Tuesday 10 March 2015

Miniature vessels, neighbourhood shrines and women's work

In the Insula VI.1 post-excavation project  we have recently been looking at our miniature ceramic vessels, and a paper on this has just been published in FOLD&R.   One type we found in large numbers were the enigmatic coperchi. Unlike the common two-handled calici  it seems very difficult to find examples of these outside of Pompeii – and they are not common there. 

Coperchi from Insula VI.1
Lara Anniboletti’s work on the niches and house-front shrines is relevant here, as one of them has also produced coperchi.  The associations of the coperchi seem to suggest that they are linked with neighbourhood cults, unlike the calice which are found in a wider variety of contexts.

 Whilst cataloguing them I noticed they were very impractical as vessels, but functioned quite well as little cymbals. I tossed this in as observation at the end of the paper. The referees liked it and wanted it developed. This was interesting as if we consider them as ‘musical’ instruments then they would be very appropriate for the sort of processions likely to have taken place in neighbourhood cult ceremonies.   

 Extrapolating further, clappers and cymbals tended to be the instruments of female dancers in antiquity. Are coperchi  gendered?  Given that drawing and carrying water has always been women’s work, are we looking at a female neighbourhood shrine around the well  in the second to first century BC, supplanted by a cross-roads shrine organised by males  in the Augustan period?   

Possibly this is a speculation too far, but it would be interesting to know if other teams have unpublished examples of coperchi and, if so, in what contexts.


Hilary Cool said...

Whoops - putting in the picture, I managed to delete an important paragraph. It said that the VI.1 coperchi were all from the Well area in primary and deliberately re-deposited contexts and that the Well area becomes the focus of a cross-roads shrine probably in the Augustan period when the well was made obsolete by the new piped water supply. The cross-roads shrine was in the charge of male magistrates. Hence the suggestion that the arrangements might have changed. Sorry!

Steven Ellis said...

Hi Hilary,

Of the many dozens of miniature vessels we have recovered from votive contexts in our excavations at VIII.7, I.1, and the Porta Stabia, not a single one is of the curious type you are here interested in. That may be all the more interesting as we have votive contexts associated with, or at least very near to, the large public well we uncovered in I.1.1. Let me know if you'd like more info on them and their contexts - always happy to share.

Steven Ellis

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