Monday, January 26, 2009

Celtic coins remnants of Eburones settlment in the Netherlands

I must have missed this discovery in November of a hoard of Celtic coins in the Netherlands. Fortunately, Numismaster just picked up the story, too, so it cropped up in my news alerts.

"On Nov. 13 [2008] an important find of 109 Celtic coins of the Eburones tribe found in the Netherlands was announced through the Associated Press. This is one of three important hoard finds of coins issued by this tribe. The other two finds were discovered in Belgium and Germany in areas not too distant geographically from the Netherlands...
..."Nico Roymans, the archaeologist who led the academic investigation of the find, believes the gold coins in the cache were minted by a tribe called the Eburones that [Julius] Caesar claimed to have wiped out in 53 B.C. after they conspired with other groups in an attack that killed 6,000 Roman soldiers."
The Euburones were a Germanic tribe living primarily in what in now Belgium. In 54 BC the Eburones revolted against local Roman occupation through Euburones tribal chieftains Ambiorix and Catuvoleus. Ambiorix initially offered safe passage to the Romans while other tribes elsewhere in Gaul were in revolt against the Romans. The Romans, commanded by Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta, agreed. The Eburones treacherously ambushed the Romans, most of whom were killed or committed suicide rather than allow themselves to be captured by the Euburones.
"This war was begun by the Eburones, under Ambiorix as chief. They claimed they had been roused to action because they were annoyed at the presence of the Romans, who were commanded by Sabinus and Lucius Cotta, lieutenants. The truth was, however, that they scorned those officers, thinking that they would not prove competent to defend their men and not expecting that Caesar would quickly make an expedition against their tribe. They accordingly came upon the soldiers unawares, expecting to take the camp without striking a blow, and, when they failed of this, had recourse to deceit.

For Ambiorix, after planting ambuscades in the most suitable spots, came to the Romans after sending a herald to arrange for a parley, and represented that he had taken part in the war against his will and was himself sorry; but against the others he advised them to be on their guard, for his countrymen would not obey him and were intending to attack the garrison at night. Consequently he made the suggestion to them that they should abandon Eburonia, since they would be in danger if they remained, and should move on as quickly as possible to some of their comrades who were wintering near by.

Upon hearing this the Romans believed him, especially as Ambiorix had received many favors from Caesar and seemed to be repaying his kindness in this way. They hastily packed up their belongings, and setting out just after nightfall, fell into the ambush, where they suffered a terrible reverse. Cotta with many others perished immediately. Sabinus was sent for by Ambiorix under the pretext of saving him, for the Gallic leader was not present at the ambush and at that time was still thought to be trustworthy. On his arrival, however, Ambiorix seized him, stripped him of his arms and clothing, and then struck him down with his javelin, uttering boastful words over him, such as these: 'How can such creatures as you wish to rule us who are so great?' This was the fate that these men suffered. The rest managed to break through to the camp from which they had set out, but when the barbarians assailed that, too, and they could neither repel them nor escape, they killed one another.

After this event some others of the neighboring tribes revolted, among them the Nervians, though Quintus [Tullius] Cicero, a brother of [the orator] Marcus [Tullius] Cicero and lieutenant of Caesar, was wintering in their territory. Ambiorix added them to his force and engaged in battle with Cicero. The contest was close, and after capturing some prisoners alive the chieftain tried to deceive him also in some manner, but being unable to do so, besieged him. Thanks to his large force and the experience which he had gained from his service with the Romans, together with information that he obtained from the individual captives, he quickly managed to enclose him with a palisade and ditch.

There were numerous battles, as was natural in such a situation, and far larger numbers of the barbarians perished, because there were more of them. They, however, by reason of the multitude of their army did not feel their loss at all, whereas the Romans, who were not numerous in the first place, kept continually growing fewer and were hemmed in without difficulty. They were unable to care for their wounds through lack of the necessary appliances, and did not have a large supply of food, because they had been besieged unexpectedly. No one came to their aid, though many were wintering at no great distance; for the barbarians guarded the roads with care and caught all who were sent out and slaughtered them before the eyes of their friends. Now when they were in danger of being captured, a Nervian who was friendly to them as the result of kindness shown him and was at this time besieged with Cicero, furnished a slave of his to send as a messenger through the lines. Because of his dress and his speech, which was that of the natives, he was able to mingle with the enemy as one of their number without attracting notice, and afterwards went his way.

