The New Ara Pacis Museum

Over at Arcspace, there’s an interesting feature on the new Ara Pacis museum in Rome, due to open in 2006. Niels (Hannestad) has recently argued that this Augustan monument was repaired in the early 4th century CE, possibly by Maxentius. This was followed by an intense debate in Journal of Roman Archaeology. It will be interesting to see how this scholarly discussion will be presented in the new exhibition.

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The Little Mermaid

In the early stages of this blog, I wrote that I would be giving some modern examples of iconoclasm. Hence, today’s post is about one of Copenhagen’s most popular tourist attractions, the statue of The Little Mermaid. The 200th birthday of Hans Christian Andersen is being celebrated this year, so it is fitting to retell the story of how the statue portraying his Little Mermaid lost her head.


The Little Mermaid without her head.

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The Problem of Dating

Dating is esential for an archaeological study of iconoclasm. Statues were destroyed for many different reasons both before and after the fourth century CE, and just how tricky this issue can be is well illustrated by a monument known as the Charonion in Antioch, modern Antakya. It’s usually dated to the Hellenistic period and related to a story in the Chronographia of John Malalas, who himself was born in Antioch and writing in the sixth century. The story tells of certain seer, Leios, who in response to a plague in the city demands that a prosopeion (‘mask’) was to be carved on the face of the mountain (205.8-13). Excavations at the site were carried out in the 1930s along with many other sites in Antioch that produced a huge number of mosaics for museums around the world. In his classic history of Antioch, Glanville Downey notes that “the face of the bust has been badly battered” (p. 104). If this monument found just outside Antioch and above the Grotto of St Peter is the Charonion mentioned by Malalas, it has been out in the open for nearly 2500 years, exposed not only to the elements, but also random acts of vandalism and other kinds of destruction. The damage to the small statue is probably due to weathering, but it does seem to me that the head of the main figure has been struck by a sharp instrument. While this certainly could be classed as an act of iconoclasm, the lack of a precise date for this violence makes it difficult to blame early Christians.

Charonion
The Charonion outside Antioch, and just above the Grotto of St Peter. Photo: TMK, August 2003.

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Peter Stewart on Iconoclasm

Peter Stewart’s Statues in Roman Society is one of the most interesting recent art historical syntheses of Roman sculpture, and my work on the thesis would have been a lot more difficult without it. He has also written a good, short introduction to Roman art in general for the New Surveys in the Classics series. While away, I read an earlier article of his on “the destruction of statues in late antiquity”. The title was very promising, although as it turned out a lot of the material in the article was the same as that covered in his later book’s chapter on iconoclasm. However, there was more space in the article to go deeper into some of the material, and that alone made it a worthwhile read.

He sees the religious iconoclasm of the 4th century CE as a continuation of the secular iconoclasm seen in the centuries before. According to Stewart, “the destruction of pagan cult statues and the demise of pagan emperors, with their honorific statues, are part of the same process: the fall of the tyranny of Evil, and the rise of the kingdom of God” (1999: 181). It is an interesting point, although I won’t make my final judgment at this fairly early stage in the process. I will deal with this issue in my chapter on ‘Agents and Motives’, as well as the chapter on the literary sources. But my take on the relationship between damnatio memoriae and Christian iconoclasm is a little different. In fact, religious iconoclasm is a far older phenomenon than damnatio memoriae (see e.g. one of my earlier posts with an example of this), and the destruction of statues in Roman society goes further back that Stewart believes. This will be one of the key arguments in my attempt to contextualise early Christian iconoclasm.

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Continuity of Pagan Cult: The Shrine of Liber Pater at Cosa

Last week, I was discussing the work of Richard Rothaus and the question of continuity of pagan cult in the early Christian period. In Corinth, most of the sites that show continuity are extraurban, and at many rural sites in Greece (especially caves) non-Christians continue to give votives. An example of urban continuity of pagan cult comes from Cosa, where the shrine of Liber Pater was excavated as part of the American project in this Italian town. The shrine, that has been interpreted as the meeting place of a Bacchic cult association (for more on late antique associations, see the excellent website by Philip Harland, assistant professor of religion at Concordia University), was constructed in the fourth century directly facing the city’s forum, where there also was a Mithraeum. Part of the old basilica was at the same time converted to a church. In general the fourth and fifth centuries CE seem to be a period of renewed prosperity in Cosa after a couple of centuries of decline.

