17 May 2013

"I AM HIYA!" Part 2

More Graffiti in Dura Europos (3rd century CE)

Azzanathkona is coming! 

Who on earth has ever even heard of Azzanathkona? Few of us, I admit, but I did warn you (in Part I of "I am Hiya") that she was coming into the picture.

So, here she is (left) as shown on an altar, seated on her throne and flanked by two guardian lions.  A man (presumably the chap who dedicated the altar) makes an offering -- almost dropping the plate on her head -- while a son or servant leads the cow that will be sacrificed.

This is the only certain portrayal of the goddess Azzanathkona.  Her image is so utterly rare because no other temple dedicated to her has ever been found .  Scholars think that the goddess originally hailed from the island of Anatha (Azzanathkona) in the Euphrates river, very far away to the south.  Another theory locates her home in the middle of the vast Nejd desert in Arabia, where a city named Azzanathkona was said to lie south of the Petra-Ctesiphon trade route.  That mysterious place was last spotted by a sergeant in the Long Range Desert Group, the sole survivor of unit lost in the Nejd in 1942: he told of squat round towers emerging from the sand, of his vehicle's wheels breaking through the ground into an ossuary, and of an obligatory Biblical plague of scorpions.

He was clearly raving.

Centre: T. Azzanathkona; E8: Roman garrison HQ
Wherever she came from, her temple (left, central circle) was one of the oldest in Dura, having been built before 12/13 CE.  While its chapels and shrines were constructed by ethnic Syrians, the goddess was also worshipped by Durenes of Greek extraction, most especially among the women.  Ladies of well-to-do families, both Semitic and Greek,  possessed seats in the front room of the temple (the pronaos) which were passed down from mother to daughter(s).  There, they carried out rites from which men were excluded.  By the time the Romans occupied the city (165 CE), Azzanathkona had become identified with Artemis -- another goddess who often didn't like men poking their noses in.  

It's possible that a more informal portrait of Azzanathkona also exists.  This graffiti (left) comes from a blocked-up doorway in her temple, so it should date from before the  final phase, when the temple may no longer have been religiously functional.  It shows a female figure with an elaborate headdress and what looks like a halo around her head dropping incense onto a burning altar.

Graffiti of all kinds was as common in the Temple of Azzanathkona as in the synagogue ("I am Hiya!",Part I): almost 100 name and remembrance scribbles have been recorded, many of them also clustered around doors and in sacred spaces.  Pictorial graffiti, however, such as this red-painted image, is very much more common in the Azzanathkona complex.  


Around 210 CE, the Roman army walled off the whole north-west sector of Dura-Europos and turned it into a military camp (roughly the area shown on the map at the top).  The temple of Azzanathkona was taken over primarily by the XXth Palmyrenes, a unit of mounted Palmyran archers based in Dura.  The soldiers installed themselves in a suite of small rooms located against the north city wall and which was cut off from the temple courtyard by cross-walls. It is not clear if civilians continued to worship in the main temple but the many military papyri and parchments found in this area  show that these rooms had become a clerical office staffed by military scribes.

Kilroy was here, too.

Painted Rotas/Sator square: T. Azzanathkona
Most of the pictorial graffiti dates from after the military remodelling of the temple. It seems very likely that the military scribes were responsible for most if not all of the names and drawings scrawled on the walls here.  Especially interesting are three so-called Rotas/Sator squares, a palindrome -- that is, read the same forwards or backwards -- formed by the words: rotas/opera/tenet/arepo/sator.  This formula, known from elsewhere in the empire, including centuries earlier at Pompeii, has been interpreted (or misinterpreted) as a magical formula, a hidden Christian text with the letters spelling out pater noster, a Mithraic text, or, inevitably, as a mysterious Egyptian incantation.  Whatever it means, these are among the very rare graffiti at Dura written in Latin: less than 3% compared to about 80% in Greek, and 20% bilingual, Semitic, or pictorial without text. 

When they were not playing with Rotas/Sator squares, the scribes who had taken over these quarters -- and who were meant to be writing up cavalry rosters -- tried their hands at more ambitious drawings.  

A mounted hunter draws his bow on a charging wild boar in an ink drawing on the wall of a small room in the temple.   The bearded hunter wears a long-sleeve tunic over wide trousers tucked into ankle boots.  The hilt of his sword and  scabbard are visible on his hip and a quiver full of arrows hangs on the horse's flank.  The horse is pictured in flying gallop (all four hooves off the ground) confronting the boar which leaps out of a bed of reeds.*  

When the soldiers in the records office were not dreaming of boar-hunting, they set off after gigantic lions such as still lived at the time in the marshes of the Euphrates valley.

On the opposite wall of the same room, a clean-shaven mounted archer aims his bow at an attacking lion.  His horse has a small head and short legs.  The excavators weren't clear if he (or his mates) had never finished the other horse graffiti or if they were just not well preserved. 

The Semitic name written in Greek letters ZABAO YC [= Zabdous] inscribed above the horseman could be the man who made the drawings, or just someone who came along later and put his name on the wall.  VICTOR, I assume, means that the horseman got his lion.  This Latin word was probably added later.

Rites of Spring

When not thinking of hunting or horses, the soldiers unsurprisingly turned their minds to women.

This well-coiffed lady has her curly hair parted in the middle and drawn up into a knot on top.  She wears a gem or metal circlet as a forehead ornament and a necklace of five strands with a tiny gem or medallion on the lowest strand.  She may have been holding a wreath or tambourine in her left hand.

It is possible, of course (as her discoverers would have it), that she is a mythic figure but, having a low mind, I think it more likely that the scribbling soldier was musing about some female musician or entertainer, such as we know were present at Dura. 

