16. Studying the Regina Caeli: the journey so far into the cult of Isis.

Isis Bar“I divided the earth from the heaven. I showed the paths of the stars. I ordered the course of the sun and the moon”. (Kyme Aretalogy in honour of Isis)

Since backpacking in Europe in 2001, I have been drawn to images and archaeological sites relating to Isis. There are some things that just strike the right chord for you. My first experience with Isis (in a Greco-Roman style) was at the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

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Capitoline Isis, Rome (2014).

The statue fit my understanding of what classical sculpture was, and simultaneously had something a bit unusual. The features were so exquisitely carved, and the goddess’s accoutrements were unlike anything I had seen before. While visiting Pompeii during the same trip, I didn’t quite make the connection between the figure in the statue that I’d seen in Rome and the temple in which I had been standing.

During my undergraduate studies, I came across her again while reading Lucian’s ‘Metamorphosis (The Golden Ass)’. My attention was drawn to the way that Lucian described the power of this mysterious foreign goddess. What was so brash about Lucian’s novel was how much he subtly revealed, through winks and nods, about the mystery cult. He described esoteric celebrations, events and magical healing, all the while saying, ‘but it’s a secret, so I can’t really talk about it’. The story is familiar, in a Shakespearean kind of way, through all the hubris, metamorphoses, changes of fortune, and bawdy humour.

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Isis-Thermoutis, Musee des Beaux Arts, Lyon (2017).

I was fascinated by this religious movement and how it functioned within the religiously pluralistic Roman society. Isis and her cult would ultimately provide some of the foundation of early Christian practices such as baptism, in addition to the depictions with Horus (the infant nursing on her lap is a dead ringer for the baby Jesus), presaging the metamorphosis into the Virgin Mary.

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Isis (holding the snake) and Io (sitting atop the shoulders of the personified Nile) wall painting, Museo Nazionale Napoli (2014).

Jumping in with both feet, I was excited and wanted to understand more about this deity. However, my introduction to the topic began at a much later point in the history of the Cult of Isis; to understand the cult and its significance, I would need to go farther back and approach it more broadly.Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device002-1~2My Masters at the University of Edinburgh was spent exploring the Greek and Hellenistic routes of the cult, from multiple angles, to start filling in the picture (and creating many of my own pictures).

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Some of my sketches of Isis statues over the last 4 years.

Isis’s power as a deity in Egypt rested in being the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. She bridged the continuity of kingship from one king to his descendant. Her original function as the literal and symbolic role – as the throne and king-maker in Ancient Egypt – changes quite dramatically once the cult is exported into Greece and Italy.

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Isis cradling Horus – from the MET archives.

While the period of Isis worship in the pre-Hellenistic era (before 323 BCE) is interesting, what has captivated me more specifically is what happens with the cult in the Hellenistic-to-Roman period. Like a character from Sailor Moon, she gained many headdresses, wands, tools, and visual associations with other deities (Demeter, Aphrodite, Athena, Nike).

This is the period that I focused on during my MSc, researching the symbols and iconography over time, with an emphasis on the tiny figurines used in her worship. What I discovered was that her strength was in her flexibility. Her image could be adapted to all needs, wants and interests. She could be a local or international deity. She could be closely affiliated with a particular ruling dynasty, or one specific location.

Another investigation looked at the cult’s relationship with Athenian government in Delos, and some of the territorial quarrels that occurred between temples run by different factions on the island. The evidence of a push and pull scenario between Delos’ new overlords (the Athenians) and the previous residents, in the mid-second century BCE. Running cults was big business and politically useful to establishing ones career, and the Athenians had no interest in allowing an Alexandrian ‘Egyptian’ to maintain a monopoly on the worship of Isis in this economically powerful port.

While few temples of Isis remain in even remotely good shape, Pompeii possesses on of the most famous examples.

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Temple of Isis and her #1 fan, Pompeii (2016).

Pompeii had one of the best-preserved temples (though most of the decorations were long since removed and put in museums). It was fascinating to see the spread of Egyptian-looking artefacts which tend to denote cult membership. The items that were recovered from Pompeii are varied and showed decorations and materials of incredibly high quality that were made for, and used by, the Temple of Isis.

Another leg of the journey in my first large research project involved a trip to Palestrina (ancient Praeneste), some 40 km east of Rome. Part of what I wanted to see was the Egyptian artefacts, which remain some of the most exquisite examples of mosaic work from ancient history.

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The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina, Italy (2014).

The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina was breath-taking in person and represented an interesting fusion of culture and appropriation of the Hellenistic Alexandrians and the native Egyptians. Although it is an uneven cultural balance, with the prioritising of the Macedonian elite over the native Egyptians.

It is a rare gem of the exquisite mosaic work that was part of art market in Italy, before the Rome dominated the Mediterranean. It highlighted aspects of Egyptian cult which would find its way into Italy, though altered for Italian tastes.

 So, what is next?

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Isiac procession relief, Palazzo Altemps, Rome (2014).

This September I will be stepping into the subject and delving deeper into urban design, Egyptian architecture and the art styles that appear in Roman cities. There are so many aspects and angles to investigate with this topic, and being able to work on a PhD toward this end is like a dream come true. 20160610_150009There are still so many sites, statues, and sistrums to see in my journey into my studies of this Cult of Isis!

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A bientot!

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15. Mithymna: the Fortress on the Hill

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Roman ruins at the north end, facing Turkey.

There is something breathtaking about the shores, mountains and harbours around Lesbos. Mithymna is a gem of a town, with all the fine features you hope for as a tourist destination, but a significant amount of history is embedded in every corner.  928 (2)As one of the largest Greek islands, and the nearest to Turkey, there is a remarkable amount of cultural fusion and warmth that shaped my experience of living in Mithymna (Μήθυμνα / Molyvos) for several months, some years ago.

