Corbridge: The Corbridge Lanx

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The Duke of Northumberland presented the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne with an electrotype copy of the Corbridge Lanx (above) during the mid 20th century. The original Lanx is now in the British Museum and is made of 97.5% pure silver and is believed to date to the later 4th century AD. This beautifully engraved tray was designed as a Roman serving platter for banquets or rituals. The significantly detailed mythological scene depicts Apollo standing (on the right) before a shrine holding his bow with his lyre at his feet. Apollo was a Greek god, son of Zeus, who gradually became adopted by the Romans during a plague in 433 BC when the Temple of Apollo Medicus was built near Pomerium (the religious boundary of Rome). The first Roman Emperor Augustus took Apollo as his personal guardian and built a temple in Rome on the Palatine dedicated to him following his victory at the battle of Actium in 31 BC (Grimal, 1991). Standing with her hand raised in conversation is the warrior goddess Athena. Presiding over the arts and literature, Athena was the daughter of Zeus and Metis and patroness of many towns. Her attributes were the spear, helmet and the aegis (animal skin/shield). In the scene above, Athena is talking to Artemis who was the twin sister of Apollo. The seated lady is believed to be Leto, who was the mother of Apollo and Artemis by Zeus, and the other woman may be her sister Ortygia. The scene is thought to be set on the island of Delos, a Greek island near Mykonos.

An excerpt of a court leet ruling in May 1735 on the ownership of the lanx states: “Isabel Cutter, daughter of Thomas Cutter of Corbridge, blacksmith, aged nine years… did on or about the tenth day of February last past find an ancient silver piece of plate in a great measure covered with the earth, one end sticking out of the ground, at a certain place within this manor near the north bank of the river Tyne by the water edge.”

To make the original Lanx, the design was first drawn out on the front of a cast silver sheet. The background was hammered down with small punches to leave the figures in relief – known as chasing. Extra detail was then scratched or engraved into the surface with a pointed tool.

Corbridge: Hercules & The Hydra

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Hercules is the latinized form of the Greek Heracles who Homer describes in the Odyssey: “I saw mighty Heracles – his ghost, but he himself delights in feasting among the immortal gods, with fair-ankled Hebe for his wife” (Homer, Odyssey 11.601-603). Hercules was a Greek hero, son of Zeus and exemplar of strength and patience. Such a diverse character attracted a variety of interpretations and uses. His virtues became significantly used by the moralists and philosophers to whom he became a model of unselfish fortitude, labouring for the good of mankind and achieving immortality by his virtue (Morford, Lenardon & Sham, 2011). He was especially important as a paradigm of virtue in Roman Stoicism who set high value on the Heraclean qualities of endurance and self-reliance. The iconography of Hercules was firmly established by the Archaic period with the major identifying symbols of the lion skin cape and hood, his club and his bow and arrows. The geographical distribution of his cult was as wide as his legends and Hercules was adopted by individuals or states as a symbol or protecting deity (Hornblower & Spawforth, 2004). The above relief was found in the west Principia strongroom and depicts the second of Hercules’ Twelve Labours which made him a hero in both the Greek and Roman worlds. A natural patron of emperors and soldiers struggling on behalf of the empire, the carving show Hercules attacking the Hydra (a serpent with snake-headed tentacles, mainly lost but one tentacle is around the demi-god’s forearm). His patroness, the goddess Minerva, stands on the left watching over him. The west Principia was a headquarters building which was divided by arches onto three bays, each entered by one of three doors in the facade. The shrine from the Principia was packed with brightly coloured altars, statuary and standards with the above panel forming one of a series (Hodgson, 2015).

Corbridge: Statue of Jupiter

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The above Statue of Jupiter holding a staff was found in the aedes (chapel in the headquarters building) at Corbridge Roman Fort. Although much of the statue is missing, Jupiter can be identified by his staff or sceptre, and the drapery over his shoulders and round his waist, leaving the torso bare. Jupiter was the great Italian sky-god, the forms of whose name are etymologically connected with other Indo-European sky-gods, including Zeus. Known by many titles, as sky-god he directly influenced Roman public life in which the weather omens of thunder and lightning, his special weapons, played an important role. His many titles indicate his supreme importance in all matters of the state’s life in war and peace (Morford, Lenardon & Sham, 2011). The role of Jupiter in Roman religion became increasingly important and he was seen as the ‘president’ of the council of gods and the source of all authority. During the Empire, the emperors placed themselves under the protection of Jupiter and every provincial city had a Capitol similar to the one in Rome; the Triad (Jupiter, Juno & Minerva) would be installed with Jupiter enthroned in the centre. With each of the daughter cities imitating a small copy, Jupiter represented the political bond between Rome, the mother city (Grimal, 1991). As king of the gods and patron of the empire, this would have been an appropriate statue for the location in which it was discovered.

Bowes Museum: The Winged Victory of Samothrace

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The above marble sculpture dates to circa 1863 and is a copy of The Winged Victory of Samothrace. Also known as the Nike of Samothrace, it was discovered in 1863 on the Greek island of Samothrace by the French consul and amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau. The original statue is thought to have been created between 100 and 300 BC to honour Nike, the goddess of victory and messenger of Zeus and Athena. Considered to be one of the finest examples of Hellenistic period sculpture, the goddess is depicted descending from the skies with extended wings. A plaster replica now stands in the museum at the original location of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothrace.

Berlin: Pergamon Altar

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The ancient Greek city of Pergamon sits along the coastline of Turkey and once dominated the entire region. The buildings and monuments of Pergamon were constructed of white marble in the Hellenistic style. The Pergamon Altar was built during the 2nd century BCE and is associated with the temple that was dedicated to the Greek god Zeus.

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The altar was excavated by the German archaeologist and architect Carl Humann during the 19th century. The altar was rebuilt stone by stone in Berlin with the Pergamon Museum opening in 1930 displaying the Pergamon Altar as its centrepiece.

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The altar has a huge sculptural frieze which depicts the Gigantomachy which in Greek mythology was a battle between the gods and giants.

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Ionic columns support the roof of the altar.

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