29 September 2007

Hatshepsut Cheek by Jowl with Judy Chicago

Having now visited the Pharaohs, Queens, and Goddesses exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, I have a few updates on what I wrote in the post Hatshepsut Meets Judy Chicago and some odd musings stimulated by this very enjoyable show.

First things first.

Hatshepsut or Thutmosis III?

The unisex granite head (below, right) is 'unisex' no more, for the Museum has decided that it is the head of Hatshepsut after all. Though it is admittedly difficult to distinguish her images from those of her half-nephew and stepson, Thutmosis III, they have plumped for her, citing "the overall facial structure with its tilted eyes and delicate chin" as characteristic traits of her portraits and not his. I'm not convinced by the chin, most of which is missing, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief about the tilt of the eyes.

Or rather, I would have been willing ... had not the British Museum decided that their 'unisex' head (below left) - which had been up for grabs - is now to be Thutmosis III . In a straw poll of eminent Egyptologists, three (Newberry, Carter, and Brunton) had thought it was Hatshepsut, two (Hall and Capart) voted for Thutmosis III and two (Schäfer and Garis Davies) compromised on an idealized image of Thutmosis III.

I have no desire to insert myself into such eminent company (and as a cruel if imprecise 'Anonymous' remarked after my last Hatshepsut post, I am no Egyptologist), but, for the life of me, I see little difference in the tilt of the eyes.

Is the British Museum head perhaps a bit more square-jawed, and thus presumably more masculine?

I leave that to you to decide.

What I left the show thinking about, however, is the extraordinary resemblance between the portraits of the female Pharaoh and her half-nephew. They were, of course, related by blood, so it's possible that the son of her half-brother by a secondary wife truly did look like his 1/2-aunt. But there seems more at work than that. Some Egyptologists think it results from simple artistic habit. After all, sculptors had spent 20 years turning a female face into that of a king; after her death, they might have unwittingly softened the masculine face of a male ruler.

That's hard for me to believe of such master craftsmen.

So I asked myself: what if Thutmosis III wished to be portrayed this way? Just as some of Hatshepsut's early statues resembled those of her adored father, Thutmosis I, could he, too, have wished to illustrate continuity through similarity? But this makes no sense if it is true that, on her death, Thutmosis III obliterated her name on statues and monuments to erase her name from history forever. In that case, he must have hated his aunt (who was also his stepmother, and thus falls willy-nilly into a cliché). Perhaps the idea of the antipathy between the two rulers needs to be reexamined:
New evidence, especially from Karnak, shows that the persecution of Hatshepsut's memory did not begin immediately after her death: her monuments were visible until her stepson’s 42nd year – over 20 years after her death! This changes how we look at the relationship between the two monarchs, and his motive for attacking her monuments: 20 years or more is too long to hold such a grudge before carrying out destructive measures because of it.
In other words, Thutmosis III might have had quite different reasons for destroying her monuments and erasing her name. It's causing a rethink.

The Hathor amulet

In saying that this amulet was inscribed with Hatshepsut's name, I implied that it belonged to her. Wrong. It belonged to Senenmut, Hatshepsut's Great Steward during her kingship, who also held the lucrative post of steward of the temple of the god Amun.

The five lines of text on the top and back of the amulet read:
the good god Maatkare [Hatshepsut's throne name], beloved of Iuynt [a serpent goddess identified with Hathor]

the hereditary prince , steward of Amun, Senenmut.

Both Hatshepsut and Senenmut were devoted to Hathor. Five of Senenmut's statues were adorned with symbols of this goddess , two of them royal gifts from Hatshepsut: Given as a favour of the king to the hereditary prince, and further inscribed :
he lifts Hathor who resides in Thebes ... that he might cause her to appear and elevate her beauty on behalf of the life, prosperity, and health of the king of upper and lower Egypt Maatkare [Hatshepsut], living forever.
The inscriptions go on to list Senenmut's many titles and offices, which - mightily snipped - sums him up as the chief of chiefs and noblest of dignitaries.

Or, as his own scribe put it, writing on a sherd of pottery (ostracon), one of the greatest of the great of the whole land.

Naturally, the scribe did not add that he was also very likely Hatshepsut's lover.

There is, of course, no proof of that -- other than that he conducted himself almost as a member of the royal family, enjoying privileges and prerogatives never before extended to a mere official, particularly to one who was of the humblest origin.

