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Thracian Art

Thracian Art

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The art produced by the people of Thrace, as indicated by the many precious objects found in Thracian tombs dating from the Bronze Age onwards, was, like the culture itself, a mix of indigenous ideas and foreign influences. Although it can be difficult to distinguish local and imported high-value objects, typical features of Thracian art are the use of brightly coloured wall paintings to decorate tombs, the widespread use of metal vessels, especially for the burial of the deceased's remains, and intricately manufactured jewellery pieces in precious metals. Finally, there was a particular appreciation for Greek black-figure pottery, with many of the finest examples of that genre surviving in Thracian tombs.


The Thracian people were one of the oldest inhabitants of the vast territories of Eastern and Southeastern Europe during the late second and first millennia BCE, until they were gradually conquered by the Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. Sadly, they failed to develop their own literacy, thus they left no written record of their history. Most of our knowledge of them nowadays is derived from Greek and Roman sources, many of which are of questionable accuracy, and more importantly from archaeological remains still found today in Thracian territories.

In order to grasp the significance of this longstanding culture, we are highly dependant on the legacies that ancient Thracians left behind in the form of visual data such as tomb decorations, metal vases, pottery, precious adornments and others. An in-depth look at the artefacts and archaeological finds creates an elaborate picture of the role that art played in the Thracian culture.

Thrace & its cultural development were a subject of constant alterations & foreign influences.

As a civilization composed of many independent communities (or tribes), situated on a crossroad between Europe and Asia, Thrace and its cultural development were a subject of constant alterations and foreign influences. Therefore any attempt to look at Thracian art as a homogenous and unaffected phenomenon would not be entirely accurate.

Tomb Painting

The deceased Thracians were either buried or cremated, and their remains were deposited in various burial structures ranging from basic pits in the ground to built graves, sarcophagi or monumental chamber tombs, which are found buried beneath a mound. The Thracian people held strong beliefs in the afterlife and naturally the interiors of such burial spaces were arranged accordingly to serve as an intermediate sacral space between this life and the next, provided with everything the deceased would need to continue his or her spiritual journey.

Often the walls of earlier tombs were decorated with simplified monochrome paintings in red and white colours, made from organic materials and continuously used throughout antiquity. Ever since prehistoric times the colour red and its hues were associated with death where a funerary context was concerned, and in tomb paintings red was used to depict the head and the torso of the human body, emphasizing their physical importance as containers of the soul and mind.

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Some later examples of tomb paintings present more complex figural scenes and finer ornamentation with a more vibrant palette of white, black, red and yellow pigments. Scenes of everyday life, such as hunts, feasts, marital scenes were commonly present as well as various mythological and funerary themes. All of the aforementioned motifs can be traced back to the Archaic period and they were a fundamental part of the funerary iconography of the whole eastern Mediterranean region. The decoration of Thracian tombs varied significantly depending on the geographical location and its ethnic, political, commercial and cultural relations with near or distant cultures.

Metal Vases

Large numbers of metal vases of exquisite quality are regularly found during archaeological excavations on what was once supposed to be Thracian territories. They likely served a long life as prestigious objects of wealth and power, used during important occasions or sacred feasts before they were eventually placed in the ground. The abundance of such precious vessels in every rich burial suggests that in the Thracian culture they were also essential attributes that were to assist the deceased in the prospective afterlife and further ensure the continuity of his status and prosperity in the next life.

Large bronze vessels are repeatedly found in the graves of wealthy Thracians, serving as burial urns for the ashes of the deceased.

Small vessels, often part of drinking sets used in feasts or religious rites and ceremonies, such as phialai, bowls, rhyta, jugs, and strainers were frequently made of precious metals like gold or silver. Bronze, although often used as a substitute for gold, was also considered an expensive material, available only for the elite and was most commonly used for vessels larger in size such as hydriai, situlae, basins, craters, and pitchers. Large bronze vessels are repeatedly found in the graves of wealthy Thracians, serving as burial urns for the ashes of the deceased.

A frequently occurring shape in Thrace was the phiale, a concave shallow bowl without handles and generally with a central omphalos (navel). In everyday life, some deep phialai were used as wine drinking cups, but, in general, they served an important ritual function when pouring libations for the gods or deceased ancestors. Both the Achaemenid type phiale with glaring offset rim and shallow depth and the straight-rimmed Greek shape were familiar in Thrace. Many Thracian workshops adopted some of the foreign stylistic features but also incorporated their local stylistic traditions.

Another type of drinking vessel and essential component of the Thracian culture was undoubtedly the rhyton, a horn-shaped vessel usually terminating in an animal forepart or head and a little spout at the lower end for pouring liquid out. Rhyta were ceremonial vessels, used for libations during drinking parties. The large number found in Thrace suggests that they were popular among Thracian princes and dignitaries.

It is important to note, however, that precious vessels found in Thrace were not always of local production. The Thracian aristocracy constantly enjoyed foreign imports, produced in various workshops all over the ancient art world from the pre-Achaemenid Anatolia to Classical Greece, and from Etruria to the Hellenized East. Some of them were brought by Athenian delegations as diplomatic gifts to the local Thracian tribal chiefs to secure trade of sought-after goods, such as precious metals, timber and animal furs. Other such valued possessions arrived through commerce or as a substitute of payment when transacting with the tribes. Last but not least, a frequent acquisition of prized vessels often took place in the form of war spoils.


Pottery shapes of ancient Thrace were extremely variable and constantly shifted in line with the overall trend of the ancient Mediterranean world at the time; therefore many technological and stylistic groups could be defined.

The earliest pottery examples found in Thracian territories, dating back to the Bronze Age, were predominantly handmade, quite primitive in appearance and the clay contained many impurities. Pottery was rather produced in a domestic setting than in a workshop. The predominant shapes comprised various types of bowls, jugs, pitchers, kantharoi, cups and storage containers, and all of them were utilized in the everyday life of Thracians. The decoration was relatively simple with various motifs arranged in geometric pattern combinations through incision or stamping.

During the Late Archaic and Classical periods, wheel-made pottery gradually appeared in some regions of Thrace. Thracian potters managed to improve the quality of the pots, using clay with fewer impurities. The overall shape became more refined, and some foreign influences were incorporated in the design.

One particular group of vessels was more predominant, and this was Monochrome pottery, often referred to as “Grey pottery”. A distinct feature of this type was the usually burnished surface with a glossy, greyish to black colour. Perhaps this type was the most abundant category of tableware in ancient Thrace, and its use lasted until Hellenistic times.

