Intaglio Seal

This 19th century souvenir plaster molding of an intaglio seal is part of our Classics Department Collection.

Victorian English aristocrats commonly bought these items on their holidays in Italy. It was a common practice for them to do this and they collected their plaster moldings in large collectors cabinets which usually held hundreds of similar items.

The seal we have depicts the Trojan hero Aeneas carrying his father. According to Roman mythology, he carried his father from the burning ruins of Troy, and went on to found the settlement that eventually become the city of Rome.


Pithos

We have two replica "pithoi" in our Classics Department Collection.

A pithos was a large Greek storage container, often for grains or fluids. Large numbers of these have been found on Bronze Age sites such as Minoan Crete. They were usually about as tall as a person, and had handles which would have been used to put ropes through in order for the containers to be lugged around.

Pithoi may also have been used for burial and rituals. A pithos was the type of vessel which Pandora is said to have carried in the myth of Pandora being created by Zeus and bringing evils to mankind by opening the lid of the jar.


Roman Wax Tablet

We have a large number of replica Roman wax tablets in our Classics Department Collection.

Paper was very expensive in the Roman world. Before the technique of making paper from pulp arrived from China into Europe, paper was made from papyrus reeds or parchment. Papyrus (from which the word paper is derived) was made by weaving reeds to form a sheet and then beating the sheet to create a flat surface.

The Romans used writing for things like making lists, leaving instructions and education, where wax tablets were used. These were made from pieces of wood tied together so that they could open and shut. Each piece of wood had a shallow recess that was filled with wax and formed the writing surface. A stylus was used to write on the wax surface. The stylus was usually made of iron but sometimes bronze or bone. One end was pointed for writing and the other end was flattened for erasing so that the wax could be used again.

A wax tablet was most commonly formed of two pieces of wood and was called a "diptych". Sometimes tablets were made of three pieces, called a "triptych", or more, called "polyptychon".


Athena Bust

This bust of the Greek goddess Athena is part of our Classics Department Collection.

It is based on the famous sculpture known as "The Piraeus Athena", which is a bronze statue dated to the fourth century BC. It currently resides in the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus. Athena is wearing a Corinthian helmet, which in fourth century B.C became very popular, as opposed to an Attic helmet where she is shown wearing in other sculptures. The helmet in the Piraeus Athena has griffins on each side of the crest, and two owls on the visor.




Roman Sundial

This replica Roman Sundial is in our Classics Department Collection.

It was made by Year Nine students as part of a project exploring and making ancient sundials.

The Greeks used a sundial called the “pelekinon” where the gnomon or vertical rod was placed on a horizontal or half spherical face. These sundials are marked to predict time accurately throughout the year. They built a more accurate sundial based on their knowledge of geometry. The hemicycle is one of their inventions. It is a cubical block of wood or stone into which a hemisphere is cut with a stick or rod attached to one end. This created a circular arc with varied length, depending on the season. These arcs were further divided into twelve to indicate the length of each day. The famous Tower of Winds in Athens comprised of eight sun dials that faced cardinal points of the compass.

The Romans adopted the Greek sundials, and the first record of a sundial in Rome is 293 BC.


Roman die

This Roman die dates to between the 2nd and 3rd century BC and is part of our Classics Department Collection.

Unlike today's dice, Roman dice were often irregular and lopsided. This could be because their users could then manipulate the games, or because they believed that fate would determine the roll. Ancient Romans played a number of games involving dice, such as knucklebone games that were win-or-lose, or regular four-sided dice called "tali", the six-sided tesserae were the most common. They used the dice, a metal or clay cup for shaking, and the some sort of chips to keep track of scores.

Gambling took place in taverns, brothels, streets, and military camps. It became a social issue, and the Roman government restricted the use of gambling, imposing heavy fines and penalties. However, the large number of dice found in Roman sites suggests that gambling continued to take place despite the restrictions.

Roman dice were made out of clay, wood and bone, and instead of just having dots, they had two rings which surrounded each of the dots.

 


Roman "Evil Eye" Ring

This Roman "Evil Eye" Ring is part of our Classics Department Collection.

Superstitions around an "evil eye" have existed in many cultures, and is referenced in ancient Roman society by writers such as Plutarch, Pliny the Elder and Catullus. It usually takes the form of a belief that a particular glare can cast bad luck or misfortune upon the receiver of the stare. Various talisman artefacts have been found which were worn by their owners in the hope or belief that these items would protect them from the "evil eye".

