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Rectangular Ptolemaic Shields


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In order to distinguish Hellenistic units between the various Hellenistic factions, it's nice to include those little details that are unique to each faction.

I noticed that Ptolemies used pretty unique looking, curved rectangular shields alongside the more traditional types. 

I first noticed them in the Palestrina Nile Mosaic from Italy, quite a while ago, but didn't know what to make of them. Now I've come across enough examples, including local Egyptian sources to feel relatively confident in my suggestion. 

The examples from the Palestrina Nile Mosaic, with 2 soldiers, left and centre, carrying rectangular shields with depictions of scorpions.  

Palestrina Ptolemaic rectangular shields.jpg

 

Primary Ptolemaic Egyptian references in the form of terracotta warriors, including a cavalry man and an infantry man:

Ptolemaic figurine square shield.jpgPtolemaic square shield idea.png

 

Actual rectangular terracotta model shields from Ptolemaic Period Egypt:

The first shield has a depiction of "Antaios, god of the Antaiopolite Nome, the Tenth Upper Egyptian Nome"   

AN00171252_001_l.jpg

 

The second one bears an image of Harpokrates. 

Ptolemaic rectangular model shield from the Fayum Egypt with figure of Harpokrates 1st century BC.jpg

At a first glance, they actually look similar to the rectangular scutum of the murmillo gladiators of Imperial Rome, but the Ptolemaic examples seem to predate them.

@Alexandermb, @wackyserious

@Nescio, any thoughts? 

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The important question is when those sculptures are dated. If it's closer to 300 BC, then you're on to something; if it's closer to 100 BC, then it's probably Roman influence. Furthermore, the archaeological record from Ptolemaic Egypt tends to be virtually indistinguishable from Roman Egypt, hence the term Greco-Roman Egypt (332 BC to AD 641).

4 hours ago, Sundiata said:

Primary Ptolemaic Egyptian references in the form of terracotta warriors, including a cavalry man and an infantry man:

Ptolemaic figurine square shield.jpgPtolemaic square shield idea.png

They appear to be naked, so maybe Celtic mercenaries?

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46 minutes ago, Nescio said:

The important question is when those sculptures are dated. If it's closer to 300 BC, then you're on to something; if it's closer to 100 BC, then it's probably Roman influence. Furthermore, the archaeological record from Ptolemaic Egypt tends to be virtually indistinguishable from Roman Egypt, hence the term Greco-Roman Egypt (332 BC to AD 641).

Dating is indeed incredibly difficult, and Roman influence tangible in the 1st century BC, but not entirely relevant. Cleopatra VII is one of the Ptolemaic heroes, which suggests that our Ptolemies go all the way up to the Roman conquest. 

The Palestrina mosaic with scorpions (a typical Egyptian symbol) also suggest indigenous origin. So do the depictions of Harpocrates and Antaios. Do these shields actually appear in a pre-Imperial Roman context to suggest Roman influence anyway? I honestly don't know, I personally only know them from the murmilo gladiators which post-date these pieces.

 

53 minutes ago, Nescio said:

They appear to be naked, so maybe Celtic mercenaries?

Perhaps, but again, the Palestrina mosaic places them among units equipped in a typical Hellenistic fashion, not Celtic. Although I won't rule out Galatian influence, although they were specifically known for their Thyreos shields, weren't they...

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10 minutes ago, Sundiata said:

The Palestrina mosaic with scorpions (a typical Egyptian symbol) also suggest indigenous origin.

Romans associated cats, crocodiles, and scorpions, all exotic animals not living in Italy, with exotic Egypt; see e.g. iconography on Roman coins.

Praeneste (Palestrina) was already under Roman influence long before Rome made its first conquest (Veii). The Palaestrina Mosaic is magnificent, but it is a Roman mosaic depicting what some Romans imagined Egypt, an exotic place for most, would look like; it's rather similar to chinoiserie and other forms of orientalism in the Early Modern Period.

The mosaic is an artistic Roman fantasy, not a reliable source from Ptolemaic Egypt.

10 minutes ago, Sundiata said:

Dating is indeed incredibly difficult, and Roman influence tangible in the 1st century BC, but not entirely relevant. Cleopatra VII is one of the Ptolemaic heroes, which suggests that our Ptolemies go all the way up to the Roman conquest. 

While Ptolemaic Egypt was officially conquered only in 30 BC, it was de facto a Roman vassal state since c. 200 BC, with Roman advisors and legions being sent to Egypt to defend it against Seleucid expansionism.

11 minutes ago, Genava55 said:

Until the first half of the 1st century AD, I don't think the rectangular scutum has been popular among the legions.

