Votive Stele to Kakasbos

Votive Stele to Kakasbos

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3D Image

The votive stele from Smyrna is dedicated to Kakasbos, an Anatolian rider-god who appears wielding a club. In antiquity, Kakasbos was associated with the Greek god Herakles (better known as Hercules). 2nd or 3rd century CE, sandstone. Smyrna, Asia Minor. Museum of Art History (Musée du Cinquantenaire), Brussels, Belgium. Made with Zephyr3D Lite from 3DFlow.

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Treasures Rediscovered: Chinese Stone Sculpture from the Sackler Collections at Columbia University

Votive Stele, Tang dynasty (618-906), Limestone

Treasures Rediscovered: Chinese Stone Sculpture from the Sackler Collections at Columbia University introduces a group of twenty-two little-known stone devotional objects and architectural fragments that collectively represent major developments in Chinese religion and mortuary culture, from the Han (206 BCE&ndash220 CE) through the Tang dynasty (618&ndash907). The major emphasis of the exhibition is on works from the sixth century, a period of great intellectual ferment and artistic transformation, above all in the Buddhist arts of China. It will be on view at Columbia University's Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery from March 26 through June 7, 2008. Subsequently, the exhibition will travel to the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and the University of Virginia Art Museum.

The objects in Treasures Rediscovered represent highlights of the Chinese stone sculptures that form part of the collections of East Asian and other non-Western art at Columbia University established by Arthur M. Sackler, M.D. (1913&ndash1987). Recent research on the collection has uncovered significant and exciting contextual information on a number of pieces. Objects long separated from their original settings have now been ascribed to specific periods or sites of origin in China on the basis of iconography, style, medium, and other criteria. The exhibition will highlight these groundbreaking discoveries.

The art works range from a small personal votive icon to large temple carvings. Some of the works derive from underground burials where they formed part of an auspicious environment intended for enjoyment by the dead. The majority, however, are Buddhist icons in various formats: objects of devotion that were installed in temples and cave chapels. The Buddhist pieces highlight changes in both style and iconography, indicative of changes in devotional practice and belief they also reflect regional diversity and heterodox imagery. Taken together, they both enrich and complicate our understanding of early Buddhist art.

Leopold Swergold and Eileen Hsiang-ling Hsu are the co-curators of the exhibition. Mr. Swergold is a graduate of Columbia College (1962), and the Harvard Business School (1964). Since retiring from a career in Wall Street, he has been engaged in a comprehensive independent study of the Sackler Collections at Columbia under the guidance of Professor Robert E. Harrist Jr., the chairman of the Department of Art History and Archeology and a specialist in Chinese Art. A collector of Chinese art for more than twenty years, Mr. Swergold is a trustee of the Freer and Sackler Galleries at the Smithsonian Institution. Eileen Hsiang-ling Hsu received an M.A. in Japanese art history and a Ph.D. in Chinese art history, both from Columbia University. Specializing in Buddhist art, she is an independent scholar and a contractual researcher at the Princeton University Art Museum. She has also written and translated works on Chinese calligraphy, Han pictorial stone carving, and Chinese painting. Her current research focuses on the dichotomy of Buddhist art in the Northern Qi period.

In conjunction with the exhibition the gallery is publishing an extensive exhibition catalogue with essays by Stanley K. Abe of Duke University, Wendi Leigh Adamek of Barnard College, and Dorothy C. Wong of the University of Virginia. The objects, examined in catalogue entries by Chang Quing, Eileen Hsiang-ling Hsu, Annette L. Juliano, Cary Y. Liu, Elinor Pearlstein, and Diana P. Rowan, are lavishly illustrated with photographs by Maggie Nimkin. The 116-page book includes more than 120 illustrations and will be available for $45.

Two lectures are being presented in conjunction with the exhibition. On Thursday, April 17, Sonya Lee, who is on the art history faculty at the University of Southern California, will speak on the topic "Seeing the Buddha's Nirvana on Chinese Steles." On Thursday, May 1, Annette L. Juliano of the art history department at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, will present a lecture entitled "Sleeping on Stone: Mortuary Beds in Sixth-Century China." Both lectures, free and open to the public, will take place at 6:15 p.m. in 930 Schermerhorn Hall. Eileen Hsiang-ling Hsu, will lead an exhibition tour on Thursday, April 24 at 6:15 p.m. in the gallery.

