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How historical Roman souvenirs made reminiscences and meanings


Souvenirs, an omnipresent side of contemporary tourism, hint their roots to the traditional Mediterranean. Within the Roman Empire, the widespread languages of Greek (koine) and Latin, standardised coinage and centralised forms elevated the convenience of journey, all of which helped a tradition of souvenirs flourish. Certainly, a broad vary of souvenirs commemorating locations emerges from the archaeological report. These will not be simply trivial mementoes. Souvenirs then and now provide a exceptional window on how folks develop shared visions of locations, how they conceive of such foundational concepts as authenticity, and the way we create emotionally significant private relationships. Souvenirs carry out very important work in shaping how folks come to know their world and its landmarks. By taking historical souvenirs severely, we are able to glimpse how Romans themselves understood their empire and its cultural heritage.

Within the Roman Empire, which lacked a print tradition, not to mention digital media, souvenirs had been essential in disseminating information of locations, be they cities, monuments, buildings or statues. For individuals who couldn’t journey to such websites in individual – which included nearly all of the empire’s inhabitants – reproductions had been a key means for visualising their bodily look and cultural significance. Among the most well-known statues of the Greek world – masterpieces corresponding to Athena Parthenos by Phidias, Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles, and Tyche of Antioch by Eutychides – spawned veritable memento industries, not simply on the websites the place these cult statues stood but additionally, in some circumstances, elsewhere. Craftspeople churned out miniature reproductions that introduced these statues earlier than the eyes of people that would in any other case by no means see them. The truth is, we too are amongst those that won’t ever see the unique statues made by the vaunted palms of Phidias, Praxiteles and Eutychides since these works don’t survive. What we do have, nonetheless, are replicas – not solely the large-scale marble copies that populate the pages of artwork historical past textbooks, but additionally, and far more quite a few, souvenirs.

Given the epistemological significance of souvenirs, each in antiquity and in artwork historical past, why are we so fast to dismiss souvenirs as objects of great enquiry?

In half, scholarly devaluation of historical souvenirs stems from the longstanding dominance of Kopienkritik within the research of Greco-Roman artwork. Kopienkritik – the methodology of reconstructing misplaced Greek sculptures by assuming that Roman sculptures copy them moderately faithfully – traces its origins again to the enormously influential work of the 18th-century German artwork historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who considered Classical Greek artwork because the aesthetic pinnacle of historical artwork (though, sarcastically, lots of the ‘Greek’ statues he so admired had been truly later Roman replicas). It grew to become entrenched in research of Greco-Roman sculpture within the late nineteenth century by the German archaeologist and artwork historian Adolf Furtwängler. Kopienkritik valorises Roman statues insofar as they provide perception right into a Greek predecessor, and it typically fails to contextualise Roman artworks in their very own historic and cultural milieux. It crystallises a need to uncover misplaced ‘originals’ that has obscured the import of reproductions, quite a few amongst which had been historical Roman souvenirs.

Take, for instance, the Tyche of Antioch, the life-size bronze statue created by the sculptor Eutychides (a scholar of Lysippos, Alexander the Nice’s courtroom artist) to commemorate the founding of the town of Syrian Antioch (trendy Antakya, Turkey) in 300 BCE. This statue, which got here to personify Antioch, represented the goddess Tyche, or Fortune, as a closely draped determine carrying a mural crown, seated upon a rock, with the male torso of the personified River Orontes rising from beneath her ft.

A fragrance bottle within the type of Tyche (c2nd-Third centuries CE). Courtesy the Yale College Artwork Gallery

Most individuals within the Roman Empire would by no means have seen Eutychides’ statue in individual in Antioch. Little matter, although, for the statue was reproduced in numerous souvenirs that circulated within the Roman Empire, together with glass fragrance bottles within the type of the Tyche, manufactured and offered regionally in Syria, and a sequence of miniature bronze replicas produced and marketed farther afield within the empire’s western provinces. The glass bottles assume the attribute type of the seated Tyche, with the bottle’s neck taking the place of the crown. The bronze collectible figurines keep the medium of Eutychides’ statue however, just like the bottles, omit the torso of Orontes, which evidently was not required to recognise the statue.

