Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Fancy Dress for Roman Marines ? : The answer is dangling in the wind

Halloween approaches. Dressing up is de rigeur. But no ! What is this ? Cultural appropriation by Republican Roman naval soldiery ?
Whatever next ?
Osprey books are a mine of small-scale errors. The format predisposes them to fail on details. It is impossible to cram 'all about X' into a booklet.

Republican Roman Warship is a subject I would like to be as positively disposed toward as I could be. It does grate a little when reading it though.. One asks is it the translation?, or are these really  the words of the author ?

One little sub-theme in the book is the costume of Roman marines. There are not so many depictions of Roman marines and when they do turn up they often look rather like contemporary legionary soldiers. It might be nice, then, to discover some overlooked evidence. But trying too hard sometimes gets the wrong result.

In Roman Republican Warships (Osprey New Vanguard 225) RaffaeleD'Amato suggests that marines in the Republican period - or even all sailors? - wore a distinctive garb. This garb is derived from sculpted Etruscan alabaster cinerary urns of which hundreds have been found in the Volterra area.

Shout! They cannot hear you !
This is illustrated by Giuseppe Rava in several contexts.



The first is an assault on Syracuse where sailors struggle with a monstrous pedalion as their monstrous quinquereme deploys a version of the sambuca against the city walls.



The second is a sea battle where a bow-armed marine dressed as a Spanish sword-and-buckler man supports legionaries advancing over a corvus.

Aie caramba!

Although he does not state it  directly (unless I missed it) D'Amato considers the Volterra urns to show a specific Etruscan costume which somehow relates to republican Roman sailors/marines. Two jumps too many in my opinion.

Firstly, the question of whether the costume on the Volterro urns is a( Etruscan or b) a sailor's/marine's costume.

There are many urns at Volterro. Many examples show stock scenes from mythology and two are recurrent.

The first one is the Rape of Helen.

The men have clothes which are full enough to fall in pleats. Cloaks and cute caps. Paris(?) in the centre and his sidekick to the right have no shoes.

The second is Odysseus and the Sirens.

You may see that there is a common style of dress amongst the crew of the ships in both cases.
Maybe an example of Odysseus' crew with heads on will help also..
'A jock-strap, a jock-strap, my kingdom for a jockstrap...'
The crew have rather gauzey clothing which falls in pleats, cloaks round their shoulders and cute hats with a good firm chin tie. Odysseus, meanwhile, is starkers save for a cloak and cap and no chin-tie necessary for a hero!

What is going on here ? Are these really the clothes of Republican sailors/marines and are they anything of the sort from Etruscan contexts?

First let the Vatican Museum tell us about what these objects are

The rite of cremation, with the resulting funerary custom of placing the ashes of the deceased in urns in sculpted stone or modelled in terra-cotta, is particularly documented in the interior of northern Etruria from the 4th century BC. A great quantity of cinerary urns, with particular artistic and typological characteristics was produced in the main Etruscan cities of this vast area (Volterra, Chiusi and Perugia). The reliefs that decorate the front of the casks are the result of an independent development of the Hellenistic figurative repertoire. Greek myths and, more typically, Etruscan myths co-exist, united by the adoption of the same figurative language, in one of the most characteristic manifestations of Etruscan artistic craftwork. The urns were sculpted from the natural stone of the area which was alabaster for Volterra and Chiusi, and travertine for Perugia, but there were also some less valuable stones. LINK

The art here is not representations of naval themes for a naval audience it is representations of well-known stock themes from mythology and history for a civilian audience.
Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show WAS 'The Wild West'  Discuss.

The two stories here are of exotic characters from the east acting out specific scenes.

Paris and his cronies are Trojans abducting Helen. They are dressed as exotic asiatics. Their full clothes are a contrast to the usual clothes of Latium and Etruria. We can see the same stereotypical representations used to depict mithras at later dates. Mithras was an eastern god often adopted by soldiers. He is always shown in characteristic eastern dress of the magi.
Mithras from Diocletian's baths
 A dead giveaway are the Phrygian caps. They are constant signifiers of eastern characters in Classical art.
Vatican Æneid manuscript : how to tell the Trojans are from the East?
Also, the extra folds around their midriffs are from long over-tunics bound-up to shorten them for easy movement rather than some padded armour.

The Parisians also have cloaks. No cloaks aboard Amato/Rava's ships.

Any padding or jack-like garment as worn by the Osprey characters would appear to be misinterpretation of the pleated clothes from the cinerary urns.

On to Odysseus.

Odysseus' crew have the same exotic(?) garb. The folded/pleated clothes which are figure -hugging and folded-up as per the Parisians. Cloaks figure again. The ones absent in Osprey.

The hat situation is amusing. Now the story of Odysseus and the Sirens includes a key detail which can involve headwear. The cunning skipper blocked his sailor's ears with wax etc so they could no thear the siren song of the Sirens. Contra the Parisians' headgear, Odysseus' crew have hats and ear bandages to emphasise their auditorily-challenged state. This is also exactly what John William Waterhouse did to depict the situation in his 1891 canvas.
Surely not?
So where do we stand now in relation to Republican Roman marines/sailors in action on the pages of Osprey New Vanguard 225 ? Unless these men are pretending to be asiatics - a hideous cultural appropriation and racial sterotyping we should all abjure - then they are dressed in medieval jacks. An anachronism too far, surely.

No. They are actually cultural stereotypes. As devoid of reality and sense  as those who complain about  cultural appropriation and sterotypes.

And were the officers naked ?

This is overlooking the problem of how an Etruscan style should find its way into the Republican Roman navy.....let's leave that question dangling to the four winds, like Odysseus' manhood.


Take that you Roman (Osprey) navy !

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