July 26, 2022

Precious boxes: the glitter of a new world by Carlo Lualdi

Culture is often linked by iconic objects and images of real objects which become symbols, and the sharing of these symbols are a hint at interactions between different cultures. In this article, I consider the depiction of a box represented on a northern Apulian red-figure vase, dating to the last quarter of the third century BCE, which testifies to cultural interaction between Daunia, in the north of Apulia, and Macedonia.

Before looking closely at the box depiction on the vase, it is important to consider the historical background of the Apulian region between 334 BCE and the end of the third century BCE. Between 334 and 330 BCE the king of Epirus, Alexander the Molossus, (the uncle of Alexander III of Macedonia, also called ‘the Great’), reached Southern Italy, following a request for military help from the Italiote city of Taras. Indeed, the threat to the indigenous people had brought the Tarentines to ask the political authorities on the Balkan peninsula for a military leader and military forces. Alexander the Molossus undertook operations in central Apulia and then moved to northern Apulia, taking the port of Sipontum, and this resulted in the dissemination of Greek and Macedonian culture in this area. A material consequence was the start of production of red-figure vases in the settlement of Arpi and in northern Apulia.

Scholars usually recognize the propaganda spread by Alexander the Molossus from a small number of Apulian red-figure vases which show the very well-known subject often defined as ‘the Macedonian king charging the Persian king on the battlefield’ (Fig. 1). Vases and fragments showing this image have mainly been found in central Apulia, in the Peucetia region. The image depicted on the vases is an echo of the victories of Alexander III of Macedonia against Darius III Codomanus. Most likely, Alexander the Molossus implied that his deeds in the west would be similar to the victories of his nephew in the east.

carlo1 Fig. 1 Detail of the subject ‘The Macedonian king charging the Persian king on the battlefield’ on the upper register of an Apulian red-figure amphora, attributed to the Painter of Darius (330 BCE), from the ‘Tomb of Amazonomachy’ of Ruvo di Puglia now displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples Inv. 81951 (Image from Giacobello (2020) 336 Tav. X, 2).

However, the connection between Macedonian culture and members of the aristocracies in northern Apulia can also be discerned by other details, such as the rectangular box depicted on the Apulian red-figure amphora,(Fig. 2) which has been attributed to the Painter of Arpi (315-300 BCE). The vessel was part of the grave goods of the so-called ‘Tomb of the vase of the Niobides’ found in July 1972 near Arpi. Despite the funerary chamber of the tomb having been partially looted by grave-robbers, the vast majority of the funerary assemblage was recovered by the archaeologists of the Archaeological Superintendence of Foggia. The tomb was named after the subject depicted on one of the red-figure Apulian vessels found in the chamber tomb, which have been attributed to the Painter of Darius and the Painter of Baltimore (both 340-320 BCE) as well as the Painter of Arpi.

As with the vast majority of the Apulian red-figure vases, the vessel has rich figural decoration: the neck is decorated on one side with an Amazonomachy, and on the other with a single female head, depicted in profile and framed by vegetal elements. The upper register of the body is decorated on one side by a mythological episode showing the release of Juno from the cursed throne made by Hephaistos, and on the other by a mythical scene including Persephone. The lower register is decorated with a sequence of figures represented with objects related to athletics, such as a palm branch, metal vessels linked with the consumption of wine, objects related to love spells and mythical figures such as Eros and Dionysus.

However, what is most interesting here is the rectangular box held by the draped female figure, who is depicted facing right seated on a kalathos (a basket), and also holds a sphere in her right hand (Fig. 2). The lid of the box is decorated with a star with nine rays, five larger rays and four smaller rays. The box is depicted open, hence the star pattern is represented on the internal side of the lid.

carlo2 Fig. 2 Detail of the lower register of a red-figure Apulian amphora attributed to the Painter of Arpi (315-300 BCE), from the tomb of ‘The vase of the Niobides’ from Arpi, now displayed in the Civic Museum of Foggia, Inv. 132723. (Image from Todisco (2009) Tav. XLVII b).