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Taking a libation at the Mithymna castle.

While being housed during the spring months in Mithymna, I explored the winding cobblestone streets, photographed dangling flowering plants and occasionally sampled the vibrant restaurant scene at the harbour.

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Mithymna harbour

These elements, along with adorable roaming stray cats and dogs (some of whom we adopted), formed idyllic scenes that made it a beautiful and tranquil location to study some Byzantine History and Reception Studies (in effect, the study of modern interpretations of the ancient world) during my undergraduate degree.

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A charming painting in the old schoolhouse where we took lessons.

What a draw for a historian!Greece 608Like many ancient city centres, Mithymna has a foundation story whose characters possessed the very names of the location – in this case, Mithymna (daughter of a mythical son of the god Helios) who was married to the personification of Lesbos. Hard to prove, so I’ll take the Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World’s word for it.

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Mithymna Castle

The history of Mithymna is actually the stuff of legends, literally. The Bronze Age warrior Achilles was said to have breached the fortifications of Mithymna due to the amorous machinations of King Peisidikis’s daughter.

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View from Mithymna castle of Efthalou.

The city fell to the Achaeans, as the events of the Illiad take place not far away across the water (you can see Turkey from the shores of Mithymna).

Mithymna had been an important location in the Classical period as it was caught  between the Athenians, their ally, and the Spartans throughout the Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BCE). To and fro, the balance of power shifted from Athens to Sparta, and back again throughout the war; and smaller allied cities were caught in the fight, or served as proxies for the conflict. 957 (2)Mithymna and Mytilene had a solid rivalry throughout this conflict and beyond, which I will go into when I post about Mytilene. But for the time being, some dark business went down during this three decades long war, and Mithymna and Mytilene had some serious issues to work out afterwards.

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Splendid isolation on the beach

Remaining significant throughout the Hellenistic period, Mithymna played politics as it was captured by Macedonian forces and Persians, with tyrants ousting and aligning themselves with the conflicting superpowers when they gained control of the island cities. With the division of Alexander’s brief empire by his successors, King Lysimachus and later Ptolemy would control the island. With the influence of the Ptolemaic ruler, my academic obsession, the cults of Isis and Sarapis were introduced and worshiped.

Which brings us neatly to the Roman period.

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A bit of Roman road and tomb.

Sprinting through so much history, I can barely touch on how many fascinating moments in ancient history in which Mithymna has played a part, but one of the elements which leaves a physical trace, which I was thrilled to see, was the Roman archaeological remains dispersed throughout the city.Roman Tombs Molyvos 3The formal alliance between Rome and Mithymna was dated by an epigraphic source to 129 BCE. The Roman poets and writers spent many words to describe the quality and superiority of Mithymnian wines.

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While staying in Mithymna, I was fortunate enough to meet a local archaeologist who gave us a small tour of the closed excavation.

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Finds from this trench were rich in pottery and sea shells.

At that point, they had a great deal of pottery and many interesting rubbish dumps from the Roman period. It appeared that they were producing pottery, and likely distributing the wines in vessels made at this centre.Roman Tombs MolyvosWith the political upheaval in the 5th century AD of the western half of the Roman empire, Lesbos fell into the orbit of political authority from the Byzantine power-base of the eastern empire. This orientation affected the flavour and practices on the island as Christianity became the prevalent belief system and religious power throughout the empire. Greece 012Thank you for reading my blog!

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12. Baiae: the original Sin City

Ancient BaiaeIMG_20151011_102302733Whilst I was excavating in Policastro Bussentino, I decided to use my down-time productively and get to know the cities in southern Italy. The train routes were cheap and plentiful along the Tyrrhenian coastline, with beautiful views on this regional train ride from Napoli Centrale.

One such a day trip, I ventured from Naples on an ambitious outing to see some ancient cities of Magna Graecia. I say ambitious because by foot it is a very long walk from Baiae to Cumae along a winding hillside with no shoulder or footpath- all in all, a 15 mile walking day.IMG_20151011_103057308_HDRWhen I arrived at the ancient town of Baiae in Gulf of Puzzuoli, I had the unique experience of being in a spectacular archaeological site entirely alone.IMG_20151011_120941032_HDR It was a beautiful clear morning and I rocked up without having purchased a ticket (tickets you are supposed to buy at Cumae first then head over to Baiae, unbeknownst to me). Luckily, the park steward let me in for free and after I explained my disorientation!IMG_20151011_105811204_HDRThe archaeological park was stunning, as you can see. The multi-story bath complex was built into the hillside, and standing atop the complex it is not hard to imagine why the super-rich of the Republican period into the Principate were drawn to this place. This area was rich in volcanic activity (Vesuvius is very close, of course) which the Roman architects and engineers were able to channel into sulphur springs – perfect for hot baths!IMG_20151011_105329200_HDRThere seemed to be endless rooms, and many with mosaic floors still remaining in situ. The mosaics are, appropriately, water-themed with divinities and typical meander and wave patterns. Water and neglect have left them in the current state of disrepair they are in, but you can see evidence of the gorgeous technical ability.IMG_20151011_103901841IMG_20151011_110414060A surprising amount of painted plaster was still visible as well, with typical decorative motifs and some strange ones. The frescoes date to two particular stylistic phases: the middle of the 1st century A.D., called the 3rd Pompeian style (notably because of the ‘Egyptianising’ features they possess. That stuff is my research jam, and I shall in due course dedicate many 1’s and 0’s of the internets to discuss it.
Below I’ve tried to highlight the figures which have zoomorphic features and elements meant to evoke Egypt (costumes and symbols).IMG_20151011_113345586A later, 2nd century A.D. phase is also present, which could be viewed as slightly irregular and a bit shabbier in execution. This little green dragon below was part of that later design. IMG_20151011_113317462Temples, Pools or …? 
There were a few cisterns still, and one was even fully intact. The echo inside made singing sound like I was using a microphone. Yes, I sang a few Disney songs before giving my spot to the tourists who were waiting at this point, bemused, outside. Nothing like being in a archaeological sites for belting out tunes (Florence and the Machine). Amusingly, it wasn’t until a month later I learned the name of it was called the “Temple of the Echo“. While not a temple, the name was still pretty on point.