That's true. The question is when and where curved, rectangular tower shields originated. Perhaps an occassional variant of the thureos? I'm not claiming it definitely originated by the Romans, but I'm not convinced it's Ptolemaic invention either.

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23 minutes ago, Nescio said:

Romans associated cats, crocodiles, and scorpions, all exotic animals not living in Italy, with exotic Egypt; see e.g. iconography on Roman coins.

Praeneste (Palestrina) was already under Roman influence long before Rome made its first conquest (Veii). The Palaestrina Mosaic is magnificent, but it is a Roman mosaic depicting what some Romans imagined Egypt, an exotic place for most, would look like; it's rather similar to chinoiserie and other forms of orientalism in the Early Modern Period.

The mosaic is an artistic Roman fantasy, not a reliable source from Ptolemaic Egypt.

While Ptolemaic Egypt was officially conquered only in 30 BC, it was de facto a Roman vassal state since c. 200 BC, with Roman advisors and legions being sent to Egypt to defend it against Seleucid expansionism.

That's true. The question is when and where curved, rectangular tower shields originated. Perhaps an occassional variant of the thureos? I'm not claiming it definitely originated by the Romans, but I'm not convinced it's Ptolemaic invention either.

tower shield and similar big shields  are more old than Romans.

image.jpeg.6d62bade5779d1051637a4e25f4bcdab.jpeg

Sumerians did it first.

So is normal see an older version.

Resultado de imagen para sumerian shields

Mycenean.

Resultado de imagen para tower shield history

image.jpeg.2d5b7e3f7e060a57954cd15038b19de9.jpeg

Edited by Lion.Kanzen
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4 minutes ago, Lion.Kanzen said:

tower shield and similar big shields  are more old than Romans.

Sumerians did it first.

So is normal see an older version.

Mycenean.

True though probably irrelevant: if such shields didn't appear in Egypt for multiple centuries prior, then those Hellenistic ones are most likely a reinvention rather than a continuation of Bronze Age tradition.

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2 hours ago, Nescio said:

Romans associated cats, crocodiles, and scorpions, all exotic animals not living in Italy, with exotic Egypt; see e.g. iconography on Roman coins.

Praeneste (Palestrina) was already under Roman influence long before Rome made its first conquest (Veii). The Palaestrina Mosaic is magnificent, but it is a Roman mosaic depicting what some Romans imagined Egypt, an exotic place for most, would look like; it's rather similar to chinoiserie and other forms of orientalism in the Early Modern Period.

The mosaic is an artistic Roman fantasy, not a reliable source from Ptolemaic Egypt.

Huh? But I said that the mosaic is from Italy, and that I didn't know what to make of it until I saw the same shield type appearing in primary references from Ptolemaic Egypt itself. 4 of them from Egypt. Only one from Italy, depicting an Egyptian scene. Is there anything fantastical about the warriors depicted in the Palestrina mosaic? I've criticised the fantasy (fantastical monsters) in the mosaic myself, but not the warriors, which seem to be on point from what I can tell. 

Also i said:

2 hours ago, Sundiata said:

So do the depictions of Harpocrates and Antaios.

 Especially the depiction of Harpocrates is relevant. 

 

2 hours ago, Nescio said:

While Ptolemaic Egypt was officially conquered only in 30 BC, it was de facto a Roman vassal state since c. 200 BC, with Roman advisors and legions being sent to Egypt to defend it against Seleucid expansionism.

Yes I know, but what's the relevance if we have Cleopatra VII as a recruitable hero? Our Ptolemies go until 30 BC, not 200 BC. Otherwise we should remove Cleopatra, and might as well remove Romanized units from the Seleucid roster as well. 

 

2 hours ago, Nescio said:

That's true. The question is when and where curved, rectangular tower shields originated. Perhaps an occassional variant of the thureos? I'm not claiming it definitely originated by the Romans, but I'm not convinced it's Ptolemaic invention either.

I don't think they qualify as tower shields, they're significantly smaller. Either way, rectangular tower shields were used by Persians, who occupied Egypt as well. We're also not arguing about who invented these types of shields. Just whether or not they were used by Ptolemies, whether they were under Roman protection or not. Also, if we have primary references of these shields from Ptolemaic Egypt, the question is if we actually have any such references from pre-Imperial Rome? Either way, I don't think it's relevant because I'm convinced these shields aren't in any way related to Roman shields to begin with...  