The Sackler Collections at Columbia University encompass nearly three thousand objects and are a major resource for teaching and research. In addition to approximately five hundred works from China, the collections include two hundred fifty objects from Korea, and nearly two thousand from the ancient Near Eastern and other cultures, ranging in date from the Neolithic period to the early twentieth century. Among them are ceramics and objects in bronze, stone, and other materials. Available to students at any stage of their academic careers, from undergraduates to advanced Ph.D. candidates, these works serve the university's larger mission of providing instruction in all aspects of the art and culture of China.

Special exhibition website: Treasures Rediscovered

Major support for the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue comes from the AMS Foundation for the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation, and an anonymous donor. Welcome contributions were also received from Giuseppe Eskenazi, London Dorothy Tapper Goldman James J. Lally Dr. David and Mrs. Elvi Menke and Howard and Mary Ann Rogers. Funding for the project also comes from an endowment established by Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.

Tale and dream: The text and compositional history of the corpus of Epidaurian miracle cures

The corpus of healing reports from the worship of Asklepios at Epidauros, the "Iamata" (cures), survives in the form of four large stelai, IG IV$sp2$ I, 121-4. These fourth-century stelai preserve approximately 70 tales of healings and other miraculous events. It is generally agreed that the corpus represents a collection of tales from individual votive plaques dedicated by suppliants, combined with an oral and/or priestly tradition, but there has been little study of the sources for tales and the manner in which they were compiled. Form-critical analysis of the tales on each stele reveals several groups which share thematic material and/or linguistic style. These groups and patterns suggest divergent sources and a variety of conditions influencing the formation of the tales. Some groups may indicate that officials or votive-sellers could recast the details told them by the grateful patients into a convenient or devotionally correct format, creating resemblances or families of tales. This may have occasionally involved the introduction of narrative elements to reflect the pictorial representation on a votive which a merchant may have already had "in stock." Orally-circulating stories inspired by certain votives or other elements in the sanctuary may also have played a role in forming relationships between disparate tales. The groupings of tales also suggest two or more previous episodes of collection of tales from votives, occurring at different times in the sanctuary's development, and reflecting the aims and concerns of the patients and authorities at different periods. The identification of these groups opens up the possibility of establishing of a relative chronology for the Iamata, which indicates changes over time in the aims and concerns of the sanctuary officials and in the types of dreams and miracles expected by suppliants at different periods. This adds a further level of significance to the study of a corpus which is already a valuable source of information about personal religious thought and activity in the late Classical period.

Votive Stele to Kakasbos - History

ABSTRACT: M. Aur. Eutychiōn from Nysa ad Maeandrum was honoured by both the crowned athletes and . more ABSTRACT: M. Aur. Eutychiōn from Nysa ad Maeandrum was honoured by both the crowned athletes and the Olympic association. In the course of his successful career with over fifty victories in sacred games Eutychiōn gained the citizenships of Ephesus, Sparta, Elis and other cities. Although he re-ceived honorary titles like paradoxos and pleistonikes, he seems not to have completed the periodos. His victories are listed in chronological order. As a boxer and pancratist he won many sacred games not only in Asia Minor but also in Greece and in Italy. Eutychiōn was active from the 230s to the 250s.

