Beyond Mainland Greece: The Tomb of Darius the Great in Naqsh-e Rustam, Iran.

Today’s post kick-starts a mini series that will feature on Hieroglyphs, Heroes and Heretics this academic year that showcases the type of teaching that we deliver and our student work. Dr Stephen Harrison, module co-ordinator, introduces the focus and aims of the module, to provide that all important context for the first of our student pieces!

Stephen Harrison: Ronseal don’t sponsor any of our modules at Swansea University, but if they did Beyond Mainland Greece would probably be that module because, like their quick drying wood stain, it is a course that does exactly what It says on the tin: it takes students beyond the Greek mainland – into Asia. The course focuses on two empires, the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire and the Seleucid Empire. The Persians are traditionally seen as the bad guys in Western history: the barbarian invaders whose cruel kings Darius and Xerxes (especially Xerxes) burned Athens to the ground, threatening to snuff out democracy before it was fully established. 150 years later, the Greeks were to have their revenge thanks to Alexander III of Macedon, who earned the moniker ‘Alexander the Great’ as a result of his conquest of Persia. But Alexander died without an established heir and his empire quickly disintegrated as his leading generals fought to succeed to the throne. In territorial terms, at least, the most successful of the contenders was Seleucus I, who emerged who carved out an empire which stretched from India to the Ionian coast. His family would rule much of Asia before pressure from the twin threats of Parthia and Rome in the Second Century BC reduced the Seleucid Empire to a small kingdom centred on Syria.

Traditionally, university courses have given short shrift to these empires – the Persians pop up as invaders at the foundational moment of Classical Greece but are soon dismissed in favour of a focus on Athenian democracy, Spartan idiosyncrasies, and the Peloponnesian War. Then they reappear as the dramatic foil for Alexander’s heroic exploits in the Fourth Century. The Seleucids fair even worse, often dealt with only as one of a succession of powers defeated by the Romans on their march to imperial glory. But the privileging of the Greek mainland is hugely problematic for lots of reasons not least the fact that these two empires were the superpowers of their day – it is as though one were to write a history of the 20th Century and focus solely on, say, Cuba, without ever mentioning the United States. So, this module sought to allow students to study the Persian and Seleucid Empires on their own terms.

All of this reflects my firm belief that extending beyond the usual geographic limitations of ancient history courses offers students the opportunity to develop a much broader understanding of the ancient world, which also helps them to appreciate the importance of some of the unique developments in Greece itself. But in order to do this, students need to be able to work with an array of sources produced in Asia itself, rather than rely solely on written accounts produced on the fringes of these empires by men such as Herodotus, Xenophon, and Polybius. Consequently, we looked at a wide range of sources – from inscriptions written in the name of reigning kings to celebrate and to emphasise their power, to the fascinating astronomical diaries from Babylon, which were recorded fastidiously for several centuries – primarily, these diaries are records of astrological observations, but details such as price data from the local market give us a glimpse into life in the city. Coins, civic inscriptions, archaeology, art, and even letters between local officials in Bactria (ancient Afghanistan) also featured. The students were asked to write four critical analyses of 500 words on some of these pieces of evidence over the course of the term – we have selected some of the best responses for publication here to give you an insight into the sort of thing that our students get up to here at Swansea and the things they are capable of achieving. You will find some creative and original thinking in these pieces of work.

 

Our first piece is a contribution from Aidan Kee, an Ancient History student, who assessed an inscription from the tomb of Darius I as part of his coursework for the module.

The Persians did not produce the sort of written histories that we often use to explore a society. Instead, one of our best ways into examining the topic are a series of royal inscriptions that the Persian kings set up at key places to emphasise their power and to outline their ideology. These inscriptions very much reflect a top-down perspective on the Persian Empire so there are very real questions about how far the claims made in these documents reflect reality, but they can still be revealing. This particular inscription is part of the text that was carved onto the tomb of Darius I at Naqs-i-Rustam, a few miles from Persepolis, the most important city in the empire. (Introduction by Stephen Harrison)

View of Tomb of Darius the Great in Naqsh-e Rustam

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_of_Darius_the_Great

Translation (from: Kuhrt, A., The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period. Routledge, 2007):

(1) A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this excellent thing which is seen, who created happiness for man, who set wisdom and capability down upon King Darius.

(2a) King Darius/Xerxes says: By the grace of Ahuramazda I am of such a sort, I am a friend of the right, of wrong I am not a friend. It is not my wish that the weak should have harm done him by the strong, nor is it my wish that the strong should have harm done him by the weak.

(2b) The right, that is my desire. To the man who is a follower of the lie I am no friend. I am not hot-tempered. What things develop in my anger, I hold firmly under control by my thinking power. I am firmly ruling over my own impulses.

