This week On the Reading Rest I have an article in German consisting of two articles:

Sommer, Sebastian. 2008. Die Römer in Künzing – Wege zur einer virtuellen Rekonstruktion dess Kastellvicus oder: Versuch der Annäherung an ein Lebensbild—(The Romans in Künzing – roads to .  virtual reconstruction of the vicus of the fort or: An attempted approach to a picture of living space. My translation). Bericht der bayerischen Bodendenkmalpflege, 49. 2008. Pp.107-126 + 128

In the end of the article there is a perfectly autonomous contribution:

Sättele, Manuel. 2008. Methodik der virtuellen Rekonstruktion—(Methods of virtual reconstruction. My translation). Bericht der bayerischen Bodendenkmalpflege, 49. 2008. Pp. 126-28.

Contrary to the authors, acronomised SebSo and ManSä, some readers, who start their German geography with Lech, Main, Mas, Rhein, Inn, Donau, Weser Oder Elbe before they gather that perhaps Inn/Donau is more or less the environment where Künzing may be situated, have only a vague idea where to find Roman Quintana. To many Künzing is at best like Fiesole, Haut de Cagnes, Valtournanche, Gandersheim, Kelso, Vorbasse, Sogndal or Hög i Hälsingland, that is, European places we have perhaps heard about, but cannot point out on a map. The above articles won’t help us perhaps because their readers are required to know the geography of Bayern, but Wikipedia et cetera will (0).

Fig 01

Fig 02Twenty five – thirty years ago it was common to point out that one of the scientific values of reconstructions, despite their propensity to be wrong deceiving the public and the odd researcher, was the fact that in order to obtain a result, reconstruction forced researchers to perform a series of actions that had little or no support in the source material. Ideally, having completed the reconstruction, and being aware of its hallmark, the reconstruction should prompt the researcher to study the source material once again, searching for hitherto undetected significant patterns. The reconstruction was meant to throw new light over the existing records and suggest new ways of recording future investigations in order to produce knowledge. In reconstruction archaeology as in any applied natural science describing something, patterns are detected because the perceived is studied and described on the basis of different models.

In complex human contexts, however, it becomes obvious that although we get a better understanding, for instance of the reconstruction of the Iron Age house in Scandinavia, when using models, we are chasing a fleeing goal that becomes more and more distant because of its growing complexity: now that we have learnt how Iron Age man made use of timber it seems there are no extant suitable woods to be found anywhere in Scandinavian to supply us with the timber. Moreover, the quality of the craftsman and the contribution of his childhood experience to his craftsmanship will be difficult to judge although it may well be important, now that we a have a general understanding of the principles of house construction. Chasing this fleeing goal and trying to answer the impossible questions in order to know more about woods and craftsmanship make up the methodological point of the reconstruction.

Quite a number of words and repeated observations could have been saved had these commonplace insights into problems and possibilities of reconstructions simply been referred to. One might also have started with ManSä’s contribution because it summarizes the character of the virtual reconstruction project arguing along some of the lines sketched above. Referring to these by all means Scandinavian and thus barbaric rather than Roman insights would also have made it obvious that one should think about one’s readers when writing about reconstructions. There is little general purpose in trying to describe why the Kastellvicus at Kastell Künzing – the vicus (settlement) around the Künzing fort – should be reconstructed in this or that way. Instead these steps of the actual reconstruction itself and the report on what precise decisions were taken in the process, concerns mainly those who are supposed to continue the heritage management and carry out possible future excavations in Künzing — not the commonl archaeological reader.

Based on the article alone the common archaeological reader cannot and should not check the foundation of the reconstruction because the common reader doesn’t belong to the local scientific community addressed in the article. The reconstruction is interesting to a wider group of readers and worth reading for the simple reason that it is a platform which demands to be followed up.

The task is simple: reconstruct the Roman settlement and the landscape surrounding it according to a relevant chronological framework for the benefit of heritage management, future town planning, research and the public. Only quite far into the article does SebSo argue for two settlement phases, but the section is easy to find at page 117 ff. and may thus be read in advance by those who think that chronology is an interesting early companion to history.

The point of departure is simple too. The contextual remains divide themselves into two groups. Group (1) consists of areas of relevance to the task. They are either (1:a) that is, recorded before they were destroyed or (1:b) that is, destroyed but void of any helpful records. Group (2) consists of areas in which future investigations may be helpful.

So why not start by making a chronological series of maps, such as phase one and two, of areas (1) and areas (2) with the subdivision (1:a) or (1:b). A possible grey zone between (1:a) and (1:b) may come in handy. Needless to say: if investigations are actually begun at a specific place the division between (1) and (2) may need revision. There is no such series of maps. Implicitly the landscape map is there and somewhere it can probably be found. I don’t doubt that the Bodendenkmalpflege – the heritage board – have these maps. The article, however, has the only following Beilage:

Fig 03

Fig 04Remains, records and documentation govern the reconstruction and SebSom has almost got it right: to begin with, reconstructions of contexts dominated by large formal structures, such a dominant fortress in a specific topographical situation, are built up hierarchically imitating a past reality. This means that even if the vicus is in focus, one should start with the auxiliary fort Quintanis.

The reconstruction should follow a path that runs from – the fort, to the roads – Passau-Regensburg and Künzing-Töging, to the cemeteries, to the streets defining the quarters, to the quarters, the plots, their structure, their houses and the open space in their backyards. One could go further into the diagnostics of the settlement, but to a broader research community there is little point in doing so because the information is already overflowing. Nevertheless, judging from ManSä’s contribution p. 127 it seems that the archaeologists and 3D modelers have each their approach to reconstruction. That may well have been their experience in the Künzing project, but that doesn’t make it true, i.e. a theoretically reasonable situation.

Probably the heritage management has already got its Künzing instrument and the ability to make the vicus an even more interesting site. Likewise town planners in Künzing have something to refer to and the villa owners between Kastellstrasse and Kohortenstrasse may realize that a geophysical prospection in their gardens, and in other parts of the community, could be worthwhile and non-destructive. The Bodendenkmalamt is probably all in favour because the latest edition of Archaeologisches Jahr in Bayern is full of geophysics. Moreover, work was done already in the 1990s on the cemeteries (1).

The only problem seems to be that the project has not been followed up. I may of course be wrong having simply been unable to find the information.

The end product of the article consists of two reconstructions. They are very nice, but they are presented as illustrations informing the public, not as results of a research into the reconstruction of the vicus. Thus they are only illustrations and historical documents since there seems to be no 2nd and 3rd editions of the reconstruction. I may of course be wrong having simply been unable to find the information.

Fig 05

Fig 06

But suppose I am not wrong, then the Künzing project highlights the inability to of heritage authorities and museums to incorporate a scientific approach to knowledge production into their projects. This is not solely due to lack of funding, it also reflects an inability to design projects. Let’s hope I am wrong.


(0) There is a popular description of this part of the Limes in English and German by Wolfgang Czysz, Andrea Faber, Christof Flügel and C. Sebastian Sommer at

(1) See illustrations in the description referred to in note (0) and: Fassbinder, J.W.E., and H. Becker (1993), Kombination von Luftbild und Magnetik zur Prospektion eines urnenfelderzeitlichen Gräberfeldes bei Künzing, Arch. Jahr Bayern, 1992, 180-182.
Fassbinder, J.W.E., and H. Becker (1996), Das urnenfelder-/hallstattzeitliche Gräberfeld von Künzing, in Archäologische Prospektion Luftbildarchäologie und Geophysik, vol. 59, edited by K. Hemmeter and M. Petzet, pp. 139-141, Bayerisches Landesamt f Denkmalpflege, ISBN: 3-87490-541-1.)


Tacitean Ethnography

28 October, 2013

Today On the Reading Rest I have a book which is interesting because it is so full of arguments and argued passages.

Writing and empireDylan Sailor. 2008.  Writing and Empire in Tacitus. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Some reviewers of Dylan Sailor’s (DS’s) book Writing and Empire in Tacitus (WAIET) have already referred to concepts such as ‘interpretation’ and one of its methodologies ‘close reading’ trying to sort the book into a convenient genre, but I prefer to read the arguments partly because I am convinced by them, partly because I read the book as a backdrop for something that isn’t central to the author, i.e. ethnography and Germania, which happens not to ‘form part of that arc of narrative works that imagine themselves as a sequence: Agricola by its promise of a future … … ‘ WAEIT p. 5.

DS is right because he writes about Tacitus as history, historiography and the historian situated in society as well as in his own life. None the less, perhaps because DS is so fond of arguments and very good at reading Tacitus, he does touch upon ethnography in passing e.g. on pp. 86-7.

True Tacitean ethnographyThe point in ethnography is the past in the present: go see for yourself a living past characterized by a series of stable habits and institutions in a system that may either prevail infinitely reproducing the present or disappear in the toils of interaction with others. Future bothers ethnography only because constant ethnographical presence or resilience in static, cyclic or looped systemic models may be dissolved in future’s unfriendly solution despite their stability. The point in history on the other hand is change and transformation – ‘the narrative arc’ – which in Tacitus case comes to an unsettled end when Annals breaks off by circumstance, intention or design in the middle of a period: ‘as the slowness of his [Thrasea’s]death was bringing terrible suffering, turning to Demetrium … ‘[the Cynic philosopher] (WAEIT:315, Ann. 16.35.2). The quest for understanding change is the reason why history is about a series of events shaping a future, and about a present as a stage that has to change, and about a past that produced a heritage in the process of consuming itself.

In his conclusion DS argues, again convincingly, that Ronald Syme in Tacitus (1958) read Tacitus not just as ‘the subject matter of his book’, but also as a role model for the historian by referring to the parallel character of totalitarian states in the 20th century and Domitian’s principate, and the way Tacitus and the modern historian alike should relate to times such as these (WAEIT:319-20). Syme’s affinities with Tacitus as Latin heritage, writing about him with a clear eye to modern totalitarian states, would seem to accompany Curtius’ contemporary model way of looking at the literary heritage of Latin literature as a uniting European heritage above the nationalism that devastated Europe in the 20th c. (cf. On the Reading Rest 19 Aug, 2013).