This box can be compared with the golden coffers which were found in the Macedonian royal tombs in 1970 by the Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronicos, near the modern settlement of Vergina. Scholars usually identify these objects by using a Greek term meaning coffers: larnakes. More specifically, I refer to the gold larnakes found in the antechamber and in the funerary chamber of the large Macedonian tomb also known by the name of the tomb 'of Philip II’ (Figs. 3-6).

carlo3 Fig. 3 The smaller gold larnax from the antechamber of the large Macedonian tomb 'of Philip II', Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aigai, Vergina, Greece. (Image from Vokotopoulou (1996) p.219 258).
carlo4 Fig. 4 Detail of the front side of the smaller gold larnax from the antechamber of the large Macedonian tomb 'of Philip II', Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aigai, Vergina, Greece. (Image from Vokotopoulou (1996) p.219 258).
carlo5 Fig. 5 The larger gold larnax from the funerary chamber of the large Macedonian tomb 'of Philip II', Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aigai, Vergina, Greece. (Image from Vokotopoulou (1996) p.218 257).
carlo6 Fig. 6 Detail of the front side of the larger gold larnax from the funerary chamber of the large Macedonian tomb 'of Philip II', Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aigai, Vergina, Greece (Image from Vokotopoulou (1996) p.218 257).

The identity and the name of the two deceased persons buried in this tomb are still intensely debated by modern scholars, due to the lack of inscriptions which would have easily identified them. Names such as Philip II of Macedonia, his wife Eurydice II of Macedonia, Meda of Odessos, another wife of Philip II, Kleopatra, the last wife of Philip II, Philip III of Macedonia, step-brother of Alexander III (also called ‘the Great’) of Macedonia and other members of the Royal Macedonian family, have all being suggested. However, here, I want to try to provide a new observation about an object which was part of the grave goods found in the large Macedonian tomb also known as ‘Philip II’s tomb’, which can be dated between 340 BCE and 310 BCE.

‘Philip II’s tomb’ consists of a façade with the well-known painting of ‘the Royal Macedonian hunt’ and two square rooms, the antechamber and the main chamber, which are both covered by a barrel vault. Goods have been found in the antechamber and the main chamber of ‘Philip II’s tomb’ and it is extremely difficult for us to distinguish between the objects which were part of the personal possession of the deceased, and the items which were placed in the tomb as funerary offerings. This observation brought me to the topic of this analysis. In the antechamber and in the funerary chamber two rectangular golden boxes were found, and these larnakes are richly decorated showing various patterns. The lid of the two larnakes is decorated by an iconic detail: a star with drop-shaped rays of two sizes. Scholars disagree about the original function of the larnakes; with debate as to whether the boxes should be interpreted as luxury coffins, funerary offerings, or luxury boxes used to securely keep jewels or other precious personal possessions of the Macedonian royal family.

By observing the pattern on the gold larnakes and the pattern on the lid depicted on the Apulian red-figure vase it is possible to notice some similarities. Additionally, the surprising parallel between the star-rayed pattern depicted on the internal side of the lid of the box represented on the Apulian vase and the similar decoration of the internal side of the gold larnax found in the funerary chamber of "Philip II's tomb’ must be stressed (Fig.7). This could be a hint that the box depicted on the Apulian red-figure vases is an image representing a real metal object that was known by the Daunian patrons and by the craftsmen operating in Daunia region.

carlo7 Fig. 7 Comparison between the internal side of the lid of the great gold larnax from Vergina and the rectangular box depicted on the Apulian red-figure amphora attributed to the Painter of Arpi found in the tomb ‘of the vase of the Niobids’ near Arpi. (From the left image from Andronicos (1994) 169 fig. 136, detail from Todisco (2009) Tav. XLVII b).

Moreover, the image on the Apulian red-figure amphora suggests that rectangular boxes similar to the gold larnakes found in funerary contexts, could have been used in ceremonies and social rites performed by the wealthiest members of the upper social classes, sharing similar ideologies and religious beliefs. It may be possible to suggest that such luxury larnakes were part of the personal possession of the indigenous characters identified by modern scholars by the expression ‘Daunian principes’.