Other archaeological finds dating to the Classical period also showed an abundance of imported Greek black and red figure decorated vases, especially those from Greek colonies, occupying parts of the North Aegean and the Black Sea coasts. The plentiful discovery of vessels in that region presents a greater variety of shapes like column craters, bell craters, hydriai, lekythoi, and pelikai. The decorative scenes favoured by Thracians were those manifesting religious or funerary beliefs.

During the Hellenistic period, Тhracian pottery went through significant changes. The popularity of Grey Monochrome pottery was gradually replaced with several other stylistic groups, such as Plain Red pottery, Black-glaze pottery, and West Slope pottery.


Thracians were particularly skilled at making precious jewellery. Among the Thracians, elite adornments were not just seen as simple ornamentation, but rather, decorating the body and dress with precious objects played an essential role in demonstrating the status and wealth of the wearer and in emphasizing the religious and ceremonial functions performed by the individual.

The earliest jewellery examples found in Thrace represent adornments predominantly associated with dress, such as small fibulae and pendants made from bronze, iron, silver and more rarely gold. Occasional finds of bracelets and earrings were usually somewhat crude and heavy in appearance, made of bronze or amber beads.

Later in Classical times, a period of gradually emerging states and aristocracy in Thrace, jewellery attained an essential function as a mark of political and social status, available only to the elite. The design of the precious adornments drastically changed and new Greek-style forms were introduced. Earring, bracelets, and rings were now produced mainly in gold and foreign decorative techniques, such as casting, repoussé and filigree were employed by Thracian artisans and goldsmiths.

After the mid 4th century BCE the Greek-style fashion gradually evolved until Thracian jewellery almost entirely adapted Hellenistic traditions, including the use of incrustation, enamel, and polychrome with newer and fashionable Greek forms and designs.


Humans have marked their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years. These permanent designs—sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate, always personal—have served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment. Joann Fletcher, research fellow in the department of archaeology at the University of York in Britain, describes the history of tattoos and their cultural significance to people around the world, from the famous " Iceman," a 5,200-year-old frozen mummy, to today’s Maori.

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What is the earliest evidence of tattoos?

In terms of tattoos on actual bodies, the earliest known examples were for a long time Egyptian and were present on several female mummies dated to c. 2000 B.C. But following the more recent discovery of the Iceman from the area of the Italian-Austrian border in 1991 and his tattoo patterns, this date has been pushed back a further thousand years when he was carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old.

Can you describe the tattoos on the Iceman and their significance?

Following discussions with my colleague Professor Don Brothwell of the University of York, one of the specialists who examined him, the distribution of the tattooed dots and small crosses on his lower spine and right knee and ankle joints correspond to areas of strain-induced degeneration, with the suggestion that they may have been applied to alleviate joint pain and were therefore essentially therapeutic. This would also explain their somewhat 'random' distribution in areas of the body which would not have been that easy to display had they been applied as a form of status marker.

What is the evidence that ancient Egyptians had tattoos?

There's certainly evidence that women had tattoos on their bodies and limbs from figurines c. 4000-3500 B.C. to occasional female figures represented in tomb scenes c. 1200 B.C. and in figurine form c. 1300 B.C., all with tattoos on their thighs. Also small bronze implements identified as tattooing tools were discovered at the town site of Gurob in northern Egypt and dated to c. 1450 B.C. And then, of course, there are the mummies with tattoos, from the three women already mentioned and dated to c. 2000 B.C. to several later examples of female mummies with these forms of permanent marks found in Greco-Roman burials at Akhmim.

What function did these tattoos serve? Who got them and why?

Because this seemed to be an exclusively female practice in ancient Egypt, mummies found with tattoos were usually dismissed by the (male) excavators who seemed to assume the women were of "dubious status," described in some cases as "dancing girls." The female mummies had nevertheless been buried at Deir el-Bahari (opposite modern Luxor) in an area associated with royal and elite burials, and we know that at least one of the women described as "probably a royal concubine" was actually a high-status priestess named Amunet, as revealed by her funerary inscriptions.

And although it has long been assumed that such tattoos were the mark of prostitutes or were meant to protect the women against sexually transmitted diseases, I personally believe that the tattooing of ancient Egyptian women had a therapeutic role and functioned as a permanent form of amulet during the very difficult time of pregnancy and birth. This is supported by the pattern of distribution, largely around the abdomen, on top of the thighs and the breasts, and would also explain the specific types of designs, in particular the net-like distribution of dots applied over the abdomen. During pregnancy, this specific pattern would expand in a protective fashion in the same way bead nets were placed over wrapped mummies to protect them and "keep everything in." The placing of small figures of the household deity Bes at the tops of their thighs would again suggest the use of tattoos as a means of safeguarding the actual birth, since Bes was the protector of women in labor, and his position at the tops of the thighs a suitable location. This would ultimately explain tattoos as a purely female custom.

Who made the tattoos?

Although we have no explicit written evidence in the case of ancient Egypt, it may well be that the older women of a community would create the tattoos for the younger women, as happened in 19th-century Egypt and happens in some parts of the world today.

What instruments did they use?

It is possible that an implement best described as a sharp point set in a wooden handle, dated to c. 3000 B.C. and discovered by archaeologist W.M.F. Petrie at the site of Abydos may have been used to create tattoos. Petrie also found the aforementioned set of small bronze instruments c. 1450 B.C.—resembling wide, flattened needles—at the ancient town site of Gurob. If tied together in a bunch, they would provide repeated patterns of multiple dots.

These instruments are also remarkably similar to much later tattooing implements used in 19th-century Egypt. The English writer William Lane (1801-1876) observed, "the operation is performed with several needles (generally seven) tied together: with these the skin is pricked in a desired pattern: some smoke black (of wood or oil), mixed with milk from the breast of a woman, is then rubbed in. It is generally performed at the age of about 5 or 6 years, and by gipsy-women.”

What did these tattoos look like?

Most examples on mummies are largely dotted patterns of lines and diamond patterns, while figurines sometimes feature more naturalistic images. The tattoos occasionally found in tomb scenes and on small female figurines which form part of cosmetic items also have small figures of the dwarf god Bes on the thigh area.

What were they made of? How many colors were used?

Usually a dark or black pigment such as soot was introduced into the pricked skin. It seems that brighter colors were largely used in other ancient cultures, such as the Inuit who are believed to have used a yellow color along with the more usual darker pigments.

