More time ago now than I really care to remember I wrote something about the Mithras sculptures found in Hulme during the 19th century and showed the small figurine of Mithras from the Manchester Museum collection. At the time I remember thinking there was something rather odd about the figurine and that suspicion was strengthened when Jan Kindberg Jacobsen (Curator, Department of Ancient Art in Copenhagen) got in touch in January 2013 to say he was aware of two other similar figurines and to ask if ours was a forgery.
There the matter rested until this morning when during one of the curatorial team’s joint working meetings we looked at some archival material that David Gelsthorpe, Curator of Palaeontology, had found in store. We had great fun going through archive correspondence from the 1920s allocating the paper documents in the folders to different disciplines and recognising names of important donors. In this age of digital media it is salutary to reflect how much important information is lost when email accounts are closed, whilst copy correspondence a hundred or more years old may yield vital information for research.
One of letters we looked at this morning was written by Francis Haverfield (1860-1919), one of the first serious academic students of Roman Britain. He held the Camden Professorship of Ancient History at the University of Oxford. On 6th May 1903 he wrote:
My dear Sir,
The little bronze of which you have been good enough to send me a photograph, is a forgery. The inscription is a blundered copy of a real inscription on stone, now at Paris. Other forgeries from the same original are known – all very likely, by the same forger, who may have lived in the 17th or 18th century. See F.Cumont, ‘Textes at monuments relatifs au culte de Mithra’ ii pp 398-445. I am,
Yours very faithfully,
In the same bundle is a note on a card from a Mr J.S.Hall:-
Dear Mr Hoyle,
Many thanks for your letter. It is disappointing to hear that the figure is a forgery, but it seems to be a forgery of some antiquity and interest. I picked it up for 3/- 6d (42 pence in today’s money!) in a “Marine (?) Store” in Nottingham and I feel sure that the man who sold it me & told me the story was only reflecting what he had been told by the man who sold it him. In any case I do not think he (illegible word?) over-charged me! Very truly yours, J.S.Hall
A letter of 16th May 1903 from a French correspondent says (in translation):
Thank you very much for sending the bronze figurine that you recently acquired. But I’m afraid that this is a modern piece. A series of similar figurines with the inscription DEO INVITO were reported in Germany and Italy and seem to be the work of some Renaissance forger (c.f. Texts and Monuments Relating to the Mithraic Mysteries Vol.II p.445). Besides you have perhaps already noticed yourself that I am pleased to be able, thanks to you, to add another example to this small collection.
Believe me Sir, most sincerely yours,
The signature is difficult to decipher but appears to be Franz Cumont of 75 Rue Montoyer, Brussels, and author of the work referred to earlier.
Amazing what you can find in the archives isn’t it?