Sunday, 20 December 2015

A small obol from Neandreia

I have a perverse pleasure in very small Greek silver coins, the smaller the better. I happened across this one and, whilst I already had an example of it, the state of preservation of this one made me buy it. On a coin only 7mm and weighing in at only 0.4 grammes the artistry of the head of Apollo on one side combined with the goat on the other make this a thing of wonder.

It is a silver obol from the city of Neandreia in the Troas in Anatollia, Turkey, dating from around 400 BC.

We do not know the circumstances of Neandreia's foundation in the Archaic period. A tradition known to the author of the 4th century CE work Dictys Cretensis Ephemeridos belli Trojani claimed that Neandreia had been the home of the legendary king Cycnus who was killed on the first day of the Trojan War by Achilles and his city sacked.

In the 5th century BCE Neandreia was a member of the Delian League and is recorded paying a tribute to Athens of 2,000 drachmas as part of the Hellespontine district from 454 to 410 BC. Soon after this latter date, perhaps following the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War in 404, the city of Neandreia came under the influence of Zenis, the dynast of Dardanus, who controlled the Troad on behalf of the Persian satrap Pharnabazos.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Two new Beatles mixes from Revolver on acetate

The song Taxman by George Harrison opened the 1966 album Revolver. The version that appeared there was take 12 recorded/mixed 20–22 April, 16 May and 21 June 1966. It featured an ending that was made up of an overdub of the McCartney guitar solo from the middle eight. The album of alternate versions, Anthology 2 (released 1996), featured a version that ended “cold” with the word “Taxman”.

Recently a version has surfaced on an Emidisc acetate from 1966 that bridges these two versions in that there is an extended ending of an overdub, not of the middle eight guitar solo but with the driving bass riff that underpins the song (and that was incidentally used by the Jam on their song Start! From the album Sound Affects).

It came in a group of acetates that also included a new rough mix of And Your Bird Can Sing with a shaky lead guitar track and different drumming in the outro, also from Revolver.

Monday, 5 October 2015


Bronze coins of Cunobelin

Cunobeline (or Cunobelin, from Latin Cunobelinus, derived from Greek Kynobellinus) was a king in pre-Roman Britain from the late first century BC until the 40s AD. He is mentioned in passing by the classical historians Suetonius and Dio Cassius, and many coins bearing his inscription have been found. He appears to have controlled a substantial portion of south-eastern Britain, and is called "King of the Britons" (Britannorum rex) by Suetonius.

Cunobeline appears in British legend as Cynfelyn (Welsh), Kymbelinus (medieval Latin) or Cymbeline, as in the play by William Shakespeare. His name is a compound made up of cuno- (hound) and Belenos (the god Belenus).

From numismatic evidence Cunobelinus appears to have taken power around 9 AD, minting coins from both Camulodunum (Colchester, capital of the Trinovantes) and Verlamion (later the Roman town of Verulamium, now modern St Albans), capital of the Catuvellauni. Some of the Verulamium coins name him as the son of Tasciovanus, a previous king of the Catuvellauni; unlike his father's, his coins name no co-rulers. However his earliest issues are from Camulodunum, indicating that he took power there first, and some have a palm or laurel wreath design, a motif borrowed from the Romans indicating a military victory. He may have been emboldened to act against the Trinovantes by the Roman defeat in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in Germania in AD 9. The Trinovantes were a Roman ally whose independence was protected by a treaty made by Julius Caesar in 54 BC, but problems in Germania severely discouraged Augustus's territorial ambitions and ability to defend allies in Britain.

Cunobelinus appears to have maintained quite good relations with the Roman Empire. He used the title Rex (Latin "king") and classical motifs on his coins, and his reign saw an increase in trade with the continent. Archaeology shows an increase in luxury goods imported from the continent, including Italian wine and drinking vessels, olive oil and fish sauces from Hispania, glassware, jewellery and Gallo-Belgic tableware, which from their distribution appear to have entered Britain via the port of Camulodunum. He was probably one of the British kings that Strabo says sent embassies to Augustus. Strabo reports Rome's lucrative trade with Britain: the island's exports included grain, gold, silver, iron, hides, slaves and hunting dogs.

Cunobelinus had three sons, Adminius, Togodumnus and Caratacus, and a brother, Epaticcus, known to history. Epaticcus expanded his influence into the territory of the Atrebates in the early 20s AD, taking the Atrebatan capital Calleva (Silchester) by about 25. He continued to expand his territory until his death in about 35, when Caratacus took over from him and the Atrebates recovered some of their territory.

