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The Gems in the Ustinow Collection, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo
Published September 1, 2022

Scientifically, the collection’s primary importance is its Middle-Eastern origin; collections of gemstones from the Middle East have rarely been published unlike those from European archaeological sites. Thus the possibility opens up to compare finds from the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire with a focus on similarities and diffe...rences. While in the western provinces the gemstones typically spread during the era of the Roman Empire, in the eastern provinces the use of seals and gemstones goes back several thousand years. It follows that in the western regions, representations of the official themes of the age of the emperors, including the characteristic figures of gods of the state religion (Jupiter, Minerva, Mars, Venus Victrix), are the most common. In contrast, the eastern provinces saw the spread of representations of local gods (Zeus Ammon, Zeus Heliopolitanos, Sarapis) or the Hellenistic types of the Greek gods (Apollo Musagetes, Aphrodite Anadyomene, Hermes Psychopompos). However, there were figures of gods that were equally popular in both regions, such as Tyche–Fortuna, Nike–Victoria, Eros–Amor, Dionysos–Bacchus, Heracles–Hercules. Each of these became rather popular in the Hellenistic World, spreading basically spontaneously throughout the entire Roman Empire. There was a similar unity in the popularity of represenations of animals, too.
The eastern region was, however, characterised by the relatively large number of magic gemstones. There is a piece among these which has no exact analogy (Cat. 69) and its analysis sheds new light on the previous interpretation of similar pieces. The popularity of magic gemstones is highlighted by the fact that some of their motifs became distorted beyond recognition in the popularisation process. Understandably, Sasanian gemstones and seals, which revived the Romans’ dying custom of sealing for some time, were also typical of the eastern regions. What is conspicuous is that the stone cameos (agate, sardonyx) so common in the western regions are completely missing from the collection, while there is a fair number of glass cameo pendants made in the eastern regions.
From an educational and community cultural aspect, the significance of the Ustinow collection lies in the fact that it represents several historical and cultural eras between the fourth century B.C. and the fifth century A.D. for the benefit of the interested public, private collectors, and students of archaeology and the antiquities. The gemstones may be small, but the representations on them can be extraordinarily rich in meaning. With adequate enlargement and due professional expertise, which this catalogue aims to promote, all this information can come to life in front of us, allowing us a glimpse into the lives and thoughts of the citizens of a Mediterranean world two thousand years back.

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Sasanian seals in Hungarian collections
Published July 24, 2020

There are relatively few Sasanian seals in the Hungarian archaeological collections, and there is only one that was found in Hungary. Their review has been made timely by the appearance of a few pieces in the art trade. One of their characteristic motifs is the resting ram, but resting griffin and a winged szphinx also appear as motifs.

Phaedras Brief an Hippolytus: Ovids Brief (Her. 4) in der römischen bildenden Kunst
Published July 8, 2020

Euripides has Paedra write a letter to Theseus in which she accuses Hippolytus of raping her. In the Heroides, Ovid has Phaedra write a letter to Hippolytus which describes her burning love for the young man. In Roman visual arts the story is usually depicted as a nurse handing over a letter to Hippolytus, which he declines. It seems obvious to... identify this letter with the one composed by Ovid, i.e., it is this letter that found its way into the visual arts. The contents of the love letter gradually overshadowed the tragic outcome of the story: they represented endless spousal love in sepulchral art.

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Das Bildprogramm der Meleager-Platte aus dem Seuso-Schatz
Published July 8, 2020

There are eight distinct love stories on the Meleager plate of the Seuso treasure. In four of them hunting plays an important role. The main theme of the depicted stories is allprevailing love, the emotion that is the motivating force in human life. An ancillary theme of the stories is hunting, which can be interpreted in a concrete as well as ...a figurative sense. Hunting is an aristocratic pleasure but at the same time it represents the exercise of virtues, too, in which even females can participate, cf. the scenes with Helene and Atalante. Although there is no need to look for a topical event to feature the motif of love, it is tempting to determine the contemporary function of the treasure as a wedding gift. We are inclined to believe that Seuso, the well-off owner of the treasure, must have been given this unique silver tableware as a wedding gift some time around the beginning of the 5th century.

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