Thursday, 23 January 2014

Celtic swash-S motif and an introduction to the general subject

Swash-S motif on button-and-loop fastener, Wild's Class VIa, 2nd century AD
Swash-S motif on button-and-loop fastener
Wild's Class VIa, 2nd century AD
Portable Antiquities Scheme,  HAMP3302
From time to time, I will focus on particular motifs in early Celtic art. A motif is a design that often consists of multiple elements. Line drawings of motifs and elements are called patterns (PP), and this tradition was started by Paul Jacobsthal (1944), for the continental material and continued by Sir Cyril Fox (1958) and Martyn Jope (2000) for the British. I am not sure if it will also be continued by the Megaw's in their forthcoming supplement to Jacobsthal -- I will ask Vincent Megaw about it and let you know. It was not followed by Barry Raftery for the Irish material in his corpus (1983).

With the exception of Fox, in the above published corpora the material is arranged by type of object (with chronology the secondary factor). Fox attempted to include regional foci, but this can be quite difficult with much British material, more so now, than in 1958. One has to consider the type of object in estimating the value of find spots: Very high status objects usually (but not always) stay closer to their source than lower status objects which are traded. Very low status objects like domestic pottery and ordinary brooches often have a very narrow range as these "cottage industries" are widespread and there is no point to having long distance trade in them. These are trends and should never be interpreted as rules. Certain types of Celtic coins, for example, are sometimes given wrong tribal attributions when this trend aspect is not properly understood.

A trend should also not be confused with a tendency: the former is due to deliberate human agency and the latter can also be due to various happenstances. For example, a lost Roman coin might accidentally be included in the ballast of a trading ship centuries later and find its way, thus to America. Finding a Roman coin in America does not mean that the Romans discovered America. While this obvious situation can be understood easily, other examples are far less obvious and need more detective work than is frequently conducted. Let us take the sica, for example. A few years ago, I came across a grave group of bronze and iron objects offered for sale on Ebay. It included a sica (I did not buy it as it was most definitely illicitly obtained and would not contribute anything new to our knowledge of those objects and very little to the knowledge of its original place of deposition). It was advertized as being "shipped from Romania", but its last resting place was most likely the briefly occupied Celtic town of Tylis in Bulgaria. Each of the objects in the grave group (including the sica) had exact parallels to objects in the British Museum's Morel collection of Celtic antiquities from Champagne. This was where the inhabitants of Tylis had originated.

For nationalistic reasons, Thracian finds are often defined as being culturally Thracian. The native Thracian ornamental metalwork styles were replaced, over a period of time, by the Greek styles of Sicily. Syracuse had attracted some of the greatest artists and philosophers when it functioned, essentially, as the the capital of the Greek world after Athens had fallen into decline. It too, however, went into its final decline starting during the reign of Hiero II (Archimedes' "boss"). At certain times before this, and afterward, some of the best metal-smiths had sought out new patrons and Thrace was an obvious choice as it was rapidly becoming Hellenized. You can see, in the finest "Thracian" silver vessels, the designs that  Kimon of Syracuse and others had applied to their coin dies. The facing head of Athena with a triple crested helmet; the kneeling version of Herakles fighting with the Nemean lion, etc.. Much later, during the reign of the Thracian king Rhoemetalces II (11 BC - 12 AD), There was an attempt to revive the native styles. This was instigated by Augustus (Hooker, forthcoming). Rhoemetalces was his puppet and Augustus was the earliest, and perhaps best practitioner of  nationalistic manipulation. Note the Roman style of Herakles' hairstyle on the Stara Zagora phalera, and the crudeness of the background hatching. The hoard also contained silver cups typical of the Augustan period. Another phalera was found with a dedication from "King Mithridates" and this has been conveniently attributed to Mithridates VI of Pontus, who died in 68 BC. -- perfect for associating the Gundestrup cauldron with the wanderings of the Cimbri. But Mithridates II of Commagene became a puppet of Augustus after the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, and that would not have helped the Gundestrup Cimbri/Scordisci hypothesis one bit! Also supporting this hypothesis is the Sark hoard of phalerae which showed the same poorer workmanship as the Stara Zagora phalera and the same synthesis of classical and native Thracian styles (not to be confused with just subjects). While the Gundestrup cauldron includes classical subjects, the style is pure native Thracian. The justification for the dating of the Sark hoard was the Roman Republican denarius of 82 BC. The decades of wear on this denarius was not mentioned. The Warmington hoard from Warwickshire contained Roman coins from ca 200 BC (Republican) to Nero (Imperial). Republican coins in early Imperial hoards are quite common, especially in Gaul and Britain where they did not circulate very fast and there was often a lack of freshly minted Roman coins. The Scordisci, by the way, share no Celtic iconography with that on the Gundestrup cauldron. They just lived close to Thrace. The Celts around the main Gaulish recruiting areas for the Italian campaigns of the 4th. and 3rd centuries BC, however, did share such iconography as evidenced by many subsequent coins and much later Imperial period statuary. The deities depicted probably date as far back as the Neolithic. Apparently, while Celts and Greeks could travel far to ply their trades, Thracians were always stuck in Thrace. The Greek iconography of the Gundestrup cauldron depicts many Italian subjects. It was thought strange, though, that the native Thracian style had magically reappeared so long after it had died out in Thrace, to be replaced with the Classical style. I suppose the artists were not dead, just sleeping. Why would they seek new markets after the Classical styles in which they were untrained became so fashionable in their homeland? Sometimes, scholars forget that real people are involved. Eastern Greek artisans went to Etruscan lands when they were threatened by Persian advancements --and that was quite a long journey in comparison with that of Thrace to Northern Italy. Northern Italy had been cosmopolitan for a very long time.