Since the Enlightenment, the relation between systemic and historic culture or civilization has been a central theme in the analysis of the European and we may trace this thematic relation in many different texts, but I chose a passage by Kant from his letter, printed in Berlinische Monatsschrift. Dezember-Heft 1784. S. 481-494,  Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?:

On the other hand, the private use of reason may frequently be narrowly restricted without especially hindering the progress of enlightenment. By “public use of one’s reason” I mean that use which a man, as scholar, makes of it before the reading public. I call “private use” that use which a man makes of his reason in a civic post that has been entrusted to him. In some affairs affecting the interest of the community a certain [governmental] mechanism is necessary in which some members of the community remain passive. This creates an artificial unanimity which will serve the fulfillment of public objectives, or at least keep these objectives from being destroyed. Here arguing is not permitted: one must obey. Insofar as a part of this machine considers himself at the same time a member of a universal community – a world society of citizens – (let us say that he thinks of himself as a scholar rationally addressing his public through his writings) he may indeed argue, and the affairs with which he is associated in part as a passive member will not suffer. Thus it would be very unfortunate if an officer on duty and under orders from his superiors should want to criticize the appropriateness or utility of his orders. He must obey. But as a scholar he could not rightfully be prevented from taking notice of the mistakes in the military service and from submitting his views to his public for its judgment. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes levied upon him; indeed, impertinent censure of such taxes could be punished as a scandal that might cause general disobedience. Nevertheless, this man does not violate the duties of a citizen if, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his objections to the impropriety or possible injustice of such levies. A pastor, too, is bound to preach to his congregation in accord with the doctrines of the church which he serves, for he was ordained on that condition. But as a scholar he has full freedom, indeed the obligation, to communicate to his public all his carefully examined and constructive thoughts concerning errors in that doctrine and his proposals concerning improvement of religious dogma and church institutions.

Although Tacitus might well have been suspicious of benevolent despotism, Kant’s enlightened society, whose front man must not necessarily be Frederick the Great, would seem to possess some of the qualities that Tacitus (and perhaps even Kant) would have recognized in the Republic. To support this opinion we may refer to DS, who concludes – having has read the preface to Histories and quoted the passage about the Saturnalia: ‘I do not at all mean that Tacitus presents his work [i.e. Histories] as a revel, only that the preface parallels a basic Roman model for constructing a brief period of time when the ordinary rules of servitude that suppress speech do not apply’ (WAEIT:176-77).

Saturnalia, Enlightenment or the Republic will not come back, but ethnography or any of its modern varieties such as systemic resilience in cultures will occur again and must be analyzed and understood within a historical analysis of society and civilization, even if ethnography is alien to history. Alien or not there is little hope of writing a history of change in civilization without taking into account ethnography and the institutions of the primitive, which it points out. Primordial and primitive ethnographic institutions become a backdrop for historical change and one may argue that ‘the Roman’ in Tacitus’ narrative of complex change must be reflected in’ the non-historic’. This becomes all the more important because ‘the ethnographic’ highlights the predicament that arises from the need of the Kantian ‘scholar’ or the Tacitean ‘historian’ to be loyal as well as disloyal to social institutions. In short: DS argues his case so convincingly that one ought to fit Tacitus ethnography into the arc of his historical project. I would argue therefore that ethnography in Tacitus is there to make sure that the reader understands that Tacitus’ history is concerned also with civilization.

There are three examples of ethnography in Tacitus work Agricola (Chap 10-13), Germania (all of it) and Histories (Book 5.2-8). This means that when his historical project reaches Histories and Annals most of the ethnographic scene has been covered because the greater part of the Roman civilization project concerns northern Europe. In the eastern part of the Empire wars are political. A modern reader would probably have been interested in an ethnography of the Parthian society in connection with Tacitus description of the Parthian was 58-63 CE, but Tacitus sees no need for this because the reason for the wars were political and strategic with no bearing on civilizing the Parthians. Only in Histories was it necessary to comment from an ethnographic point of view since without such as comment Jews cannot be understood.

Writing about ethnography makes it possible for Tacitus to stand aside describing and judging the primitive as an institution and a backdrop for Roman civilization pointing to the negative and positive sides of the stable primitive institutions – to shortcomings and strengths. His ethnographies point to the peoples, their customs and their characteristic as well as to the partly alien topographies and geographies of their habitats. His texts imply that the peoples are smitten by their environment. Tacitus does so with a view to defending the success of the Roman civilization project.

Civilization 01The Britons are model because they are a mixed population characterized by immigration. This has led to a situation in which what was once in a distant past a generic kingdom has been split up in small chiefdoms easy to subdue. Given this social pattern and their inability to unite, as well as their mixed geographical conditions – humid but not horrid – they are happy to accept Roman civilization and taxes on one condition, whose significance the reader will have guessed:

The Britons themselves bear cheerfully the conscription, the taxes, and the other burdens imposed on them by the Empire, if there be no oppression. Of this they are impatient; they are reduced to subjection, not as yet to slavery. (Agr. 13)

This means that their traditional autonomy – that is, a certain measure of freedom in the small societies once situated within chiefdoms – is an ideal that may be transformed into Romanization, thus bringing the Britons out of ethnography.

Civilization 02When readers of Tacitus, who began by reading Agricola, read Germania they found out that Tacitus’ descriptions of Britain and Britons was designed in advance to contrast his description of Germany and Germans. Nevertheless he purposefully he added a small element of German immigrants in the Britons:

Their physical characteristics are various, and from these conclusions may be drawn. The red hair and large limbs of the inhabitants of Caledonia point clearly to a German origin. (Agr. 13)

Since the Romans knew that Germans resisted the Roman civilization project, successfully (in effect stupidly) defending their liberty not least because they could unite, albeit only in imminent danger of being suppressed, they are different from the Britons. Tacitus, therefore, points to a significant difference between Britons and Germans, and Britain and Germany, when he tells us that Germans, contrary to Britons, are indigenous and unmixed because honestly who would consider living in that part of the world:

The Germans themselves appear to be indigenous and rarely mixed with other people either immigrants or guests. For, in former times, it was not by land, but by sea that those arrived, who sought to move their residence; and that immense, if I may say so, ultra-hostile ocean is rarely navigated by ships from our world. And, in addition to the danger of a horrid and unknown sea, who would leave Asia, or Africa, or Italy trying to reach Germany, its shapeless land, its cruel skies, cheerless to its beholder and cultivator, unless it were his homeland? (Germ. 2)

Cunningly Tacitus allows his readers to draw the conclusion that a little German in a mixed people like the Britons, in humid albeit not horrid Britain, may be a virtue, while being outright German in Germany is a gloomy aspect inasmuch as Germans are the uncivilized slaves of an ethnography forever checked by race, environment and, as Germania goes on to show, by its institutions. Germans, nevertheless, are genuine and loyal to these institutions, while Britons are transformed and cheerful taxpayers. Civilization as it happens comes with a price and so does indigenousness.

Germans and Britons illustrate inclusion and exclusion in the historical and geographical perspective of an expanding civilization. Tacitus, true to his understanding of himself as a historian, is forced to point out the success as well as the limits of civilization. He uses ethnography to illustrate his point.

Civilization 03Tacitus’ readers knew that Jews, despite the fall of Jerusalem, continued to exist even though in principle they ‘accepted conscription, taxes, and other burdens imposed on them by the Empire’. Contrary to Germans, they were integrated into the Roman society, but evidently not like Britons. None the less the reason he writes about the Jews – i.e. the end of a historical phenomenon similar to the end of the free Britons, parallels what he has already pointed out:

The geography and inhabitants of Britain, [… …] I will speak of [… ….] because the country was then for the first time thoroughly subdued. (Agr. 10)

As I am about to relate the last days of a famous city, it seems appropriate to throw some light on its origin. (Hist. 5.2)

And that turns out to be the Jews. As I read Tacitus book 5.2-8 he is as usual critical to backward ethnographical cultures, but from an analytical point of view he gives us an example of a society which is decidedly diasporic,

Some say that the Jews were fugitives from the island of Crete [… …]. Others assert that in the reign of Isis the overflowing population of Egypt [… …]. Many, again, say that they were a race of Ethiopian origin [… …]. Others describe them as an Assyrian horde [… …]. Others, again, assign a very distinguished origin to the Jews, alleging that they were the Solymi, a nation celebrated in the poems of Homer [… … ]. Most writers, however, agree [… …] that once a disease [… …] broke out over Egypt; that king Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race detested by the gods. (Hist. 5.2)

Prone or forced to diaspora, coming from all kinds of directions, their seemingly appalling institutions and customs (difficult to explain) has none the less been successful granting them strong networks and resilience:

This worship, however introduced, is upheld by its antiquity; all their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to shew compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. (Hist. 5.5)

Although the land of the Jews is in many ways similar to Roman lands there are also oddities on par with the people:

[… …] of the Jordan. This river does not discharge itself into the sea, but flow entire through two lakes, and is lost in the third. This is a lake of vast circumference; it resembles the sea, but is more nauseous in taste; it breeds pestilence among those who live near by its noisome odour; it cannot be moved by the wind, and it affords no home either to fish or water-birds. These strange waters [… ….] (Hist. 5.6)


When the civilized society meets the primitive ethnographic society, this meeting highlights the value of stubbornly defended stable institutions and casts a shadow on progress and intellectual freedom. Tacitean Jews and Germans cannot be bend to civilization. Nevertheless, Tacitus demonstrates that ethnographic societies are primitive and his methods when characterizing them are based on (1) the mixed/unmixed character of a people. (2) Its inability/ability to unite itself around its institutions, even in diaspora, i.e. its systemic resilience, and (3) the degree to which primitive culture is a reflection of its environment.

