Antiquities

Our Antiquities collection contains objects from the ancient civilisations of Greece, Rome, Egypt and Africa.

The collection began with our first donation of Roman and Greek pottery which formed the 1919 Wyatt collection. In 1926 we received a large donation of antiquities – among these treasures were incredibly rare and interesting Egyptian artefacts including Canopic Jars and Seals from a tomb dating to the reign of Thotmoses III.

Since then, we have collected various objects from many ancient civilisations, from early African prehistoric flint tools to Palestinian pottery and Mesopotamian Cuneiform tablets.  This is just a selection of the varied and fascinating objects that can be found in our Antiquities collection – many more are on display in Doncaster Museum.


Silver Tetradachm

Image of silver tetradachm

This coin was minted in the reign of Alexander the Great of Macedon over 2300 years ago. It comes from the conquered Mesopotamian city of Babylon (in modern Iraq), where Alexander spent the last few years of his life.

On the obverse of the coin is the head of the young Herakles, son of Zeus, shown wearing a lion-skin headdress. The significance of this imagery stems from Alexander’s family, the Argeads, who claimed to be the direct descendants of Head side of the tetradachmHerakles.

On the reverse of the coin is an image showing Zeus seated on a throne, holding an eagle and sceptre. Down the right margin is the word Alexandrou in Greek, which means ‘of Alexander’.

Under the throne are the letters K and Lambda (a Greek letter that looks like an A without the cross bar). This, along with the Greek letters in the wreath to the left, tell us that the coin was made in Babylon.

Babylon was the city where Alexander’s armies were disbanded and paid off, so the mint created vast amounts of silver and gold coinage for this purpose. Masses of these coins have been found by archaeologists in Macedon, indicating that soldiers took their pay home to spend.


Ancient Egyptian Scarab PendantClose up image of Egyptian scarab pendant

The ancient Egyptians believed that the sun was propelled across the heavens every day by a Scarab beetle. The Scarab was so synonymous with Egypt that it became the symbol of Egypt that all its neighbours recognised.

Scarabs were worn as protective amulets and are found in many different forms in burials placed with the mummy where they symbolised rebirth. They were mass produced from faience, and given out by the pharaohs as part of grand publicity stunts.

This Scarab is made from a semi-precious stone (perhaps carnelian), which indicates that it belonged to someone of high status. Scarabs like this were sometimes gifted to the pharaoh’s officials.

The hieroglyph on the underside shows the figure of an official, which supports the theory that this Scarab belonged to a high-ranking court official. The pendant is pierced all the way through the centre, which was probably to allow it to be strung on a necklace.


Greek statuette of Zeus

Greek Statuette of Zeus

This bronze statuette of a semi-naked man was one of the most recognisable caricatures of the ancient Greek world. Every Greek from every Greek city-state would have been instantly able to identify the god Zeus. Zeus was the sky god and father of the Greek Pantheon, or family of gods.

The ancient Greeks made many types and sizes of effigies representing their gods. They were placed in temples, sanctuaries and even in homes.

The Greeks would offer sacrifices (animals like lambs or goats) and libations (alcohol such as jugs of wine) to the gods, who in return bestowed gifts. These gifts could range from victory in battle to a profitable business exchange, or the recovery of an ill relative or friend.

This statuette of Zeus depicts him in his most recognisable form, semi-naked, bearded, and holding aloft a thunderbolt to signify his power over the heavens. The thunderbolt is also a symbol of his invincible power.

Zeus was seen as the god who dispensed justice and settled disputes, yet Greek mythology sometimes represents him as a cruel god who set men against each other for his own amusement and benefit.


Egyptian Mummy Wrapping Beads

In ancient Egypt, when wealthy people died, their bodies were often embalmed to preserve them before being wrapped in several layers of bandages.

From about 1000 BC, the final layer of wrapping was a net of beads, often with small symbols, such as the Scarab that symbolised rebirth. Although these beads have been strung as a necklace, they are actually part of one or more wrapping nets.

The beads are made from faience, which is similar to glass as it is made from sand or quartz. However, unlike glass, which is made by heating sand until it melts, faience is made cold.

It was a relatively inexpensive material, which may have been used in place of semi-precious stone beads made from materials such as turquoise or lapis lazuli. This would indicate that this bead wrapping was not that of a pharaoh, but more likely of a court official or some other member of the Egyptian middle classes.


Denarius of the Roman Republic

This coin was minted in 119 BC under the two consuls P. Furius Philus and C. Flaminius. Their names areObverse side of the denarius coin inscribed around the edge of the obverse side of the coin. Consuls were the two men selected from the Senate (a council of elected Roman noblemen), and elected by the Roman people to run the republic.

Tails side of the denarius coin

The coin appears to have been made to celebrate a victory over the Gallic people of northern Italy. We know this because of the imagery and symbolism on the coin.

On the obverse (heads side) is the two-headed god Janus. Janus was the god connected with the beginning and ending of enterprises, and with safe or fortunate passage through doorways or gateways (called Jani). The month January is named after the god Janus because it marks the end of one year and the beginning of a new one.

On the reverse (tails side) of the coin is an image of Roma (the personification of the city of Rome), placing a victory wreath on a trophy of armour, shields and Gaulish trumpets.


Mesopotamian Clay Tablet with Cuneiform Script

Clay tablet featuring cuneiform script

Over 5000 years ago, people living in Mesopotamia developed a form of writing to record and communicate different kinds of information in an increasingly complex society. The very earliest form of script was pictograms (crude images) representing all kinds of objects and items. Over time, this developed into a script called cuneiform, which was made up of symbols formed from lines and wedges.

Originally, cuneiform was intended to be read in columns, but in time it evolved to be read left to right, in the same way as our writing is written and read today. In order that the symbols could be understood they were rotated 90 degrees.

Mesopotamian scribes were well-educated men who were responsible for recording daily events, business transactions, astronomy and stories. Cuneiform is found on square tablets, cylinders, prisms, brick wall reliefs and a number of other objects.

Rectangular clay tablets like this were used to record administrative information such as taxes or stock records, but could also be used for writing personal letters and even for contracts.  This tablet is from the ancient Near East (modern Iraq and Iran), c.3000 BC.