Fun and Games in the Ancient World

The daily lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans can be difficult to relate to, but in some respects the Classical world was very much like our own. Teece Museum Gallery Host and UC graduate Brylea Hollinshead considers our differences and similarities in this survey of fun and games in the ancient world. 

With their majestic temples, great philosophers, and formidable armies, the ancient Greeks and Romans are often seen as a sober and serious bunch, elevated in the popular imagination to the heights of the gods they worshipped. You might think that all of their time was occupied by lofty matters like the development of the arts, rational study, and military training. However, this viewpoint overlooks the playfulness which was present in the everyday lives of Greek and Roman men, women, and children. This article will bring the ancients back down to earth by exploring fun, games, and silly antics in the Greek and Roman worlds through artefacts in the UC Teece Museum and Logie Collection. We will consider the relationship between gender and play, and note how ancient attitudes differ from our own. Yet unearthing our commonly shared forms of fun – from children’s toys to drinking games – will reveal that we are perhaps more like the ancients than we think.

Terracotta horse and rider from Boeotia, mid 6th century BCE.  JLMC 35.55

Greek and Roman children, just like kids today, entertained themselves with toys and games in their free time. Animal models, like this terracotta figurine of a horse and rider (JLMC 35.55) currently displayed in the Teece, made popular toys. One can imagine a young child might have cherished this little figurine over two millennia ago. Dice too, are not a modern invention, but were a popular game in the ancient world. The Greek playwright Sophocles credits the hero Palamedes with their invention during the Trojan war. [1] However, archaeological excavations place their origins even earlier – six-sided dice much like our modern-day equivalent have been discovered in Egyptian tombs dating from as far back as 2000 BCE. [2] The Teece houses this wonderful example of a pair of bone dice from the Roman period (DG 277), which bear remarkable resemblance to the dice you might find in a store today. Board games like latrunculi and tabula (similar to chess and backgammon) were also common, as were knucklebones made from the bones of animals like sheep and goats (hence the name!), and balls made from inflated pigs’ bladders.

Pair of bone dice, ca 2nd century CE. DG 277, On loan from the collection of Doug and Anemarie Gold. 

Toys could also serve the function of reinforcing gender expectations and preparing children for their future social roles. In the ancient world, male citizens were expected to participate in society’s public sphere by becoming, for instance, politicians, soldiers, or labourers. A woman’s role, by contrast, was primarily to become a wife, bear children, and manage the household. Therefore, young boys often played with toys like tools, and girls with dolls. The Greek philosopher Plato drew this link between play and education, stating “if a boy is to be a good farmer or a good builder, he should play at building toy houses or farming . . . One should see games as a means of directing children’s tastes and inclinations to the role they will fulfill as adults”. [3] The separation of girls’ and boys’ toys, though still present today, is being challenged as patriarchal ideals break down and both genders gain more opportunities.

Merriment and games were not restricted to childhood – the Greeks and Romans retained their sense of play into adult life. Sports and athletics, for instance, were fundamental aspects of ancient society. The Greek cultural appreciation of athleticism culminated at the Olympic games, a tradition which has retained its popularity into the modern day. First held at Olympia in 776 BCE, adult male citizens competed in wrestling, long jump, running races, shot put, and discus. The Romans, too, enjoyed sporting contests, with chariot racing and gladiator combat being particularly popular games. In Rome these grand spectacles were held in a giant arena called the colosseum, and captured the interest of all areas of society, from poor workers to Roman emperors like Nero, who bet large sums on their outcomes. The emperor Commodus himself even competed as a gladiator!

The evenings held the opportunity for a different kind of play. The Greek symposium (a term which is now, ironically, used in English to denote a formal professional conference) was a drinking party for elite males renowned for its boisterous fun, games, and revelry. Symposia involved the consumption of food and alcohol, and entertainment such as music, poetry, and dance. The kylix, a drinking cup for wine, often became part of the fun itself. For instance, the exterior of some kylikes were painted with a feature which may seem odd to modern viewers at first glance: a pair of eyes.

The Logie Cup, an Attic black-figure eye-cup, ca 525-520 BCE.  JLMC 56.58

A striking example of this is shown by the Teece Museum’s “Logie Cup” (JLMC 56.58).  It is thought by scholars that these eye-cups were used as a kind of mask. During the symposium, a symposiast would raise his wine-filled kylix to his lips, covering his face. The cup’s painted eyes would stare out at his companions, while its handles and circular foot would become ears and a bulbous nose or gaping mouth. Undoubtedly, the amusement aroused by this trick would increase alongside the revelers’ levels of intoxication.

Symposiasts also used their cups to play kottabos. This ancient equivalent of a modern-day drinking game involved the partygoer flinging the dregs of the wine from his cup towards a designated target. A successful toss won the symposiast prizes and was seen to bring good fortune in love. A self-referential kylix in the Logie Collection shows a man reclining on a couch at a symposium holding a kylix (JLMC 17.53). After a few sips, the contents of his cup might have gone flying!

Attic red-figure kylix with an image of a reclining symposiast, ca 480 BCE. JLMC 17.53

Women in ancient Greece and Rome did not enjoy the same freedoms as men, and the majority of them were prohibited from joining in the fun at athletic contests or wild drinking parties. Little first-hand information exists on the private lives of ordinary women, who spent much of their time inside the household. However, they undoubtedly found their own ways of making fun, even while confined to their homes. This column-krater (used for mixing wine and water at symposia), for instance, shows two women juggling in a fairly rare artistic depiction of women at play (DG 305).

Red-figure krater with two women juggling, DG 305. copyright Doug Gold
Attic red-figure column-krater with two women juggling, ca 5th to 4th century BCE. DG 305, On loan from the collection of Doug and Anemarie Gold. 

The scene on the neck of the vase references a wilder and more disinhibited realm of play involving women. It depicts the mythological followers of Dionysus (or Bacchus), the god of wine and madness, engaged in an orgiastic scene of debauchery. The satyrs, who were conceived as silly, buffoonish, and lustful creatures, advance on their female companions, the maenads (whose name translates to raving ones). Some of the maenads playfully fend off the satyrs with thyrsi, or pinecone topped staffs. Though these characters were creations of myth, the god of madness inspired worship from real women in antiquity, who joined groups like the Greek Dionysian and Roman Bacchic mystery cults. Inspired by the god, initiates of these secretive sects took part in ecstatic rituals including intoxication, trance-inducing song and dance, sacrifices, and sexual activity. Such frenzied Dionysian “play” offered a kind of fun and freedom to marginalised members of society like women, which they might otherwise have lacked in their everyday lives.

Fun and games played an important part in the everyday lives of ancient men, women, and children. Alongside work, study, and civic duty, Greeks and Romans played with toys and challenged each other in board games, spectated and competed in sporting contests, and engaged in Dionysian revelry through drinking parties and mystery cults. Recognising this lively, all-too-human element of ancient cultures connects us to the past not only through our most serious endeavours, but also through our ability to have fun.


Brylea Hollinshead has just completed a Bachelor of Arts in Classics and Philosophy at the University of Canterbury, with a particular research interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. She has been working as a gallery host for Teece Museum since 2017.


[1] Sophocles, Palamedes fragment, 479 R trans Kidd, Stephen E. “How to Gamble in Greek: The Meaning of Kubeia.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 137 (2017): 119-1

[2] Glimne, Dan. “Dice”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 Feb. 2019, Accessed 14 April 2021.

[3] Plato. Laws 1.643b-c, trans D’Angour, Armand. “Plato and play: Taking education seriously in ancient Greece.” American Journal of Play 5.3 (2013): 293-307. Accessed 14 April 2021.

People and Place: Knowledge of the Ancient World through the Canterbury Sallust

UC Classics graduate Emily Rosevear explores the history of the ancient world through an examination of a special text in the University of Canterbury Library Rare Books Collection, which is known as the Canterbury Sallust. Produced around 1465-70 CE, the Sallust manuscript is a rare edition of Bellum Jugurthinum by the Roman author Gaius Sallustius Crispus.