An ethnographic culture may survive or be subdued. It aims at surviving, i.e. conservation, and although it is most often unsuccessful it may nevertheless succeed by means of forceful resistance defending itself and fending off civilization at its geographical borders. The goal being isolation and the preservation of its institutions, the ethnographic society may also succeed because it creates a society that evades civilization by diaspora or inner exile.

There is little doubt that Tacitus describes the ethnographic society airing his ‘colonial’ views. But he wouldn’t be Tacitus if these views were not accompanied (thereby tacitly becoming prejudice) by his model of civilization: the Republic, i.e. a society whose institutions are well worth defending against the corruption and terror of the Principate to which, strangely enough, it gave way. Why, his readers ask themselves, must the enlightened, model, best-of-all-possible-worlds, liberal Republic, be defended against the dark primitivity of the Principate by methods comparable to those of the ethnographic societies? Why, if not because elements of the ethnographic and the civilized society alike are bilateral rather than oppositional? Tacitus himself thrived during the Principate, and survived Domitian, because he kept a low profile.

Civilization 04

I think that this sketch of the role of ‘the ethnographic’ in Tacitus is in line with DS analysis of how Tacitus the historian, true to history, his scholarship and historiography must incorporate ethnography into his history making it the base of that arc of narrative works that imagine themselves as a sequence. In my view, this sequence consists of Agricola/Germania, Histories and Annals. Ethnography is an important foundation for Tacitus’ history project because civilization is important. And if you don’t believe that he set a standard you can read a book on how the West – i.e. the West that beat the Rest – is now losing it. Or, if you are into analysis, you may employ Tacitean ethnography to analyze the Republican Party.

It was a truth universally acknowledged, that a simple fact in conformity with Roman ways must not be written down. In itself a simple fact in conformity with Roman ways this truth was never written down because it mustn’t necessarily be point it out. However, when it comes to studying Roman ways, the quote and the simple statement highlights the difference between disciplines such as Archaeology and History. Moreover, suspending 19th c. humanities between paraphrasing Jane Austin and quoting something perhaps Oscar Wilde seems fair.

Consider the following example: some Roman times it was important to know the weight of one’s silver ware – the weight of a pair of cups or a plate – and to demonstrate importance by writing it down on the items themselves. Why not make it simple and write ‘1 lb, 3 oz and 5 dr’ – one pound, three ounces and five dram – on the bottom of the object if that was its weight? Often the inscriptions seem to mean just that, but when checked, the expected simplicity is not there. Seemingly something wrong is there instead.

In the original inscription by the silversmith on the Achilles plate from Kaiseraugst is says that the weight is 15 pounds. Later when the weight was checked, the plate weighed 17 pounds, 4 ounces and 15 scripulae. In grams its weight is 4642.9. Although the plate is not well-preserved we cannot accept a loss of that would once have made it weigh 15 pounds. Irrespective of the weighers referring to the light calculation pound, the logarike litra, (ll.) or the heavy canonical libra (cl.) fifteen pound, c. 4834 or 4912 grams, is too much. There you are: if the plate doesn’t weigh fifteen pounds how come it weighs more than seventeen? The conformity with Roman ways is obvious: the silversmith tells us the weight of the object and someone checks it, but the simplicity of the definition, the simple fact, is not there. Instead something is the matter with the plate, the Romans, the text, the reader, or any possible combination of these four entities.

To the conventional historian this is the end of the inscriptions on the Achilles plate – his scissors will clip out the text but there’s nowhere paste its contradiction into his history of the Roman world except to ridicule the Romans and being conventional rather than a member of the flying circus he wouldn’t do that. There are no more weight definitions to read and no logic, based solely on the expressions, will make them compatible. Archaeologists, nevertheless, may view things differently. Literally they look at ‘things’ as contexts, and find that important, because studying material culture they believe that things being contexts carry meaning. This is to say that primarily, the objects mirror a meaningful series of action. The actual weight definitions, whatever their purpose, are principally speaking secondary. Looking at three pairs of silver cups, already discussed on the reading rest, will illustrate this point.

On the silver cups from Hoby there are two kinds of inscriptions one dotted and four graffiti. The dotted one resembles the writing style adopted by the silversmith when he signed the cups. Dotted inscriptions are his statements. The four graffiti make up two pairs one on each cup. On one cup there is a weight description and the name SILIUS. On the other SILIUS overwrites the weight description. Silius is considered to be the owner of the cups. The weight descriptions are identical.

The dotted description says:  II . P V S ==-  SU ==- One cups weighs 975,46 gr. The other has lost a handle, but since we know the weight of the three other ones we can estimate its original weight as c. 956,7 gr. Since the logarike litra. weighs 322.32gr and the canonical libra. 327.45 gr, the total weight is somewhere between five and six pounds. II therefore means ‘Two cups’. The dot [.] means ’together’, i.e. ’The pair is’. Then follows the weight description: P V means ’five pounds’; S is ‘one semis’; ==– is ‘five units of which six make up a semis’; SU is ‘one semuncia’ and the last ==– means ‘five units of which six make up a semuncia’. This doesn’t mean that the pair weighs something definite. Instead it means that the pair weighs less than six pounds and more than 5 pounds, namely: one semis (i.e. half a pound), five unciae (i.e. 5 ounces), one semuncia (i.e. half an ounce) and five demida sextulae (ds.). The inscription mirrors an additive weighing procedure that didn’t go further than the ds. If the silversmith had wanted to he could have written ds. DCCCLXIII since 5+(11×6)+72+(144×5) = 863. He could not have written 864 ds. since that would have been six pounds and he didn’t think the pair weighed that much. This then is the additive weight description, the silversmith’s statement, which ought to be controlled. Fair enough.

Things get confused when we see that the two graffiti inscriptions, the controller’s statement, are almost identical. Both cups belong(ed) to Silius and one description says I NVII S ==–  and the other NVII S==– . The I is simple enough. It means ‘one cup’, and we may wonder why NVII S ==–  is either 975 or 956 gr. The inscription nevertheless is easy to read – it says: Seven nonus, one half nonus and five of those units of which six make up half a nonus.

The first point to make is the one that says that the description doesn’t mean eight nonus. And since we already know that the weight is close to three pounds we may draw the conclusion that 8 nonus equals 3 libra. The description tells us that there are 6 units in a half nonus and thus 12 in a nonus, which means that there are 8 x 12 = 96 units in 3 pounds or 32 units in 1 pound.

If we use the ll. the smallest unit in the description is 322,32/32 = 10,0725 gr and a cup thus 10,0725 x 95 = 956.89gr that is very near the reconstructed weight of the ‘light’ cup (c. 956.7 gr). If we use the cl., the calculation results in 327.45/32 = 10.23 x 95 = 972.12 gr and a weight slightly below the actual weight of the cup – 975.46 gr. It is fair to say that the controller’s definitions follow the formula: ‘more than x and less than x+1’.

The second point has to do with the integrity of the controller vis-à-vis the silversmith – the point being that the descriptions must be referred to two different series of analytical action. The controller doesn’t take the silversmith’s procedure for granted, but shows it to be reasonable.

The weight descriptions on the Hoby cups are not simple facts. They require us to follow the procedure of the silversmith and the controller respectively. The former was Greek and from the weight of the three handles we gather that as a craftsman he used a mina system when he divided his silver and created his cups. But he was given 3 + 3 Roman pounds of silver to make them. Tacitly, the dotted description refers to two different pounds and his description of each of the cups would obviously have differed from that of the controller, who was satisfied with a description down to a relatively large weigh unit a little above 10 gr. Rather elegantly, nevertheless, the controller pointed out that the silversmith was given two different pounds of silver and consequently asked to make a heavy and a light cup formally weighing the same. This implies that there is a ‘heavy’ and a ‘light’ scene in the pair.


In the Menander hoard there are two pairs of inscribed cups: Cups M5+6 and M7+8. There are two inscriptions on M7 and one on M8. The inscription on M5 refers to both M5 and M6 and runs:

M5:       II   P    VII    SS )   ’II

This should be read: Two cups. Each or ‘this one’ weighs: 1 pound + 7 uncia + 2 sicilicius +  ‘ (i.e. circa) 2 semisextula. Only the inscription on M5 has been preserved.


M5 weighs 528gr., i.e., close to the original weight. M6 weighs 517 gr., i.e. not the exact original weight. The weighing procedure, based on the ll., starts with a pound and contains four steps ending up in a rest of circa a number of units:
Step One:        the total weight minus 1 Pound:          528.00 – 322.32 = 205.68 gr
Step Two:        the rest minus 7 uncia:                      205.68 – 188.02 =   17.66 gr
Step Three:      the rest minus 2 sicilicius:                    17.66 –  13.43  =   04.23 gr = ’II
Step Four:        the rest which is c. semisextula-
Comment. If the rest had been 2 semisextula then it would have been the same as a Sextula, i.e. 1/6th of an uncia. Together with the two sicilicus the rest above the 7 uncia would have amounted to one semuncia. Then the definition would have been: P VII IV, i.e. 1 Pound (but not 2), 7 uncia (but not 8) and 4 sextula (but not 5). As it happens the definition reads: 1 Pound (but not 2), 7 uncia (but not 8), 2 sicilicius (but not 3) and c. 2 semisextula. The weight 4,23gr is indeed c. 4,476 gr, i.e. 2 semisextula.


M8 weighs 445 gr. Dotted inscription: AUREL . AUGUR[ . . .  . . .]
M7 weighs 445 gr. Dotted inscription: AUREL . AUGUR . II . P . III . )X
The first part  AUREL . AUGUR . II .  reads: ‘By Aurelius Augur-inus, -ans, -ianus, -is or -ius   (i.e. the silvermith). Two cups; each weighing:’ The second part, P . III . )X reads: ‘ one pound, three suscuncia and c. 10 siliqua.’
The weighing procedure has three steps ending up in a rest:
Step One:        the total weight minus 1 pound:                     445,00 – 322,32 = 122,68gr
Step Two:       the rest minus 3 suscuncia:                            122,68 – 120,87=   001,81gr
Step Three:     the rest which c. 10 siliqua, i.e. c. 1,87 gr. And 1.81 gr is indeed c. 1.87 gr.