This mummified head of a woman from the pre-Inca Chiribaya culture, located at the Azapa Museum in Arica, Chile, is adorned with facial tattoos on her lower left cheek. (Joann Fletcher) The tattooed right hand of a Chiribaya mummy is displayed at El Algarrobal Museum, near the port of Ilo in southern Peru. The Chiribaya were farmers who lived from A.D. 900 to 1350. (Joann Fletcher) A tattooed predynastic female figurine (c. 4000-3500 B.C.) is displayed at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford. (Joann Fletcher) The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is home to this tattooed predynastic female figure. (Joann Fletcher) This female figurine from Naszca, Peru, is now displayed at the Regional Museum of Ica. (Joann Fletcher) Small bronze tattooing implements (c. 1450 B.C.) from Gurob, Egypt, can be found at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London. (Joann Fletcher) This blue bowl (c. 1300 B.C.), housed in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, Amsterdam, features a musician tattooed with an image of the household deity Bes on her thigh. (Joann Fletcher)

What has surprised you the most about ancient Egyptian tattooing?

That it appears to have been restricted to women during the purely dynastic period, i.e. pre-332 B.C. Also the way in which some of the designs can be seen to be very well placed, once it is accepted they were used as a means of safeguarding women during pregnancy and birth.

Can you describe the tattoos used in other ancient cultures and how they differ?

Among the numerous ancient cultures who appear to have used tattooing as a permanent form of body adornment, the Nubians to the south of Egypt are known to have used tattoos. The mummified remains of women of the indigenous C-group culture found in cemeteries near Kubban c. 2000-15000 B.C. were found to have blue tattoos, which in at least one case featured the same arrangement of dots across the abdomen noted on the aforementioned female mummies from Deir el-Bahari. The ancient Egyptians also represented the male leaders of the Libyan neighbors c. 1300-1100 B.C. with clear, rather geometrical tattoo marks on their arms and legs and portrayed them in Egyptian tomb, temple and palace scenes.

The Scythian Pazyryk of the Altai Mountain region were another ancient culture which employed tattoos. In 1948, the 2,400 year old body of a Scythian male was discovered preserved in ice in Siberia, his limbs and torso covered in ornate tattoos of mythical animals. Then, in 1993, a woman with tattoos, again of mythical creatures on her shoulders, wrists and thumb and of similar date, was found in a tomb in Altai. The practice is also confirmed by the Greek writer Herodotus c. 450 B.C., who stated that amongst the Scythians and Thracians "tattoos were a mark of nobility, and not to have them was testimony of low birth.”

Accounts of the ancient Britons likewise suggest they too were tattooed as a mark of high status, and with "divers shapes of beasts" tattooed on their bodies, the Romans named one northern tribe "Picti," literally "the painted people."

Yet amongst the Greeks and Romans, the use of tattoos or "stigmata" as they were then called, seems to have been largely used as a means to mark someone as "belonging" either to a religious sect or to an owner in the case of slaves or even as a punitive measure to mark them as criminals. It is therefore quite intriguing that during Ptolemaic times when a dynasty of Macedonian Greek monarchs ruled Egypt, the pharaoh himself, Ptolemy IV (221-205 B.C.), was said to have been tattooed with ivy leaves to symbolize his devotion to Dionysus, Greek god of wine and the patron deity of the royal house at that time. The fashion was also adopted by Roman soldiers and spread across the Roman Empire until the emergence of Christianity, when tattoos were felt to "disfigure that made in God's image" and so were banned by the Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-373).

We have also examined tattoos on mummified remains of some of the ancient pre-Columbian cultures of Peru and Chile, which often replicate the same highly ornate images of stylized animals and a wide variety of symbols found in their textile and pottery designs. One stunning female figurine of the Naszca culture has what appears to be a huge tattoo right around her lower torso, stretching across her abdomen and extending down to her genitalia and, presumably, once again alluding to the regions associated with birth. Then on the mummified remains which have survived, the tattoos were noted on torsos, limbs, hands, the fingers and thumbs, and sometimes facial tattooing was practiced.

With extensive facial and body tattooing used among Native Americans, such as the Cree, the mummified bodies of a group of six Greenland Inuit women c. A.D. 1475 also revealed evidence for facial tattooing. Infrared examination revealed that five of the women had been tattooed in a line extending over the eyebrows, along the cheeks and in some cases with a series of lines on the chin. Another tattooed female mummy, dated 1,000 years earlier, was also found on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, her tattoos of dots, lines and hearts confined to the arms and hands.

Evidence for tattooing is also found amongst some of the ancient mummies found in China's Taklamakan Desert c. 1200 B.C., although during the later Han Dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 220), it seems that only criminals were tattooed.

Japanese men began adorning their bodies with elaborate tattoos in the late A.D. 3rd century.

The elaborate tattoos of the Polynesian cultures are thought to have developed over millennia, featuring highly elaborate geometric designs, which in many cases can cover the whole body. Following James Cook's British expedition to Tahiti in 1769, the islanders' term "tatatau" or "tattau," meaning to hit or strike, gave the west our modern term "tattoo." The marks then became fashionable among Europeans, particularly so in the case of men such as sailors and coal-miners, with both professions which carried serious risks and presumably explaining the almost amulet-like use of anchors or miner's lamp tattoos on the men's forearms.

What about modern tattoos outside of the western world?

Modern Japanese tattoos are real works of art, with many modern practioners, while the highly skilled tattooists of Samoa continue to create their art as it was carried out in ancient times, prior to the invention of modern tattooing equipment. Various cultures throughout Africa also employ tattoos, including the fine dots on the faces of Berber women in Algeria, the elaborate facial tattoos of Wodabe men in Niger and the small crosses on the inner forearms which mark Egypt's Christian Copts.

What do Maori facial designs represent?

In the Maori culture of New Zealand, the head was considered the most important part of the body, with the face embellished by incredibly elaborate tattoos or ‘moko,’ which were regarded as marks of high status. Each tattoo design was unique to that individual and since it conveyed specific information about their status, rank, ancestry and abilities, it has accurately been described as a form of id card or passport, a kind of aesthetic bar code for the face. After sharp bone chisels were used to cut the designs into the skin, a soot-based pigment would be tapped into the open wounds, which then healed over to seal in the design. With the tattoos of warriors given at various stages in their lives as a kind of rite of passage, the decorations were regarded as enhancing their features and making them more attractive to the opposite sex.

Although Maori women were also tattooed on their faces, the markings tended to be concentrated around the nose and lips. Although Christian missionaries tried to stop the procedure, the women maintained that tattoos around their mouths and chins prevented the skin becoming wrinkled and kept them young the practice was apparently continued as recently as the 1970s.

