Horse guards parade.

The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition currently on display at ten sites across the northern frontier lured me up north for a short visit. As I didn’t have the time to get to all of the exhibition sites, I prioritized the expos in Newcastle and Carlisle at the Great North Museum: Hancock, at Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum, at Segedunum and at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery.

I’ve previously written about the extreme coolness of Roman cavalry parade helmets, so this is a little bit of an extension of that, as well as just a general Roman cavalry parade helmet love-in.

First up, Arbeia.

Arbeia Roman Fort, situated at a strategic point on the River Tyne was founded in about 120CE and was occupied right up until the end of the Roman period in Britain. Throughout this long life-span, the fort served as a base for (among others) auxiliary units of cavalry from Spain,  the First Asturian, and boatmen from Mesopotamia. It was converted into a supply station in the Severan period, handling the import of commodities destined for troops in the military zone.

At Arbeia Roman Fort, the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition, ‘Uncovering cavalry‘ is more about highlighting objects in the existing collection with just a couple of additions of objects on loan. This iron cavalry helmet from Limesmuseum Aalen is known as an ‘Alexander’ type due to its resemblance to portraits of Alexander the Great from around the same period, CE150-250.

Many surviving cavalry helmets are made from copper-alloy, sometimes coated in silver, but far fewer iron helmets have been found as they are more prone to corrosion. This helmet was found in a scrap metal dump near the workshops of Aalen cavalry fort.

A quick hop over the Tyne on the ferry took me to Segedunum. The larger exhibition there, ‘Rome’s elite troops – building Hadrian’s cavalry’, looks at the make up of the cavalry units and some of the manoeuvres used by cavalry units in battle.

Segedunum Roman Fort was built in about 127CE, when Hadrian’s Wall, originally starting at Pons Aelius (Newcastle upon Tyne) in 122AD, was subsequently extended by four miles to the east, to Wallsend. The fort was home to mixed cavalry-infantry units including the Second Cohort of Nervians in the 2nd century and, in the 3rd and 4th centuries the Fourth Cohort of the Lingones.

Alongside objects from Segedunum’s own collection are several helmets and helmet cheek-pieces on loan. One unusual helmet from Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins is this double-eagle crested helmet, a type worn by members of the Imperial Horse Guard in the third century.

  

Also in the exhibition is this silvered shield boss on loan from a private collection in the UK. The boss shows significant damage, probably sustained in battle during the Dacian Wars.

The boss is decorated with incised images of mythological subjects; Mars, Medusa, Jupiter, Apollo and Hercules. The outer part is decorated with images related to battle; shields, winged Victories, armour and a helmet.

There are two inscriptions on the boss; at the top, a statement of the ownership of the shield by Marcus Ulpius, a member of the Imperial Horse Guard in the time of the Emperor Trajan, and at the bottom, a record of the donation of the shield boss as an offering by Flavius Volussinus in memory of Marcus Ulpius.

Back in town, I went off to Newcastle’s Great North Museum: Hancock to see two helmets of a particular type. The display there, ‘Hadrian’s Cavalry: Shock and awe – the power of the Roman cavalryman’s mask’ shows the Ribchester Helmet (on loan from The British Museum) together with a second helmet of the same type (on loan from a private collection).

 

The Ribchester Helmet was found in Lancashire in 1796, as part of the Ribchester Hoard. It’s a bronze ceremonial helmet with a distinctive peak. The second helmet has been dated to roughly the same period as the Ribchester Helmet; 70-110CE/75-125CE.

Also at the GNM is Mithras.

The museum is home to a brilliant collection of Mithraic images and objects collected from sites along and around Hadrian’s Wall. Alongside more familiar mithraic imagery of the Tauroctony and the companions of Mithras, Cautes and Cautopates, this collection also includes this amazing carved stone sculpture of the birth of Mithras, with the god emerging from the Cosmic Egg.

Added to this, until 27th August, are three objects on loan from the collection at the Museum of London. The three marble busts were found buried under the floor level of the Mithraeum at Bucklesbury. They are a marble head of Minerva, the head of Serapis and the head of Mithras himself.

This is such a great idea. Bringing together the two best Mithras collections in the country. It’s also a good opportunity to have a bit of  look at Mithraeism in two different environments; the Mithraeums up on Hadrian’s Wall were in a military zone and associated with forts; e.g. Housesteads/Vercovicium and Carrawburgh/Brocolitia, while the London mithraeum was in civilian, urban area. The accompanying film also looks at the discovery of the London mithraeum in the 1950s.

A swift trundle west to Carlisle brought me to Tullie House Museum for the Guardians on the edge of empire – cavalry bases and Roman power exhibition, and more helmets. This is the largest of the exhibitions that I visited and there were some fantastic objects on display.

The fort at Carlisle, Stanwix/Uxelodunum, is thought to have housed cavalry troops, most the Ala Petriana. Home to a thousand mounted troops and their horses and support staff. This unit’s exceptional service earned them Roman citizenship while still serving. This is the unit in which Flavinus the signifer whose memorial now stands in Hexham Abbey, served, albeit at an earlier date.

The exhibition focuses, again, on the role and organization of the cavalry on the frontier and has an impressive range of helmets, face masks and other armoury pieces on display.

There are some pretty showy pieces, including this 2nd-3rdc. CE ‘Ostrov’ type helmet from Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins.

The helmet is a shape similar of one found in a burial at Ostrov, Romania and has a distinctive Phrygian cap shape on the upper part, topped with the head of a griffin and covered in scales.

