H. Rose, Roman Terracotta Masks in the Northwestern Provinces (Die römischen Terrakottamasken in den Nordwestprovinzen. MAR XXXVII)
The project “Terracotta Masks” is based on a dissertation about Roman Terracotta masks in the northwestern provinces conducted at the University of Cologne.
The project includes the provinces Britannia, Germania inferior and superior as well as Gallia Belgica and extended to discovery sites in Raetia that are situated in the Federal Republic of Germany. So far, seven mask production sites have been detected: Nimwegen, Cologne, Frankfurt-Heddernheim, Trier, Rheinzabern, Neusäß-Westheim near Augsburg and Straubing. Cologne and Trier present supra-regionally important production centers whereas the other potteries seem to have served the local or regional market only. The life-size masks emerge within the region in the 1st century AD and experienced their period of prosperity in the 2nd century AD. For the 3rd century, production is traceable solely in Trier. The greatest part portrays baldheaded, beardless, male faces with caricatured features that also bear characteristics of farce-masks. Only few fragments refer to characters of the New Comedy or Tragedy. There are barely any Dionysian masks at all. The transformation of the established Roman masks into individual types manifests itself in their special shape – one very striking peculiarity are the big bared teeth – as well as in the relation of the mask genres among each other. The life-size terracotta masks were part of the domicile equipment. Like the oscilla they were set up in the props of buildings. Their function as a decorative element derives from find contexts but is also supported by technical details as well as their proportions. Since many were found in complex houses with strong Roman touches in architecture as well as interior, it suggests that they expressed the typical Roman habitus. Especially in the provinces, demonstrating the cultural sphere was an essential aspect of self-expression between the conflicting priorities of indigenous and Roman ethnical elements. Numerous finds of masks underline the significance of the military as an important carrier of Roman culture in the northwestern provinces. The propositions linked to the masks seem controversial. On the one hand the usage of this cipher is supposed to indicate the affiliation to the Roman culture, but on the other hand, the masks show strong local characteristics. Precisely this discrepancy could mirror the Romanizing process of the region.
The project “Terracotta masks” implements the advanced method of combining the advantages of both traditional and innovative publication media. The catalogue, which contains roughly 500 objects and served as a basis for the study, is available as an online edition in the Arachne database for free. The evaluation of the material with its conclusions and interpretations was released in the 2006 publication entitled “Die römischen Terrakottamasken in den Nordwestprovinzen” (“Roman Terracotta Masks in the Northwestern Provinces) as XXXVII. volume of the Monumenta Artis Romanae series published by the Reichert-Verlag. The online presentation provides a coherent depiction of the vast catalogue with many detailed images and illustrations. This medium also offers new possibilities of detection, categorization and comparison. Relevant research criteria are for example discovery site, production site or serial affiliation. Terracotta masks are molded wares, therefore the objects are systemized by series (as far as possible). Wherever completely preserved specimens were missing in the past, the appearance of the series was completed then by combining different graphic reconstructions. These serial drawings are also available in Arachne. Anchoring the online catalogue in Arachne has ensured the permanent cultivation and updating of the data. Updates are visually distinguished and may concern individual information about an object or even the addition of new objects.
By publishing the book both in its printed and online version, it is possible to combine these different types of media to fully exploit their respective advantages: an analysis which, based on solid research, represents the current state of research and processes the information gained from the material adequately in form of a printed book on the one hand, and an extensive, richly illustrated, upgradable online-catalogue that offers the previously mentioned advantages for research and is so lengthy that it would be sheer impossible to print for cost concerns and reasons of space.
I am deeply grateful for all the assistance rendered by the Research Archive for Ancient Sculpture. My special thanks goes to Professor Reinhard Förtsch, head of the Research Archive. He supported the idea of combining the book and online edition and made the integration of the terracotta masks into the Arachne database possible. In doing so he has also ensured the permanent cultivation and updating of the data. Photographical advice and technical support was given by Philipp Groß, who took the pictures. The production drawing was done by Amira Smadi, staff illustrator of the Archaeological Institute of Cologne.