Why do you think so many cultures have marked the human body and did their practices influence one another?

In many cases, it seems to have sprung up independently as a permanent way to place protective or therapeutic symbols upon the body, then as a means of marking people out into appropriate social, political or religious groups, or simply as a form of self-expression or fashion statement.

The Enigma of the Thracians and the Orpheus Myth

The passage of the millennia has brought us traces of ancient civilizations that shone enough to make their cultural glimpses last through the ages. Humanity itself has featured in the art, culture, and funerary rites of these civilizations, so while from a mollusk we only find a trace of fossilized shell, from a human we find much more than just remains, we find pyramids, mounds, sculptures, coins, tools, weapons, scripts, treasures, houses, palaces, altars, and more.

All of this, in light of archaeology, allows us to know more about our ancestors. But for some of them, like the Thracians, what has been discovered barely casts a shadow over what is still unknown. There are many mysteries surrounding this ancient civilization that occupied what is now Bulgaria and some adjoining parts of Romania, Greece and Turkey.

In archaeological terms, evidence of civilization in Bulgarian lands date back thousands of years. Not coincidentally it was found in Provadia (Bulgaria) the oldest prehistoric city in Europe, dated between 4,700 BC and 4,200 BC, a fortified settlement of 350 inhabitants. On the other hand, we know that for years the world's oldest golden treasure was not found in Sumeria, nor in Egypt, nor in pre-Columbian America but in Varna (Bulgaria), and dates from 4,600 BC.

Scientists and archaeologists still harbor serious doubts about who the people were that mixed with the Thracians around 5,000 years ago, from which Thracian civilization itself would emerge. But it is known that there were some who came from the North to the Balkans with their livestock, finding a place with a bright and attractive culture. It was the intermingling between the local population and the new arrivals that allows us to talk today of the Thracians.

The Thracians are well-known for their exuberant fighting spirit but the history of a population is not built only on its wars and the exploits of its soldiers and leaders, as it is usually read in encyclopaedias and history books. Spread across Southeast Europe were groups of men and women who were highly skilled in working with refined metals, who were followers of a delicate mystique that worshiped the mother goddess, and who had complex funerary rituals immersed in symbolism.

There are many puzzles that arise when we investigate the ancient Thracians. For example, they had a rare ability for discovering and extracting natural deposits without harming nature. Archaeologists and anthropologists continue to be surprised by the kinds of advanced technological practices that the Thracians were using. If, as some scholars believe, they were intermingling with the people who inhabited Bulgarian lands since ancient times, they presumably exchanged knowledge, and their wisdom swelled as they incorporated the skills, practices, and information of the other culture.

So what mysteries remain from the first Thracians over 5,000 years ago? Although we know of some Thracian names and words, apparently they lacked their own alphabet and came to use Greek and Latin characters to perform certain inscriptions. However, this Indo-European language spoken by the Thracians is still a mystery and no one has been able to decipher it. yet. Some bilingual inscriptions in Greek characters written in ancient Greek and Thracian that were discovered in northern Greece could perhaps shed some light in helping to decipher the contents of the Thracians texts, something that certainly would reveal important information about the people of whom we still know hardly anything.

Journey to the Past

The Thracian burial rite is one of the most compelling evidences of belief in the afterlife and immortality of the soul. The Valley of the Thracian Kings is in the region of Kazanlak, where we can find several grave-mounds, making this area a real route of the funeral ritual (over 500 burial hills). We are in the realm of the Odrisios (fifth century to the fourth century BC), ruled by the King III Seuthes. Their mounds did not reach the colossal size of the pyramids of Egypt, but the Thracian funeral process had many things in common with the Egyptian one, not least the idea of resurrection and an afterlife. We drove to the ancient necropolis of the city of Seuthes III, called in those days Seuthopolis and headed to the mound-tomb of the King himself.

Valley of the Thracian Kings. Credit: Rumen Kocev

The remains of Seuthes III were buried with his horse and his weapons, and a bronze statue of his own image that had been placed in a special chamber of the tomb, according to the Orphic funeral practices. Thus, we are reminded of Iberian funerary rituals in which the warrior was buried with his weapons but placed in a way that neutralized them, rendering them completely unusable. Why? The texts of the ancient Greek geographer and historian Herodotus shed light on this mystery. He claimed that whatever was destroyed or made unusable during funeral rites would become useful for the afterlife. The logic of this philosophy is overwhelming and beautiful, from my point of view. If the human being whose life was destroyed with the advent of death, was meant to revive in the Hereafter, so the objects had to ‘die’ to revive again. Death was considered to be the beginning of a new life. In this passage, the spirit of the deceased travelled to reach the heavenly abode where they would stay. On this trip, they needed to carry everything they would need.

The most valuable thing for the elite of the Thracians warriors was their horse and their wife, though we do not really know in which order! So not only did they sacrifice their horse, but also their favourite wife. Was it cruel? If, as the ancients used to say, the Thracians wept at births and cheerfully sang at their deaths, far from being a cruel act, the Thracians probably considered it an honour. In fact, wives are said to have argued over who would have the honour of being the chosen one. As the Greek poet Hesiod said: “ When a husband dies, his wives, which are many for each one, argue in competition held by the determination of those who are their close friends and relatives, and claim them to be the deceased husband’s dearest one. The wife who comes out victorious and honoured with a judgment in her favour, which is full of praise and applause of men and women, will be beheaded by a kin hand over the grave of her husband and is buried beside him, while the ones who lost the case, that is for them the greatest infamy, remain mourning they misfortune”.

* This article was originally written in Spanish and has been translated.

'The Mythology of the Severed Head in Symbolist Art: Images and Ideas'

Lynda Harris has degrees in the history of art from three universities. She has taught extra-mural classes in art and symbolism for London University, and at various venues in and around London. Her book, The Secret Heresy of Hieronymous Bosch was published in 1995.

Odilon Redon: 'Orpheus'. C1903-10. Pastel. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio.

