Category Archives: Archeology and epigraphy

An ancient Sugar Ray Leonard, a deceased Cynic philosopher, and a colleague of Marcion at Sinope

I’ve been making my way through The Inscriptions of Sinope, the latest in the series on Greek inscriptions of Asia Minor (bibliography below).  Sinope was a Greek city on the northern coast of Turkey.  Its location on the Black Sea made it important for sea trade, and the sailor and “heretic” Marcion was from this city.  A few of the inscriptions stood out to me and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is a very successful boxer of the first or second century who may well match or beat Sugar Ray:

M(arcus) Iutius Marcianus Rufus, outstanding boxer of Sinope, who won victories in the sacred triumphal competitions: at Rome in the Capitoline, 3 times in succession — at Neapolis, twice — at the Actian (games), twice, the first and only Sinopean (to do so) – at the Nemean (games), twice – at the Isthmian (games), twice – at the Pythian (games) – at the Olympic (games) – at the Panathenaic (games), the first and only Sinopean (to do so) – at Antiocheia (in Syria), 3 times, the first and only ever of the youth and men’s classes in one day, in the men’s class – in the Pythian games at Antiocheia – at Nicomedia, 3 times, the first and only ever in the under-age, youth and men’s classes – at the (Provincial) Community of Asia games at Smyrna, Pergamum, and Ephesus – at the Aspis at Argos, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Asia games at Sardis, twice, at Philadelphia, twice, at Traelles, twice, at Hierapolis, twice, at Laodiceia, twice, at Thyateira, twice, at Mytilene, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Pontus games, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Galatia games, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Macedonia games – at the (Provincial) Community of Bithynia games at Nicaea, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Cappadocia games – and at other competitions in the half-talent class, 110 times.  (In all) 150 victories.  By decision of the Senate (ISinope 105; trans. by French with adaptations, see below).

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” I guess.

The second is the grave of a Cynic philosopher of the second or third century.  This is the first grave of such a philosopher I have encountered, but there may well be others:

This then is (the) stone of a man whom, moreover, — an expounder of wisdom — this city has produced,  [ – – ] of [ – – ] Perseus.  Why does he have the name “wing”?  Tell us! Because a raised wing too drew (him) through the air of Greece.  This Perseus (was) [inclined] too towards Cynic thought, since he carried a wallet (and) a scimitar (small sword) in the place of a staff . . .  (ISinope 171; trans. French, with adaptations).

The third involves the grave-stone of a shipper from Sinope (first-third century CE), the hometown of another more renowned shipper, named Marcion:

Hail, O passer-by!  (I), Callinicus, having sailed (over) many waves, sailed (on) the last voyage of Lethe, (I) whom the sea in the deeps did not extinguish, but the earth destroyed by a heavy sickness; having lived two and thirty years, eager to come to (the) fate of (my) younger brother Calligonus, long dead, having lived nobly for fourteen years; thus are the plans of (the) fates arranged.  Iulius Callinicus, ship-master (naukleros), lies here (ISinope 169).

This inscription also points to another reality of life in the ancient world, namely, the short life expectancy:  Callinicus lived to the age of only 32 and his brother had died when he was only 14.

I plan to do more posts on interesting inscriptions I encounter.

David H. French, ed.,  The Inscriptions of Sinope (Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien, vol 64; Bonn: Rudolf Habelt, 2004).

Angel-loving association cancelled – A new reading of an often cited inscription from Asia Minor

The availability of the journal Epigraphica Anatolica online is already paying off!  There you will find a new article which has some notable repercussions not only for the study of associations in Asia Minor but also for the study of the opponents of Colossians: Hasan Malay, “ΦΙΛΑΝΠΙΛΟΙ in Phrygia and Lydia,” Epigraphica Anatolica 38 (2005) 42–44.

Back in 1980/81, A.R.R. Sheppard published a little inscription (from near Kotiaion) involving Holiness and Justice, two personifications that were commonly honoured in certain areas of Phrygia and Lydia (“Pagan Cults of Angels in Roman Asia Minor,” Talanta 12-13 [1980-81]: 77-101 = SEG 31 1130).  The more exciting element in the inscription was the apparent reference to non-Christians or non-Judeans who devoted themselves in some way to “angels”, which was based on Sheppard’s reading: ΦΙΛΑΝΓΕΛΩΝ (“Friends-of-angels”).  Sheppard’s translation of the inscription was as follows:

Aur(elius) … the Association of Friends of the Angels (made) a vow to Holiness and Justice”.

Sheppard suggested that this involved “pagans” who had some contact with the Jewish notion of angels.  Sheppard’s reading of the inscription was also discussed in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, vol. 6, number 31.

This idea that there were “pagans” devoted to divine messengers or “angels” then became background for some New Testament scholars who were sorting out the “philosophy” combated by the author of Colossians (2:8-23), particularly the reference to the “worship of angels” (2:18).  Clinton Arnold’s theory regarding the opponents of Colossians, for instance, drew attention to the importance of angels in Asia Minor not only among diaspora Judeans but also among pagans, such that we could speak of a common folk practice in this region.  He suggested that the opponents were practicing the (magical) invocation of angels for protection and that this reflected both the Judean and pagan devotion to angels in Asia Minor specifically (see Clinton Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996]).