The Gallery Attendant on duty when I visited was also very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the exhibition, and I had several conversations with her while I was looking round. She was particularly interested in this 3rdc. CE Amazon face mask (from Archäologische Staatssammlung München) and wondered about its origins and possible influences on the styling.

 

It really has a strong eastern look, reflecting the exoticism of the Amazon warriors. But comparing  it with the second Amazon face mask in the exhibition (mid-2nd – mid-3rdc. CE, from Archäologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg) just shows up how exotic this one really looks.

This 1stc. CE ‘kalkreise’ type face mask (below), on loan from a private collection, is interesting as it has markings on the cheeks. As Imperial cavalry forces were usually auxiliary, i.e.non-citizen, units raised in provinces incorporated into the empire, these could have been indicative of tribal tattoos.

It’s really interesting to see the number of helmets and masks, and other pieces of armour, on display that are from private collections. This makes these displays even more worth seeing while they’re on, as there’s no telling whether they’ll be displayed in public again.

So there you are. A little peek at a few of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibitions. It would have been nice to have been able to do all ten as a road trip but I only had time for a flying visit. And I should also just point out that these exhibitions are in addition to the already excellent Roman collections at the museums and sites in question. Of course, on the back of seeing these exhibitions and displays, I’m now going to have to get down to Mougins to visit the museum there, and it has encouraged me to add more of Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium to the (never-ending) list.

.

The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition continues until 10th September at ten sites along Hadrian’s Wall and down the western coast as far as Maryport.

Advertisements

More Bridges of the World

On the walkways of Tower Bridge there is currently a display of other iconic, interesting, ancient and modern bridges around the world.

There are some big hitters in the display; the Pont Neuf; the Golden Gate Bridge; Ironbridge, and some interesting but less widely known examples, for example the Moses Bridge at Fort de Roovere, Halsteren, Netherlands. Looking at this exhibition, an in-passing conversation got me thinking about other bridges that have taken my fancy on my travels, so here are a few ‘Other Bridges of the World’.

The Tower Bridge display include a beautiful bridge which I was fortunate to visit in Isfahan, Iran, the Allāhverdi Khan Bridge, more commonly known as Si-O-So-Pol.

Here are a few of my images of this lovely bridge.

o

A little way to the west of the Si-O-So-Pol bridge is another mid-17th century beauty, the Khaju Bridge.

Again, the bridge is built of two levels of arcades, and has the original tiles and paintings still intact.

The bridge works as both a bridge and a weir, but it also has a function as a buildings for meetings, a space for the Shah Abbas, the Persian Safavid king, to relax, take tea and admire the view.

The weir’s effect on the river is very evident but, as long as the water isn’t too high, it’s quite safe to sit by the water to enjoy the cool space on a hot day.

When I visited, the area around both of these bridges and along the riverside was peppered with people; individuals, couples, groups of friends and families, all enjoying the same relaxing space as the Shah Abbas. Strolling along the riverbank, sitting by the water, listening to music and eating ice-cream. Some things never change.

The sole Roman Bridge in the Tower Bridge display is the Pont du Garde, near Nimes in France.

I’m including another Roman bridge here for good measure. In Algeria, crossing the El Kantara gorge in Biskra, on the journey south to Ghardaia, we came to the El Kantara Roman Bridge.

The bridge was substantially rebuilt under Napolean but its roots are Roman. Built, probably, by the Third Legion Augusta, who were stationed at Lambaesis, this bridge crossed the gorge which was, and still is, the gateway to the desert. This made it a vital point of access for trade and people.

The bridge eventually fell into disrepair but was  renovated and widened under Napoleon.

Some of the original Roman construction blocks can be seen, and there is also an area of the original pavement, although it doesn’t look like it’s still in situ.

During our visit, we were joined at the bridge by a wedding party, and the happy couple has photos taken by the side of the river and on the bridge. We were told that it’s a bit of a tradition in the area to have wedding photos taken there and it’s certainly a lovely spot for it.

In the exhibition is a bridge which became a victim of war and, subsequently, a symbol of  post-war recovery and reconcilliation: Stari Most, the Mostar Bridge.

Originally built in the 16th century, on 9th November 1993, the Mostar Bridge was destroyed by Croat forces in the Croat-Bosniak War. Its destrucion has been described as a deliberate attack on the culture of Mostar in an act of “killing memory”*, so its reconstruction and reopening in 2004 acted as a symbol of the town’s recovery, both physically and culturally.

A bridge in my own alternative exhibition has suffered a similar fate and, we must hope, may yet act as a symbol for the future. In the northern Syrian town of Deir-ez Zor stood the Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge (Arabic: جسر دير الزور المعلق‎‎).

Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge, early misty morning.

This bridge was built in 1927, under the French Mandate and acted as a pedestrian route across the Euphrates, connecting the Levant region of the city on the southern bank with the Upper Mesopotamia region on the north bank. When I visited Deir-ez Zor in 2009, I was particularly gleeful about being able to walk from the Levant to Mesopotamia.

 

The bridge was destroyed in May 2013 in shelling by the Free Syrian Army.

Deir-ez Zor has suffered horribly in the Syrian War and this situation continues with no obvious end in sight. Clearly I have no idea how the situation in Syria will be resolved but I can only hope that one day, soon, the Deir-ez Zor Suspension Bridge might act as a symbol for the end of war and the beginning of recovery, as has the Mostar Bridge.

To end on a slightly less depressing note, a bridge that’s a bit more modern.

One of the (many) things I like about Newcastle is the great abundance of bridges over the Tyne. There are railway bridges and road bridges, some of them towering above the river and the streets below them.

There’s a swing bridge!

