Wednesday, 5 September 2007

An Italian cavalryman in Manhattan

Greek colonial cavalrymen are clearly gathering on the eastern seaboard of North America - or at least sets of their armour can be found there.

The acquisition of a suit of Greek cavalry armour by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has been noted before. And there is another "set of armor from a burial" in the collection of Shelby White and the late Leon Levy. It consists of:

a. A "South Italian-Chalcidian" helmet
b. A long "muscle" cuirass (front and back)
c. A pair of greaves
d. A chamfron
e. A muzzle of a horse

The Apulian bronze armour appeared in the Glories of the Past exhibition (no. 95). The entry was written by David Cahn who suggested that the "set" should be placed in Apulia, "about 330 BC".

Cahn notes: "The date of the helmet is based on the many finds of armor in Apulia buried with Apulian red-figured vases, for which we have an established chronology".

Again, "Like the helmet, cuirasses of this type have come to light, usually with a wealth of ceramic material, in many monumental chamber tombs in Apulia".

As for the chamfron, Cahn notes its stylistic links with three others that appear to come from "a single workshop". He continues: "All four chamfrons were found with "south Italian-Chalcidian" helmets, long "muscle" cuirasses, and greaves; three of the four come from tombs that also contained Apulian red-figured vases".

No further information (e.g. archaeology, previous owners) is provided in the printed catalogue entry about the White/Levy set. But we can infer from Cahn's discussion and the catalogue entry caption that it came "from a burial" in Apulia.

And there is one more thing. Such sets of cavalry armour from Apulia tended to be found with Apulian pottery.

So does the dramatic increase of Apulian pottery surfacing on the market in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s - so ably and forcefully demonstrated by Professor Ricardo Elia - coincide with the appearance of such sets of armour on the market?

If Cahn is right, and there is no reason to doubt his comments and observations, it would be interesting to know which Apulian pots (if any) were found in the "burial" alongside this "set of armor".

But perhaps such valuable archaeological evidence has been lost and will never be retrieved.

The collecting of such military equipment has material consequences for the funerary record of Southern Italy, and intellectual consequences for the study of both Greek colonial cavalry armour and Apulian pottery.


Don Thieme said...

It seems like you were implying earlier in this post that the pottery is more valuable than the armor. I wonder which is considered the "loot" here by those doing the digging?

David Gill said...

Value has three meanings:
a. what the item would fetch at auction in a gallery
b. what the item would be worth in ancient terms
c. what the item means in its archaeological context

We know from ancient commercial graffiti that Athenian pottery was relatively cheap - and there is no reason to think that Apulian pottery was any more valued.

As an archaeologist the complete context is what is important --- I would not want to place any one item higher up the value scale.

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