These guys didn't take any issue with the references it seems:

See the 4th reference in the orignal post for this particular type:

NI8TeqH.jpg

(so we're actually talking about two distinct types of rectangular shields)

 

This one uses the mosaic as reference:

7e5f25817a6e849463096232089a0bff.jpg

"Libyan" after a terracotta "from the Fayoum"

744503f0645c7d89ebad277126610154-1.jpg.ce93926a8d33aab5a6ee85a68d73e217.jpg

 

Looks good, believable and even probable to me. I like it :) 

2rSbn5k.jpg

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@Sundiata, you know I don't necessarily disagree with you. What I'm fundamentally saying is be careful and critical (as the approach should be towards all sources). If something appears in 2nd C BC Egypt or later then it doesn't automatically mean it's an Egyptian innovation; it could easily be the result of Roman, Celtic, Macedonian, Persian, Kushite, etc. influence. If it's from 3rd C BC or earlier, we could discount Roman influence; if from the 4th C, Celtic; if from the 5th C, Macedonian; if from the 7th C, Persian.

As for those smaller rectangular shields, you might be on to something; now find more references, preferably with proper dating. :)

14 hours ago, Sundiata said:

Yes I know, but what's the relevance if we have Cleopatra VII as a recruitable hero? Our Ptolemies go until 30 BC, not 200 BC. Otherwise we should remove Cleopatra, and might as well remove Romanized units from the Seleucid roster as well.

Roman influence does not mean Roman. Using things from the 1st C BC for 0 A.D.'s Ptolemies is fine. The Ptolemaic kingdom was de facto a Roman “ally” for longer than it was an independent great power (c. 170 vs 120 years). I do wonder though why the Seleucids have Romanized champions but not the Ptolemies.

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On 1/5/2020 at 10:10 PM, Nescio said:

The Palaestrina Mosaic is magnificent, but it is a Roman mosaic depicting what some Romans imagined Egypt, an exotic place for most, would look like; it's rather similar to chinoiserie and other forms of orientalism in the Early Modern Period.

The mosaic is an artistic Roman fantasy, not a reliable source from Ptolemaic Egypt.

I never seen an author dismissing this mosaic. I agree on the idea it is not the perfect representation for the entire Ptolemaic period and that is I kind of exotic representation of Egypt but at my knowledge it is a reliable piece of evidence for the end of the Ptolemaic period (1st century BC). The author of the mosaic has clearly seen Egypt.

I don't see why the author would have made up the rectangular shield. It is not a common representation in heroic and mythological depictions of the Hellenistic period.

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I found some interesting images for hellenic infantry with rectangles shields :

In this case i found a nubian rectangle shield, probably influenced by ptolemaics, or a ptolemaic mercenary.

327bed59ada45aae59204a386e387b49.jpg.c2dfd9a05de24b260127d9e4965905b7.jpg

Hellenic Rectangle shield like roman shield.

03c6a205815f57706fff1211e3423a1f.jpg.15eef48f746e2c67e2f2cae81fabcbd6.jpg

General wiew of ptol infantry.

7e5f25817a6e849463096232089a0bff.thumb.jpg.98681f867230ec5ae6feba3b5225e84e.jpg

Ptol and Sele retangular shield cavalry.

a5f5927433341494f1f3bbb9f3b536a0.jpg.f12238f7abaa4a1bf58879d85796a222.jpge8c2b0cc7875cbb8870cb109d2eae993--armies-ancient-greek.jpg.903ef9c77f128ce4a879581d3c75d082.jpg

 

Edited by imperium
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On 6/11/2020 at 12:26 PM, Genava55 said:

I never seen an author dismissing this mosaic. I agree on the idea it is not the perfect representation for the entire Ptolemaic period and that is I kind of exotic representation of Egypt but at my knowledge it is a reliable piece of evidence for the end of the Ptolemaic period (1st century BC)

No, I'm not dismissing it, I'm merely urging caution and a critical attitude towards sources.

A detailed monograph on the mosaic is:

P. G. P. Meyboom The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina : Early Evidence of Egyptian Religion in Italy (Leiden 1995)

The author makes a strong case for dating the Fish and Nile mosaics of Palestrina between 120 and 110 BC, i.e. predating the Social War (91–87 BC) and Sulla's refounding, and that probably its creators subsequently went on to make the Fish mosaic in the House of the Fauna in Pompeii (which also had the famous Alexander mosaic), dated between 110 and 100 BC, and the Nilotic mosaic frieze, also in the House of the Faun, dated c. 90 BC, as well as a three other fish mosaics found in Pompeii, and possibly a few more fish mosaics found elsewhere.