The ancient Greeks and Romans came into contact with a wide variety of people across Europe, Asia and North Africa through trade, migration and war. As they expanded their horizons, they developed a fascination with the world around them and the lands beyond their cities. Their interest was strongly influenced by significant historical and political events, including the campaigns of Alexander the Great and the eastward expansion of the Greek world in the fourth century BCE, as well as the consolidation of the Roman Empire under Augustus in the first century CE. These events promoted further territorial expansion and led to an increasing awareness of previously unknown regions.[1]

Ancient Greek and Roman literary works tend to focus on inhabited lands which were thought to be suitable for settlement or offered potential resources.[2] With their interests so closely related to people and conquest, ancient authors often combined elements of we might now view as different disciplines – history, geography, and ethnography – when writing about new places or peoples. For example, well known today are the works of the Greek historian Herodotus (c.484–c.425 BCE) who used geography to frame his narrative by including in his Histories descriptions of the regions under Persian control such as Egypt, India and Scythia. This combination of historical and geographical descriptions became an important feature of later works of the period, including those by authors such as Thucydides, Polybius, and Sallust.[3] The work of Sallust (86–c. 35 BCE) is of particular interest to us, as the University of Canterbury holds a rare early copy of one of his manuscripts. 

Interior page from the Sallust manuscript showing the neat humanist script.

The Work of Sallust

Contained within the UC Library Rare Books Collection is a copy of Sallust’s work Bellum Jugurthinum. The text is an account of the conflict that erupted in North Africa towards the end of the second century BCE when Jugurtha (c. 160–104 BCE) usurped the throne of Numidia after the death of its pro-Roman king. This work was completed in approximately 40 BCE by Gaius Sallustius Crispus, (or ‘Sallust’ as he is known), who was a retired Roman senator. His work is centred around war and military conquest, with three chapters devoted to the land and people of North Africa. By emphasising the relationship between the physical features of the place and the character of its people who are described as rough, hardy and untamed, he is perhaps alluding to a clash between the civilisation of Rome and the perceived barbarism of the Numidian kingdom where the war takes place.[4]

Fortunately for us, Sallust’s work has survived through to the modern day because copies of his manuscript were read and published across Europe in the centuries following its original publication, thereby preserving his work. This monograph and a slightly earlier one (Bellum Catilinae, completed c. 42 BCE), also by Sallust, are among the earliest historical texts written in Latin that have survived in their entirety from antiquity.[5]

When Sallust first published his work it would have been written by hand on rolls made of papyrus as this was the normal form of a book in antiquity.[6] The copy held by the University Library however, is a codex, a small book of approximately 140 millimetres high by 100 millimetres wide, featuring a brown hard cover with decorative features. The codex itself is comprised of 110 vellum leaves or 220 pages. The text is written in a neat humanist script and where a new sentence begins at the start of a line a larger capital letter appears in the margin. The leaves have been grouped into quires, or ‘gatherings’, made up of ten leaves. The last page of each quire has a catchword at the bottom, which matches the first word of the following section. Occasionally the scribe has enclosed the catchword in what can be described as an ‘ornamental doodle’, some of which are quite elaborate.[7] The manuscript includes only a few examples of marginalia and minimal signs of wear suggesting that the book received little use until it was acquired by the University of Canterbury.

Interior double page from the Sallust manuscript with an example of a decorative embellishment.

 From Rome to Canterbury: A History of the Canterbury Sallust

The Canterbury Sallust has an interesting history in its own right, travelling across the world as it did from its original source in Europe to the University of Canterbury Library in New Zealand. Unfortunately, prior to its acquisition for the Library little is certain about the manuscript’s origins. What is known is that on 4 May 1953 the manuscript was sold at Sotheby’s to C. A. Stonehill, and several further sales followed in the next thirteen years before it was acquired by Professor of Classics D.A. Kidd for the University of Canterbury in 1966.

The manuscript likely originates from northeast Italy and has been dated to c. 1465-1470 CE. The binding shows similarities with texts from Ferrara and Cesena, and is influenced by the style associated with Florence. From Italy the manuscript appears to have moved to France. This is indicated on the front flyleaf where there is an erased signature, ‘Monchol’, which is believed to be of French sixteenth-century origin. Other names written in the manuscript suggest that it may have belonged to the family of Pierre de Monchal, an advocate at the parliament of Paris. His relative Charles de Monchal, the archbishop of Toulouse, was a renowned bibliophile and established a large library. It is possible that our manuscript was part of this library, but nothing is known for certain and little else is recorded until the mid-twentieth century.[8]

In 1966 Professor Kidd was in England on leave and it was hoped that while there he might purchase for the University Library a representative manuscript in Latin. Professor Kidd found however that due to an increase in sales to various institutions there were few manuscripts on the market and the prices of the remaining manuscripts were rising steadily.[9] It was fortunate that when the Sallust manuscript was located it was closely followed by the announcement of a bequest from Walter Cuthbert Colee.

Cover of the Sallust manuscript. The decorative binding is now missing its original clasp.

Walter Colee (1876-1966) was a graduate of Canterbury College and a former headmaster of a number of Christchurch primary schools. Colee was active in the world of education, serving as a member of the Canterbury University College Council from 1934 to 1949, and holding the position of Chairman for two years. He also served on the Senate of the University of New Zealand and was a member of the Lincoln College Board of Governors for nineteen years. His bequest of £100 was gifted to the University Library with no limitations as to how the money should be spent. The Library was therefore free to spend the money to its best advantage. Rather than use the money for ordinary books the Library deemed it appropriate to purchase something special, “something beyond our ordinary means yet of use to some and of value for everyone.”[10] As Latin was one of Colee’s interests it seemed fitting that the first early manuscript in Latin acquired by the University should be a lasting memorial to his work.


The Canterbury Sallust has had a long history in its own right, travelling around the world from Italy to France and on to England, eventually making its way to New Zealand. When it was originally produced, the manuscript itself increased the understanding of the ancient Romans of their place in the world though its narrative of conquest. Texts such as Sallust’s Bellum Jugurthinum helped to educate Romans about the world beyond their own cities and foster an interest in the history and geography of the world in which they lived. Today the work of Sallust continues to be a valuable teaching tool, expanding the horizons of a new generation of students, as part of the University of Canterbury Library Rare Books Collection.

Emily Rosevear recently competed her Master’s Degree in History at the University of Canterbury and currently works as a Gallery Host at the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities.



Our thanks to Special Collections Librarian Damian Cairns and the University of Canterbury Macmillan Brown Library for their continued support, and permission to reproduce images for this article. All images are copyright to UC.


[1] Daniela Dueck and Kai Brodersen, Geography in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 3.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid., 8.

[4] Ibid., 46.

[5] Garry Morrison, “The Canterbury Sallust” in Treasures of the University of Canterbury Library ed by Chris Jones, Bronwyn Matthews and Jennifer Clement (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2011), 90.

[6] D.A. Kidd, The Canterbury Sallust. (Christchurch: University of Canterbury, 1969).

[7] Morrison, The Canterbury Sallust, 92.

[8] Ibid, 92-93.

[9] C. W. Collins, ‘Foreword’, in The Canterbury Sallust, by D.A. Kidd (Christchurch: University of Canterbury, 1969).

[10] Ibid.

A Classical Bestiary

In this second post of her series about the connections between Classics and the natural world, UC Classics student Laura Bythell explores the history of some special animals in antiquity. 

If you have ever owned a cat you will understand why they were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, but you might not know much else about animals in antiquity. Dogs might not have been recipients of worship, but they sure have been important as man’s best friend. And what about cows? Those cute ungulates batting their long eyelashes are the reason some people go vegan, but what did the Romans think? This short list will whet your appetite for classical history as we skim the surface of the roles of animals in the ancient world.

Cast collection copy of a Rhyton in the shape of a bull, JLMC CC4.

Aurochs (Latin: urus)

The aurochs was the mighty wild beast from whom most domestic cattle are descended. Now extinct, this bovine creature once roamed across Europe, where it was hunted by the Greeks and Romans. Their huge horns were prized as hunting trophies and were sometimes made into drinking cups.

Cattle (Greek: bous. Latin: bos)

Domesticated cattle played an important role in Greek and Roman life. Oxen were sturdy creatures used for agriculture and bulls were specifically coveted for religious sacrifice. Cattle were so important as working animals that their meat was generally reserved for consumption during sacrifices, rather than being eaten on a regular basis. This was especially true for the Greeks, for whom the consumption of meat in general was closely linked with religious practice. Instead, sheep and goats were much more commonly kept for their meat and dairy, although it is worth noting that meat, regardless of which animal it came from, was much more of a luxury than it is now.

Dogs (Greek: kyon. Latin: canis)

Dogs have been man’s best friend since antiquity, even being referred to as “that most faithful friend of man, the dog” by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder nearly two thousand years ago. While this is surely not the first example of such a phrase, it shows the Romans were just as fond of these four-legged companions as we are. The Greeks were equally as fond of them, but this did not mean they were exempt from occasionally becoming food; according to contemporary historian Andrew Dalby, the Greek physician Galen mentions the nutritional value of dog meat, but their use as food is very rarely mentioned in other ancient texts.

