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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

War destroys everything, including culture and art

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The war is the domain of the adversary first by destroying the people, whom it kills without mercy, and then everything that gets (although not opposed) passing. The most valuable losses are people, of course. Then an irreparable loss is the art and culture sometimes accumulated over centuries and millennia, that some "warriors" qualify euphemistically of "collateral damage".

We are witnessing these days the plundering which subjects  territories archaeologically rich like Syria or Iraq exploiting the violence of war. Egypt  is being systematically for hundreds of years. It has always been the same since the "homo Necans", "the man who kills",  discovered his capacity for violence with his peers. All lavish museums of the civilized Europe are filled with the fruit  of war and colonial plunder. This is well known and well painful.

In the Antiquity wars were so frequent and destructive as today and  examples of destruction and looting of art are well numerous. I will quote two or three texts which show the insensitivity of Roman  "Legionnaire"  against Greek art, which is systematically plundered.

Perhaps the most famous case of destruction of an immense cultural either the award of the burning of the Library of Alexandria by the army of Julius Caesar in 48 or 47 BC in Caesar's war with Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra's brother. Actually the confusion of texts and subsequent survival of the Library does not reveal it to be burned and destroyed the Library as such; it seems rather that the fire was confined to papyrus scrolls packages prepared in the docks for export, which was part of the economic strength of Alexandria. See http://en.antiquitatem.com/destruction-of-library-of-alexandria

But it is very curious  what happened in the conquest of Greece by the Romans. Corinth is one of the most famous ancient cities by their artistic creativity. Its bronze figures and  objects are desired and demanded across the ancient world. Corinth was conquered and sacked by the Romans in 146 BC. Well, the texts I reproduce are very significant of the valuation of the  masterpiece of art by professionals of militia and army.

Strabo, Geography, 8.6.23

The Corinthians, when subject to Philip, espoused his party very zealously, and individually conducted themselves so contemptuously towards the Romans, that persons ventured to throw down filth upon their ambassadors, when passing by their houses. They were immediately punished for these and other offences and insults. A large army was sent out under the commaud of Lucius Mummius, who razed the city.1 The rest of the country, as far as Macedonia, was subjected to the Romans under different generals. The Sicyonii, however, had the largest part of the Corinthian territory. 

Polybius relates with regret what occurred at the capture of the city, and speaks of the indifference the soldiers showed for works of art, and the sacred offerings of the temples. He says, that he was present, and saw pictures thrown upon the ground, and soldiers playing at dice upon them. Among others, he specifies by name the picture of Bacchus2 by Aristeides, (to which it is said the proverb was applied, ‘Nothing to the Bacchus,’) and Hercules tortured in the robe, the gift of Deïaneira.

3  This I have not myself seen, but I have seen the picture of the Bacchus suspended in the Demetreium at Rome, a very beautiful piece of art, which, together with the temple, was lately consumed by fire. The greatest number and the finest of the other offerings in Rome were brought from Corinth. Some of them were in the possession of the cities in the neighbourhood of Rome. For Mummius being more brave and generous than an admirer of the arts, presented them without hesitation to those who asked for them.4 Lucullus, having built the temple of Good Fortune, and a portico, requested of Mummius the use of some statues, under the pretext of ornamenting the temple with them at the time of its dedication, and promised to restore them. He did not, however, restore, but presented them as sacred offerings, and told Mummius to take them away if he pleased. Mummius did not resent this conduct, not caring about the statues, but obtained more honour than Lucullus, who presented them as sacred offerings.

Corinth remained a long time deserted, till at length it was restored on account of its natural advantages by divus Cæsar, who sent colonists thither, who consisted, for the most part, of the descendants of free-men.  On moving the ruins, and digging open the sepulchres, an abundance of works in pottery with figures on them, and many in brass, were found. The workmanship was admired, and all the sepulchres were examined with the greatest care. Thus was obtained a large quantity of things, which were disposed of at a great price, and Rome filled with Necro- Corinthia, by which name were distinguished the articles taken out of the sepulchres, and particularly the pottery. At first these latter were held in as much esteem as the works of the Corinthian artists in brass, but this desire to have them did not continue, not only because the supply failed, but because the greatest part of them were not well executed.

5 The city of Corinth was large and opulent at all periods, and produced a great number of statesmen and artists. For here in particular, and at Sicyon, flourished painting, and modelling, and every art of this kind.

The soil was not very fertile; its surface was uneven and rugged, whence all writers describe Corinth as full of brows of hills, and apply the proverb, “ Corinth rises with brows of hills, and sinks into hollows. (Translation by H.C. Hamilton, Esq., W. Falconer, M.A., Ed)

Notes:
- Aristides of Thebes, the painter of  the famous "Bacchus", was a contemporary of Alexander the Great. At a public sale  of the spoils of Corinth, King Attalus offered   so large an amount of money for this "Bacchus" that Mummius, who knew nothing of art and unknowing its value, thought that the picture had some magical power that he  did not know, and sent it to Rome in spite of the protestations of Attalus. In another text of this article I put in evidence the ignorance of this rough Mummius.

