Category Archives: Museums

What was in the building where the Roman Emperors were honored/worshiped?

In the last two posts I described and shared some images of the cult room of the Sacellum (chapel) of the Augustales (priests in charge of Emperor Worship) that was found at Herculaneum (near Pompeii). Because of a Latin Inscription that was found there, we know that banquets took place in the room. Suprisingly, in Professor Tuck’s 30-minute talk on this room, he does not mention the contents (see below). So I had never given it much thought.

On our recent trip to the Naples Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli), Italy, our guide pointed out four large statues that were found in the Sacellum! Two of Augustus and two of Claudius! I was very surprised (and excited) to find this out, for although I had visited the museum a good number of times, but no guide had previously pointed these statues out. For me, it was a great experience to connect these statues with a place that has such importance for the topic of the Imperial Cult (aka Emperor Worship).

These four statues are part of the collection that is on permanent display in the large main room of the museum.

A bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.– A.D. 14) who is portrayed as the deity Jupiter (Greek: Zeus). Note that he is holding a “thunderbolt” in his left hand. The statue is about 7 feet tall.
A marble statue of the Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.– A.D. 14) who is portrayed as “Enthroned.”

Here, Augustus is semi-nude, as a deity, and is crowned with the Civic “Oak Wreath” Crown—a very special honor given to him for having “delivered/saved” his people

A bronze statue of the Roman Emperor Claudius (r. A.D. 41–54) standing.  He has a spear in his right hand and may have held a “thunderbolt” (as Augustus above) in his left hand.  He probably is being portrayed as a deity (Jupiter) or possibly as a hero.
A marble statue of the Roman Emperor Claudius (r. A.D. 41–54) who is portrayed as “Enthroned.” He is semi-nude, as a deity.
This is the Sacellum of the Augustales in Herculaneum, where these four statues were found.

It is amazing that a new religious movement that claimed that a poor Galilean carpenter, who was crucified by the Romans, believed to be the Son of God and raised from the dead could “compete” with the impressiveness of the well established Imperial Cult and and extensive/powerful Roman Kingdom.


For additional comments on these statues see here.

Steven L. Tuck “Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum,” Lecture 21 in Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City.  Produced by the Great Courses/The Teaching Company, Course No. 3742, 2010.

A Large Inscribed Tablet from Assos — Who is god/God?

One of my favorite places to visit is Assos, in northwestern Turkey on the Aegean Sea (Acts 20:13-14). Often times our groups have stayed at a hotel that is part of the fishing harbor there. When we visit the acropolis, with the magnificent remains of a Temple to Athena, I take time to read a “decree” that the citizens of Assos made, and sent to Emperor Caligula—pledging their loyalty to him!

By this point in our trips, we have often discussed the importance and pervasiveness of the Imperial Cult and the conflict between the grand Kingdom of the Roman Emperors and Paul’s preaching of the “Kingdom of God” (Acts 8:1-2; 14:22; 19:9; 28:23, 28).

The Assos “Tablet” — Translation at the end of this blog.

I had tried, in vain, to track down the location of this tablet. For some reason, I thought it was in a museum in Boston! Well, when walking through the remodeled Archaeology Section of the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, I walked around the wall of a display, and there, right in the center of the opening into the next room, was this large (I am guessing that it measures 1.5 x 2. 5 feet), glistening, bronze “tablet” in front of me. What was it? Looking at the very brief description I realized that this was the “Assos Tablet” that I had been quoting all of these years! Yes, I was very excited!

Upper portion of the “Tablet”
Lower portion of the “Tablet”

This bronze tablet was found in 1881 at Assos in which inhabitants of Assos swore to emperor Gaius [Caligula] when he gained power.

In the following translation from Elwell and Yarbough, note the bold faced words and compare how similar they sound to the gospel message that Paul was preaching.

Under the consulship of Gnaeus Acerronious Proclus and Gaius Pontius Petronis Nigrinus [A.D. 37].