Rings shaped like eyes are a common artefact, with some having several eyes, and others, like the one in our collection, having one large eye shape.

Minoan Snake Goddess

Our replica Minoan Snake Goddess is part of our Classics Centre collection.

These figurines, depicting a woman holding a snake in each hand, were found in Minoan archaeological sites in Crete. The first two of such figurines (both incomplete) were found by the British archaeologist Arthur Evans and date to the neo-palatial period of Minoan civilization, ca. 1700–1450 BC. Evans called the larger of his pair of figurines a "Snake Goddess", the smaller a "Snake Priestess"; since then, it has been debated whether Evans was right, or whether both figurines depicts priestesses, or both depict the same deity or different deities.

The figurines were found only in house sanctuaries, where the figurine appears as "the goddess of the household". They are made of faience, a technique for glazing earthenware and other ceramic vessels by using a quartz paste. This material symbolized in old Egypt the renewal of life, therefore it was used in the funeral cult and in the sanctuaries. After firing this produces bright colors and a lustrous sheen. It is possible that they illustrate the fashion of dress of Minoan women: a tight bodice which left the breasts bare, a long flounced skirt, and an apron made of material with embroidered or woven decoration.

Wooden Lyre

We have this beautiful wooden lyre in our Classics Department collection.

Lyres were known to be used by the ancient Greeks, and were in many ways like miniature harps. A classical lyre has a hollow body which was made out of turtle shell. Bards and poets are often described or depicted in ancient Greek and Roman art and literature as playing a lyre while reciting poetry.

In Greek myth, Hermes stole a herd of sacred cows from Apollo. In order not to be followed, he made shoes for the cows so that they could only walk backwards. Apollo could not follow where the cows were going. Hermes slaughtered one of the cows and using the entrails and a tortoise or turtle shell, he created the lyre. Apollo worked out that it was Hermes, and was very angry, but after hearing the sound of the lyre, he was soothed. Apollo traded the herd of cattle for the lyre.

Phaistos Disc

Our replica of the Phaistos Disc is part of our classics centre collection.

The Phaistos Disc consists of fired clay and is about 15 centimeters in diameter. It was found on 3 July, 1908 during excavation of the Minoan palace of Phaistos, near the south coast of Crete. The disc is one of the most famous Bronze Age finds and one of the great mysteries of Mediterranean archaeology. It contains over 240 spirally arranged human, animal and plant motifs that were printed with individual stamps. Its sophisticated manufacturing technology with movable type is in direct contrast to the uniqueness of the find. The use of reusable stamps only makes sense if used several times or even frequently. Practically everything that concerns the disc is controversial; this even includes the orientation of the writing and the language used.

The Minoan Civilisation flourished from about 2600 to 1100 BC on the island of Crete and surrounding islands. The civilisation was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Arthur Evans. It has been described as the earliest of its kind in Europe.

The term "Minoan" refers to the mythical King Minos. Minos was associated in Greek mythology with the labyrinth and the Minotaur, which Evans identified with the site at Knossos (the largest Minoan site). According to Homer, Crete once had 90 cities.

Minoan Octopus Jar

This replica Minoan octopus jar is part of our Classics Centre collection.

This particular style is called a "stirrup" jar, because of the inverted stirrup-shape of the handles. Its fluid octopus design is typical of the Late Minoan period (1500BC). Marine motifs, like the octopus, work well on a variety of vase shapes, because their shapes are simple, irregular and sinuous and translate well to two-dimensional representation.

The Late Minoan period reached a high point in foreign expansion and vigorous economic activity. The pottery of this period is characterised by an exuberant joy in nature; the motifs are naturalistic and there is a great sense of movement. There is no three-dimensional illusionism; the impact of the painting comes from the shapes of the motifs and their relationship to the vessel’s shape and contours. The marine style is also characterised by the desire to fill every available space with some ornamentation.

The original of this piece, found in the palace at Knossos, is in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Heraklion on Crete and dates to ca 1500 BC. There is a similar one in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Replica Corinthian Helmet

This type of helmet is known as a 'Corinthian helmet' by archaeologists because the goddess Athena is shown wearing it on Corinthian coins from its period of use (7th - 3rd Century BC). This style of helmet was also frequently featured on the decorative vases. 

This replica helmet was created based on an original Italo Corinthian style helmet that can be seen in the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford (more detail here). The original has a large hole in the temple, presumably the result of battle. This helmet was created especially for the Museum and Iris Classics Centre at Cheney by Matt Lukes at Fabrica Romanorum. At some of our events, members of the public are able to try this helmet on!