Tuesday, December 22, 2015

They Went Down to the Sea in Ships and Protected Their Dead with... CROSSES!

I was in a Barnes and Noble bookshop the other day and found some images in a pair of books showing the use of crosses for uses other than execution.

Source: National Geographic History [1]
The above door is from a tomb in Vergina, Greece, now confirmed to be the tomb of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. Notice something peculiar with the pattern of the strips and bosses on the doors?

Exactly. The two embossed strips at the middle of the door, one from top to bottom and the other from left to right, forms the schematic of a Latin cross -- the kind seen in Christian churches. Here this cross is "guarding" Philip II's final resting place. So the ancient Greeks had an apotropaic use for the cross. 

Source: Smithsonian History: from the Dawn of Civilization to the Present Day [2]

This is a scene from Homer's Odysseus, wherein the protagonist Odyssseus has his sailors lash him to the mast, or ἴκρια (pole, mast, spar) and stuff their own ears with cotton to get past the Sirens and avoid crashing on the rocks by being attracted by the aural beauty of their song.  Note the yard and the mast form a sort-of "cross" (nota bene: it's really a t-pole) -- the technical term is κατάπτερος (katapteros), "wing" or "winged thing".

Artemidorus (2nd Cent. CE) wrote in his Oneirokritikon (2.53) about sailors considering "crucifixion" being auspicious for their voyage at sea:

Being crucified is a good thing for all sailors. For a cross is made from posts and nails like a ship, and its mast is like a cross.

Σταυροῦσθαι πᾶσι μέν τοῖς ναυτιλλομένοις ἀγατόν καί γάρ ἐκ ξύλον καί ἤλων γέγονεν  ό σταυρός ὡς καί τό πλοῖον, καί ἥ κατάπτιος αὐτοῦ ἐστί σταυρῷ.
Nota bene: "is like a cross", not "is a cross".

Now being crucified being a "good thing" makes zero sense! Clearly, then, some other action is implied by Artemidorus's selection of the verb σταυρόω (staurow). Justin Martyr (100-165 CE) and Minucius Felix (?-ca. 250 CE) give us some clues.

From Justin Martyr's I Apology 55: "For the sea is not traversed except that trophy (τροπαῖον) which is called a sail abide safe in the ship." So the tropaion or victory cross comes into play here.

And indeed in the same chapter Justin also refers to the Romans' victory and funerary crosses or tropaea:

And the power of this form is shown by your own symbols on what are called vexilla [banners] and tropaea [trophies], with which all your state possessions are made, using these as the insignia of your power and government.... And with this form you consecrate the images of your emperors when they die, and you name them gods by inscriptions.

And now Minucius Felix weighs in. From his Octavius 29:
You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses glided and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it. We assuredly see the sign of a cross, naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars....
Indeed, Minucius says the same thing as Justin Martyr and Artemidorus: the "cross" in the ship is a victory cross, or a tropaion. And those crosses when decorated after a military battle or in memoriam of a deified Caesar did look like they had a man affixed to it. Like this one:

Caesar memorial cross

And this one:

Victory cross
So Artemidorus' remark about "Being crucified" (Σταυροῦσθαι) should really be translated as "Being crossed" (or "staurow'ed") instead... because the sailors recognized in the ship's "cross" (σταυρός [stauros]) an apotropaic item that was intended to turn away harm or evil influences -- such as a tropaion.


[1] National Geographic History. National Geographic Society, Washington, DC, Dec 2015 / Jan 2016, p. 5.
[2] Rob Colson, Camilla Hallinan, David John, Kieran Macdonald, eds. Smithsonian History: from the Dawn of Civilization to the Present Day. New York, DK Publishing, 2015, p. 102.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Damnatio ad Bestias as Related to Crucifixions

A couple of articles before, I noted how the The History Channel's "Masks of Death - Famous Dead People" and Prof. Gunnar Liestøl's "Sitsim Demo II," portrayed the wax image of Julius Caesar, showing all 23 stab wounds, with his arms down at his sides and his body bound with ropes like a common crucified criminal -- which would have made several of the stab wounds difficult to be seen.

Now it is from Francesco Carotta's articles, such as this one, where I got the phrase. And I will show you why. Below are some images from the 5th and 6th Centuries CE depicting the Crucifixion scene from the gospels. Note the co-crucified are suspended with their arms at their sides.

Crucifixion, carved in the doors of Santa Sabina Cathedral, ca. 420-430 CE
Source: Orpheus Bakkikos [1], Dorothy King's PHDiva

Ampullae (water or wine vessel) from Dunbarton Oaks, ca. 600 CE
Source: Dorothy King's PHDiva.
Monza/Bobbio ampullae Bobbio Abbey, 6th Century CE
Source: Wikipedia.

Ampullae from Monza Cathedral, 603 CE.
Source: Dorothy King's PHDiva.
Detail of co-crucified, from the Monza ampullae.
Source: Orpheus Bakkikos [2]

Coptic Magical Papyrus, Egypt. 6th Century CE.
Source: Dorothy King's PhD Diva.

