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LOT 0077

GBP (£) 20,000 - 30,000
EUR (€) 23,330 - 35,000
USD ($) 25,800 - 38,690

Bid History: 3   |   Current bid: £11,000
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Roman Gilt Silver 'Thunderbolt Legio XII' Plaque

1st-2nd century AD

A silver rectangular plaque with folded edges and fixing holes, having a parcel-gilt repoussé inscription 'LEG/ XII/ FVL' for Legio duodecima Fulminata, decorated with the embossed thunderbolts of Jupiter, composed from a turtled elongated body, with a central boss, and eight fulgures (lightning) on the sides, holes for fastening through small rivets to its borders. 670 grams, 35.5cm (14"). Very fine condition, one corner absent and sides worn.

From an old European collection; acquired in Munich in the 1970s; accompanied by a metallurgic analytical report, written by metallurgist Dr. Brian Gilmour of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, and an academic report by Roman military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato.

See Wellbeloved, C. ‘Observations on a Roman Inscription, lately discovered in York’ Yorkshire Philosophical Society, Proceedings 1, 1855, pp. 282-286; Home, G. Roman York: The Legionary Headquarters and Colonia of Eboracum; London, 1924; D'Amato, R., Arms and Armour of the Imperial Roman Soldier, London, 2009; Töpfer K. M., Signa Militaria, Die römischen Feldzeichen in der Republik und im Prinzipat, Mainz, 2011; D'Amato R., Roman Standards and standard-bearers, London, 2018.

Metallic appliqués of the Jupiter lights and thunderbolts (fulgures) were a very common device applied on the Imperial Roman shields, also among the milites Gregarii of a particular legion (D’Amato, 2009, p.107 figs. 6, 28, 58, 59, 106, 111, 112, 121). The milites of the Legio XII Fulminata were recognized, for instance, with all probability, at least at the beginning, by the thunderbolts embossed on their shields. A very interesting description of it is given by the poet Valerius Flaccus, in his Argonautica: “…all the phalanx wears embossed on the shield the Jupiter device, and the diverged fires of the trident-shaped (trifida) thunderbolts and You, Roman soldier, are not the first to wear on the shields the rays and the shining wings of the flashing thunderbolt… It is clear the reference to a metallic appliqué in gold and silver, which has got a further confirmation in the passage of Vergil where it is described the shield of Aeneas (Vergil, Aen.,VIII, 424-430). Interestingly, the Romans linked the flamboyant character of the fulmen (thunderbolt) with the phalarica, the flaming spear used by the Iberian warriors, (Verg., Aen., IX, 705-706). Also the malleolus, i.e. the double wooden hasta, was compared to the bifida fulgur, i.e. the double light of the thunderbolt.

The Legio XII Fulminata (the lightening Legion) was created by Caius Julius Caesar in 58 BC and was active until the early 5th century, patrolling at that time the Euphrates Borders with the Sassanian Persian Empire, near Melitene (today Malatya). Its emblem was the fulgur, which was widely used on the objects and the pertinences of the Legio. During the first two centuries of the Christian Era the Legio was located in Syria, Cappadocia and Armenia, and participated to the Jewish war between 66 and 70 AD, to be sent after the suppression of the revolt on the Euphrates Border. Cappadocia and Armenia were the main places of staying of the Legio, except for the period of the Marcomannic Wars (167-189 AD), when it operated on the Danube against the Germans.

Metallic plates with the name and the symbol of the legio engraved were widely employed in legionary camps, for different uses. The length of the plate (about 35 cm) could be compared with that of the silver plate of the signum (standard) of the COHORS VII RAETORUM, from the military camp of Niederbieber, preserved only for a half and measuring 16,2 cm (Toepfer, 2011, pp.419-420, cat.AR1.3; D’Amato, 2018, p.30). This plate was originally long about 30 cm. We cannot indeed exclude the possibility that our tabula originally was an application of a military standard. In such case the tabula acted as a label reporting the name of the Legion, and was combined with other decorations of the standard, like tassels, lunulae, phalerae in shape of a patera. Another more simple possibility is that the plate was originally attached on the back of a chariot, fastened to a wooden surface by the small rivets today lost. Again, the plaque could have been exposed in some camp of the XII as signal of pertinences or buildings.

Although, without a precise context, it is impossible to understand the original use of the tabula, its dating is easier. The type of letters find correspondence with the inscriptions of the early second century AD, for instance with the very famous stone inscription of the VIIII Legio from York dated 108 AD (Empire of Trajan), on display in the Yorkshire Museum (CIL,VII,241). Another element of comparison can be the Latin two parts inscription dedicated by the X Legio Fretensis in honour of Hadrian, dated 130 AD, from Jerusalem, adorning a monumental arch dedicated to Hadrian by the 10th Legion stationed in Jerusalem during his visit at Aelia Capitolina in the same year. The comparing of the letters LEG and of the numeral X does not leave doubt on the age of our plaque. If the plate belongs to the early second century, the provenance can be speculated from the Armenian or Cappadocian camps of the legion, which participated at the war of Trajan against the Parthians in 111 AD.

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Bid History: 3   |   Current bid: £11,000

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