A Globalised Visual Culture?
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A Globalised Visual Culture?

Towards a Geography of Late Antique Art

Fabio Guidetti, Katharina Meinecke, Fabio Guidetti, Katharina Meinecke

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eBook - ePub

A Globalised Visual Culture?

Towards a Geography of Late Antique Art

Fabio Guidetti, Katharina Meinecke, Fabio Guidetti, Katharina Meinecke

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About This Book

Late Antique artefacts, and the images they carry, attest to a highly connected visual culture from ca. 300 to 800 C.E. On the one hand, the same decorative motifs and iconographies are found across various genres of visual and material culture, irrespective of social and economic differences among their users – for instance in mosaics, architectural decoration, and luxury arts (silver plate, textiles, ivories), as well as in everyday objects such as tableware, lamps, and pilgrim vessels. On the other hand, they are also spread in geographically distant regions, mingled with local elements, far beyond the traditional borders of the classical world. At the same time, foreign motifs, especially of Germanic and Sasanian origin, are attested in Roman territories. This volume aims at investigating the reasons behind this seemingly globalised visual culture spread across the Late Antique world, both within the borders of the (former) Roman and (later) Byzantine Empire and beyond, bringing together diverse approaches characteristic of different national and disciplinary traditions. The presentation of a wide range of relevant case studies chosen from different geographical and cultural contexts exemplifies the vast scale of the phenomenon and demonstrates the benefit of addressing such a complex historical question with a combination of different theoretical approaches.

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Oxbow Books

Part II

Iconography- or genre-related case studies

Chapter 5

Images of the rider on horseback in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1st millennium AD