- The story of Hercules and Deianira forms  the subject of Sophocles' tragedy “The Tarquiniae”.

Velleius Paterculus says us it in his Roman I, 13 History:

13  Cato, the constant advocate of her destruction, died three years before the fall of Carthage, in the consulship of Lucius Censorinus and Manius Manilius. In the same year in which Carthage fell Lucius Mummius destroyed Corinth to her very foundations, nine hundred and fifty-two years after her founding by Aletes, son of Hippos.  The two conquerors were honoured by the names of the conquered races. The one was surnamed Africanus, the other Achaicus. Before Mummius no new man earned for himself a cognomen won by military glory.

The two commanders differed in their characters as in their tastes. Scipio was a cultivated patron and admirer of liberal studies and of every form of learning, and kept constantly with him, at home and in the field, two men of eminent genius, Polybius and Panaetius. No one ever relieved the duties of an active life by a more refined use of his intervals of leisure than Scipio, or was more constant in his devotion to the arts either of war or peace. Ever engaged in the pursuit of arms or his studies, he was either training his body by exposing it to dangers or his mind by learning. Mummius was so uncultivated that when, after the capture of Corinth, he was contracting for the transportation to Italy of pictures and statues by the hands of the greatest artists, he gave instructions that the contractors should be warned that if they lost them, they would have to replace them by new ones. Yet I do not think, Vinicius, that you would hesitate to concede that it would have been more useful to the state for the appreciation of Corinthian works of art to have remained uncultivated to the present day, than that they will be appreciated to the extent to which they now are, and that the ignorance of those days was more conducive to the public weal than our present artistic knowledge.  (Translation  of Frederick W. Shipley, Loeb Classical Library, Velleius Paterculus and Res Gestae Divi Augusti, first published in 1924).

Velleius Paterculus,  Historia Romana I, 13

13 Ante triennium quam Carthago deleretur, M. Cato, perpetuus diruendae eius auctor, L. Censorino M'. Manilio consulibus mortem obiit. Eodem anno, quo Carthago concidit, L. Mummius Corinthum post annos nongentos quinquaginta duos, quam ab Alete Hippotis filio erat condita, funditus eruit. Uterque imperator devictae a se gentis nomine honoratus, alter Africanus, alter appellatus est Achaicus; nec quisquam ex novis hominibus prior Mummio cognomen virtute partum vindicavit.
Diversi imperatoribus mores, diversa fuere studia: quippe Scipio tam elegans liberalium studiorum omnisque doctrinae et auctor et admirator fuit, ut Polybium Panaetiumque, praecellentes ingenio viros, domi militiaeque secum habuerit. Neque enim quisquam hoc Scipione elegantius intervalla negotiorum otio dispunxit semperque aut belli aut pacis serviit artibus: semper inter arma ac studia versatus aut corpus periculis aut animum disciplinis exercuit.  Mummius tam rudis fuit, ut capta Corintho cum maximorum artificum perfectas manibus tabulas ac statuas in Italiam portandas locaret, iuberet praedici conducentibus, si eas perdidissent, novas eos reddituros.  Non tamen puto dubites, Vinici, quin magis pro re publica fuerit manere adhuc rudem Corinthiorum intellectum quam in tantum ea intellegi, et quin hac prudentia illa imprudentia decori publico fuerit convenientior.

The final consideration of the text of Velleius Paterculus is due to the moralizing character of his work, which rejects the luxury and oriental influence that has prevailed in Rome and perhaps claiming to be a compliment to the austerity policy of Tiberius.

Pliny  also gives us information about this so rude Mummius, who was used as a prototype in rhetorical exercises,  in his Natural History, XXXV, (8), 24.

The high estimation in which the paintings of foreigners were held at Rome commenced with Lucius Mummius, who, from his victories, acquired the surname of "Achaicus." For upon the sale of the spoil on that occasion, King Attalus having purchased, at the price of six thousand denarii, a painting of Father Liber by Aristides, Mummius, feeling surprised at the price, and suspecting that there might be some merit in it of which he himself was unaware, in spite of the complaints of Attalus, broke off the bargain, and had the picture placed in the Temple of Ceres; the first instance, I conceive, of a foreign painting being publicly exhibited at Rome. After this, I find, it became a common practice to exhibit foreign pictures in the Forum. (English  translation by John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A., 1855)

Tabulis autem externis auctoritatem Romae publice fecit primus omnium L. Mummius, cui cognomen Achaici victoria dedit. namque cum in praeda vendenda rex Attalus VI emisset tabulam Aristidis, Liberum patrem, pretium miratus suspicatusque aliquid in ea virtutis, quod ipse nesciret, revocavit tabulam, Attalo multum querente, et in Cereris delubro posuit. quam primam arbitror picturam externam Romae publicatam, deinde video et in foro positas volgo.

