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LOT 0449

GBP (£) 80,000 - 100,000
EUR (€) 88,330 - 110,410
USD ($) 97,670 - 122,090

Opening Bid
£72,000 (EUR 79,497; USD 87,907) (+bp*) Add to Watch list

Roman Cavalry 'Mater Castrorum' Sports Mask of an Amazon Warrior

Late 2nd century AD-early 3rd century AD

Another 'hauntingly unforgettable work of art', with distinct artistic parallels to the famous Crosby Garrett helmet found in Cumbria in 2010; a bronze sports helmet mask of the exceptionally rare Mater Castrorum or female type, showing the head of an Amazon warrior or goddess with locks of wavy hair, topped with a tutulus hairstyle, diadems, garlands and other jewellery; the garland-diadem has a central knot with two hanging curls and is decorated with X-patterns inscribed inside rectangles; this mask was removable, being capable of being taken off at any time, proving that this type of helmet could be used not only during parades and other ceremonies, but also in combat. 580 grams, 26 x 24 cm without stand (10 1/4 x 9 1/2"). Very fine condition, an exceptional survival from Roman Britain. Excessively rare.

Condition report [Click to show]

Property of a London collector; previously in the Craddock collection having been acquired from a London gallery in 2006; formerly in the Brian Grover collection of Surrey since acquisition in York in the 1970s; formerly in the collection of Peter Minns; believed originally from Northern England; accompanied by a copy of a signed acquisition and provenance declaration/receipt dated 23 May 2005; a sales invoice to A. L. Craddock from 2006; a metallurgic analytical report, written by Metallurgist Dr. Brian Gilmour of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, report number 609/131084; an academic report by military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato who will be making a presentation on this helmet at our reception on 2nd September 2019; and a report by the conservation specialist who restored the helmet, discussing the similarities of style and workmanship to the 'Crosby Garrett' helmet, which concludes that it is likely made by the same craftsman, or at least from the same workshop; accompanied by an Art Loss Register certificate no. S00149981.

See Robinson, R., The Armour of Imperial Rome, New York, 1975; Garbsch, J., Römische Paraderustüngen, München, 1979; James, S., Excavations at Dura Europos 1928-1937, Final Report VII, The Arms and Armour and other military equipment, London, 2004; D'Amato R., A.Negin, Decorated Roman Armour, London, 2017. The two most evident samples resembling our specimen are the mask of Nola, today at the British Museum, and the mask of the Paul Getty Museum (D'Amato-Negin, 2017, p.220, fig.255 letters d-e). Maybe, as the facial mask from Nola, our mask depicts a goddess, Minerva or Victoria or Diana. This goddess is well suited to being depicted on protective arms since, unlike Mars, who loved blood, war and violence in any form, Minerva represented sacred defensive war and was the goddess of defence, symbolising the protection and patronage granted to the soldier. The stylistic type of the mask suggests that it is from the same school who made the masks of Nola (Italy?) and of the Paul Getty Museum (Syria or Egypt?). The similarity with the latter is astonishing, and like in the one of the Getty, the empty spaces of the diadem were probably originally encrusted with precious stones.

This mask helmet belongs to the category of Roman mask helmets usually employed in the sportive games, acting also as military training, of the so called Hyppika Gymnasia described by Arrian of Nicomedia in his Taktika, written down during the age of the Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD). The finds of two opposed ‘male’ and ‘female’ kind of masks in the military camp of Straubing, together with items of arms and equipment of opposing teams which performed a theatrical cavalry tournament, allowed to understand that the two groups performed, in their exercises, the mythical fight amongst Greeks and Amazons. This theatrical Amazonomachy was popular among Roman soldiers as evidenced by the fact that it is depicted on one of the three oval shields of the third century AD from Dura Europos (James, 2004, pl.VII). The representation of an Amazonomachy scene was not only a tribute to mythological tradition. In warfare, time after time the Romans encountered women fighting against them: Flavius Vopiscus wrote that women dressed in male attire (apparently, Sarmatian women warriors) used to fight against the Romans on the side of the Goths even in the late third century AD (Scriptores Historia Augusta, Divus Aurelianus, XXXIV, 1). Therefore, the imitation of confrontation with these militant women might be quite popular for theatrical cavalry tournaments, as well as for the visualisation of mythological scenes (D'Amato-Negin, 2017, p.213). A. Negin, however, was able to individuate three different types of such female masks used in such tournaments and probably also on the battlefield: the ‘Amazon’ type, the ’Mater Castrorum’ type, and the ‘Medusa’ type.

Our specimen belongs to the Mater Castrorum type. E. Künzl (2008, pp.115-117) noted the similarity of some masks with images of soldiers’ empresses of the third century AD and suggested their relationship with the cult of mater castrorum (mother of the camp). It is commonly known that, besides civilian titles, an empress received this honorary title for her participation in military campaigns, like Faustina the Younger or Julia Domna (D'Amato-Negin, 2017, p.222). Examples in this group of masks date from the second half of the second to the first half of the third centuries AD. It was not necessary to make an exact copy of the portrait of a woman of the imperial family, it was sufficient to have a few distinguishing features on an item and achieve a general resemblance. According to J. Oliver, celebrations in the calends of January (Kalendae Ianuariae), as marked in the military calendar from Dura-europos (Feriale Duranum), namely 1 January, were intended to honour and bring sacrifices to the mother patroness of the military camp (mater castrorum). Negin assumed that during the solemn and theatrical ceremonies, masks of this type could be worn by the celebrant representing the divine patroness of military camps and performing games in cavalry tournaments. The relationship, at least, of a number of female masks to the cult of mater castrorum partly explains the fact that Arrian in his treatise on cavalry tournaments mentioned nothing about masks depicting female faces, as Faustina the Younger was awarded this title forty years after this source had been written. Putting on the attributes of a different gender identity, male soldiers impersonated women both in theatrical performances of Amazonomachy and in ceremonies honouring the ‘mother of the camp’.

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Auction Venue:
The May Fair Hotel London
Stratton Street
Mayfair London, W1J 8LT

Viewing from noon Monday 2nd September 2019
Champagne Reception: 6pm - 9pm

(Lots 1-660)

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363 Main Road
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Auctions start 10am BST (Lunch 1.30 - 2pm)

Wednesday 4th September 2019 (Day 2)
Lots 700 – 1299 (Antiquities)
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Lots 2500 – 3099 (Antiquities)
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Lots 3747 - 4563 (Coins)

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