Ring/situla. Another from the vaults

Edited from a post first published in the old  Blogger blog where I followed up various possibilities suggested by the manuscript’s internal evidence and (to a lesser extent) the later documentary evidence.  When I felt that I had a fairly clear idea of what I was dealing with, the exploratory blogs were closed but I never did get around to including all my observations about the bathy- section.


Around the beginning of the current era, a king of Armenia named Tigranes III (fl. 1st century BC, died before 6 BC) went home from a time living in Egypt to take up his throne. With him he took a people from various groups living there,  and in Syria. Among them were Jews and Samaritans, but others may have been from Harran, an ancient city of Syria through which Needham believes most of the contact with China was conducted during the pre-Islamic era. The Harranian’s annual pilgrimage was to Egypt, where two pyramids were especially revered by them. Early histories of Islam also refer to the fact that – now describing themselves as Sabeans – the Harranians asked the Islamic rulers if their own holy books might to be brought from a temple in Egypt to their own city, and that this was done. Among those whom the Harranian “Sabeans” worshipped as gods, most were writers on technical sciences, including astronomy. “Aratus, Pythagoras and the Agatha daimon (good soul) are three of which we know. They [ Harranians] would later [c.9thC] be removed to Baghdad, there to instruct in mathematics and astronomical sciences.

In Alexandria, below a street known as Tigrane Pasha street there were found a group of tombs which had been used as ‘catacombs’. Dated to the first or second centuries A.D., the imagery in them has certain points in common with what we see in the Voynich manuscript’s so-called Balneology section.

[These were not Christian catacombs, and authorities insist that the street was not named for any king Tigranes of Armenia].

However – here we see the human figure depicted with the same over-large head and stunted body, and by comparison with the object we see in the figure’s hand, I interpret the curious ‘ring’ in the detail below as another ill-proportioned situla.  So similar is it to that situla depicted in the Tigrane tomb that I think we may also posit the same century as that for the first enunciation of the manuscript’s image.  In each case, the “ring” has been given a bezel so large that it can fit about the bearer’s neck!

detail (left) is reproduced by permission of M. Venit, from a published article.

Other details from this section find their correspondence in emblems and objects depicted in formal works of the same period. None of those are works or objects from the western Mediterranean.


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