Decrees of the Assians by the Vote of the People

Since the announcement of the coronation of Gaius Caesar Germanicus Augustus (Caligula), which all mankind had longed and prayed for, the world has found no measure for its joy, but every city and people has eagerly hastened to view the god, as if the happiest age of mankind [the Golden Age] had now arrived:

It seemed good to the Council, and to the Roman businessmen here among us, and to the people of Assos, to appoint a delegation made up of the noblest and most eminent of the Romans and also of the Greeks, to visit him and offer their best wishes and to implore him to remember the city and take care of it, even as he promised our city upon his first visit to the province in the company of his father Germanicus.

We swear by Zeus the Savior and the god Caesar Augustus [Octavian] and the holy Virgin of our city [Athena Polias] that we are loyally disposed to Gaius Caesar Augustus and his whole house, and look upon as our friends whomever he favors, and as our enemies whomever he denounces.  If we observe this oath, may all go well with us; if not, may the opposite befall.

Translation and commentary from Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. Yarbrough eds. Readings From the First–Century World: Primary Sources for New Testament Study. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998 pp. 136-37.

The Remodeled Classical Section of the Istanbul Archaeology Museum is Now Open

One of the premier museums in the world is the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul. For 5+ years a major portion of the museum has been closed—the large, and important, Classical Archaeology Section.

The entrance to the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that it had reopened (visited: May 2022). The overall tenor of the displays is modern—low-lit rooms with LED lights highlighting the important objects. It does not have the feel of a “warehouse.” I like this, but because of the darkness, some of the explanatory signs are difficult, if not impossible to read—much less photograph!@#@!

It is easy to spend half of a day, just taking in all the wonderful objects on display in this section—there are other sections!

One of my favorite objects is the “Ephebos of Tralles” — a youth (ephebos) who is resting after exercising. Note the relaxed stance and the cape draped over his shoulders. The statue is from Tralles and dates to the first century B.C. or first century A.D.

A young boy, Ephebos, from Tralles that dates to the first century B.C. or first century A.D.
One of the murals in the remodeled Classical Section of the Istanbul Archaeology Museum illustrates a “gymnasium.” Note the boy in red on the left side of the picture.

Unfortunately, the upper floor was not open (May 2022). This is the floor that contains the Jerusalem Temple Warning Inscription, the inscription from Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Calendar from Gezer, etc.! This floor has not been open for several years.

Ship Names — Paul’s Shipwreck—Part 3

In two previous posts I shared some images and thoughts on anchor stocks that are in the Malta Maritime Museum.  The final anchor stock that I want to mention is one that actually has Isis—the name of an Egyptian Deity—inscribed on it.

The name “Isis” is clearly visible on the left side of this anchor stock.

This is a detail of the name Isis, that appears in high relief, on this anchor stock.

Isis, an Egyptian deity, was a name (among others) commonly used for ships during the Roman Era.  There was a very famous ship called Isis that is mentioned by the ancient author Lucian that was about 180 feet long, 45 feet wide (beam), and 45 feet deep—I am not saying that this is an anchor stock from that ship, but it is interesting that the name appears here.

In his book Πλοἶον ἢ Εὐχαί (“The Ship, or The Wishes”) the sophist Lucian described the Isis when he saw it in Athens’ seaport Piraeus:

I say, though, what a size that ship was! 180 feet long, the man said, and something over a quarter of that in width; and from deck to keel, the maximum depth, through the hold, 44 feet. And then the height of the mast, with its huge yard; and what a forestay it takes to hold it! And the lofty stern with its gradual curve, and its gilded beak, balanced at the other end by the long rising sweep of the prow, and the figures of her name-goddess, Isis, on either side. As to the other ornamental details, the paintings and the scarlet topsail, I was more struck by the anchors, and the capstans and windlasses, and the stern cabins. The crew was like a small army. And they were saying she carried as much corn as would feed every soul in Attica for a year. And all depends for its safety on one little old atomy of a man, who controls that great rudder with a mere broomstick of a tiller!