The reason we may defend this interpretation of the total divided by two rests with the graffiti definition on each of the two cups.

M7 Graffito: P III £ V and M8 Graffito: P III £ V[I]. This means that when the cups are judged individually, one is considered a trifle heavier than the other. In practice they weigh the same and when we look at them as a pair of two identical cups we are entitled to divide the total by 2. So, the dotted weights are the silversmith’s inscription taking the identical pair for granted because it was indeed what he was ordered to do. The graffiti on the other hand is a control of each of the two cups. In the graffiti definition the rest is 5 units (M8) and 6 units (M7) respectively. This means that the c. 10 units in the dotted definition on M8 equals 5 units in the graffiti definition. This implies that the graffiti units are double-siliqua. In the M7 cup the rest is 6 double-siliqua and that is a semisextula since 24 seliqua equals a sextula. We could of course argue that that 22 seliqua divided by two is 11 seliqua, so why not write so in the dotted definition? On the other hand controlling the weights there is a point in the letting the controlled weights match the original definition and having found that M8 weighs exactly what the silversmith had suggested, M7 must logically speaking weigh a bit more. In the units used by the controller this means 6 instead of 5. Whether the silversmith or the controller were the better weigher is impossible to say. Probably they were both overdoing it, but the controller has understood the silversmith and has made an independent analysis in a small series of analytical steps. It is the procedure and the ‘more than x and less than x+1’ convention that makes it possible to understand the additive weight description. If the weigher is sufficiently diligent the description resembles the Achilles and the Tortoise paradox since from the very beginning we are told that there is a weight we will never reach while at the same time we are supposed to come closer and closer to it. The closer we come to the limit, the smaller the units we employ not to reach it.


The Obvious 00

Let us return to the Achilles plate. Its weight in grams is 4642.9 gr and it has lost some of its original weight. The dotted inscription says ‘Pausylypos in Thessaloniki 15 Pound’ (Λ IE in Greek). This is the silversmith’s inscription. The two dotted silversmith inscriptions discussed above indicated that when an object was produced a certain amount of silver was lost. It is unlikely that such loss of weight would not have occurred when producing the Achilles plate. Moreover, 4642.9/15 = 309,53gr doesn’t fit a known Roman pound. The inscription therefore says: ‘Made by Pausylypos in Thessaloniki from 15 pound’ of silver. If the smith had the logarike litra in mind the loss of weight would have been 4834.8 – 4642.9 = 191,9 gr. This is quite a lot compared to the two other silversmith inscriptions, but their loss on the other hand was exceptionally small. Probably the point in these description was a wish to show how little silver had disappeared in the production of the cups. In Pausylypos case the difference between the actual weight and the 15 pounds may also have included his salary, since he was probably not a slave.

The controller’s description of the weight is additive telling us that the plate weighed 17 pounds and a little more, but not 18 pounds. The graffiti looks like this:

The Obvious 01

Since we know that the plate was made from 15 pounds of silver and thus weighed less than 15, it stands to reason that the pound referred to by the controller was a smaller one of which 18 pounds were the same as 15 pounds.

This would be the libra metrica (lm.), which relates to a normal pound as 5 to 6, and that is why 18 lm. equals 15 ll. Perhaps the extra line in the Λ means that the controller had lm. in mind. An lm. consists of 12 uncia, but since its weight equals only 10 uncia there are only 20 sextula to the ounce of the lm. Five sextula lm. therefore equals one sicilicius, i.e. 1/4th of an ounce, in this case 5 scripula.

The smallest unit in the additive description is in other words a sicilicius, i.e. 1/4th of an uncia or 1/48th of the libra metrica. Expressed in sicilicius, the additive weight description amounts to 816 + 16 + 3 = 835 sicilicius. A sicilicius equals (322.32/6 x 5) / 48 = x 5.60 gr. The total therefore is 5.59583 x 835 = 4672.2 gr.

Compared to the weight of the plate as we know it today, the controller has arrived at a weight c. 30 gr above the weight of the plate. This suggests that he has made a mistake when he added up the weights or that the plate has lost c. 35 gr of its original weight. This loss is less than a percent, but still perhaps unlikely. In the Achilles case therefore, the material context is difficult to grasp and it may have been misjudged by the controller. The text nevertheless has become relatively clear.

The silversmith didn’t aim at an additive description of the weight. The controller did and distanced himself from the silversmith by not using the same pound as the smith. He could just have said 14 logarike libra, 4 uncia and 5 sextula, which would have been correct in relation to the plate’s present weight, but using this description the controller would have continued in the footsteps of the silversmith – i.e. the formula ‘more than 14 pound and less than 15’. Had he started there, his description would have lived up to that of the silversmith’s description and lost its integrity. Introducing the libra metrica, he demonstrated his role as a controller.

And that is the controller’s point – an independent statement analyzing the silversmith as well as the weight through a series of steps. Skill rather than authority, action rather than fact is the controller’s message and with it he proves the obvious – the in a sense the silversmith was right. The silversmith on the other hand demonstrated his status as an artist and a craftsman. So obviously does his cups and plates.

(0) The Reading Rest has been in China a while and thus predictably been unable to edit or post anything on a blog. Now the Reading Rest is back.

Seneca on Benefits

2 September, 2013

Some weeks ago I read a review by Peter Thonemann of some books on Roman economy. In a good-humoured way it was witty and ironic – and critical. Thonemann pointed out that so called formalist views on past economies are back in business. Large ancient market spheres and exchange are once again popular, driven by the – overruling, ever-present, always-rational – laws of economic behavior.

The return of the Roman market economy is a typical, if slightly belated, backlash triggered by a critique starting in the 1990s. This was a critique of the deconstruction once launched by the ‘post’-methodologies. These deconstructions targeted structuralism and modernism and indeed naïve dichotomies or binary oppositions such as the one between formalist and substantivist views on past or for that matter modern economies.

Wikipedia will explain the almost outdated terms formalist and substantivist.

The reviewer says that this divide and the study of past economies is no longer a hot topic. And he is right. In fact the main reason for the paired labels and the field to be outdated was the criticism developed in the 1980 when past and present economies became many and varied as well as more or less popular, dominant and long-lived, rather than an ordered series from the past to the present, emblematic of civilization, rational economic choice and progress. Economies became difficult and simple strategies and analyses dangerous.

Economies as it happens are contextual, they may be technically difficult to grasp, e.g. when they are encapsulated in systems deliberately playing with variables such as real value vs. nominal value, as well as parameters such as trust, transaction time, obligation and speed, to name but a few. As intellectual constructions, nevertheless, forms of economic behaviour are simple enough – especially the popular ones such as gift giving, market exchange, monopoly, redistribution, cooperation or acquisition, which are easily combined to bring out unexpected results.

One of the books reviewed, The Roman Market Economy, pleaded so fervently for a formalist position that it convinced the reviewer of the significant shortcomings of this perspective on past economies. Most researchers during the last decades have experienced that any proof or indication of ancient market-based economies comes with severe restrictions to the idea the free market. In fact, if we want to argue for something market-like we must start by restricting the context in which such a market works, i.e. start by contradicting the very idea. Ancient markets do not combine large demographic and geographic entities, they don’t striving to be free, they aren’t expanding and not models of rational behavior. Moreover, a very large number of sources, which ought to have helped us elucidating the market concept, are few and far apart and they become spurious during the critical process when we try to judge their representativity.

The reviewer points to the fact that Seneca’s essay On Benefits, which might very well have discussed economic matters in terms of market exchange, doesn’t do so. This is true also of Petronius’ Satyricon although the freedman Trimalchio is very much connected to the way Romans as merchants became rich. This ridiculed protagonist, as well as the whole story about him, conjures up the antithesis of Seneca and the way he argues in On Benefits. It has since long been observed that part of the irony in the chapter Trimalchio’s Dinner becomes funnier if we imagine the surreal but historically speaking possible conversation between a Trimalchio and a Seneca on the value of profit and benefit.

Spain and sailing routes

Turning to archaeology rather than satire or philosophy, there are examples that indicate irrational market situations in the 1st c. CE, even in connection with a popular commodity such as lead in the form of so called lead pigs. In a number of shipwrecks from the glorious 1st c. CE when the exploding imperial commerce tought merchants’ ships to sail the Mediterranean the hard way, the cargo consisted among other goods of lead pigs on their way from Spain to Rome. There are two very different kinds (1).

Lavezzi 2

First there is the unusual wreck Lavezzi 2. It consisted of 95 ingots weighing c. 144 mina each (all in all c. 5 ton lead). These ingots were all produced by the lead founder Minuciorus, who sold them to the merchant Iunius Appius Zethus, i.e. a freedman, the former slave of Caius Appius Iunius Silanus, who was married to the Emperor Claudius’ mother-in-law and killed by Messalina 42 CE. The investment, ship and cargo, suggests close ties between the aristocrat and his former slave. The aristocrat may well have financed Zethus’ operations. Be this as it may, the example demonstrates a simple economic context – one producer, one merchant, a large cargo on its way to Ostia and Rome where lead was needed e.g. for water pipes – i.e. in profitable public and semi-public construction work sponsored by the aristocracy.

Cabrera 5

But most examples are far from this paragon. A cargo half the size, c. 40 ingots, may typically involve five named merchants and perhaps some anonymous dealers. As it happens some ingots have been stamped by three different merchants and since there are also some blanks with no merchant’s stamp at all, we may expect that a fourth and perhaps a fifth anonymous merchant was involved such as the captain or the owner of the ship. We don’t know how many owners were involved in a cargo such as the one from the wreck Cabrera 5, but its composition is so complex that we must conclude that the lead market in Baetica (Southern Spain) was in a very bad state despite the enormous demand for lead in Rome. Needless to say, the weight of the individual lead pig in the small cargoes is light and varied compared to the more uniform ones in Lavezzi 2.