Walking over the Tyne Bridge feels like an act of folly due to the thunderous traffic, but it’s quite fun nevertheless.

But there is also a more recent and more chilled out bridge taking pedestrians from the city over to the Baltic on the Gateshead side of the river: the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

Work on the bridge began in 1999 and it opened to the public in September 2001. It is a bit of a symbol of the regeneration of the riverside area. I’m pretty sure that anyone who lives in an old industrial city can testify, ‘regeneration’ can be a double edged sword. Down at heel, even derelict areas can be brought back to life and made really nice. The addition of a decent cafe is always welcome. But in the rush to lure new money and new people to an area, ‘regeneration’ can often ignore the people who already live or work there. I’m not sure exactly how the people of Newcastle feel about their riverside’s regeneration but, as a visitor, I like it.

It’s a tilting bridge which consists of two steel arches, one which carries the footpath and the other which acts as a counterweight. Like Tower Bridge, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge ‘opens’ for river traffic to pass underneath, but rather than using the split roadway idea, the entire bridge tilts.

Despite having seen and walked across this bridge lots of times, I’d never seen it actually tilting but on a recent quick jolly up north to see some of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition, I was able to catch it on its regular midday tilt**. It’s brilliant 😀 I already liked this bridge but, having now seen it tilting, I like it even more.

These are just a few bridges that have impressed themselves on my memory on my travels. There are others that I really like, in Constantine, Algeria; at Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland and, of course, in London, but I think that I’ll leave those for another day.

.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stari_Most#Reconstruction

** There’s a little Youtube video here: https://youtu.be/lQ0ZqeE7vB0

Boats and boats and boats

When I visited Nimes a year and a half ago, I’d started looking round at other places in Southern France that might be worth a look. There are loads, representing a whole range of Roman sites; industrial, commercial, ritual, residential. So much to see, but I have to start somewhere so, taking advantage of my new-found (but, alas, only temporary) freedom, I decided to pay a visit to Marseille.

Marseille, ancient Massilia, or Massalia, was founded by settlers from the Ionian Greek colony of Phocea (in modern western Turkey) in about 600BCE. The city had a significant Greek and Phoenician history before the Romans showed up, and there is plenty of archaeological evidence for his very long ancient history.

A key feature of Marseille, today as in the past, is its harbour.

5

The line of the harbour, Vieiux Port, today has been regularised with built concrete harbour walls and quays, but the coast round here is very uneven, with lots of small inlets, islands and promontories.

1

The ancient coastline wiggled about even more, and would have been a mass of tiny inlets, beach areas, estuaries and islands but as the city was being established the valuable anchorage in this area was being exploited and improved.

The walls of one of the docks are several hundred metres inland of the present one, in the grounds of the city’s history museum, Musee d’Histoire de Marseille. Here there are in-situ remains of part of the Flavian waterfront, docks, streets, a fresh-water storage facility and a range of buildings.

The large grassed area on the right of the wall would have been ‘ Horn’ harbour basin, with barges mooring up here, and loading and unloading.

14

This part of the dock wall has been made from reused earlier Roman material.

3

This harbour was subject to continual silting and was abandoned in the early third-century. The nearby fresh-water basin was constructed with the aim of reducing the silting (from streams running into the harbour), with the fresh-water used for supplying the ships.

21

As an important port, handling trade and transport from other areas along the southern European coast, and also from across the Mediterranean, North Africa. Still today, Marseille is a key port for ferries and cruise ships sailing from Algeria and Tunisia.

What is great to see in the city’s museums is evidence of the boats and barges that came to grief on this coast. There are over 50 known shipwrecks in the bay around Marseille, and each one adds evidence to the story of the city.  I’m just going to go large straight away.

19

In the city museum there are the remains of several large transport barges found during excavations in the city.

15

6th century BCE wooden boat.

18

It’s possible to see the construction methods…..

17

16

I was particularly keen to visit the Roman Docks Museum (free entry, people!), which has actually been built around an in-situ warehouse that stood alongside the quay for much of the Roman period.

6

Along the Roman waterfront, goods barges would moor up and unload cargoes of goods, including commodities like wheat, salted fish garum and olive oil, and a key feature of the waterfront is the unloading and storage area.

10

The gigantic storage pots, dolia, which were buried in the warehouse floor, are still where the Romans left them. Several are intact (or reconstructed), so we can really see the massive size of these pots.

8

11

This one even has part of the lid.

7

This is only a small museum space, but there are loads of artifacts associated with the trade handled by the ancient city, many of them from shipwrecks. I love this intact pot, which has a filter element at the top.

9

And if you’re interested in amphorae, this is a great place to see a whole range of the amphorae found in this area.

13 12

There are even some of the amphora lids, detailing the contents and traders.

23 22

As I understand it, Marseille has had quite a few ups and downs and hasn’t always had the best reputation as a city. Now it really seems like it’s on an up and I was not at all disappointed with my stay there. For a Romanist, especially one interested in maritime Rome, this is an excellent place to visit. I only wish I’d been able to stay longer.

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – The writing on the wall (and the floor and in the street…)

It has often been said that Romans had, and inspired, ‘the epigraphic habit‘. Put (very) simply, they liked to write stuff down. They wrote on scrolls and books, on buildings, in mosaics, on memorials and dedications, on personal objects and on public monuments.

It’s debatable how many people would have been able to read all of this writing but things like personal and place name, and simple phrases of the ‘this is mine’ and ‘I made this’ variety may have been recognizable to many people who may otherwise be considered illiterate*.

