The Head of Augustus from Meroe

December’s ARCHAEO-Crush is one of my favourite artefacts at the British Museum that comes from the site of Meroe in Sudan.

The so-called ‘Meroe Head’ (or Head of Augustus) at the British Museum is a magnificent bronze head of Emperor Augustus excavated in Meroe, Sudan.

THE HEAD OF AUGUSTUS FROM MEROE

Type: artefact (statue fragment)
Civilisation: Roman Empire, rule of Augustus, 27 BC – AD 14
Date:  27 BC – 25 BC
ARCHAEO-Crush: I have mentioned elsewhere that I have a soft spot for Augustus, the first emperor of Rome,  but I’m not quite sure why. (I mean the guy defeated Cleopatra and Antony at Actium and Egypt became a Roman province. I’m an Egyptologist… I shouldn’t like Augustus!) It might be that I am partial to his statues’ beautiful features–his idealised boyish good looks found in both marble and bronze. And, in this particular case, his eyes! These amazing eyes are the original inlays with glass pupils set in metal rings and irises made of calcite.  However, of all the statues of Augustus an archaeologist (or a tourist) will come across, this one is the most amazing in my very humble opinion…  Even more so because it was not found in any part of the Roman Empire… it was discovered in Sudan at the Royal City of Meroe!
This story includes the Romans getting their butts kicked by a girl, the great Meroitic Candace Amanirenas (perhaps more on that another day), whose army looted statues of Augustus that were set up at Aswan during the Kushite attack in 25 BC (remember Egypt had become a province of the Empire and there were statues of the emperor all over the place). The booty was taken back home to Meroe, capital of the Kingdom of Kush. Clearly, not all statues were returned after the Romans and the Kushites negotiated a peace treaty because this more than life-size head of Augustus was excavated by John Garstang at Meroe in 1910 (you’ll find great pics here).  Interestingly, the bronze head of Augustus was discovered underneath the steps of a temple, metaphorically being trampled by the feet of those entering (needless to say it was deliberately placed there). The lovely head’s fate is a remarkable illustration of the Kushites’ opposition to the Roman rule of Egypt.  The Romans never controlled Kush…
Bucket list status:
I have seen this fabulous bronze head a few times, but, strangely enough, I photographed it only once–the first time I went to the BM–before I even owned a digital camera. I had been wanting to blog about it, but had wait until I came home for Christmas to scan the picture because the original was at my parents’ house!
Additional information: 
The accession number for this object is 1911,0901.1 and you can read more about it on the British Museum website.  It was featured in the BM’s wonderful series History of the World in 100 Objects as object #35, and you can listen to the entry by clicking on the pink button using the link.

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An afternoon with Agatha Christie

On Sunday, I went to the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History and spent part of the afternoon with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, in the exhibition Investigating Agatha Christie. I have been a fan of Hercule Poirot for decades–and have been re-reading all volumes in order these last couple of years–and, evidently, I know of Christie’s work on her second husband’s archaeological digs.

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Photo taken by my brother, who tagged along for the afternoon.

The exhibition was interesting because it presented Agatha Christie beyond archaeology (I wished there had been more of that, though).  We learned more about her as a girl (with great family pictures to go with the information) and while I knew she had been trained as a nurse, I didn’t realise that she also had a degree in pharmacology.  No wonder there is murder by poison in several of her novels!

The second floor was dedicated to archaeology, Near Eastern archaeology to be precise because Sir Max Mallowan worked at Ur, Niniveh, and Nimrud (among other places), but there is a small section on Egypt as well.  Artefacts from the British Museum in London as well as the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto were displayed in this archeological section. There were great excavation photos and I did notice on a wall panel a mention that certain archaeological sites presented in the exhibition had been destroyed by Daesh this past year (many people gasped at reading this).  That touched me particularly…

I visited on my own, but there was a guided tour at my heels and I did eavesdrop a little (it was hard not to!).  Should you plan to visit the exhibition, do take the guided tour–it sounded like great fun! The exhibition brings remarkable context to the literary work of this prolific author and it’s worth a visit if you’re a fan of Poirot, Miss Marple or anything else written by Agatha Christie.

 

Alexander the Great and Star Wars

If you’ve been following my blog for while, you should know what’s going to happen in this post.  I’m going to make a crazy link between ancient history and Star Wars… You know that, right?  (I’m very tempted to quote Simply Red here…)

It’s probably not the link you have in mind, though…  If you’re thinking about Samurais, you’re on the wrong track (even though you’re right). In fact, it’s something a little bit more personal, an idea I came up with when I was young: a weird connection between Alexander the Great and Luke Skywalker…

One of three things I absolutely wanted to see at the Archaeological Museum of Naples when I was there in 2014: the famous Alexander Mosaic, representing the Battle of Issus, between Alexander and Darius III.

In my head, Alex was like Luke, a young a man of convictions, fighting an enemy in order to free his universe.  He had the Greek philosopher Aristotle as mentor (Jedi master Obi-wan Kenobi) and his father, Philippe II, was assassinated (Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were killed by the Storm Troopers)… Then, all you need to do is replace the Achaemenid Persian Empire by the Galactic Empire and Darius III with Emperor Palpatine… Needless to say, I had loads of imagination and even if the comparison might be a tad flawed, you get the drift! (Hey, I was just a kid!) Sometimes, one needs to find cool ways of remembering historical facts and people and if Star Wars can help you figure it out, go for it!  Even if you can’t quite make Darth Vader fit in there…

While one of the best military commanders in history and a general never defeated on the battlefield, Alexander failed to fill in the infrastructure vacuum after the fall of the Persians. As as result, at his untimely death in 323 BCE, his vast empire was divided amongst his generals and soon chaos and strife took hold of the Hellenistic world, a world he had fought so hard to unite.

Now what remains to be seen is whether something similar happened in that beloved galaxy far, far away… Were the Jedi able to build a peaceful universe…. or did it go to Hades in a hand basket? I’ll find out tonight…

The Hangman’s Daughter and Emperor Augustus

I am currently reading Oliver Pötzsch’s international bestseller, The Hangman’s Daughter, a story that takes place in Bavaria in 1659, after the 30 Years war. Although the characters live in a small town called Schongau, there are many references to the big town nearby: Augsburg. One of the reasons I am enjoying the book is that, earlier this year, after the CIPEG conference in Munich ended, I visited Augsburg with my friend Dana. What on earth does that have to do with archaeology?

Well, the city of Ausgburg was actually found in 15 BCE by Tiberius and Drusus on the order of their step-father, Roman Emperor Augustus. (I’ll admit that I do have a soft spot for Augustus…) The city, Augusta Vindelicum, which was originally a military camp, soon prospered thanks to its prominent location at the crossroads of various trade routes and became the capital of the Roman province of Raetia. While there is a Roman Museum in Augsburg that would have liked to visit, it was closed during our day trip. I’ll have visit again because I would very much like to learn more about the Roman period in Augsburg and the region.

On this note, I leave you with three photos of this beautiful city… including a nice shot of a statue of Emperor Augustus.