ÖZ: Makalede, bir Karia kenti olan Nysa ad Maeandrum’da, tiyatronun batı terasında yapılan kazılar sırasında, devşirme olarak kullanılan ve daha sonra tiyatro önüne getirilen bir heykel kaidesi tanıtılmaktadır. Nysa’lı ağır sıklet sporcu M. Aur. Eutykhiōn, stephanitler ve Olympik dernek tarafından onurlandırılmaktadır. Yazıtta sporcunun aldığı galibiyetler katılım yaşına göre sınıflandırılmıştır. Asia Minor’da, Yu­na­nistan’da ve İtalya’da bir çok başarıya imza atan sporcu hem boksör hem de pankratist olarak kariyerine devam etmiştir. Her iki disiplinde aktif yarışan sporcu sayısı oldukça az sayıda olduğu için Eu­tykhiōn’nun yazıtı önem arz etmektedir. Taşın kesilerek tekrar kullanılması nedeniyle yazıtta yer yer ek­sik­liklerin görülmesi yazıt restorasyonunu zorunlu kılmaktadır. Eksikliklerle birlikte Eutykhiōn’un elliden fazla müsabaka kazandığı anlaşılmaktadır ve Nysa kentinin şimdiye kadar bilinen en başarılı sporcusu olduğu söylenebilir. Kutsal oyunlardaki bu başarıları paradoksos ve pleistonikes gibi sıfatlarla taçlan­mış olsa da, periodos’u tamamlayamamıştır. Yazıtı tarihlendirmek için bazı veriler söz konusudur: Spor­cunun katıldığı müsabakalardan Roma’da Athena Promakhos onuruna düzenlenen agon, İmparator Gor­dianus III Dönemi’nde kutlanmaya başlamıştır. Ayrıca, Aphrodisias’ta kutlanan Gordianeia oyunları da aynı imparator onuruna düzenlenmekteydi.

ABSTRACT: In this article nine new inscriptions from the Antalya Museum are presented. The first . more ABSTRACT: In this article nine new inscriptions from the Antalya Museum are presented. The first three are dedications to deities (no.1 is a dedication to Zeus Keraunios, no. 2 is a dedication to Deme­ter, no. 3 is a dedication to Dioscuroi) and the others are funerary inscriptions. Their provenance are unknown except nos. 6–7. According to the letter forms and style employed all of these in­scriptions, except no. 4, dated to the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. The translation of the inscriptions is as follows:

No. 1: Arteimas, son of Meleagros, (presented) (this) votive offering to Zeus Keraunios.

No. 2: Tharsylos (presented) (this) (votive offering) to Demeter.

No. 3: Eias (presented) (this) votive offering to Dioscuroi hearing the prayers.

No. 4: Mnesibios and Arsasis (made this) for Hermasasis, their daughter.

No. 5: Artemon, son of Troilos, son of Meidias (built the stele) for Artemon, his son and for Artemeis, his wife, in memory.

No. 6: Epaphrodeitos and Trokondas (built the stele) for their mother, in memory.

No. 7: Nanne, daughter of Orestes II, son of Menis (built the stele) for her husband Artemeis, grandson of Attasarbas, son of Attes, in memory.

No. 8: Tettius Valerius Fronto who served in the army, (built the tomb) for himself, for his wife, Ouaua and for his father, Lucius Valerius L. Fronto, son of Lucius?, from the tribe Collina, as a memorial and mark of affection while he is alive. If anyone does harm the tomb, he must be responsible to the gods!.”

No. 9: Eukarpianos, (son of Eukarpos, built the stele) for Glaukos, his own son, in memory.

ÖZ: Bu makalede Antalya Müzesi’nden dokuz yeni yazıt tanıtılmaktadır. İlk üç yazıt, tanrılara sunulmuş adak yazıtlarıdır (no.1 Zeus Keraunios’a adak, no.2 Demeter’e adak, no. 3 ise Dioskour’lara adak). Diğerleri ise mezar yazıtlarıdır. No. 6 ve 7 dışında yazıtların buluntu yerleri bilinmemektedir. No.4 dışında bütün yazıtlar harf karakterlerine ve yazıtların yazım tarzlarına göre İS 2. ve 3. yüzyıllara tarihlendirilmektedirler. Yazıtların çevirileri aşağıda verilmiştir:

No. 1: Meleagros oğlu Arteimas, Zeus Keraunios için (bu altarı adadı).

No. 2: Tharsylos, Demeter için (adak olarak bu taşı diktirdi).

No. 3: Eias, duaları işiten (tanrılar) Dioskour’lar için adak olarak (diktirdi).

No. 4: Mnesibios ve Arsasis kızları Hermasasis için (bu steli diktirdi).

No. 5: Meidias oğlu Troilos oğlu Artemon, oğlu Artemon ve karısı Artemeite için anısı vesilesiyle (bu mezar taşını yaptırdı).

No. 6: Epaphrodeitos ve Trokondas anneleri için anısı vesilesiyle (yaptırdılar).