Of genius intelligence, Augustus had reinvented Rome and by having his puppets emphasize their nationalistic ideal and glorious pasts, Augustus was able to strengthen his power bases. He was also responsible for what, in modern times, has been labelled Interpretatio Romana, a phrase only ever used by Tacitus, and for a specific observation, but which has been often grossly misinterpreted to represent some sort of Roman policy to change native gods into Roman ones. We see this in the Roman Celtic world almost everywhere, but it was not of Roman doing. Augustus had created a hierarchical religious system. At its apex was Vesta, and the Vestal Virgins were better funded than any other religious organization. The lower the status of the deity, the less funding their priests could obtain. Priests were allowed to gain extra income from tenant farmers on temple property, and there were many other perks as well. Native priests, of course, soon realized that if they could associate their favorite deity with an important Roman one they would make make much more money. They could not, believably, do this with Vesta -- she epitomized Rome herself, but it was easy enough to do it with Apollo and Mars, for example, and these gods generated good income.

To his credit, Augustus did not sympathize with the empire building of his native, secular, officials. He chastised Licinius (a freed slave of Caesar's who had clawed his way up to being Augustus' procurator in Gaul) after a Gaulish delegation had gone to Rome to complain about Licinius' corruption and thievery. When Licinius denied all of the charges, instead of  just some of them, Augustus knew that he was lying. But Licinius did not get to where he was by being stupid. In a mental chess game between the two men, Licinius achieved a stalemate by saying that the riches he had were confiscated for the Roman people. He lost his riches, but saved his life. Augustus knew the game.

During WW II, Mussolini utilized romanità (see: Archaeology as Propaganda: Mussolini and the Myth of Romanità) or read Archaeology under Dictatorship. The game continues to this day: The U.S. State Department through its Memoranda of Understanding submits to various nations' desires for US import restrictions on what they label as their "Cultural [nationalistic] Property". In return, certain economic and other benefits are then obtained from these countries quid pro quo. The public and the courts are not permitted details of what is spoken of in whispers behind closed doors, but sometimes details leak out, or are patently obvious to those less gullible than others. Had the U.S. adopted the Roman religion as well as some of its icons and political edifices, we might be seeing temples dedicated to Ceres Monsanto! These same nations, seduced by the game, even put pressures on other nations through different measures, to have various things "repatriated" -- adding to their nationalistic power bases and scoring public relations victories against nations that they could not defeat through any other means.

