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Ancient Incitatus presents some ancient stuff. (long)

Discussion in 'The Pub' started by incitatus, May 31, 2007.

  1. Ok, this is about as OT as you can get but....

    Besides riding and flying I have another passion, one I have had since I was a child. I am fascinated by ancient Rome, it's history, it's legacy, and it's people. Over the years I have slowly collected some interesting Roman artefact's, some rare and pretty spectacular, some mundane everyday items that connect me to the ordinary people of ancient Rome, and two items that are virtually unique in any collection world wide. I have decided to periodically post images and descriptions of some of these items, and invite questions about them and their original context. I may not have all the answers, but I will enjoy seeking them out.

    The first item is one of the two rarest items, in this case I believe it to be unique. It is a silver man's ring, from about 100BC to 100AD, and was found in what was the Roman province of Dacia, roughly located in modern Romania and Moldova. It is especially interesting for a number of reasons; the silver is extremely pure and has not tarnished at all in 2,000 years. Roman silver was often adulterated with other metals, and would oxidize over the years. To have such a pure silver ring the owner must have been wealthy, important, or both.

    Which brings us to the second interesting point, the pattern engraved on its face. It is two intertwined representations of an object called a ‘lituus', the lituus is the symbol of an ancient Roman ‘Pontifex’ or priest. This ring was made for a Roman holy man. This is confirmed by the vertical zig-zag band around the perimeter, representing the fringed edge around the bottom of a Pontifex’s tunic, the only Roman male permitted to wear this.

    Another interesting thing about this ring is the size. Roman men did not wear rings as decorative jewellery, it was illegal to do so under the sumptuary laws, men’s rings were always symbolic, religious, or both. These rings were worn on the forefinger below the knuckle, not on the upper finger above the knuckle, as we would wear a ring today. This ring fits over the knuckle of my forefinger, and when worn in the Roman fashion would require a very thick finger, this Pontifex was a very well fed fellow indeed, with fat fingers.

    The final and possibly most interesting thing about this ring is the evidence of it being worn during ritual sacrifices. Below is a description of a ritual sacrifice or ‘taking of the auspices’;

    “ The victim was then laid on its back, and its belly was opened. With the help of its assistants (namely the haruspex), the sacrificer verified if the victim had been well accepted through the examination of the entrails: the liver, the lungs, the biliary blister, peritoneum and heart. If entrails did not present any anomalies it was considered that the sacrifice had been accepted (litatio) and it could proceed. Otherwise the sacrifice was aborted and had to restart with new victims. This was repeated until the litatio was achieved. Sometimes the entrails could be examined in Etruscan fashion with the purpose of divination (haruspicatio). The victim was then divided. The entrails (exta) were destined for the deity. The rest would normally be destined to the humans, being eaten in a banquet (epulum) after the sacrifice.†[Cato, De Agricultura, 132]

    Look closely at the ring, you can see many small cuts in the silver where it has been nicked by the sacrificial knife, you are looking at a time machine, you are looking at evidence of the daily duties of a Roman priest 2,000 years ago. I am fascinated by this direct connection with another place and time, it is the little things like those nicks that bring the owner of this ring back to life.


    If people are interested, I will post further items from my collection each week on Thursday......
  2. Fascinating stuff, inci - please do! :)
  3. Absolutely Inci, keep 'em coming.

    edited again because I'm having a bad typing day
  4. Load of crap. I got one of those out of a Skill Tester Machine last week. :LOL:

    Seriously, fascinating Inci. Be very interested in the 'everyday stuff' you've got. I have a bit of a thing for the Greeks actually, but Roman stuff is very interesting too...
  5. this is fascinating george. thank you.

    so i think i'm missing something. was the body still live or already dead by the time it was "laid on it's back and it's belly opened"? :shock: :?

    wow - where do i find a silver man? they sure don't make 'em like that any more :cry:
  6. So have you studied much about Roman-era metallurgy at all? Just curious whether they did indeed have the technology/knowledge to purify silver or if the ring was produced from reshaping native silver (in which case it's definately a rare item). Either way definately impressive, looking forward to future installments.
  7. OMFG!!!!! [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    That is a really nice piece.

    If you have any interest in replica pieces (though if you are building a collection of originals I can see why you may not be) I have a friend who is a blacksmith, (Craig Sitch of http://www.manningimperial.com) He has started moving into Greek & Roman items
  8. The sacrifice was by that time dead. If it was a small animal it would have had its throat cut by the Pontifex, if it was a large animal, (say an ox) it would have been pole-axed by assistants called 'victimarii'.
  9. That ring is native silver, however, the scarcity of native silver compared to silver-containing minerals led to the development of the process of lead cupellation, around 1,000 years before the foundation of Rome. Cupellation is effective enough to produce silver above 95 wt.% purity, with the 5% being minor-to-trace amounts of gold, copper, lead and bismuth, antimony, arsenic, tellurium, zinc and nickel. Even in 95% silver these can lead to oxidization and embrittlement. The adulteration of Roman silver (primarily with lead) was deliberate and illegal, but since the main perpetrators were those responsible for enforcing the law, it was almost the norm for mass market items.
  10. Silver eh?

    I know it's a fascinating object that you connect to another time and place, Inci - but remember it's also a prime piece for melting down to make bullets in case of a werewolf attack.

    Fortune favours the prepared!
  11. sure it's not an old style Phantom skull ring?
  12. good stuff inci.

    Ive got a thing for the ancient celts as well as Rome.

    would be more than happy for you to post up pics of your collection.
  13. The "cluttered shelf of a mind" description has never been more apt! bring it on! :grin:
  14. Yep know it well. Figured that would have been their only option, I know none of the current methods would have been viable just wasn't sure if there might have been some other method that's no longer used (cupellation is still in use for assaying gold). Not surprised that Roman silver contained significant lead given that it was mostly sourced from lead ores though never knew there was actually a law against it (however ineffective it might have been).
  15. i do good at history in quizzes coz me like asterix books :)

    hehehe nah roman / medieval history is 2nd to none.
  16. That law was enacted to preserve the value of the currency. Some Roman provincial governors could mint their own coinage in order to pay their legions. In provinces with at least one legion stationed in them, a senatorial governor called a Legatus Propraetore Augusti could request silver from the treasury in Rome to do this. Some unscrupulous Governors would adulterate the silver with lead and keep the surplus silver. This was considered treason, and the penalty was death by being hurled off the tarpeian rock. It is unclear what method was used to assay silver, the praetor M. Marius Gratidianus is said to have discovered a means of testing silver money and of distinguishing the good from the bad denarii (Plin. H.N. XXXIII.46), but no record exists of exactly how he did this.
  17. The old method for assaying metals like silver was to rub it against a rock and analyze, by eye, the amount and shade of colour left behind. It's a method some jewellers still use today. There's also more destructive methods involving dissolving the metal in acids but again not sure if Romans would have access to/knowledge of these. Edit: Oh and it'd also be possible to determine silver content by measuring the weight of a specific volume of metal - though again may not have been something the Romans would have been capable of.

    I do like their method of dealing with Government officials who skim off profits for themselves - I reckon that's one law that needs re-introducing.
  18. Considering that's what Archimedes was supposed to have shouted "Eureka" about, I suspect that they did... :LOL:
  19. Was he at Ballarat? I thought that was gold mining? :? :?

    sorry :oops:
  20. Yeah but that's displacement, and a lead coin would be identical to a pure silver one in that regard :p. What I'm talking about is measuring the Specific Gravity, or weight for a given volume - which wouldn't have been easy if at all possible for the Romans given that the silver and lead are fairly similar (around 10.4 and 11.4 respectively).