Renate Rosenthal-Heginbottom

In the visual arts and material culture of the eastern Mediterranean equestrian images were popular, long-lived and wide-spread; they occur on variegated artefacts like jewellery and amulets, metal and clay flasks, clay figurines, plaques, tokens, coins and textiles, retrieved in domestic, cultic and funerary contexts. The objects were used by people of different ethnic origin and religious affiliation. This chapter focuses on five artefact categories, notably finds from archaeological excavations or with secure site provenance – lead plaques, jewellery, metal ampullae and jugs, clay figurines and textiles – in an attempt to contextualise them in a cross-cultural framework over a period of some thousand years, from the Hellenistic age to early Islamic times. The emphasis is on finds in the southern Levant, with references to objects in collections and from neighbouring countries. While the Danubian and Thracian horsemen constitute a large and well-known class, they are not discussed, as, although military units from Thrace are recorded in the Levant (Weiß and Speidel 2004, 258–259), to date none of the specific horsemen stelae have been recorded and the presence of the military does not seem to have played a primary role in the development of the Levantine tradition.
The rider on horseback is a generic image with a repetitive composition; however, there is a great diversity in details like the pose of the rider, his costume and attributes. The horse is shown rearing (Figs 5.25.4) or in ambling gait1 (Plates 5.15.3, Fig. 5.5), seldom standing (Fig. 5.6) or galloping (Plate 5.4). It is generally accepted that in the Graeco-Roman urban sphere the popularity of the mounted rider started with Alexander the Great, while the indigenous population in the more remote rural areas adhered to pre-Hellenistic concepts in a locally generated Orientalising tradition.2 Whether there is a connection between the Graeco-Roman and Oriental artistic trends is an open question. The Alexander tradition sets in with the late 4th-century BC sarcophagus from Sidon, depicting Alexander about to throw a spear at a Persian warrior and Alexander or a prince in the poise of the lion hunter (Stewart 1993, figs 102, 106). These images represent the concept of the triumphant ruler, the victorious conqueror, the successful hunter and later in Byzantine contexts the venerated saint. Alexander provided the model for some Roman and Byzantine ceremonial practices, in particular the emperor’s adventus expressing the emperor’s might and virtue and the bond between the welcoming people and the arriving emperor (see Fig. 5.2 for Caracalla; Belting-Ihm 2015, 17, pl. 2f, g for Constantius Chlorus and Constantius II). In Christian iconography from the early 4th century onward the pose is transferred to Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. He is riding either a horse like on amuletic armbands (Vikan 1991/1992, figs 5c, 6d ) and finger rings (Rahmani 1985, 177, no. 14, pl. 43, 13; Israeli and Mevorah 2000, 161 lower row left; Amorai-Stark and Hershkovitz 2016, 391–393, cat. no. 413),3 or riding a donkey like on several clay pilgrim tokens (Stutzinger 1983, 284–307; Mathews 1993, 23–53; Vikan 1991, 85, pl. 10e; Vikan 2010, 62, fig. 41; Vikan 1994, pl. 197, 3–4; Belting-Ihm 2015, 17, 21, pl. 4c, d.). On clay pilgrim flasks of the Ephesos group the mount’s identification is not always clear (Metzger 1981, 41–43; Vikan 2010, 37, fig. 23 left). The pose is also characteristic of the so-called ‘Coptic, sacred or holy rider’, particularly prevalent on Egyptian textiles (Lewis 1973; Jones 1975; Stauffer 1992, 160–167, 257–260; Osharina 2013), including rare examples with Alexander the Great on horseback inscribed ‘Alexander the Macedon’ (Shepherd 1971, figs 1–2) and uninscribed (Stauffer 1992, 257, cat. no. 75). Hence, the image can be traced from the Hellenistic period well into the Islamic period, definitely into the 9th–10th century.
Lead plaques
Lead plaques with a fair number of subjects are attested in the southern Levant during Roman imperial times. At Dora, a coastal town in southern Phoenicia, two singular plaques depicting a mounted horseman came to light, most likely of local manufacture. The first plaque (Fig. 5.1a, b) shows a bearded rider on a sturdy horse to the right with its gait impossible to define (Erlich 2010, 153–154, 208 no. 4; Rosenthal-Heginbottom 2017a, 149, fig. 10.1).4 Clad in a lamellar tunic and cuirass, the rider is looking in the direction of the horse. The protective leather strips (pteryges) at the lower end of the cuirass are visible. In his right hand, raised to the height of his head, the rider wields a spear, pointing diagonally downward across his body at the neck of the horse. The left arm, the bridle-hand, is broken. Some of the horse’s features, such as head, mane and tail as well as the saddletree which is tied by four straps below the horse’s belly, are clearly marked. The saddletree’s straps merge into a peg, probably broken at the bottom, which could have been used as a sort of stand. Other details like the hair and the laced boots (the foot broken off) are less well-defined. The overall static nature of the plaque is surely the result of the drawbacks working in lead. The second plaque displays similar features; the surface is blurred and it can no longer be ascertained whether the horseman held a spear (Erlich 2010, 153–154, 208 no. 5; Rosenthal-Heginbottom 2017a, 150, fig. 10.2). The head is missing; the peg below the horse’s belly is partly preserved. Two differences are noticeable. First, the rider’s right leg is angled and turned backwards; second, the person is not cuirassed, but instead the visible details suggest a short chiton. The imagery recalls depictions on the Alexander sarcophagus, in the battle scene with Alexander the Great and in the hunt scene with the Macedonian horseman, possibly also representing Alexander (Stewart 1993, 299–300, 304–305, figs 102, 106).5
