A quick look at: the gladiators of Rome

I turned in to the games one mid-day hoping for a little wit and humor there. I was bitterly disappointed. It was really mere butchery. […] Then men were thrown to lions and to bears: but at midday to the audience. There was no escape for them. The slayer was kept fighting until he could be slain. “Kill him! Flog him! Burn him alive” was the cry: “Why is he such a coward? Why won’t he rush on the steel? Why does he fall so meekly? Why won’t he die willingly?" (Via the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook).

The above passage is given by Roman historian Seneca (Epistles 7), offering us a vivid (albeit, aristocratic) eyewitness account of gladiatorial games in the age of Nero. A unique product of Rome and Italy, the sensation of gladiators has become one of the most famous aspects of Roman society, and epitomizes the Roman taste for blood sports. 

There never seemed to have been a shortage of willing participants in Rome for this grim life. Candidates were originally found among captives and slaves, those with nothing to lose. However, as the popularity of the sport continued to grow, so did the need for other avenues of supply. During the empire, noblemen were sent by emperors into the arena for committing crimes. Freedmen and imperial citizens came to enter the auctorati, a class of people who sold themselves to gladiator schools. The auctorati gave an oath of service, by which they agreed to submit to burning, beating, and death if they didn’t perform the tasks required of them as gladiators. As we may imagine, it took a truly desperate man to enter into such a grim life of combat and death, a measure that was prompted in times of economic or political hardship. This was a way to escape debtors for those in poverty.

Shown at the top of the post are a series of Roman mosaics depicting gladiatorial scenes. The first is from the Villa Borghese, and on view at the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Note the names of the gladiators inscribed next to the figures, and the Θ symbol (it seems likely here that it is the Greek letter Θ for θάνατος, 'dead'), which marks those who have died in combat. The second mosaic is from Römerhalle in Germany, and the remaining mosaics are from the Roman villa in Nennig, Germany.

The first image is via the Wiki Commons, and the rest are courtesy of & taken by Carole Raddato.

Sumerian headdress, made of gold, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and dates to ca. 2600–2500 B.C.

Kings and nobles became increasingly powerful and independent of temple authority during the course of the Early Dynastic period (2900–2350 B.C.), although the success of a king’s reign was considered to depend on support from the gods. A striking measure of royal wealth was the cemetery in the city of Ur, in which sixteen royal tombs were excavated in the 1920s and 1930s by Sir Leonard Woolley. These tombs consisted of a vaulted burial chamber for the king or queen, an adjoining pit in which as many as seventy-four attendants were buried, and a ramp leading into the grave from the ground.
This delicate chaplet of gold leaves separated by lapis lazuli and carnelian beads adorned the forehead of one of the female attendants in the so-called King’s Grave. In addition, the entombed attendants wore necklaces of gold and lapis lazuli, gold hair ribbons, and silver hair rings. Since gold, silver, lapis, and carnelian are not found in Mesopotamia, the presence of these rich adornments in the royal tomb attests to the wealth of the Early Dynastic kings as well as to the existence of a complex system of trade that extended far beyond the Mesopotamian River valley. (met)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections, 33.35.3.

Sumerian headdress, made of gold, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and dates to ca. 2600–2500 B.C.

Kings and nobles became increasingly powerful and independent of temple authority during the course of the Early Dynastic period (2900–2350 B.C.), although the success of a king’s reign was considered to depend on support from the gods. A striking measure of royal wealth was the cemetery in the city of Ur, in which sixteen royal tombs were excavated in the 1920s and 1930s by Sir Leonard Woolley. These tombs consisted of a vaulted burial chamber for the king or queen, an adjoining pit in which as many as seventy-four attendants were buried, and a ramp leading into the grave from the ground.

This delicate chaplet of gold leaves separated by lapis lazuli and carnelian beads adorned the forehead of one of the female attendants in the so-called King’s Grave. In addition, the entombed attendants wore necklaces of gold and lapis lazuli, gold hair ribbons, and silver hair rings. Since gold, silver, lapis, and carnelian are not found in Mesopotamia, the presence of these rich adornments in the royal tomb attests to the wealth of the Early Dynastic kings as well as to the existence of a complex system of trade that extended far beyond the Mesopotamian River valley. (met)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections33.35.3.

romkids:

The gorgeous and mysterious bird stones.