Our concepts about authenticity would have puzzled historical Romans

Different well-known statues, corresponding to Phidias’ gold and ivory statue of Athena within the Parthenon and Praxiteles’ statue of Aphrodite in her temple at Knidos, Turkey, additionally entered folks’s lived expertise by way of memento reproductions. At Athens, one may purchase commemorative plaques and lamps of the Athena Parthenos, and even miniature terracotta replicas of the statue’s well-known defend. At Knidos, the city’s potters offered souvenirs of Praxiteles’ notoriously bare statue of the goddess of affection. The cult statues of Tyche, Athena and Aphrodite remained motionless of their temples and shrines, however folks across the Roman Empire may see and contact them as a result of their pictures travelled through oil lamps, plaques, collectible figurines and fragrance bottles.

At this time, we have a tendency to take a look at a bronze figurine of the Tyche of Antioch or a plaque of the Athena Parthenos and ask the way it might help us reconstruct the misplaced ‘unique’; in different phrases, we undertake a Kopienkritik mindset. Approaching historical objects as paperwork of originals, nonetheless, is antithetical to how Romans themselves conceived of originality. Our concepts about authenticity would have puzzled historical Romans, who cared little about distinctions between (supposedly genuine) originals and (in some way much less worthy) copies. An historical Roman may by no means personal Phidias’ Athena Parthenos: that statue belonged to Athens and, finally, the goddess herself. A terracotta memento of the Athena Parthenos would have value a minuscule fraction of the gold and ivory unique however, when it comes to bringing the goddess into one’s day by day life and commemorating the town of Athens and its patron goddess, the memento wouldn’t essentially have been much less invaluable.

We stay beneath the sway of Walter Benjamin, who theorised that mechanical copy diminishes the ‘aura’ of an paintings, that’s, the sensorial notion of an paintings is feasible solely when one meets the paintings in the identical, shared area. Multiplication, nonetheless, needn’t equal impoverishment. Certainly, the that means and specialness of a supposed unique is usually constructed by its copies. ‘Nice’ works of literature, for instance, would hardly be so nice if books didn’t (mechanically) reproduce them for audiences far-flung in area and time.

Souvenirs’ energy to assemble shared information within the Roman Empire resided of their skill to disseminate standardised pictures that might then function the premise for remembering locations and monuments, even within the absence of direct private expertise. Souvenirs invite their beholders to create narratives primarily based on these representations. Typically, souvenirs even substitute the unique expertise or place as the muse of remembering.

A sequence of glass flasks produced in Puteoli (trendy Pozzuoli, Italy) within the late Third to early 4th century CE had been embellished by hand with scenes of the cityscape of Puteoli and neighbouring Baiae (trendy Baia). Puteoli and Baiae had been main imperial vacationer locations – resort and harbour cities fortuitously positioned on the scenic Bay of Naples. The flasks epitomise Puteoli by its amphitheatre, theatre and stadium, the distinguished temple on its acropolis, and its large harbour breakwater topped by arches and column monuments. Baiae, for its half, is encapsulated by its ostriaria (synthetic beds for elevating oysters, a luxurious meals) and domed bathhouses. Labels accompany the photographs, and a few flasks have an inscription added at their shoulder to personalise the memento.

Though manufactured in Puteoli and offered regionally, the flasks have been present in England, Spain and North Africa. They made Puteoli and Baiae moveable far past the geographic bounds of the Bay of Naples. The one moveable pictures of those cities that I do know from antiquity, the flasks had been the only means that most individuals who encountered them would ever have ‘seen’ Puteoli and Baiae. They thus held monumental sway in shaping psychological pictures of the cities across the Roman Empire.

But the flasks are hardly documentary. Somewhat than providing goal pictorial or cartographic city views, they emphasise sure monuments over others, creating an impression of cities stuffed with lavish, imperially patronised monuments. Just like the collectible figurines and fragrance bottles of the Tyche of Antioch, the flasks of Puteoli and Baiae propagated a rigorously curated imaginative and prescient of those cities that could possibly be shared across the western Mediterranean. All these souvenirs enabled folks to own by proxy in any other case distant and probably unknowable statues and cities.

The memento flasks of Puteoli and Baiae don’t invite reflections on the cities’ seedier corners

On the similar time, these souvenirs formed the shared visions they circulated. Folks typically focus on souvenirs when it comes to capturing reminiscences however, in actuality, they open our world to fixed reinvention and manipulation. Because the cultural critic Marita Sturken has demonstrated, souvenirs associated to the terrorist assaults on america of 11 September 2001 – whether or not snow globes of the Twin Towers, or New York Fireplace Division teddy bears – provide a comfortingly harmless imaginative and prescient of American historical past, fostering tragic sentimentalism whereas obscuring the advanced causes behind 9/11, together with these wherein the US bears some complicity.