Fig. 5.1a, b: Lead plaque from Dora. Size 7.5 cm × 6.8 cm (© Tel Dor Expedition, photo Z. Radovan).
The archaeological context, a dump in Area F at Dora, relates the first plaque to two sacred monumental complexes (Temple H and Building F) constructed under the Severan dynasty (Nitschke et al. 2011, 147). The second plaque was discovered leaning against the wall of a Roman sewer into which it had fallen by accident or may have been thrown deliberately; the water channel was part of the industrial complex Area D2, where a casting pit related to the casting of leaded bronze objects was identified (Nitschke et al. 2011, 151; Rosenthal-Heginbottom 2017a, 150–151). A coin minted in 210/211 at Dora under Caracalla shows his bust on the obverse and a rider (possibly the emperor) on a rearing horse to the right, wielding a spear, pointing diagonally downward, the upper part visible above the right arm (Fig. 5.2; Meshorer 1995, 465, pl. 8,4, 93; Motta 2015, 53–54, 98, pl. 4, 44).6 On the coin the rider’s paludamentum is fluttering behind his back, a detail lacking on the plaques and yet a characteristic feature of the ‘flying’ horsemen. A red jasper intaglio with Trajan on a rearing horse, jumping over fallen and vanquished barbarians, probably celebrates the victory over the Dacians (Zwierlein-Diehl 2007, 185, 446 no. 679, pl. 152); the position of the spear is the same as on the first plaque from Dora (Fig. 5.1a, b). Two commemorative gold medallions show respectively the head of Alexander on the obverse and the king on a rearing horse to the right, identified by an inscription, hunting a lion with his spear on the reverse; the medallions are dated to the first half of the 3rd century AD (Stewart 1993, 50–51; 2003, 62; Dahmen 2008, 499, pl. 100, 101; 2009, 57–58, fig. 8, 255–256 no. 49, 51; Trofimova 2012, 56, 110). Found at Tarsus and Aboukir they are part of a series possibly commissioned by Caracalla (AD 212–217) or more likely by Alexander Severus (AD 222–235). It was under the Severan dynasty, particularly under Caracalla, that the ‘imitatio Alexandri’ by Roman emperors developed to an extent unknown in the previous period, whereas the emperors at large understood themselves as the legitimate successors of Alexander the Great (Stewart 1993, 40, 73; 2003, 61; Dahmen 2008, 522). The longevity of the Alexander veneration persisted into Christian times, as evidenced by Egyptian textiles on which ‘Alexander the Macedon’ is identified by the Greek inscription (Shepherd 1971, figs 1–2). He is the victorious horseman and ruler holding a sword and crowned by erotes holding a wreath above his head; at the same time the dog below the horse indicates the huntsman. The rider’s pose with the spear in the right hand, pointing diagonally downward across his body with the intention to vanquish an enemy not represented, is found on a clay figurine of the falcon-headed Horus, the raised left front leg indicating the horse in ambling gait (Philipp 1972, 9, 32, no. 46).
Fig. 5.2: Coin of Caracalla, minted at Dora in AD 210/211 (© Tel Dor Expedition).
The use of lead plaques is attested at Baalbek-Heliopolis where some 25 were recovered from basins and settling tanks of the aqueduct leading to the town from ‘Ain el-Djouj, situated 6 km north-east of Baalbek. It is general consent that the lead plaques were votives, thrown into the water as part of ritual beliefs and practices in which the sanctity and veneration of water and the concept as a living power essential to all life were vital. The subjects depicted are related to the Heliopolitan Triad, more than half represent Jupiter, others Mercury, Dionysos and Helios. Thus the majority reflects the prominent indigenous cult in one of the largest sanctuaries and pilgrimage sites of the Roman Empire, probably a ritual performed by local and visiting private people rather than part of the official temple cults. In analogy, it can be suggested that at Dora the inhabitants performed rituals in public and domestic shrines, possibly related to the emperor cult practiced by Roman legionaries stationed there.
Jewellery – rings and amuletic plaques
Numerous rings, pendants, armbands and gems document the popularity of the rider motif. Generally made of bronze and rarely of silver such jewellery was acquired and worn by individuals of modest means. Two exemplary objects are discussed here. The copper alloy finger ring from Caesarea Maritima (Fig. 5.3a, b) is one of the many surface finds collected between the 1950s and early 1970s by Johanan Hendler, now forming the Hendler Collection (Amorai-Stark and Hershkovitz 2016, 10, 375–376 no. 404). Although lacking an archaeological context the assemblage represents the largest body of rings and gems from a single site in the Levant and is evidence for the impressive output of skilled artisans working for the local inhabitants. Dated to the late 1st and 2nd century AD on stylistic grounds the bezel depicts a rider on a rearing horse to the left, possibly wearing a short tunic (or skirt and naked chest?). The horizontal lines turning to wavy ones above the horse’s rear probably indicate the fluttering p...

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