Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Roman Statues Found in Pozzuoli

Despite the rarity of extraordinary, career defining archaeological finds, archaeologists dig up valuable artifacts every day. Value, of course, is subjective; a coarse-ware clay bowl may not have much "value" to an art historian, but it can mean a lot to a cultural anthropologist. Most archaeological finds don't make the news not because they are unimportant, but because they are not exciting to the general public. Every once and a while though, archaeologists dig up something "exciting." Such finds usually revolve around objets d'art simply because people find pieces of sculpture more worthy of their time than a pile of ancient roof tiles. Public disinterest in archaeology is unfortunate, but in my opinion the over-hyped art historical finds benefit archaeology as a whole. Finding a Roman sculpture or Greek vase is the desert after an otherwise bland meal of culturally and historically significant, if not pretty, artifacts. The exposure that archaeology gets when artistic finds surface makes people think about archaeology and hopefully convinces them that archaeology is a good and necessary thing.

Recently, a marble head of the Roman Emperor Titus was found in Pozzuoli. Several other artifacts were discovered, including a marble Gorgon head as well as fragmentary statues, columns and inscriptions. Finds like this are great for art historians and archaeologists, but also good for the public. It is basically good PR for archaeologists to dig up statues and the like. "Visually stimulating" archaeological discoveries help archaeologists justify to the lay masses that what they do is important and should be funded.

We've got his head, but who was he? Titus was the second Emperor in the Flavian Dynasty, which was started by his father Vespasian. Vespasian was the fourth Emperor in the so called Year of the Four Emperors, 69 CE. It all started in 68 CE with Nero's suicide and the subsequent usurpations of Galba, Otho and Vitellius. Vespasian and his son Titus where in Judea at the time, attempting to suppress the Great Jewish Revolt. While in the East, Vespasian was declared Emperor by his troops and he subsequently returned to Rome to establish his position, leaving Titus to finish the Jewish War. Titus finished the war in 70 CE with the infamous siege of Jerusalem and the subsequent destruction of the Second Temple. Returning the Rome, Titus held several governmental offices under his father, including seven consulships. Upon Vespasian's death in 79 CE, the purple was seamlessly transferred to Titus, who would go on to become the darling of the Roman people. Though Titus' reign lasted just over two years, it saw three important events in Roman history: the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE, the opening of the Colosseum in 80 CE and the fire in Rome in 80 CE. Titus died in 81 CE at the age of 41 leaving Rome in the hands of his younger brother Domitian. Domitian was quite a bit different from his brother and father and his rule has been has been compared to those of Gaius and Nero, though recent studies have tried to clear his name, so to speak. Sounds like another post topic to me.