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Top-view of the cistern”Temple of the Echo”
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Inside the “Temple of the Echo”

 

The ‘Temple of Diana’ that lay just outside of the archaeological park is a husk of its former self, but still pretty damn impressive. IMG_20151011_121904582This was built during the reign of Hadrian, one of the greatest building emperors of the Roman Empire. The influx of funds in the 2nd century A.D. – which manifested earlier in the frescoes being added to – coincides with the building of this structure. Called a temple erroneously, it has been argued to be a pool, a further spectacular addition to the bathing complex. As I neared the bottom of the hillside, I could see a MASSIVE temple-looking structure, across the (modern) street, outside of the bath complex. I stood to sketch it for a while, and saw that it was a ‘Temple of Venus‘, which, given the history of this elite spa-town, would have made perfect sense.IMG_20151011_120828100_HDRProlific in his building, this massive Hadrianic era building could have been a casino, pool, or possibly religious building- all suggestions I read at the site. The lingering naming of the building, ‘Temple of Venus’ betrays the varying perceptions of it that carried on over the last thousand years since it was in use.The political landscape in Rome during the late Republic into the Principate involved the elevation of the Julio-Claudians and funding to their parton deity- Venus. Julius Caesar had a villa in the area, and other notables like Pompey Magnus, Caligula and Septimus Severus all frequented the area.

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Temple of Venus at Baiae
Augustus (nephew to Julius, nee Octavian) took over the entire complex (and much of the town), adding it to his sizeable imperial property. Controlling where the rich went to relax, socialise and play was pretty much Augustus’ raison d’etre during his early formation of how the empire would be run.
Anyone watching the Versailles (2015) series right now could imagine the same processes occurring in Rome under Octavian as was happening in the court of Louis XIV. Like the French nobles who were forced to adopt new practices and behaviours, Rome’s elite probably required some wrangling to stay in the lines as Augustus delineated them.  Controlling spaces goes a long way towards controlling behaviours and shaping ideas.
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Squinty little study of shapes at the Temple of Venus

The analogy of Versailles can be taken farther, as Baiae developed a reputation  for moral bankruptcy, with salacious and scandalous behaviour taking place in the steamy rooms of this wellness retreat. One commentator on the depravity of Baiae’s baths and wellness centre was Seneca the Younger, describing it as a “vortex of luxury” and amusingly, “harbor of vice”. I suspect he may not have been on the guest list for the sexier parties.With Romans, physical wellness was linked with spiritual wellness. The presence of temples in a site like this would make a lot of sense.IMG_20151011_110934785A  significant part of the blue-bloodedness of Julius Caesar, and thus his descendants, was his claim of being related to the divine being Venus (through Aeneas, of Trojan war and founding Rome fame). He is a big deal in mythology, and would have been in the eyes of the Roman people. To claim mythical descent through him to Venus, the Julians linked themselves to the divine.It would be very appropriate then to have a bloody great big temple in this playground of the wealthy with their patron deity stamped allover it. When sacrifices and homages were being paid to that divinity, the connection to the Imperial family couldn’t have been far from the person’s mind.IMG_20151011_123803760Not surprising then, that as time and memory faded the original meaning of these buildings more mundane structures, nestled along the coast, took on impressive religious connotations.

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11. Roman Glass

Ancient Glass:Roman Innovation and Beauty

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Roman glass collection at Three Hills Roman Heritage Museum – Melrose, Scotland 2016

Spending time in museums throughout Europe, and a few in North America, you frequently see examples of ancient glass. When I started to look through my photos, I noticed that I am consistently drawn to the delicacy and incredible skill of glass objects. Egyptians, Greeks and Romans achieved incredible feats through their splendidly colourful, highly decorated and inventive glassware. As broadly as we might imagine using glass objects today, there were items for specific purposes (perfumes) or more banal uses (water). From the most utilitarian to the highest prestige item, the presence of Roman glassware is one of the most enduring, yet delicate, symbols of empire that remain.

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The Portland Vase – 1st Century AD Cameo Glass – British Museum. 2016

Early glass production was an elite (read: desperately expensive) tradition from the Hellenistic period, inherited from the Egyptians, which involved densely coloured glass. The small faces below give you an indication of the opaque colors, often used in beads and small functional objects d’art.

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Small glass theatre mask ornaments – Museum of Egyptology, Turin 2016

The consumption of glass items before the 1st century AD, would have been limited by cost and access to skilled artisans. The Romans incorporated previous techniques and over time made it’s production truly their own. Interestingly, however,  at this point there was still no Latin word associated with it.
Through changes to techniques of manufacturing glass, new styles and skills were developed in Italy.

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Roman Vessel – British Museum 2016

Glass blowing techniques opened up new styles of vessels, and perhaps today we take for granted that glass jugs and beakers were once new technology.

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Roman Vessel – British Museum 2016

So ubiquitous was the eventual production of glass during the 1st century AD, that the ‘Aqua’ and clear coloured glasses produced within the empire were priced into common consumption. Glass was no longer simply a decorative series of beads on elite necklaces, or thick-walled vessels of the Hellenistic period into the late 1st century,. With Roman inventiveness, soaring thin-walled vessels which used pigments and lines display the skill of the craftsmen to show pearl hues, and movement on the vessels’ surface.

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Roman Vessel – National Museum of Scotland, 2016

The dexterity, grace and occasional silliness in the manufacture of Roman glass products is a overlooked aspect of the study of Roman material culture. Not ignored, but next to a beautiful statue or sword, a tiny perfume bottle might not seem that interesting.