As well as companionship, dogs were also valuable guards and hunters. In fact, dogs were frequently featured in mosaics at the entrances of Roman homes. A famous example can be found at the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii. These mosaics, sometimes accompanied by the text cave canem (“beware the dog”), are often considered to be depicting guard dogs. The Teece Museum itself is home to a large hunting dog mosaic from Roman Syria belonging to the Logie Collection. The Collection is also home to a contrasting canine depiction – a Greek column-krater shows a delightful small dog trotting alongside a barbitos player (JLMC 182.97).

182.97 column krater
Red-figure column-krater featuring a dog, JLMC 182.97.

We get the word cynic from the Greek word kyon. Diogenes the Cynic, also known as Diogenes Kynikoi (dog-like), was one of the founders of the Cynic School of Philosophy, which espoused the belief that humans should live simple lives and pursue their basic needs without all of the complications of modern living. Diogenes originally received the epithet kynikoi as an insult, but found the name fitting to his lifestyle.

Elephants (Latin: elephantus)

One of the most famous examples of elephants appearing in antiquity happened during the second Punic War (218-201 BCE) when the Carthaginian general, Hannibal, brought war elephants over the Alps. These elephants are thought to have been either the now-extinct North African or the Syrian elephant. Though elephants are not native to Italy, war elephants were also utilised by the Romans.

However, Hannibal was not the first to bring elephants to Italy. War elephants were also used by King Pyrrhus of Epirus during the Pyrrhic Wars. During the final Pyrrhic battle, the Battle of Beneventum in 275 BCE, the Romans were able to capture eight of these elephants, but it was not until after the Punic Wars that use of war elephants was properly taken up by the Romans.

Roman as, Antoninus Pius, 148-149 CE, featuring an elephant. British Museum Collection Asset #666933001 © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The historian Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) wrote a great deal on elephants in his work The Natural History, providing more ancient insight into the animals. According to Pliny, elephants were the closest in intelligence to humankind. Despite their use in war, he noted that they were naturally gentle animals. The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) had also commented on the docile nature of elephants in his much earlier work History of Animals, further noting that they were easily tamed.

While elephants have never been truly domesticated, they have been used by humans for thousands of years for war, entertainment, and their ivory. The tradition of killing elephants for their ivory is even mentioned by Pliny, and while war elephants are a thing of the past, and their use in entertainment is now rare, this last tradition has unfortunately followed us into the twenty-first century, and alongside habitat loss, is one of the leading causes of their endangerment. Elephants are now highly endangered, and without drastic action, our remaining species of elephants will join the North African and Syrian elephants in extinction.

Panthers / Leopards (Greek: pardalis or panther. Latin: pardus or panthera)

Nowadays, the word panther is not the formal name of any particular animal, but is commonly applied to leopards, jaguars, and cougars collectively. The Latin term ‘Panthera’ serves as the official name for the subfamily of cats which includes leopards, lions and tigers. Once prevalent in the ancient wild, these big cats are now endangered. The Romans no doubt helped their endangerment along; exotic and ferocious animals were popular at public spectacles and were often made to fight or were hunted for entertainment. Bestiarii were a particular type of gladiator who fought against animals in the arena, either voluntarily or as a death sentence.

Etruscan oinochoe with a procession of goats, JLMC 69.64.

Goats (Greek: aix. Latin: capra)

While goat milk is not common these days, it was much more regularly consumed in the ancient world. Goats were not as useful as cattle as working animals and so they were raised mainly for their milk, meat and skins. Goats generally require less land and resources than cows, and have a slightly higher milk production to resource consumption ratio. Although they produce less milk overall, goats would have been ideal meat and dairy animals for poorer farmers or families. As the Romans and Greeks did not have refrigeration or pasteurisation, goat milk would have been safest to consume only when very fresh (limiting its use), or when fermented into delicious cheese – a much more accessible option.

Goats were also depicted in mythology; the goatherd nymph Amalthea helped protect the infant Zeus from his hungry father Cronus. Sometimes Amalthea herself is depicted as a goat. A procession of six grazing goats can be seen around this Etruscan oinochoe (wine jug) which was possibly made in the city Vulci in Etruria (JLMC 69.64).

Sheep (Greek: probaton. Latin: ovis)

Sheep milk or cheese is even harder to find now than goat milk (at least in New Zealand) but for the Greeks and Romans it was just as popular. According to Aristotle, cheese was commonly made with a mixture of goat and sheep milk, possibly making an early variant of feta cheese. In New Zealand feta is often made with cow’s milk, but in some countries, it is still made predominantly with sheep and goat milk.

Cast collection copy of a statuette of Hermes carrying a sheep, CC33.

In this statuette of Hermes belonging to the Logie Collection, a sheep is being carried under Hermes’ arm to sacrifice. Although less prestigious than cattle, sheep were also used in religious sacrifice by the Greeks and Romans (JLMC CC33).

Laura Bythell is currently working towards completing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Classics. She has worked as a gallery host at the Teece Museum since 2017. 


Images: Unless otherwise stated, all images are © University of Canterbury. Photographer Duncan Shaw Brown



Andrew Dalby. Food in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge. 2003.

Aristotle. The History of Animals. Accessed July 2020, URL:

Galen. On the Natural Faculties. Accessed August 2020, URL:

Pliny the Elder. The Natural History. Accessed June 2020, URL:

Strabo. Geography. Accessed August 2020, URL:

Women in academia: personal interactions in Miss Marion Steven’s travel diary

In 2017, Roswyn Wiltshire completed a PACE internship with the Teece Museum, transcribing a travel diary which belonged to Miss Marion Steven. The process of reading, translating, interpreting and researching the diary entries revealed some fascinating new angles to Marion’s story. Here, Roswyn contemplates whether the story of Marion’s journey might also shed light on the challenges faced by female academics post World War II.

Since the donation to the Teece Museum of Marion Steven’s travel diary and the extensive oral history project undertaken by Natalie Looyer, we have begun to learn more about the vivid character of the James Logie Memorial Collection’s founder, Miss Marion Steven. Marion travelled extensively during her career, visiting colleagues, museums, and archaeological sites. Before embarking on one such trip at the end of 1958 she was gifted a journal in which she recorded notes of meetings, lectures, artefacts, performances of ancient Greek tragedies, and on-going excavations. When transcribing the diary I also undertook research into the context of what I was reading. One major thread that emerged in this process was the situation of women in academia, and specifically the disciplines of classics and classical archaeology, during the post-World War II period.

Mrs Simpson and Miss Marion Steven, ca 1940

Miss Steven’s legacy is emerging as an inspiration to young classicists – a woman who resolutely went her own way and rose to become Reader – Associate Professor in today’s terms – at a time when the academic world was dominated by men. During the span of her career, women were always less than ten percent of the teaching staff at the University of Canterbury. This imbalance was an ordinary part of life for Marion, and it can be difficult to discover if she had any particular views on the situation faced by her and her female colleagues. By comparison with pioneering women of the field we can discover the range of stances on feminism, but in Marion’s own diary it is difficult to identify any real hints of her opinion.

One of the challenges women academics who worked alongside their husbands encountered was that they too easily fell into obscurity. When transcribing Marion’s diary, for example, it was difficult to find anything about the ‘Mrs Wace’ mentioned who showed Marion’s colleague, James Stewart, photos of the recently excavated shaft graves at Mycenae[1]. Marion elsewhere had referred to the Wace’s excavations, but the report on those excavations from Alan John Bayard Wace only mentions “Mrs. Alan Wace” among “other members of the excavation who undertook various parts of the work”. Miss Elizabeth Wace, his daughter, who would go on to be Director of the British School in Athens, was also “actively present throughout”[2]. “Mrs. Alan Wace” was in fact Helen Pence, an archaeologist in her own right who had studied in Rome. Learning about such women I became less surprised by Marion’s insistence on being addressed as Miss Steven after her marriage. Although Marion and her husband were not in the same field, keeping an identity separate from the traditional role of wife was no doubt important.

A page from Marion Steven’s travel diary.