At this time, those that care to can entry sources that current extra difficult narratives of 9/11. Within the Roman Empire, the place literacy was restricted, and printmaking, images, tv and the web didn’t exist, souvenirs wielded better energy to form reminiscences and historic narratives. The memento flasks of Puteoli and Baiae focus consideration on the lavish monuments for public delectation that resulted from the cities’ imperial patronage. They don’t invite reflections on the cities’ seedier corners, on the impoverished amongst their populations, or on the usually violent imperial techniques that sustained their wealth and energy.

When people introduced the flasks again to Spain, Germany and North Africa, they disseminated objects and pictures that glorified Puteoli and Baiae – however additionally they, nonetheless unwittingly, disseminated pictures of imperialism and socioeconomic inequality within the Roman Empire. When someone in Italy or Spain bought a bronze figurine of the Tyche of Antioch, they boasted a cultural affinity with the cosmopolitan metropolis and its most well-known paintings, however they did so by way of an icon that elided Antioch’s cultural, socioeconomic, spiritual and linguistic range. Souvenirs, in antiquity as as we speak, have the ability to simplify and occlude points of the locations they signify.

Roman souvenirs, with their curated representations of statues and cities, don’t provide a glimpse of how issues ‘actually had been’. They do provide perception into historical perceptions of the ‘originals’ they signify. Souvenirs of the Tyche of Antioch reveal that historical folks understood Eutychides’ statue not merely as a non secular cult statue of a goddess but additionally as a political image of Antioch and a celebrated murals. The glass flasks of Puteoli and Baiae expose the cachet and attraction of these cities’ spectacular structure and imperial political connections – evidently a far better attract antiquity than the neighbouring metropolis of Pompeii, which as we speak monopolises a lot in style and scholarly consideration.

A memento, within the phrases of the poet Susan Stewart in On Longing (1984), ‘contracts the world so as to develop the private.’ In collapsing temporal and geographic distances into the palm of 1’s hand, souvenirs function on the intersection of people and larger-scale techniques. Within the Roman Empire, souvenirs’ manufacture and circulation depended upon the bureaucratic and infrastructure techniques of the empire, which enabled the requisite motion of uncooked items and folks. On the similar time, Roman souvenirs had been bought by people for whom the objects themselves, the locations they commemorated, and the relationships they facilitated held deeply intimate meanings.

An iron stylus excavated in London in 2019. Courtesy the Museum of London Archaeology

An sudden memento from Roman Britain drives house how deeply Roman souvenirs imbricated direct expertise, vicarious reminiscences and interpersonal relationships. The article, an iron stylus excavated in 2019 in London, is etched with this inscription, initially in Latin:

I’ve come from the Metropolis. I carry you a welcome present
with a pointy level that you could be bear in mind me.
I ask, if fortune allowed, that I’d give you the chance (to offer)
as generously as the best way is lengthy (and) as my purse is empty.

The inscription transforms an in any other case strange stylus right into a memento of the Urbs, the proverbial massive metropolis: Rome. As archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology have put it, the stylus is ‘the Roman equal of “I went to Rome and all I acquired you was this pen”.’ Nonetheless cheeky, the inscription attests to its writer’s need to carry a vicarious memento of Rome for a pal or cherished one in London. The stylus would have reminded its proprietor of the one who gifted it, the giver’s journey to Rome and, maybe, a extra summary thought of the town of Rome itself. And the memento’s motion from Italy to Britain was doable due to the land and maritime journey networks of the Roman Empire and the widespread coinage that allowed a traveller from Londinium (Roman London) to buy items in Rome itself. However its inscription and its standing as a present are idiosyncratic and intimate. As Jean Baudrillard argued in The System of Objects (1968), after we decide to an object by selecting to buy it, this act of seeming ‘personalisation’ truly upholds ideological ideas of consumption that bind us to broader social techniques. The London stylus’s inscription personalised it as an individualised present but additionally built-in its giver and recipient into an imperial ideology on the centre of which lay Rome, the Huge Metropolis.

