Saturday, August 16, 2008

A couple of discoveries

It's been a week for archaeological discoveries. and for once I'm not blogging them because I disagree with something that's been said about them,* simply because they're interesting.

First of all, a colossal head of a Roman imperial woman was found in Sagalassos in southern Turkey, in the same baths complex where last year the remains of a statue of Hadrian were found. My first thought was that this might be Hadrian's wife, Vibia Sabina. This also was the first thought of the excavators, but they soon realized that this doesn't look like most portraits of Sabina (that's a statue from Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, like the Sagalassos head of Hadrian, currently in the British Museum's Hadrian: Empire and Conflict exhibition, which I will blog about - I'm going again tomorrow). Instead, they now think it's Faustina, wife of Hadrian's successor Antoninus Pius. David Meadows on Rogueclassicism kindly provides another example for comparison. I'm not absolutely sure I buy the ID, but it certainly isn't Sabina.

Accepting that it is Faustina, this doesn't mean it's not connected with the statue of Hadrian. Sagalassos was an important centre for the imperial cult (Hadrian had made it so), and what one could have here is part of a group of statues from the Antonine period, with the emperor's deified (adoptive) father, and his deified wife. The excavators suggest that the statues come from a Kaisersaal ('emperor's room') from within the baths complex. There's no word in the reports as to whether the female toes found last year, and thought at the time to be part of a stature of Sabina, go with the head, but it's surely plausible.

The other discovery, again with a Hadrianic connection, comes from Newcastle, where two Roman sarcophagi have been found. What's refreshing about this are some of the comments made by Richard Annis, in charge of the dig. I can't now find where these comments were made, so you'll have to take my word for it, but instead of saying "this completely changes our picture of Roman Newcastle", what he said was that the dig confirms what had always been thought to be the case. Just about every fort along Hadrian's Wall has produced evidence for a vicus or civilian settlement, with Vindolanda, Housesteads and Birdoswald merely being amongst the best known. It stands to reason, then, that the Roman fort at Pons Aelius (now under Newcastle Castle Keep) should have had something similar. These excavations, with the discovery of buildings and roads as well as the cemetery, now prove it.

* Well, apart from a comment about Vibia Sabina being "forced into a marriage with the homosexual emperor [Hadrian] at the age of 14", which is calculated to make the readers view the marriage of Sabina in twenty-first century cultural terms.

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