When learning about the achievements of women like Marion, striding forth in careers and environments dominated by men, we may well ask ourselves “were they feminist?” To succeed in a man’s world does not necessarily require challenging the established hierarchy. From the early days of archaeology there were women both stridently feminist and fervently anti-suffrage, with many shades between. On the one hand, Gertrude Bell, an English archaeologist who also worked for British Intelligence during World War 1, was fervently anti-suffrage. The American archaeologist Harriet Boyd Hawes had doubts about suffrage, and felt “that a woman’s chief concern should be with the arts of living and homemaking” and the Danish academic Lis Jacobsen expressed similar sentiments very publicly, seeing herself as an exception. In contrast, the Egyptologist Margaret Murray was the first woman in the United Kingdom to be appointed as a lecturer in archaeology, and she was also a suffragette in the militant Women’s Social and Political Union. Also at the other end of the spectrum, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, whose work focused on prehistoric Egypt, remarked that “since the early ’30s my feminist allegiance led me to have a woman doctor”[3].

From the character that comes through in Marion’s diary, I believe that this quiet feminism, seeking to give women opportunities wherever possible, was the kind that would have appealed to her. She had herself been denied her first career opportunity in medical science by gender discrimination and was aware of the difficulties women faced[4]. However, studies interviewing women archaeologists who were contemporaries of Marion found that their subjects remembered little or no discrimination, even when statistics suggested otherwise[5]. To the successful, it is not always clear how one can fail through any fault but one’s own.

Marion Steven in Rome, ca 1970

Marion’s travel diary did not focus on this matter. She was primarily concerned with making notes for use in teaching. The diary also served to keep track of expenses, with accounts of travel and food costs.  Personal interactions are often reported in a single, heavily abbreviated sentence. Everything recorded was either useful or important to her – and thus, however brief, the very fact that she chose to record a particular snatch of conversation is always significant.

One such passage is in her account of a visit to Sir John Beazley in Oxford. Beazley was a renowned classicist, and Marion’s connection to him had a significant impact on the prominence of the Logie Collection. Beazley even bestowed the name ‘Logie Painter’ on an Attic vase painter who created the ‘Logie Cup’ from the Collection, and another kylix in the Louvre. But in this particular meeting the subject of their discussion – the Berlin Painter – is suddenly followed by a remark from Marie Beazley.

“ – Lady B[eazley], when they were working in B[ritish] museum before war – [said that it was the] ‘only time she felt free’”[6].

Marie Beazley is typically a footnote to her husband, without an easily traceable record of her own career. Yet Marion implies that Marie was working at the British Museum alongside her husband, and that this gave her a sense of freedom unprecedented in her life. It is one of the very few occasions that Marion directly quoted anyone in her diary, and gives us a possible hint of where her convictions lay.

A page from Marion Steven’s travel diary, with dried flowers.

I believe Marion was very much aware of how difficult it was for most women to succeed in academic careers as she had done. The scale of gender inequality in academia may have never stood out as much to Marion as it does to us, for it was, lamentably, normal. As for what she did in response, Marion was not a flamboyant activist personality. Perhaps more importantly, however, she was fully invested in supporting her students. Through the Collection she established and through her example as a role model, she continues to be a guiding and inspiring presence to new generations of classicists.

Roswyn Wiltshire has worked as a gallery host at the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities since 2017. She has just completed a Master of Arts in Classics at the University of Canterbury.



Our thanks to the Steven Family for their continued support of the Logie Collection, and permission to reproduce images for this article.


[1] MKS Travel Diary, February 27th 1959. Page 62. Logie Collection Archives, uncatalogued.

[2] Wace A.J.B. 1950. ‘Excavations at Mycenae, 1939’. The Annual of the British School at Athens, 45, pp. 203-228.

[3] Bolger, 1994, 48 in Claassen, C. ed. 1994. Women in Archaeology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Jørgensen, 1998,219-220; Champion, 1998, 193 in Diaz-Andreu, M. and Stig Sørensen, M. eds. 1998. Excavating Women: A history of women in European archaeology. London and New York: Routledge.

[4] Marion received a scholarship in pathology at Middlesex hospital London; she had applied under M.K. Steven. When she arrived, it was withdrawn due to there being ‘no facilities for women’. Holcroft, A. ‘Obituary: Marion Kerr Steven’, in Chronicle v. 34 no. 4 (1999): 8-9.

[5] White, Marrinan, and Davis, 1994; Kästner, Maier, and Shülke, 1998.

[6] MKS Travel Diary, January 8th 1959. Page 35. Logie Collection archives, uncatalogued.

Classics in your garden

There are many ancient treatises on agriculture, often recorded in written form as poetry, which detail information about plants and animals, or how to improve and manage crops.  A number of plants that were familiar to the ancient Greeks and Romans can also be found in New Zealand. UC Classics student Laura Bythell explores the connections between the ancient world and the natural world outside your window. 

When you look in your garden, you might not see a great deal of significance in your weeds, other than a reminder that it’s time to grab the lawn mower again. However, many common plants that have made it to New Zealand from across the ocean might surprise you with their classical significance. This handy list will help you identify weeds and plants in your garden whose hidden histories you can use to impress your family and friends.


Acorns: (Greek: βάλανος – balanos. Latin: glans or balanus)

Acorn-strewn pathways are a common sight during Autumn in New Zealand due to the popularity of oak trees. While acorns are now mostly just a nuisance, they are actually thought to be one of humanity’s first foods. Only some varieties of acorn are edible, but those that can be eaten are useful as a food during times of famine and can be ground into a flour. Acorns have been mentioned by multiple classical authors; according to the Greek historian Strabo, they were a staple food of the ancient Iberians.

Bears breeches: (Greek: ἄκανθος – akanthos. Latin: acanthus)

Also known as Acanthus mollis, this leafy weed is a menace in New Zealand gardens. However, long before it made its way to our shores, acanthus was a popular motif in Greek, Roman and even Byzantine architecture. One of the most common places you can spot acanthus is in the capitals of Corinthian columns, a design which is credited to the Greek sculptor Callimachus. According to Roman author Vitruvius, Callimachus was inspired when he saw an acanthus plant growing in an unusual way; a basket had been placed upon an acanthus root and a tile placed upon the basket in order to preserve its contents. This caused the acanthus to grow up and around the basket and bend beneath the tile as if it were supporting it. Callimachus was apparently taken with this, and created a new design for the Corinthian column.


Hemlock: (Greek: κώνειον – koneion. Latin: conium)

Hemlock is a common but dangerous backyard weed to be aware of. Although it is part of the carrot family, (sometimes known as carrot fern!), it is far from edible, and was used as a poison in ancient Greece. The Greek philosopher Socrates famously died from ingesting a hemlock-based poison after being sentenced to death. If you touch this plant you should wash your hands immediately.

Mallow: (Greek: μαλάχη – malakhe. Latin: malva)

Mallow is a pretty purple-flowered weed that, unlike Hemlock, is safe to eat, but perhaps not very pleasant. Its bitter leaves were eaten by Roman poet Horace, who waxed lyrical about his humble diet in Odes 31: “as for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance”.


Dandelions: (Greek (modern): ραδίκι – radiki. Latin (late): dens leontis)

Dandelion and its relative chicory both have roots in classical history. Common dandelions can be included in your garden salad, and have been linked to the Greek goddess Hecate by modern pagans. Chicory is a member of the same botanical family as dandelions (Asteraceae or daisy family), and a variety of it is known as endive – the very same leafy green that Horace referenced earlier.

Sow-thistle: (Greek: σόγχος – sonkhos. Latin: sonchus)

Sow-thistle is another plant from the daisy family that was used as a potherb in ancient times. While foreign varieties have been introduced to New Zealand, we also have our very own native variety, Puha.

Calendula: (Greek (modern): καλέντουλα – kaléntoula. Latin (modern): calendula – diminutive of kalendae)

Also known as marigolds, this plant is well known for its bright orange or yellow flowers. Calendula belongs to the daisy family along with sow-thistle, but it was much more utilised in the ancient world than its cousin. Calendula has been used through the centuries for medicinal and culinary purposes. The ancient Romans and Greeks were well aware of this plant’s benefits, and used it in religious ceremonies. The edible petals also made a popular garnish because of their bright hue.


Yarrow: (Greek: possibly sideritis as a generic term for wound-healing plants. Latin: herba militaris or millefolium.)

Yarrow or Achillea millefolium can be found on roadsides in New Zealand. It derives its name from the Greek hero Achilles, who in Homer’s Iliad is mentioned as the person who taught his companion Patrocles the use of an unnamed “bitter root”, which he uses to heal the wound of another character. Achilles is said to have learned this from the wise centaur Chiron, who was known as a great healer. The “bitter root” may have been yarrow as it was well known for its blood-staunching properties and is native to temperate regions of Europe, including the Mediterranean. The use of the root by Achilles was discussed by the Roman author Pliny the Elder in The Natural History who debated the origin of the plant.