To be in a place and see its name inscribed is great. Spending time in North Africa with, often, Arabic overtones to everyday culture, it can be a bit too easy to forget that you are not, in fact, in the Middle East (I’ve heard North African countries referred to as ‘Middle Eastern’ on a surprising number of occasions). So, just to remind us all of where we are…

P1190545--

10418312_10152415870106436_8344365467443294406_n

P1280437  HD019383

This is Africa. OK?

And this one names one of the specific Roman provinces of Africa,

P1310097

‘PROVINCIAE NUMIDIAE’. Numidia.

Now that we’ve got the straight, let’s get a bit more specific. Many of the North African cities enjoyed high status. Some were veteran colonies or trade hubs which prospered because of the many trading opportunities available, and several were treated to visits from one Emperor or another.  Never known for their reticence when it came to blowing their own trumpets, the Roman citizens of these cities loved to commemorate any big occasion, visit, achievement or fancy new building with an inscription, and these inscriptions have provided us with the names and statuses of the towns and cities during the Roman period.

Timgad, in modern Algeria, was founded by the Emperor Trajan around 100CE as a veteran colony for Parthian veterans. Its full name, ‘COLONIA MARCIANA ULPIA TRAIANA THAMUGADI.

P1310911  HD020303

And these inscriptions from modern Djemila, confirms its status, ‘COLONIA’, and the Roman name ‘CUICUL’.

P1310094  HD022546

P1310196

Here, this arched architectural element from a public fountain at Simitthus (Chemtou ) in Tunisia, with a dedication to the emperor Marcus Aurelius from the people of the city – ‘POPVLO SIMITTVENSI’.

P1150846  HD051895

And there is this dedication set up on behalf of the people of the ‘COL[ONIA] SABRAT[A]’ (Sabratha) in Libya, to thank L. AEMILIUS QUINTUS, for his good works on behalf of the city.

CIMG0671

IRT, 111

Spot the city name?

CIMG0671detail

It looks to me like this monument has been reused, as the inscribed panel looks like an earlier inscription has been chipped away. Perhaps L. Aemilius Quintus had outdone an earlier good citizen.

Other commemorations include this beautifully intact (hopefully still intact) and in-situ dedication to the Emperor Augustus from the theatre at Lepcis Magna, Libya.

CIMG3508

IRT, 322

This reads, in full:

IMP(ERATORE) CAESARE DIVI F(ILIO) AUG(USTO) PONT(IFICE) MAX(IMO) TR(IBUNICIA) POT(ESTATE) XXIV
CO(N)S(ULE) XIII PATRE PATR(IAE)
ANNOBAL ORNATOR PATRIAE AMATOR CONCORDIAE 
FLAMEN SUFES PRAEF(ECTUS) SACR(ORUM) HIMILCHONIS TAPAPI F(ILIUS) RUFUS 
D(E)S(UA) P(ECUNIA) FAC(IENDUM) COER(AVIT) IDEMQ(UE) DEDICAVIT

Translation:

When Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of the deified (Caesar), chief priest, was ()holding tribunician power for the twenty-fourth time, consul for the thirteenth, father of the country, Annobal, adorner of his country, lover of concord, flamen, sufete, in charge of sacred things, son of Himilcho Tapapius Rufus, saw to the construction at his own expense and also dedicated it.

So the building has been, quite properly, dedicated to the Emperor, but Annobal, the man who stumped up the cash, also gets his big-up, “adorner of his country, lover of concord, flamen, sufete, in charge of sacred things, son of Himilcho Tapapius Rufus”. And just to emphasize that ‘lover of concord’ bit,

 CIMG3508----

As the Roman administration established new, and extended existing trade and communications networks across Africa, road signs and distance markers increasingly became a feature. Here are three examples, the first from near Simithus (Chemtou) in Tunisia, and the second found on the road from Oea (Tripoli) to Fezzan, but currently in the National Museum of Antiquities, Tripoli, Libya, and the third from Cuicul (Djemila) in Algeria.

P1150816 CIMG1001  P1310326

The other thing that Romans liked to commemorate was themselves. Grave markers are an important source of information about individuals living, especially, in the towns and cities. There are loads of these at various sites (I was going to say ‘hundreds’ but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s ‘thousands’). We have to be a little bit careful with these because, in the first place, the wording on grave markers can be quite formulaic. We still see “rest in peace”, “went to sleep” on many gravestones now and these kinds of standard phrases were also common in the past. Secondly, the wording on gravestones is not necessarily decided by the deceased person themselves (although it sometimes does seem to be). Gravestones are, for obvious reasons, set up by those people surviving the deceased; family members, friends, etc., and they can sometimes say as much about those people as about the deceased person.

With that in mind, here’s a “rest in peace” inscription from Hadrumentum (Sousse in Tunisia), dedicated to the Christians, ‘CHRISTIANI CIVES HADRUMENTINI FRATRIBUS‘ interred in one of the four large catacombs of the city. Can you pick out ‘DORMIUNT IN PACE’?

P1030836

Inside the catacombs each burial niche could have had its own personal dedication with some being more formal than others. This fragment of a scratched dedication survives in-situ.

P1030827

While this complete, and much smarter, inscription has been removed to the Sousse Museum.

P1140594--

P1140594

The presence of the group inscription seems to suggest a strong shared identity as Christians alongside their individual and familial identities.

My other favourite memorial is this carved and inscribed, in Greek, tombstone from Ptolemias, in eastern Libya.