Adminius, judging by his coins, had control of Kent by this time. Suetonius tells us that in ca. 40 he was banished from Britain by his father and sought refuge with the emperor Caligula; Caligula treated this as if the entire island had submitted to him. Caligula prepared an invasion of Britain, but abandoned it in farcical circumstances, ordering his soldiers to attack the waves and gather seashells as the spoils of victory.

Cunobelinus died some time before 43. The Lexden Tumulus on the outskirts of Colchester has been suggested as his tomb (although the earlier Trinovantian king Addedomarus is another candidate for its occupant). Caratacus completed the conquest of the Atrebates, and their king, Verica, fled to Rome, providing the new emperor, Claudius, with a pretext for the conquest of Britain. Caratacus and Togodumnus led the initial resistance to the invasion. Dio Cassius tells us that the "Bodunni", a tribe who were tributary to the Catuvellauni, changed sides and supported the Romans. This is probably a misspelling of the Dobunni of Gloucestershire, indicating that Cunobelinus's hegemony extended as far as the West Country.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Airspeed Ltd, York, due to be demolished

I was in York today and thought I’d grab the opportunity to photograph a building used by Airspeed in the 1930’s for the construction of aeroplanes.

Airspeed Limited was established to build aeroplanes in 1931 in York, England, by A. H. Tiltman and Nevil Shute Norway (the aeronautical engineer and famous writer, who used his forenames as his pen-name). The other directors were A. E. Hewitt, Lord Grimthorpe and Alan Cobham. Amy Johnson was also one of the initial subscribers for shares.

After a short production run of the AS.1 Tern glider, Airspeed produced the AS.4 Ferry, a three-engined, ten-passenger biplane, concentrating on transport monoplanes thereafter. In March 1933, the firm moved to Portsmouth and, in the following year, became associated with the Tyneside ship builder Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Limited and became Airspeed (1934) Limited in August 1934. During this period, it developed the AS.8 Viceroy for an intercontinental air race.

York Councillors decided this week that the building that housed the historic aircraft factory in Piccadilly was in a dangerous state of repair and at risk of collapse and consented to its demolition.

Built as a trolley bus depot in the 1920s, it was leased by Shute and his investors in 1931 for his Airspeed Ltd factory.

The decision was opposed by the city's Civic Trust and the Green Party.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Septimius Severus' British campaigns

Coins commemorating the British victories of Septimius Severus and his sons, Caracalla and Geta
In 208 Septimius Severus travelled to Britain with the intention of conquering Caledonia. Modern archaeological discoveries have made the scope and direction of his northern campaign better understood. Severus probably arrived in Britain possessing an army over 40,000, considering some of the camps constructed during his campaign could house this number.

He strengthened Hadrian's Wall and reconquered the Southern Uplands up to the Antonine Wall, which was also enhanced. Severus built a 165-acre camp south of the Antonine Wall at Trimontium, probably assembling his forces there. Severus then thrust north with his army across the wall into enemy territory. Retracing the steps of Agricola over a century previously, Severus rebuilt and garrisoned many abandoned Roman forts along the east coast, including Carpow which could house up to 40,000 soldiers.

Cassius Dio's account of the invasion reads "Severus, accordingly, desiring to subjugate the whole of it, invaded Caledonia. But as he advanced through the country he experienced countless hardships in cutting down the forests, levelling the heights, filling up the swamps, and bridging the rivers; but he fought no battle and beheld no enemy in battle array. The enemy purposely put sheep and cattle in front of the soldiers for them to seize, in order that they might be lured on still further until they were worn out; for in fact the water caused great suffering to the Romans, and when they became scattered, they would be attacked. Then, unable to walk, they would be slain by their own men, in order to avoid capture, so that a full fifty thousand died. But Severus did not desist until he approached the extremity of the island. Here he observed most accurately the variation of the sun's motion and the length of the days and the nights in summer and winter respectively. Having thus been conveyed through practically the whole of the hostile country (for he actually was conveyed in a covered litter most of the way, on account of his infirmity), he returned to the friendly portion, after he had forced the Britons to come to terms, on the condition that they should abandon a large part of their territory."

