7 Antique Forgeries Made in Antiquity

Forgery of art and antiquities is far from a modern phenomenon. Thousands of years ago, devotional objects, trendy artworks, and popular collectibles were ginned up on the quick and sold as ancient to a large market of thirsty marks. Here are seven fakes that were made in antiquity. The surviving ones are ancient artifacts now, but they were only pretending back then.

1. THE BLACK CRUCIFORM STONE FROM THE TEMPLE OF SHAMASH 

In 1881, British Museum archaeologists found a black cruciform stone covered in inscriptions during the excavation of the temple of Shamash, in Sippar (modern-day Iraq). They discovered it in the Neo-Babylonian layer (7th to 6th century BCE), but according to the inscription, it was created during the reign of Manishtushu, King of Akkad (circa 2276 to 2261 BCE). The voluble inscription covers all 12 sides of the monument with a glowing report of how the king had showered the temple with gifts and privileges and funded an extensive renovation. The last line of the inscription insists that "this is not a lie, it is indeed the truth ... He who will damage this document let Enki fill up his canals with slime ..."

This is not the truth. It is indeed a lie, a forgery likely produced by the priests of the temple to put the official seal of approval of antiquity and royalty on the many privileges and large income they enjoyed. It's the kind of forgery known as a pious fraud, when an artifact or document is created to deceive for the good of the faith, in this case the good of the faith meaning the good of the priests' wallets. It's like the Donation of Constantine, only carved on stone in fake archaic cuneiform instead of ink on papyrus.

2. THE SCEPTER OF AGAMEMNON

Starting in the Hellenistic era and continuing for centuries, the prized artifacts in ancient Greece were of purported Homeric origin. They weren't just valued for their literary or historic significance; these objects were venerated, religious relics donated to and collected by temples. Many of them were believed to have been dedicated to the temples by the living Homeric heroes themselves.

The imperial era Roman author Lucius Ampelius lists the Homeric offerings in the temple of Apollo at Sicyon among the "miracles of the world": the shield and sword of Agamemnon, Odysseus's cloak and breastplate, Teucer's bow and arrows, and Penelope's loom. Homeric devotional objects appear in Description of Greece by 2nd century geographer Pausanias, as well, with one in particular getting the most attention: the scepter of Agamemnon, forged by the very hand of the god Hephaestus.

Of the gods, the people of Chaeroneia honor most the scepter which Homer says Hephaestus made for Zeus, Hermes received from Zeus and gave to Pelops, Pelops left to Atreus, Atreus to Thyestes, and Agamemnon had from Thyestes. This scepter, then, they worship, calling it Spear. That there is something peculiarly divine about this scepter is most clearly shown by the fame it brings to the Chaeroneans.

They say that it was discovered on the border of their own country and of Panopeus in Phocis, that with it the Phocians discovered gold, and that they were glad themselves to get the scepter instead of the gold. I am of opinion that it was brought to Phocis by Agamemnon's daughter Electra. It has no public temple made for it, but its priest keeps the scepter for one year in a house. Sacrifices are offered to it every day, and by its side stands a table full of meats and cakes of all sorts.

There were other temple artifacts purported to have been made by Hephaestus, but Pausanias dismissed them all as fakes because they were bronze which, according to him, was first smelted in the 6th century by Theodorus of Samos. Apparently Hephaestus's godhead was not sufficient to put him ahead of the curve of human ingenuity. The scepter proved itself authentic to Pausanias because it was gold, as Homer said it was, it made its keepers famous, and, most importantly, its ownership history could be traced from the heroes of Troy all the way back to the god. Ownership history remains a key element of authentication, although nowadays the owners have to be real people rather than mythological heroes and deities to qualify.