The grave marker of Hermes the gladiator

This is the memorial to the gladiator, Hermes, ‘ЕΡМНϹ‘. He is shown in his ‘stage’ costume as a Retiarius; a lightly-armed gladiator who carried a trident and net. The ‘net-fighter’ made up for his lack of armour and heavy weaponry by being quick and agile, so our ЕΡМНϹ reflects some of the attributes of the divine Hermes – fast, lithe and cunning. Protector of athletes and as tricky as you like.  The inscription tells us that he won eight of his bouts but he seems to have died in the ninth. Still, he must have made a few bob otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to pay of this lovely tombstone.

Many military roles survive, but in the case of this one you can see that some references have been erased.

P1320624

These are references pertaining to the Third Legion Augusta, which was stationed at Lambaesis in modern Algeria. Its name has been erased because it backed the losing side in one of the many succession squabbles that went on during the Empire (the side they backed was, arguably, the ‘right’ side, but the winners get to write the histories, eh?).

With Roman culture came an increase in urban living. That’s not to say that North Africa didn’t already have its own cities before the Romans. It did. Many of the cities we may now think of as Roman had their origins much earlier, either as Pheonician or Numidian towns and cities. However, Roman culture did push an idea of urbanization which meant that more and more people lived in closer and closer proximity. This lifestyle necessitated a greater emphasis on personal security and one manifestation of this was the practice of people writing their names on their personal possessions. Here are two pot-sherds from the museum at Timgad, Algeria.

P1350642 P1350641

We see examples of this on military sites in Britain, where large numbers of men (it is usually men) find themselves living in close proximity and want to prevent their stuff from getting nicked. The inscriptions are usually of the ‘ This bowl belongs to…’ type, but they do vary.

Most of these inscriptions we’ve seen so far have been in Latin, with a little bit of Greek thrown in, but here are a few bilingual inscriptions and inscriptions in scripts which I can even begin to decipher.

To start, I’ll go back to that dedication at the theatre at Lepcis. Here’s a closer look at some of the text. The bottom 2 lines are written in Neo-Punic and are a literal translation of the Latin above.

CIMG3422----

Here’s some more Neo-Punic. This is a building dedication of the Forum at Lepcis Magna, Libya, to  the Emperor Claudius.

Building dedication of the Forum to Claudius

IRT, 338

Look down at the bottom of the stela.

CIMG3290

These few lines of Neo-Punic basically repeat what the Latin says (you can see the transcriptions and translations in the IRT site). This shows just how compact a script Neo-Punic is compared to Latin. It’s a semitic language and the inscribed form has no vowels.

This stone, now in the Archaeological Museum in Algiers, is written in a local script, Numidian? Berber Tifinagh?  Anyway, I have no idea what it says.

P1290969

There is also this stone from Chemtou in Tunisia, written in Libyco-Berber. The museum has a handy guide to the script which, to be honest, hasn’t made me any wiser.

P1150701--  P1150701-----

P1150711

And so, to bring the epigraphic habit up to date…

(or almost up to date. Obviously this sort of thing is no longer de rigeur in Libya)

The Colonel. Pre-2011, Libyan towns, cities and highways were peppered with billboard posters like this one, commemorating the revolution of 1969, which brought Colonel Ghaddafi to power.

CIMG4731---

Some more recent political sloganeering in Tunisia.

1017637_10151805714076436_185266230_n

And a final word from football-mad Algeria.

P1330970

.

* I must confess that I am one of those near-illiterates who can pick out names and the ‘this is mine’ and ‘I did this’ stuff, but I’ve had help for this post from the brilliant ‘The Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania‘ website created by King’s College, and also the scarily extensive Epigraphic Database Heidelberg.

NB. I’ve been a bit rubbish at putting all the references in for these inscriptions (with links to the appropriate website) as I’ve been going along, but I’m working on it so if you’re particularly interested in one of them, do check back, as I’ll add in as many of them as  I can find as quickly as I can.

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Nom nom

North Africa is one of several regions known as the breadbasket of Rome. In the Roman world, regions that were able to produce the vast quantities of foodstuffs needed to keep the empire working became extremely wealthy, and the already high status families from these areas became increasingly powerful. Members of families from Spain and North Africa even got the top job!

One of the most important commodities produced in North Africa was olive oil, so we’ll start with some olive oily stuff.

Oil’s well that ends well

P1190868

This mosaic, from Tabarka but now in the Bardo Museum, shows a North Africa fortified farmstead and estate surrounded by olive trees, interspersed with grape vines. Parts of a mixed farming economy.

To harvest the olives, workers would bash the trees with long poles so that the ripe olives would fall to the ground, where they would then be gathered up by others. To be honest, I can’t confirm that this fellow is gathering olives, but he’s gathering something, that’s for sure.

P1200497

P1190852

Olives are still grown extensively in these areas. This image of neat rows of olive trees was taken out of the window of the train from Tunis to El Djem. The field may look half empty, but in olive growing, tree spacing is key to a good crop yield.

P1030493

To extract the olive oil, they would have used a press like this one at Madauros, Algeria.

P1290284.

If you’re not familiar with this kind of press (it’s a lever press), this may all look a bit random, so this diagram may help to explain how it works. It’s in Italian, but non-italian-speakers (like me) can look at the pictures.

olive oil  press

http://www.oliveoilmuseums.gr/ecportal.asp?id=92&nt=18&lang=2

The first stage involves crushing the olives using an olive mill like this one at Tipasa, Algeria, making it easier to squeeze out the oil.

P1350166

The pre-crushed olives are then loaded into circular baskets, which are stacked up on the pressing bed (this one is at Sufetula (Sbeitla), Tunisia) to be squeezed for their oil. The groove helps the oil to run into the collection tanks next to the pressing bed.