The motif of the severed or disembodied head has a very ancient history, and can be interpreted in a number of ways. Though often associated with stories of blood, execution or warfare, it can also have further, more positive layers of meaning. For example, skulls dating from as far back as the Palaeolithic period have been found in shrines in many parts of the world. These heads, belonging to holy sacrificial victims or revered ancestors, were worshipped as oracles, miracle workers and powerful intercessors with the spirit realm.1 This ancient tradition can be deeply ingrained. Particularly strong among Celtic peoples, it continues even today in remote parts of the U.K. such as the Pennines. Faces, carved from local stone, can still be placed in special outdoor spots, or set as guardians inside or outside of houses. Stone heads and human skulls have also been found in brooks and streams, continuing an ancient association with water.2

After Christianity had replaced the pagan religions, the worship of a deified, supposedly living disembodied head was no longer acceptable, and this ancient tradition was only able to continue underground. But some images of the severed head remained popular in art and literature. These included heroic tales, culminating in scenes of victors holding up the decapitated heads of their evil enemies. Such stories could be Biblical (Judith beheading Holophernes or David with the head of Goliath) or mythological (Perseus with the head of Medusa). Histories of saintly martyrs decapitated by evil or corrupt persecutors were also common in the Christian tradition. The New Testament story of the beheading of the John the Baptist is probably the best known of these. But though the Baptist was viewed as a holy figure and the forerunner to Christ, he did not achieve the status of the pagan deities. Several relics, each of them supposedly his head, were kept in various Christian churches. They were believed to cure people, but, though sacred, they were not seen as supernaturally alive, and were not worshipped as gods as the ancient heads had been.

The original historic tradition of the supernatural, oracular head remained underground until the late nineteenth century. It then reappeared in the art and literature of the Symbolist tradition, taking on new characteristics appropriate to the time and place. Adding their own visions and interpretations to the traditional ones, the Symbolists depicted living or godlike severed heads in their art for the first time since Antiquity.3

The Symbolists were particularly drawn to two characteristics of the disembodied head. They were attracted, first of all, by the ancient concept of a living head, revered for its holiness, which continued to sing or speak. With its tragic history, this head became an embodiment of purity and martyrdom. In addition, many of these dramatic tales fitted into another recurring theme in Symbolist art and thought. This was the dangerous eroticism of the femme fatale, who brought about the emasculation or destruction of the male victim through her seduction, treachery or violence. This fear of the feminine may have had ancient origins, interrelated with the image of the Great Mother as a source of both birth and death. According to Kristeva, the vulva, associated with the dangerous decapitated head of Medusa by the Greeks, had also been a source of fear among prehistoric peoples. As evidence she sites various artefacts dating back as early as 30,000 BC.4


Gustave Moreau: 'Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus on His Lyre' 1865. Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

For the Symbolists, the Greek myth of Orpheus exemplified both martyrdom and misogyny. In the Christian tradition, the myth had been known chiefly as a tale of the Thracian poet/musician&rsquos failed attempt to rescue his love Eurydice from Hades, but the events which followed this are also an important part of the myth.

There are numerous versions of the Orpheus story. The one in Ovid&rsquos Metamorphoses is probably the most widely read. It includes the history of what happened after Orpheus had returned to the earth&rsquos surface. At this stage, desolate after his loss of Eurydice, the godlike poet and singer went to live in the mountains. Here he renounced women, and took up with youths. This angered the wild Maenads or Bacchante, female followers of Bacchus/Dionysus. These women then acted out the ancient mythological story of the dying and rising god. As they had done with Dionysus himself, they turned on Orpheus and tore him apart. The ancient and widespread myth of the sacrificial god has taken many forms, but in all of them the women, in one shape or another, kill and dismember the young demi-god, and afterwards, as benign and motherly females, they begin to worship and mourn him.
These events were rarely depicted or publicised until the Symbolists began taking an interest in them. Influenced by Edouard Schuré&rsquos book The Great Initiates, the Symbolists viewed the tragic Orpheus as an initiate and magician, as well as a great genius of music and poetry with whom they liked to identify. They associated the mysticism, suffering and divinity of Orpheus with those of Christ, another of Schuré&rsquos great initiates. Scenes from the myth which involved the severed head of the dismembered poet/musician had a particular appeal to Symbolist painters. They frequently depicted the head floating down the river Hebrus, resting on its lyre and singing mournfully. According to Ovid, it eventually reached the Mediterranean, and finally, still singing, came to rest on the island of Lesbos. Here, rescued together with the lyre by nymphs or other young maidens, the head of Orpheus became an oracle, visited and worshipped by the Greeks.
Gustave Moreau was the first Symbolist painter to depict the dead Orpheus. His best known painting of the poet&rsquos severed head dates from 1865. Entitled Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus on his Lyre, it shows a benign maiden tenderly carrying the head after it has been rescued. Its eyes are closed as though seeing inward visions appropriate to its future role as a speaking oracle.
The Belgian Symbolist Jean Delville was also drawn to the subject. His oil painting The Dead Orpheus of 1893 depicts the head floating on its lyre over a shallow, rippling sea. The picture is overwhelmingly blue-green in colour, though a closer look reveals other subtle tints. The artist, very aware of esoteric ideas and symbolism, thought of blue as particularly spiritual.5 The water near to the shore is scattered with blue-green seashells, and the lyre is beautifully decorated with small pink and blue pearls. The artist&rsquos wife was the model for the effeminate head of Orpheus, which, like the one in Moreau&rsquos painting, has its eyes closed as though in a trance. According to the myth, the lyre would eventually be carried into the sky by the muses, and would take its place among the stars. Its final destination is hinted at by the reflections of stars which dot the ripples in Delville&rsquos scene.


Gustave Moreau: 'The Apparition'. 1876-77. Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge Massachusetts.

This Biblical story, like the Greek myth of Orpheus, had a special appeal to the Symbolists. The relevant part for them begins when the corrupt tetrarch Herod Antipas kidnaps his deceased brother&rsquos wife, Herodias. Next, after Antipas has renounced his own wife, Herodias marries him. The holy man John the Baptist, disapproving of their actions, criticises Antipas and Herodias. They react by putting him into prison, and soon afterwards, Herodias, planning revenge on the Baptist, asks her young daughter Salomé to dance at the tetrarch&rsquos birthday celebration. Pleased with Salomé&rsquos erotic dance Antipas offers her a reward, and, as is well known, she asks for the head of the Baptist on a platter. Why does she make this particular request? According to the Gospel of St Mark, Herodias tells her to do it. But the Symbolists tended to see the story differently, changing Salomé&rsquos role from innocent (or comparatively innocent) daughter to predatory femme fatale.
Gustave Moreau was the first Symbolist painter to illustrate the story. His sumptuous paintings, with their stress on the corrupt and oriental beauty of the court and Salomé&rsquos role as an exotic femme fatale, had a great influence on Symbolist literature and art. Moreau&rsquos Salome paintings appealed especially to the &lsquodecadent&rsquo author Joris-Karl Huysmans, who described them in dramatic prose in his book A rebours.
6 They also inspired Oscar Wilde, whose play Salome will be looked at further below.
Moreau represented the story of Salomé and the Baptist in numerous sketches, watercolours and oils. The artist&rsquos best known and most influential depictions show her dancing before Herod Antipas in the vast and richly decorated throne room of an oriental palace. In the elaborate and sumptuous oil painting Salomé Dancing Before Herod (1876), the temptress, who is still partially veiled, points a hand at the executioner. Herod watches her, sitting on an elaborate throne surmounted by three statues of Diana of Ephesus. In another version of 1874, the watercolour Salomé with Tattoos, the dancer wears an elaborate headdress and displays her nude body, covered with exquisite tattoos.

