Latest from Silchester

The incipit of a piece in the Guardian:

A battered and corroded thumb-sized piece of bronze has turned out to be a unique find, the earliest representation of an Egyptian deity from any site in Britain – and appropriately, after almost 2,000 years hidden in the ground, it is Harpocrates, the god of secrecy and silence.

The little figure was found at Silchester, site of an abandoned Roman city in Hampshire, in last summer’s excavation, but his identity was only revealed in months of careful conservation work. His Greek and Roman designation as Harpocrates, the god of spymasters, is actually a transcription error.

“In Egyptian mythology the figure is known as Horus, the child of Isis and Osiris,” said Professor Mike Fulford of the University of Reading, director of the Silchester excavation. “He is often shown with his finger in his mouth, a gesture that in Egypt represented the hieroglyph for his name, but was misinterpreted by the Greeks and Romans, resulting in his adoption as the god of silence and secrecy.”

He was originally an ornament on an object, which is itself unique. “The figurine was attached to part of a charcoal-burning brazier which would have been used to provide heating and lighting. This brazier is the only one found in England so we are doubly excited,” Fulford said. “The brazier, the sort of thing you would expect to find in Pompeii, is the first evidence of such a luxurious item from Roman Britain.”

The context of the find suggests the brazier was imported, and later thrown out into a rubbish pit, in the first century AD. […]

via: Relic of Harpocrates, the god of secrecy and silence, found at Silchester | Guardian

Alas, no photo of the object, either at the Guardian or at the dig website (unless in the latter case it’s one of the blobs of iron that has been cleaned up a bit). We have a nice image of Harpocrates in a previous post … we have had a fair bit of coverage of the Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) in the past:

York Gladiators Redux

The BBC has a very nice little slideshow of some of the skeletons from that dig at York which are claimed to be of gladiating victims. There’s actually some good stuff here, and since I can’t really embed the slideshow, I do want to make some comments (the numbers refer to the slide):

1. 60 of 80 appear to have died violent deaths; the implication is that all sixty were gladiators?

2. The one arm longer than the other “being consistent with one-sided work from an early age …” I’m not sure how this fits in; I highly doubt we’re dealing with people ‘raised’ to be gladiators. If this is an indication they were non-Roman warriors or something, that could work.

3. Very impressive deep cut going upward; does seem consistent with a gladiator-fight-style wound …

4. Very impressive bite marks; it should be possible to identify the animal from these, no?

5. shackled burial; I really wish we’d stop getting this sensationalism like “yet he received a proper burial” … outside of tossing emperors into the Tiber, the Romans seem to have long allowed execution victims’ remains to receive a proper burial.

6. the ‘hammer’ victim … shouldn’t there be some ‘point of impact’ mark? And shouldn’t the cracks radiate therefrom? This looks more consistent with being hit with a large sword across the top of the head …

7. very nice vertebrae cut; They might be solid ground with this one, although the ‘dispatching’ cuts in gladiating situations tended to be down the windpipe toward the heart rather than across the neck, no? 50 of the 61 skeletons had been so dispatched. In some of the early coverage from this site, though, there was the suggestion that many of the marks indicate the cuts had come from ‘behind’.

Taken together, I think 3, 4, and 6 have me leaning toward the ‘gladiator’ theory. At the same time, though, I think we should remind folks of Anthony Birley’s theory from a few years ago, that these might be victims of Caracalla‘s ‘killing spree’ shortly after Septimius Severus‘ death in 211. This ‘killing spree’ is hinted at in the first three sections of Dio 78, but it’s not clear whether this ‘spree’ happened at York. The Historia Augusta hints similarly, but is far too compressed to be useful.  Again, I wonder aloud whether anyone has thought whether many of these victims might not be examples of decimation (although, of course, proving such would be difficult) Whatever the case, I think it safer to suggest that we’ve got a pile of execution victims … some of them might have died in the arena that hasn’t been found (yet?).