It's also noteworthy that in the early 17th C, during the reign of Urban VIII, Palestrina came in the possession of the Barberini, who cut up the mosaic in large sections and shipped them to Rome between 1624 and 1626, and sent them back in 1640 to decorate their new palace in Palestrina (now the local museum). The original mosaic was larger and of a different shape and composition than the current version:

Spoiler

fig7.thumb.png.638179fb347d7963198e835f1778909d.pngfig8.thumb.png.53b03bc050b765fa5de3bca34a3be700.png

(The Barberini were also responsible for melting down two-millennia-old bronze from the Pantheon.)

On 6/11/2020 at 12:26 PM, Genava55 said:

The author of the mosaic has clearly seen Egypt.

Possibly, though not necessarily. It also depends on what you mean with “author”. The artist who made the Alexander Mosaic doesn't have to have been present at the Battle of Issus. Furthermore, those producing chinoiserie in 17th and 18th C Europe rarely visited the Far East. The same is true for the Palestrina mosaic: it contained Hellenistic elements and Egyptian scenes (including legendary animals deemed living in Aithiopia (i.e. Kush)), but was designed and custom-made for the Nymphaeum in Praeneste by a workshop active in Italy.

A very important thing to realize is the proximity of Praeneste and Pompeii to Puteoli (Pozzuoli on the Bay of Naples), which at the time was the international port of Rome and the entry point not only of Egyptian grain, but also of Ptolemaic art.

On 6/11/2020 at 12:26 PM, Genava55 said:

I don't see why the author would have made up the rectangular shield. It is not a common representation in heroic and mythological depictions of the Hellenistic period.

I'm not disputing rectangular shields existed. My point is that just because they're depicted on the Palestrina mosaic doesn't necessarily mean they're Egyptian; they could have been e.g. Italic or Celtic.

Meyboom also gives a nice and short summary of the relations between Ptolemaic Egypt and Rome in an appendix:

Spoiler

p164.thumb.png.e81651297f9551c8d62b71a6be3df7c3.pngp165.thumb.png.0d3306d78ef39c1922524d3d259e00fe.png

p166.thumb.png.7496a951692967c3c5fd76ddca20f11c.png

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1 hour ago, Lion.Kanzen said:

But the rest of equipment  don't look Roman, the interesting is whole equipment.

1 hour ago, Genava55 said:

Celtic I doubt so. Italic maybe. Although the absence of spina and of shield boss is particular for an Italic shield.

1 hour ago, Lion.Kanzen said:

im agree with look italian. But still rare equipemnt may be Romanized troops in North  Africa similar to Numidian "Legionnaire" isn't a Velite.

The Helmet looks Romanized. The other is using Phrygian.

What do you exactly mean with Roman in this particular case? Equipment c. 100 BC was not the same as c. AD 100. Moreover, the Roman provinces of Africa (Carthage) and Macedonia (Macedon, Thessaly, Epirus, and Greece) were established in 146 BC and Asia (Pergamon) in 133 BC, but most of Italy still consisted of allies that only became Roman in the aftermath of the Social War (91–87 BC). Naples was Greek, Pompeii Oscan, Praeneste, though in Latium, probably Etruscan. The Hellenistic Mediterranean as a whole and Italy in particular was a continuum when it comes to material culture.

Spoiler

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/The_Growth_of_Roman_Power_in_Italy.jpg

The terracotta in the opening post looks like a Celt. I don't know from when it's dated or where it was found.

The equipment of the group looks Hellenistic, and given their fancy clothes, helmets, and body armour, those were Macedonians, the socio-political upper class of Ptolemaic Egypt. But whether the mosaic artist has actually seen them in Alexandria, or is basing himself on stories from other visitors, on imported Ptolemaic art, art from elsewhere (Greece, Macedon, Pergamon, etc.), or on equipment being used in contemporary Italy, is unknown.

To clarify, I'm neither against nor in favour of giving Ptolemaic units in 0 A.D. those rectangular shields. I simply don't know, I'm not an archaeologist. My point is the mosaic on its own is not a reliable depiction of Ptolemaic Egypt (though it could be used to support what is known from Ptolemaic sources, if any).

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9 minutes ago, Genava55 said:

If someone has access to this article:

https://brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004324763/B9789004324763_016.xml

There is this picture in it (according to google)

image.jpeg.53007599d44e41bf114059146fb40907.jpeg

Thanks! Apparently it's a depiction of Harpocrates, the eternal-child-god. That article is a chapter in a book, here's the relevant page and the next:

Spoiler

277-8.thumb.png.713a8a17ee642e3aecefe388ec8bb193.png

(If you want the full pdf, send me a private message.)

8 minutes ago, Genava55 said:

Someone took it in photo from the museum of Lyon, it said Roman Egypt and it represents Harpocrates

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harpocrates_riding_MBA_Lyon_H2349.jpg

Thanks for the link, it's always good to know where things are from! :)

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