Gustave Moreau: 'Salomé with Tatoos'.1874. Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris.

And in a particularly influential work, The Apparition (1876), the gorgeous but inexorable Salomé points to a vision of the Baptist&rsquos future severed head which is suspended above her, dripping with blood and surrounded by a halo and rays of light. Moreau also depicts later episodes. In Salomé in Prison (1873-76), richly but now modestly robed, she stands out of sight, waiting pensively while the decapitation takes place. Later on, in Salomé at the Column (c.1885-90), she is draped in ornately decorated folds of cloth. Standing statue-like on a pedestal, she displays the Baptist&rsquos decapitated head in a pose reminiscent of Moreau&rsquos Thracian Girl Carrying the Head of Orpheus on His Lyre.

Moreau&rsquos images no doubt influenced Oscar Wilde, who produced his own version of the story in a play of 1891. In his portrayal, Salomé is infatuated with the uninterested Baptist, but is finally able to kiss his lips after she has had him decapitated. Wilde&rsquos play was published in 1894, with some amazing black and white illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley. The best known of these is J&rsquoai baisé ta bouche Jokanaan, whose English title is The Climax. It depicts an oriental and predatory Salomé, with snakelike hair, kneeling in the air. Holding the Baptist&rsquos severed and unenthusiastic head, she is about to kiss his lips.

Aubrey Beardsley: 'The Climax'. 1894.


Odilon Redon: 'Head of Orpheus on the Water'. Charcoal and Pencil. Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo, Netherlands.

Redon merits a section of his own, as disembodied, living heads appear to have been one of his chief obsessions. He produced a great number of these images. Though some of them depict decapitated heads, the majority represent beings which have always existed independently without bodies. These creatures, which are frequently airborne, tend to look sepulchral and ghostly. Though not gruesome, they are in no way cheerful. Most depictions of them, known as his &lsquonoirs&rsquo, are charcoals and lithographs, executed in black and white. Though disembodied heads populate his works throughout his career, most date from his earlier period, beginning in the 1870s.

Redon did not explain his images, leaving them to the interpretation of the viewer. Nevertheless, it is known that he had esoteric interests, and was influenced by Theosophy and Schuré&rsquos book The Great Initiates.7

According to the thesis of R.J. Mesley, Redon was affected not only by the above esoteric theories, but also by Orphic ideas of the soul&rsquos fall and entrapment in matter. The artist&rsquos sources would have included various Parisian contacts, as well as the works of Symbolist authors such as Baudelaire. In Mesley&rsquos Orphic interpretation of Redon&rsquos works, many of the artist&rsquos numerous disembodied airborne heads (most notably those in his 1879 album of lithographs, Dans le Reve), are images of souls which have fallen from the heavenly world into the world of matter. These souls float in the sublunary realm between the moon and the earth, moving between physical incarnations and sojourns on the moon. Eventually, with the help of a feminine angel figure, the souls will free themselves from the temptation to reincarnate in the physical world, and move on to a more heavenly area.

Odilon Redon: 'Germination' from 'Dans le Reve'.1879. Lithograph.

Redon also depicted the decapitated head of Orpheus himself. In two noirs of the early 1880s, the initiate&rsquos head floats on water, without his lyre. Though these scenes are dark, areas of light illuminate the face and parts of the sea. The floating heads have a look of mysticism and concentration, whether their eyes are closed or open.

During the 1880&rsquos Redon began producing works (usually pastels) which were as luminously coloured as his noirshad been dark. Among these is a much later and better known example of the head of Orpheus, dated 1898. In this pastel the lyre and head of Orpheus are washed up on a rocky shore, illuminated by a bright blue and purple sky behind the flowery hills. The initiate&rsquos eyes are closed, and he seems to be engrossed in his inner visions.

Among Redon&rsquos numerous depictions of severed heads there are also, not surprisingly, a number which represent John the Baptist. John&rsquos head can be shown independently on a dish, or in a scene together with Salomé. In a charcoal of 1877 entitled Salomé, for example, the head held on a platter by the lovely yet heartless dancer has features very similar to Redon&rsquos own.9

Salomé is shown again, but very differently, in Redon&rsquos very individual version of Moreau&rsquos &lsquoThe Apparition&rsquodated 1883. Here, she becomes a dark, quiet and apparently menacing figure, standing on the left side of the scene. The stress in this charcoal drawing is on the head of the Baptist, which floats in front of her against the backdrop of a dark doorway. The ghostly and spectral head is surrounded by rays, and partially covered by a dark disk reminiscent of a black sun. Redon&rsquos paintings often have themes of darkness versus light, and it is possible that the artist is hinting here at the attack of corrupt and evil forces against the spirituality of the Baptist or (on a more universal level), the soul of humanity.

In a later coloured pastel by Redon dated 1893, two women in vibrant blue hooded cloaks stand looking down at a holy severed head which radiates light. This work is normally given the title Salomé, but, as Mesley says, the scene might also represent the head of Orpheus, attended by two muses

Odilon Redon: 'Salomé'. C1893. Pastel. Kunsthalle Bremen, Bremen, Germany.

As this article will have shown, the significance of the severed head is particularly complicated, and can be understood in various ways, depending on individual interests. It can be an image of vengeance and horror. It can also represent holiness, purity or (in the esoteric interpretation), the soul. On other occasions, it plays a central part in the story of a dangerous femme fatale. Between them, the Symbolists managed to revive some of the more ancient meanings, and to include all of them into their art.

