2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 270,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 12 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

RepiTitiationes ~ 11/21/14

‘Antique’ Roman Glass (and Persian Items) in a Fifth Century Japanese Tomb!

Very interesting item from Asahi Shimbun:

A glass dish unearthed from a burial mound here is the first of its kind confirmed to have come to Japan from the Roman Empire, a research team said.

A round cut glass bowl, discovered with the glass plate, was found to have originated in Sassanid Persia (226-651), the researchers said.

The dish and bowl were retrieved together from the No. 126 tumulus of the Niizawa Senzuka cluster of ancient graves, a national historic site. The No. 126 tumulus dates back to the late fifth century.

The researchers’ scientific studies show that fifth-century Japan imported glasswork, and that there was a wide range of trade between the East and the West.

“The dish was likely produced around the Mediterranean Sea and then transferred to Sassanid Persia,” said team leader Yoshinari Abe, an assistant professor of analytical chemistry at the Tokyo University of Science. “After it was painted there, the plate was probably taken to Japan.”

According to the team’s analysis, the chemical composition of the clear dark blue dish is almost identical to glasswork unearthed in the area of the Roman Empire (27 B.C.-A.D. 395).

Measuring 14.1 to 14.5 centimeters in diameter, the flat, raised dish is believed to have been created in the second century at the latest.

The dish has been designated a national important cultural property and is currently owned by the Tokyo National Museum.

The scientists used a special fluorescence X-ray device to analyze chemical elements in glass powder from the dish.

The chemical compositions of natron, a type of sodium mineral, as well as sand made of silica and lime, resemble those typically found in Mediterranean glasswork produced in the Roman Empire and the following Eastern Roman Empire period.

The team also conducted a fluorescence X-ray test on the dish using a high-energy radiation beam at the Spring 8 large synchrotron radiation facility in Sayo, Hyogo Prefecture. The test revealed antimony, a metallic element believed to be used in Rome until the second century.

The results mean that it took centuries for the dish to arrive in Japan and be buried in the grave after it was produced in Rome.

Abe and his colleagues also revealed that the chemical composition of the cut glass bowl is the same as that of glass fragments unearthed from the remains of a palace in the ancient Persian capital of Ctesiphon. The bowl is 8 cm in diameter, 7 cm tall and narrower in the upper part.

“Japan aggressively traded with other countries in the fifth century, and (the latest findings) show various elements were entering Japan at the time,” said Takashi Taniichi, a Silk Road archaeology professor at Sanyo Gakuen University. “Because the glass dish may have been transported via Central Asia, it is no wonder that there was a time lag (between its production and arrival in Japan).”

The team’s research results will be presented at a conference of the Association for Glass Art Studies, Japan, scheduled for Nov. 15 at the Tokyo University of Science in Shinjuku Ward.

The dish and bowl are on display at the Tokyo National Museum until Dec. 7.

Interesting ‘Unknown Divinity’ from Turkey

From a WWU Münster press release:

Münster archaeologists excavated a unique Roman relief depicting an unknown god in an ancient sanctuary in Turkey. According to a first assessment, the one and a half metre (five feet) high basalt stele which was used as a buttress in the wall of a monastery shows a fertility or vegetation god, as classical scholar and excavation director Prof. Dr. Engelbert Winter and archaeologist Dr. Michael Blömer of the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” said after their return from the sacred site of the god Jupiter Dolichenus close to the ancient city of Doliche in Southeast Turkey. “The image is remarkably well preserved. It provides valuable insights into the beliefs of the Romans and into the continued existence of ancient Near Eastern traditions. However, extensive research is necessary before we will be able to accurately identify the deity.”

In the field season 2014, the 60-strong excavation team uncovered finds from all periods of the 2,000-year history of the cult site, such as the thick enclosing wall of the first Iron Age sanctuary or the foundations of the main Roman temple of the god Jupiter Dolichenus, who became one of the most important deities of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century A.D. His sanctuary is situated close to the town of Gaziantep on the 1,200 metres (3,900 feet) high mountain of Dülük Baba Tepesi. The archaeologists found the stele in the remains of the Christian monastery, which was erected on the site of the ancient sanctuary in the Early Middle Ages.

