Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Hilary Becker

Affiliation: Binghamton University (SUNY)

Hilary Becker is Assistant Professor of Classics with the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies at Binghamton University. She earned her A.B. at Bryn Mawr College and her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has published articles dealing with Etruscan economy and settlement patterns and co-edited, along with Margarita Gleba, the volume Votives, Places and Rituals in Etruscan Religion (Brill 2009). She is currently writing a book entitled Commerce in Color about the trade in Roman pigments, an investigation that started with her research on the only surviving pigment shop from ancient Rome.  Professor Becker was the AIA Cinelli Lecturer for 2019/2020.

Abstracts:


Greek and Roman sources help us to visualize Etruscan armies fighting against the Romans, but since no Etruscan literary testimony or histories has survived, little is known about the Etruscan military. A group of approximately 125 bronze helmets of Negau type were buried in a votive deposit outside of the city wall of Vetulonia in the fifth c. B.C. This unique deposit makes it possible to learn about dedicatory practices, the expectation for the soldiers purchasing arms, and even what do with one’s armor in the off-season.

We will start by considering the implications of dedicating helmets to the gods. The Etruscans gave gifts to the gods but how often was this a practice with their armor? Further, would an Etruscan soldier be more likely to dedicate his armor to the gods or take it with him to his tomb? Many of the helmets from Vetulonia have inscriptions, which will be examined for what they can tell us about both Etruscan society and the Etruscan army.

The discovery of the only known pigment shop in ancient Rome revealed an array of colors in their raw, mineral form waiting to be sold to wall painters. Ancient pigments provide a surprising opportunity to understand how science can be used in archaeology, revealing what pigments were present in the shop and, potentially, the source from which they originated, as well as exploring the supply-side economy of Roman painting and the steps by which these pigments went from the mine, to a shop, to the walls of a Roman house. This lecture also explores the economy of the Roman pigment trade, looking at the prices of pigments as well as the potential for their adulteration.

The competition for natural resources and the desire to increase a shop’s revenue led some Roman merchants to engage in retail fraud.  Papyri from Roman Egypt provide recipes with instructions on how to produce fake gemstones and pearls from crystals, as well as cheap ways to counterfeit “true” purple.  There was similarly great fraud amongst other naturally-sourced products ranging from aromatics, to pigments, to medicines.

But there were ways to negotiate such a treacherous commercial landscape. Ancient authors, such as Pliny the Elder, who knew full well the pitfalls of the market, offered methods for a purchaser to discern authentic natural sourced products (e.g. metals, pigments) from imposters. Archaeological evidence also indicates that the scrupulous producer or merchant, in turn, might be motivated to stamp or otherwise label his or her products in order to guarantee that their products are unadulterated. All of these circumstances suggest that for the wary consumer (caveat emptor), there was significant marketplace competition for his attention between trustworthy merchants and those merchants who should be avoided. This lecture provides insight into the potential pitfalls of the Roman supply industry that every consumer needed to know about and had to navigate.

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