Severus' campaign was cut short when he fell fatally ill. He withdrew to Eboracum (York) and died there on 4th February 211.

Monday, 25 May 2015

William of Hainaut, Bishop of Cambrai

Sterling, William of Hainaut, Bishop of Cambrai, c. 1292-96, Mayhew 87-8

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the English penny (or sterling) was imitated on the continent by a number of rulers. They may be divided into pollards (portrait crowned, as on the English prototypes) and crockards where the portrait is garlanded by roses.

I was recently sent an example of a crockard issued by William of Hinaut.

William of Avesnes, or Hainaut, born in 1254 and died in 1296, was a French prelate of the thirteenth century. He is the son of John I of Avesnes and Adelaide of Holland. He is the brother of John II of Avesnes, Count of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland.

William was provost of Cambrai, at the time of his election as bishop of Cambrai in 1290. There are many arguments between the bishop and the chapter. There can be a lot of sympathy between the bishop and the canons, when we know that they are at war with John of Avesnes, Count of Hainault, brother of William, whose officers had come to the village Onains to burn down several houses, ddemolish the mill, remove the bailiff with other people and many cattle, and they have even hanged a man. After several successive compromises, these disputes did not end until 1335. William died in 1296, on the route to Jerusalem.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Thoth as a seated baboon

One of my few Egyptian antiquities is this late dynastic faience amulet of Thoth in the form of a seated baboon.

Thoth's roles in Egyptian mythology were many. He served as a mediating power, especially between good and evil, making sure neither had a decisive victory over the other. He also served as scribe of the gods, credited with the invention of writing and alphabets (i.e. hieroglyphs) themselves. In the underworld, Duat, he appeared as an ape, A'an, the god of equilibrium, who reported when the scales weighing the deceased's heart against the feather, representing the principle of Ma'at, was exactly even.

The ancient Egyptians regarded Thoth as One, self-begotten, and self-produced. He was the master of both physical and moral (i.e. Divine) law, making proper use of Ma'at. He is credited with making the calculations for the establishment of the heavens, stars, Earth, and everything in them. Compare this to how his feminine counterpart, Ma'at was the force which maintained the Universe. He is said to direct the motions of the heavenly bodies. Without his words, the Egyptians believed, the gods would not exist. His power was unlimited in the Underworld and rivaled that of Ra and Osiris.

The Egyptians credited him as the author of all works of science, religion, philosophy, and magic. The Greeks further declared him the inventor of astronomy, astrology, the science of numbers, mathematics, geometry, land surveying, medicine, botany, theology, civilized government, the alphabet, reading, writing, and oratory. They further claimed he was the true author of every work of every branch of knowledge, human and divine.

Reputedly ex Florence Rossetti collection (c.1948-50)

Sunday, 8 February 2015

William de Ros, Hob Moor in York and the Magna Carta

On a very sunny Sunday in early February I’ve just walked from Woodthorpe in the suburbs into York across Hob Moor. Hob Moor is one of the ancient commons of the city with mediaeval strip fields very evident in parts. There are also the remains of an old golf course, greens and bunkers, that existed between 1920 and 1946.

At the Tadcaster Road end there are two stone monuments, a weathered coffin lid of a 14th century knight and a “plague stone/bowl”.

During the visitations of the plague in the 16th and 17th centuries, victims were brought from the city and housed in wooden lodges on Hob Moor. They would pay for food brought out to them by placing money in water or vinegar in the central depression in the Plague Stone, following the old belief that bubonic plague was spread by contact with coin.

Beside the Plague Stone is the Hob Stone, the effigy of a knight of the de Ros family. It was sculpted in about 1315 and is now much eroded, but the head, shoulders and shield can still be seen. It may be the coffin of William de Ros or Roos, 1st Baron de Ros of Helmsley (c.1255 – 6 or 8 August 1316), was one of the claimants of the crown of Scotland in 1292 during the reign of Edward I. He was the great grandson of Sir Robert de Ros, one of the twenty-five barons who guaranteed the observance of Magna Carta, and Isabel of Scotland, an illegitimate daughter of William the Lion, King of the Scots, by a daughter of Robert Avenel.

A sketch of Hob Stone was made by George Nicholson in 1825. It shows the wording engraved on the back of the knight’s coffin lid that said 'This image long Hob's name has bore who was a knight in time of yore and gave this common to ye poor'.

These were engraved on a brass plaque that has sadly gone missing.