(Wikipedia Isis (ship)

Please note that from Malta Paul sailed to Rome on:

Acts 28:11    After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux.
[Two Greek Deities]

In addition, I found another inscribed anchor stock in the Museo Nazionale in Reggio, this time with the name Hera on it.

An anchor stock in the Museo Nazionale in Reggio (Italy) with the name Hera on it.

Hera was believed to be the wife of the chief deity ZeusReggio is located in southern Italy, on the coast facing Sicily.  Reggio is considered to be ancient Rhegium.

Acts 28:11    After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island [=Malta]. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli.

Detail of the name “Hera”—in reverse order—on the anchor stock.

To view images of items on display in the Malta Maritime Museum check here.

The Largest Anchor Stock — Paul’s Shipwreck—Part 2

In my earlier post, I wrote of the 11 Anchor Stocks that are currently in storage at the Malta Maritime Museum—and I described how they worked.

Among the 11 is the largest ancient anchor stock ever to be discovered!

This is the largest anchor stock ever found — near Salina Bay where the ship that Paul was on was wrecked.

This anchor stock weighs over 5,500 lbs [2,500 kg.] and is 13 ft. 6 in. long [4.1 m.].  A careful look at the left end of the anchor shows that it was not solid metal, but had a metal shell that encased a wood “soul.” (see below for what is an “anchor stock”)

Compare the size of the woman to that of the anchor stock — 13 ft. 36 in. long!

Gordon Franz (see below) quotes the Museum Archaeological Report that this “enormous Roman anchor stock [was] found lying on the seabed 120 feet below the surface 300 yards off Qawra Point….” [CR=near Salina Bay]. It is dated from “the second half of the second century BC to the middle of the first century AD.” It “… most likely came from an Alexandrian grain ship” [CR: like the one Paul was being transported on? Acts 27:6, 27–29].  It should be remembered that the large “Alexandrian” grain ships could be 180 feet long! — Paul traveled on two Alexandrian grain ships (Acts 27:6; 28:11)

It was discovered near Salina Bay, on the NE coast of Malta.  This is near two of the bays that are “traditional” candidates for the site of the shipwreck of Paul (Acts 27—28:10).


For a good discussion of the shipwreck, ancient anchors, etc.,  and a vigorous interaction with the views of Robert Cornuke, see Gordon Franz “Does the ‘Lost Shipwreck of Paul’ Hold Water?  Or, Have the Anchors from the Apostle Paul’s Shipwreck Been discovered on Malta?”

Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta: Anchor Stocks—Part 1

During a stay on the Island of Malta where Paul was shipwrecked and then spent 3 months on the island before being transported to Rome for trial (Acts 28:1, 11) one of the highlights was a visit to the Malta Maritime Museum.

View looking northeast at the exterior of the Malta Maritime Museum.

The museum is housed in the former Royal Naval Bakery that was built in the 1840. The bakery supplied naval personnel of the British Mediterranean Fleet. The main part of the collection (97%+) includes boats, models of ships, anchors, amphorae, cannons, etc.  But I had come to see the Roman Anchors that figure so prominently in the discussion of where exactly Paul’s ship ran aground and was broken up (see Franz below for a discussion).

Acts 27:29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow.

Acts 27:40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach.

After spending over an hour looking at interesting, but not too relevant displays, I had not found the anchors that I was looking for.  So I asked the attendants at the entrance about these anchors.  Well, it turned out that the display of the ancient anchors was in transition and they were collected in a rather small corridor near the entrance to the museum. The plan being executed will eventually display these precious artifacts in a wonderful display. However, when I was at the museum, they were not on “public” display so please, cut the museum a bit of slack for how the anchor stocks look in these pictures! But I had traveled 5,262 miles and was thrilled just to be able to see these anchors—and they were kind enough to allow me to take pictures (without flash of course).