No. 7: Menis oğlu Orestes II’nin kızı Nanne, Attasarbas oğlu Attes’in oğlu olan kocası Artemes için anısı vesilesiyle (bu mezar taşını dikti).

No. 8: Askerlik görevi yapmış er Tettius Valerius Fronto, henüz yaşarken kendisi ve karısı Ouaua ve babası, Collina tribus’undan Lucius oğlu? Lucius Valerius Fronto için sevgisi ve anısı nedeniyle (bu mezarı yaptırdı). Eğer herhangi biri mezara zarar verecek olursa, tanrılara karşı sorumlu olsun.

No. 9: (Eukarpos oğlu) Eukarpianos, kendisi ve oğlu Glaukos için anısı vesilesiyle (bu mezar taşını diktirdi).


A votive stele carved of a fine grained limestone. The front side of the monument, fully decorated, is divided into three main tiers with niches and Buddhist images the other three sides are only partially carved in the top tier. The main figures refer to religious episodes described in key Buddhist texts. An incomplete inscription bears the names of the donors who paid for the monument.

This is a rare example where the inscription is incomplete, probably because the dedication had to be made on a certain auspicious day and the carver did not have enough time to include the names of all the donors.

This unfinished votive stele, carved of a fine grained limestone, dates to about 550-577 AD. The front side of the monument, fully decorated, is divided into three main tiers with niches and Buddhist images the other three sides are only partially carved in the top tier. The main figures refer to religious episodes described in key Buddhist texts. An incomplete inscription bears the names of the donors who paid for the monument.

This is a rare example where the inscription is incomplete, probably because the dedication had to be made on a certain auspicious day and the carver did not have enough time to include the names of all the donors.

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A betyl (Semitic: bait-el = house of God Greek: baitylos) is an aniconical God symbol, usually in the form of a vertical rectangular plate or stele. It can also be a negative form in a niche. Often there are several betyls in a niche next to each other, on top of each other or grouped together. "The betyl is not a representation of the God, neither an image of the God, nor an idol. As a medium of the presence of the God, however, it can also experience cultic veneration. This in turn means that in the act of worship, one could offer sacrifices and gifts to the betyl." (R. Wenning, 2007. Transl. UiU)

Unknown Artist

‘With his right hand raised in the ‘abhaya mudra’ and the left in the ‘varada mudra’, Shakyamuni Buddha stands flanked by the two bodhisattvas, probably Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta. Carved in high relief on the halo are celestial musicians and a pair of ‘apsaras’ (celestial beings) that support an image of the seated Buddha, possibly Prabhutaratna, the Buddha of the past, who vowed to be present whenever the Lotus Sutra was invoked. The stele is carved from an exceptionally fine-grained limestone similar to that used in a large group of recently discovered 6th-century Buddhist sculptures from the Qingzhou region of Shangdong province. The quality of the stone allowed for a high degree of refinement and meticulous detail in the carving, making this an especially fine and beautiful example of early Chinese Buddhist art.’

‘The Asian Collections: Art Gallery of New South Wales’. pg.92
© 2003 Trustees, Art Gallery of New South Wales

The Votives Project

Votive offerings in the form of models of body parts are known from sacred sites across the ancient world. The common assumption is that many were linked to requests for divine intervention in instances of disease, illness, injury and other health conditions. Arguments can be made for alternative interpretations (my own view is that we should consider them as more complex multivalent objects) but let’s put that aside for the moment and focus on the dominant idea that, in the first instance at least, most were connected with health.

One question I often get asked, and one that I regularly ask myself, is did they work? Do the thousands of anatomical votives and related offerings (inscriptions, relief plaques etc.) from across the Mediterranean each attest to an occasion on which a petitioner was successfully cured of an ailment by the intervention of a divine figure? Similarly, if they didn’t always work then why did people keep making these offerings?