He was, for example, allowed to represent himself at least 70 times in Hatshepsut's mortuary temple, and to excavate for himself a long, sloping coridor tomb, totally unlike those of his fellow officials but strikingly similar to Hatshepsut's own tomb, and to place in it a quartzite sarcophagus of royal type, perhaps a gift from the female king.

It is uncertain if he died before or after Hatshepsut. At his death, however, he was not buried in his great new tomb, which was abandoned unfinished, and sealed with his empty sarcophagus within. Many of his images were then defaced or smashed to pieces, but the motive behind this destruction remains an enigma. The attack against his monuments, in any case, must have begun earlier than the proscription of Hatshepsut (20 years after her own death!), since her cartouche remains intact on some monuments where Senenmut's name and face have been erased!

So, here too, the simple explanation of Thutmosis' white-hot anger against her 'ruthless usurpation' of his throne (abetted by Senenmut) does not seem to fit the facts. For, in truth, the usurpation -- if that is what it was -- was neither ruthless nor rapid. Left by the sudden death of her husband, Thutmosis II, as regent for a young child-king, Hatshepsut was clearly feeling her way....

Seal of Hatshepsut before Amun-Re

The carnelian seal stamp reproduced at the top of the post is from the Hatshepsut-Judy Chicago show at the Brooklyn Museum (and my thanks to the Museum for the photograph). Although broken, Hatshepsut can just be seen dressed as a woman and performing the royal task of making an offering to the chief god, Amun-Re -- a ceremony reserved for the king, who was normally the chief actor in all divine rituals. She wears the ceremonial Atef-crown and a dress rather than male attire. Above is her royal cartouche and the words: May she live!

This seal joins a very small group of images which shows Hatshepsut in female garb but with kingly accoutrements and throne name. Ancient observers must have found this an astonishing combination of woman's costume and kingly protocol. During the early years of the reign, Hatshepsut will clearly be experimenting with different titles as well as different ways of depicting herself as she sets about acquiring royal dignity.

What she is doing and perhaps even 'why' in the Years 1 - 7 , after which she adopts full male garb, will be the subject of my next post.

And, yes, Senenmut is right there with her.

I hope also to have time to comment on Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party which was stunningly installed cheek by jowl with Haptshepsut.

16 September 2007

Zenobia Salutes Riverbend

I've been reading Riverbend's blog since The Beginning on August 17 2003:
So this is the beginning for me, I guess. I never thought I'd start my own weblog... All I could think, every time I wanted to start one was "but who will read it?" I guess I've got nothing to lose... but I'm warning you- expect a lot of complaining and ranting. I looked for a 'rantlog' but this is the best Google came up with.

A little bit about myself: I'm female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway.

And thus Baghdad Burning became a part of my life. For four years, I clicked to hear her special voice, an educated young woman watching her world being destroyed. I wish I knew her personally, and feel as if I did.

Last week, Riverbend and her family finally fled Baghdad and she wrote a post that is simply heartbreaking. It's called Leaving Home.

Perhaps half of the Iraqi middle class are now refugees in Syria and Jordan.

... I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend...

Update: On Monday, 22 October, Riverbend came on-line again with Bloggers Without Borders. If you want to know how it feels to become a refugee, read it:
"No matter how wealthy or educated or comfortable, a refugee is a refugee. A refugee is someone who isn’t really welcome in any country- including their own... especially their own."

14 September 2007

Why the Romans Always Seem to Get in First Licks

And I [Shapur I] possess the lands: Persis, Parthia, Khuzistan, Maishan, Mesene, Mesopotamia, Adiabene, Arabia, Atropatene, Armenia ... Balasgan up to the Caucasus and to the 'gate of the Alans' and ... Media, Hyrcania, Margiana, Aria, and all of the eastern Parthian provinces, Kirman, Sakastan, Turgistan, Makuran, Paradene, Sind and to the borders of ... Sogdia and Tashkent and of that sea-coast Oman.

Shapur ruled an empire that stretched over the vast lands between the Euphrates and Indus Rivers. I do not know if anyone has ever measured the extent of Sassanian territories -- not that that remained constant, of course, from the time Ardashir overthrew the Parthians in 226 AD to 651, when their empire fell to the armies of Islam. But I'd be curious to know how it compared at any given time, mile for mile, with that of Rome:, the one essentially built around the Mediterranean and growing out from that (with Britain, as expected, odd man out) and the other, in a sense, following the logic of the routes of the Silk Road.

