Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Archaeology Blogging

As is well known, Roman legions marched into battle behind standard-bearers, who, well, bore standards displaying the battle honours of the particular legion involved.

Roman battle standards

The standards were objects of great pride for the legionary soldiers, as was dramatically shown during Julius Caesar's first invasion of Britain (De Bello Gallico 4.25). Faced with the prospect of having to fight their way ashore through deep water, the soldiers of the 10th Legion hesitated to disembark from their ships, until the legion's standard-bearer leapt overboard by himself, taking the standard with him. Shamed, the soldiers followed him, and forced their way ashore.

A rather fanciful depiction of the above-mentioned event.

On those rare occasions when a legion lost its standards, the result was disgrace, and strenuous efforts were made to recover the lost items. The Emperor Augustus was so proud of his recovery in 19 B.C., through negotiation, of the standards lost by Crassus' 10th Legion at Carrhae in 53 B.C., that he commemorated the event not only coins,

A denarius of Augustus

but also on one of the most famous statues of him ever carved.

The Prima Porta Augustus.

Detail of the breastplate, showing the return of the standards from Carrhae. Click for slightly larger image.

The recovery of the standards lost to Arminius at the Battle of Teutoberger Vald (about which we have written elsewhere), was similarly celebrated.

A coin of Germanicus, from A.D. 16, showing a recovered standard.

So, where are we going with all this? Well, on October 28, A.D. 312, the Emperor Constantine defeated his colleague Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, just outide Rome.


When it was clear that the battle was going against them, some supporters of Maxentius decided to take steps to keep his insignia, including his standards, from Constantine. The took the items into Rome, and hid them in a sanctuary near the Colosseum, on the Palatine Hill. And it must be said that they did a hell of an effective job hiding them, because they were only found last year.

Emperor Maxentius insignia found in Rome
Mon. Dec. 4 2006 9:07 AM ET
Associated Press

ROME -- Archeologists have unearthed what they say are the only existing imperial insignia belonging to Emperor Maxentius -- precious objects that were buried to preserve them and keep them from enemies when he was defeated by his rival Constantine.

The items have apparently been undergoing restoration for past little while, and should be available for public viewing soon; pictures will be posted as soon as I can find any! While I am often leery of supposedly "dramatic" archaeological discoveries, this, I must say, represents something quite special. While they may not add too much to our knowledge of the Roman Empire, these items are a physical, tangible, legacy of a monumental turning-point in the history of Rome.


salvage said...

Excuse me sir? Can I have maybe a sword because this standard thingy... well it's just not very sharp and I'm looking over there at what? 20,000 Goths and I'm thinking I would like to hit them with something more dangerous and less er well decorative.

Scout said...

aloha, mr. oi! have a great season, don't eat any artifacts :)