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Roman Vessel – Museo di Antichità Turin 2016

These small vials contained perfumes and precious oils, chalices for fine mixed wines, and other vessels for elite good. Sometimes I wonder if they were show-pieces or of a more personal nature perhaps?

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Portrait on glass – Naples National Archaeology Museum 2015

The cost of the items would suggest they were probably kept on display, but it is hard to know. Serving items would imply a public-use, and thus on show, but perfume bottles for a woman’s toilet could have been a more private piece of consumption.

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Painted Roman Vessel – Museo di Antichità Turin 2016

 

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Three Hills Roman Heritage Centre- Melrose, Scotland 2016

These gorgeous glasses were made of combinations of these elements pictured below, with added including colourants:

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1.Sand; 2.Potash; 3. Seaweed ash; 4.Lime- National Museum of Scotland

The Cage-Cup
On a recent visit to Milan in April, I had the incredible fortune to not only meet up a burgeoning academic in the fields of religion and slavery in the Ancient World, but also a local expert of Milan’s historic sites! Ambra Ghiringhelli, an PhD student with the University of Edinburgh, showed me some of the wonderful archaeological sites in Milan with fantastic local details. One such item she drew my attention to was the cage-cup of Milan.

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The cage cup of Milan – Museo Archeologico Milano 2016

The cage cup of Milan is an excellent example of what ‘living the good life’ in the Late Roman Empire would look like. Just another example of the 1% finding a way to make something that was now in the financial reach of many citizens of the empire, into a higher higher-level prestige item, again out of their reach.

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The cage cup of Milan, 2016

The striking combination of glass colours and types; geometrical patterns, in contrasting colours from the inner cup, sit on top with lettering. The skill required in putting together something like this would have been quite sophisticated. There are multiple techniques involved, which scholars are still not in total agreement on how this was precisely done.

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Silver base cage-cup in Edinburgh 2016

The National Museum of Edinburgh has its own small example of what a Roman cage cup looked like in the northern province of Britannia. However, the Edinburgh example is made from metal but follows the same principles.
There have been about 50 examples of cage-cups found to varying degrees of preservation.

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10.1 The Romans come to Greece

The Power of Rome in Athens

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It has often been my inclination when in Athens to sketch the monuments and buildings, whether the drawings came out a bit wonky or not. If you look at the archaeological landscape of Athens, much of what you see was commissioned by the Romans.  The Roman additions to the Athenian landscape have some incredibly beautiful examples of second century BCE imperial architecture, with emperors like Hadrian paying homage through benefaction to the heyday of Greek power.Picture 022The Antigonid’s took over leadership of Macedon and Greece following the end of Alexander the Great’s family line, and successfully wielded the same ideology to justify their control over the Greeks: ‘protectors of Greek freedom’, an iron fist in a velvet glove so to speak; they controlled Greece through benevolent subjugation. Through the general practice of eugaritism (benefaction for honours), the Greeks were given beautiful buildings, festivals, and money in return for obeisance to Macedonian authority. For their own part, the Greeks had spent the last few hundred years restlessly under the yoke of the Macedonians, who they considered barely civilized.Digital camera pictures 616

The Antigonid’s power waned as the burgeoning Roman Empire began to orbit around Greece. After generations of skirmishes, battles and dynastic struggles, their depleted resources and weakness allowed a small wedge to open up for the canny Italian republic.

Playing the powers of the Mediterranean against each other and their respective leagues, the Romans effectively weakened them and loosened the Antigonid kings’ grip on their territories. Over time, any political disagreements, wars and finances had to be presented to the Romans for approval and action. Rome’s role in Greece in this period is perhaps it is better understood as a macro-level of benefactor to the Hellenic people, but with massive and tangled strings attached.IMG_3918

The Greek city-states chafed under this control. A last play for self-determination led the Greek city-states to throw their weight behind the pretender to the partitioned Macedonian throne, Perseus of Macedon. After a series of wars, aptly called the Macedonian Wars, culminating in the defeat of the allied Greeks under Perseus in 146 BCE, Greek independence gave way to foreign rule officially, though they were still left to govern themselves nominally. Macedonian cities fared less well however as a result of the war, and were depopulated. IMG_20160113_143351

Officially annexing Macedonia and making it a Roman Province, the landscape of power was irrevocably changed in Greece forever. As in most political takeovers, the elites of the conquered peoples are not slow to see the turning tide, and are often installed in important political positions if they are complicit in securing a smooth(ish) submission. Wealthy Greeks could still wield power, as in the case with Herodes Atticus, but they answered to the Romans.Picture 853

While there is infinitely more to say about the transition of power between the Hellenistic period into the Roman, I will try not to throw it at you all at once. For the purposes of this blog, we can dip our toes into the mire when it suits, and hopefully the obfuscated picture of this complex period of history will form cohesive shapes.IMG_3715

This transition affected the Athenians positively and disastrously at times. Perhaps the Athenians’ position historically as cultural and imperial power over the Mediterranean awarded them a nod of respect from the Romans. Arguably however, not much had changed for the Greeks, as they were controlled again by foreign powers, except gone was the pretense that they were free.

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9. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus

A Greek Benefactor and Murderer?
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South-west facing Odeon of Herodes Atticus – 2016
While out for a wander this January in Athens, I was reading the placard next to the wonderfully restored Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The placard mentioned that the great second-century Athenian benefactor, Herodes Atticus, had built it in honour of his beloved Regilla. How touching!
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Detail of the niches – 2016

 The theatre was built after 160 AD, out of local stone and a roof of expensive Lebanese cedar. What is immediately striking is that despite Herodes’ noble Greek ancestry, the theatre he commissioned was particularly Roman.