3. THE JOURNAL OF DICTYS

Purportedly the personal diary of Dictys, companion of Idomeneus, the commander of Crete's forces fighting against Troy, the Journal of the Trojan War is an eye-witness account of the war. It pitches its own authenticity in the introduction and preface in the form of several favored postmodern literary tropes—the found manuscript, the translation of a translation, the dead author—which also happen to have been very popular with ancient forgers. The description was tailor-made to persuade an ancient audience that they were reading a real diary from the Trojan War. According to the preface,

In the thirteenth year of Nero’s reign an earthquake struck at Cnossos and, in the course of its devastation, laid open the tomb of Dictys in such a way that people, as they passed, could see the little box. And so shepherds who had seen it as they passed stole it from the tomb, thinking it was treasure. But when they opened it and found the linden tablets inscribed with characters unknown to them, they took this find to their master. Their master, whose name was Eupraxides, recognized the characters, and presented the books to Rutilius Rufus, who was at that time governor of the island. Since Rufus, when the books had been presented to him, thought they contained certain mysteries, he, along with Eupraxides himself, carried them to Nero. Nero, having received the tablets and having noticed that they were written in the Phoenician alphabet, ordered his Phoenician philologists to come and decipher whatever was written. When this had been done, since he realized that these were the records of an ancient man who had been at Troy, he had them translated into Greek; thus a more accurate text of the Trojan War was made known to all. Then he bestowed gifts and Roman citizenship upon Eupraxides, and sent him home.

Whoever wrote this book (hint: not Dictys) made this find seem plausible by keeping it as unanachronistic as possible. Greeks believed Cadmus had introduced the Phoenician alphabet to Greece, so it makes sense that a book so old would be written in Phoenician. The reference to linden tablets is another nod to his audience's understanding of history. Wood predated paper or papyrus as a writing medium. Nine volumes is a lot of wooden tablets to haul around, but these were the hallmarks of genuine antiquity, immediately recognizable as such to an educated Greek reader.

4. THE APOLLO OF PIOMBINO

So few ancient Greek bronzes have survived that when a bronze kouros, a male nude ostensibly from the Archaic period (late 6th century BCE), was found off the coast of Tuscany near the town of Piombino in 1832, it caused a sensation. The Louvre snapped it up, and the Apollo of Piombino, as the statue became known, soon graced the pages of every art history tome.

But there were some weird things about the Apollo. His dadbod torso, the incised waves of his hair, the flat affect instead of the Archaic smile, and the shape of the letters on the inscription on his left foot dedicating him to Athena were not typical of the Archaic style. Then a restoration in 1842 found a lead tablet inside the bronze that named the two sculptors who made it. They were from Tyre and Rhodes and lived in the 1st century BCE. That tablet is now lost.

The Louvre held on as long as possible, redating the bronze to the 5th century and classifying it not as Archaic but as an example of the "severe style." Eventually even they had to admit this was no Greek original. It's a pastiche of Greek styles deliberately passed off as an original for the Roman market. Genuine Greek bronzes were rare even then, and forgers stepped up to bridge the gap between supply and demand.

5. THE RICHELIEU VENUS

Genuine marbles by the great Hellenistic sculptors were rare too, and your less scrupulous Roman artists made a booming business of passing off copies as the originals. A Greek signature by "Praxiteles" or "Lyssipus" could give even inferior works the cachet of masterpieces. The 1st century Roman fabulist Phaedrus referred to the practice in Book V of his Fables, Latin verse versions of Aesop's fables.

If Esop's name at any time
I bring into this measured rhyme,
To whom I've paid whate'er I owe,
Let all men by these presents know.
I with th' old fabulist make free,
To strengthen my authority.
As certain sculptors of the age,
The more attention to engage,
And raise their price, the curious please,
By forging of Praxiteles.

The sculptor of the Richelieu Venus did just that. Now in the Louvre, the statue of a clothed Venus and Cupid dates to the 2nd century CE and has a signature of no less a luminary than 4th century BCE Greek master Praxiteles engraved on the sweet spot of the plinth. While some art historians believe the inscription was added a few hundred years ago before the statue was acquired by the 17th century collector, statesman, and power behind the throne Cardinal Richelieu, the forms and letters of the Greek are characteristic of the middle imperial period when the statue was made.

6. THE SHABAKA STONE

The Shabaka Stone is a motivational opposite of the temple of Shamash stone. This time it was the king making up stuff to ingratiate himself to the priests, and he used the same trick pseudoDictys used to do it. The rectangular basalt slab is inscribed in hieroglyphs that identify the king who commissioned it—Nubian Pharaoh Shabaka (ca. 716-702 BCE)—and why—to preserve an important religious text whose only known copy was falling apart. The text, a creation myth crediting the god Ptah with creating all the other gods, itself follows, although significant portions were eroded away when the stele was reused centuries later as a millstone.