The vast extent of the Sassanian Empire was both its strength and its weakness.

When a Sassanian king took the field at the head of his army, he had, contrary to Roman reports, a standing army (Mid. Pers. spāh) under his personal command and its officers were separate from his satraps and local princes and nobility. The backbone of the spāh was its heavy-armoured cavalry "in which all the nobles and men of rank" underwent "hard service" and became professional soldiers "through military training and discipline, through constant exercise in warfare and military manoeuvres". Another elite cavalry group was the Armenian one, whom the Persians accorded particular honour. In due course the importance of the heavy cavalry increased and the distinguished horseman assumed the meaning of "knight" as in European chivalry; if not of royal blood, he ranked next to the members of the ruling families and was among the king's boon companions .

The Sassanians did not form light-armed cavalry but extensively employed, as allies or mercenaries, troops from warlike tribes who fought under their own chiefs. "The Sagestani were the bravest of all; the Gelani, Albani, and the Hephthalites, the Kushans and the Khazars were the main suppliers of light-armed cavalry. The skill of the Dailamites in the use of sword and dagger made them valuable troopers in close combat , while Arabs were efficient in desert warfare."

Battles were usually decided by the shock elite cavalry of the front line charging the opposite ranks with heavy lances while archers gave support by discharging storms of arrows. The centre, where the commander-in-chief took his position on a throne, was defended by the strongest units. The chief weakness of the Sassanian army was said to be its lack of endurance in close combat (but that could be the toll taken by repeated charges wearing heavy armour). Another reputed fault was their too great a reliance on the presence of their leader: the moment the commander fell or fled his men gave way regardless of the course of action.

But perhaps the greatest problem was the frequent need to move such troops from one end of the empire to the other (without the benefit of sea-borne transport). If the King of Kings was campaigning in India, say, when the excellent military messenger service brought news that Alexander Severus or Gordian III or or Julian the Apostate had led a great Roman army across the Euphrates in the Far West, the Romans would be deep inside Persian territory before the king could respond.

And so the Romans would have their early victories, and ecstatic reports would be sent to Rome and triumphs declared. Persicus maximus! But then, inevitably, somewhere near the Persian capital of Cteisiphon (aka Baghdad):
...smoke or a great whirling cloud of dust was seen; so that one was led to think that it was herds of wild asses, of which there is a countless number in those regions.... But no sooner had the first light of day appeared, than the glittering coats of mail, girt with bands of steel, and the gleaming cuirasses, seen from afar, showed that the king's forces were at hand.
The rest is history.

Filed in haste before flying off to New York tomorrow morning. Light posting (or none) until the end of the month.

I am indebted to the excellent The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies website, and to its article on the Sasanian Army, by Prof. A. Sh. Shahbâzi.

09 September 2007

Hatshepsut Meets Judy Chicago

Not exactly hot-off-the-press news, but unbeknown enough to me to put Sassanian Stuff aside for a bit: the show Pharaohs, Queens, and Goddesses is now on at the Brooklyn Museum (extended to January 20, 2008). This exhibition is dedicated to powerful females from Egyptian history. It's a little cheeky to imply female Pharaohs in the plural, for there was, as far as I know, only King Hatshepsut (ruled ca. 1473-1458 BC) .

But why quibble.

There were other female regents who ruled in all but name.

The central object of the exhibition is this unisex granite head. I say 'unisex' because the Brooklyn website correctly captions it as "Head of Hatshepsut or Thutmose III ", so it's either the female 'King' or her nephew who ruled after her. That's what happens when you have no word but 'Pharaoh' -- so she is confusingly 'His Majesty' -- and no ruler iconography except male.

Hatshepsut is featured in Brooklyn "alongside other women and goddesses from Egyptian history, including queens Cleopatra, Nefertiti, and Tiye and the goddesses Sakhmet, Mut, Neith, Wadjet, Bastet, Satis, and Nephthys."

Now I will quibble. Where is Hathor?