(2c) The man who is cooperative, according to his cooperation thus I reward him. Who does harm, him according to the harm I punish. It is not my wish that a man should do harm; nor indeed is it my wish that if he does harm he should not be punished.

(2d) What a man says against a man, that does not convince me, until I hear the sworn statements of both.

(2e) What a man does or performs, according to his ability, by that I become satisfied with him, and it is much to my desire, and I am well pleased, and I give much to loyal men.

(2f) Of such a sort are my understanding and my judgment: if what has been done by me you see or hear of, both in in the palace and in the expeditionary camp, this is my capability over will and understanding.

(2g) This indeed my capability: that my body is strong. As a fighter of battles I am a good fighter of battles. When ever with my judgment in a place I determine whether I behold or do not behold an enemy, both with understanding and with judgment, then I think prior to panic, when I see an enemy as when I do not see one.

(2h) I am skilled both in hands and in feet. As a horseman, I am a good horseman. As a bowman, I am a good bowman, both on foot and on horseback. As a spearman, I am a good spearman, both on foot and on horseback.

(2i) These skills that Ahuramazda set down upon me, and which I am strong enough to bear, by the will of Ahuramazda, what was done by me, with these skills I did, which Ahuramazda set down upon me.

(3a) Man, vigorously make you known of what sort I am, and of what sort my skillfulnesses, and of what sort my superiority. Let not that seem false to you, which has been heard by your ears. Listen to what is said to you.

(3b) Man, let that not be made to seem false to you, which has been done by me. That do you behold, which has been inscribed. Let not the laws be disobeyed by you. Let not anyone be untrained in obedience. [The last line is unintelligible]

Aidan’s analysis:

‘Although […] the Achaemenid History Workshop profoundly transformed our understanding of the Achaemenid empire, members of that group devoted surprisingly little attention to the role of religion.’[1] So, Lincoln shows, the question of Achaemenid religion is far from answered in scholarship. Therefore, considering the religious aspect of the inscription, it is a useful source of evidence on the subject, especially in relation to Achaemenid kingship. Darius thanks the help that Ahurumazda has given him in his journey to kingship multiple times in the passage.[2] Its placement at the site of Darius’ tomb means that the text is what Darius wishes to be remembered for, clearly revealing the importance of Ahurumazda to his reign.

Zoroaster, a prophet considered active around 1000 BC, allegedly produced the Gāthās setting out ‘a dualistic system in which aša (truth, rightness) is opposed to druj (lie, deceit) with Ahurumazda as the supreme deity.’[3] Whilst Zoroaster may not have been a historical figure, the rough estimate of when he lived usefully provides us with a rough date for the commencement of the oral tradition conveying the Gāthās. Considering this oral tradition that carried the Gāthās from this time through to Sasanian times, where it was eventually textualized, it stands to reason that it reflected Achaemenid religious ideology in order to survive.[4] Therefore, whilst the Achaemenids may not strictly have been Zoroastrians, it is likely that the Achaemenid Ahurumazda is very similar to its Zoroastrian counterpart. Thus, in the inscription where Darius attributes his ‘wisdom and capability’ to being gifted to him by Ahurumazda, Darius legitimises his reign. Darius has been supported by the protector of aša with skills that make him a good king. Perhaps surprisingly, Darius also presents himself as a judge of aša and druj in the passage, ‘I am a friend of the right, of the wrong I am not a friend’.[5] This idea is also present in the Bisitun inscription, indicating it as an important aspect of his kingship and how he legitimised himself.[6] Therefore, in the inscription Darius aligns himself with Ahurumazda with a subtle hint at his own divinity. However, this is counterbalanced by Darius also presenting himself as a human, subject to aša and druj respectively, ‘I am firmly ruling over my own impulses’.[7] He is clearly below Ahurumazda here, as the Gāthās state ‘look upon the two sides, between which each man must choose for himself.’[1] Darius clearly is subject to the trials of ‘each man’ demonstrated by his ‘impulses’. This illustrates the caution that Darius had to take when dealing with religion as on one hand it was a useful tool for legitimising his reign, whilst on the other it was vital to simultaneously remain humble and pious. The religious aspect of the inscription is replicated by Xerxes at Persepolis indicating that the way Darius deals with religion in the passage was deemed contemporarily successful.[8] So, the inscription presents us with a useful opportunity to examine how religion was utilised successfully to legitimise the early Achaemenid king’s reigns.

 

Bibliography

Ancient Evidence

Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions

Lendering, J., ‘Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions’, www.livius.org (2004-2019). URL: https://www.livius.org/sources/content/achaemenid-royal-inscriptions/

Zoroaster, Gāthās. Trans. J. Duchesne-Guillemin & M. Henning, J Murray: London (1952).