There was no tattered papyrus. As a Nubian outsider, Shabaka needed to suck up to the priests at the temple of Ptah in Memphis, Egypt's first capital. He had recently conquered the city and wasn't exactly welcomed as a liberator. A nice inscribed slab kissing Memphis' ancient ass would please both priests and populace. He really made an effort, too. The inscription has all kinds of archaic touches in the layout, grammar and spelling making it seem like it could legitimately come from the mysterious ancient text.

7. THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF FAKE MUMMIES

The mummies of animals were essential devotional objects for the rituals of animal cult worship in ancient Egypt. Devotees would purchase mummies from the temples as votive offerings to the gods. The scale of this market was so huge that cats, dogs, ibises, baboons, bulls, and other animals were farmed to satisfy demand. In just one of more than 30 centers of animal cult worship, the necropolis of Saqqara, archaeologists found 8 million animal mummies (mostly dogs) that had been interred in catacombs from the 30th Dynasty (380 to 343 BCE) through to the Roman period. The estimated combined body count for all the animal cult centers is a mind-boggling 70 million.

Egyptians' voracious appetite for embalmed beasts could not be sated even by the most prolific puppy/kitten/baboon mills. In 2015, researchers at the University of Manchester examined more than 800 mummies from the Manchester Museum collection to see what was inside the bundles. X-rays and CT scans revealed that a third of them had intact animals, as advertised, another third had partial remains, and the last third were empty. The linen wrappers were filled with whatever was lying around—mud, sticks, eggshells—much like the brain the Wizard of Oz scared up for Scarecrow.

Even when the era of Egyptian animal cult worship was over and the fraud was no longer pious, mummies were still so prized that people kept cranking out fakes. In the Middle Ages and Early Modern era, mummies were believed to have medicinal properties. They were ground up into powder and sold in tinctures. They were also ground up into powder by artists to make a prized brown pigment.

Then, in the 19th century, Egyptomania exploded after the discoveries made during Napoleon's 1798 Egyptian expedition. Mummies were a must-have fashion accessory for the wealthy, and the production of fakes followed with alacrity. Two small mummies in the Vatican's collection thought to be of children or animals were recently found to be Egyptomaniacal forgeries. CT scans, X-rays, and DNA tests found that inside genuine Egyptian linen bandages were a random jumble of medieval human bones and one 19th century nail. And thus the expert antiquarians of the Vatican were deceived just as surely as the ancient faithful had been thousands of years earlier.

Amazon's Best Black Friday Deals: Tech, Video Games, Kitchen Appliances, Clothing, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Black Friday is finally here, and Amazon is offering great deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40)

- Keurig K-Cafe Special Edition; $190 (save $30)

- Ninja OS301 Foodi 10-in-1 Pressure Cooker and Air Fryer; $125 (save $75)

- Nespresso Vertuo Next Coffee and Espresso Machine by Breville; $120 (save $60)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75)

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $80 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10)

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $16 (save $11)

- HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

- Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31)

- TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

- Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

- Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30)

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening; $40 (save $20)

- Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity; $50 (save $10)

- Marvel's Avengers; $25 (save $33)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

- BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

- The Sims 4; $24 (save $20)

- God of Warfor PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

- Days Gonefor PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

- Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250)

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $335 (save $64)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $120 (save $79)

- Seneo Wireless Charger, 3 in 1 Wireless Charging Station; $16 (save $10)

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

- DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

Headphones and speakers

Beats/Amazon

- Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones; $120 (Save $80)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earphones; $175 (save $75)

- JBL Boombox; $280 (save $120)

Movies and TV

HBO/Amazon

- Game of Thrones: The Complete Series; $115 (save $89)

- Jurassic World 5-Movie Set; $23 (save $37)

- Deadwood: The Complete Series; $42 (save $28)

- Back to the Future Trilogy; $15 (save $21)

Toys and Games

Amazon

- Awkward Family Photos Greatest Hits; $15 (save $10)

- Exploding Kittens Card Game; $10 (save $10)

- Cards Against Humanity: Hidden Gems Bundle; $14 (save $5)

- LOL Surprise OMG Remix Pop B.B. Fashion Doll; $29 (save $6)

- LEGO Ideas Ship in a Bottle 92177 Expert Building Kit; $56 (save $14)

