Thursday, 26 November 2015

The silver coins of Taras: part seven

A Dioscuri (Dioskouroi) obverse type
photo: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
Whenever you see the word "ritual" in archaeological writing you can be fairly certain that the writer knows next to nothing about mythology and religion. In such passages, any details or references will usually be completely absent. Archaeologists who are critical of such usage are of the opinion that the writer just does not understand what has been observed and is using the word because nothing else makes sense.
Numismatic writing fares a little better, but most often only by defining a deity and its attributes. There is a common western misconception that mythology was a way for more primitive people than ourselves to understand the world (but now we have science). All of the above are merely projections of the psychology of the individual onto the material.

Jungian psychology and mythology are thoroughly integrated and mythology might better be seen as the original psychology. The materialism of modern times often finds historicity and material truth essential to its religious beliefs; treats the mind as the brain and seeks chemical reasons for its psychological problems and uses other chemicals for their cure. Again, we see only psychological projection in these views. We might wonder what Freud was projecting when he attributed so much to infantile sexual repression.

So far, in this series, I have mentioned some rather strange mythology. It is important to understand, though, that ancient people had different ways of expressing their ideas and, in the west, ancient ideas about religion were far more sophisticated than ideas about religion in modern times. The key to beginning to understand this is to understand a little about syncretism, and I am afraid that the Wikipedia article on such is not going to help you very much. Syncretisms are the ways in which new beliefs are accepted by people who retain much earlier beliefs.  Using examples just from this series alone, I can give you some appreciation of what I like to call "the mythology code". The term "code" should sit well with people today as it appears often in popular culture. It should syncretize well!

Earlier and later deities in any area are often brought together through a stated family tie. The relationship might be parent and child or spousal. The newer deity could be father or son; mother or daughter, or even a more distant relative depending on what the culture thought had more authority. If the newer belief wanted to make a complete break with the older (in a society that had religious familial importances) then the castration or the killing of the relative was the way to establish this break. Joseph Campbell gives a good example with the story of Cain and Abel (the new herders replacing the earlier agriculturists).

The subject of the Dioscuri reveals much about modern, materialist, belief as it is expressed in the modern, and completely muddled concept: Interpetatio Romana, which references Tacitus, Germania chapter 43, but rarely gives the actually quote:
"The Naharvali proudly point out a grove associated with with an ancient worship. The presiding priest dresses like a woman; but the deities are said to be the counterpart of our Castor and Pollux. This indicates their character, but their name is the Alci. There are no images, and nothing to suggest that the cult is of foreign origin; but they are certainly worshipped as young men and as brothers."
After you have read my introduction to the "mythology code", you will probably realize that Tacitus had far more knowledge about mythology and syncretism than those who created and use the term "Inerpretatio Romana". The phrase is modern and does not exist anywhere in classical literature. Some people have even imagined the phrase to have indicated a Roman policy! In Gaul, Roman names that are attached to indigenous deities were not even so attached by Romans. They were attached by the indigenous priesthood because of Augustus' prioritizing of the Roman deities: At the top of his list was Vesta, who was considered to be the most Roman of all, then came deities that were major, but who had obviously been syncretized such as Apollo (who retained his name from the Greek), Mars (Ares), who was obviously important to the Roman Army, and so on. Augustus, also initiated a cult of the emperor. Not because he imagined himself a god, but because previously, Roman soldiers swore an allegiance to their generals, and that would not have been a politically smart move for the new empire. I believe that Augustus was one of the most intelligent leaders in world history. The Gaulish priests, in the new empire could expect more perks if their temple was dedicated to a Romanized god than the indigenous one, and the higher up the list, the better (Vesta, however, was "off limits" of course). In the Roman Empire, foreign cults got little official financial support. The Gaulish priest would be given a large amount of land, some of which was to be leased to farmers in order to supplement the temple's income as was Augustus' policy. For archaeology, If there is no Roman temple then any Roman hoard cannot, possibly, be a religious offering (see my series on the Frome hoard).

I had intended to go straight into Jung's ideas about the Diocuri in this episode but realized, this morning, that without such an introduction as I have given here, it would make no sense to anyone at all who is not either a mythologist or a Jungian. Mythology is a phenomenally complex subject, but the rest of its complexity you will start to pick up as we go along. Tomorrow, however, we will examine the Jungian viewpoint of the Dioscuri and their syncretisms without further ado.

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  1. Hi John:'ve opened another can of worms: You wrote:-

    "For archaeology, If there is no Roman temple then any Roman hoard cannot, possibly, be a religious offering."

    You are absolutely on the money in one respect, but, under the old Treasure Trove practice, votive offerings could never be deemed Treasure Trove as they were not hidden for later recovery by the depositor, being willingly and freely given. The archaeologically inspired Treasure Act of 1996, born into this world in a manner that raised more than a few eyebrows, had some alleging the subtle hand of high-placed corruption was the midwife.

    BUT, if as one empty-headed dolt (of our mutual acquaintance) has it in his attempts to sway the casual observer that all detectorists are unscientific 'hoikers', thieves, and vagabonds, how is it then, one has to ask, that if archaeology is so scientific as claimed, why are there more Treasure Trove Inquests initiated by detectorists than those generated by archaeological methodology?

    There are only two possible answers I suggest: EITHER some, or all, archaeologists have their fingers in the cookie jar, OR, their so-called 'scientific' methods...ain't.

    The Treasure Act 1996 is quite clear.

    "Section 8

    Duty of finder to notify coroner.

    A person who finds an object which he believes or has reasonable grounds for believing is treasure must notify the coroner for the district in which the object was found before the end of the notice period." (The criterion 'any person' includes archaeologists).

    They too have a duty to obey the law...but why the discrepancy?


    John Howland

    1. Hi John,

      I remember a number of questions about how certain finds were being classified back when the Treasure Trove laws were in force. For example, a number of billon coins at a Roman temple was clearly "votive", but an Ambiani large flan gold stater, about 85% fine gold was considered "an accidental loss". Intrinsically, the collection of votive coins could be much less valuable than a single gold stater. The treasure trove laws were based, originally on bullion value and as late as the nineteenth century, bronze age gold torcs were being recorded before being sent to the melting pot.

      Nowadays, all of that stuff is being treated as "Holy Relics" by a lot of archaeologists and politicians who are not intelligent enough to know what they are endorsing. Archaeology focuses on what it can do: record archaeological sites; tell us what people ate and how they were buried. The modern world is less interested in understanding humans as just another animal species and wants to know what people thought, what they were trying to express in their art, how their societies were structured and the like. None of this is possible to know to any meaningful extent through archaeological excavation and when archaeologist do try to explain what they know so little about, the results are often laughable.

      They gather together in small academic cliques to agree with each other and to make sure that no people who have a real passion for the past that everyone wants to know about, ever get the ear of the politicians. Some of the politicians are smart enough to use them and their animosity to collectors to gain advantages that have nothing to do with the past at all. For example, every country that has signed an MoU with the US about cultural heritage (a meaningless and illiterate term), had ,just earlier, been trying very hard to limit or ban Monsanto's GMO operations in their country. The price that the country applying for an MoU has to pay to the US is considered a state secret and even the law has no power to have the nature of the deals publicly released.

      Meanwhile, collectors still collect, detectorists still find stuff and those with a passion still think. I, for one, think it is best to leave politicians and cultists to their own devices. I prefer to share my interests of the past and other things with all the individuals out there.They are usually a lot smarter, too!