In which case, the presence of a naked, winged youth (identified as Amor-Eros) elsewhere on the same wall would make a certain sense.**  

Quite naturally, too, in springtime, a young man's fancy  turns to sport.  Given the roughness of the times, that doesn't mean football but gladiators.

This gladiator from the same room as the above graffiti is provided with Thracian equipment: a beaked helmet with vizor, rectangular shield with convex rim, curved dagger, greaves, and high-laced boots.  This is a pretty accurate picture which suggests that the soldiers of the XXth Palmyrenes had recently cheered gladiatorial combats.  That would not have been at Palmyra (which lacked an amphitheatre), but at Dura, where an amphitheatre was dedicated in 216 CE on behalf of the Legio IV Scythica and Legio III Cyrenaica (located southeast of the Temple of Azzanathkona on the map above).

Worship post-Azzanathkona

The elaborate scene below was drawn in ink on the wall of the clerical department, surely by Palmyran military scribes even though their names are translated into Greek.  The central figure on the pedestal is the Palmyran sun god, Iarhibol (who is named on the base), dressed in formal Roman military attire.

Iarhibol is crowned with solar rays and a halo, and holds a staff in his raised right hand.  The goddess of Victory flies in from his left, holding out a ribboned wreath and a palm frond; from the other side, an eagle flies towards the god with a wreath in its beak.

Below the Victory, a man drawn in a cruder style (most probably a later addition) offers incense.  A painted inscription identifies the intruder as 'Artemidorus, the standard-bearer'; under his feet, by another later hand, is the name (in Latin) SALVIANUS.  The original offerant stands on the god's right: a man dressed in the uniform of a Roman officer who burns incense on an altar.  His name is Heliodorus but someone later scratched the word 'Victor' (in Greek) over his name, probably referring to the god rather than the officer. Behind Heliodorus, a small boy raises a palm frond.  The lad is almost under the hooves of an approaching horse ridden by a Palmyran nobleman.  The horseman wears an Eastern tunic, trousers, and soft boots.  His heavy-bodied horse is fully harnessed, with decorative trappings behind a large quiver, a partly wrapped tail, and two large hair tassels. Was this major figure part of the intended original composition; or not?

Graffiti never stands still. Not only did the standard-bearer Artemidorus elbow his way in, but there is a bull's head with incurving horns to the left of Iarhibol's statue, and some small circles (meant as gold coins?) strewn below the horse.  

So even this ritual scene, so carefully drawn as to suggest veneration, was subject to casual changes.   Presumably, the officer Heliodorus who sponsored the graffiti (or had it offered him by a sycophantic scribe?) did not complain.  After all, graffiti is informal, unplanned, and unpredictable.  Yet, Heliodorus is strikingly similar in appearance and pose to the tribune Julius Terrentius in the fresco of the Temple of the Palmyran Gods, just down the road from Azzanathkona's temple.

That's where we are going in the next post (Part 3).   The graffiti there is even more surprising.

* The inked inscription behind the hunter reads (in Greek) ROUBATHIL leus.  It's not a name or text that I know: if anyone can interpret this for me, I'd be most grateful!

** Sorry, I have no picture of the male nude (not that I'm prudish but no drawing was published). 

Sources (in addition to those listed in Part I) include John Stathatos' post on Azzanathkona, N.J. Andrade, "Imitation Greeks": Being Syrian in the Greco-Roman World (175 BCE-275 CE), 313-15;  J.A. Baird, 'The Graffiti of Dura Europos: A Contextual Approach' in (J.A. Baird & C. Taylor (eds.,) Ancient Graffiti in Context, 59-60; L. Dirven, The Palmyrenes of Dura-Europos, 1999; N. Pollard, Soldiers, Cities, & Civilians in Roman Syria, 2000, 44-58;  P.M. Edwell, Between Rome and Persia, 2008, Ch. 4.


Top left:  Altar for Azzanathkona, #600094: Damascus National Museum (50-150 CE).  Via Arachne.

Below left 1: Magnetometry survey superimposed on the plan of the military base.  After 'The Roman Military at Dura'; website of University of Leicester.

Below left 2: Standing Woman or Goddess with Incense Burner, Block E 7 , East Wall, blocked-up doorway in Room W14. Red paint.  B. Goldman, 'Pictorial Graffiti of Dura Europos' (Parthica 1, 1999,19-106; 50, Fig. D2). 

Below left 3: Acrostic Rotas/Sator square from the Temple of Azzanathkona. Paint on plaster.  Photo Credit: Yale University Art Gallery.

Below centre: Mounted Boar Hunter, Block E7, Room W14. Ink on plaster. B. Goldman, 'Pictorial Graffiti of Dura Europos' (Parthica 1, 1999,19-106; 35, Fig. B1b).

Below left 4: Mounted Lion Hunter and Horse, Block E 7, Room W14. Ink on plaster. B. Goldman, 'Pictorial Graffiti of Dura Europos' (Parthica 1, 1999,19-106; 35, Fig. B2b).

Below left 5:  Standing Woman or Goddess, Block E 7, Room W 14. B. Ink on plaster.  Goldman, 'Pictorial Graffiti of Dura Europos' (Parthica 1, 1999,19-106; Fig.52, Fig. D4)

Below left 6: Gladiator, Block E7. B. Goldman, 'Pictorial Graffiti of Dura Europos' (Parthica 1, 1999,19-106; 61, Fig. D21).

Below:  Celebration of the solar god Iarhibol. Ink on plaster or gypsum. Photo credit:  Yale University Art Gallery.  Cf.: B. Goldman, 'Pictorial Graffiti of Dura Europos' (Parthica 1, 1999,19-106; 68-69, Fig. F2).

1 comment:

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