Archaeologist Blömer described the depiction: “The basalt stele shows a deity growing from a chalice of leaves. Its long stem rises from a cone that is ornamented with astral symbols. From the sides of the cone grow a long horn and a tree, which the deity clasps with his right hand. The pictorial elements suggest that a fertility god is depicted.” There are striking iconographic details such as the composition of the beard or the posture of the arms, which point to Iron Age depictions from the early 1st millennium B.C.

The new find, thus, provides information about a key question of the Cluster of Excellence’s research project B2-20, the question of the continuity of local religious beliefs. According to Prof. Winter, “The stele provides information on how ancient oriental traditions survived the epochs from the Iron Age to the age of the Romans.”


Here’s a photo:

Peter Jülich for WWUM

Peter Jülich for WWUM

Possibly a New Feature ~ repiTitiationes

I was thinking it might be useful to post a summary of my Titiationes from time to time … much is done in Twitter now that I used to post here …

Sphinx Head from Amphipolis? Maybe … Maybe Not

The twittersphere was all agog yesterday as the Ministry of Culture released photos of a head found by the archaeologists which is being touted as the heads of one of the headless sphinges guarding the entrance to the tomb at Amphipolis. Here’s the offical photos released by the Ministry

Ministry of Culture Photo

Ministry of Culture Photo


Ministry of Culture Photo


Ministry of Culture Photo


Ministry of Culture Photo

Kathimerini’s coverage provides the relevant info that the ministry released

Archaeologists digging at a tomb dating to the era of Alexander the Great in ancient Amphipolis in northern Greece have found the missing head of one of the two sphinxes guarding the entrance of the grave.

According to a statement yesterday by the Culture Ministry, the head, which was found inside the tomb’s third chamber, belongs to the statue on the eastern side of the entrance.

Barring some slight damage to the nose, the head is largely intact. The head measures 60 centimeters from top to bottom. Archaeologists also found fragments of that sphinx’s wings at the same chamber.

I genuinely want this to be as described, but I see a problem. When you put this head on the sphinx at the gate, it doesn’t quite work (I know others have done this as well, but this  is my own photoshopping). If one tries to fit the head according to the ‘break’, one gets this:


… which, as can be seen, won’t fit into the niche. If one sizes the head to fit.

rehead2… the head seems disproportionately small. Here are a couple of ‘closer’ views:

rehead3 rehead4 copy


What also doesn’t quite gibe with me is that this head was apparently found inside the tomb and again the tomb robbers suggestion is coming up. The thing is, even if a tomb robber did do this, I doubt they’d carry the head some 14 metres into the tomb … they’d get it on the way out.

I think we have a head from another statue happening here … given the polos, possibly another Persephone.




Implications of the Hades/Persephone Mosaic at Amphipolis

As most rogueclassicism readers know by now, a spectacular mosaic depicting the abduction of Persephone by Hades was revealed last week at Amphipolis and is causing quite a stir for a number of reasons, not least of which is that such things have not been depicted in Macedonian tomb before, much less a royal Macedonian tomb (as far as I’ve been able to find out; late clarification: I’m referring to floor mosaics). I’ll post some links to some of the news coverage at the conclusion of this, but my primary purpose here is to flesh out some thoughts (one serious, one nutty) that I expressed on Twitter this past week. First, though, we need to see some photos from the Ministry of Culture of this amazing mosaic:



Ministry of Culture Photo

Ministry of Culture Photo

ministry of culture photo

ministry of culture photo


… and some photos released earlier in the week before they had revealed Persephone:

Ministry of Culture photo

Ministry of Culture photo


Ministry of Culture photo

It was the latter photo — as folks who follow me on Twitter already know — which sparked my reaction that I had seen those two before.  The one horse in three-quarter view, the other in profile, both in a ‘flying gallop’. Compare them to the horses in this mosaic (all the following photos are by Carole Raddato, who has made them available at Wikipedia):

