ONLINE: HelRAW: Kirsi Simpanen 1.3.2021

The Helsinki Research on the Ancient World (HelRAW) is a monthly research seminar. HelRAW is organized by the SpaceLaw project together with Marja Vierros from the Digital Grammar of Greek Documentary Papyri (PapyGreek) project.

1.3.2021 at 17:15…

Meeting ID: 669 8285 1659

Passcode: 184718

Kirsi Simpanen (University of Helsinki): The Dragon Under the Shadow of the Cross – The Draco Standard in the Late Empire.

The anguiform Draco standard was unique among Roman military emblems both because of its appearance and because of its history. Originally an enemy emblem, the Romans adopted it into their cavalry during the second century CE, and it reached its peak of popularity in the fourth century when it was used as a standard of the cohort and as a personal emblem of the emperor. During the same period of time, Christianity, known for its negative attitude towards snakes, was gaining ground in Rome and was finally made the official religion of the empire.

In this paper I will trace the phases of the standard during the late empire in light of literary and artistic sources. I will also examine how the standard was perceived by the Christians and how it was able to survive in their service despite of its negative symbolism. If anything, ambiguity is the factor that defines the innermost essence of the serpent, and the same ambiguity is visible in the way Draco was perceived in its last phases.

Kirsi Simpanen is a PhD student at the University of Helsinki. Her research interests include the Roman army and its military standards, and human-animal relations in Graeco-Roman antiquity.