These two cases suffice to demonstrate that there was a market, several in fact, and that some worked badly, which in formalist theory they ought not to have done in a period when the century old demand for lead rocketed. If the market had worked well, i.e. as it is supposed to work after a couple of centuries, then the wrecks would have contained Lavezzi 2 cargos, preferably with only one stamp. Since this is not the case, we must conclude that even though the aristocrats who sponsored their freedmen, understood the point in bypassing the Spanish market, they didn’t invest in lead mines and foundries in Spain in order to export directly to Rome. There was no lack of slaves to run the business, so why not use forced labour to create one large and fair lead market? The answer is probably that they had read Petronius or Seneca or both.

Seneca who writes about benefits has nothing to say about The Lead Market or indeed any market other than the local market place, which he mentions twice. But he writes a lot that can explain why the immensely rich upper classes, to which he himself belonged, looked upon the difference between profit and benefit in such a way that it kept them back.

As pointed out by Griffin and Inwood in the introduction to their translation of On Benefits (2011:loc283 on a Kindle), Seneca makes a clear distinction between profit and benefit. When profit is involved, as in the agreed exchange at the market Place, no bonds or obligations are necessarily involved. But in very many situations, which also concern money, benefit and obligation are integral. And this, Seneca argues, is normal because we are humans. Not surprisingly, On Benefits is not referred to in The Roman Market Economy (TRoMEc) of which there is an easily checked Kindle edition.

Seneca mentions market only a two times, but On Benefits is full of references to economic concepts such as ‘cost’, ‘price’, ‘money’ or ‘profit’ not to speak of ‘benefit’, i.e. concepts frequently figuring also in TRoMEc.

In Griffin and Inwood’s translation the first ‘market’ quotation runs: One man paid out a sum of money on behalf of a convicted debtor, but to do so he drew on private resources; someone else made the same payment, but took out a loan to do so or pled to get the money and submitted to being under a major obligation for the favor. Do you think the fellow who had to borrow in order to give is in the same position as the man who effortless provided the financial benefit (8.3) Sometimes it is the circumstances that make the benefit large rather than the money. The gift of an estate so productive that it could depress the price of grain at market – that is a benefit.

Seneca’s point is ‘circumstance’ – important in his treatise, unimportant in TRoMEc – and the way it links-in with financing and benefit and obligation. Financing creates split, complex and stressed situations, while a productive estate is a benefit to the local market and to its owner and to his donor and to society because it secures and supports regular subsistence. Locally, the estate makes the extended household economy rather than market economy beneficial.

In Griffin and Inwood’s translation the second ‘market’ quotation runs: And indeed the price of a thing varies after all with circumstances; though you have touted your wares well, they are worth only the highest price for which they can be sold. A person who buys them at a good price owes nothing extra to the seller. (15.5) Then again, even if they are worth more, no generosity on your part involved, since the price is determined not by their usefulness and efficacy but by the customary market price.

Again circumstance is the point and the market and its money problematic because it makes the price decisive although price cannot determine the usefulness and efficacy of the commodity, i.e. its value. Moreover, the market situation takes away the bonds and obligations between seller and buyer. Seneca understands how markets work, but he is not impressed.

The two quotations fit the lead pig examples. Zethus, ultimately financed by an aristocrat, bypassed the Spanish market and saved time and money. Consequently he made good quality lead cheaper in Rome for the common good. Five ton high quality lead equals 353 m 10-digit water pipe. Zethus’ bonds and obligations to his former master or the lead founder as well as his benefits and profits are easy to imagine and so are the risks he took, although similarly to Trimalchio he may have taken them with his master’s money. The owners of the small cargoes on the other hand were trapped by the inefficient and time-consuming Spanish market trying to put together a cargo from lead pigs circulating in Baetica.

When the rich think about benefits the way Seneca does, benefit linked to benevolence and obligation will invade their minds and ruin their formalist economic senses. It may well be that the rich in Rome were quite pleased with making money bypassing the market feeling the obligation to develop their society, but it didn’t set the market free. There is no point in trying to describe Roman economy as generally speaking a market economy. One must, however, not forget that if humanities had been better financed scholars would have would have continued to write about the problems of simplified economic analyses all the way into the present financial crisis pointing out that the benefits of financing is a matter of circumstances – as Seneca use to say.


(1) Since past economies are difficult but not impossible to study, the article on these cargoes is a somewhat technical and indeed quite old. Herschend, Frands 1995. Friends of Trimalchio’s. A study of Spanish lead ingots from three Roman wrecks. Tor 27:269-310. 1995. (ISSN 0495-8772).

A Christmas Gospel

24 December, 2012

This week On the Reading Rest I have a chapter or ‘fit’ from the Old Saxon poem Hêliand that tells us the story about the life of Jesus. I read:
Heyne, Moritz. 1866. Hêliand. Mit ausführlichem Glossar herausgegeben von Motitz Heyne. Paderborn. Verlag von Ferdinand Schöningh.
In prep school, one of the Saint Joseph sisters told us about the life of Jesus and while we listened to her oral gospel harmony we colorized line drawings,24 scenes as it were, illustrating the passage from Manger to Calvary. Selective gospel harmonies have these wonderful didactic qualities made up to make the gospels understandable and to catch the attention of the not-yet-educated – the sheep of shepherds. We continued with the Acts of the Apostles before illustrations, tales and a number of sheep disappeared.

The holy family colorized

The holy Saxonian family colorized, uncolorized

Hêliand (c. 830 CE) is composed in order to render the gospels reasonable to the newly conquered Saxons, when they needed to become Christians. Given Hêliand’s dubious agenda and its once strikingly 19th c Germanic qualities, there are a number of horrible editions with dubious illustrations to match the introductions and analytical epilogues. The illustrations are just waiting to be colorized and the poem’s attitude is worth a comment. The fact that my copy was published in Paderborn, a town not far from the monastery where Hêliand was probably composed, rings a bell to schoolboys reminding them of the joke about the comparison of the German adjective ‘black’ (referring to the frocks of clerics as in The Red and the Black) goes: Schwartz – Münster – Paderborn.
I read the fifth song or ‘fit’ of the poem – the Christmas gospel.
The Hêliand author (THA) was commissioned to rewrite the Gospels in a politically correct way holding in balance Carolingian political ambition and the loyalty of newly defeated Saxon leaders. To some, doing this, indicates a Christian theologian selling his pass. To others less naïve the author seems to be the first in a North European line of preachers eventually flogging their gospel to any congregation. Betraying one’s religious cause for another (in effect. taking steps to reform others) is often the beginning of their career. THA is interesting because his commission is political, his agenda radical, and his task delicate. That the poem might have had some dissonant qualities is implied by the fact that Hêliand was soon followed by Otfied’s Evangelienbuch, a much more orthodox and harmonic albeit less interesting harmony. Instead of translating Otfried we may simply compare Hêliand V to the familiar modern version of the Christmas Gospel.Heliand 01

THA tells us about the birth of Jesus, but adds some basic insights into the social order of the Christian society and the way Jesus fits into this construction to be sure that we understand. The Christmas Gospel is a suitable story because it starts at the top of the construction, with the emperor, and ends at its bottom with the shepherds. The biblical society is somewhat simple, but THA knows how to upgrade the description of a suitable social hierarchy. He starts
by expanding upon Luke 2:1-5. Luke gives us some seemingly innocent initial facts, coincidence it would seem, but of course we suspect the Lord in mysterious ways to have arranged the taxation, in order to let ancient prophecies to become true. But if so, he works in his New Testament style, i.e.  without direct interference the way he used to employ  in the Old Testament.

THA takes the opportunity to explain in some detail how taxation works and the reason why it is difficult to evade. Many have pointed out that his model is Carolingian taxation with the emperor’s emissaries send out to keep track of people who were forced to go back to their birth place, family and assembly places (in effect their traditional thing place. It has also be observed that since a Carolingian emperor would refer to himself as Augustus, THA has chosen Otavian (Augustus before Augustus) to impose taxation. Many Saxon chieftains may be expected to oppose Carolingian taxes, as nine hundred years earlier Roman taxation made Germans unite behind Arminius, and THA knows. To be completely sure that no one can accuse Carolingian emperors of having invented taxation, THA eventually tells us that God (i.e. Jesus’ father) is behind this – ‘Joseph … … went too, as the mighty God had ruled’.

Heliand 02

To Luke, Joseph and Mary are humble people, but to THA it is unthinkable that a King such as Christ could belong to anything but the upper classes. Joseph therefore goes with his household to his hall and Manor in Bethlehem. We are not told whence he came since that may have indicated that he was permanently living at Nazareth, and why should he? THA has already explained to us that Joseph kept a low political profile during the reign of Herod.


Bethlehem in Saxony

In the first section we are introduced to God, the heavenly ruler, the emperor the worldly ruler, petty kings and chieftains such as Joseph, emissaries and warriors with a seat in the assembly. This is almost the whole social order yet we haven’t reached Luke’s Joseph and Mary.

In his matter-of-fact style Luke sees to it that Mary give birth already in verse 7. But THA is in no hurry. He has a hall, a heritage and a social situation to describe. On this journey therefore
Mary is to give birth and it is Jesus as well as God who thinks this is convenient. Actually Christ is born because he want to come out since he is ‘strong’, ‘great’, ‘king’, ‘splendid’ and ‘mighty’ as soon as he enters this world – ‘the light of men’. Luke’s commonplace reference to the days were accomplished that she should be delivered, doesn’t bother THA. Gods are born when they want to be born. We have all reason to believe that Joseph is sitting in David’s high seat overlooking the world the way Late Iron Age kings used to. Needless to say there is no reference to Mary being great with child. The state of pregnancy is nothing the upper classes bother about or discuss.

Heliand 03

Before Luke has reached the cowshed and the end of verse 7, THA has marched off in the opposite direction. The whole scene with the manger has become impossible and fully booked inns not much to bother about if you are giving birth at home in your hall. Swaddling clothes are not used in halls either.