Hence, the larnax depicted on the Apulian red-figure amphora may be connected with the so-called ‘Daunian principes’ who were at the top of the Daunian society between the fourth and the third century BCE. It is plausible, then, that Alexander the Molossian fought and also formed diplomatic agreements and cultural exchanges with the ‘Daunian principes’. The Macedonian culture brought into northern Apulia by Alexander the Molossian may include some ceremonies which required the use of specific objects, such as luxury larnakes, similar to the object depicted on the Apulian red-figure amphora. Therefore, it could be possible that some supporters of Alexander the Molossian, probably the members of the families related to the ‘Daunian principes’, aimed to demonstrate materially their political and cultural ideology by depicting some objects echoing some specific realia. Additionally, since the vessel is dated to the last quarter of the fourth century BC, more than fifteen years after the end of the military campaigns of Alexander the Molossus, it could be argued that the box depicted on the Apulian red-figure vessel is an echo of the earlier cultural interactions which enriched the cultural background of the indigenous people settled in northern Apulia. Therefore, it could also be argued that some details of the imagery of Apulian red-figure vases could provide us with more information about the political and the cultural links between the Daunians and the Macedonian culture.

In conclusion the red-figure box on the Apulian red-figure amphora can echo the luxury boxes used by the Macedonians and testified by the gold larnakes found in the tombs of the Royal Macedonian family, another hint proving the strong links between the new rising power in the east and the complex context of Apulia during the end of the fourth century BCE.

Bibliography

Andronicos, M. (1994) Vergina – The Royal Tombs and the Ancient City (Athens: Ekdotike Athenon S.A.)

Carpenter, T.H., Lynch, K. M. and Robinson, E. (2014) The Italic people of ancient Apulia : new evidence from pottery for workshops, markets, and customs (New York : Cambridge University press).

De Juliis, E.M. (1992) La Tomba del Vaso dei Niobidi di Arpi (Bari: Edupuglia)

Drouguou S. and Saatsoglou Paladieli, C. (2005) Vergina – The Land and its History (Athens: Militos Editions)

Giacobello F. (2020) Mito e Società. Vasi Apuli a figure rosse da Ruvo di Puglia al Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Sesto Fiorentino: All'insegna del giglio).

Kottaridi, A. (2011) Macedonian treasures: A tour through the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai (Athens : Kapon Editions)

Kottaridi, A. (2013) The Royal Metropolis of the Macedonians (Athens: John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation)

Pouzadoux, C. (2005) ‘Guerre et paix en Peucétie à l’époque d’Alexandre le Molosse (notes sur quelques vases du Peintre de Darius)’, in Le canal d’Otrante et les échanges dans la Méditerranée antique et médiévale (colloque Nanterre, 20-21 novembre 2000), ed E. Deniaux (Bari: Edipuglia )

Todisco, L. (2008) Il pittore di Arpi: mito e società̀ nella Daunia del tardo IV secolo a.C. (Roma : "L'Erma" di Bretschneider)

Todisco, L. (ed.) (2012) a La ceramica a figure rosse della Magna Grecia e della Sicilia, Vol. II Inquadramento, (Roma: L'Erma di Bretschneider).

Todisco, L. (ed.) (2012) b La ceramica a figure rosse della Magna Grecia e della Sicilia, Vol. III Apparati, (Roma: L'Erma di Bretschneider).

Todisco, L. (ed.) (2012) La ceramica a figure rosse della Magna Grecia e della Sicilia, Vol. I Produzioni, (Roma: L’Erma di Bretschneider).

Vokotopoulou, I. (1996) Macedonians : the northern Greeks (Athens : Kapcon Editions)


clualdiphoto_002.jpg Carlo Lualdi is a PhD student at Warwick University. Usually, he states that his academic interests are mainly related to combat scenes linked with real military events dated “From Pyrrhus to Pydna”. Naturally ‘A person proposes and the archaeology disposes’, hence Carlo is now analyzing some combat scenes coming from Messapia region dating before the arrival of Pyrrhus in Italy. Carlo is also interested in studying the reception of Classical culture in contemporary media as movies, tv series and comics.

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