L0058489 Votive offering in the shape of a bladder, Roman, 200 BCE-20 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images [email protected] http://wellcomeimages.org Objects like this were left at healing sanctuaries and other religious sites as offerings to gods such as Asklepios, the Greco-Roman god of medicine. It was intended either to indicate the part of the body that needed help or as thanks for a cure. Made from bronze or terracotta, as in this case, a large range of different votive body parts were made and offered up in their thousands. Although it originated in earlier cultures, this practice became very popular in Roman Italy – particularly between the 400s and 100s BCE. maker: Unknown maker Place made: Roman Republic and Empire made: 200 BCE – 200 CE Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

L0058429 Terracotta votive offering of a left thumb, Roman, 100 BCE-3 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images [email protected] http://wellcomeimages.org Objects like this thumb were left at healing sanctuaries and other religious sites as offerings to gods such as Asklepios, the Greco-Roman god of medicine. It was intended either to indicate the part of the body that needed help or as thanks for a cure. Made from bronze or terracotta, as in this case, a large range of different votive body parts were made and offered up in their thousands. Although it originated in earlier cultures, this practice became very popular in Roman Italy – particularly between the 400s and 100s BCE. Perhaps this donor left the thumb because his or hers was broken or sore? maker: Unknown maker Place made: Roman Republic and Empire made: 100 BCE – 300 CE Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

L0058428 Votive left foot, Roman, 200 BCE-200 CE Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images [email protected] http://wellcomeimages.org Votive offerings are representations of afflicted body parts presented to a god, either in the hope of a cure or as thanks for one. This terracotta object may show the condition club foot, where the foot has not developed properly and causes difficulty when walking. maker: Unknown maker Place made: Roman Republic and Empire made: 200 BCE – 200 CE Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The answer may depend upon whether we think that anatomical votives were left at sacred sites as part of the initial request – to seal the deal, guide the attention of the deity to the specifics of the request, perhaps even jog their memory – or at a later stage, making them true ex-votos designed to give thanks and to commemorate a successful outcome. Either way, it is difficult to imagine that all petitioners left a sanctuary free of whatever ailment, injury, disease or illness had brought them there. Without straying too far into the dangerous waters surrounding retrospective diagnosis, it can be surmised that at least some of them would have been considerably impaired or suffering great pain (Graham, forthcoming), and we need only look at the so-called ‘miracle tales’ (iamata) from sites such as Epidaurus (Greece) to learn quite how debilitating some of the conditions that prompted people to seek divine intervention might be. On the other hand, some conditions might have cleared up on their own, or responded to supplementary forms of treatment administered by doctors or other healing specialists. If a visit to a healing sanctuary and/or a vow had been made in conjunction with these remedies an apparently spontaneous cure might well be explained in terms of successful divine intervention.

L0007389EA Relief in the form of a shrine, an offering from Archinos to Amphiaraos. First half of the 4th century BC. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images.

Equally, it may not even have mattered what the realities of the ‘success rate’ of each sanctuary or deity were (there were no NHS performance statistics to be collected in those days!). The mere presence of votive offerings testified to the potential healing powers of the relevant deity, intimating that these powers had intervened successfully to cure the bodies of other pilgrims. The accumulation of these objects in sacred places implied through their sheer numbers that divine treatment was a very real possibility. The iamata of the great Asclepieia of the eastern Mediterranean also spoke directly of the curative powers of the god.

“Nicanor, a lame man. While he was sitting wide-awake [in the sanctuary], a boy snatched his crutch from him and ran away. But Nicanor got up, pursued him, and so became well” (IG 4.1.121-22: Stele 1.16).

We might be suspicious of the extent to which these reflect real events or were a creative form of advertising on the part of cult officials but, together with other offerings and the presence of pilgrims with bodies at varying stages of the healing process, they suggested that if you behaved appropriately Asclepius was at least capable of bestowing a cure. The belief that vows could work was evidently important.

So far I have used the terms ‘cure’ and ‘healing’ interchangeably but we may want to think more critically about exactly what we mean when we ask whether ancient anatomical votives worked to ‘cure’ or to ‘heal’ petitioners. These terms can actually imply very different things, as anthropologists Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart (1999 2008, p. 67) have pointed out:

“curing – the treatment of a specific isolatable disease syndrome – can usefully be distinguished from healing – the treatment of the person and their social relations as a means of dealing with the experience of illness and its resolution in recovery or otherwise” (emphasis added).