Cosa lamps
African lamps from the excavations of the shrine of Liber Pater, Cosa. Hayes Type IB, dated to the fourth/early fifth century CE. Photo source: Collins-Clinton 1977, fig. 34.

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The Papyrus Goleniscev

A while ago, I wrote about a graffito in the Via Paisiello hypogeum that possibly is the only ancient depiction of iconoclasm (it is also shown in the header of this page). There is another illustration, however, that at least alludes to an act of iconoclasm, the so-called Papyrus Goleniscev, one of the happy survivals from the sands of Egypt and named after the Russian collector, who bought the papyri fragments in Giza at the beginning of the 20th century. It was shortly after published by Adolf Bauer and Josef Strzygowski with some excellent colour reproductions of the illustrations that accompany the Greek text. It was probably made in Alexandria in the early fifth century CE.

Papyrus Goleniscev
A fragment of the Papyrus Goleniscev (folio VI verso B). Photo source: Elsner 1998, fig. 162.

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A Trip to Arles

While in France we made the trip to Arles, the Roman city of Arelate. I had not seen the splendid Musée de l’Arles et la Provence antique before. It is located at one end of the Roman circus, and has a wonderful collection, exhibited in a purposebuilt building with great lighting for photography (and viewing in general). The collection of early Christian sarcophagi is worth the trip in itself. The museum also arranges trips to archaeological sites usually shut to the public.

Arles Museum
Sarcophagus with Old Testament scenes, 4th century CE. Musée de l’Arles et la Provence antique. Photo: TMK, August 2005.

Arles’ importance in the late antique period was immense. Constantine built a palace in the city, of which the baths are open for visitors. Parts of the palace itself can be peaked at through a groundlevel window at the Hôtel d’Arlatan in Rue du Sauvage (a wonderful street name!), just north of the Place du Forum. The Imperial mint was moved there in 313 CE, and in 428 it replaced Trier as the seat Prefecture of the Gauls. It was also the location of several ecclesiastical Councils.

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The Archaeology of Late Antique Korinthia

In terms of iconoclasm-related literature that I read over the break, the most interesting was without a doubt Richard M. Rothaus’ Corinth: First City of Greece. He deals with the archaeology of late antique religion in the Korinthia in a most admirable way, while continually challenging common assumptions and too eagerly made links between literary sources and the archaeology. Monuments in Corinth, Kenchreai and Isthmia are thus re-interpreted. I’m not totally convinced by his argument that cult at the Asklepieion and Temple E at Corinth continued after their demolition and into the sixth century CE. The evidence for this consists only of a few lamps found among the rubble. Excavations at the so-called Fountain of the Lamps, however, have revealed thousands of lamps, dated from the late fourth to the mid-sixth century CE. These lamps have both pagan and Christian motifs, showing how fluid the borders were between religions in late antique cult and ritual. Lamps were the main votive objects of late antiquity, and their presence in several caves around Greece show how vital pagan cult was through to the sixth century CE, although these cults now had to take their activities outside the towns.

Corinth
Overview of the Lechaion Road and the temple of Apollo, Corinth. Photo: TMK, October 2004.

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Summer Reading

Well, I’m back from France, and the blog will again be updated regularly. However, this first post after the break is not so much about iconoclasm, but more a short review of some of the books I read while away. Of course, I have also been busy reading up on things for my thesis, and I will give a report on the most interesting stuff in the next couple of days.

A highlight was probably Richard Hingley’s Globalizing Roman Culture: Unity, diversity and empire (London 2005). Not so much because it’s the final word on the growing debate on the nature of Roman cultural imperialism, nor is it as good as Hingley’s earlier book on (almost) the same topic, Roman Officers and English Gentlemen (London 2000), but it introduces some important new ways forward in the discussion as well as providing a useful summary of the use of social theory in Roman archaeology. He successfully pulls the archaeology of the Roman empire together in all its globalized glory.

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