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Note on the svastica
by Lieut.-Col. S. C. Pratt, I.P.M.
THE interesting paper on the Svastica recently contributed to our proceedings has induced me to note the occurrence of this ancient symbol in some of the Roman Museums. The recently formed collection of antiquities at the Villa Papa Giulio near Rome is of special interest to students of past ages.
In it, are placed the results of the excavations of the last two years at Falerii, the architectural remains, pottery, and other objects being scientifically arranged according to age and nature by Professor Barnabei. An exhaustive paper on these recent archaeological discoveries bas been written by G. Dennis, Esq. (author of "The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria"), for the Archaeological Society of Rome, and to it I must express my indebtedness for much of the following information.
Falerii was originally an Argive settlement founded shortly after the fall of Troy, and being absorbed by Etruria became one of the twelve principal cities of the Etruscan confederation. Here has been discovered the temple of Juno Quirites (Ovid. Amor. iii., eleg. 13), the only instance extant of a pre-Roman temple in Etruria, as well as another temple of ancient date and a necropolis, the contents of the tombs of which comprise the sepulchral furniture of many centuries.
It is worthy of note that the earliest Greek pottery discovered was found with rude native band-made pottery, yet not with the very rudest and earliest which may have preceded the Greek by centuries. In the museum the pottery is classed in three periods.
1st, That very remote time when the Faliscans were ignorant of the ceramic art of Greece, which, to judge from the earliest Creek pottery hitherto discovered in their necropolis, can hardly have been later than the middle of the sixth century, B.C.
2nd, The period when the importation of high Greek art into Italy had apparently crushed out all attempts at originality in the Faliscan potters.
3rd period, about 350 B.C., Faliscan art revived in the form of a servile imitation of Greek ceramic art. In the first room of the villa are arranged the objects of the greatest antiquity, tree coffins and the earliest pottery. Here I noticed a small vase of black ware with several Svastica of the simplest type deeply cut round its sides. In the tomb with the vase was found a cinerary urn and other objects, including a bronze razor which points to the conclusion that its original occupant was a priest of some kind. Another large vase of reddish ware has the Svastica in red painted on it. The peculiarity here occurs that at the end of the ordinary flanges of the emblem there is a sort of ribbon depicted. This is the more curious from my having observed au exactly similar figure cut on an Etruscan cinerary vase found under the lava at Castle Gandolfo, which is now to be seen in the Vatican Museum.
According to Mr. Dennis, the vases in the Papa Giulio above referred to cannot be later than the 7th century B.C., and may be of much earlier date. In the Kircherian Museum again there is the base of an antique pitcher which has a large Svastica on it, and the flanges of the emblem are curved. Whether this was merely a fancy of the sculptor, or tends to prove that the Svastica symbolizes the completed circle is an open question. At Papa Giulio I also saw the emblem made in bronze of a broad flat form and from the small holes pierced through it I conceive it must have been attached to clothing as an ornament. One of these crosses is also to be seen in the collection of Castellana—the well-known antiquarian jeweller—who deems it prehistor”c. A few instances of the Svastica are also to be seen engraved on the marbles taken from the catacombs, and associated with Christian emblems.
Whatever the Svastica, the four-footed cross, the crux gammata of the Christians may originally have been, I think we have evidence enough to show that it was something more than a mere ornament, like a rosette. A curious piece of evidence on this point comes to my mind. In all cases of the mark on vases I have seen they were on the most ancient Etruscan pottery of a rude type. On looking over the magnificently ornamented Etruscan vases of later days, of which hundreds of specimens are in the Vatican, I was not only not able to see the Svastica, but could not trace its existence in any of the bordering patterns, even of the key-shape type. With regard to the suggestion that the three-legged symbol of the Isle of Man is but a derivation of the four-footed cross, this following fact is almost conclusive. On vase 77 in the Etruscan Museum of the Vatican there are depicted two Greek warriors carryling a third (Peleus ? Theseus? and Achilles ?), and on the shield of one of them is depicted the three legs exactly as they are on a Manx halfpenny. The Svastika was utilized as a Christian symbol by the descendants of the Etruscans at a much later date, and hence cannot be the precursor of the heraldic device.

Reprinted, with permission from Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. iv. pp. 85-86.


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