A quick internet search reveals that this distinction is employed across the medical and psychological sciences but, as far as I am aware, Strathern and Stewart’s study has not been integrated into work on ancient healing cult, nor have issues of curing vs. healing been explored in this context (although please do tell me if you know otherwise!). Reading even just a little about it has made me think in new ways about the efficacy of anatomical votives and how distinguishing between curing and healing might allow us to explore ancient understandings of health and the function of votive cult from different angles.

So, did an ancient votive petitioner actually expect what we, in the modern world, would think of as a complete cure – a total reversal of their symptoms, the removal of a debilitating condition, disease or tumour, the disappearance of an infected wound – or did they understand the act of seeking divine help as part of a more broadly defined healing process? Were cult activities a ‘means of dealing with the experience of illness’? That is, were they a way of making sense of why you were suffering, of treating the whole person, of making it easier to cope with your symptoms, rather than removing the specific ailment itself? If so, how might this be achieved? Communicating with the gods through mutual exchanges and ritual was a fundamental part of maintaining the security and stability of life in the ancient world. It must have made sense for people to consider their own personal health and well-being as one of the things that the gods could choose to influence and, as a consequence, it would be similarly reasonable to connect any ill health or misfortune with an imbalance in that relationship or dissatisfaction on the part of the divine. After all, in some cases illness was thought to be divinely inspired, a form of divine punishment that might result from improper behaviour deemed offensive to the gods, including, perhaps, inattention to their needs and a lapse in the performance of certain acts of worship. As Meredith McGuire (1990, p. 285) has observed, “since our important social relationships, our very sense of who we are, are intimately connected with our bodies and their routine functioning, being ill is disruptive and disordering.” The act of making a prayer, a vow or an offering, of seeking to ensure that the relationship between yourself and the divine was as it should be and that ‘all was well with the world’ may have been key to ensuring that ‘all was well’ with your body, even if you continued to experience pain or other symptoms. Offering a votive might, in other words, address the holistic experience and expectations surrounding illness and its causes, as much as it was ever expected to make it go away completely.

A votive torso: opening up the whole person to the intervention of the gods? L0058445 Roman, 200 BCE-200 CE Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images

As Strathern and Stewart (2008, p. 67) note, ‘curing, narrowly conceived, may be said to separate mind and body, whereas healing can be said to unite them.’ Anatomical votives by their very nature compel us to focus on the body and its constituent parts, but maybe some were intended to refer to a more general sense of physical health and well-being, an opening up or sharing of the body and its essence with the divine. As a consequence we might consider re-examining the emphasis that we place on the choice of body parts dedicated and the role of these material objects as direct signifiers of a person’s state of health.

Perhaps too we could think about revising prevailing ideas about how ancient people conceived of illness, impairment and health. I suspect that in many instances the lines that we as scholars can draw so easily between categories of ‘healing’ and ‘curing’ were blurred and it may be inappropriate to try to apply these labels too strictly. Nevertheless, for me at least, they have made me think more critically about exactly what anatomical votive offerings associated with health aimed to do and what the expected outcomes were. In many cases, the sense of well-being resulting from communicating directly with the divine realm, sharing that experience in a communal setting with other pilgrims and petitioners and knowing that others have done the same before you perhaps resulted in a sort of healing of a person’s sense of self and bodily security which meant that even if no direct cure was forthcoming votive cult really could be said to have ‘worked’ to restore unbalanced bodies.

Graham, E-J. Forthcoming. Mobility impairment in the sanctuaries of early Roman Italy. In C. Laes (ed.). Disabilities in Antiquity. London and New York, Routledge.

Small Buddhist votive stele

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Authority and Display in Sixth-Century Etruria: The Vicchio Stele

The discovery of an inscribed stele at the sanctuary of Poggio Colla (Vicchio, FI) provides new information about the sanctuary and its cults and raises important questions about literacy and elite authority at the northern edge of Etruria in the Archaic Period. The Vicchio stele has a very long series of inscriptions, possibly the longest Etruscan lapidary inscription to date. As law, the stele could have been consulted and interpreted by the literate few, but its authority would have been easily understood even without being read. It is as powerful a symbol as the imposing temple that arose in its place in the next century, a temple whose own authority rested on the foundation, physical and symbolic, of the Vicchio stele.