The Tyche souvenirs allowed folks to understand, in a fashion literal in addition to figurative, the picture of the goddess

We have a tendency to think about souvenirs as we speak as mass-produced and globalised, flattening them by way of a vocabulary of plastics and ‘Made in China’ labels that may elide their emotional enchantment. But souvenirs can purchase nice sentimental worth, regardless of their mass-produced standing. I personal a ‘My boyfriend went to Jerusalem and all he acquired me was this awful T-shirt’ T-shirt that my now-husband gifted me in 2007, when he travelled to Israel. I’ve but to make it to Jerusalem myself, however this T-shirt nonetheless makes me smile. There are absolutely hundreds of an identical Jerusalem T-shirts floating round, however there is just one that my husband gave me, just one that calls to thoughts my husband’s Israeli journey, my vicarious expertise of it, and my relationship with my husband and his specific sense of gift-giving humour.

Archaeological proof from antiquity confirms that souvenirs may maintain extraordinary private significance for Romans, who equally invested themselves emotionally of their souvenirs. The Puteoli and Baiae flasks have been present in graves, houses, sanctuaries and public bathhouses. They might perform as helpful vessels and dialog items in home contexts, but additionally they accrued sufficient affective worth to be provided to the gods or taken to the afterlife.

Souvenirs of the Tyche of Antioch equally may fulfil a number of sensible and emotional roles. The bronze collectible figurines, produced removed from Syria, possible weren’t acquired as pilgrimage souvenirs from a go to to Antioch. Whereas they might have been arrange in lararia, or family shrines, they might as simply have been displayed as modest inventive replicas, the traditional equal of a poster of the Mona Lisa. The glass bottles within the form of the Tyche in all probability contained fragrance, however their superb preservation suggests they finally ended up in burials. In all cases, the Tyche souvenirs provided a vicarious expertise of Eutychides’ statue and the town it personified, and allowed folks to understand, in a fashion literal in addition to figurative, the picture of the goddess and her incorporation into spheres of leisure, journey and ritual.

Built-in into folks’s lives by way of these sensible affordances and emotional attachments, souvenirs didn’t merely replicate broadly held perceptions of locations and monuments. They constructed these perceptions. They broadcast that sure statues and cities had been worthier of commemoration than others, that sure components of a statue or buildings inside a metropolis had been the suitable recipients of particular consideration and fame, and that these landmarks may stand as shared cultural property across the Roman Empire.

Think about the Statue of Liberty as we speak. Within the absence of reproductions, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s copper statue would, in fact, stand materially in New York Harbor – however the Statue of Liberty as an thought, a logo and an internationally recognisable landmark wouldn’t. The monument’s copy on posters, postcards, snow globes, collectible figurines and T-shirts renders it iconic of New York and even the US. Eutychides’ bronze statue of Tyche would have existed within the absence of reproductions, however it might have been neither an internationally recognisable personification of Antioch nor a prestigious, sought-after paintings. The ‘unique’ statues imply a lot, and so broadly, due to their memento reproductions.

It isn’t inevitable that we’ve got come to visualise the Statue of Liberty after we consider New York (and vice versa) or that historical Romans linked Antioch and Eutychides’ statue of Tyche. It isn’t even inevitable that folks across the Roman Empire perceived Rome as the last word massive metropolis, fairly than any variety of the empire’s different giant, cosmopolitan cities. We frequently take with no consideration that, because the post-antique saying goes, all roads result in Rome, but it surely was objects such because the London stylus that usual Rome because the centre for individuals who possible would by no means voyage there and expertise it in individual. Souvenirs carried out the work of remodeling these stationary cities, buildings and statues into moveable, broadly recognisable landmarks.

Roman souvenirs had been something however marginal within the lives of their house owners and within the imperial system wherein these house owners lived. They mediated the meanings of the artworks and monuments that also inform the grand histories of Rome. They power us to confront how the copy of locations and monuments and the circulation of objects form how we all know the components of our world that we by no means see in individual – processes nonetheless in play as we speak, albeit through completely different media and on completely different scales. One can’t have a look at the Roman materials and nonetheless suppose that souvenirs solely commemorate journey. In addition they prime expectations of web sites that gasoline tourism economies, direct vacationer behaviour, and obscure the advanced histories and current circumstances of many vacationer websites. Souvenirs, whether or not a magnet of the Statue of Liberty or a bronze figurine of the Tyche of Antioch, could also be small and cheap, however banal they don’t seem to be. In our quest to know how folks, historical and trendy, think about, know and make that means of locations, we can’t afford to miss them.

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