Lab 2: Visible Language
The first artifact I chose is a coin minted in Greece in 43-42 BC. The coin is made of silver and around the size of a modern day nickel. The obverse of the coin shows the profile of M. Junius Brutus. His head is encircled by the markings “BRVT IMP L * PLAET * CEST”. This is a shortened version of “Brutus Imperator Lucius Plateorius Cestianus” or “Emperor Brutus Lucius Plateorius Cestianus”. 1 On the reverse side, a pileus, or cap of liberty, is engraved between two daggers. Underneath the images are the words “EID * MAR” which stands for “Eidibus Martiis” or “Ides of March”. Both sides of the coin are framed with a circle of dots along the outside edge. The coin was issued by Brutus after Caesar’s murder.
The pileus engraved on the reverse of the coin was a cap worn by freed slaves. The daggers on either side of the cap protect the freedom of slaves and invoke the murder of Julius Caesar. The imagery implies Rome has been freed from Caesar’s tyranny. By inscribing this on a coin, Brutus was able to spread his message to the Roman people and ensure it was seen and normalized through daily use.
The second artifact I chose is an Egyptian head plate from 380-332 BC.2 The plate, called a hypocephalus, is around 7 inches across, slightly concave, and made of bronze. Images are carved into the brass and highlighted with white pigment. The plate would be used to support the head of a mummy so that the head rested on images of life overcoming death. A spell from the Book of the Dead is written in hieroglyphics around the circumference of the plate. According to the informational plaque accompanying the piece at the MFA, the spell to “help restore the warmth of the living body to the mummy.”
Since the plate was used during burial, it would not be present in daily life or be meant for the living to see. The scenes and spells depicted on the plate were meant for the dead. Messages were sent by showing mythological scenes of life conquering death. This is very different from the coin Brutus used to send a message to the Roman people. While the coin uses imagery to convey the state and freedom of Rome, the head plate uses stories and prayers to encourage the spirit of the dead.
Using the coin, Brutus put praises of his power in the pockets of the Roman people. A small, common object like a coin was an affective way to spread this message. The head plate was sending a message only to the dead rested upon it.