Hathor was not only one of the most important divinities of Egypt and 'Chieftainess of Thebes', but also a goddess revered by Hatshepsut. In some ways, we can say, Hatshepsut identified herself with this great goddess. The carnelian Hathor-head amulet on the right is inscribed with Hatshepsut's name. [Come to think of it, this amulet is in the Brooklyn Museum ... so Hathor must have quietly slipped away from their press release. Perhaps I shouldn't be quibbling after all. ]

Hatshepsut dedicated a beautiful little chapel to Hathor as part of her mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri ( south end of the middle terrace). The chapel's inner courtyard is supported by round columns with Hathor-head capitals (pictured above left), probably the earliest example of this form, which then sweeps north and south and soon will be found in all parts of Egypt. The female head with cow ears is topped with a crown and the curved sides ending in spirals are suggestive of cow horns.

The chapel also preserves painted reliefs of Hathor as the divine cow, protecting and nurturing Hatshepsut. The wall relief below shows the goddess licking the hand of Pharaoh Hatshepsut, who is sitting on the throne clad in male royal dress.

During Hatshepsut's reign, this chapel was a focus for popular religion, where women often left offerings in the hope of conceiving a child. Male and female devotees alike flocked to her shrine to beg for her favours. On the way they bought from a hawker at some roadside booth a string of beads or a little pottery cow to offer with their prayers, and others carried blue faience platters of fruit or flowers.

Archaeologists found countless symbols of Hathor everywhere in the area: The ground was literally sown with such such offerings. Sometimes she was the cow carved on plaques of limestone, copper, or faience; or again she was represented by the primitive symbol of a post with a woman's head atop which gave the inspiration for the Hathor-head columns of her temples. She was a protectress, and tablets engraved with a pair of eyes or ears would assure her seeing and hear a supplicant:

Tell your requests to the Cow of Gold, to the Lady of Happiness...may she give us excellent children, happiness, and a good husband...If cakes are placed before her, she will not be angry.

Breads and cakes are piled high for the gods and goddesses to feast on, as another wall relief from Hatshepsut's great temple shows.

Divine Hatshepsut (as Pharaoh, she too was a god) enjoyed a good nosh.

The Queen's plate is disappointingly empty on Judy Chicago's monumental 'The Dinner Party', the centerpiece around which Pharaohs, Queens, and Goddesses is organized. An icon of 1970s feminist art, The Dinner Party is a massive ceremonial banquet, arranged on a triangular table with 39 place settings, each in honour of an important woman from history or mythology. The settings consist of embroidered runners, gold chalices and utensils, and china-painted porcelain plates with raised central motifs that are based on vulvar and butterfly forms in styles supposedly linked to the individual women.

I don't know what this vulvar pattern has to do with Hatshepsut -- she's not just Every Woman -- but I'm glad to see her at the feast (Hathor was not invited to dine; instead, she is one of the 999 entries written on the floor. Beware, Judy Chicago: Hathor gets angry if left unfed).

Chicago has this to say about the piece: "Because we are denied knowledge of our history, we are deprived of standing upon each other's shoulders and building upon each other's hard earned accomplishments. Instead we are condemned to repeat what others have done before us and thus we continually reinvent the wheel. The goal of The Dinner Party is to break this cycle."'

Bravo! Or, rather, Brava!

Chicago's gallery describes The Dinner Party as 'seminal', and you can't say fairer than that.

I'll be in New York next week and will certainly make it up to Brooklyn. If for no better reason than to search out Zenobia, also relegated to the floor; true, inscribed in gold, but not where an Empress should be. Perhaps I'll drop some blue faience grapes on Hatshepsut's plate....

Next, right back to Sassanian Stuff.

06 September 2007

Sassanian Stuff

Emperor Philip the Arab will have to wait a bit. It's about time that I take a break from Rome and write instead about the Persians.

Not that I’m a specialist in Sassanian Persia, far from it; but, when writing the Chronicle of Zenobia: the rebel queen , I had to learn much more about ‘the enemy’ on the other side of the Euphrates than I ever did when I studied Classical Archaeology. Even so, I confess to having a very one-sided view: to me, the Sassanians are always the enemy of Palmyra and Rome.

There’s something wrong with seeing an entire nation and culture as an enemy -- even if the devil, in this case, is ancient Iran. It is limiting, to say the least. It also enforces a very military outlook. For example, I can write at length, about the Persian heavy-armoured cavalry (one such warrior pictured above in a rock relief from Taq-e Bustan), more generally known by their Latin name of clibanarii. I shall now tell you a bit about them, but briefly.