P1190035

These presses (below) are the best preserved Roman presses in North Africa found, together with the remains of the building in which they stood,  at Sufetula (Sbeitla) in Tunisia. You can get an idea of the scale by the man sitting on the wall next to the left hand orthostat (upright standing stone). They’re pretty big.

P1190044

I love this little mini press at Tipasa. It’s about 60cm (-ish) in diameter.

P1350181

I wonder if someone just had this at their home or village, maybe they had just a handful of trees and pressed their own oil for their local needs. The technology scales up or down pretty easily, so it’d work.

And this is where they put all that lovely olive oil once it’s ready.

P1310512

Amphorae were pretty standard storage and transport vessels for a range of commodities such as olive oil, garum, salted fish, preserved fruit, wheat and others.

There are sherds all over the place on the ground at the various sites. As I went round I was looking for any particularly interesting bits and bobs, and on the beach at Nabeul, Tunisia was this amphora base.

P1250625

(REMEMBER! Just because there are loads of sherds on the ground, that doesn’t mean that you can help yourself. Take only photographs, not artefacts).

The fruits of the earth

Agriculture was big business in North Africa and estates produced a whole range of commodities in addition to olives, with a major crop being wheat. These reliefs from Ghirza (now in the National Museum of Antiquities in Tripoli) record sowing and reaping of the crops on estates in the Tripolitanian pre-desert. The pre-desert is an arid environment so the people farming these areas used large-scale irrigation techniques to ‘green the desert’.

CIMG1056

CIMG1055

And from the Bardo is this beautifully delicate relief.

P1190942

P1190943

Wheat formed a major element of the economy, particularly in the areas of Tunisia and Algeria which were centuriated; divided up into large estates, including imperial estates. This was wheat production on an industrial scale.

There were also vegetables and fruits, these are in the National Museum of Antiquities, Tripoli (formerly the Jamahyria Museum).

P1200483  CIMG4605

These grapes and pomegrantes are in the Museum at Lepcis Magna. From the style, they look like they might be from Ghirza.

CIMG2875  CIMG2895 (2)

Trade in these commodities took place in the markets of the coastal emporia, many of which were originally established as Pheonician trading centres.

There is a particularly fine market, macellum, at Lepcis Magna, built in 9-8 BCE, which consisted of a large square  market-place surrounded by a portico, with two octagonal buildings known as tholoi. This is the surviving southern tholos.

CIMG3384

Within the macellum there are tables and benches from which goods were traded. Then, as now, prices, weights and measures were strictly regulated and many of the tables have these built-in measures for checking that the correct quantities were being sold for the correct prices.

CIMG3386

Here are some other examples from Timgad, Djemila and Tiddis in Algeria.

P1310822

P1310272

P1290748

In the Bardo, in Tunis, is another type of measure called a modius.

P1190988

To grind the wheat there are several  difference types of mill. This hand mill from Latrum, Libya.

P1130743

And a reconstructed version of the same type at Chemtou, Tunisia. The wheat goes in the top and drops down between the stones. Then the ground flour collects in the reservoir under the stones.

P1150820

And here, from Carthage, Tunisia, are several quern stones of difference sizes and materials. There would have been a top and bottom stone and the wheat was ground between them by rotating the upper stone over the lower. The central hole is for the spiggot linking the two stones and the smaller hole at the side is for a handle.

P1160585

Huntin’, shootin’ n fishin’

Hunting features on many mosaics and reliefs from North Africa, sometimes the hunting of animals destined for the arena, sometimes for the pot. The boars hunted in this mosaic from the Bardo (below) could have been destined for either.

P1160212

And here, in an in-situ mosaic from Bulla Regia, Tunisia, is a detail of another boar hunt.

Bulla Regia

This small relief of a bird hunt, also from the Bardo, really shows the technique for driving the birds into nets.

P1200555

And here’s their catch

P1200467

Shooting.

No guns, of course, but this lovely late-fourth century mosaic from Carthage (now in the Bardo) shows contemporary shooting from horseback. These hunters must have been skilled horsemen, notice there’s no saddle or stirrups. The rider would have controlled the horse with his knees.

P1200142

Fishing

Having direct access to the Mediterranean coast, the North African provinces have produced lots of evidence for fishing and related activities during the Roman period. These views of net fishing are from the Bardo.

p12000871

P1190856

And for fruits de mer

P1200638

And from Nabeul, these little nets look like lobster pots

Nabuel 1

And, actually, I think that it would be safer for this man if he didn’t catch these giant fish.

P1200255

All ready for a fish supper in Ptolemais, Libya.

Fish mosaic

And talking of fish, as well as consuming fish fresh from the sea, the other hugely important fish product was garum; Roman fish sauce.

A major garum production site in Tunisia was Neapolis, modern Nabeul.

P1250549

The tanks you can see in the centre of the image would have been used to produce the garum (see my earlier post about Nabeul for info about garum production and use).

These are the tanks at Tipasa on the Algerian coast. There are still traces of the plaster lining in the tanks.

P1350351

P1350353

This is the end

Obviously once all of this lovely food has been produced everyone tucks in, but food has also always been culturally and socially important. A way of displaying wealth and status; a way of entertaining friends and guests; and a way of marking important life-events. Births, marriages and deaths all involved foods, then as now. As this is the end, I’ll leave you with death.

Several of the reliefs already posted above actually come from tombs on which individuals (or their heirs) display the sources of the deceased’s wealth. As it is often from agriculture, that is what is shown.

But food also featured in funerary and commemorative rituals themselves. This grave marker has a vertical stone with an inscription, but also a base with bowl-shaped indentations. Into these would be poured libations of (eg) olive oil, spring water, or offerings of grain would be left to the spirits of the departed.