1. See Julia Kristeva, The Severed Head: Capital Visions, New York, Columbia University Press, c.2012.
2. David Clarke with Andy Roberts, Twilight of the Celtic Gods, An Exploration of Britain's Hidden Pagan Traditions, Cassell PLC, London, 1996, pp.124ff and 138ff.
3. Dorothy M. Kosinski, Orpheus in Nineteenth-Century Symbolism, Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, c.1989, p xiv.
4. Julia Kristeva, The Severed Head, pp.29ff.
5. Francine-Claire Legrand, Symbolism in Belgium, Brussels, Laconti, 1972, p.27.
6. A rebours is translated into English as Against Nature or Against the Grain.
7. See Fred Leeman, 'Redon's Spiritualism and the Rise of Mysticism', pp.215-221, in Odilon Redon 1840-1916, exhibition catalogue, Chicago, Amsterdam and London. Thames and Hudson, 1994.
8. For more of this interpretation see Roger James Mesley, The Theme of Mystic Quest in the Art of Odilon Redon, PhD Thesis, Department of Art History, University of Toronto, 1983.
9. Douglas W. Druick and Peter Kort Zegen, 'Taking Wing, 1870-1878', p.86, in Odilon Redon 1840-1916, exhibition catalogue, Chicago, Amsterdam and London. Thames and Hudson. 1994.
10. Mesley, The Mystic Quest, Chapter One, pp.42-43.

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Thracian Art - History

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

In most of the ancient Greco-Roman world, tattoos were seen as a mark of punishment and shame. The Greeks, who, according to the historian Herodotus, learned the idea of penal tattoos from the Persians in the sixth century B.C., tattooed criminals, slaves who tried to escape, and enemies they vanquished in battle. A famous example has the Athenians tattooing the defeated Samians with an owl, Athens&rsquo hallowed emblem, only to have the favor returned when the Samians defeated the Athenians and tattooed their prisoners with a Samian warship. In the Roman Empire, slaves were marked to show their taxes had been paid. The emperor Caligula tattooed gladiators&mdashas public property&mdashand early Christians condemned to the mines. But among many of the ancient cultures the Greeks and Romans encountered&mdashThracians, Scythians, Dacians, Gauls, Picts, Celts, and Britons, to name a few&mdashtattoos were seen as marks of pride. Herodotus tells us that for the Thracians, tattoos were greatly admired and &ldquotattooing among them marks noble birth, and the want of it low birth.&rdquo A fifth-century B.C. Greek vase (left) depicts a tattooed Thracian maenad, a female follower of the god Dionysus, killing the musician Orpheus as punishment for abandoning Dionysus to worship the sun god, Apollo.

Moche Mask and Mummy

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Moche culture of ancient Peru is noted for elaborately decorated ceramics, goldwork, textiles, and murals—and people. While actual physical evidence of tattooing is rare, there are a great number of artifacts indicating that tattooing was likely a common and esteemed practice in the Moche world, according to Edward Swenson of the University of Toronto. Swenson believes that while it’s possible that the markings on the gold mask (left), for example, may represent actual tattoos, they more likely may be stylized “faux” tattoos that were not inscribed on the face of the deceased buried with the mask but, rather, were symbolic of his identity and life force. One interesting motif that is often found is a string of pupating flies ringing the neck, which Swenson believes symbolizes death and rebirth. “If the fly necklace can be interpreted as a kind of tattoo, then I would suspect some individuals were tattooed in important life-crisis rituals, such as after initiates successfully achieved a new social or ritual status,” explains Swenson. “Similarly, shamans are often depicted with anthropomorphized animals, perhaps suggesting their ability to shape-shift in states of trance.” Animals, both realistic and supernatural, also adorn the body of the “Lady of Cao” (top), a well-preserved mummy found at the site of El Brujo in 2005. Her tattoos include stylized catfish, spiders, crabs, felines, snakes, and a supernatural being commonly called the Moon Animal. “We can only speculate about the meaning of these motifs,” says John Verano of Tulane University, who excavated the mummy with El Brujo Project and Museum director Régulo Franco. “But spiders are associated with rain, as well as with human sacrifice and death, and the serpent is an important element associated in many ancient Andean cultures with deities, fertility, and human sacrifice as well,” adds Verano. “Tattoos may very well have been embraced for aesthetic reasons in Moche society, but they probably also played a fundamental role in facilitating transformations into new states of being,” says Swenson.

Head Effigy Pot

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

From about A.D. 1200 to 1600, Native Americans speaking very different languages and living across a vast swath of what is now the United States followed similar religious practices known today as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. According to David H. Dye of the University of Memphis, who has studied both ritual depictions on artifacts and the Native American oral traditions, tattooing was a vital part of these shared religious ideas. “They played a role in celebrating the perpetuation of life,” says Dye. “For warriors, facial tattoos were snares for capturing the soul of someone they killed in battle. Capturing those enemy souls through permanent tattoos helped extend not only their own lives, but helped ease the passage of their dead relatives.” Much of the evidence for tattooing comes from ceramic pots that depict heavily tattooed human heads. These vessels were often decorated with bird motifs, which seem to relate to the Birdman, a deity who ensured the daily rebirth of the sun and symbolized the triumph of life over death. Often these tattoos took the form of feathers or raptor claws around the eyes. “By tattooing themselves with bird motifs, they became that supernatural creature,” says Aaron Deter-Wolf of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology. “The tattoos enabled them to embody his force.”

Hollow Ceramic Figurines

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

For more than 1,000 years, a culture flourished in what are now the western Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and parts of Colima. Most of what we know about the culture comes from artifacts taken from shaft tombs—usually by tomb raiders—including examples of heavily tattooed hollow ceramic figurines. Some scholars believe the figurines depict gods, while Christopher Beekman of the University of Colorado Denver suspects that they may in fact represent the people with whom they were buried. Certainly the designs were intended to communicate identity and status, particularly considering that the figurines appear to have been used in ceremonial contexts, and also set up in residential areas to be seen and visited. According to Beekman, it is notable that the tattooing occurs prominently around the mouth, which may refer, as it does in Classic Maya society, to the breath of life or the capacity of polished speech of these individuals.

Ibaloi Mummy

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

An indigenous people known as the Ibaloi once mummified their honored dead and laid them to rest in hollowed logs in the caves around what is now the Filipino municipality of Kabayan. In life, these ancient people had won the right to be covered in spectacular tattoos depicting geometric shapes as well as animals such as lizards, snakes, scorpions, and centipedes. “According to nineteenth-century ethnographic accounts, Ibaloi head-hunting warriors revered these creatures as ‘omen animals,’” says Smithsonian anthropologist and tattoo scholar Lars Krutak. “The sight of one before a raid could make or break the entire enterprise.” After successfully taking the head of an enemy in battle, a warrior would have these propitious animals permanently etched onto his body. Some Kabayan mummies also feature less fearsome tattoos, such as circles on their wrists thought to be solar discs, or zigzagging lines variously interpreted as lightning or stepped rice fields. “All these tattoos seem to depict the surrounding environment,” says Krutak, who notes that the increased attention paid to the mummies in the last decade has helped fuel a resurgence in traditional tattooing, which had largely died out. Today, thousands of people tracing their descent to the ancient Ibaloi wear designs on their skin modeled after those of their ancestors.

