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An ancient Roman wood and ivory throne has been unearthed at a dig in Herculaneum, Italian archaeologists said on Tuesday, hailing it as the most significant piece of wooden furniture ever discovered there.
The most precious relief shows Attis, a life-death-rebirth deity, collecting a pine cone next to a sacred pine tree. Other ornaments show leaves and flowers suggesting the theme of the throne is that of spring and fertility.
The cult of Attis is documented to have been strong in Herculaneum the first century AD.
Attis (sometimes written as "Atys"), a life-death-rebirth deity, was the lover of Cybele, her eunuch attendant and driver of her lion-driven chariot; he was driven mad by her and castrated himself. Attis was originally a local semi-deity of Phrygia, associated with the great Phrygian trading city of Pessinos, which lay under the lee of Mount Agdistis. The mountain was personified as a daemon, whom foreigners associated with the Great Mother Cybele.
He is believed to have been the owner of the 'Villa of the Papyri' at Herculaneum.
Situated north-west of the township, the residence sits half way up the slope of the volcano Vesuvius without other buildings to obstruct the view. The abode was owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. In 79 AD, the eruption of Vesuvius covered all of Herculaneum with some 30 m of volcanic ash over the site. Its remains were first excavated in the years between 1750 and 1765 by Karl Weber by means of underground tunnels. Its name derives from the discovery of a library in the house containing 1,785 carbonized papyrus scrolls.
Calpurnius Piso established a library of a mainly philosophical character. It is believed that the library was collected and selected by Piso's family friend and client, the Epicurean Philodemus of Gàdara. Followers of Epicurus studied the teachings of this moral and natural philosopher. This philosophy taught that man is mortal, that the cosmos is the result of accident, that there is not providential god, and that the criterion of the good life is pleasure. Philodemus' connections with Piso brought him an opportunity of influencing the young students of Greek literature and philosophy who gathered around him at Herculaneum and Naples. Much of his work was discovered in about a thousand payrus rolls in the philosophical library recovered at Herculaneum. Although his prose work is detailed in the strung-out, non-periodic style typical of Hellenistic Greek prose before the revival of the Attic style after Cicero, Philodemus surpassed the average literary standard to which most epicureans aspired. Philodemus succeeded in influencing the most learned and distinguished Romans of his age. None of his prose work was known until the rolls of papyri were discovered among the ruins of the Villa of the Papyri.
At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, the valuable library was packed in cases ready to be moved to safety when it was overtaken by pyroclastic flow; the eruption eventually deposited some 20-25 m of volcanic ash over the site, charring the scrolls but preserving them— the only surviving library of Antiquity— as the ash hardened to form tuff.