P1310830

So there you are. A little look at the grub of Roman North Africa. If you wish to leave a libation, pop it in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box 😉

http://www.livius.org/le-lh/lepcis_magna/macellum.html

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Reuse, recycle and renew.

Anyone who has ever been to, or near, a Roman site anywhere in the world, will have noticed that there is always a certain level of recycling in evidence. Sometimes pre-Roman material is recycled in the construction of Roman sites. Sometimes material is reused and recycled during the period of Roman occupation. Frequently Roman sites are used as quarries, with material taken to build later structures (have a look at the Wallquest project, mapping material taken from Hadrian’s Wall (and other places) and used to build churches in the Tyne Valley).

P1230669 *

The particular history of a region can determine how, and why, material is reused. Sometimes some external threat necessitates the reorganisation of space within a city. Sometimes a changing economic situation results in old structures being dismantled and new ones built. Depopulation, war, famine, negative factors, can result in changes to the urban landscape, but equally, these can be the result of  improvements in the fortunes of a city.

Trouble at mill

At a number of North African sites we can see this kind of structure.

P1290370

These are fortresses built by the Byzantines, often using recycled material from the Roman towns and cities on, or in which they sit. These fortresses were often thrown up very quickly in response to the various crises of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This one at Madauros, was constructed in a hurry in response to the threat from the Numidian tribes attacking the town.

P1290355

Although the building itself is sound, the stonework is a bit hotch-potch, with a whole variety of stone sizes used in one wall. When you’re in a hurry any decent piece of stone will do. All of this stonework has been taken from buildings in the pre-existing town but some of the reused pieces are pretty obvious.

P1290359

P1290423

Some are slightly more subtle, but they’re there if you look.

1966675_10152360995901436_956862835213013559_n

In Gafsa, Tunisia, there are two pools at the corner of the casbah, fed by nearby hot springs.  I understand that changes to the oasis irrigation methods have resulted in the water supply to the pools being cut off. When I visited, they were empty, but when they were full the local boys had great fun jumping and diving from the steps.

P1180968

They’re constructed from good Roman ashlar blocks, but these are certainly reused, as a closer examination reveals  that some of the blocks are a little awry. These are fragments of inscriptions which are, in themselves, important as the fragments reveal the existence, somewhere in the town, of a nymphaeum dedicated to Neptune, and that by the time of Hadrian, Gafsa (Roman Capsa) was no longer a civitas  but became a municipium in Trajan’s reign.

P1180993

All Change

As well as Roman building material being reused in antiquity, sometimes whole buildings are reused, their function changed to suit the changing times or, perhaps, new populations.

At Tipasa, on the Algerian coast, Roman homes were converted in the Byzantine period, into shops and storehouses.

P1350342

These large amphorae sunk into the floor of the old houses would have held commodities such as olive oil, salted fish or grain.

P1350345

This is the theatre-amphitheatre at the Temple of Apollo in Cyrene, Libya.

CIMG2319

This was originally a Hellenistic theatre with a semi-circular orkestra (dancing floor), but was altered in the Roman period into an oval amphitheatre**. This actually took some doing because the site is on the edge of an escarpment.

This is an aerial photograph showing the site, in which the foundations of the Greek theatre building (scaene) and orkestra are clearly visible, running across the later oval-shaped amphitheatre.

Temple of Apollo Cyrene

http://ghn.globalheritagefund.com/uploads/library/doc_443.pdf 

This, slightly later, site adaptation can be seen in the Village of Bled el-Haddar in the oasis of Tozeur in Tunisia. The village itself is pretty unremarkable, sited in part of the palmery a short walk from Tozeur town centre, but the one feature that might interest us here is the minaret of the small local mosque.

P1040265

It’s built on the foundations of a Roman tower. I’ve no idea what the original structure on the site might have been. Perhaps a watch tower, or even a tower tomb, but there isn’t much left of it. Still, there’s enough to be able to spot the entirely different stonework involved and this represents the scant remains of the Roman town of Tusuros.

Ancient and Modern

Many of North Africa’s modern cities were established on or near the sites of ancient cities and reused Roman material also crops up around these cities. Ancient material incorporated into the fabric of modern life. All over cites, you can see Roman columns. They’re everywhere around the casbahs of Kairouan and Tunis.

P1160391 P1170185

Some have even been repainted.

P1160392

At Kairouan in Tunisia, established in the 7th century, one of the country’s most important Muslim sites, the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba has been constructed using more than 500 columns brought from Roman sites including Sbeïtla, Hadrumetum and Chemtou and from as far away as Carthage.

P1170057

Going round the courtyard, you can see columns of different heights, made from a whole variety of materials and with different column capitals.

P1170095 P1170088

Inside the prayer hall are more. Note all the different heights.

P1170113

Other recycled Roman elements in the mosque include these lintels, used to create an attractive door surround.

P1170069

And this large column base, which has been reused as a well-head.

P1170075

The pipes and pumps are modern, of course, but the grooves around the column base are wear evidence of the ropes used to haul up buckets in earlier times.

Similarly, in the macellum at Lepcis Magna, Libya, this market table shows clear signs of use as a well cover. The deep grooves are, again, signs of wear made by the rope pulling over the stone.

CIMG3412

At Madauros there is also some quite ‘interesting’, and considerably later reuse of Roman stonework.

P1290613

Many of the grave markers recovered by French archaeologists excavating the site in the 1930s were used to embellish the wall running alongside the main street. While this does allow a good view of the stones, that view is pretty distorted.   For one thing, not all of the stones would have originally been set in an upright position. The second and third from the left (eg) would have been laid flat on the ground, as they both have bowl-shaped indentations designed to receive libations.