Temporary “home” for the Roman Anchor Stocks that are in the Malta Maritime Museum.

In this temporary “home” 11 Anchor Stocks were collected.  Ok, so what is an anchor stock?

In the above (from the Museum) all the parts of this “ancient anchor” are modern except the lead “Stock.”

The “Flukes” are the parts of the anchor, usually wooden and sometimes tipped with copper, that dig into the bottom of the sea. At the top of the wooden shank (right) a rope connects the anchor to the ship. The “stock” is made out of lead and often has a wood core,. It helps the anchor to sink and helps to position the anchor so that the “flukes” dig into the sea bottom.

anchorreconstruction

Ok, are any of these Anchor Stocks from Paul’s wrecked ship?  See the following blog posts.


For a good discussion of the shipwreck, ancient anchors, etc.,  and a vigorous interaction with the views of Robert Cornuke, see Gordon Franz “Does the ‘Lost Shipwreck of Paul’ Hold Water?  Or, Have the Anchors from the Apostle Paul’s Shipwreck Been discovered on Malta?”

Istanbul Airport — Museum!

On the way home from a recent trip to Turkey and Greece (October 2022) Mary and I had a transit layover at the Istanbul Airport. During the trip, we noticed that a number of our favorite artifacts were no longer on display in their “normal” museums (grr). The signs in the museums said ‘on display at the Museum in the Istanbul Airport.’

The display of Emperors and their Wives

Well, since we had time in the Istanbul Airport we sought out the new Airport Museum. It is on the second level of the transit area. After paying an entrance fee, we found ourselves touring the rooms with one other person. They have collected famous artifacts from all over Turkey, from the earliest periods up through the Ottoman Period. The displays are very “modern” and the rooms a very dimly lit—modern, but not too good for photography. Many of the magnificent pieces were on display were previously in local museums scattered around Turkey. Not very many non-Turkish travelers would be able to visit all of those museums, and so it is convenient to have them collected here. Samples of the collection follow.

A Diorama illustrating the construction of the 9,600 B.C. site of Gobleki Tepe.
Head of Alexander the Great from Pergamum — Second Century B.C.
Previously in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Roman Emperor Hadrian — From Sagalassos
Formerly in the Museum in Burdur Turkey
The only complete statue of Emperor Caracalla — from Perga
Formerly in the Museum in Antalya Turkey

Cenchreae — a very unusual find

In a previous post I shared some images of the harbor at Cenchreae and related the site to the Apostle Paul and Phoebe.

Although the site has not been excavated, FIFTY (yes, 50) wooden crates containing glass panels that portray the harbor of Cenchreae were discovered in the harbor.

The panels were never put into place – but they apparently depict the harbor. They evidently were being stored in the Temple of Isis when the earthquake destroyed the harbor in A.D. 375. These panels probably depict the harbor as of A.D. 370. They are labeled as opus sectile panels that are composed of colored glass! I am not sure where they were intended to be placed. On floors? On walls? Or?

The following are a few of the panels that are on display in the nearby museum at Isthmia. I think they will be best viewed if you click on, and enlarge, the image.

Harbor, buildings, fisherman, boat, etc. Please Click on Image to Enlarge for Viewing.

Note the standing fisherman on the right side of the image. of center.  Just to the left and below him the white “lighthouse” that stood on the southern mole is depicted.  To the left of the lighthouse are three windows (filled with yellow light) and to the left of them, a building with six columns is depicted. Also on the left side of the image, from top to bottom note a sailboat and on the extreme left a squid.

The Harbor or Cenchreae—ca. A.D. 370. Please Click on Image to Enlarge for Viewing.

Note the standing fisherman just left of center. Just to the left and below him the white “lighthouse” that stood on the southern mole is depicted. Above him and to the right the “lighthouse” of the northern mole is visible. Note the semi-circular columned wharf that connects the two lighthouses.