Do you like archaeology? Are you on twitter? Make sure to follow ROM archaeologists April Hawkins, Kay Sunahara, and Robert Mason!


Some really nice examples of bird stones at the Royal Ontario Museum.
For comparison, here is another example currently housed at the Walters Art Museum which dates to between 1500 and 1000 BC (via the Wiki Commons, 2006.15.5):

The comprehensive study done by Moorehead shows that these ambiguous prehistoric objects are found most frequently in Western Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and also more northward in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and central Canada. Loosely resembling birds, they do not usually exceed 6 inches in length, and are most commonly made of banded slate.
While still a matter of debate, it seems most likely that these bird stones were used as a counter weight for an atlatl (throwing stick), which was used throughout the Americas. One characteristic feature of the bird stone is their flat base, which is drilled at either end. These drilled holes may have been used to attach it to the atlatl. The atlatl essentially acted as an extension of the arm, and hurled a spear with great force. The earliest evidence we have of the use of the atlatl comes from the Upper Palaeolithic, dating to approximately 40,000 years ago. To visualize how these weapons were used, see this short demonstration by Dr. Elliot Abrams, professor of archaeology at Ohio University on Youtube. 
It is also possible that the bird stone was worn. One interpretation along this line of thought is that they were worn on the head of women as an indication of pregnancy, appealing to the “Thunderbird” for protection.

romkids:

The gorgeous and mysterious bird stones.

Do you like archaeology? Are you on twitter? Make sure to follow ROM archaeologists April HawkinsKay Sunahara, and Robert Mason!

Some really nice examples of bird stones at the Royal Ontario Museum.

For comparison, here is another example currently housed at the Walters Art Museum which dates to between 1500 and 1000 BC (via the Wiki Commons, 2006.15.5):

The comprehensive study done by Moorehead shows that these ambiguous prehistoric objects are found most frequently in Western Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and also more northward in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and central Canada. Loosely resembling birds, they do not usually exceed 6 inches in length, and are most commonly made of banded slate.

While still a matter of debate, it seems most likely that these bird stones were used as a counter weight for an atlatl (throwing stick), which was used throughout the Americas. One characteristic feature of the bird stone is their flat base, which is drilled at either end. These drilled holes may have been used to attach it to the atlatl. The atlatl essentially acted as an extension of the arm, and hurled a spear with great force. The earliest evidence we have of the use of the atlatl comes from the Upper Palaeolithic, dating to approximately 40,000 years ago. To visualize how these weapons were used, see this short demonstration by Dr. Elliot Abrams, professor of archaeology at Ohio University on Youtube.

It is also possible that the bird stone was worn. One interpretation along this line of thought is that they were worn on the head of women as an indication of pregnancy, appealing to the “Thunderbird” for protection.

These discs are from the collection of offerings found in El Castillo at Chichen Itza, Yucatán, Mexico. Chichen Itza, pictured in the second photo, is a city built by the Maya people, and was one of the greatest Maya centres on the Yucatán peninsula.

The disks shown are courtesy of & currently located the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico. This photo was taken by Kim F, the second is by Tony Hisgett.

On this day in 306 AD: Constantine the Great is proclaimed emperor of the Roman empire.
The rule of Constantine is given a particular significance in world history. This is largely because he was the first Christian (or, at least pro-Christian) emperor of Rome and the empire.
Not born or raised Christian, it was before the battle of the Milvian Bridge against Maxentius in 312 AD that Constantine experienced his famous vision. According to this account, after calling upon the highest God for help, Constantine is said to have seen a cross in the sky rising from the sun. Following this, the monogram for Christ (chi rho) was placed on the shields of his men going into battle. Constantine attributed the resulting victorious battle to the God of the Christians.
The question of whether of not Constantine was Christian, or how sincere his proclamation was, remains a matter of debate. Evidently his conversion did not entirely result in a changed morality, Constantine had his wife and son murdered. He was baptized a Christian shortly before his death, which was not an uncommon decision to make in this period. In Constantine’s instance, being emperor, he was still obligated to order executions and fight battles, which is why the cleansing of his sin through baptism was postponed to not long before his death. I would suggest that the importance Constantine placed on his baptism in preparation for his death reflects at least a degree of genuine belief. 
The matter of his personal faith aside, few other Roman emperors have left such a lasting impact on the course of world history. With his conversion, construction of Christian Rome, foundation of a new senate and capital, the way to a new epoch of world history was opened.
The artefact shown is the head of Constantine’s colossal statue, courtesy of & currently located at the Capitoline Museums. Photo taken by Jean-Christophe Benoist, via the Wiki Commons.