P1290613..

This practice of reuse is visible around the site, as the wall of what will be the new on-site museum also contains reused Roman grave stones and building blocks.

P1290252

Someone also went further in their recycling zeal as a careful examination of the grave markers reveals that while they may all be Roman stonework, they weren’t all originally grave markers.

P1290219

This one (above) is a column base which has been upturned and crudely inscribed in order to give it the appearance of a Roman grave marker. Whether this was done in antiquity or (much) later, I don’t know (I suspect the latter) but either way, how odd!

We often frown upon people who treat ancient sites as quarries and builders merchants, but at many sites and in many areas this reuse then forms a revealing part of the continuing story of those sites.

.

* This area of pavement can be seen at Carthage, Tunisia. It’s been made from little pieces of broken inscriptions.

** There were actually several phases of alteration to the theatre-amphitheatre at Cyrene, chiefly in the construction of the scaenae and the seating (cavea).

Rome in Africa: Africa in Rome – Stoned luuuuuuuve*

No, no, no, this post is not about doped-up hippies at a love-in, we’re going straight for the hard stuff. This is basically just going to be an excuse to drool over beautiful stonework. This might be sculpture, or building stone, worked natural outcrops, gorgeous stone chosen for it’s loveliness, whatever. It’s stone and it’s loved.

I just have to start with my own love, Chemtou, ancient Simittus. Yes, I know, I’ve blogged about it before but I just love it. I’ve been twice and need to go again.

 p1150962

What made the stone from this marble quarry so beloved of the Romans was its colour. Or should I say colours (plural). We’ve all heard of Carrara marble, the Romans’ favourite white marble, but Simmitus provided the yellows, the golds, the reds, even some green and black marble too.

p1150769

Ancient authors and later antiquarians raved over this lovely stone. In is early nineteenth-century work**, William Lempriere said,

 “The marble of Numidia, as it is described by ancient authors, was of the finest contexture, and used upon the most sumptuous occasions. Solinus calls it “eximium marmor” and Suetonium mentions a column of it that was erected to Julius Caesar, with this inscription, Patri Patriae. The colour was yellow, with red or purple spots or streaks.”

http://romeartlover.tripod.com/Simitthus.html

This is that marble in its natural state.

P1150957

In the quarry are some unfinished, abandoned columns. These may have been left because the stone had faults in it, or it was developing cracks.

P1250212

Coloured marbles were transported from here to Rome to be used in the Pantheon and other public and private buildings, but here, from Cyrene in eastern Libya, are some smaller examples of what becomes of these kinds of marbles.

CIMG2059

Cut into pieces and fitted together to make patterned floors, this technique is called opus sectile.

CIMG2066

Here, from the villa Dar Buc Ammera near Lepcis Magna, the opus sectile is combined with mosaic to create this beautiful floor panel.

CIMG0807

One of the key uses of all this lovely stone was for the construction, of public and private buildings. This could be pretty utilitarian but we often see stone beautifully worked. In western Libya, these intricately carved columns grace the basilica at Sabratha (left) and the Severan Basilica at Lepcis (right).

CIMG0594  CIMG3187

But there are also plain columns made from beautiful stone. These enormous cipollino marble columns are on the beach at Lepcis, having been moved from the Hadrianic Baths for transport to Europe in the 17th century.

CIMG3329

Many of these columns were used in the building of the Palace of Versailles, but these ones were abandoned on the beach.

CIMG3330

And, made from the same green and white marble, in situ but incomplete, at Bulla Regia in Tunisia,

Bulla Regiia 1

Looking too at the column capitals, we can see the intricate working, but these are Roman with a distinct twist. A number of the corinthian column capitals in the Severan Basilica (and other buildings) at Lepcis incorporate a positively Egyptian lotus design. This may reflect the strong influence of Egypt across North Africa, with significant trade routes bringing cultural influences, as well as goods, further west.

CIMG3175..

And just one very nice touch incorporated into the same building.

CIMG3203

Among these tilework courses are cantharus and pine cone designs made from blocks of marble. Nice.

Next, statuary, and North Africa has some beautiful examples of portrait busts and full height statues carved from pristine white marble, although they were often painted in lifelike colours. This bevy is from El Djem, Tunisia, and although statues are often quite idealised, these can tell us so much about clothing and ways of wearing various kinds of robes and wraps.

And gods and kings…well, Emperors.

Unsurprisingly, the Libyan Emperor Septimius Severus features heavily, but there are also have lots of Hadrian and Claudius, as well as lots of others.

And for the dead? Here is part of the necropolis at Cyrene.

Sarcophogi

This is an enormous necropolis, reflecting the size and longevity of the city, and there are many many rock-cut tombs and sarcophagi in the hills near the city. Some of the burials are in simple sarcophagi, but some of the tombs, cut directly into the hillside, are quite elaborate. They drew on temple design and included inscriptions and decorative elements.

CIMG2387

CIMG2388

Unfortunately this necropolis is at severe risk from developers at the moment.

And now for something completely different.

Slonta (4)

What?!

P1310274

Erm :/

P1300694..

Eh?

CIMG1869.....

Bum!

CIMG1531

Ok. I think we’d better leave it there. We’re all stoned enough.

*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rglxw5cbZWY

**A Tour from Gibraltar to Tangier, Sallee, Mogodore, Santa Cruz, Tarudant: And Thence Over Mount Atlas, to Morocco: Including a Particular Account of the Royal Harem, &c, William Lempriere