As can be clearly seen in the above images save one, the arms of the commonly crucified criminals are depicted in the orans (prayer) pose; the ampullae images show their feet attached on the sides of the poles. The last image, the papyrus from Egypt, show the co-crucified with their arms around the poles' crosspieces and down by their sides and their feet unattached.  The poles themselves, where shown, are short, to indicate that crucified criminals were not usually suspended on high, but close to the ground. In every one of these images, the Crucifixion of Christ is portrayed as unique, special.

These short poles does remind one of the poles on which criminals who were condemned to be killed by wild animals (damnatio ad bestias) in the midday part of the games (ludi meridiani), and indeed there are images from antiquity wherein people were suspended on poles, whether mobile of fixed.

 Zliten Mosaic, Zliten, Libya, 1st-2nd Cent. CE.
(Source: Wikipedia)
The above is a floor mosaic depicting scenes from the ampitheatre, found in a villa in Zliten, Libya. It shows various scenes such as an orchestra of musicians, gladiator fights, people being executed by damnatio ad bestias, and animal fights.  In the third row note two suspended men on poles.

Source: clas.ufl.edu.
The above is a detail of the condemned men suspended on poles, from the third row, left, of the Zliten mosaic.  One such support is clearly a mobile pole. Note their feet are attached at the ankles with ropes or shackles, and their arms are tied or shackled behind their backs.  The condemned might hang forward when the big cats (in this case, leopards) pounce on them and hang on with their claws; hence, it was necessary to secure the arms behind the back so they couldn't defend themselves and wouldn't fall forward off the poles when the felines land on them.

Source: ilgiornaledellanumismatica.it
Here is a depiction of a lion in mid-pounce, pouncing on a nearly naked condemned man who is tied to a pole.  This is from a portion of the bottom of a vase.  Here he is not suspended; his feet are on the ground and his arms are tied behind his back.

Source: Amphi-theatrum.de
Depiction from a fragment, the Rheinzaberner Bilderschüssel des Cobertnus, ca. 2 Cent. CE. [3], of a man condemned ad bestias.  From the left and right pounce two big cats.  The condemned in the middle is suspended entirely naked on a pole. Note his feet are about one foot off the ground.
Source: clas.ufl.edu
Here another person, nearly naked, is attached to an ordinary pole, condemned to be executed by the lion, who is shown in mid-pounce.

As you can see, the persons so condemned are not suspended on high, they are attached low to the ground or even standing on it.  One of the images above shows the condemned attached to his pole, with his feet sightly above the ground and astride the pole itself, as if his heels were nailed to the post, similarly to the allegedly crucified male found in Givat ha-Mivtar (he could have been nailed to an ordinary pole instead, perhaps to be dragged behind a horse).  This makes it easier for big cats to pounce on them, and for bears to take paw swipes at them, like one bear did to a condemned criminal playing the bandit Laureolus who, in the mime of the same name, is supposed to be crucifed:
nuda Caledonio sic viscera praebuit urso
non falsa pendens in cruce Laureolus
vivebant laceri membris stillantibus artus
inque omni nusquam corpore corpus erat.

Laureolus, hanging in no [mere] cruci-fiction,
gave up his vitals defenceless to a Caledonian bear.
His mangled limbs lived, though the parts dripped blood
and in all his body was nowhere a body's shape. [4]

And so we come back to Roman crucifixion and how the Romans suspended their condemned criminals. From the above evidence, it is to me very doubtful that the Romans crucified people in the manner depicted in almost all visual depictions since the renaissance -- not to mention the Mediaeval period and before.  More likely, crucifixion consisted of tying or nailing to poles (with or without a transverse bar or plank), tying to trees, suspending on frames, or forcing onto impaling stakes, or a combination thereof.  I don't think ever on a two-beam cross or tropaeum, as is popularly imagined among the faithful of the Christian church.

Sorry, Christians.


[1] Francesco Carotta and Arne Eickenberg, Orpheus Bakkikos, The Missing Cross.  2008, p. 6 (Fig. 7)  Carotta.de/subseite/texte/articula/Orpheos_Bakkikos_en.pdf, accessed 7 Dec 2015.
[2] Ibid., p. 8 (Fig. 13).
[3] ORL B Nr. 8, 124 f. Taf. XXV 7.
[4] Martial, Liber Spectaculorum 7.4, cited in Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1977, pp 35-36 (modification of translation mine -- non falsa in cruce could also mean, "on no unreal cross/stake," "in no fake crucifixion" and "in no pretend torture"). Some translations (like Hengel's) use "Scottish" for Caledonio -- except for the inconvenient fact that the political entity called Scotland did not exist at the time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Star of Julius Caesar...

... appears to have landed on top of St. Dominic's head!

St Dominic with Star of Julius Caesar
St Dominic's Church, Harrison Ave Lakeview,
New Orleans, La. USA