Corinth is a famous arts center. From its artistic production they are especially sought its  bronzes, its making jewelery, the famous " Corinthian bronzes" (cups, trays, jugs, flowers and other objects), which had a characteristic color and odor that made them highly prized by the Romans, who collected them as a sign of wealth.

The freedman and nouveau riche Trimalchius, star of much of the Satyricon of Petronius, has no qualms about giving a crazy version of the origin of these famous glasses, even if it means to make the biggest anachronism:  the fall of Troy and the Carthaginian  Anibal are contemporaries. Petronius tells us it in his Satyricon, 50:

The whole household burst into unanimous applause at this; "Hurrah for Gaius," they shouted. As for the cook, he was given a drink and a silver crown and a cup on a salver of Corinthian bronze. Seeing that Agamemnon was eyeing the platter closely, Trimalchio remarked, "I'm the only one that can show the real Corinthian!" I thought that, in his usual purse-proud manner, he was going to boast that his bronzes were all imported from Corinth, but he did even better by saying, "Wouldn't you like to know how it is that I'm the only one that can show the real Corinthian? Well, it's because the bronze worker I patronize is named Corinthus, and what's Corinthian unless it's what a Corinthus makes? And, so you won't think I'm a blockhead, I'm going to show you that I'm well acquainted with how Corinthian first came into the world. When Troy was taken, Hannibal, who was a very foxy fellow and a great rascal into the bargain, piled all the gold and silver and bronze statues in one pile and set 'em afire, melting these different metals into one: then the metal workers took their pick and made bowls and dessert dishes and statuettes as well. That's how Corinthian was born; neither one nor the other, but an amalgam of all. But I prefer glass, if you don't mind my saying so; it don't stink, and if it didn't break, I'd rather have it than gold, but it's cheap and common now." (Translation by W. C. Firebaugh)

Plausum post hoc automatum familia dedit et "Gaio feliciter!" conclamavit. Nec non cocus potione honoratus est, etiam argentea corona poculumque in lance accepit Corinthia. Quam cum Agamemnon propius consideraret, ait Trimalchio: "Solus sum qui vera Corinthea habeam." Exspectabam ut pro reliqua insolentia diceret sibi vasa Corintho afferri. Sed ille melius: "Et forsitan, inquit, quaeris quare solus Corinthea vera possideam: quia scilicet aerarius, a quo emo, Corinthus vocatur. Quid est autem Corintheum, nisi quis Corinthum habeat? Et ne me putetis nesapium esse, valde bene scio, unde primum Corinthea nata sint. Cum Ilium captum est, Hannibal, homo vafer et magnus stelio, omnes statuas aeneas et aureas et argenteas in unum rogum congessit et eas incendit; factae sunt in unum aera miscellanea. Ita ex hac massa fabri sustulerunt et fecerunt catilla et paropsides statuncula. Sic Corinthea nata sunt, ex omnibus in unum, nec hoc nec illud. Ignoscetis mihi quod dixero: ego malo mihi vitrea, certe non olunt. Quod si non frangerentur, mallem mihi quam aurum; nunc autem vilia sunt.

It is a shocking anachronism to make contemporaries the fall of Troy and Anibal, but no less shocking is that Isidore collect from Petronius this anecdote, it is true that removing the anachronism, in his Origins or Etymologies 16, 20.4:

The "Corinthian bronze" is an alloy of all metals that was first mixed by chance during the burning of Corinth, when the city was conquered. Indeed, when Hannibal captured the city, he raised a pyre with all the bronze and  gold and silver statues, and set them on fire: the workmen took  material from  this resulting mixture and manufactured plates. Thus Corinthian bronze, created from  all the metals and not just this neither one particular,  was discovered. Therefore, to the present  today it is known as "Corinthian bronze" or "Corinthian vessels"  it which is derived from the same alloy or from an imitation of it.

Corintheum  est commistio ómnium metallroum, quod casus primum miscuit, Corintho, cum caperetur, incensa. Nam dum hanc civitatem Hannibal cepisset, omnes statuas aeneas et aureas et argenteas in unum rogum congessit et eas incendit: ita ex hac commistione fabri sustulerunt et fecerunt parapsides. Sic Corinthea nata sunt ex omnibus in unum, nec hoc nec illud. Unde et usque in hodiernum diem sive ex ipso sive ex imitation eius aes Corintheum vel Corinthea vasa dicuntur.

   
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