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Insufficiently Well-Known Bronze Figurines of Mercury from the Collection of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Adnan Busuladžić ; Filozofski fakultet Univerziteta u Sarajevu

Puni tekst: hrvatski pdf 377 Kb

str. 359-379

preuzimanja: 111


Puni tekst: engleski pdf 377 Kb

str. 359-379

preuzimanja: 193



The beginnings of the presence of the god Mercury can be followed in
parallels with the Greek Hermes. There are also impressive similarities with the Etruscan god Turms. In complex processes of syncretism, Hermes is also identified with the Egyptian Hermes Trismegistus. This cult is a Hellenised version of the Egyptian moon god, Thot. This Egyptian deity was the scribe or herald of the gods, which is a direct correlation with the offices of Mercury in the Greek and Roman pantheon.
Hermes was primarily known as the herald or messenger of the gods. He was the personal herald of Zeus, as well as of Hades and Persephone. He was the son of Zeus and the daughter of Atlantis, Maia. The youngest of the Olympian twelve, he was the protector of craft, sleep, shepherds, the god of sleight of hand, skill and ingenuity. He was charged by Zeus with the promotion of trade, the making of contracts and the protection of travellers. He acquired such characteristics as a result of his many acts of cunning. He was invoked to bring happiness, and any lucky chance was called a gift of Hermes. As herald of Hades he took part in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. He was known for the many mistresses he had among the goddesses and ordinary mortal women. He was also the father of Pan. For all these reasons he is often shown naked, without any clothing, with prominent masculine characteristics, often in company with Silenus.
He was born in a cave on Mt Cylenne in Arcadia. Maia too lived in this
place. As soon as he was born, says tradition, he made an instrument, the lyre, out of tortoiseshell, ox hide, reed and sheep guts, to which he sang of the love of his parents. He stole a herd of cattle from his half-brother Apollo, and to put him in good mood gave him the lyre. He also invented the flute, which again he gave to Apollo. Because of these two gifts, he was given valuable rewards by Apollo. Among other things, Apollo put him in charge of cattle. Hermes was one of the gods that people best liked. For his features and characteristics, he was very similar to them. Apart from this, little attention was devoted to him in any public manifestation of the cult. The oldest traces suggest that he was venerated from the second half of the second millennium. This claim is backed up by the discovery of a plaque with his name at Pylos. Hermes was also charged with responsibility for boundary stones, and other duties of his sprang from this. Some of them were as patron of shepherds, herds and country people, and border areas for grazing, graves and signposts. Signposts quickly correlated him with travellers, who also turned to him. As deity who was also herald of the underworld, of Hades and Persephone, he was via stone piles related with the dead. He guided souls from this to the world beyond, and was the redeemer of souls. He made the situation easier, liberated from pain and offered bliss to the dead. These circumstancesput him in direct contact with sleep, which was believed to have a very close connection with death. He sent people to sleep, but also awakened them. In his honour, people would put herms in front of their doors, as protection from evil. Herms were pilasters above which bearded male heads were fashioned. On the pilasters there were also phalluses. This kind of iconography indicates several aspects of Hermes, which were extrapolated from the fertility and traveller themes to the protection of people’s property. Hermes was the patron of youth, athletes, the god of gymnastics, and his statues were put up in educational institutions where young men learned combat as well as sport and literature. Because of the discovery of musical instruments, he was also the patron of music.
In the Roman tradition, the Greek Hermes was identified with Mercury. One of the characteristics of his depiction was the appearance of the purse, which is precisely the case with our specimens. The Roman version was introduced into Rome via the direct contact that the Romans had with the cities of Magna Graecia. The cult was often transmitted by freedmen or people with descent from a freedman. The role of this category of the population was very important. Freedmen were prominent in various economic activities such as trade, artisanal occupations and other kinds of activity. As herald, he was considered patron of grammarians and orators. It was from these segments that the patronage of the Roman god Mercury arose. He too was the god of trade, particularly in grain, the god of merchants and foison. The very name derived from the words mercer – merxi, to trade, trade and goods. Merchants sought from him good profits, and goods to be sold would be sprinkled with water from laurel boughs.
The cult expanded and became increasingly important, the need for the building of temples also developing. Such a building was put up in 496 BCE in the vicinity of Circus Maximus. According to the recommendations of the Sibylline Leaves in 339 BCE a lectisternium or ceremony was prepared for him.
The anniversary of the construction of the temple was celebrated during the Ides of May. It was primarily traders who took part – the collegium mercatorum, and their members, the mercularies. The timeframe of the celebration in May must have been motivated by the fact that the goddess Maia, his mother, was venerated in this month. Pigs were slaughtered in her honour during the Calends of May, and on May 15 another holiday of this goddess was celebrated. In some situations he was honoured together with Fortuna and Minerva. At the end of the Republic he became a deity that protected both individual and the whole of the state. He became the genius of the sea and the avenger of Caesar. For this reason he was considered the reviver of the Roman state. All this led to fairly frequent situations that in the provinces he was identified with the local gods. In time he became the god of eloquence, the gift and art of rhetoric, and the personification of mediation. Like Hermes, Mercury too became a psychopomp, he who assists in painless transitions to the other world.
The actual interpretation of the origins of this god has adherents in
various forms. According to one, Mercury can be directly correlated with the process of interpretatio romana connected with the Hermes of the Greeks. A second hypothesis says that he was an indigenous Roman god that took overthe iconography of Hermes. A third group links the phenomenon and name of Mercury primarily with Etruscan and Phoenician beliefs.
Here it is important to point out that Mercury was particularly venerated by Augustus, who favoured him particularly for his role in the provision of welfare. This attitude of a ruler to one of the deities is confirmed through scenes on the coins of this emperor. Deep religious feelings for Mercury were also cultivated by Caligula, Nero, Vespasian, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Valerian, Gallienus and others.
The recognisable attributes of Mercury were his traveller’s hat (petasos), which symbolised his care for travellers and all on journeys. Since he was a god of trade, his symbol was also the purse or pouch (marsupium) with money in his hand and the caducei (caducifer). Sometimes he appears with the horn of plenty.
His train might include the cock, tortoise and ram. As herald and implementer of the divine plans he had a miraculous staff (rabdos), a herald’s staff (kerykeion) and winged sandals (pedila).
He was one of the deities of the province of Dalmatia, where many of his monuments have been discovered. We have thus evidence of his cult on Vis, in Salona, Narona, Muć, Trilje, Brač, Zadar and other places. Monuments are also known from the interior of the province, Donji Unac and Goražde. The situation in the space of the province of Upper Moesia is similar, for a number of different statues belonging to this cult have been observed, particularly of bronze figurines like our specimens.
This wide range and the different social categories of those who venerated him confirm that Mercury was a god close to educated Italic people, slaves, freedmen, legionaries, trades, artisans, immigrants and many other social categories. In the Ancient Collection of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina there are three figurines of Mercury, and two Greek painted vases with scenes in which Hermes is shown. Analogies to these bronze figures exist in Singidunum and localities in the area of the Pannonian province.
For our specimens, a finding site in Albania (inv. No. 612) and in Nikopolis in Epyrus (inv. No. 783) can be adduced with some confidence, while there is no information about where a third was found (inv. No. 780). From the analysis of the two sites known, it can be confirmed that Mercury was known throughout the Roman Empire. Since the process of the acceptance of Greek culture was present in Rome and surroundings, after the conquest of Greece by Rome and its incorporation into the Empire, this marked the Romanisation of the Greek cults, which were clearly venerated in the Greek ethnic space.

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