Roman Collections

When the Museum opened in 1899, the displays in the Pepper Hall on the second floor, the core of the classical galleries, were a creative combination of cast replicas and archaeological collections acquired in Italy. Among the replicas in this early 1900s display that still form an important part of the collection are over 400 bronzes, ranging from objects of everyday life to life-size statues, which had been cast from molds taken from original artifacts excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum. These were manufactured in the Naples workshop of J. Chiurazzi and Son at the end of the 19th century. Philadelphia philanthropist and department store magnate John Wanamaker purchased them for the Museum in 1904.

Pepper Hall filled with the Roman collection statues in 1906.
Pepper Hall, circa 1906
By 1906 casts of famous sculptural works of classical antiquity, like the Venus de Milo and the Victory of Samothrace, had been added to the collections. They were put on display in an eclectic arrangement of replicas and artifacts, including some of the marble sculptures from the Sanctuary of Diana at Lake Nemi.

In addition to the Etruscan collections, one of Arthur Frothingham's greatest acquistions for the Museum was a group of 45 marble sculptures from the Sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis on the shores of Lake Nemi, south of Rome. By 1896 pieces from Nemi were beginning to be offered on the art market. The Museum, through its emissary Frothingham, vied with the newly founded Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen to purchase the rich trove of marble sculptures from the site. While the Glyptotek in Copenhagen won the larger Imperial portrait statues from Nemi, the Museum was able to purchase in 1896 important Republican period votive statuettes and marble vessels that are unique in the United States.

Many Roman objects in the Mediterranean Section represent individual purchases or gifts, with and without proveniences. Others came as collections. Several, like that from Lake Nemi, stand out as important for their size, quality, and uniqueness. Among these early acquisitions was the collection of engraved gems and cameos of Maxwell Sommerville. In 1899 he deeded his collection, which numbered some 3,400 pieces, to the Museum. The collection is recognized today as an eclectic one, composed of 17th, 18th, and 19th century Classicizing gems, as well as approximately 600 ancient gems.

The collection of Hermann V. Hilprecht of over 300 classical bronzes, the majority votive figurines, was accessioned by the Museum in 1948, though on loan since 1934. Hilprecht (1859-1925) was for many years Professor of Assyriology at the University of Pennsylvania, Curator of the Babylonian and General Semitic Section of the Museum from 1888-1910, and an eminent Mesopotamian scholar. The majority of these classical bronzes, given to the Museum by hilprecht's niece after his death, were collected by him between 1893 and 1909 in the bazaars of Istanbul. Other pieces were collected during his travels to other parts of the Ottoman Empire, and while others of Italic origin were purchased from dealers in Italy. In 1895 Hilprecht also purchased for the Museum's collections two unusual Roman lead coffins made in the region of Phoenician Tyre in the late 2nd-early 3rd centuries AD.

The Museum's substantial classical coin collections, numbering in the thousands, was acquired from various sources. The major gift of Roman coins, however, was given by Robert C. H. Brock (1861-1906) around 1898-99. The Museum also has important numismatic collections from archaeological excavactions. The Egyptian Section excavations at Memphis (Mit-rahinah) from 1915 to 1923 and Meydum in 1929 to 1932 provided large numbers of Roman coins, including a coin hoard of around 2,300 specimens dating to the 4th-5th centuries AD that was found in a single jar at Meydum. The Near Eastern Section's excavations between 1921 and 1933 at Beth Shean also yielded 85 coins, mostly of Late Roman date. The Museum also acquired a small group of Roman coins from the 1960s excavations of T. A. Carter at Leptis Magna.

One of the last major Roman archaeological collections acquired by the Mediterranean Section was the material from the site of Minturnae. Located on the west coast of Italy between Rome and Naples, Minturnae was excavated by the Museum under the direction of Jotham Johnson from 1931 to 1933. At the conclusion of Johnson's field work the Museum recieved a generous division of the finds, including eight marble sculptures, pottery, lamps, and important Italo-Etruscan architectural terracottas.

Few acquisitions have been added to the Roman collections since the 1950s. One important exception is a gift of Roman glass. Mostly collected in the 19th century by Wiliam Sansom Vaux (1811-1882) and presented to the Museum in 1986 by his great-nephews George and Henry J. Vaux. The Vaux collection added in quality and numbers o the Museum's already distinguished collections of Roman glass acquired earlier. In 1916 Lydia Morris had given the Museum Roman glass that had been collected by her brother, John T. Morris. In 1913, other pieces had been purchased by the Museum from the Vester & Company, and from 1921 to 1931 a large group of Roman glass in the Near East Section had been excavated by the Museum in the cemeteries at Beth Shean.