Fennel: (Greek – μάραθος – marathos. Latin – ferula)

Fennel was brought to New Zealand by European settlers and can be cultivated in your herb garden. Like hemlock, it is a part of the carrot family, but unlike hemlock, it is much more edible. Greek poet Hesiod claimed in Theogony that the titan Prometheus hid fire in a fennel stalk when he stole it from the god Zeus to give to humanity.


Ivy: (Greek – κισσός – kissos. Latin – hedera)

Ivy is an invasive climbing plant that loves to creep up walls. Due to its fast-growing and aggressive nature, this non-native plant has been officially labelled a pest by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. To the ancients however, it was quite the opposite of a pest. Both the Greeks and Romans made use of ivy wreaths, which were believed to have medicinal properties. The Greek physician Hippocrates is said to have used ivy to treat drunkenness, and so ivy wreaths were believed to have the same effect, and were associated with Dionysus and Bacchus, the Greek and Roman gods of wine.

Black Nightshade: (Greek – στρύχνον – strukhnon. Latin – strychnos)

Nightshades are a large and old genus of plants. One of its family is quite common in New Zealand; black nightshade is a pesky plant that can be found in many backyards. Luckily, black nightshade is tame in comparison to its more famous relative. Atropa belladonna, or deadly nightshade, lives up to its threatening name; the highly toxic plant was used as a poison in ancient Rome. While nightshades are often best avoided due to their toxicity, other relatives of these two plants include the very edible potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants.

Black Nightshade

Apples: (Greek – μᾶλον – malon. Latin – pomum as a generic word for fruit)

Apples are one item on this list that are still very popular today and are a favoured fruit tree in gardens. While delicious, they have also caused strife; the Trojan War would never have happened if not for a golden apple! In another Greek myth, the huntress Atalanta was tricked into marriage with Melanion when he distracted her with golden apples. However, the importance of apples was not restricted to mythology in the classical world – the Greeks may have also used an apple a day to keep the doctor away, as they were considered by the ancient Greek physician Galen to be part of a healthy diet.

Hellebore: (Greek – ἑλλέβορος – helleboros. Latin – helleborus)

Hellebore is a flower that is prized for the fact that it is both easy to grow and blooms in winter. Although beautiful, they are unfortunately also poisonous. This plant was used in antiquity for medicinal purposes and also appears in mythology; the Greek hero Heracles was cured from the madness the spiteful goddess Hera had cursed him with by the use of hellebore.

Print out this list and go around your back garden or on a short stroll in your local area, and see how many of these plants you can identify. Then next time you are out and about you can impress your family with your amazing botanical and classical knowledge!


Laura Bythell is currently working towards completing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Classics. She has worked as a gallery host at the Teece Museum since 2017. 


Images: Laura Bythell, 2020



Andrew Dalby. Food in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge. 2003.

Dioscorides. De Materia Medica. Accessed June 2020, URL:

Hippocrates (ed. Charles Darwin Adams). The Genuine Works of Hippocrates. Accessed June 2020, URL:

Pliny the Elder. The Natural History. Accessed June 2020, URL:

Gwen Skinner. Simply Living. Reed Publishing. 1981.

Intriguing visitors: memories from a gallery host

It is a joy to be able to open the doors of the Teece Museum again, having been closed in response to the Covid19 pandemic. While we move carefully ahead, it is an interesting time to reflect on the things that we missed sharing during lockdown, and consider what that tells us about our sense of community. At the Teece, we have most definitely missed being able to welcome in visitors from near and far. With this in mind, UC postgraduate Natalie Looyer shares some of her interactions with visitors as a Teece Museum gallery host, and reflects on what value a collection of classical antiquities might have for our community.    

I began working as a gallery host when the Teece Museum first opened its doors in May 2017. I remember the sense of excitement that the James Logie Memorial Collection would be open to the public for the first time since the 2010-2011 Christchurch Earthquakes. But I also recall the apprehension of those working hard to make this happen. Would it all work out? Would the public respond positively to a museum dedicated to classical antiquities? Would we get enough visitors?

Visitors browsing the opening exhibition ‘We Could Be Heroes’, 2017

Almost three years on I still remember the delighted reactions from visitors who came to the opening weekend of the first exhibition, “We Could Be Heroes: The Gods and Heroes of the ancient Greeks and Romans”. As the Christchurch Arts Centre was only just beginning to regenerate post-earthquake, many visitors were thrilled to be back inside its iconic buildings. A number of visitors informed me that they had studied on site when the Arts Centre was still the home of the University of Canterbury. Other visitors shared their own earthquake stories with me, while some listed the great things that were now happening in post-quake Christchurch – the Teece Museum included.

One visitor approached me on the first day and began sharing her memories of travelling to Sicily and the Middle East where she had seen similar antiquities in museums. Another visitor said to me, “I don’t need to look closely at the items. Just being in here makes me feel like I’m in Ancient Greece!” Another visitor, upon seeing the Xena Warrior Princess costume on loan from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, yelped and informed me that she had seen every single episode of the 1990s television series. She then rushed outside to phone her sister about the exhibition. “You have to see it,” I overheard her say.

I was overwhelmed with pride at the collective public response to the museum. University figureheads whose titles we tended to utter with trepidation – the Vice-Chancellor, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, the Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor – visited with their children and parents, all in their relaxed weekend wear and looking suitably pleased with the new museum. Children found much intrigue in the gallery, not least with the two mosaics that are embedded into the museum floor. I remember one boy pretending to pat the dog mosaic. Another child crawled around on top of the river scene mosaic, exclaiming to their mother, “Look, I’m swimming!” A moment later, “Ouch! The fish bit me!”

Finding inspiration in the ‘Beyond the Grave’ exhibition for a children’s holiday activity, 2019

Some visitors returned more than once over the months to follow. One gentleman got talking to me about his past travels to Greece when he was younger. He returned a few weeks later, donning a souvenir t-shirt and cap that he had purchased in Athens, to share with me some Greek travel guides that he had dug out of his bookcase. I remember another visitor whom I spotted studying a bust of the Roman emperor Augustus, an item also on loan from Te Papa Tongarewa. The man pointed out that he and Augustus had similar shaped noses, to which I suggested that maybe he had some Italian blood in him. A couple of weeks later the man returned and excitedly informed me that he had done some digging and had indeed discovered some Italian ancestry. “Not that I’m necessarily related to this bloke, but you never know,” he said, throwing a thumb in Augustus’ direction. Still, I recognised his hopeful gaze resting upon the stately bust in front of him.

We may not be able to trace our lineage to ancient heroes, but we often feel a remarkable sense of connection to many aspects of the ancient world. The narratives that are presented alongside the items in the Teece Museum prompt us and our visitors to reconsider our own ideas of heroism, religion, life, leisure and loss. Such an opportunity to think a little deeper about what connects us as people seems particularly important in a city like Christchurch, which continues to grow from the challenges that its people have faced in recent years. Thinking about the many and varied interactions that I have enjoyed with our visitors, it heartens me to know that our museum can offer those visiting a chance to experience a shared sense of humanity with those living thousands of years before us.

Children enjoying the Christmas Feastivities activity in the Fantastic Feasts exhibition, 2020

As a casual gallery host I still get to witness the enjoyment that visitors experience in the museum from time to time. Just recently I watched as a parent shuffled her child out of the museum, assuring him that they would return another day when they had more time to view everything. I smiled when I overheard the boy’s earnest reply: “Can we come back on my birthday?”


Natalie Looyer has been involved with the Teece Museum as both a gallery host and a collection technician. During her time with the Museum she completed a Master of Arts with the University of Canterbury Classics Department, focusing on ancient Greek literature. Natalie is currently working as contract oral historian and researcher.

Museums for Equality: a personal journey

Museums around the world are changing, but have they changed enough? As we celebrate International Museum Day, with the theme “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion”, recent UC graduate Amy Boswell-Hore reflects on the ways in which museums exclude or include visitors with disabilities, using the experiences of her family to illustrate this important issue. 

Museums have a long history, dating back over 2500 years. They have grown from being small assemblages to become impressive collections of artefacts and rooms filled with art. For much of their history, the purpose of museums was usually to show the status of the museum’s owner, whether that was a person or a nation. It was not until the 1980s that the purpose of museums really changed, and they became centres of education, where people of any heritage, race, or culture could come to share their stories. This revolution in museum practice has resulted in most museums working hard to become more inclusive. Yet in spite of this development, there are still groups of people whose needs are frequently forgotten by museums and the cultural sector at large. In particular, the disabled community is being left behind.

