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An unusual shield device monogram

14/01/2017

Ancient ceramic art from Ancient Athens gives a good indication of the usage of Greek letters as emblems for shield devices and some times it yields really unusual information although open to subjective interpretations and theories as the evidence are like some bits of along lost puzzle.And some times real gems can be found in artifacts not exhibited in museums.

There exists a truly exceptional calyx-shaped red figure crater in Athens. It is the product of an ancient Attic workshop and is dated to the end of the 4th century BC. The style of the drawings upon its surface helps us to classify it as “Kerch style” pottery. It is registered in the archaeological collection of the Bank of Greece with code ΤτΕ.ΑΡΧ/79. It depicts a Dionysian scene but of note is a shield at the bottom of the image

Crater depicting shield with monogram

Attic red figure calyx-shaped crater – of the “Kertsch type”. Upon it a shield carrying the “FS” or “PS” is depicted. (The Bank of Greece archaeological collection) Courtesy: the Bank of Greece

Upon this shield is depicted an unusual letter that did not pass in the modern Greek alphabet. We know it from inscriptions of Arcadia and it is a consonant with phonetic value «FS» or «PS». The first thought is that this is a shield with the monogram of the Arcadian city of Psophis. But the coins of this city bore the initials of the city, «XO» (where the X is pronounced “PS” in the Arcadian dialect), along with depictions of fish and stags. According to Pausanias, the hero Zakynthos was descended from Arcadian Psophis. This hero founded the settlement of the island of Zakynthos (modern Zante). The people of the island stayed loyal allies to the Athenians until the end of the Peloponnesian War. In addition, the citadel of Zakynthos was called Psophis. So it is very likely the image on the crater to represent a shield with the emblem of the Zakynthian elite hoplites that probably had their barracks at the citadel, as was the custom in Antiquity.

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