In this way Caesar, who had not yet returned to Italy but was still on the way, learned of what was taking place, and turning back, he took with him the soldiers in the winter establishments through which he passed, and pressed rapidly on. Meanwhile, being afraid that Cicero, in despair of assistance, might suffer disaster or even capitulate, he sent a horseman on ahead. For he did not trust the servant of the Nervian, in spite of having received an actual proof of his actual good will, fearing that he might pity his countrymen and work the Romans some great evil; so he sent a horseman of the allies who knew the dialect of Eburones and was dressed in their garb. And in order that even he might not reveal anything, voluntarily or involuntarily, he gave him no verbal message and wrote to Cicero in Greek all that he wished to say, in order that even if the letter were captured, it should even so be meaningless to the barbarians and afford them no information. [...] Now the horseman reached the camp of the Romans, but not being able to come close up to it, he fastened the letter to a javelin, and acting as if he were hurling it against the enemy, fixed it purposely in a tower. Thus Cicero learned of the approach of Caesar, and so took courage and held out more zealously.

But the barbarians for a long time knew nothing of the assistance Caesar was bringing; for he journeyed by night, bivouacking by day in very obscure places, in order that he might fall upon them as unexpectedly as possible. But they finally grew suspicious because of the excessive cheerfulness of the besieged and sent out scouts; and learning from them that Caesar was already drawing near, they set out against him, thinking to attack him while off his guard. He learned of it in time and remained where he was that night, for the purpose of appearing to have only a few followers, to have suffered from the journey, and to fear an attack from them, and so in this manner to draw them to the higher ground. And thus it turned out; for in their contempt of him because of this move they charged up the hill, and met with so severe a defeat that they carried on the war against him no longer. -

[Cassius Dio, Roman history, 40.5-10;
tr. E. Cary]

Roymans believes the gold and silver coin hoard recently found in the Netherlands were produced by Celtic tribes further north, suggesting in his opinion the coins may represent cooperation among the various Celtic tribes in the war against Caesar's Roman legions. Roymans disclosed that both the gold and silver coins depict triple spirals on the obverse, a common Celtic symbol."
I wonder if any of these coins contained any copper? Analysis of Eburones coins found in the famous "Treasure of Ambiorix" discovered in 2000 near Heers were found to contain some copper, suggesting they were emergency coinage.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Villa delle Vignacce excavation yields another bath complex and religious sculpture

Excavations at an ancient Roman villa and bath complex in the outskirts of Rome have unearthed a wealth of surprisingly well-preserved artifacts, including the marble head of a Greek god, archaeologists said. The site of the Villa delle Vignacce, toward Ciampino airport south of Rome, was first explored by archaeologists in 1780 who found statues that are now in the Vatican museum. But excavations began in earnest only about two years ago, revealing a residence attached to an elaborate thermal bath complex dating to the 1st century A.D. complete with hot baths, large tubs and a communal latrine.

Although dating stratigraphy at the villa has been challenging because the site was mined for building materials and decorative elements in the Middle Ages, initial studies indicate the bath complex on the north side of the villa was not originally used for that purpose but later converted to a bathing facility in the second century. Still later, in the third century, bathing was relocated once more to the recently discovered vaulted complex on the south side of the villa.

Since then, archaeologists said they had also uncovered prized artifacts including fragments of columns, floor slabs and the head of a marble statue believed to represent either the Greek divinity of Zeus Serapide or Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing.

Another discovery of note included a colored-glass mosaic of leaves and vegetation lining the inside of a vault.

The complex appeared to have been used and modified from the second
through the fifth centuries, and was just a short distance away from a
Barbaric camp in the sixth century, though its links to the camp are
unclear, said Darius Arya, an archaeologist with the American Institute of Roman Culture, which is handling the excavations.

The complex initially belonged to Quintus Servilius Pudens, a wealthy friend of Emperor Hadrian, who probably held private parties in the baths for his friends, archaeologists said.
[Image - Bust of the Emperor Hadrian found at Heraklion on Crete 127-128 CE, The Louvre, Paris, France]

At present, the Institute is examining the secondary subterranean spaces, including drainage systems and corridors for activities performed by slaves—an area of the grounds that covers at least five acres. Future explorations will reconcile the relationship between the newly discovered bath complex and the previously known bathing facilities of the sprawling villa complex, unearth the other sections of the villa (including a huge garden area), and relate the history of the villa to this area of Rome's suburbium, unknown before this project.
The institute is presently accepting applications for participants in the fourth excavation season to be conducted from June 14, 2009 through August 02, 2009.

"This season’s summer program aims to supply participants with both a chronological and diachronic approach to the study of Roman civilization. Through this dual approach those involved in the program will gain a more comprehensive historical and cultural overview of Roman civilization from its rise to power in this rich Mediterranean area, understanding how this civilization set a standard of cultural values that have had long lasting influence over the entire Western world to this day."