The stone wall backdrop which enclosed the theatre was of a Roman conception of theatre, not a Greek one. As in all theatre spaces in the ancient world, those of a privileged position were seated up front, with everyone else further away from the stage.

This seemingly small adaptation in theatre design – a Roman interpretation of Greek culture – was emblematic of the way Romans interacted with the Greek world. Something like a patronising mixture of appreciation and the desire to improve on their creations.Digital camera pictures 523When I returned home, I began looking into who this beloved woman was and the story behind the dapper-looking Greek who commissioned this glorious theatre on the south-west slope of the Acropolis. The answers to these questions were pretty surprising!

Herodes Atticus was of noble descent and of consular rank. Tracing his heritage to the half-sister of Cimon, a famous Athenian statesman, and of course to Theseus (the hero) and (sure, why not?) Zeus. Interestingly, his family was rife with incest, which luckily he managed to avoid.

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Bust of Herodes Atticus – wikipedia

His close relationship with the ‘Good Emperors’ carried through serving Hadrian as a prefect in the Province of Asia, then Antoninus Pius as tutor to his sons (later emperors themselves) Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. So respected and trusted was Herodes that he was given the wealthy and powerful relative of Empress Faustina the Elder, Regilla, as his bride. The family that Regilla came from was very well connected. Her dowry was impressive and family brought her significant power.

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Facing north – 2008
When they resettled in Greece, Regilla was part of the upper echelon of the Greek elite and welcomed into service as a priestess to Tyche and Demeter Chamyne (in Olympia). Another example of the 1% getting everything, right? Actually, yes. She was not only able to participate in very important sacred rites, as a priestess of Demeter Chamyne, she was the ONLY woman allowed at the Olympic Games.
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Artists’ reconstruction
Regilla, in her own name (not that of her male family members, which would have been the norm for powerful women to make dedications) paid to have a nymphaeum at Olympia with a bull statue which bore her dedication.
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Dedication bull by Regilla – Wikicommons

The niches in her nymphaeum were typical of Hellenistic benefactor statecraft. The families and notable descendants of the emperors Antoninus Pius and Hadrian were represented, as were their wives and children. Regilla commissioned an impressive statement of dynasty and royal patronage placed beside busts of herself, Herodes, and their ancestors and children.
All of this looks like a pretty clear juxtaposition of power, perhaps making an ideological correlation to suggest that her dynasty was of the Emperors of Greece. In all ways they acted in the historic ways in which the Hellenistic kings had; and with the intimate support of the Roman emperors, there was no external military threat for them to worry about.

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View of Olympia – 2008
The statesmen, scholar and benefactor followed in the footsteps of the Hellenistic kings before him, sponsoring public works and art all over the Greek world. Following a similar pattern of linking one’s ancestry to divinity, and bestowing generous and beautiful civic structures, Herodes Atticus fits well into the tested and true history of benefactors and the City of Athens. A non-exhaustive list of some of the building projects they engaged in were aqueducts, baths, theatres and stadiums throughout Greece.

All this sounds well and good, but why the titillating title?

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Engraving by Piranesi of the supposed tomb / monument to Regilla – Wikipedia art commons

Though the busy couple traveled throughout Greece and Herodes received many honours, as did Regilla, something quite dark happened. Significantly (and stop me if you’ve heard this one), Regilla was heavily pregnant when she was kicked to death in her stomach. Very Nero-esqe. What followed is described in Sarah B. Pomeroy’s ‘The Murder of Regilla: A Case of Domestic Violence in Antiquity’. Regilla’s brother brought suit in Rome, where Herodes’ acquittal was influenced by his former student, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Following this, Herodes commissioned many building projects in his wife’s name.

Flipping through my “Oxford Archaeology of Greece”, Herodes’ name continues to pop up all over the country.Picture 051

His contributions to the architectural landscape of Roman-controlled Greece were impressive and varied. It seems to me, and other writers on the subject, that the building programme that followed her death looks like a guilty man playing the penitent to clear his name. Further, Herodes’ building projects with Regilla were exemplary of a desire to build their dynasty and be viewed through the same lensesas the Hellenistic kings once had, by leaving their mark through public benefaction all over the Greece.

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8. Hellenistic Athens: A Period of Growth and Benefaction

7c446-img_20160111_154012795_hdrWhat is the Hellenistic Period?

The Hellenistic period, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the period of time between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE (pictured below) and the battle of Actium in 31 BCE. This is a complex and nuanced period of time, with a previously unseen exchange of ideas, peoples and goods between the kingdoms of the Mediterranean. Rather than write a grueling chapter, I will say a few things briefly for now, and jump into this period more as I go along.

8. Hellenistic Athens: A Period of Growth and Benefaction
Alexander the Great, Athens Archaeological Museum – 2008

Fundamental to understanding why there were kings, and other powerful men and women building monuments and civic buildings in Greece, specifically in Athens, is discussing how benefaction worked in the ancient world. Hellenistic kings sought to be perceived by their Greek subjects as benefactors of their cities, for which Greek citizens gave them honours. This reciprocal transaction of inscriptions and proclamations of honours for benefactions, or more symbolic rewards, established the legitimacy that the kings needed, and in turn continued the cultural autonomy of the Greek citizens.

 

In tangible terms, this could take the form of a king, say Eumenes II of Pergamon, building a massive stoa (covered walkway/shopping arcade) for the leisure and enjoyment of Athenians. Eumenes II, in return, is possibly given an inscription and official proclamation that his patronage of Athens is appreciated, and they acknowledge him as a powerful ally and friend of the Greeks. Seems like an uneven exchange, does it not?

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Close view of inscription from Athenian Agora – 2008

A defining feature of the period was the ongoing warfare and rivalry between the Hellenistic kings. Their kingdoms were composed of the partitioning of Alexander the Great’s spear-won territories. The problem that these generals of Alexander faced was that they were not princes or kings in their own right. Sure, they could claim a connection to the famous world conqueror and construct their reputation and dynasties, but there was nothing inherent in being a descendant of a Macedonian general that would necessarily dissuade the Greeks to revolt against them.

