Showing posts from 2023

From Nike, Winged Goddess of Victory, to an Angel in Three Coins

A winged goddess of victory has been a widespread image over the past two and a half millennia. Here I illustrate her transformation from Greek goddess to Roman goddess to Christian angel with three coins spanning a period of about 900 years.  She, Nike , appears in Archaic form in a statue from Delos , dating to the 6th century BCE and found in front of the old Temple of Artemis in 1887. A famous 5th century BCE sculpture of Nike by Paionios was found at Olympia in 1875 and the even more famous Winged Victory of Samothrace , dating to the second century BCE, was found in 1863. Nike also appeared on coins and a beautiful ancient Greek example from the fourth century BCE shows this winged goddess of victory carrying a wreath and a naval stylis (what appears to be a staff with angled trident head).   Reverse of gold stater of Alexander III (The Great), Ake mint, dating to 308/9 BCE, showing Nike with wreath in right hand and stylis in left hand. In her later Roman guise as the goddess

Classical mythology on an Iron Age boar coin

The finely crafted artefacts of Ancient Rome were often a source of inspiration for peoples beyond their empire to the north. A particularly striking example is the early boar coinage of the Corieltauvi tribe based on the south side of the Humber Estuary in England, dating from the the middle of the first century BCE. The example shown below is the earliest version in a series. An elegant "celticised" horse beneath a sun symbol is depicted on one side. On the other side is a bold representation of a boar, with a spear in his back together with associated enigmatic symbols. The boar is depicted with erect bristles along his spine, a curly tail and even details the backward-pointing dewclaws, an exceptional feature in this example. This particular silver unit was found four years ago at Burgh le Marsh in Lincolnshire. Here is my drawing of the boar design. Was this an original work of art? Well, the design is distinctively stylised, though less abstract than many examples, incl

A visit to the Greenland Eastern Settlement

As a youth, I was fascinated by stories of the Norse westward exploration and settlement. From about the 870s to around the year 1000, they reached first Iceland, then Greenland and finally Newfoundland and adjacent areas.  With a visit to Greenland this June 2023, I have now visited all of these places and seen something of their character and atmosphere: volcanoes, geysirs, waterfalls, icebergs and aurora in Iceland; snowy mountains, fjord-wide expanses of drift ice and eagles in Greenland; dolphins and moose plus hillsides covered in berries at that northern tip of Newfoundland.  I have also seen the Norse ruins in all these places, mostly just the foundations of buildings made of stone and turf. The experience of this particular “quest” feels in essence complete.  I started the dotted line on the map below in Rogaland (Norway), where we lived in the late 1990s. That's also where Erik the Red was born. The Norse westward expansion (simplified) from the 870s to around the year 10

1000 years buried: Edward the Elder Silver sent to Rome in the time of Æthelstan and buried in a 928 hoard

Some ancient objects have amazing stories to tell. One such piece is an Anglo-Saxon silver penny which was excavated in Vatican grounds in about 1928. The penny has a fairly schematic portrait of the king, Edward the Elder, who reigned from 899 to 924. He, together with his sister Æthelflæd of Mercia, successfully conquered territory previously held by Danish vikings ( the "Five Boroughs" of the Danelaw and East Anglia) , a process completed in the time of his successor and first son (though his mother was not a queen), Æthelstan. Edward was born about 871, oldest son of Alfred the Great, and died on the 17th July 924 aged around 53, leaving fifteen children by three wives. Four of the sons would become kings and five of the daughters would marry into European noble houses. The obverse of the coin shows +EADWEARD REX around the simple portrait. The reverse shows the inscription BEORN  ƿ OLD Mo, in two lines (above and below three cross pattées across the centre) naming the m

The Bear Cuscus of Wallacea

Sulawesi was a gap on the map for me. I had visited Borneo to the west many times and seen the orangutans, gibbons, monkeys, elephants and squirrels that live there. To the east, I had visited Halmahera and Papua New Guinea, with their birds of paradise, cockatoos and marsupials (but no apes, monkeys, elephants or squirrels). After some days enjoying the marine life of the Bunaken National Marine Park, we visited the nearby Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve to look for some of the endemic mammals and birds. From Manado we drove around the south side of the imposing Klebat volcano and then north on the west side of mounts Dua Sudara and Tangkoko. The entrance to the reserve is next to the coastal town of Batu Putih. View looking east from Borneo across the Celebes Sea to northern Sulawesi, westernmost extent of the marsupials. "Wallace's standardwing" marks the habitat of the westernmost bird of paradise. As we walked into the park, we stopped to look at an elegant Draco f