The De Criscio Collection
The University of Michigan owes its good fortune in acquiring the valuable De Criscio collection of Roman antiquities to the loyalty and vision of one of its alumni, the late Walter Dennison ('93, Ph.D. '98), who was the first man from the University of Michigan to hold a fellowship in the American School of Classical Studies in Rome. Dennison served his alma mater as Instructor of Latin from 1897 to 1899 and as Junior Professor of Latin from 1902 to 1910. Those who knew him well remember the accurate scholarship and the gentle spirit which informed all his teaching.
When Dennison was in Europe in 1896-97 collecting material for his work on Latin inscriptions he searched in all available places for unpublished material. Finally he learned of a private collection at the home of the Abate Giuseppe de Criscio of Pozzuoli, Italy. Father de Criscio, to give him his English title, was a member of a noble Roman family. In his youth he had been given a broadly liberal education, with the result that he brought to his work as a parish priest a wide acquaintance with and a deep interest in history, archaeology, and numismatics. Instead of losing interest in these pursuits as he became absorbed in his parish work, he kept up his studies and published many articles dealing with many phases of these subjects.
This devotion was aroused in part by the natural conditions which obtained in the parish over which he presided. The little town of Pozzuoli, founded by the Greeks in the sixth century b.c., was taken over by the Romans during the Punic wars. Later it became an important seaport and commercial center, particularly for the trade with Egypt. Lying as it does in the center of the great volcanic area north of Naples, it has often been showered with volcanic ash. Changes in level, caused by variations in subterranean pressure, have also taken place. As a result of all this, it is impossible to open the soil in Pozzuoli without unearthing the remains of earlier civilizations. The parishioners knew their priest's fondness for antiquities and notified him Page 1474immediately when such discoveries were made. He soon became the possessor of a large collection and maintained what might be called a small museum in his own home.
When Dennison learned of the existence of this collection he asked Father de Criscio for permission to look over the inscriptions which formed a large part of the material. This the kindly priest gladly granted, took the young American into his own home during his stay in Pozzuoli, and gave him permission to publish those inscriptions which had not already appeared in the Corpus or the Ephemeris Ephigraphica. During Dennison's stay Father de Criscio confided to him his regret that on his death his collection must of necessity be scattered since none of his family was interested in it. Dennison at once realized the great opportunity this offered the University of Michigan and wrote to Professor Kelsey to the end that, if possible, steps might be taken to secure this material.
Although times were still hard as the result of the depression of 1893, Kelsey began working on the problem with his usual vigor. In order to assure himself that the material was valuable, he asked William W. Bishop, who was then a Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Rome, to copy all of the inscriptions in the collection. When these copies reached the United States it at once became evident that the inscriptions contained a wealth of material on the provincial cursus honorum and on the imperial fleet of Misenum across the harbor. An effort was made to find some friend of scholarship who would come to the aid of the University and make the purchase possible. Henry P. Glover, of Ypsilanti, who had done much for his community, provided the necessary funds, but added the proviso that his name was not to be associated with the gift.
As a result of Mr. Glover's generosity there came to the University in 1899 some two hundred and fifty inscriptions on marble, several ash urns, some inscribed lead water pipes, and a few pieces of glass and bronze. The last were a personal gift to Mr. Dennison from Father de Criscio, but, with the generosity which characterized him, Dennison insisted on turning these over to the University also, to enrich its collections.
All of the objects arrived in good condition. This was due in great measure to the kindness of the museum authorities at Naples, who not only allowed some very valuable pieces to be sent abroad but also sent an experienced person to oversee the packing. In a letter to Dennison, Kelsey wrote, "I am surprised that the Government allowed the exportation of certain of the blocks, but the successful outcome of this aspect of the negotiations must be credited to Professor Mau."
In 1905, nine more inscriptions and several inscribed tiles, an incense altar, four tegulae suspensurae, for supporting the hollow floors of baths, a limestone wellhead, and a marble bath basin, were obtained from Father de Criscio.
Six years later the good father passed away, in the eighty-sixth year of his life. After some years his widowed sister, who had been his housekeeper, wrote to Mr. Dennison, unaware that he too had died in 1917, a victim of pneumonia, and offered to sell the residue of her brother's collection to the University. This letter was sent on to Professor Kelsey, who at once took up with President Burton the problem of securing the necessary funds. When this was done, the purchase was completed and the shipment of the material to Michigan was looked after by Professor John G. Winter, who was on leave in Italy in 1923.
In this third lot, the University secured some six hundred objects, among Page 1475them seven inscriptions, several pieces of marble relief-work, many fine specimens of blackware, several large storage jars, and many small objects. This material is of great value, as it shows the nature of the objects in daily use by the people of a small provincial town, and the University is fortunate in having been able to acquire it. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, which has custody of the collection, will keep alive the memory of the good priest who collected these objects, as well as the memory of others whose devotion and generosity brought the De Criscio collection to the University.