Eye-witnesses have left descriptions of this formidable new force, but some of the best reporting is from Heliodorus, a 3rd C novelist from Emesa in Syria, who writes :
They were clad in iron,and all parts of their bodies were covered with thin circles of iron plates fitted to the curves of their bodies, completely covering their limbs. So dexterously were the joinings made that whichever way they had to move, their garments fitted.
In the 4th C, Ammianus Marcellinus accompanied the Emperor Julian [known, alas, as Julian 'the Apostate' when he would have wished to be remembered as the philosopher emperor] on his Persian expedition. Ammianus' history makes clear that Sassanian clibanarii were clad from top to toe:
All the companies clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, so fitted that the stiff joints conformed with those of their limbs; and forms of the human faces were so skillfully fitted to their heads, that since their entire bodies were covered with metal, arrows that fell upon them could lodge only where they could see a little through tiny openings opposite the pupil of the eye, or where through the tips of their noses they were able to get a little breath.
When the time for battle came, the warrior gave his equally-armoured horse the reins "and spurred him with his heels and rode upon his enemies at full tilt like a man made of iron or a statue fashioned with hammers. He carried a great lance that ran though every man it hit, and often carried away two men together pierced by one stroke.”

'Two men at one stroke' is probably poetic license, but a formation of 1,000 onrushing clibanarii must have been an awesome sight:

The Persians opposed us serried bands of mail-clad horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with closely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them

Daunting, to put it mildly. However, they did have an Achilles heel (so to speak). The rider sat in a low saddle with low saddle-bows that made it difficult to maintain balance. Also, unlike medieval knights, they were riding and fighting without the benefits of stirrups: note the position of the foot on this sculptured plaque of an anonymous Sassanian king:

A fully armoured rider dislodged from the saddle was defeated. He couldn't rise from the ground and would lie there until an enemy trooper put him out of his misery with a knife thrust through the throat, where the helmet met the body armour.

Generals always fight the last war.

Throughout most of the third century, despite the Persian danger, the Roman army essentially remained an infantry force; the legions supported by light cavalry only and - in the east - by Syrian horse archers, also light skirmishers, probably without armour. After the destruction of the army of Alexander Severus in 232/3 AD and, again, when the young Gordian III tried to restore the situation in the east in 243/4, the Roman army still consisted mostly of foot soldiers (which is why I assume that the number of Gordian's cavalry in the
Apocalypse of Elijah, cited in the previous post, is an anachronism).

The Palmyrans - but not the Romans - drew the lesson: at some point around mid-century, they began forming their own units of heavily-armoured mounted cavalry. Surely the man responsible for these developments was Odenathus, the husband of Zenobia.

Graffiti from Dura Europos give us a glimpse of what the Palmyran heavy cavalry looked like.

That's not a 'dunce's cap' he's wearing but most probably a crude rendering of a Sassanian-type helmet, looking something like the helmet on the right. His horse appears to be protected by long armour extending almost to its hooves. Specimens of iron and copper plates discovered at Dura Europos and dating to the mid-3rd C, however, are not long and extend only to the horse's belly. Perhaps these finds were not meant for clibanarii but to protect horses of the archers of the XXth Palmyrenes; or perhaps the grafitti artist got carried away. This is hardly the first time that 'art' and archaeology diverge but a close look at the (admittedly later) Taq-e Bustan horse -- at the top of the post -- does seem to show the beast covered as far as its hocks.

Between mid-century and 272 AD, when Zenobia led the Palmyran troops into battle against the Romans, the Palmyran clibanarii had become a force to be remembered. Festus, a Byzantine historian, writing in ca. 370 tells us that
[Zenobia] you see, following her husband’s death held the empire of the East under female sway. Aurelian defeated her, supported as she was by many thousands of clibanarii and archers, at Immae, not far from Antioch....
Some Palmyran clibanarii even managed to survive the fall of the city itself. At the close of the 3rd century or early in the 4th, the 'Register of Dignitaries' (Notitia Dignitatum), which lists all the official posts and military units of the later divided empire, mentions a cunea equitum secundorum clibanariorum Palmirenorum.

The Romans still had need, it seems, of Eastern skills -- even when detached from their ruined homeland. By then, the Roman army had started to recruit units of clibanarii from elsewhere in the Empire and, at much the same time, begun state production of armament for the heavy armoured horsemen in Antioch and other eastern centres.

Slow starters, I would say.

Next: Why the Romans Always Seem To Get In First Licks

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