Corinth Collection featured item: Aphrodite Hoplismene agate gem stone (MF-2013-13)
Did the person who wore the ring containing this gem stone cherish it as a family heirloom? Did he wear it to show city pride while attending meetings in the Roman Forum of Corinth? Did it adorn her finger as she climbed Acrocorinth, a mountain cliff overlooking the sea, to pray in the sanctuary of Aphrodite?
The object itself is remarkable – a shiny black stone of the fine-grained, bright-colored agate crystal, with Aphrodite Hoplismene (“Armed Aphrodite,” or Corinth’s local version of the goddess as well as its protectress) carved intricately in the center. The gem is only one centimeter long, so it nearly defies belief that the craftsman executed the design without some sort of a magnifying glass. Aphrodite is looking at herself half naked in the makeshift mirror of Ares’ bronze shield. This image is recurring in the art of Ancient Corinth from the first millennium BC through the Roman period, when the stunning wall painting with gold leaf pictured here was produced. In these renderings, Aphrodite Hoplismene is not so much a goddess of war and protection as she is a goddess of love, her only weapon being the shield of her lover.
The dark pebble bearing the goddess’ silhouette was discovered (in Nezi Field, south of the South Stoa, in 2013) during one of the less glamorous, but very important, tasks in archaeology: sieving soil removed from the trenches to catch the tiniest of objects. The particular bucket of dirt that produced her came from a destruction layer on top of a house floor. The gem was found in soil amongst roof tiles and mudbrick, telling us that these fragments fell to the ground and were buried alongside household objects, like the ring, on a floor surface below.
The exact date (or even century!) the gem stone was crafted is difficult to determine. This imagery type of Aphrodite was a popular one during the first and second centuries AD, but the other materials found in the object’s archaeological context date to the late third century AD. The carved gem either spent numerous generations being passed down as an heirloom or was lost by its owner and somehow became mixed in the soil with later objects. Regardless, this treasure is a beautiful symbol of Corinth, worn by the owner over 2000 years ago as a way of identifying himself or herself as Corinthian, and appreciated by us as a fine addition to the rich collections managed by the American School today.