ZAXAPIOY, where are you?

This morning I oversaw an appointment for a PhD student studying some of our archaeological textiles. The glitzy, fabulous V&A might not seem the most obvious residence for objects of this type. In fact a visitor might even be inclined to think that the venerable British Museum, who have recently audited and rehoused their Egyptian textiles, would be a more obvious place in which to find them. Whatever your preconception, the V&A too has a very large collection of textiles which came out of the ground, many of them Coptic (i.e. Egyptian Christian) and dating from the 3rd – 7th centuries. One of the very first objects that greets a visitor to the Museum is a pair of Coptic socks in the Medieval and Renaissance galleries which resemble something that might be worn by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on a chilly day.

 

A highlight from this morning’s selection is this sleeve panel, probably from a tunic, made from woven silk. Remarkably, we also have a number of whole tunics in the collection, which have survived burial, plague and war to come down to us today.

 

303-1887, Woven silk with inscription; Egyptian;  7th - 9th century; (C) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

303-1887, Woven silk with inscription; Egyptian;
7th – 9th century; (C) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

The object is a bit mysterious, but not strictly unusual, as the exact same design is shown on a tunic in our collection. At the bottom of this object is depicted a facing pattern of a man on a charging or rearing horse, holding a baton or mace, with a hawk at his shoulder, being attacked by a soldier armed with a spear. Next to the horse is a long-legged bird, presumably a stork or a flamingo, and some long-stemmed plants. Over the man’s head is inscribed ZAXAPIOY (i.e. Zarchariou), which is somewhat cryptic, and which appears on a number of our Coptic pieces. It is not clear who this figure is supposed to be, or the episode that the picture is supposed to represent.

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