Before I started this blog, and for three years, I wrote press releases for the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and was the editor of their newsletter. My research was eye-opening. I think, though, that the US State Department emulates Licinius more so than Augustus in these matters. One must be able to see the Big Picture: those who do not study syncretism and political machinations become their victims. It is also very interesting, that the nations who have most benefited from these US Memoranda of Understanding, are those who have already been hardened through communism or dictatorships in their past. In Archaeology under Dictatorship  it is explained that these nationalistic systems are not solely the province of dictatorships, but are instead, a spectrum. It just that dictatorships are a little more obvious about it all. I wonder what Augustus would have thought about if had he lived in our day.

A current meme is the "conspiracy theory". It was created, as a concept, to protect a wide variety of state manipulations against the interests of its own people. Most people who use the term do not realize it is a meme, but that's what makes a meme a meme, does it not? If someone were to actually think about it (thus breaking the meme -- which works just like a biological virus or a chemical poison) they would realize that the definition of a conspiracy is "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful" and that of a theory is "a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained" (Google). Whenever the first occurs, then the second must prevail until the first is broken.

 During the Cold War, I did a brief stint as an RCMP Security Services operative. Unlike some, this was voluntary and unpaid. I had previously been trained in competitive intelligence. I had given up my intelligence work for some time when I discovered a terrorist plot to blow up a number of downtown Calgary office buildings. I was working as a cataloguer in the military department of Glenbow Museum at the time. Within minutes of discovering the plot, I made a phone call to a former colleague and a couple of hours later was meeting with an RCMP SS agent in his car in the parking lot. After a crash course in Cold War espionage, I worked (with many others) to help the RCMP eliminate the threat. The terrorist group were all Métis, which was rather ironic as I had just been cataloguing a number of Riel Rebellion artifacts! My sympathies to some of their plights had attracted the attention of a young man who was being recruited by the terrorist organization. I already had a knack for such things -- a  few years earlier than that (1969), armed only with a bottle of whisky, I got a CIA phone-tapping dupe to spill the beans. As was typical, he was a university student recruit. I saw that he was flashing a rather large sum of money about, so I went to work on him. He had been getting a little too close to a company I worked for.

At one point, one of the RCMP agents told me "If you blow your cover, offer him police protection. I knew the game and asked, incredulously, "You would actually do that?!!!"; "Of course not!" he replied and we both had a good laugh. The RCMP worked exclusively with operatives in the field. We were essentially canon-fodder, and this was made clear to us. No RCMP agent would ever be in physical contact with anyone under investigation -- although  the agent I first spoke with was certainly a "James Bond" type in his personality, like the rest, he was a "behind the scenes" person -- a real intelligence agent. If his cover was blown just once, his career would be over. Think about it.

People just do not understand terrorism -- thinking it is about buildings and people being exploded by other people fighting for they believe in. It is really about the terror caused by the threat of such things. Many of us understand that the terrorists are all being conned and manipulated by those above them -- the bin Laden's and the like. What they do not understand is that which is told to the terrorists, has nothing to do with the motives of the instigators. They are fighting a different war, entirely. Only one of the terrorists I was working against would have had any idea that Métis rights had nothing at all to do with the interests of the person who (far away) had started it all. He was a KGB agent. It had the usual cell structure. The purpose was to break the backbone of the country, to spread dissent and fear. My agent summed it up in his stock introduction when he flashed his badge: " I am .... of the RCMP Security Service, our purpose is to guard against the Communist infiltration of Canada".

If you have a government that makes you afraid of terrorism; who reminds you of it each time you board a plane, I would seriously question their motives and ask yourself who is being the terrorist now?. But it is a Catch 22: as long as everyone is afraid, the "physical means" terrorists do not have to operate, and thus lives are saved. No one wins the game, it is always a stalemate. The best actions are those where the public never knows a thing. The Calgary public never knew and slept peacefully ignorant of what might have been, and all of the would-be terrorists vanished. The Canadian public did not like the RCMP methods and the Security Service was disbanded. Of course, later, its replacement understood, very well, why the RCMP had to work the way they did.

If you are wondering what all of this has to do with the study of the distant past, then you have not been paying attention. Read it all from the top again and understand why, as the saying attributed to Mark Twain goes, "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme".

Tomorrow, a database structure that I invented that is based on numismatic methods, but is beyond our current technology, and yes, the conclusion of the swash-S motif!

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