Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Exhibition about Carthage in Leiden, Netherlands

In the wake of my visit to Motya in Sicily where I was confronted with a number of Punic artifacts and a Tophet (Punic cemetery), I expected that this exhibition about Carthage at the Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden in Leiden in the Netherlands would be a nice complement. Well it was not the case, but anyway I learnt a lot more about the Carthaginians who still are shrouded in mystery.

Carthage is being advertised as the third city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria. This grand city was located in northern Africa on the coast of today’s Tunisia, and was founded by the Phoenicians (from modern Lebanon) in the 9th century BC. Carthage had a powerful fleet and extended its power all over the Mediterranean Sea, much to the chagrin of the Romans and led to repeated confrontations. The last so-called Punic War took place in 146 BC from which the Romans emerged victorious. A good century later, thanks to the efforts of Emperor Augustus, the city was rebuilt to become the third largest of the empire. Its glory lasted till 439 AD when Carthage, like so many cities in North Africa, was invaded by the Vandals. From the 7th century onwards it was gradually forgotten, to be rediscovered early in the 19th century. Since then it has been added to the World Heritage List of the UNESCO.

The exhibition in Leiden, that is running till 7 May 2015, is divided in two parts: Carthage from 900 to 146 BC and Roman Carthage after 146 BC. The artifacts have been collected from several museums in Tunisia, but also from the Louvre and the British Museum.

Punic art is pretty intriguing, to say the least, for it is not immediately recognizable as for instance Greek or Egyptian art. Their artifacts are always mixed with foreign influences, either from Egypt, Africa, or Syria (their homeland), often with a Greek twist since many artists turned out to be Greek.

A striking example is, for instance, the lady on the marble lid of a sarcophagus from the 4th-3rd century BC found in the Necropolis of Rabs in Carthage. She is presented in Etruscan fashion but with a robe draped in Greek style; of Egyptian influence is her hairdo and the snake on her forehead, as well as the wings folding over her body. She could be a priestess of Isis, but that is not certain. Another noticeable statue is that representing a Goddess with the Head of a Lioness made of terracotta and dated from the first century AD. Although from the Roman era, the statue strongly reminds us of the Punic god Tanir, while she could be identified as the Egyptian Selhmet as well. The head does not really match her body, I’d say, but her robe looks Greek although the feather motives refer to the Middle-East. This statue was found at Tinissut and is on loan from the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

There are, of course, many more highlights to be seen, like the Punic steles; the splendid bronze Punic cuirass; the elaborate Phoenician dishes from the 7th century BC; a collection of incense burners on top of terracotta heads that look very Greek and date from the 3rd-2nd century BC; or the unique marble sundial (scaphe) from Carthage dating from the 1st-2nd century AD on loan from the Louvre (see: What about sundials in antiquity?).

The collection from the Roman era is obviously showing an array of Roman men and women among objects for daily use. It is wonderful, however, to see two bronze statues recuperated from a shipwreck discovered off the coast of Tunisia near Mahdia, one representing Eros with the Lamp and the other a Dancing Satyr, both from around 100 BC. 

Absolutely unique is the presence of a Phoenician bronze battering ram that once was mounted at the very bow of a trireme. It looks brand-new and is quite amazing! It was recently discovered  near the Egadi islands, where the remains of at least 11 warships lost during the final naval battle of the First Punic War were uncovered (see also: The Trireme, a Ship to Remember). This battle occurred just off the Western coast of Sicily, near the island of Favignana. The battering ram that is exhibited here seems to be the only Phoenician one among the otherwise Roman examples.

A good number of highlights is illustrated on a special page of the site of Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden and my own highlights can be found in this album, Carthago in Leiden 2015.

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