On this day in 306 AD: Constantine the Great is proclaimed emperor of the Roman empire.

The rule of Constantine is given a particular significance in world history. This is largely because he was the first Christian (or, at least pro-Christian) emperor of Rome and the empire.

Not born or raised Christian, it was before the battle of the Milvian Bridge against Maxentius in 312 AD that Constantine experienced his famous vision. According to this account, after calling upon the highest God for help, Constantine is said to have seen a cross in the sky rising from the sun. Following this, the monogram for Christ (chi rho) was placed on the shields of his men going into battle. Constantine attributed the resulting victorious battle to the God of the Christians.

The question of whether of not Constantine was Christian, or how sincere his proclamation was, remains a matter of debate. Evidently his conversion did not entirely result in a changed morality, Constantine had his wife and son murdered. He was baptized a Christian shortly before his death, which was not an uncommon decision to make in this period. In Constantine’s instance, being emperor, he was still obligated to order executions and fight battles, which is why the cleansing of his sin through baptism was postponed to not long before his death. I would suggest that the importance Constantine placed on his baptism in preparation for his death reflects at least a degree of genuine belief. 

The matter of his personal faith aside, few other Roman emperors have left such a lasting impact on the course of world history. With his conversion, construction of Christian Rome, foundation of a new senate and capital, the way to a new epoch of world history was opened.

The artefact shown is the head of Constantine’s colossal statue, courtesy of & currently located at the Capitoline Museums. Photo taken by Jean-Christophe Benoist, via the Wiki Commons.

Howling Dog Effigy, Jalisco, 300 BC-AD 200. 
Why were dogs so significant to the Mexica?
Dogs were associated with the god of death, Xolotl, among the Mexicas of the highlands of Mexico. Both a dog and Xolotl were thought to lead the soul to the underworld. The skinny body and white hue of the shown dog represented above may have underworld connotations, connecting it to this belief. Xolotl was also associated by the Mexica with the planet Venus as the evening star, and was portrayed with a canine head.

The dog’s special relationship with humans is highlighted by a number of Colima dog effigies wearing humanoid masks. This curious effigy type has been interpreted as a shamanic transformation image or as a reference to the modern Huichol myth of the origin of the first wife, who was transformed from a dog into a human. However, recent scholarship suggests a new explanation of these sculptures as the depiction of the animal’s tonalli, its inner essence, which is made manifest by being given human form via the mask.
The use of the human face to make reference to an object’s or animal’s inner spirit is found in the artworks of many ancient cultures of the Americas, from the Inuit of Alaska and northern Canada to peoples in Argentina and Chile. (Walters)

On the subject of the significance of dogs, and dog effigies wearing humanoid masks, check out this post from a while back of ‘examples of dogs represented in ancient Mexican art.’ The final artefact here is from Colima, and shows a dog wearing a human mask.
Courtesy of & currently located at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA, via their online collections, 2009.20.148.

Howling Dog Effigy, Jalisco, 300 BC-AD 200. 

Why were dogs so significant to the Mexica?

Dogs were associated with the god of death, Xolotl, among the Mexicas of the highlands of Mexico. Both a dog and Xolotl were thought to lead the soul to the underworld. The skinny body and white hue of the shown dog represented above may have underworld connotations, connecting it to this belief. Xolotl was also associated by the Mexica with the planet Venus as the evening star, and was portrayed with a canine head.

The dog’s special relationship with humans is highlighted by a number of Colima dog effigies wearing humanoid masks. This curious effigy type has been interpreted as a shamanic transformation image or as a reference to the modern Huichol myth of the origin of the first wife, who was transformed from a dog into a human. However, recent scholarship suggests a new explanation of these sculptures as the depiction of the animal’s tonalli, its inner essence, which is made manifest by being given human form via the mask.

