Monthly Archives: June 2017

To The Black Sea And Back: The Late Antique Dura-Europos ‘Shield’ Map

 

Dura-Europos as visualized on the Pelagios Project’s Peripleo map.

Dura-Europos is an ancient site on the Euphrates river in modern-day Syria. The objects excavated at the site by Yale University (later famously led by Mikhail Rostovtzeff), and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters during the 1920s and 1930s provide some of the most vivid wall paintings, mosaics, and material culture from the ancient world that we have today. One of the most stunning finds is a parchment shield cover that dates to around 260 CE, which has a map of the Black Sea on it. There is debate over whether it was on the inside of a shield used by a soldier or was a dedicatory object; however, the map provides a rare glimpse into how geography was visualized.

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Surviving parchment fragment of the Black Sea ‘Shield Map’ from Dura Europos dated to before 260 CE. It depicts staging posts along the Black Sea (Bibliotheque Nationale Gr. Suppl. 1354, no. 5). Images via Cumont (see citation below) with added scale and color enhancement. 

Hand drawing of the map via Wikimedia (D. Herdemerten Hannibal21, CC BY-SA 3.0).

The parchment contains a number of place names in Greek, but is interestingly mixed with the distances in Roman miles. Here is the transcription as provided by Papyri.info:

[Π]αν[υσὸς ποτ(αμὸς) μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Ὀδεσ[σὸς μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Βυβόνα [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Κάλ[λ]ατις μί(λια)   ̣  ̣
5Τομέα μί(λια) λγ
Ἴ[σ]τρος ποτ(αμὸς) μί(λια) μ
Δάνουβις ποτ(αμὸς) [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
Τύρα μί(λια) πδ
Βορ[υ]σ[θέν]ης [μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]
10Χερ[σ]όν[ησος -ca.?- ]
Τραπε[ζοῦς -ca.?- ]
Ἀρτα[ξάτα μί(λια)   ̣  ̣]

The map is oriented west-southwest and thus is a reminder that most maps did not consistently orient north until the early modern period. The stations on the shield maps are listed in Greek with vivid white, while the ships are manned by small sailors. It is a two-dimensional visualization of a Euxine route that shows the mix of languages and peoples in the late antique Eastern Mediterranean. In particular, it visualizes the Roman relationship with places in modern Armenia. An interesting mention of Ἀρτα[ξάτα] (Artaxata=Artashat) hints at the Roman connection to this busy commercial center. 

Although the map was likely on a round shield, the only surviving scutum from antiquity is from Dura-Europos. It too dates to the 3rd c. CE. It is now at the Yale Art Gallery. Image is in the Public Domain.

As historian Dragoş Hălmagi puts it, “The surviving sequence runs clockwise along the shores of Black Sea, from Odessos in Thrace to the Cimmerian Bosporus, and indicates a symmetric original design, consisting of a circular coast surrounding the Black Sea and perhaps parts of the Mediterranean, as well.” About a century earlier, the historian and governor Arrian had written a work in the form of a letter to the emperor Hadrian (131/2 CE) called Περίπλους τοῦ Εὐξείνου Πόντου (The Periplus of the Euxine Sea) while in Cappadocia. Arrian demonstrates the beginnings of the late antique fascination with the geography of this area that would continue into the third and fourth centuries CE when the rise of the Sassanids would be a point of major contention.   

The circumnavigation of the Black Sea as recounted by Arrian, Periplus Maris Euxini, in a firsthand report (1–11) and a secondhand description (12–25). Adapted by Erenow from A. Liddle, ed. and trans., Arrian, Periplus Ponti Euxini (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003), 136–39, maps 1–2.

As we know from the Antonine Itinerary and many other itinerary inscriptions, the listing of locations and the miles between was quite common for itineraria, but this is our earliest surviving example of a route map from antiquity. Today this rather small piece of parchment lives in Paris, in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (ms. Suppl. gr. 1354 V, nr. 5), but seeing as I had never viewed a color version of it before, I thought it might be nice to get a glimpse at that technicolor world of the Romans I am always talking so much about. 

Attempted restoration of the entirety of the shield as drawn in Figure 1 in Arnaud (1989).

Bibliography:

Monsieur Pascal Arnaud, ‘Une deuxième lecture du “bouclier” de Doura-Europos,’ Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 133e année, N. 2, (1989): 373- 389.

Franz Cumont, ‘Fragment de bouclier portant une liste d’étapes,’ Année 6.1 (1925 ): 1-15. 

