From the Archives 32 — July 2018

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

It’s July, a time when the country gathers together to celebrate the independence of the United States. The days leading up to and following the 4th of July are filled with patriotic images. These include the flag, depictions of Uncle Sam, fireworks, and, of course, the eagle. A long-standing symbol of America, the eagle has been used in a number of depictions over the years. We see it on coins, on stamps, on posters, in toys, in movies, even at the grocery store and at restaurants. It is a proud symbol, one that carries much weight and meaning.

The eagle as a symbol of power has a long tradition in other cultures, one that goes back thousands of years. It is often depicted as the bird of Zeus, the king of gods in ancient Greek culture, where we see it in a variety of forms, including textiles and figurines. The Romans carried it forward with their depictions of Jupiter. The power of Jupiter equaled the power of Rome, and where the Romans traveled so did eagle imagery. It appeared on coins, figurines, military paraphernalia, and sculptures.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present a few images of eagle sculptures found by the University of Michigan’s 1924 expedition to Antioch of Pisidia, in modern-day central west Turkey. 

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Relief carvings from the frieze of the city gate of Pisidian Antioch, showing a double-eagle shield and swords. Kelsey Museum Archives KR013.03, KR068.01, and KR110.06.

These carved relief blocks are from the frieze of a monumental arch located at the entrance of the city. It was built by the people of Antioch and dedicated to the emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina in commemoration of Hadrian’s tour through Asia Minor in AD 129. The arch would have presented a monumental welcome to the emperor as he entered the city.

Established as a Roman colony under Augustus in 25 BC, Pisidian Antioch was the oldest and most strategically important of the Roman colonies in Pisidia, but by the Hadrianic period it was only one among many prosperous cities in Asia Minor. Civic competition among cities within Roman provinces was fierce; a visit by the emperor was a prestigious event that could raise a city’s stature in relation to its neighbors and within the imperial administration.

The form and decorative program of the Arch of Hadrian and Sabina contains numerous references to another monumental structure in Antioch, the Arch of Augustus, erected in 2 BC during a period of intense imperial investment in the city. “Creating a new version of the [Arch of Augustus] at the very entrance to the city and dedicating it to Hadrian would announce the city’s dedication to the emperor” (Ossi 2011, 101).

So as we celebrate this 4th of July, we can remember how, nearly two thousand years ago, the people of Antioch, a mixture of Phrygians, Greeks, and Romans, employed the eagle — the very symbol of America’s hard-won independence from British rule — to strengthen their ties to the imperial power of Rome. 

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For more about the archaeological expedition to Pisidian Antioch, the viewer is invited to visit Building a New Rome: The Imperial Colony of Pisidian Antioch. In this online version of the special exhibition, held at the Kelsey Museum in 2006, curator Elaine Gazda and her team make use of archival materials to present Antioch in new and refreshing ways. The exhibition catalog of the same title is available for purchase.

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Ossi, Adrian J. 2011. “The Arch of Hadrian and Sabina at Pisidian Antioch: Imperial Associations, Ritual Connections, and Civic Euergetism,” in Elaine K. Gazda and Diana Y. Ng, eds., Building a New Rome: The Imperial Colony of Pisidian Antioch (25 BC–AD 700), pp. 85–108. Kelsey Museum Publications 5. Ann Arbor: The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

From the Archives — November 2015

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Thanksgiving is upon us, and many of us will be flying or driving to see our families in other parts of the country. Highways will be congested and traffic slows down to a crawl at toll booths and highway gas stations. Often times, during these seasonal road trips so many of us venture out on, the price of gas rises to meet demand. “Isn’t there another way to do this?” we wonder.

This debate on alternative energy has been a focus for a number of years on the political landscape. What may be surprising to some people is that this debate is not new. Arguments for different energy sources have been with us for over a century. Early cars ran on both electricity and gas, with gas winning out in the early days.

This month’s “From the Archives” showcases a chance find in the archives. The materials stored at the Kelsey relate to the collections and business of the museum, which includes newspaper articles from the Detroit News written about museum/university matters. In 1924, the University of Michigan set out on several projects: Antioch (Turkey), Carthage (Tunisia), and Karanis (Egypt). The finds at Antioch proved to be exciting enough for the Detroit News to devote a large portion of their newspaper to the project. And, rightfully so, someone decided to save a copy of this for the records of the dig, where it then became a part of the history of the museum.

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Detroit News, Sunday, 21 September 1924, p. 12.

While the original intent of the newspaper clipping was to save the history of this archaeological excavation, often such mementos wind up sharing with the modern audience other bits of history. Below the finds of Antioch we see an image of famous American inventor Thomas Edison. The Wizard of Menlo Park is quoted discussing alternate sources of energy. “Why Worry About Coal? Asks Edison; Says Sun and Sea Will Do Its Work.” Even as far back as the 1920s, people like Thomas Edison lauded alternative energy, cleaner than coal and an endless supply. He speaks as if it is a given, an obvious solution to the problems facing society.

Newspaper #1-1 detail of Edison article
Detail of article on Edison from the Detroit News, Sunday, 21 September 1924, p. 12.

The push for alternative energies, with solar panels going on homes and high-end electric cars hitting the roads, seems to be a modern solution to a century-old problem. The truth is, this debate has been ongoing for much longer. Even America’s Inventor weighed in on the discussion, suggesting it was obvious and easy to harness wind and sun. It is interesting to think what the world would look like now if more attention was given to Edison and his recommendations were followed.

The clipping presents us with a fun aspect of archives. Historians and archivists often go through archival materials looking for specific bits of information. While perusing things such as newspapers, they come across random facts, stories, and articles that were not the focus at the time, but present such interesting history that could easily be overlooked. The past is made even more accessible and fuller, showing us all aspects of past lives. And to think, even more stories await us in the Kelsey archives!