 

In fact, quite the opposite. The Greeks had fought against the encroaching Macedonian power as it had grown following the end of the Peloponnesian wars in 430 BCE. Even Alexander and his father, Phillip II, had to walk a fine line on occasion when dealing with the Greeks. The relationship of benefaction, illustrated by the stoas, on the surface appears as other empires doing homage to Athens, forms part of an intersection between the idea of Greek independence and the reality of their domination by the Macedonians and later Romans. The careful negotiation of power between the new rulers and their subjects was facilitated by the perception of mutual benefit.

Stoa of Eumenes

Eumenes II (who ruled from 197 – 159 BCE.) had a contentious reign, with plots against his life (as was typical). At one point, a rumor spread about his untimely death, and his brother Attalos II, was hailed as king of Pergamon and married his brothers widow. Once the truth was revealed that Eumenes was still alive, rather than causing a civil war, Attalos abdicated and returned his new wife back to his borther. Amazingly, they carried on as before until Eumenes’ eventual death when his brother once more took the reigns of empire, married his brothers widow again, and held up his promise to pass on the kingdom to his brother’s son upon his death. This could be the least toxic Hellenistic dynasty in history.

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The Stoa of Eumenes from the south slope of the Acropolis – 2016

Built on the south slope of the Acropolis, between the Theatre of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, this stoa was a decadent promenade and one of the most costly benefactions which the Athenians received from a king of Pergamon. It is likely this stoa was designed by the same architect as that of Attalos II.

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Reconstruction drawing from placard in Athens – 2016

As in all things, location is key. The stoa served the Athenians going to the theatre, as a respite from the sun.

Stoa of Attalos

 

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Stoa of Attalos – 2016

Attalos II of Pergamon (rule from 159 – 138 BCE.), who commissioned its construction, was the inheritor to the Attalid dynasty. Remember all that preamble about the reciprocal behavior of Hellenistic kings? To understand why half of the buildings and statues that we see in Athens are even there, you have to understand why non-Greeks spent the money and time to put them there. The Atallids were building their empire from the collapse of the Lysimachian empire. Where Lysmachus’ empire had created legitimacy in the wake and division of Alexander the Greats’ conquered lands through aggressive military exploits, marrying royal heirs and alliances with the other successor kings, once his territories were conquered, what remained was divided.

The Attalid dynasts needed to create some quick and culturally relevant links to power to legitmise their rule. The centre of their power base was the great Turkish city of Pergamon. Picture 104

Built between 159 – 138 BCE., the stoa of Attalos II was a high end shopping centre. The two-storied collonaded stoa has two architectural orders: the ‘Doric order’ was used for the exterior colonnade, and the ‘Ionic order’ was used for the interior colonnade. As with other Hellensitic building projects of the time, the stoa was a very large and elaborate – a statement piece.

Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus

IMG_4007Considered to be the first theatre in the world, it was used to honour the god of wine, revelry and theatre, Dionysus. Prior to anyone getting on with the show, a jaunty sacrifice of a bull was needed to kick off proceedings and purify the theatre. The festival of the Dionysia was celebrated here, with some of the biggest names in Classical literature of the age: Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and Aeschylus.

That is incredible to me is that you can actually stand in the spot where some of the most famous plays in literature were performed, in the shadow of the Acropolis. Tradition has it that the first tragedy was performed at the Dionysia by actor-playwright Thespis (Thespis- thespian…see what they did there?) in the early 530s BCE.IMG_3940There were several phases of the Theatre of Dionysus, commencing with wooden seating in the 6th century BCE. The theatre is currently in pretty rough shape, though reconstruction work was completed between 2009 – 2015. The main problem, as with most buildings from antiquity, was that much of the stone was pilfered and used in other buildings nearby, or possibly carried off to be burned down in lime kilns.
The Theatre of Dionysus held significance for the Athenians’ sense of identity and history. The famous plays, still studied by students today, were a popular feature on this stage, even several hundred years after the initial opening night.

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A detail view of the carved theatre seat – 2016

The presence of the past was notable, even during the Roman period of control over Athens, and this theatre is an interesting case study of a ‘classical nostalgia’ which everyone since the Romans has been guilty of when considering Athens. It has been suggested by scholars that the dearth of new material in the Hellenistic and Roman period in Athens, coupled with the frequent re-staging of the greats by Aechylus and Euripides, can be interpreted as savvy business decisions by elites to invest money in revivals of Athenian theatre for which benefactors could be certain of quality and popular acclaim. IMG_3933Rather than making the riskier financial decision to invest in the support of new plays, which perhaps cut too closely to home (really reflecting the loss of autonomy felt by Greeks), instead the attention was focused on a golden age where their independence was trumpeted and powerful.

The Monument of Lysikrates
Built around 333/334 BCE, this interesting dedicatory monument speaks to a time which is perhaps difficult for us in the modern era to imagine. A time when, wealthy patrons could put on an impressive show for the citizens of Athens, and through their sponsorship of plays, compete against other wealthy elites for honours. Digital camera pictures 546 (2)Awarded to the choregos, who was responsible for the training and sponsoring of the chorus in dramatic contests held in the Dinonysia, this is the only existing example of remaining in Athens today. Sculptures like this, would have been crowned with a bronze tripod which no longer survives. The limestone podium is topped with a cylindrical tholos of Pentelic marble, and six Corinthian columns which are topped by eight acanthus leaves.
Apparently, the Corinthian capital was used for the first time on the exterior of decorative structure or building. It would not be until three hundred years later until the Corinthian ‘order’ became a recurring order in Rome. This type of column capital would go on to become the preeminent Roman capital type. The change of the governance of the Mediterranean would shift, favouring the rising strength of Italy. The Roman period of Athens follows similar pathways towards controlling Greeks through benefactions

and building projects.