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

Crucified Man from Jerusalem

It is well–known from the literature that the Romans crucified rebels and criminals.  In 1968, an ossuary (bone box; see below) was found, among others, in a tomb in north Jerusalem in which were the bones of a 28-year-old man and those of a child.

This is a replica of a right heel bone of a 28-year-old man who was crucified in Jerusalem prior to its in AD 70. This replica is presented in the Israel Museum.

A 4.3-inch nail penetrated the right heel bone of the man.  A piece of wood was placed on each side of the heel prior to the pounding of the nail to affix the person to a cross.

The skeletal remains of the man with the nail in his heel bone were found in this ossuary that was discovered north of Jerusalem.

Clearly visible is the Hebrew writing of the name “Yehohanan son of Hagkol.”  Note the two clear lines.  Above and to the right of the name “Yehohanan,” in the first line, is another faint inscription (click on image to enlarge to view inscription).

A diagram in the Israel Museum.

The above picture represents a scholarly reconstruction of how Yehohanan son of Hagkal was crucified.  Note how his arms are tied to the cross—no nails were found in his hands or wrists.  In contrast, Jesus of Nazareth’s hands were nailed to the cross—Thomas wanted to see the “mark of the nails in his hands” (John 20:25).


HaFor a convenient description of this find see pp 318–22 in Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

Athens: The Acropolis Museum Online

In my opinion, the most beautiful museum in Athens is The New Acropolis Museum” which is “world-class” not only in its design and presentation but also in its contents.  It contains over 4,250 objects that were found on or near the acropolis.  A good number of these are so famous that they appear in almost all western Art History books.

Looking down, from the top of the Acropolis, on to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens

Visitors to Athens have a limited time to spend in its museums.  How much of can you absorb in a museum such as this one in say a 2-hour visit?

Well, the Greeks have come to the rescue!  The New Acropolis Museum in Athens has launched a new sophisticated online platform featuring artifacts from its permanent collection as well as information about its temporary exhibitions, educational programs, and more.  This digital collection includes over 2,156 artifacts with extensive descriptions, photographs, bibliographies, etc.

On its home page, it features 60 “highlights!” — some of the most famous objects in the collection.  Included under each there are several clear photographs and authoritative descriptions of the object.

The “Calf-Bearer”—or Moscophors found on the acropolis. 5 ft. 5 in high.

Among them, for example, is the famous “Calf-Bearer” (image above while in the old museum).  It is a statue depicting someone (Rhombos?) bringing a lamb as a sacrifice to the goddess Athena—dated to 570 BC!  [maybe we should not think of many, somewhat similar statues from the Christian era as “Good Shepherd” statues?]  Click here to view and read the museum commentary on this object.

IMHO — there is much to learn from this website.  Enjoy!

Personal “New Year’s Resolution” — to avoid “indigestion,” I have bookmarked the museum website and plan on reading about one object each day until I get through the 60!


How did they move the precious objects from the top of the acropolis down to the new museum?  Using three Tower-Cranes, of course!

Two of the three Tower-Cranes used to move the precious artifacts from the top of the acropolis down to the New Acropolis Museum.  January 2009.

This is a view looking west-northwest at two of the three tower-cranes that were used to move objects from the Old Acropolis Museum to the New Acropolis Museum. The old museum was located on the summit of the acropolis in the area just behind where the white crane is located. The new museum is located off the lower left side of the image but is not visible in the photograph (see image above).

The white tower-crane fetched objects from the top of the acropolis, pivoted, and then they were transferred to the second, orange, tower-crane. The orange tower-crane, in the middle of the image, pivoted and transferred the objects to the third crane, not visible, which was off the left side of the image. The third tower-crane pivoted and the objects were deposited into the new museum. The distance covered was approximately 310 yards—using the three tower-cranes.

This picture was taken in January 2009. The whole process of transferring the objects took four months.