In April, 2019, my family and I went on a trip to Europe. As the family’s resident planner, I took it upon myself to create a detailed itinerary. I am also my family’s resident museum nerd, so I included as many museums as possible. Little did I know that this decision would be a life changing experience. You see, my family is a perfect example of how frustrating it can be to visit a museum when you are disabled. My father has been blind since he was a few weeks old and my late sister had cancer, which frequently forced her to use a wheelchair. Meanwhile, my mother is deaf in one ear and has an inflammatory disorder, which makes walking difficult. Together, we’re familiar with a range of different disabilities.

The Boswell-Hore family in Paris, 2019

Prior to this trip, my family had visited museums in New Zealand which are relatively modern and purpose built, but many of the iconic buildings that house European museums, such as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, were around long before accessibility regulations and building codes. The Louvre, in particular, was a sore point for me and my sister. While we had a lot of fun looking at the artworks we studied in high school, the building itself is a wheelchair user’s nightmare. The Louvre was originally a palace and its architecture reflects this. There are stairs leading between many of the galleries, even those that are on the same floor, which make it impossible for any wheelchair bound person to visit certain galleries without assistance. At first, my sister was determined and made herself climb the stairs, pulling herself up them with the handrail. By the third set, however, she was exhausted. In the end, she asked for my help and I carried her to the top of every flight of stairs. While my sister enjoyed the art, you could tell the process of seeing it was humiliating for her. Coming from New Zealand, where wheelchair lifts are required in museums, it was a disappointing experience.

Megan Boswell-Hore in front of Pierre August Renoir’s ‘Bal du moulin de la Galette’, 1876.

On the other hand, my father had some wonderful experiences on our trip. For example, at Stonehenge as soon as the staff noticed that my father was blind, they began offering him extra services without being asked. We did not even realise that we could ask, having limited options at home. He was given a free audio guide of the site and free entry into the museum. They also loaned him a small scale model of the monument, so that he could feel its shape and understand what we were looking at. For the first time my father was given the opportunity to be independent at a historic site. Likewise, Corfe Castle, an eleventh century fort, had audio stations set up around the site, with each station playing part of a recorded story. My father loved it. The story allowed him to imagine how the ruined castle once looked and operated. These two historic sites are spectacular examples of how small gestures could completely change the experience of a blind person. They gave my father the ability to independently learn the history around him.

Richard Boswell-Hore at the National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh was another highlight. This incredible museum featured a wide variety of interactive displays. Throughout the zoological section the labels had anatomical replicas of the animal in front of you, while the geological section welcomed visitors to touch some of the stones on display. There were also mini-games dotted around the building that helped you to understand a scientific concept. The musical mini-game was my father’s favourite – this was a large, wall-mounted instrument made out of pipes that demonstrated soundwaves. Not only did it make noise, but it also made vibrations that could be felt when you placed a hand on it. It was wonderful to see a museum put their funding to good use and create an experience that was accessible to both able-bodied and disabled. Yet, we found that it was not only the well-funded museums that had put in the effort to include everyone. Even some of the community museums, run purely on donations, included hands-on experiences. Gold Hill Museum, a tiny museum in Shaftsbury, also had replicas and short audio recordings. Their response to inclusivity was simple, but very effective, and proved that museums with limited funding can create a positive experience.

Interactive musical instrument in the National Museum of Scotland

As much as I enjoy museums in New Zealand, my experience is that they are not on par in terms of accessibility with those we visited overseas. I believe that it is time for our museum community to improve their facilities for the disabled, and the first step to making our museums more user-friendly is to get disabled people involved in the discussions about how to do this. There are many stories which illustrate the misguided attempts and failures of the able-bodied to improve accessibility, often due to incorrect assumptions relating to disabilities. Another example from my family’s experiences was visiting the Roman Baths in Bath. The museum was wonderful but they made one glaring mistake. They had written the display labels in braille, but many of the labels were beneath cabinets. To be able to run his fingers along the bumps and read the label, my father would have to sit on the floor. The placement of the braille labels meant that this lovely gesture was in vain. If a blind person had been consulted, they would have been able to identify the mistake, and also point out that only a small percentage of the blind community can read braille. An audio guide would have been better for everyone involved.

Fortunately, it is not too late for New Zealand’s museums. There are some fantastic people at work striving to implement better systems. If you are interested in this topic, I suggest that you look into Arts Access Aotearoa, a group that is actively working to improve the museum experience for disabled New Zealanders.


Amy Boswell-Hore is a recent graduate of the University of Canterbury; having earnt a Bachelor of Arts in History and Classics, a post-graduate diploma in Classics, and a certificate in Latin. She has worked with the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities since 2017.


Our thanks to the Boswell-Hore family for generously agreeing to share their experiences and family photographs with us.

Museum mysteries: a case of mistaken (date) identity

Roswyn Wiltshire continues her exploration of the challenges of researching ancient glass from the collection of Canterbury Museum. Here she probes the possible identification of some ‘un-Roman’ examples of glass.

It was a peculiar grey I had not seen in the glass I’d studied thus far. The roughly shorn top that had been identified as a stopper was in fact a solid part of the object, and from its shoulder it tapered inward to a cracked end. It was clearly not the Roman amphora it had been identified as in the database, but its true identity was a mystery to me. I was working on a catalogue of the Roman glass in the Canterbury Museum collection as part of my research for a Master’s of Art in Classics. As my research progressed, I encountered a number of pieces of glass that were decidedly ‘un-Roman’.

Early modern European free-blown goblet stem, 16th century CE, Damon Collection, Canterbury Museum, EA1979.545

By the time I encountered the mystery grey vessel (EA1979.545) I had read quite a bit about ancient glass; French excavation reports and typologies on glass from the eastern Mediterranean, well-illustrated American catalogues and detailed German ones, British hand-books and the heavy tomes of the Lebanese excavations of an important Tyrian cemetery. But in all this reading I had not come across anything like the small object I now held.

Fortunately I had a lead to follow: a sticker identified the piece as having formerly belonged to the Bateman Collection before coming to Canterbury Museum. Thomas Bateman (1821-1861), an English antiquarian and excavator of local burial mounds, had compiled a catalogue of the collection he displayed in his home [1]. From this I learned that my mystery glass had come from the “City excavations” of 1844. Excited to have found its provenance – the City of London – I neglected to read a line that would have instantly identified the object type, instead sending an inquiry to the Museum of London.

As it turns out I learned much more this way – I was swiftly put in touch with a curator who immediately recognised the description: a tazza or goblet stem of the late 16th to mid-17th century CE. She could even tell me the London street where they were produced in the 17th century. Leafing back through Bateman’s catalogue I saw that it had indeed been identified in the Early Modern [2] chapter as an ornamental goblet stem. This led to the question – how had it come to be listed as a Roman amphora in Canterbury Museum?

Early modern European free-blown bottle, 17th century CE, Damon Collection, Canterbury Museum, EA1979.509

Unfortunately not all research questions are as easy to answer, but the next time a vessel struck me as odd I could now trust my instincts and browse texts on Early Modern glassware before toiling vainly through tomes on Roman glass. An extremely elongated bottle, greyish in its thick base, was another candidate for misidentification (EA1979.543). Sure enough, when I searched for 18th century CE pharmaceutical bottles, the first photo was a match.

More tricky was another excessively long bottle of a rather pretty aquamarine colour (EA1979.509). Here an excavation report creating a typology of pharmaceutical bottles excavated in London held the answer [3]. While my example did not resemble the illustrations in exact details, the general features, tell-tale colour, and the statement that standardisation was only in size, were enough to give a ca. 17th century CE date. From this report I could also confirm the identity of the other bottle (EA1979.543) as 18th, or even 19th century CE.

Early modern European free-blown bottle, Damon Collection, Canterbury Museum, EA1979.592

The final piece I believe has been mistaken for Roman glass was harder to place, and for want of expertise I will have to leave the formal identification of it to someone better versed in Early Modern glass from Europe. The bottle in question (EA1979.592) has features found on early modern liquor bottles – the almost globular body, the high kick [4], the neck bulging out before a notable constriction – but I did not find a close match. The top is carefully broken, with tiny rough edges, and below the rim is a crust of some dark material. It might be the remains of wax, used to seal bottles before corks became ubiquitous, but I will have to leave the final say on this to another expert.