However, Malay’s recent study of this particular inscription has shown that Sheppard likely misread a key letter here (what a difference one letter can make).  What Sheppard read as a “gamma”, Malay now says is surely a “pi”, which leaves us with ΦΙΛΑΝΠΙΛΟΙ, “Friends-of-the-vine” or “Vine-lovers”, and no angels at all in this inscription.

Malay publishes another inscription which confirms the existence of associations devoted to the vine, in other words relating to wine production and/or consumption, in the same region (in this case from nearby Katakekaumene, now in the Manisa Museum, dating 161/2 CE):

“To the Good Fortune! In the year 192, on the fourth day of the month Peritios, New Lovers of Vine (φιλάνπιλοι) set this up as a vow to Mother Leto on account of their own salvation.

The meeting of the association of friend-of-angels is apparently canceled.

Associations of Immigrants: Thracians and the goddess Bendis near Athens

As I have mentioned, I am presently writing an article on immigrants and immigrant associations in the Greco-Roman world. My primary focus now is on comparing Judean (Jewish) synagogues in the dispersion with other immigrants from the Levant (east of the Mediterranean) who likewise formed associations, especially Syrians or Phoenicians.

Jews were by no means the only group of immigrants who gathered together regularly in associations and maintained important connections with the culture and religion of their homeland. I will save the Syrians for future posts, but thought I’d mention one of our earliest attested cases of a group of immigrants who formed an association devoted to the deity of their homeland: the Thracians devoted to the goddess Bendis near Athens, Greece, in the Piraeus.

Thracian Goddess Bendis with devotees

Votive relief depicting the Thracian goddess Bendis with a number of torch-race victors approaching their goddess (c. 400-350 BCE, now in the British Museum, photo by Phil)

We know very little about the goddess Bendis herself, who is often (as here) depicted in Thracian hunting gear (and with affinities to Artemis the huntress). At the Piraeus there were at least two associations devoted to her, one of them for immigrants from Thracia (north of Macedonia) specifically and the other for citizens of the city. We first catch a glimpse of a group of Thracians requesting and gaining permission from Athens (which controlled the port city of Piraeus) to set up a temple for their goddess somewhere between 434 and 411 BCE.

Banqueting under the protection of your gods

Down in a dusty basement of the British Museum, where few will ever see it, is a very interesting monument involving an association devoted to Zeus Hypsistos (“Most High”; GIBM IV.2 1007; from Panormos, near Kyzikos in Asia Minor).

The “three-storey” relief on this monument depicts the gods to whom the association was devoted, with Zeus (left) alongside Artemis (middle) and Apollo (right). All three deities hold out a libation bowl in their right hands, symbolic of the libations (drink-offerings) which humans offer in honour of these figures.

Even more interesting is the rare picture of an association’s banquet which is depicted under the benevolent protection of the gods. Here we see a number of members of the association reclining for the meal in a customary manner as they watch a female dance, perhaps performing in honour of the gods. She is accompanied by a seated man playing a Phrygian flute and a percussionist (using reeds) while, off to the right, a man takes care of the wine bowl for the symposium (drinking party).

A monument like this illustrates well the interconnected social and religious purposes of the associations. Partying and honouring the gods went together quite well in antiquity.

 

The inscription in the triangular shape at the top reads as follows: “To Zeus Hypsistos and the place. Thallos, eponymous official, dedicated this relief.”

There will be more to come from my recent visit to the British Museum, and perhaps more on Zeus Most High, whose connections with Judaism are somewhat controversial. (I would like to thank Dr. Peter Higgs, curator of Greek and Roman Antiquities, for arranging access to the monument).

An invitation from the god Sarapis: Banqueting with the gods

When the members of associations or guilds in the Roman empire gathered together for a meal, much more than simply satisfying the appetite or merely socializing was going on. Things that we moderns might separate into the categories of “social” and “religious” were intimately intertwined in antiquity, and the sacrificial meal is a case in point. The main way to honour the gods or goddesses was to make offerings of food or animal sacrifices, and in the majority of cases this, by default, included the accompanying meal of the worshipers.

In fact, in some cases it was even imagined that the god threw the banquet and was present with devotees as they shared in a communal meal. One banquet invitation on papyrus (ancient paper made from plants in Egypt) shows that the (Greco-Egyptian) god Sarapis sometimes sent out personal invitations for dinner: “The god calls you to a banquet being held. . . tomorrow from the 9th hour” (trans. by G.H.R. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, vol. I no. 1). And this is one of those rare cases when an upper-class author (in this case Aelius Aristides of Smyrna) happens to clarify how the members of an association devoted to Sarapis might think about their god’s presence, whether in Egypt or in Asia Minor:

“And mankind exceptionally makes this god [Sarapis] alone a full partner in their sacrifices, summoning him to the feast and making him both their chief guest and host, so that while different gods contribute to different banquets, he is the universal contributor to all banquets and has the rank of mess president for those who assemble at times for his sake . . . he is a participant in the libations and is the one who receives the libations, and he goes as a guest to the revel and issues the invitations to the revelers, who under his guidance perform a dance.  Orations 45.27-28; trans. by Charles A. Behr, P. Aelius Aristides: The Complete Works. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1981 (second century).