Leif Isaksen, “The application of network analysis to ancient transport geography: A case study of Roman Baetica,” Digital Medievalist. 4. DOI:http://doi.org/10.16995/dm.20.

Dragoş Hălmagi, “Notes on the Dura Europos map,”  CICSA Journal, New Series 1 (2015): 41-51.

 

Pass the Dormice: Breeding, Selling, And Eating Honeyed Dormice in Antiquity

Ponticuli etiamferruminati sustinebant glires melle ac papavere sparsos.
“There were also dormice rolled in honey and poppy-seed, and supported on little bridges soldered to the plate”

–Petronius, Satyricon, 31 (trans. Heseltine).

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The famed so-called ‘asaratos oikos‘ mosaic now at the Vatican Museum has a small mouse on it that is much smaller than the Roman dormouse would have been.

Look, I know you may think mice are cute. I, myself, raised adorable hamsters as a child and thus have sympathy for all rodents. But we do have to face the fact that these little critters may or may not be delicious haute cuisine.

First of all, dormice (Lat. a glis) are quite large rodents that are more akin to squirrels. Roman villas oftentimes raised edible dormice to be eaten locally or sold at the market to those with expensive taste. Excavations at Poggio Gramignano in Teverina (about 70 km north of Rome) have turned up the remains of the three standard types of dormice: the Garden dormouse, the Hazel dormouse, and the Edible dormouse.

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Photo of buried gliraria via the Museum of Prehistory – San Lazzaro, near Bologna. 

These rodents were fattened in buried ceramic vessels with little ledges inside them and with holes poked through the walls. Water could be poured through the top. These vessels were called dolia or gliraria, and during the winter hibernating period, dormice were given chestnuts, walnuts, and acorns along with water (Mart. 3. 58; 13. 59) in these little ceramic hamster cages. Pliny notes that the little critters also like beechnuts. Archaeological examples of these ceramic vessels have been found at Pompeii and elsewhere in Roman Italy.

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A glirarium for fattening dormice exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum in Chiusi. (Wikimedia, CC-BY-SA 3.0, Marco Daniele).

As Roman archaeologist and ancient Umbria expert Claudio Bizzarri has noted, there was often a villa economy predicated on smaller livestock that could also turn a profit for a villa owner (what we might call today a side hussle): “The pastio villatica concerned the more prized and profitable courtyard animals such as pigeons, doves, thrushes, geese, ducks, peacocks and hare, but also boar, roe and fallow deer and even snails, dormice, freshwater and saltwater fish.” Ancient historian Grant Nelsestuen discussed in his recent book on Varro the Agronomist the fact that the pastio villatica was a rural setup used to rear small or unusual animals near to the villa and mostly catered to the luxury market–but dormice were indeed relatively easy to raise in gliraria containers. 

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A Roman glirarium recently shown at the British Museum but from Pompeii (Inventory Number SAP 10744 38.3 x 33.5 cm Collection/Museum: Pompeii Excavation: Pompeii, II,1,11).

These small delicacies were often part of the starter of the meal for Romans, referred to as the gustatio. Roasted dormice rolled in honey and poppyseed was one of the starters for Trimalchio’s guests in Petronius’ Satyricon. The lone surviving cookbook, authored by Apicius (who may or may not have been a mix of various chefs), notes the following recipe for glires (stuffed dormice): “[It] is stuffed with a forcemeat of pork and small pieces of dormouse meat trimmings, all pounded with pepper, nuts, laser, broth. Put the dormouse thus stuffed in an earthen casserole, roast it in the oven, or boil it in the stock pot.” Double-stuffed dormice appear to have been best when roasted rather than boiled.

To conclude, I want to circle back to the irregularity of these little guys in the Roman diet. The tie between dormice and the luxury market is important to remember; most Romans did not subsist on honeyed dormice (and I think you might get scurvy if you did). Just as most extant Roman literature provides a reflection of elite living rather than a mirror of the impoverished day-to-day life of most Romans, many of the recipes and satirical anecdotes that survive from antiquity provide a skewed idea of the quotidian Roman diet. Archaeological objects like gliraria can indeed give us some insight into the luxury market, but they shouldn’t then be taken as typifying the contents of all Roman tables.

Author’s note: A table of the surviving gliraria is listed by ancient historian Kim Beerden in her 2012 article on the fattening of Roman dormice.

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Kim Beerden, Table 1: Dormouse-jars, in “Roman dolia and the Fattening of Dormice,” Classical World, Volume 105, Number 2 (Winter 2012): 227-235.