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The Stele and Its Significance to Old Testament Historiography

Stela (pl. stelae) is a Latin word derived from the Greek “stele”, which means pillar or vertical tablet. Stele is a carved stone block , slab, or pillar , generally decorated with relief sculpture on one face. erected for funerary or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living—inscribed, carved in relief, or painted onto the slab.

What are the uses of a stela?

As tombstones, they were originally erected outside the tombs, to mark the offering place and to name the tomb owner. In temples and sanctuaries, they were set up by individuals to worship the gods , but also to commemorate special events, such as successful expeditions to the mines in the desert or victories over foreign powers. In addition to their funerary and votive uses, stelae were also used as boundary markers for fields, estates, administrative districts or even countries. It is also used to commemorate military victories.

Steles were used especially by the ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Greeks as grave and site markers, as memorials and monuments, and for similar purposes. Stele were also found in the Mayan area of Mesoamerica to honor historical events. In Babylon, the Code of Hammurabi was engraved on a tall stele. The largest number of stelae was produced in Attica, chiefly as grave markers.

The huge number of stelae surviving from ancient Egypt and in Central America constitutes one of the largest and most significant sources of information on those civilizations. They were widely used in the Ancient Near East, Greece, Egypt, Ethiopia, and, quite independently, in China and some Buddhist cultures (see the Nestorian Stele), and, more surely independently, by Mesoamerican civilizations, notably the Olmec and Maya.

An informative stele of Tiglath-Pileser III is preserved in the British Museum. Two stelae built into the walls of a church are major documents relating to the Etruscan language. Unfinished standing stones, set up without inscriptions from Libya in North Africa to Scotland were monuments of pre-literate Megalithic cultures in the Late Stone Age. In 1489, 1512, and 1663 CE, the Kaifeng Jews of China left these stone monuments to preserve their origin and history. Despite repeated flooding of the Yellow River, destroying their synagogue time and time again, these stelae survived to tell their tale.

An obelisk is a specialized kind of stele. The Celtic high crosses of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are specialized stelae. Gravestones with inscribed epitaph are also kinds of stelae.

Most recently, in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, the architect Peter Eisenman created a field of some 2,700 blank stelae. The memorial is meant to be read not only as the field, but also as an erasure of data that refer to memory of the Holocaust.

Lists of some Stelae which are important in the OT historiography:

· 1. The Victory Stele of Naram-Sim (twenty-third century B.C.E.), the grandson of Sargon I.

Description: With his soldiers, the Akkadian king triumphantly ascends a mountain whose peak almost touches the stars, while his victims, the mountain-dwelling Lullabians, fall beneath his feet or plunge headlong from the cliffs.

Background/ Significance: Naram-Sim is the grandson of Sargon the I. Sargon I was considered as a dynamic leader and has been called as the first empire builder of history. Naram-Sin continued the reign and victory of his grandfather. At that time the city of Ebla, a rival of Akkad located in northern Syria was destroyed by Naram-Sim. Excavations at this site (Tell Mardikh) have uncovered a cache of some 16,000 tablets contained creation and flood stories, personal names known also in Israel’s patriarchal tradition, and place names familiar in biblical tradition. But the Ebla evidence is too early to give direct light on the ancestral period, but it helps to understand its linguistic and cultural background.

Cuneiform Documents

· 2. The Stele of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) Age of the Patriarchs

Description: It is a monolith nearly eight feet tall, inscribed with a code of laws. The relief at the top depicts Hammurabi, King of Babylon, standing before the sun god Shamash, who extends a rod and ring, symbols of royal authority to the worshipping king.

Background/Significance: The Hebrews might have learned Mesopotamian law in their Amorite homeland. More likely, however, they were influenced by the famous Code of Hammurabi through the Caananites among whom they later settled. One of the most brilliant achievements of Hammurabi’s empire, this code proved and standardized the administration of justice. It set the basic pattern of jurisprudence for centuries to come, and influenced Israelite law, known as the Covenant Code, in both style and content.

