Saturday, November 07, 2015

A Roman shield from Dura-Europos

CONSERVATION: An ancient Roman shield gets a makeover thanks to a Yale team (Bess Connolly Martell, YaleNews).
A Roman shield — painted with scenes from the Trojan War and possibly used in parades during ancient times — is being brought to light in a whole new way by a Yale team over 2,000 years after it was created and 80 years after it was excavated.

The shield — which dates back to the mid-third century A.D. — was discovered in 1935 by Yale archaeologists at the site of Dura-Europos, in present-day Syria. The site was first excavated by a French team in 1922; Yale joined the excavation in 1929. The shield is one of three that were found stacked together at the excavation site, all of which are in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG).

The three oval painted shields “are extraordinarily rare examples of ancient painting techniques on wood,” says Anne Gunnison, assistant conservator of objects at YUAG.


Dura-Europos was founded by Macedonian Greek settlers around 300 B.C. Several different groups inhabited the region over the centuries, including Greeks, Parthians, and Romans; soldiers and civilians; and early Christian, Jewish, and pagan communities. Located on the Euphrates River, Dura-Europos was situated at the crossroads of several major trade routes. In its last historical phase, the city was a Roman military garrison, which was sacked by the Sasanians in 256 A.D. After that event, Dura-Europos was not re-inhabited.

Gunnison explains that in order to fortify the city, the Romans built up their walls, and in doing so, intentionally buried a lot of material. When the site was excavated beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, archaeologists found the shields and other material under those ramparts.

Dura-Europos is an important source of information about late-antique Judaism in Syria. It has not fared well during the recent war. Background here and here with many links.