world, whether these animals were real or mythical.

Lion

The ‘striding lion’ wall relief in the ROM’s collection is just one example of the many animal mosaics that decorated this palace. On display in the ROM’s Mesopotamia Exhibition, this panel was just one of many that covered the walls of the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way. The lion was of particular importance since it was the animal commonly associated with Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war.

Aurochs

Another animal that graced the walls of the Ishtar Gate was the aurochs. This is a now-extinct type of large cattle that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa. As with the lion, the aurochs had an association with a god that made it especially significant to the Mesopotamian world. The aurochs was commonly associated with Adad, the Mesopotamian god of weather and storms, who was commonly seen riding atop a bull.

Sirrush

The third and final creature that could be found on the Ishtar Gate was the mušḫuššu (also known as sirrusu or sirrush), an animal out of Mesopotamian mythology. Just as with creatures like the gryphon or the sphinx, the sirrush was a combination of many different features rolled into one animal. It combined the scaly body of a dragon with feline front paws and eagle’s talons for hind legs. As if this wasn’t intimidating enough, the creature also had a snake’s tongue as well as a horn and crest atop its head.

Interestingly enough, when the sirrush was first seen on the Ishtar Gate in 1902 by German archaeologist Robert Koldewey, he believed it to be the portrayal of a once-real animal. This was due in part to the fact that the depiction of this creature remained consistent throughout many years of Mesopotamian art but more importantly because the sirrush was depicted alongside the aurochs and lions, two existing animals. While it was eventually correctly identified as a mythological creature, it serves as an interesting case of cryptozoological speculation. 

The Processional Way

Through the actual Ishtar Gate was the Processional Way, which was a vast corridor stretching roughly 800 metres long and walls about 15 metres high. The walls of the Processional Way were similarly adorned with glazed tile reliefs of lions, flowers and other decorative elements.

In Dedication

On the Ishtar Gate, there was a dedication plaque attributed to King Nebuchadnezzar II outlining the reasons why he built it:

Both gate entrances of Imgur-Ellil and Nemetti-Ellil following the filling of the street from Babylon had become increasingly lower.

Therefore, I pulled down these gates and laid their foundations at the water table with asphalt and bricks and had them made of bricks with blue stone on which wonderful bulls and dragons were depicted.

I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars length-wise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings.

I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder

I let the temple of Esiskursiskur (the highest festival house of Marduk, the Lord of the Gods a place of joy and celebration for the major and minor gods) be built firm like a mountain in the precinct of Babylon of asphalt and fired bricks.

A Wonder Of The World

One of the coolest things I learned in reading about the Ishtar Gate is that when it was first built, it made the original list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. While it was later bumped from its spot by the Lighthouse of Alexandria, it was still recognized as one of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring objects in the world at its time. After the gates were replaced on the list by the Lighthouse of Alexandria, there were still some figures (notably Callimachus of Cyrene and Antipater of Sidon) who felt the Ishtar Gate deserved the recognition which had been taken away.

I just find it fascinating that thousands of years ago, in a time before social media and award shows, there were still people arguing over top 10 lists.

More information

Image credits

  1. Marco Marini, “Door n. 2” March 17, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
  2. JoeLosFeliz, “Ishtar Gate (detail)” April 29, 2013 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
  3. Badly Drawn DadAurochs” via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.
  4. Allie Caulfield, “Berlin 313 Pergamon Museum, Ischtar Tor, Detail” October 14, 2012 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Post by Chris Miller, ROMKids Studio Assistant. Last updated: September 27, 2013.

Mosaic within the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, Tabgha, Israel.
Tabgha is where Jesus is said to have miraculously multiplied the loaves and fish to feed the crowd of five thousand. Accordingly, this mosaic at the site shown above presents two fish and a basket full of bread. This event is written about in Matthew 14:13-21:
[…] As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Photo taken by Caleb Zahnd.

Mosaic within the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, Tabgha, Israel.

Tabgha is where Jesus is said to have miraculously multiplied the loaves and fish to feed the crowd of five thousand. Accordingly, this mosaic at the site shown above presents two fish and a basket full of bread. This event is written about in Matthew 14:13-21:

[…] As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Photo taken by Caleb Zahnd.

Shabti box of Paramnekhu with shabtis, ca. 1279–1213 B.C., from the Tomb of Sennedjem

Essential items of funerary equipment from the New Kingdom on, shabti figures, of which there could be from 1 to over 400 examples in a single tomb, were meant to substitute for the deceased whenever he or she was called upon to perform manual labor in the afterlife. One example here is inscribed with a version of Spell 6 from the Book of Coming Forth by Day (better known as the Book of the Dead):
“O, shabti… if I be summoned…to do any work which has to be done in the realm of the dead…you shall act for me on every occasion of making arable the fields, of flooding the banks, or of conveying sand from east to west: ‘Here I am,’ you will say." (after Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead). The others bear the name of the deceased with whom they were associated. (MET)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 86.1.14-group.