Egyptian Documents

· 3. The Stele of Merneptah (1220-1210 BC) Age of the Patriarchs

Description: Under the winged sun disc stands the god Amon in double representation. The king is also shown twice, standing before the god with a sickle sword in one hand and a scepter in the other. Behind him stands the goddess Mut (extreme left) and the falcon headed god Horus (extreme right)

Background/Significance: It contains the earliest mention of “Israel” outside the Bible. Lines 55 said that Hurru was the land of the Hurrians, the Horites of the O.T., and the term was used in Egyptian texts to refer to Palestine and Syria as far north as the Amorite territory. Since Israel is here made parallel with Hurru, we may surmise that the former was not insignificant tribe, but an important and strong people by this time. However, the fact that the hieroglyphic determinative for people rather than the land is used with the name suggests that Israel was not yet permanently settled. This would fit the O.T. context, for Joshua’s campaigns were most probably conducted during the third quarter of the 13 th century.

Moabite Documents

· 4. The Stele of Mesha (830 BC)

Description: In the stele, the ruler boasts of his victory over the king of northern Israel. Discovered in 1868 at Dibon (Dibhan) in Transjordan, the stone was broken by some Bedouin, and only fragments could be taken to the Louvre for restoration.

Background/ Significance: Its importance lies in its close link with the O.T. narrative.

Aramaic Documents · 5. The Milqart Stele (850 BC)

Description: Written in Aramaic at the base of the figure in bas-relief of the god to whom it is dedicated (Milqart)

Background/Significance: There are three royal inscriptions on the steles from the ninth century B.C., the famous Moabite Stone, the Kilamuwa stele, and the Milqart stele. The Milqart stele is the earliest inscribed monument bearing the name of the king of Damascus—Benhadad I, son of Tabrimmon, son of Hezion, the contemporary of Asa and Baasha (I Kings 15:8). Apart from the evidence of the stone and the Zakir stele, we are entirely dependent on the O.T. records for the century and a half of Israel’s struggle with Syria.

· 6. Zakir Stele (755 BC)

Description: The stele commemorates a victory of Zakir over Ben-hada, son of Hazael, king of Syria, and his allies, at Hazrak, the Assyrian Hatarikka and the Hadrach of Zech, where it is mentioned along with Hamath as a city of some importance in the northern boundaries of Syria. Barhada, son of Hazael, mentioned in 2 Kings 8:24, the contemporary of Joash of Israel and the prophet Elisha.

Background/Significance: The O.T. history if Israel’s dealing with Syria at this time is one of peculiar interest since it contains the weird, dying prophecy of the prophet Elisha of the impending defeat of Syria by Israel, at a stage when Israel’s fortune concerning the Syrian power had reached their depths of humiliation.

Under Jehoahaz, Israel had suffered the most crushing defeat, including the loss of some of her cities at the hands of Hazael. The O.T. narratives does not furnish us with any details about Joash’s defeat of Ben-hadad, nor does it sketch in the wider political background. With the help of Zakir inscription we are now in a position to do so, as with other insufficiently narrated events of the O.T., from a source outside its pages.

The O.T. historian attributes the defeat of Syria to the goodness of Yaweh, but does not reveal what form this providential deliverance took. From the Zakir text we become aware of an important historical factor, until now unknown, which must have contributed largely to the Syrian defeat.

· 7. Esarhaddon Stele

Description: The stele of Esarhaddon, standin 10.5’ high, was erected in northern Syria to commemorate that ruler’s conquest of Egypt. With his right hand the king offers liberation to deities pictured next to their respective symbols—the crescent, winged sun disc, star, and lace. In his left hand he grips a mace and holds ropes on which two prisoners are leashed. The one kneeling is doubtless Pharaoh Tirhakah, whose decisive defeat is described on the inscription written across the lower of this stele, found at Zinjirili in Northern Syria.


According to Robert T. Boyd, “The Christians may think it is the purpose of archaeology to prove the Bible true and such affirmation fails to do justice to the Bible as a book which bears its own claim to man’s faith and devotion”. Like every true scientist, he is seeking knowledge. Ideas held earlier may be confirmed, or it may be necessary to correct them in the light of newer discoveries.

You may even bring to light a clay tablet or an inscribed stone that pinpoints a person or an event mentioned in the history or it may relate to the Bible itself. Archaeology gives information which offers a vast amount of support to the Bible and its historical claims,

Resources: Wikipedia Understanding the Old Testament by Bernhard W. Anderson Tells, Tombs, and Treasures by Robert T. Boyd Documents from the Old Testament by Dr. Winton Thomas

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