Cleopatra VII - Queen of Ancient Egypt

The last pharaoh of Egypt, ruling before the Romans took control, Cleopatra is known for her relationships with Roman commanders Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, by whom she had three children, and her suicide by snake bite after her husband or partner Antony took his own life. Many have assumed she was a beauty, but, unlike Nefertiti, Cleopatra was probably not. Instead, she was smart and politically valuable.

Cleopatra came to power in Egypt at the age of 17. She reigned from 51 to 30 B.C. As a Ptolemy, she was Macedonian, but even though her ancestry was Macedonian, she was still an Egyptian queen and worshiped as a god.

Since Cleopatra was legally obliged to have either a brother or son for her consort, she married brother Ptolemy XIII when he was 12. Following the death of Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra married an even younger brother, Ptolemy XIV. In time she ruled along with her son Caesarion.

After the death of Cleopatra, Octavian took control of Egypt, putting it into Roman hands.

Today In History: Leo I The Thracian Is Made Emperor Of The Byzantine Empire (457 AD)

On this day in 457 BC, Leo I the Thracian was made emperor of the Byzantine empire.

His rule spanned for twenty years, during which time he made several courageously ambitious moves that expanded the Eastern Roman Empire while at the same strengthened it.

Many of Leo&rsquos moves were in reaction to problems festering in the Western Roman Empire. Since the onset of the siege by the Ostrogoths, the Western Roman Empire continued losing territory and power. Without a promising leader at the helm, there was little hope for the empire&rsquos recovery.


Leo offered a promising candidate, Anthemius, to take the seat as emperor of the fledgling empire. In doing so, Leo ended a succession of puppet Caesars whose rise to the throne was purely for show to perpetuate Gaiseric&rsquos power. The Western Roman Empire had not found a way to avoid facing the Vandals. To stand a chance against them, a competent general who could train an army was desperately needed.

Leo was a gifted diplomat, able to make alliances with a number of kingdoms. It was not unusual for deals to come at a cost. His daughter was offered into marriage with the leader of the Isaurians, Zeno, to secure a Byzantine alliance. The deal nearly fell apart after an assassination attempt on Zeno by Aspar, an enemy who would haunt Leo for years.


თრაკიელები (ძვ. ბერძნ. Θρᾷκες , ლათ. Thraci ) — პროტო-ინდოევროპული ტომების ჯგუფი, რომლებიც სახლობდნენ ცენტრალურ და სამხრეთ-აღმოსავლეთ ევროპაში. [1] მათ ესაზღვრებოდნენ სკვითები ჩრდილოეთიდან, კელტები და ილირიელები დასავლეთიდან, ძველი საბერძნეთი სამხრეთიდან და შავი ზღვა აღმოსავლეთიდან. ისინი საუბრობდნენ თრაკიულად, რომელიც ინდოევროპული ენების ოჯახს განეკუთვნებოდა. თრაკიელების და მათი კულტურის შესწავლას თრაკოლოგია ეწოდება.

Correction to the lies of the White Mans History

Contrary to the racist revisionism of modern Whites: Rome, like Greece, was a multi-ethnic, multi-racial society. With many Black or mixed-race kings, Black Popes, Black Commanders, soldiers, sailors, and of course citizens. (Being mindful of the White mans propensity for manufacturing fake artifacts to show Whites, there is no guarantee that the following Busts are accurate). And of course, much of our current crop of Greek and Roman sculpture are 18th - 19th century creations. We oftentimes compare Coins with Busts to ascertain the truth. But unfortunately, Whites are also expert at creating perfect fake coins, which look like ancient coins, so there is no guarantee there either. The one saving grace, is that with Black kings, the fabricators will sometimes leave a hint of Blackness in the image, rather than making it appear pure White. Thus from that hint, we can extrapolate.

Gladiator games

Most often, gladiators engaged in one on one combat and would be paired against different types that were considered complementary. Murmillos often fought against Thracians, as well as Hoplomachus, and Retiarius. Retiarius (net and trident wielders) usually faced gladiators armed with more conventional weapons.

Fights were highly organized and monitored by referees. Not all ended in death. Often a fight would end without either combatant dying — the reason for this was quite simple: training and maintaining a stable of gladiators was expensive, so their owners wanted them to survive as long as possible. In the early years of the Colosseum more fights were to the death, but as time went on the contests became less lethal because replacing dead gladiators was costly.

There were other types of violent entertainment that were popular in ancient Rome that have often been connected with gladiators, but which were in fact separate from them.

What animals did Roman Gladiators fight?

That gladiators fought against beasts is a common misconception. Gladiator combat was highly regimented and organized, and gladiators only fought against other human combatants. Wild beasts did appear in the arena, but they usually did so as part of the damnatio ad bestias, which means literally condemnation to beasts, in which criminals and prisoners of war would be publicly executed at the claws and fangs of wild beasts, or as part of mock hunts by professional hunters. There was one type of combatant that fought against wild animals, the bestiarus, but he was not regarded as a gladiator in the same sense as others.

Staged naval battles, the Naumachia

Naumachia, staged naval battles with real ships and combatants, were probably the most spectacular of all Roman blood sports. Unlike gladiator battles which took place somewhat regularly in the arenas of many large cities, naumachia were reserved for special occasions, such as the commemoration of Julius Caesar’s triumph in 46 BC. Participants were often prisoners of war or criminals condemned to death, and the battles were much bloodier than gladiatorial combat and fatality rates much higher.

Naumachia were usually held in specially constructed arenas, large channels or artificial lakes dug specifically for this purpose, but in some occasions they were held in conventional Roman amphitheaters. The Roman Colosseum is known to have held two near the date of its inauguration.

La Naumachia, by Ulpiano Checa

The Colosseum
Piazza del Colosseo, 1 00184 Rome, Italy Metro: Line B - "Colosseo"
Bus: Line 75/81/673/175/204
Tram: Line 3

Watch the video: Γιν-Γιανγκ 1. Επίδειξη και απονομή ζωνών. Θρακική Αγορά (June 2022).


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