Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Unciae

Here are some polyhedral weights from outside of my collection - they come up for auction at the Malter Galleries in California and Harlan J. Berk here in Chicago from time to time, or are listed in European musem catalogues. The first example, a central (Italic) Roman weight, 2nd century, is in the collection of my French friend Arjan. It is marked with five concentric pips, very similar to those on dice (see very bottom of page for example), also associated on jewelry with the human eye, in its symbolic role as warder and evaluator. The emphasis on this form is really the cube, with only minor truncations, though strictly, these do give it fourteen facets.



Here is a Byzantine weight found in eastern Turkey, stamped with the ounce weight and more circles for decoration, approximately 6th century. The form is ten-sided, if one doesn't count the thick band where the two hemispheres meet (this one is believed to have been cast in two pieces), in which case it is also fourteen-sided.



Next, an Umayyad weight - or Byzantine weight found in Umayyad context - from 8th century Damascus. Centuries after the Roman weight, it is marked with five die-like pips. We can surmise that this form did catch on among the Arabic-writing peoples from the following example.



Finally, a Moorish weight of the 11th century, found in Spain. The pips have clearly acquired a rosette form, and the weight bar abstracted to a pleasant centering motif. This one is a twenty-sided icosahedron, a regular Platonic solid admired by Arabic mathematicians.



I have yet to trace the form past Mozarabic time and locus, unless one counts our favorite role-playing d20, the original source of my collecting obsessions.

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