I was left contemplating the nature of the journey these glass objects took to Canterbury Museum. They are not forgeries, items created with intent to deceive – all three vessels are genuine examples of Early Modern glass. The question therefore became are they fakes, items deliberately given a false identification, or had they just been the victims of honest mistaken identity? Some may have been misplaced in storage among ancient objects, but the 17th century apothecary bottle was certainly displayed in the Canterbury Museum Antiquity Room [5] among genuinely ancient vessels.

Perhaps there is a hint in a snippet from the Northampton Mercury in 1879 (Sunday the 4th of October) which informed readers that “many a bottle from the time of King Charles II, fished out of the river Thames, has been sold as old Roman glass”. At that same time, across the globe, Canterbury Museum was growing and expanding its collections through exchanges and bequests. It is possible that some of these bottles were the objects of such fraud, later becoming well-intentioned gifts to museums.

The experience of finding misidentified objects and re-dating them was a very useful one. Not only did I get the opportunity to broaden my skillset, but I also gained appreciation for the kinds of difficulties museums face. Now that the mistaken identity has been removed, others will be able to do further research into these vessels’ real identity. While this episode remains a story of their ongoing history, they can now move on from being ‘un-Roman’ to interesting artefacts in their own right!


Roswyn Wiltshire has just completed a Master of Arts in Classics at the University of Canterbury, researching the hitherto unpublished collection of ancient glass in Canterbury Museum. She has worked with the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities since 2017.

Our thanks to the staff of Canterbury Museum for their generous support of this research project, and permission to reproduce images of the Roman glass for this article. Thanks also to photographer Matthew Walters, Science Communication and Digital Imaging, UC School of Biological Sciences, for producing such striking images of the glass.



[1] Bateman, T. 1855. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Antiquities and Miscellaneous Objects Preserved in the Museum of Thomas Bateman, at Lomberdale House, Derbyshire. Blackwell: James Gratton.

[2] Early Modern glass dates to between ca. 1500–1800 CE

[3] Castillo Cardenas, K. 2014. ‘Pharmaceutical glass in Post-Medieval London: a Proposed typology’. 309-315 in London Archaeologist.

[4] A feature common on modern wine bottles: the base is pushed inward at the centre (see diagram).

[5] It can be deduced that this object was on display in the Antiquities Room because it was assigned an AR number (AR413.0).


Museum mysteries: a case of mistaken (provenance) identity

Roswyn Wiltshire explores the challenges of investigating provenance in this article on Roman glass from the collection of Canterbury Museum.

Within the vaults of Canterbury Museum lie well over a hundred ancient glass vessels. Many visitors to the Teece Museum, where a few of these objects are now displayed, have been astounded by the skill with which such fragile vessels were crafted so long ago, and the beautiful condition in which they are preserved. Uncovering their secrets, however, often requires extensive research, challenging the researcher to become a sleuth!

Canterbury Museum inventory listing the Roman glass, believed to be compiled by Julius von Haast.

The most well-known portion of Canterbury Museum’s ancient glass collection is known as the Damon Collection, named after the English geologist and conchologist Robert Damon, who actively collected objects between 1873 and 1882. There are, however, a small number of lesser known Roman glass vessels which fall outside the bounds of the Damon collection. One of the reasons these vessels are not as well-known is the dearth of information on their provenance. Trawling through 19th century inventories scrawled in flowing but not terribly legible writing has offered some clues – and sometimes more questions!

Glass from Tharros

Three items (two small flasks and a small jug) were identified in the Museum’s database as coming from Tharros, on Sardinia. One of these flasks bears a diamond-shaped sticker with an identifying number of the first collection it belonged to in Italy before it was sent to Canterbury Museum director Julius von Haast (1822-1887) in an exchange of objects. Antiquities from Tharros are mentioned among new additions to the Museum’s displays in a newspaper article from 1874[1], during von Haast’s time as director. So far so good. Consulting the list that is believed to have been written by von Haast however, I discovered that there were only two glass items noted as coming from Tharros. The first problem was relatively easy to solve. The list read:

Lachrymatory in Glass Roman Period Rome
                                                                        Taros, Sardinia         1

The ‘Rome’ at the end of the first sentence is probably the provenance for one of the flasks. Perhaps von Haast forgot to number it, and somewhere along the way both flasks (here referred to as lachrymatories which was a common but false identification) began to be recorded as being from Taros (an alternate spelling for Tharros). A more precise document would have probably read:

Lachrymatory in glass, Roman Period:  Rome x1
Taros, Sardinia x1

Imperial Roman free-blown glass flask, first century CE, Canterbury Museum, EA1979.706. Very similar flasks have been found on Tharros.

The number of Sardinian glass vessels from Tharros was reduced to just two, as per von Haast’s original list – but the case was not yet closed. The second item from Tharros had been referred to as an amphora in one list, and aryballos in another – were these mistaken references to the same small jug mentioned in the Museum database?[2] I looked again to von Haast’s list for clarification, and found a glass item listed as ‘amphora’, with the Phoenician finds from Tharros.

My examination had proven that the small jug was blown-glass (ie glass shaped by blowing air through a blowpipe into a glob of molten glass). This meant the jug could not be Phoenician, for that technique was only discovered during the 1st century B.C.E[3], long after the Phoenician civilisation had declined.  So which piece had von Haast been referring to as a Phoenician amphora?

As it happens, Canterbury Museum does have an amphoriskos of the late 6th – early 5th century B.C.E. This amphoriskos, meaning ‘small amphora’, is a lovely little core-formed vessel, 7.1cm high, with what is known as ‘marvered’ decoration. The hot glass was wrapped around a core, before more coloured strands of glass were added on top. The vessel was then rolled on a flat surface so that the layers merged into an even, decorated surface. The artisan put a lot of effort into this single piece – when it cracked during the manufacture process it was patched up with an extra blob of blue glass. This detail suggests that the artisan felt it still worth selling, rather than tossing it out and starting again.


Phoenician core-formed amphoriskos, late sixth – early fifth century BCE, Canterbury Museum, EA1979.499

It dates to a period in which the Phoenicians were active (though their power was waning). It is the correct form, and a very similar example has been found on Tharros[4]. It would not be unreasonable, therefore, to suspect that this is the second piece from Tharros mentioned in the 1874 article.

Unfortunately, where the mislabelled small jug might then come from, is another, and as yet unsolved, mystery.

Glass from England and Rome

A similarly convoluted identification mystery arose with a collection of 11 glass objects labelled as being from England and Rome. Of those, six fragments bear the latter identification, but the only glass object from Rome listed by von Haast is the aforementioned ‘lachrymatory’. Nor does the 1895 Guide to Collections in Canterbury Museum make any mention of glass from Rome[5]. My initial thought was that these may have been much later additions to the collection.

I then noticed an entry of “Roman glass found in England”; thirteen pieces, of which, the 1977-1980 catalogue notes, six are missing. Could the fragments I found labelled as being from ‘Rome’ be those missing pieces, the label erroneously added by someone who saw ‘Roman’ and thought of the place rather than the people? It would be very straightforward to declare these the missing items, if only they could be identified as Romano-British. However, my research indicated that the vivid iridescence of the fragments, in hues of bright pink, bronze and gold, is more typical of glass from the Mediterranean, making it unlikely they are Romano-British.

Downcast, I set about dating the remaining five fragments labelled as being from England. Romano-British glass is so well documented that there are hand-books of forms, listing the areas where they are typically found and how common they are. I was surprised, then, to discover that I simply could not find a match for a beaker from this group; a wonderfully intact piece with a thickened, fire-rounded rim. Eventually, however, I found two like examples in the British Museum collection[6]. Both were from Cyprus.


Imperial Roman free-blown beaker, second – mid-third century CE, Canterbury Museum, EA1979.648

I re-examined the other ‘English’ pieces. There were two flasks I had been able to date immediately, as I had looked at twelve of the same type from Damon’s Collection – all of which were from Cyprus. Sure enough, they were not depicted in the Romano-British handbooks. The rest were small flask types that occur all over the Roman Empire, and most of the ‘Rome’ fragments were too small to reconstruct a whole vessel from, but one other piece stood out – a flask of emerald green. I’d found a match in the Louvre collection, but that was also of unknown provenance. In the British Museum, however, was yet another – from Salamis, Cyprus[7].