Shabti box of Paramnekhu with shabtis, ca. 1279–1213 B.C., from the Tomb of Sennedjem

Essential items of funerary equipment from the New Kingdom on, shabti figures, of which there could be from 1 to over 400 examples in a single tomb, were meant to substitute for the deceased whenever he or she was called upon to perform manual labor in the afterlife. One example here is inscribed with a version of Spell 6 from the Book of Coming Forth by Day (better known as the Book of the Dead):

O, shabti… if I be summoned…to do any work which has to be done in the realm of the dead…you shall act for me on every occasion of making arable the fields, of flooding the banks, or of conveying sand from east to west: ‘Here I am,’ you will say." (after Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead). The others bear the name of the deceased with whom they were associated. (MET)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 86.1.14-group.

Aboriginal rock art of the Algaihgo Fire Woman at the Kakadu National Park, NT, Australia.

Notice her four arms, and the banksias (a native Australian plant) attached to her head.

The Australian National Parks & Wildlife Service provide the following description of the image depicted on a sign near the site:

Algaihgo (pronounced Al-guy-go), the fire woman, is one of the First People or Nayuhunggi who created the world. She planted the yellow banksias in the woodlands and used their smouldering flowers to carry fire.

Stories about Algaihgo tell how she hunted rock possum, her favourite food, with the help of the dingoes which travelled with her.

People are afraid of Algaihgo because she kills and burns people, and avoid her Djang (sacred site) on the Arnhem Land Plateau where her spirit lives.

Photos taken by Hansjoerg Morandell.

Rhyton terminating in the forepart of a wild cat. Parthian, ca. 1st century B.C.

Elaborate bowls, animal-headed drinking vessels, and rhytons—vessels which have a hole at the front from which liquid flows—were highly valued in ancient Near Eastern society. During the pre-Achaemenid, Achaemenid, and Parthian periods, examples made of silver, gold, and clay were used throughout a vast area extending both to the east and west of Iran. The animals on these vessels included the ram, horse, bull, ibex, supernatural creatures, and female divinities; some were engraved with royal inscriptions. Rhytons made of precious materials were probably luxury wares used at royal courts. Both the rhyton and the animal-headed vessel were adopted by the Greek world as exotic and prestigious Oriental products.
Dating from the Parthian period, this silver rhyton is a fine example of the enduring influence of Hellenistic culture, which owes much to the artistic traditions of Achaemenid Iran. The horn-shaped vessel ends in the forepart of a panther; a spout for pouring is in the middle of the chest. A gilded fruit-laden grapevine winds around the panther’s chest; at the other end of the rhyton, an ivy wreath encircles the rim. These are the symbols of the Greek wine god Dionysus, whose cult spread eastward with the invasion of Alexander. Dionysiac images—panthers, grapevines, and dancing females—were absorbed by the Parthians and continued to appear in the art of Near Eastern cultures in the Sasanian period (A.D. 224–651). (MET)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections, 1979.447.

Rhyton terminating in the forepart of a wild cat. Parthian, ca. 1st century B.C.

Elaborate bowls, animal-headed drinking vessels, and rhytons—vessels which have a hole at the front from which liquid flows—were highly valued in ancient Near Eastern society. During the pre-Achaemenid, Achaemenid, and Parthian periods, examples made of silver, gold, and clay were used throughout a vast area extending both to the east and west of Iran. The animals on these vessels included the ram, horse, bull, ibex, supernatural creatures, and female divinities; some were engraved with royal inscriptions. Rhytons made of precious materials were probably luxury wares used at royal courts. Both the rhyton and the animal-headed vessel were adopted by the Greek world as exotic and prestigious Oriental products.

Dating from the Parthian period, this silver rhyton is a fine example of the enduring influence of Hellenistic culture, which owes much to the artistic traditions of Achaemenid Iran. The horn-shaped vessel ends in the forepart of a panther; a spout for pouring is in the middle of the chest. A gilded fruit-laden grapevine winds around the panther’s chest; at the other end of the rhyton, an ivy wreath encircles the rim. These are the symbols of the Greek wine god Dionysus, whose cult spread eastward with the invasion of Alexander. Dionysiac images—panthers, grapevines, and dancing females—were absorbed by the Parthians and continued to appear in the art of Near Eastern cultures in the Sasanian period (A.D. 224–651). (MET)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections1979.447.