Carole Raddato photo via wikipedia

Carole Raddato photo via wikipedia

Admittedly, in this mosaic, depicting the abduction of Helen by Theseus, there are four horses to the chariot (the mosaicist at Amphipolis is dealing with a smaller area), but you can probably figure out which two I’m thinking of:

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

… and the theme, of course, is somewhat similar … a woman being snatched away from her family. Here’s the rest of this ‘other’ mosaic:

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato Photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato Photo via Wikipedia


So where does this mosaic come from? Pella, of course. In a previous post (Catching Up With Developments at Amphipolis) we noted that the first mosaics revealed at Amphipolis had an affinity with those of the House of Dionysus at Pella. Outside of the horses, folks have probably also noticed the mosaic border of the Abduction of Helen mosaic (the meandering reverse swastika thing with the ‘rosette’) from Pella also surrounds the Abduction of Persephone mosaic from Amphipolis. Both the House of Dionysus and the House of the Abduction of Helen at Pella date to the last quarter of the fourth century B.C., and given their similar styles to the Amphipolis mosaic, it seems like we’re being presented with further reasonable suggestions that the Amphipolis ‘tomb’ dates to the same time period. Again, however, we do await announcements of things like possible inscriptions (rumours are rife; I’m still not sure about the Dinocrates inscription claim from a year ago), soil, potsherds, coins, etc..

So that’s the serious stuff. Now we get into my ADMITTEDLY nutty theory which actually started percolating in my head way back in August when they discovered that ‘hole’ inside one of the tomb chambers early on and there were plenty of folks claiming the ‘tomb’ had obviously been broken into. One of my knee-jerk (emphasis on the ‘jerk’) responses in my noggin was “Why do people always assume ‘breaking in’ to a tomb? Why does no one ever suggest ‘breaking out’?” So as the excavations continued, I continued to look for support for my SERIOUS theory that we were dealing with an empty tomb — probably intended for someone like Alexander (as others, including Dorothy King) have suggested — that was filled in when that occupant was unable to be placed there and the tomb was subsequently filled in because burying anyone there might have political implications. But then we saw the Karyatids and they were in a pair. The nutty side of my brain immediately thought these were depictions of Demeter and Persephone. So I revisited the images of the Karyatids to see if there were any accoutrements that might be associated with Demeter and Persephone:

ministry of culture

ministry of culture


Ministry of Culture


Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

… I didn’t notice anything ‘wheat’ associated or ‘pomegranate’ associated as one might expect with a depiction of Persephone, but the ‘Karyatid’ did sport the same sort of archaic hairstyle we often see and the polos (crown). Maruizio Nicosia has a nice Kore page at Pinterest if you want to look at some depictions. So I went hmmmmmmm and moved on. Then, of course, the mosaic with the abduction turns up (which prompted a twitter comment, of course), and then I went full blown nutty when the Greek media began posting versions of 3d virtual reality reconstruction of the ‘tomb so far’. A nice representative one is by Nikolaos Alexandrou at Youtube:

What is interesting to note is that at every entrance, near the ceiling, there is a ‘hole’ which traditionally one would attribute to someone breaking in. So what if, instead, this is an architectural feature and people were meant to ‘escape’ from such holes? So here’s the full blown NUTTY THEORY in action: imagine that this structure wasn’t a tomb, but was a cult centre for some Eleusinian-type mystery. The actual ‘entrance’ for initiates was likely somewhere else (perhaps wherever the Lion originally stood) and the cultic activities would involve initiates going from inside the ‘tomb’, past the mosaic depicting the abduction of Persephone, past the Karaytids depicting Demeter and Persephone, and past the ‘sphinxes’ as a genuine ‘escape from the tomb’?

Yes, it is NUTTY … I don’t buy it myself. What I DO buy, however, are my prior suggestions that the mosaics have an affinity with Pella and support the late 4th century date promulgated hitherto by the excavatrices and excavators.

Here’s some of the important coverage this week: