Wild animals in the frontier zone: food, fun or fantasy?
Most people have mixed feelings about wild animals – they can be a nuisance, scary, awesome, mythical or a pragmatic source of food. This was equally true for the inhabitants of the Roman military zone of Central Britain. Some species were probably regarded as a nuisance when they damaged crops or attacked livestock, and some could be a useful source of food, fur or feathers. The military, and other elite groups, regarded the hunting of wild animals as a sport, a display of status or an expression of military prowess and practice for combat. Philosophically, wild and domestic animals, and wild people (barbarians) and domestic slaves were all regarded as ‘non-people’ in terms of their political and human rights. The more powerful and dangerous wild animals were often regarded with awe and respect at the same time as being legitimate prey for human hunters, and a few were adopted as mascots or military symbols by legionary and auxiliary troops. Several species were associated with deities, and yet some of these same animals could be paraded or slaughtered in spectacular games in amphitheatres. This paper discusses a range of types of evidence: animal bones, mosaics and ceramic decorations, writing tablets and classical literature to highlight the complexities of people’s beliefs and attitudes towards wild animals in a frontier zone that was, itself, only partially tamed.
Venison, spectacles and furs: Remains of wild beasts from Viminacium (Upper Moesia, Serbia)
Sonja Vuković – Bogdanović
Faunal analyses from the Roman city and legionary fortress – Viminacium and its adjacent areas revealed a small contribution of wild animals in comparison with that of domestic animals, which is common for Roman settlements with testified improved husbandry practices throughout the Empire. However, although they are smaller in number, the remains of wild animals contribute greatly to the understanding of hunting strategies, the usage and significance of caught animals and their products, different social aspects and phenomena in the city, the understanding of landscape in the past, but also of phenomena that have ever since attracted attention in Roman archaeology, such as animal fights in amphitheatres. Wild animal assemblage from Viminacium consists mainly of autochthonous animals, such as red deer, roe deer, wild boar, hare, wolf, fox, and in particular brown bears that significantly contribute to the faunal assemblage from Viminacium amphitheatre. There is also a finding of an exotic beast – a leopard’s front leg. This paper reviews the findings of wild mammals from Viminacium that have mostly been discovered within the area of the amphitheatre and its surroundings, but also within the settlements located outside the city itself. According to the archaeological context, taphonomic features, such as bone fragmentation and butchery marks, and also traumas on bones, biometric characteristics and age and sex data, the significance and usage of wild beasts in the life and death of people who lived in and around Viminacium and at the Moesinan frontier will be discussed. Finally, since some of the beasts have been discovered within the amphitheatre, the questions of treatment of animal corpses after the fights in spectacles and of the supply of wild beasts for provincial amphitheatres at the frontier will also be tackled.
Taking the bear by the tooth!
The brown bear is the largest predator of the European continent. Ancient texts, epigraphic and iconographic sources inform us about the importance, the role and the use of a brown bear in the Roman period. In 2012 a rare archaeological discovery of three almost complete bear skeletons was made in a well of the Roman city of Augusta Raurica (Augst/Kaiseraugst, Switzerland). These bear remains are telling us their own story. Cutting marks on the cranial bones, jaws and the upper area of front and hind limbs prove the use of the fur. A very unique treatment can be seen on the canines of one of the bears: The canines have saw marks which were made (by humans) during the lifetime of the bear. Additional trassological and pathological investigations suggest that the bear was hold in captivity for a longer time period. The reason behind this could be animal baiting, called venatio, as it’s shown by Roman mosaics.Furthermore, this paper will discuss other aspects as the origin of these bears, the hunting techniques used to catch wild animals, as well as who was in charge of hunting.
Roman fishing implements from Sisicia
Ivan Radman-Livaja, Ozren Domiter
The Archaeological Museum in Zagreb keeps in its holdings a significant number of Roman fishing implements from Siscia, mostly hooks and fishing net weights, as well as less common finds such as tridents. As all of them are out-of-context finds, discovered in the early 20th century during the dredging of the river Kupa, we have to rely on typological and statistical analysis in order to contextualize them.
Following their typological determination, we might reach a clearer view of the range of fishing activities in Siscia, but we may also try to define its productiveness and its importance in the nutritional habits of the population, as well as the role fishing might have played in trade beyond the local level. Typological analysis might also provide data about the role played by the first Roman settlers, i.e. the role Roman soldiers and their followers may have played in the development of fishing craft in this part of Pannonia.
Since no research on this topic has been conducted yet in southern Pannonia, the study of Siscia’s fishing implements could be a first step towards the analysis and interpretation of fishing activities in this particular region.
Elephant in the Room
The paper is dedicated to the find of a small figurine of an elephant found by chance in Orahovac near Prizren in southern Serbia. Although published in several occasions, this extraordinary find has not received the appropriate attention and identification so far. As one of the rare finds of Roman small figurines from the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, the animal is shown in the motion, on a rectangular post with a long tang below it. It was made by the hollow-casting technique in copper alloy with the details engraved. The elephant is presented with clearly shown anatomical characteristics with a trunk raised above the tusks and widespread ears. The figurine is characterized by correct proportions and naturalistic details such as a thick wrinkled skin, open eyes, short tail and wide, finely modeled feet. Judging by the shape of the head and the trunk, the figurine represent an African elephant (Loxodonta africana), otherwise most commonly displayed specie of elephants in Roman visual arts. The entire elephant’s skin is covered with mesh-cut rhomboidal fields bearing multiple circular impressions. Given the specific and relatively scarce application of the elephant motif in Roman iconography, the author considers the possibility of identifying this finding as a military sign (signa militaria). This animal was a solemn symbol of Legio V Alaudae whose stay in Dardania, as well as the historical circumstances in which the military sign would be lost or deposited, were not directly confirmed, either epigraphically or in historical sources. On the other hand, its small dimensions and specific form of the tang, as well as the absence of gilding, suggests the possibility that it may be a military sign of a heraldic-totemic character (wappentierstandarte) of a legionary vexillation or an auxiliary unit.
Case of the wounded beast: Red deer tibia with projectile trauma from Viminacium (Serbia)
Dimitrije Marković, Milan Savić
Hunting was usually not one of the main strategies for food supply in the Roman world, especially in the urban centres, such as Viminacium. This activity was practiced both by “regular people” and military hunters, with high diversity among the used weapons, which included regular spears, javelin, long bows and arrows, swords, as well as specialized hunting-spears. During the hunt the animal could have been killed or captured alive in order to be used in spectacles, or kept in menageries and vivariae. Archaezoological evidence on majority of the Roman period sites at the frontiers, including Viminacium, suggests that the most commonly hunted animal was usually the red deer (Cervus elaphus), since, apart from meat, it provided raw material and skin, which were used in different crafts. In 2016, in the trench just outside the west side of the Viminacium amphitheatre, a red deer tibia with projectile trauma was found. The aim of this paper is to try and reconstruct this particular hunt, as well as to pinpoint the type of weapon that was used, based on the morphological characteristics of the fracture. On the basis of those results, a discussion will be made about who the deer was hunted by. Also, a question of potential venatio will be addressed since the said trench was linked to the amphitheatre, and was filled with remains of other wild animals, including bear, wild boar, and even leopard bones.
Hunting on the other side of the Roman frontier: case of the Late La Téne site Židovar
Židovar is situated in the vicinity of the village Orešac, Southern Banat district, Serbia, on the loess plateau above the valley of the river Karaš. In the past Židovar’s surroundings used to be a wetland. The Karaš used to flood wide areas along its banks up to the moment when the Danube-Tisa-Danube irrigation system was established. On the other side is Deliblatska peščara, the largest European desert that was inaccessible until the mid 19th century AD, when the sand was ultimately stabilized by forestry activities.
Židovar is a prehistoric tell site, one of the best preserved multilayered prehistoric settlements in the Serbo-Croatian part of the mid-Danube basin, which is comprised of significant stratigraphic sequences of the Bronze and Iron Ages.
The cultural layer from the Late La Téne period (1st century BC- 1st century AD) is the period of interest of this paper. In this layer three building horizons were clearly distinguished. The latest horizon is characterised by the material of Roman provenance that indicates frequent commercial contacts, which preceded Roman invasions and conquest of the barbarian lands on the left Danube bank. With its dominant position in the South Pannonian landscape, Židovar undoubtedly played an important role in this period.
Present knowledge of the La Téne settlements at Židovar is scarce. This is particularly the case with our knowledge of the subsistence strategies of the inhabitants of these settlements. For that reason the goal of this paper is to present preliminary results of archaeozoological analysis with focus on the wild animals. Given that Židovar can be recognized as a meeting place in the vibrant world of fast circulating goods and ideas, question about role of game animals in the life of the residents of this settlement which is located 20 km from the Roman frontier, should be asked.
A new attempt at interpreting arrowheads from the Roman legionary fortresses Burnum and Tilurium in Dalmatia
Mirjana Sanader, Joško Zaninović, Mirna Vukov
The arrowhead is the most important part of the arrow because its shape can reveal its purpose. The authors of this paper will try to answer whether the particular arrowheads found during the archaeological research of the Roman legionary fortress Burnum and Tilurium were also used for wildlife hunting. Namely, the uncovered arrowheads suggest not only that their shape was designed to cut through as much body tissue as possible, but they may have also caused unusually painful wounds when attempting to remove them from the body. Consequently, such arrowheads could have been used successfully for hunting game.
The authors were inspired to write this article not only by the shape of the discovered arrowheads but also by the remains of the wild animal bones found in Burnum and Tilurium as well as by epigraphic sources referring to soldiers as hunters.