In the early 1920s, Italian archaeologists unearthed a white marble stele in the sanctuary of Apollo, Cyrene. This partially-preserved second-century-BCE inscription (LSCG suppl. 117; now IGCyr 016800) includes both a set of regulations about the allowed and forbidden uses of sacred cups and an inventory of precious vessels. Until very recently, this document has been thought to emanate from the local polis. However, in 2005 Dobias-Lalou (Bull.Ép. 2005, 620) pointed out that these regulations had been written in koine instead of the local Dorian dialect. This text must therefore be considered an official Ptolemaic document.
The fact that the Ptolemies took such an active role in the administration of Apollo’s sacred cups is almost unprecedented. An explanation may come from the fact that the following inventory constitutes an integral part of this document. In this catalogue, precious vessels were listed according to volume and no mention was made of their provenance. This organization of data is quite uncommon in Greek inventories and might point to a common origin of the vessels, possibly as the consequence of a major silverware dedication. An interesting potential donor is Ptolemy VIII, who recalls in his autobiography (FGrHist 234 F9) that he gave silver cups to Cyrenaean priests as a gift. Furthermore, had either Ptolemy VIII or his successor dedicated this set of drinking vessels in Cyrene’s main sanctuary, their interest in the local norms would become perfectly understandable: having offered these precious cups to Apollo, the dedicator would have also imposed rules in order to prevent their misuse and alienation.
While my fellowship at the CHS will result in a new commented edition of this interesting Cyrenaean document, it will also provide me with a starting point for a new broader project on the role of precious vessels in the Greek world. In particular, during my fellowship at the CHS I will deal mainly with the numismatic aspects of official and royal vessel dedications in Greek sanctuaries. As a matter of fact, golden and silver cups were something more than simply ancestors of our Baccarat crystal glasses. While they certainly enjoyed a role as status symbols among the elites, in a society where coinage consisted of amounts of precious metals whose purity and weight were certified by the issuing authorities, a silver or golden cup could always be perceived as an alternative way of storing riches. However, while the intrinsic value remained the same, precious vessels had one major advantage over the equivalent amount of coined metal: they could be displayed and used for social and cultic practices without any major loss in value.
Since these vessels enjoyed a dual status as both luxury items and fancy gold and silver ingots, it shall come as no surprise that many temple inventories – including the inscription from Cyrene – carefully register each object’s weight. At the same time, these weights are hardly casual and generally correspond to round figures in local currencies. Considering the evolutions of Greek coinage after Alexander, a study of royal plate gifts from the Hellenistic period can thus prove extremely interesting. For instance, did Ptolemaic vessel gifts follow Ptolemaic coin standard or Alexander’s one? The answer to this and other similar questions could shed much light on the production of precious plate and its average lifespan outside sanctuaries as well as on the hoarding and spending dynamics of non-monetized silver and gold in Hellenistic courts. As such, this data would be a useful resource for Greek epigraphers, historians, archaeologists, and scholars dealing with ancient economy alike.
Considering the Mediterranean scale of this project, its completion will require access to a library whose collections include rich epigraphic and numismatic sections covering the whole geographic extent of the Greek world as well as many general studies on Hellenistic religion, economy, and history. The CHS, with its excellent library and stimulating environment, constitutes the ideal place for starting this new project.
Emilio Rosamilia completed his PhD in Classics and Ancient History at the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa (2016). After his defense, he served as a postdoctoral research assistant at the same institution for the Greek Envoys and Diplomacy in the Hellenistic and Roman World project (2017) and subsequently held the Italian Fellowship in Ancient Studies at the American Academy in Rome (2018). Starting from January 2020, he will join the University of Pisa for a two-year postdoctoral fellowship. Member of the Italian Archeological Mission to Cyrene since 2012, he has also held visiting fellowships at the École Française d’Athènes (2012 and 2014), the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon (2013), and the Kommission für alte Geschichte und Epigraphik in Munich (2016). His research focuses mainly on the study of political, institutional, economic, and social aspects of ancient Greek civilization through inscriptions. He is currently in the last phases of revision of his PhD thesis on the institutional and economic history of ancient Cyrene during the Classical and Hellenistic periods, which will be submitted for publication to the Edizioni della Normale (Pisa) before the end of the year. The purpose of his research at the CSH is to study royal gifts of silver and gold cups mentioned in temple inventories dating from the Hellenistic period from a mainly numismatic point of view. Starting from the new edition of a Cyrenaean document, he will try to shed light on the hoarding and spending dynamics of non-monetized silver and gold in Hellenistic courts.