The use of the human face to make reference to an object’s or animal’s inner spirit is found in the artworks of many ancient cultures of the Americas, from the Inuit of Alaska and northern Canada to peoples in Argentina and Chile. (Walters)

On the subject of the significance of dogs, and dog effigies wearing humanoid masks, check out this post from a while back of ‘examples of dogs represented in ancient Mexican art.’ The final artefact here is from Colima, and shows a dog wearing a human mask.

Courtesy of & currently located at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA, via their online collections2009.20.148.

Kitchen Tender being Rowed. Egyptian, ca. 1981–1975 B.C., from the Tomb of Meketre.

Many outings of Egyptian nobles culminated in a picnic. On the menu for Meketre’s boat trip were roasted fowl, dried beef, bread, beer, and some kind of soup. Meat and bread were carried on another model of a tender, now in Cairo. Here, the beer is prepared and the soup cooked. A blackened trough may have contained burning coal for roasting the fowl. A man tends a stove on which soup simmers. On either side, a woman grinds grain. Brewers inside the cabin are shaping bread loaves, then working them through sieves into large vats. One brewer stands in another vat, where he tramples the dates that provide the sugar for the fermentation of the beer. The oars of this boat are fixed to the sides; to avoid damaging the oars while the boats were transported and deposited in the model chamber, all oars of Meketre’s boats were secured in this manner. (met)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections20.3.3.

Illustrated here in bas-relief are Assyrian war chariots with charioteers, and horsemen, in battle during the campaign against the kingdom of Elam. It was this campaign depicted which brought Elam under Assyrian rule in 645 BCE. These artworks come from the palace of Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE) in Niniveh.

Artefact courtesy of & currently located at the Louvre, France, AO 19909. Photos taken by Mbzt.

A brief look at the prehistoric rock art of Laas Geel, Somaliland (East Africa).

Despite already being known to the local inhabitants of the area for centuries, the art was ‘discovered’ by a team of French archaeologists carrying out an archaeological survey in northern Somalia in 2002, thus only recently gaining international recognition. 

Laas Geel is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in the Horn of Africa, and contains some of the earliest known cave paintings in the region. These paintings are estimated to date to between 9,000-3,000 BCE, and are incredibly preserved considering this.

The artworks, painted in the distinctive Ethiopian-Arabian style, depict predominantly wild animals, decorated cows, and herders, the latter believed to have been the creators of the paintings. Note the herd of cows shown in the first photo, the ceremonial cow shown in the seventh, and the herder shown aside the cow in the final photograph. 

Photos taken by joepyrek.

Recommended reading: Grenier L., P. Antoniotti, G. Hamon, and D. Happe. “Laas Geel (Somaliland): 5000 year-old paintings captured in 3D.” International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences, Volume XL-5/W2 (2013): 283-288.

Faustina the Elder, A.D. 140 - 160. This marble sculpture is Roman, and from Asia-Minor (present-day Turkey).

Annia Galeria Faustina, known as Faustina the Elder, was the wife of Antoninus Pius, who ruled the Roman empire from A.D. 137 to 161. She probably married Antoninus Pius about A.D. 110 and they had four children. The marriage appears to have been quite loving compared to others in the Imperial family. Although she died twenty years before him, Antoninus Pius did not remarry. On her death in A.D. 141, Antoninus Pius declared Faustina divine and built a temple in her honor in the Roman Forum.

Portraits of Faustina can be identified by her distinctive hairstyle and facial features. This slightly over life-size statue combines a conventional portrait head for the empress with a standardized body type, referred to as a “Large Herculaneum Woman” by scholars. The size of this statue indicates that it occupied a public space, perhaps a city square or a temple dedicated to the divine Faustina. Although they are now missing, Faustina may have held attributes of poppies and ears of wheat in her lowered left hand. That being the case, this statue would have portrayed the empress in the guise of Ceres, the goddess of fertility. (getty)

Courtesy of & currently located at the Getty Villa, Malibu, 70.AA.113. Photos taken by Harvey Barrison.