Although it cannot be proved at this stage, I believe that the glass identified as from ‘Rome’ and from ‘England’ is largely, if not entirely, from Cyprus. It was probably gifted – von Haast acquired whole vessels, not fragments, in his exchanges – perhaps by someone from England. Somewhere along the way a miscommunication may have occurred or a mistake was made, leading to the collection being misidentified.

And why so much glass from Cyprus – not only in the Damon Collection but also in these earlier bequests? That, for once, is easy to answer, and this is perhaps some of the best circumstantial evidence for a Cypriote provenance.

At the time that von Haast was setting up Canterbury Museum and Damon was travelling the Levant, Luigi Palma di Cesnola, the American Consul to Cyprus, was conducting excavations on the island. This was the first time ancient glass was uncovered in such quantities, flooding the antiquities market and bringing ancient glass to public attention – even as far away as New Zealand.

Investigating the provenance of the vessels revealed to me both the limitations and potential of such research. The small jug has, for the time being, been shelved as ‘provenance unknown’, but may in future be identified through other means. The amphoriskos, however, has credibly shed its unknown origin. Nevertheless, without provenance we can still learn from these artefacts – the techniques used in ancient times, the materials available, the objects favoured… And from the amphoriskos, with its repair work, we also have a rare glimpse into the effort involved in making such pieces and the value placed on such an object of the distant past.


Roswyn Wiltshire has just completed a Master of Arts in Classics at the University of Canterbury, researching the hitherto unpublished collection of ancient glass in Canterbury Museum. She has worked with the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities since 2017.



Our thanks to the staff of Canterbury Museum for their generous support of this research project, and permission to reproduce images of the Roman glass for this article. Thanks also to photographer Matthew Walters, Science Communication and Digital Imaging, UC School of Biological Sciences, for producing such striking images of the glass.



[1] Author unknown. June 9, 1874. ‘The Museum’ Press, v. XXII.

[2]An aryballos is like a jug in that it is a single-handled vessel for pouring; more properly, however, it used to refer to ceramic Greek vessels, typically with spherical body. An amphora is a two-handled storage vessel; the miniature variety tend to be referred to by the diminutive – amphoriskoi.

[3]The height of Phoenician power was between 1500 and 800 B.C.E.

[4]Barnett, R.D. and Mendleson, C. (eds.). 1987. Tharros: a Catalogue of material in the British Museum from Phoenician and other tombs at Tharros, Sardinia. London: British Museum Publications. pl. 118, 23/5.

[5]Hutton, F.W. 1895. Guide to the Collections in the Canterbury Museum. New Zealand: Lyttelton Times Company.

[6]The examples in the British Museum are from Kourion (1896,0201.299;1896,0201.300). There is another in the Metropolitan Museum, collected by Cesnola from Cyprus (Lightfoot, 2017. Cat. 60).

[7]BM 1881,0901,23.

Local Heroes of Classics #1 Francis Haslam

An Education Beyond the Classroom: Professor Haslam and his approach to education.

By Emily Rosevear.

The idea that a university might not only nurture the intellectual life of its students, but also contribute to their social and cultural wellbeing, was proposed surprisingly early in the history of the University of Canterbury. One of its foremost proponents was a professor of Classics, Francis William Haslam.

I first started researching Professor Haslam for a public talk presented as part of the 2019 BECA Christchurch Heritage Festival. The talk, which was part of the series entitled “For the love of Classics – Encountering local heroes of Classics at the Teece Museum”, explored the life of Francis Haslam and his contribution to life at Canterbury College through the many sporting and academic clubs he supported during his career.

Portrait of Francis HaslamHistory of The University Of Canterbury 1873- 1973. University of Canterbury Library.

A sense of community

Francis Haslam began his career at Canterbury College when he took over the Chair of Classics from Professor John Macmillan Brown in 1879, becoming the first sole Professor of Classics at Canterbury College (as Macmillan Brown had taught English as well as Classics). Haslam remained the Professor of Classics at the College until his retirement in 1912.

As a Cambridge Scholar, Haslam brought with him to Canterbury College the idea that a university should have a sense of community centred around communal living and college sport. He wasted no time sharing his thoughts on the subject as he stated in his inaugural public lecture:

“We have as yet no collective undergraduate life, but if we wish to keep the pick of our youth, we must give them something besides mere lectures, we must make it possible for them to come from all parts of the colony and find collected and domiciled here the choicest intellectual spirits of their own age.”

View of Canterbury College, ca.1906, AWNS-19060118-10-2, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection.

Life outside the Classroom

Throughout his time at Canterbury College Haslam was an active member of many sporting and academic clubs. Most notably he was a member of the Dialectic Society as well as founder and president of the football club. He was also involved in the athletics club and rowing club, while also providing awards for the cross-country steeplechase and inter-university rifle shooting competition. For a while he was also both an active member and President of the Philosophical Institute.

The Dialectic Society, which was one of the first clubs established at Canterbury College, held numerous debates, concerts and informal meetings. In 1884 Haslam was appointed the honorary President of the Dialectic Society and gave the presidential address which was entitled “Dialectic: Its History and its Place in Education.” The Dialectic Society also put on dramatic performances for Diploma Day celebrations, and in 1888 presented an adapted version of Aristophanes The Clouds composed by Haslam himself. Although a copy of the play is yet to be found we do know, thanks to A History of UC and the Canterbury College Review, that it touched on some topical local matters and that O.T.J. Alpers, one of the students who was playing the character of Strepsiades, was “embarrassed by the melting of his putty nose during the performance.”

Image of 1884 Dialectic Society Session, Canterbury College Graduates Association Records, MB 62 (155223). Macmillan Brown Library,  University of Canterbury.

The ‘Father of College Football’

Haslam was a strong advocate for university sport and was an instrumental figure in the establishment of the football club earning himself the title of the “Father of College football”. He was not only coach and manager but also played in some of the early matches as half-back. In 1883 the Lyttelton Times wrote that “he showed his men that he could teach them something on the football field as well as in the classroom.” Haslam was still playing in matches when the First XV was accepted into the formalised Canterbury Rugby Football Union Senior competition. In 1886 the first inter-university match was played against Otago University. Before the match Haslam wrote to the Captain, Heinrich von Haast, saying:

“My Dear von Haast, It’s no good my attempting to play tomorrow.
This change in the weather has pretty well done for me. I should only make a fool of myself and perhaps lose the game for us… I should have liked the thought afterwards that I was one of the first ‘inter-university fifteen,’ but it can’t be helped.”

Canterbury ended up winning the match five points to four and as W.D. Bean’s winning kick went over, Haslam’s bowler hat could be seen “soaring into the clouds”. Haslam continued to act as coach and manager and was president of the club when it was formalised in 1886 until his retirement in 1912 when the club was saddened by the loss of such an avid supporter.

Canterbury College Football Team 1886, Canterbury University College Rugby Football Club Golden Jubilee 1886-1936. Macmillan Brown Library,  University of Canterbury.

Life After Canterbury College

After over 30 years at Canterbury College Haslam retired in 1912, but remained a prominent figure in Christchurch society, working to support the war effort. He even took on a position at Christ’s College to allow a member of staff to do military service. Haslam died in a private hospital in Auckland on November 23rd 1923 aged 75. His obituary in the New Zealand Herald noted his work at Canterbury College and for his sporting achievements.

Francis Haslam was remembered by Canterbury College as a patient teacher who instilled a love of knowledge in his students. He should also be acknowledged for his contribution to the development of a university community which enriched the lives of students beyond the classroom.


Emily Rosevear recently competed her Master’s Degree in History at the University of Canterbury and currently works as a Gallery Host at the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities.



Canterbury College Review, 1912 (40). Accessed June 19, 2019. URL:

Football: Christ’s College vs Canterbury College,”  Lyttelton Times, June 18, 1883. Accessed July 1, 2019. URL:

Gardner, W. J., E.T. Beardsley and T. E. Carter. History of The University Of Canterbury,1873- 1973. Christchurch: University of Canterbury, 1973.

Hight, James and Alice M. F. Candy. A Short History of the Canterbury College (University of New Zealand) With a Register of Graduates and Associates of the College. Auckland: Whitcomb and Tombs Limited, 1927.

Macmillan Brown library Archive, Canterbury College Graduates Association Records, MB 62 (155223).

“Obituary: Professor F. W. C. Haslam,” New Zealand Herald, November 24, 1923. Accessed June 13, 2019. URL:

University of Canterbury Rugby Football Club. University of Canterbury Rugby Football Club Centennial, 1883-1983: History of the Club, Club Officials, Representative Players, Senior Players. Christchurch: The Club, 1983.