To THA, the amazing thing, well worth to point out, is the care with which this upper class mother takes of her child. She is actually doing things herself. The jewelry and laying the ‘lord of mankind’ with ‘God’s power’ in a crib is perhaps overdoing it, but Mary, who in Hêliand is an emancipated woman,  wanted to do so and her loving affection was spoken of.

Heliand 04

Even when they are on duty, it is prudent to inform one’s housecarls, i.e. one’s bodyguard, when the lady of the household has been delivered, since the housecarls come second in rank in their lordship’s household. This opens a window of opportunity for THA – he can get out of the hall, put the shepherds on hold for a while, and use God’s housecarls, the angels, an awe-inspiring troop coming directly from God’s manor in Meadow of Heaven, to convey the message to Joseph’s housecarls who are out looking after the horses in the fields around Joseph’s manor. Having hooked up with the Gospel by means of his excursion into the fields and the manorial use of household troops, THA is ready to follow the gospel praise the Lord and point to the child in the crib.

Heliand 05


Saxon ‘Horse shepherds’

Political and power based theology, is be it 9th century Catholic or 21st century Muslim Brotherhood is always appalling and its interpretations doubtful. Nevertheless, interpreting and harmonizing the Scriptures gives us a clear picture of politics and society.  If these insights concerns 9th c. Saxony, they become interesting because their affinities with Carolingian and Pre Carolingian Iron Age in Northwest Germany and among Scandinavia become obvious. And we know little about that, and don’t want to embrace what we think we  know.

It has often been suggested that Christianity was an upper class religion, strongly defending the upper strata of society leading the lower ones as flocks of sheep behind a member of the brotherhood, but it is revealing that the ideological consciousness of these upper classes as they are represented e.g. by THA, was so well developed and conceptualized. If one reads all the songs of Hêliand, tends to about the authors ulterior motives, because he emerges as a good poet in addition to being a cleaver propagandist. That was probably why he was chosen or volunteered to do the job, but then again many dictatorial regimes have engaged good authors to write the right epics.

Be this as I may just don’t forget that the comparison of the Egyptian word for black’ (referring to beards of the clerics) goes: Suda  – Brotherhood – Salafist.


This week On the Reading Rest I have a companion to an exhibition at Villa Schildt in Ekenäs, Finland ( ).

Häggman, Sofia. 2012. Travellers on the Nile. Exhibition 15.6-9.9.2012. Ekenäs. Villa Schildt. A pdf-file of the book can be found and downloaded at the above address or at: the file utstallning_2012_resenarer_pa_nilen.pdf6.28 MB

Travelling up the Nile is a certain kind of journey. Irrespective of our doing it in the mid 19th century, the mid 20th or in the beginning of the 21th, if we chose to stop for a day in Qulusna or spend an evening in mujaheddin, Assiut, looking around, drinking tea and making friends is what we do; as well as listening to good stories about the Roman (and Early Byzantine says the guest) antiquities that will come out of a decent cellar project in that part of town.

But when we pass by a village in Manfalut, a landing place by the Nile that has been there for quite a while, the water front is concrete and pre-Aswan High Dam, the houses mostly old and the satellite dishes modern.

Since the days of Muhammad Ali Pasha in the 19th century, things have been constantly changing in the Nile Valley as they often changed in earlier days too. Yet there is something more than these insights, stopping by drinking tea and making friends that travellers share.

To begin with there is the going up and going down again. Even if we travel by car, rather than by boat, the stops we make going up are new to us as every kilometre is, but going down we detour familiar check points passing through well-known lands, villages and towns. This is not really true, but true enough to make us feel that going up we add the Nile to our personal journey of civilization and going down we travel through our own experience adding a little something here and there.

Before the dams, not least the Aswan High Dam, going up was sailing against currents and fighting the cataracts, impossible some parts of the year, while going down was effortless floating enjoying a victory approaching the beginning as an end in itself – at least in principle – some parts of the year. As Sofia Häggman (SH) points out it is sometimes a bit disappointing when everything comes to en end in Fum al Khalig or a Yacht Club (as well as an AVIS office) in Cairo.

If you are an Egyptian, the Nile is a spine and travelling up and down something one has to do to keep the country going. But to outsiders coming from the North it has often be impossible to understand that Egyptians can be so forgetful of the mind-broadening way of coming to terms with oneself that is travelling on the Nile.


If up-and-down comes first, one might suppose that Pharaonic antiquities, uniting western travellers, comes next. But that is not true. As it happens, one of the great advantages with the old Nile Hilton was its roof-top terrace where the good-humoured Nubian waiters (emblematic of The Nubian) would chat with the late afternoon visitor, when on a less exhaust-smoggy late afternoon the pyramids were visible in a crack in the skyline, and the bar provided a reason not to go there — having already seen them.

What comes second is the fact that travellers are definite about the monuments before they start.

The two travellers that SH writes about turn out to be model Nile travellers. The first, Georg August Wallin (1), in the 1840s, belonged to the minority who went to modern Muhammad Ali Egypt, totally uninterested in Pharaohs, mummies, temples or hieroglyphs. He was there because he could melt in and learn Arabic well enough later on to go to Mecca and pass for a native speaker and a muslim – as indeed he did. The second, Göran Schildt came sailing from Beirut in the beginning of the 1950s specifically to look for Ancient Egypt. Incidently, both Wallin and Schildt had Greece as a backdrop to Egypt – Schildt to find the Egyptian influence on the all-important Greece and individuality – Wallin to have a superior antiquity to hold on to when being not-impressed. Wallin went up the Nile more or less by chance, Schildt on purpose.

Wallin’s nameless dahabiya and Schildt’s motor sailboat Daphne

The sailing united them and it probably convinced Wallin that the trip was a good or at least tolerable idea. From two different attitudes to a changing Egypt they went up to see what would happened in a small adventure intending to come down again with an overview of things. Supported by adventure, therefore, they travelled not least for the benefit of themselves hoping to prove themselves right. And they both wrote about their experience – Wallin for family and eventually newspapers, Schildt planned a book. Wallin was in the company of a painter and Schildt and his wife took pictures.

As SH points out, the Nile, the Egyptians, and their monuments changed both of them. Wallin saw a link between the peasants, the fellahin, of his day and age and the Egyptians behind the ancient monuments. His was a view that disappeared with Orientalism and Schildt, because of Oriantalism and thus not surprisingly, started out being uninterested in moderns Egypt – as it were he preferred to visit the Egyptian Museum rather than accepting an invitation to meet with Gamal Abdel Nasser. But the Nile changed him too when his curiosity made him seen the people, the fellahin, and understand their life – the contrast between the canals and green fields of the Nile Valley, dug and cultivated for thousands of years, and the standing monuments of civilisation – modern, historic or ancient.

Still today, speeding on the tarmac, small green and fertile fields worked by hand and water lifted into canals by donkeys are profitable. As always, the Nile valley is an enormous palimpsest on which the fellahin work to match themselves and the water of the Nile. As soon as it stopped raining in the Nile Valley, sometime in the 6th millennium BCE when water became manageable because it became dependent on a predictable year cycle in Central East Africa, the first canals were dug, fields drained and watered. Promptly, the fellahin began to develop, adjust and enhance their agriculture supplying the surplus that pays for the rest. The third element of the travel, the fellahin changes us.


Successfully travelling on or along the Nile come about for three reasons:

(1) We travel up the Nile as an adventure of our own. We don’t need to explore anything original or new, just something we didn’t know.

It suffice to see the living saint cult in Upper Egypt (buy a book at Gaddis in Luxor to learn more if we wish (2)) and visit graves and shrines on our way back, now that we know what they are.

Brighter hieroglyphs

It suffice to see the bright colours of the nowadays rarely visited graves on the shores of Lake Nasser and have a look at the fading colours in the Valley of the Kings on our way back, now that we can imaging what they looked like.

(2) If we are lucky we travel with a definite foreign idea about Egypt or the Nile Valley. One of the best, i.e. most popular and prejudiced views, is the opinion that there is no connection between pharaonic and modern Egyptians. This prejudice is the best because it is most likely to change.

(3) As it happens, we change our mind by means of talking to the fellahin and to people in the small towns.

And back in Cairo debriefing ourselves sitting in a garden on Zamalek for a couple of days, we are sadly ready once again to become satisfied, but changed Europeans — staying if we could going home as we must.

(1) If Swedish is an option you may read more about his time in Egypt in Sofia Häggman’s book Alldeles hemlikt. Helsingfors. Atlantis. 2011.

(2) If you must know in advance, you can buy Nicholas Hopkins and Saad Reem (eds). Upper Egypt – identity and change. American University in Cairo Press. Cairo 2004.

This week On the Reading Rest I have my memory of a British Museum Object in Focus. In the British Museum nevertheless one may buy the booklet:

Williams, Dyfri. 2006. The Warren Cup. British Museum Object in Focus. British Museum Press. London. Pp 64—

but be careful, it may contain illustrations that under law at least in Sweden are held to be pornographic pictures of a child, illegal to possess and disseminate, perhaps even to look at – at least if doing so is your habit. It may not help to argue that the drinking cup in question is a 2000 year old work of art and its embossed silver decoration thus artistic fiction belonging to our cultural heritage rather than a picture of a child. As I write the Supreme Court in Stockholm is considering an unfortunately not so similar case concerning pictures harvested from Manga Series – we hope for a precedent. While we do so, I think that one of the scenes is child pornography [0].

With their growing wealth around the beginning of the Common Era, Romans explored different qualities in silver tableware. In fact they laid the foundation for the use of silver tableware also in Post Medieval and Modern Europe and in the process they firmly established the notion of good and bad. Since they hadn’t yet coined the phrase de gustibus non disputandum est they were aware of the difference.