Furniture

Casper/Amazon

- Casper Sleep Element Queen Mattress; $476 (save $119)

- ZINUS Alexis Deluxe Wood Platform Bed Frame; $135 (save $24)

- ROMOON Dresser Organizer with 5 Drawers; $59 (save $11) 

- AmazonBasics Room Darkening Blackout Window Curtains; $26 (save $5)

- Writing Desk by Caffoz; $119 (save $21)

- SPACE Seating Office Support Managers Chair; $112 (save $116)

- Rivet Globe Stick Table Lamp; $53 (save $17)

- Christopher Knight Home Merel Mid-Century Modern Club Chair; $188 (save $10)

- Walker Edison Furniture Industrial Rectangular Coffee Table; $121 (save $48)

Beauty

Haus/Amazon

- MySmile Teeth Whitening Kit with LED Light; $21 (save $12) 

- Cliganic USDA Organic Lip Balms Set of Six; $6 (save $4)

- HAUS LABORATORIES By Lady Gaga: LE RIOT LIP GLOSS; $7 (save $11)

- Native Deodorant for Men and Women Set of Three; $25 (save $11) 

- BAIMEI Rose Quartz Jade Roller & Gua Sha; $14 (save $3)

- Honest Beauty Clearing Night Serum with Pure Retinol and Salicylic Acid; $20 (save $8)

- WOW Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo and Hair Conditioner Set; $30 (save $5) 

- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser; $15 (save $5)

- wet n wild Bretman Rock Shadow Palette; $9 (save $6)

- EltaMD UV Daily Tinted Face Sunscreen Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid; $25 (save $6)

Clothes

Ganni/Amazon

- Ganni Women's Crispy Jacquard Dress; $200 (save $86) 

- The Drop Women's Maya Silky Slip Skirt; $36 (save $9)

- Steve Madden Women's Editor Boot; $80 (save $30)

- adidas Women's Roguera Cross Trainer; $40 (save $25)

- Line & Dot Women's Elizabeth Sweater; $74 (save $18)

- Levi's Men's Sherpa Trucker Jacket; $57 (save $41)

- Adidas Men's Essentials 3-Stripes Tapered Training Joggers Sweatpants; $28 (save $12)

- Timex Men's Weekender XL 43mm Watch; $32 (save $20)

- Ray-Ban Unisex-Adult Hexagonal Flat Lenses Sunglasses; $108 (save $46) 

- Reebok Men's Flashfilm Train Cross Trainer; $64 (save $16)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

Archaeologists Discover the Jousting Yard Where Henry VIII Had His Historic Accident

National Trust, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
National Trust, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Henry VIII may have never earned his reputation as an ill-mannered tyrant if it weren't for injuries he sustained at age 44. Now, as Live Science reports, archaeologists have uncovered the infamous jousting yard where that history-changing accident took place.

Prior to the beheading of Anne Boleyn—his second of six wives—King Henry VIII was regarded as a kind, gregarious leader by those who knew him. The point where descriptions of him changed their tone coincided with a fall he took on January 24, 1536.

While jousting at Greenwich Palace, Henry was tossed from his armored horse and further injured when his steed fell on top of him. The incident caused him to lose consciousness for two hours and nearly cost him his life.

Though it was never diagnosed, some experts believe Henry VIII sustained a brain injury that day that altered his personality. From that point on, he was characterized as irritable and cruel. He was in constant pain from migraines and an ulcerated leg, which could also explain the mood shift. The (sometimes violent) dissolution of most of his marriages occurred post-accident.

Ruins of the jousting yard, or tiltyard, where that fateful incident took place are located 5.5 feet beneath the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, the former site of Greenwich Palace. After falling into disrepair, the palace was demolished by Charles II, and the exact location of the tiltyard was forgotten. A team of archaeologists led by Simon Withers of the University of Greenwich used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to locate the remnants buried beneath the ground earlier this year.

The giveaways were the footprints of two octagonal towers. The archaeologists say these were likely the foundations of the bleacher-like viewing stands where spectators watched jousting matches. That would place the historic tiltyard about 330 feet east of where it was originally thought to be situated.

The radar scans provided a peek at what lies beneath the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, but to learn more, the archaeologists will need to get their hands dirty. Their next step will be digging up the site to get a better look at the ruins.

[h/t Live Science]