The perception and goodwill of the public would be an ongoing preoccupation of the elites and leaders in Greece and Italy moving forward.

7. Classical Athens: The Erechtheion

e9f9d-img_20160112_140040185_hdrThe story of the Erechtheion was one of constant change. Built to replace the Old Temple of Athena, though not atop its foundations, it accommodated several cults in the same space. The building’s namesake was the hero and foster-child of Athena, Erechtheus. The temple was also dedicated to Athena, Poseidon, Hephaistos, and the hero Boutes – all worshiped in the same space.

If you have been counting along, that is now three temples to Athena on the Acropolis. 251ba-img_3974  This temple offers an interesting glimpse at what was going on in Athens as it was building an empire. Pericles and other elites of Athensbrought together a mixture of local spaces routed heavily in the foundation mythology of the city and it’s heroes, and built up expensive, impressive buildings around them.7. Classical Athens: The Erechtheion  The temple is on a slope (as you can see above) which sees the west and north side three metreslower than the southeast portion of the temple.The building size was reduced as a result of the shortage in funds during the Peloponnesian War, and the Caryatids placement hid the change in design. 7. Classical Athens: The Erechtheion

The architectural features of the building are really quite unique, in beauty and creativity Phidias out-did himself. The decoration programme included gilded ornamental work, inset glass beads and bronze work. The design incorporated multiple levels, sections and marbles.60599-picture2b073
The frieze (not visible) which was made of dark Eleusinian limestone and the temple was constructed from Pantelic marble. The frieze’s subject matter is unknown, but an inscription recorded payments to the tradesmen who carried out the work.

The female figures which line the porch are called Caryatids. Though made most famous by their presence on the Erechtheion, Caryatids had been an architectural feature in other sacred sites in Greece; during the Archaic period there were possibly other buildings with standing female columns, most notably in Delphi. These Ionic columns carved to look like young women is pretty spectacular by anyone’s standards. The original Caryatids have been moved and restored, using state of the art technology, in the New Acropolis Museum. For quite some time they had been under restoration, but you could view the work being carried out. While visiting in 2016, I was able to walk right up to them (which you cannot do with the replicas), and they were stunning.

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My squint little sketch of the Erechtheion  Z. Guertin – 2008

This cultic complex is an interesting oddity. It drew together many aspects that Athenians could use to define themselves; their foundation myths involved gods and local heroes, and all were represented within the Erechtheion.It was created in the period which followed ahistoric clash of cultures between the Persians and Greeks,and throughout the period of its creation the growing city-state of Athens developed into the imperial power it would belauded as for the next two thousand years.

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6. Classical Athens: The Parthenon

6. Classical Athens: The Parthenon
The west-facing side of the Parthenon – 2016

Walking upwards along the processional way, passing the Temple to Athena Nike and under the Propylaea, the real feast for the eyes stands before you – the Parthenon. It is a building so thoroughly embedded in our collective imaginations through all forms of media, that seeing it evokes something in everyone. 6. Classical Athens: The Parthenon

My impression of the Parthenon has changed with each encounter. When I was 18 years old I could appreciate the elegance, but lacked any real understanding. At 24, when I returned back in 2008, much more was visible and my understanding of it was enriched by four years of studying Art History, Classics and Archaeology. I would have to try very hard not to be impressed. I sat and awkwardly sketched what my poor draftsman’s hand could barely grasp, but I was drawn to draw. Most recently, as a travel-wise woman in my 30s, I could appreciate the nuances at play within the monumental building of power, politics and art.

6. Classical Athens: The Parthenon

The painstaking nature of this current methodology of restoration work deserves comment. Previous restoration work in done in the 19th and 20th century led to problems which specialists are now trying to repair (wrong pieces were fit together and corrosive materials which were unknowingly unsuitable were also used).

The current mandate for repair work is to map out each stone to the smallest detail, and any structure that is assembled has to be done with an eye for future restoration (meaning, nothing that is done now cannot be undone). The slow pace of work might annoy some members of the public who wish to view the building in all of it’s glory, but preservation with a long-term view is obviously a worthwhile endeavour. 57c18-picture2b069The creation of this temple dedicated to Athena began in 447 B.C.E. and lasted right up to 432 B.C.E, built atop the previous “Pre-Parthenon” also destroyed by the Persians in 480 B.C.E. Under Pericles, Phidias designed a monumental Athena statue that once stood in the Parthenon, and the sculptural motifs along the metopes and pediments and frieze, though the architectural design was Callicrates and Ictinos.

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The north-facing side of the Parthenon after restoration – 2016

Work on the Parthenon was slowed and interrupted by the outbreak of the Peloponnesian Wars, beginning 431 B.C.E., and ending nearly thirty years later. While the temple was dedicated to Athena, but also functioned as the state treasury. It bears contemplation that following the defeat of the Persians and the enrichment of Athens, they developed building projects which were all linked to their mythical patron and founding myths of the city. Even as hostilities rose between their main rival, Sparta, which ultimately led to a devastating war which divided all the Greek city-states against each other, the will of the Athenians (or at least the ones in power) was to carry on when possible with building. Perhaps, it was especially important in the face of foreign invaders, and even domestic ones, to complete an artistic and architectural legacy which presented their identity and power to the world.

Making a Statementathenian-acropolis-03The main themes of the artist design surrounding the Parthenon focused on their history and identity. Themes of conflict are illustrated in the two sides of the metopes (almost like a film reel running along the long sides of the Parthenon). The north-facing metopes possibly depict the sack of Troy (though it is under debate).