The Warren Cup belongs to the first century BCE/CE and its vogue in silver tableware and drinking cups. Materially speaking, this vogue is quite well-known because of a number of find contexts reflecting more or less traumatic situations in the first century CE: the Hildesheim hoard is related to spoils from the battle in the Teutoburger Forest 9 CE when Varus’ legions were annihilated. The pair of cups from the grave in Danish Hoby indirectly links-in with the military activities in Northwest Germany during the first decades of the Common Era. Two hoards, Boscoreale and Casa del Menandro, were lost 79 CE when Pompeii, Casa del Menandro, and its surroundings, Boscoreale, were covered in pumice and ashes. There are many more finds out there, but for my purpose the drinking cups from these four contexts are enough to inform me. In the second century CE this drinking cup vogue came to an end.

Embossed tableware featuring everything from olives and birds to sleaze and myth was an integral part of an extravagant 1st century BCE/CE table culture detested by a number of conservative intellectuals in the late 1st century CE Rome – Tacitus to name but one. To begin with, in the late first century BCE, luxurious silverware bridged the gap between wealth and Bildung. As it happened, collectors in the highest echelons of society, among them Julius Caesar, invested in decorated silver – embossed and partly gilded. Often Greek civilization was in focus and silver smiths in vogue. Ageing Horace, albeit a man of modest means pointed out that ridet argento domus—the house is laughing with silver—to make a favorable impression on Phyllis (after he spotted vanity in the beautiful boy Ligurinus). ‘Silver laughter’ has continued to ring [1].

In the 1st century CE, society changed when the nouveau-riche entered the scene. Contrary to the middle classes, who could afford nothing but education to gain status, the upstarts  down-graded classical and formal education and up-graded wealth. Wealth formed their links with the upper classes. Consequently, the possibilities to gain status and recognition by means of education and learning tended to diminish. Hence the intellectual critique. Social change echoed all the way down to dinner parties and drinking cups and there were two extremes to relate to: (1) The educated classes, versed in everything Greek, who knew how to read the scenes of the decorated cups and indulged themselves in lengthy comments. (2) The ignorant parvenus, who knowing nothing bought whatever they fancied in their endeavor to demonstrate and proud themselves of their economic success and lack of culture, taste, civilization, education and modesty. Trimalchio, the wealthy freedman who figures in the Roman novel Satyricon, was a model first century CE parvenu, but from what we read in today’s tabloids – since once again the intellectuals aren’t invited – we gather that the parties thrown by Berlusconi are modeled on the ones thrown by Trimalchio. Luckily, Petronius who created Trimalchio – and thus indirectly Berlusconi – has given us more complete insights into the combined efforts of wealth and ignorance that squeezed the educated classes. Decorated silver drinking cups were lost in the process, but the two backdrops: silver cups and satire will make it possible to write about the missing Warren Cup.

Decorated cups fit an art form—a performance: two human beings drink together forming a dyad. Aided and confined by the dyadic pair of cups and their structure, the performers are invited to analyse and comment upon the scenes in relation to the dyadic and themselves as human beings – getting wasted. In some of the decorated cups, the dyadic qualities are subtle, not least why they involve turning the cups in order to structure performance and interpretation. Obviously the interpretation may involve only oneself, but also part of a conversation—within the dyad or in front of an audience. Besides being brilliant, one might easily make a fool of oneself knowing to little or too much; misunderstanding this or that; protesting too much, protesting too little; being too modest or not modest enough. Everything depends on your capability to handle yourself, your company and your state of intoxication. Writing about these cups today, exposes us to the difficulties of understanding them, and 2000 years ago our interpretations might well have been labelled stupid, commonplace or uninformed in Pompeii, Borscoreale, Hildesheim or Hoby. Whatever the latter knew about the Trojan War illustrated on his cups, it would have been worth listening to.

I will look at three narrative compositions before trying to describe the missing Warren cup.

In Casa del Menandro the labouring Hercules figures on two drinking cups in a big hoard of table plate [2]. This hoard represents an almost complete set for at most 8 persons and its composition is based on subsets of 16, 8, 4, and 2 items. There are 15 drinking cups, seven pairs and one singleton, which probably lost its partner.

The silver was stored in a robust wooden chest, 1.2×0.8xc.0.7m, which stood in a low vaulted cellar, Room B, below the bath-suite. Sometime before the eruption 79 CE, work on the rebuilding of the bath was started and the rooms C and D were sealed off by means of the walls w-w1 and x1-x2, and abandoned . Simultaneously a breach was made in the wall between room A and B making A-B a cellar with an outer and an inner room. In room B there were two chests, a and b, and they were placed as far west as possible considering that the lids of the chests were supposed to clear the low vault. Similarly the amphorae that would have prevented the lid of Chest a to lean against the wall, were placed to the right of the chest. Likewise the big tiles standing next to Chest a between the chest and the wall towards Room A, would seem to have filled up a space created when Chest a was fitted into the cellar. It stands to reason therefore that when Room B was walled off from Room C and the breach between Room A and B was made, Chest b was placed in Room B along the new wall. Chest a may have been there already considering the tiles and amphorae stored around it.

Three facts are worth mentioning when it comes to the find context.
(1) Some fragile items, such as the figured drinking cups, were placed at the bottom of the chest below the rest of the silver, as if they were among the first things one thought of saving. The weight of this silver did them no good.
(2) Since their feet and handles were separately wrapped up in cloth and wool next to the cups, someone took off the feet and handles – breaking the solder that kept them in place – before everything was wrapped up. This procedure is common when storing drinking cups in chests [3]. It also indicates that the missing cup was never in the chest. The preparation of the cups before putting them into the chest seems to have been done rationally with an eye to protecting them and in no great hurry, but putting the most fragile objects at the bottom rather than on the top signals lack of time. The cups were not as well preserved as the majority of the pieces and two fragile shell-shaped bowls, similarly placed, were completely crushed by the heavy ware above them.
(3) Outside the chest, next to tiles and amphorae, there was a silver tray and below it two or three silver vessels. It has been suggested that the tray was too large for the chest, but that is true only if the chest was already filled-up. Putting the tray at the bottom of the chest with the rest of the items above it would have been natural, trays being what they are, and had not time been an issue, emptying the chest wrapping up the vessels that didn’t fit into it after having packed it the first time, would have been sensible.

For three reasons, therefore, we should conclude that getting the silver down into the cellar and packing it was done under some kind of stress. The context points to a controlled situation somewhere else in the house when the table ware was wrapped up, and a stressed one – caused by the eruption? – when pieces and parcels were stored in the chest. This again suggests that the table ware was in good order, except for a few pieces, among them the missing ‘Cup no. 16’, a modiolus with floral/faunal decoration.

This means that if we had been invited to a convivium (‘living together’ – a get-together more or less) at Casa del Menandro 78 CE, we might have formed a cup dyad drinking from the Hercules cups (M3 or M4) with another guest. This pair alludes to twelve Herculean labours. On M3 Hercules meets opponents or antagonists – three male and three female. On M4 he is in control of his tasks – three non-domestic ones concerning boars, centaurs and birds and three domestic ones concerning mares, apples and a dog . In the latter situations he is not attacked. If we want to follow the chronology of the labours during a dinner conversation, each guest nursing a cup must be aware of ‘his’ pictures and myths in order to turn the cup and fall-in correctly. The labours start with the first scene on the A-side of the third Menander cup (M3, A-side) and they come to an end in the last scene on the B-side of the fourth cup (M4, B-side). The twelve labours are obviously not the twelve usual ones. The cleansing of Augias’ stables for one is not there.

In a dinner conversation there are several points to make when drinking from the cups and certainly many opportunities to show-off commenting upon Greek mythology and what it means to be Heracles, i.e. ‘The Glory of Hera’. Aging too is an issue.

The option to turn and jump between the cups is a choice when drinking from the Hercules cups, but in two of the drinking cups from Hildesheim turning becomes much more important [4]. The Hildesheim hoard represents what Roman officers brought with them into the field and also what they lost when they lost the battle in 9 CE and their silver became the spoils of the barbarian victors. In the first half of the first century CE, it is typical of the area south of the Elbe, where Varus lost his legions and Gemanicus conducted his punitive expeditions up and until 16 CE, that there are no luxury Roman artefacts in the graves, but well in a hoard like the one from Hildesheim. This is easy to understand given the brutality and the ideological overtones of the wars – Rome and its artefacts were simply not popular and nothing to exhibit at funerals. There was in other words a point in burying the silver spoils because they were ostentatiously Roman. In the area north of the Elbe, on the other hand, Roman luxury goods, not least drinking cups, were popular in prominent graves. This indicates that the Romans had successfully turned Germans against Germans, but also that prestigious drinking cups had a role to play because they paired officers – Roman-Roman; German-German and Roman-German.

On two of the cups from Hildesheim, the panels take us in and out of a sanctuary when we turn them. In the scenes there are a number of allusions to Dionysus, Heracles and others, to dramatic action and masks—to tragedy as well as satire. In formal ways the two cups are similar, but the masks are different and so are the positions of the symbolic artefacts. It’s the turning of the cups that determines the narratives, which are parallel but slightly different as dyads are. In the beginning of the narrative two masks are staring at something that is not in front of the cup, but somewhere next to it. In the first cup this field of view is somewhere up to the left. In the second it is somewhere down to the right.

What are they staring at? They are staring at you when you are about to begin your performance!

Holding the first cup in your hands, this cup is to the right and your face is somewhere above the cup, holding the second one, you have lifted or placed the cup somewhere above your eyes to the left. As you are about to drink form the cup you turn it anticlockwise and the masks keep looking at you eventually from somewhere below your eyes. Then you turn it again, lifting it, and when you start to drink from it, you look straight into the central and horrified (tragic) mask. When you have finished, you turn the cup 90 degrees the last time and look into four comic masks making faces at you from a scene in front of you. And you may ask yourself whether you have had too much to drink. One of the things implied in the wry faces of the cups is that you steal or behave badly when you drink from them. In effect that means that you have become part of the context of the cup by drinking from it. In short, you are yourself a mask responding to the others. In the Hildesheim cups an essential way of understanding them has nothing to do with learning, the situation itself is complex enough to beg a comment. Perception, more or less, is all it takes to understand what’s happening in the panels and the scenes are humorous. Their mock criticism embedded in the composition befits drinking between officers in the camp.