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The south-east-facing side of the Parthenon – 2016

The south side of the Parthenon’s metopes depicted the Centauromachy (the battle of the Centaurs against the Lapiths), which highlighted a lengendary hero connected to Athens, Theseus. The west-side, running underneath the pediment, featured the Amazonomachy (battle of the Amazons against the Athenians). The east-facing metopes which faced the entrance though the Propylaea, depicted the Gigantomachy (the battle of the Olympian gods and -wait for it- you probably guessed it- the giants).Picture 081aDid you guess that last one? Gold stars, whole class.

There is basically nothing you can glean from the west-pediment now, but once restoration is complete, the structural elements should at least be visible. As with the statuary from the east pediment, the Ionic frieze, the decorations have been stripped from the building and reside in several museums around the world.

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The Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum , by: Zofia Guertin- 2016

The main components of the Parthenon’s artistic works are on display in the British Museum.IMG_7424Future blog posts will look at some of the artistic elements of Greek art, of which the Parthenon provides excellent examples.There is a lively academic debate about the nature and meaning of the images depicted on the frieze, which Mary Beard discusses in her book “Parthenon”.IMG_7422

Next time….the Erechtheion!

5. Classical Athens: The Acropolis


The Acropolis of Athens

View of the Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike from the Pynx – 2008

Beginning with the crown jewel of experiences in Athens, let’s talk about the Acropolis. This focal point, at the centre of the city, is as impressive at night as it is during the day. With a mixture of gleaming marble and scaffolding, the conservation and reconstruction on the Acropolis is visible at a great distance and illustrates a multi-generational project.

The rebuilding of the Parthenon began after the expulsion of the Ottomans, and the cause of its ruinous state might surprise you. We have all heard the story of how the Ottomans stored munitions in the Parthenon, which exploded and was the cause of the destruction in the late 17th century, I assume. A less frequently repeated aspect of the story was that while the Venetians were bombarding the Ottomans in their encampment within the Parthenon, they had barricaded themselves on the Acropolis with 200 of their women and children. The Venetians fired at the Parthenon, then a thousand-year-old Christian church, and killed hundreds of non-combatants. Arguably, the Ottomans did not destroy the Parthenon, it was Christian Europeans. And thus it remained in a ruined state until the 1830’s when the restoration programme began.
Why Was it Built?
The explosion which left a scar on this famous Greek symbol, interestingly, was not the first time such a disaster was unleashed on the Acropolis.

The growing power and development of Greek cities in the 490s B.C.E. allowed them a significant degree of self-determinism. While Ionian Greeks were under the rule of the Great Kings of Persia, the Athenians were working in a burgeoning democracy, the Spartans had dual kings, Thebes and Megara were ruled by oligarchies. It should be said that, most Greek cities of this period were governed by oligarchies, and the experiment of limited democracy which the Athenians were operating under was the exception, not the norm.

Once the Ionian Greek cities came into conflict with the Persian Empire, after rising up against the tyrants placed in charge of these cities by the Persian king, a rebellion spread. This led to a series of battles which would culminate in the burning of Athens before the Persians would be ousted (for a time) at the Battle of Marathon.
Column drums from a building before the Persian invasion, were later integrated into the north-facing side of the Acropolis.
 King Darius’ death in 488 B.C.E. led to his son, Xerxes’ (yes, the one from 300) invasion of Greece in a George Bush-style attempt to ‘finish what his dad started’ manoeuvre which was equally unsuccessful. This led to several incredibly famous battles at Thermopylae and Salamis, which are still in being re-imagined in our modern era.
A depiction of one of the triremes used in these battles, Acropolis Museum – 2016
An incredible cultural florescence occurred in the years following the Persians eventual defeat. The Athenians expanded their imperial reach during these 50 years of peace between the Greek city-states. The Athenians had amassed an impressive navy through the taxes which each member of the Delian League (the allied city-states) paid to maintain and develop their navy, “should the Persians strike again”. The colonies and subject people of the Athenians also provided revenue streams to the state. The leadership of Athens was in a good position to start spending some of their wealth on crafting the image of how they wanted the world to view them. Through an impressive architectural campaign under Pericles, Athens began to invest in portraying itself as the natural leader of the Greeks.
Modern historians have called this the ‘Periclean building programme’, as it was organised and led by Pericles, who was the most prominent statesman in Athens during the period between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. The whole point of the Periclean building programme was to make a statement focusing on Athens’ new position in the geopolitics of the Mediterranean. Pericles, his chief architects Callicrates and Ictinus, and the famous sculptor Phidias, were the dream team which gave us the innovative and impressive buildings we see today.  
The Temple of Athena Nike
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The newly restored Temple of Athena Nike – 2016
The construction of the Temple of Athena Nike was completed around 420 B.C.E. (possibly directly) atop of the previous temple to Athena, destroyed by the Persians in the second invasion led by Xerxes.
This impressive temple stood proudly at the entrance, a bold statement to honour of the city’s namesake and of the power the Athenians sought to rebuild.
5. Classical Athens: The Acropolis
Entrance to the Propylaea – 2016
The Propylaea
This structure was the monumental and imposing gateway into the Acropolis. It had dual purposes in restricting access to the sacred spaces as well as protecting the state treasury held within.
Above, you can see the areas of modern materials added in the conservation of the Propylaea. Modern techniques and approaches no longer attempt to hide the reconstruction, rather they discretely blend the new materials into the damaged ancient structure/objects, but use a different shade.

5. Classical Athens: The Acropolis
 Passing beneath the reconstructed Propylaea – 2016

In 2008, the Propylaea and the Temple of Nike were heavily scaffolded during my visits. As you can see in the bottom left corner, there is still work being done on the columns of the Propylaea, but it has come a long way from my first encounter in 2001, or the subsequent trips. These incredible buildings offer a tantalizing greeting to any visitor, and I was thrilled and impressed to see them so nearly complete!
Coming Up…The Parthenon and the Erechtheion!

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