The two drinking cups from Hoby on Lolland, belong to a lavish drinking set [5]. The pair is the piece de resistance of an inhumation grave belonging to the first part of the first century CE. The grave is remarkable in itself, but it is even more astonishing that an inscription at the bottom of the cups shows their Roman owner to have been Silius, the prefect of Upper Germania, known for his good contacts with Germanic chieftains during the punitive wars. The reason why ‘Silius’ is Silius the prefect, rests with the fact that the cups belong to the very best of the Augustan drinking cups and thus in all probability to someone from the Roman aristocracy. Moreover, presenting a German chieftain with such a pair can only be contemplated by a member of the Roman military elite. And doing it in the beginning of the first century CE limits the donors to the prefect.

The artistic quality of the Hoby cups is striking and was so already when they were made, since Cheirisophos, i.e. (he who is) ‘skilled-with-hands’, made them. The themes illustrated on the cups are also befitting inasmuch as one must keep in mind that the decade around 10 CE was one of war, a ten-year war of Trojan length, between Romans and Germans. In this conflict the Romans adopted a principle of divide et impera—divide and rule, which makes it sensible to give away a pair of posh drinking cups referring to the Trojan War befriending a German chieftain living north of the tribes that confronted the Romans. When we turn the cups clockwise, they illustrate two stories from the wars. One from Homers and one from a lost play by Euripides. One cup depicts Priam who begs Achilles to grant him Hector’s corps, the other one shows us how Ulysses, helped by Diomedes, steals Philoctetes’ bow (which he inherited from Heracles). Ten years earlier Ulysses had left Philoctetes on the deserted island Lemnos because a horrible wound in the man’s right foot, he was bitten by a snake, smelled so badly that nobody could stand the stench. Now, ten years later the Greeks have learned that only if they have the bow can they win the war. This forces Ulysses to go back to Lemnos in order to get hold of the bow despite the fact that Philoctetes hates him bitterly. Cunning and deceitful, Ulysses steals it.

The tales are about enemies who meet during the war as individuals in odd situations without killing each other – the bereaved old father and the young hero; the cunning middle-aged hero and the old handicapped man. The central scenes are puzzling and poke the question what the pair drinking from the cups would have done had such roles fallen to them. It is easy to imagine that similar situations may have occurred among the leaders of the long first century wars.

Perhaps Chief Hoby understood nothing of tales that the cups told, and Prefect Silius commented upon, but we must not forget that contemporary young Germanic princes such as Arminius, who was a Roman officer and citizen, could make a carrier in the Roman army, speak Latin and access classical education. And the Trojan War has obvious didactic qualities when it comes to educating generals and war lords alike.

The structure of the dyadic tales in Hoby may be described in several ways, but none the less the hook is a situation in which something odd that we are not quite sure of seems to take place. Curiosity drives us to take a look at what happens, and when it has prompted us to turn the cup clockwise a scene comes into focus with clues enough for us to recognize the situation. When we continue to turn the cup we enter into a pause when Priam leaves his charioteer among the sleeping Greeks and enters Achilles’s quarters. On the other cup Philoctetes’ bow hangs in the tree for ten years after he got his wound. When we break the pause barrier and turn to the central scene we see the negotiation between the two couples. We may contemplate this situation, but eventually we turn the cups into the domestic domain where the slaves work and the exceptional tales end in commonplace daily life in the field [6].

With these three pairs in mind what then can we say about the missing Warren cup? We start by analysing the existing one. Owing to Swedish legislation this not-missing Warren Cup must be shown severely damaged.

However, bearing Satyricon in mind and what is on display in British Museum, we can compare the damaged couple to Ascyltus and Giton engaged in an adult-boy situation. The cup can be read by turning it anticlockwise. Similar to the attraction created by the outstanding masks on the Hildesheim cups, we start by following the slave boy’s gaze from his observation point peeping out behind the door (to the right). He sees the first couple, man-adult, in the draped room. By turning the cup we look through the first part of a room and its curtains into the next and the pederastic adult-boy scene. Turning the cup once again we look through this part too and follow the slave boy out of the room. This cyclic structure is a trick with perception – we follow the slave’s gaze although we look directly at the cup and eventually at the slave when he leaves. The slave boy looks at no one and no one looks him in the eye. The scenes are impassionate, textiles are abundant, a flute and a lyre hang on the walls and there are some indications of furniture too. Similar to Hildesheim and contrary to Hoby, there is no time depth in the scenes. Dyfri Williams (DW) points to the instruments, the garments, disinterested looks, especially characterizing the passive participants, and goes on to haircuts and the man’s non-Roman beard. He concludes, convincingly, that the persons on the cup are Greeks. In Roman scenes of intercourse the bed is central, but not in Greek images. The lack of actual beds may thus be yet another indication of the non-Roman character of the scenes. That first century Roman cups depict Greek ways is to be expected.

As DW points out the setting is non-brothel. Consequently, owing to his Greek experience Encolpius, who is Petronius’ protagonist, would have recognized himself as one of the guests in a private house.

With all this in mind we can turn to the reconstruction of the missing Warren Cup and expect it to illustrate a narrative with the same structure as the one we know, i.e. a slave looks into a room, sees what goes on between two Greek couples, one in each part of the room, and leaves again. Similar to two of the cups from Casa del Menandro, depicting Mars and Venus with a serving Cupid in two different capacities: either holding Mars’ weapons or Venus’ perfume flask, we expect a small variation also between the Warren cups. A slave girl suggests herself as a slave in the house and an outsider. The room would be more or less the same perhaps with other instruments displayed on the walls. The essential variation nevertheless must be related to the couples. It seems probable that the couples were composed differently and that sex positions differed too. It is reasonable, therefore, that the reconstructed pairs are male-boy and adult-adult respectively. Falling back on the juxtaposed male-female pairs on wall paintings from Pompeii, we can expect the first scene to show the male kneeling behind the boy, and the second to depict the two adults facing each other, one of them lifting his arm above his head [7].

Taken together, this would mean that we are in a private Greek house where the owner of the house, probably the male, entertains two adults and a boy. They are looked after by the slaves of the household. The scenes on the missing cup may have been the more passionate, but I don’t think so! Foreign ways, distance, alienation and impassion are prominent themes on the existing cup and that indicates that foreign ways, distance, alienation and impassion is the reason why the cups fitted a convivium in a private house belonging to the educated and well-to-do. Irrespective of the drinking dyad being unisexual or not, discussing criminal offence and child pornography would have been pointless, but the talkative bowl and its ambiguous cue line: receive me thirsting, perhaps I will reconcile you, might just strike up a conversation between the two who made up the Warren cup dyad. Obviously, the first answer is: ‘I don’t think so!’ but that will be followed up by new questions. Owing to the impassionate air of the boy it is not impossible that a Phyllis, drinking from one of the missing cup, will recite a line of two from Horace, Ode 4.10, to her. Horace points to the ievitable cruel vanity and insolence of beautiful boys.

As it happens, this convivium is all about testing each other the Socratic way.


[0] On June 16, the Supreme Court ruled not guilty in the Manga case, but the court referred to the pictures being phantasy rather than true to life, except for one. The Warren cup scenes are obviously realistic and the ruling thus not a precedent applicable to a ‘Warren Case’. Actually, in picture (g24.jpg) according to the Supreme Court, the drawing of the child stands out as real. The drawing as a whole must be considered realistic and pornographic . This description fits the realism of the Warren cup. If a drawing is true to life then the protective interests (of children) are applicable. This leaves us with the divide, the divide as it were is the very point, between g24.jpg and the other pictures. Nevertheless, we are unable to see the divide because we cannot see picture g.24.jpg. None the less we are left with a strong suspicion that one of the scenes on the Warren cup is indeed child pornography.

[1] Usually, this quotation from Horace, Odes Book 4: Ode 11 to Phyllis, it is translated ‘the house is smiling with silver’ or ‘the house gleams with silver’. However, given the fact that Horace, before mentioning the silver, has told Phyllis of his splendid wine and envisaged her shining with ivy in her hair (reminding us of a Maenad) and given the fact that he proceeds to describe the busy preparations for their meeting, the (characteristic) sound of silverware ought not to be excluded. After all, what point is there in telling someone that you silver is polished. It is putting it out in the house that matters. Ligurinus, by the way, is dealt with in Ode 4.10.

[2] Facts an interpretations on the Menander hoard can be found in:
Maiuri, Amadeo. 1933. La casa del Menendro e il suo tesoro de argenteria. Vol 1+2. La libreria dello stato. Roma.
Painter, Kenneth S. 2001. The Silver Treasure. The Casa del Menandro at Pompeii. Vol iv. Calderon press. Oxford.

[3] See Maiuri, Amadeo. 1933. La casa del Menendro e il suo tesoro de argenteria. Vol 1+2. La libreria dello stato. Roma. Page 246 and notes.

[4] On the Hildesheim hoard see:
Pernice, Erich & Winter, Frantz. 1901. Der Hildesheimer Silberfund. Verlag W Spemann. Berlin.
On the cups see pp.37-40.

[5] The cups from Hoby were published by:
Friis Johansen, Knud. 1923. Hobyfundet. Nordiske fortidsminder. Vol 2:3 Pp. 119-164. København.

[6] The general structural approach in the Hoby cups has affinities with the two propagandistic cups from Boscoreale – the Augustus and the Tiberius cup:
Héron de Villefosse, Antoine M. 1899. Le tésor de Boscoreale. Monuments et mémoires publiés par l’académie des inscriptions et des belle-lettres. Vol 5. Pp. 1-290. Ernest Leroux. Paris. See pp. 134-148.

[7] Roman ways of looking at sexuality can be understood in:
Clarke, John R. 1998. Looking at lovemaking. Constructions of sexualities in Roman art 100 B.C.—A.D. 250. University of California Press. Berkeley.