Modern Scholarship

Lincoln, B. (2013) ‘Religion, Empire and the Spectre of Orientalism: A Recent Controversy in Achaemenid Studies’, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 72(2): 253-65.

Sancisi-Weerdenburg, H. (2005a) Persian Religion. In S. Hornblower & A. Spawforth (Eds.), The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Sancisi-Weerdenburg, H. (2005b) Zoroaster. In S. Hornblower & A. Spawforth (Eds.), The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

 

[1] Lincoln (2013), 253.

[2] DNb 1, 2a & 2i. His thankfulness to Ahurumazda is also clearly present in the other inscription on his tomb at Naqs-i-Rustam, see DNa.

[3] Sancisi-Weerdenburg (2005b).

[4] Sancisi-Weerdenburg (2005a).

[5] DNb 2a.

[6] DB 54-7.

[7] DNb 2b.

[8] XPl.

WOW Opportunity: Social Media and Digital Marketing Assistants (Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology)

Interested in a career in broadcasting, journalism or marketing? Enjoy creative writing and Social media? Want to work with like-minded people to share knowledge about the ancient world to a wider audience?

Look no further! The Department of Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology is inviting students interested in developing a range of transferable skills to apply for a one of a number of Week of Work (WOW) placements.

 

 The Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology is offering up to four WOW placements to support the department’s web officer with the development and maintenance of the department’s blog, newly launched newsletter and their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

This is a fantastic opportunity to gain employability skills, meet new people, and create web and media content for our department! Ella Thomas (a second year Media and Communication Student) held a WOW placement last year and was a Social Media Assistant to Dr. Ersin Hussein, Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology. Ella said the following of her experience:

“I have been responsible managing future contributions to the departmental blog Hieroglyphs, Heroes, and Heretics and I have worked closely with Ersin to create an official annual departmental newsletter. Duties have included emailing staff and students (current and alumni) for contributions to the newsletter’s content and helping in the design and layout of the newsletter. The placement greatly helped me to develop and implement marketing and PR skills that I had been taught on my course, such as managing social media platforms and designing layouts for public facing documents (e.g. leaflets). I have also developed valuable administration skills, such as time management. As a result of my placement I am eligible to gain the SEA award, which will greatly enhance my career prospects after University. The amount of support received from Ersin has been amazing and has greatly enhanced my confidence and belief in my own capabilities. I would recommend undertaking a placement to all students who wish to improve upon their academic and personal  skills.”

Person Specification

  1. Good organisational skills and the ability to complete a task to a deadline
  2. Excellent attention to detail and accuracy
  3. The ability to work independently, and to know when and how to seek guidance
  4. Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  5. Good interpersonal skills
  6. A quick learner and able to adapt to change/display flexibility

 

Timings

Est. 04/11/19 – 04/05/20

18 teaching weeks, 1-2 hours per week. Scheduled workshops of 2-3 hours throughout the term.

 

Application and Closing Date

To apply, please send your CV and covering letter to COAHEmployability@swansea.ac.uk by midnight on Sunday 20th October. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch with the employability office (using the email above) or with Dr Ersin Hussein (ersin.hussein@Swansea.ac.uk).

We look forward to receiving you applications!

 

 

Welcome back and looking forward to the 2019/2020 academic year!

A very warm welcome back to everyone!

We may have been a little quiet on the blog front last term, but by no means did this mean that we weren’t busy! For example, we saw the completion and launch of the Ancient World on Film project and the successful delivery of new, innovative modules (including handlings sessions in the Egypt Centre and a trip to the British Museum) – you can read about these in the COAH College newsletter here. Towards the end of term, many staff and students delivered papers at The Egypt Centre’s conference ‘Wonderful Things‘, an event that showcased the history of the museum and current research that is taking place there in conjunction with our department. The Egypt Centre Collection Blog is a fantastic read as it regularly features news about its volunteers, the research that our students undertake,  collaborative work with the department and the current renovations to its store rooms. All in all it has been an exciting year and the 2019/20 academic year promises to be equally as busy for all staff and students here in the department…

Along with the rest of the university, we are celebrating the Swansea 2020 centenary! This academic year will also see the official launch of OLCAP – our new research group for object and landscape centred approaches to the ancient past. More on this to come! In April, the department will also host the Classical Association conference in April 2020 – a truly international event that draws attention to cutting edge research, innovations in pedagogy across all stages of education provision and pressing issues for our fields of study and work. So watch this space as more information about these events, as well as many others, will be featured on the blog! We also have a number of contributions from our undergraduate and postgraduate researchers to look forward to.

To kick start the year, I draw your attention to the UWICAH postgraduate conference that will take place on 16th November on the theme of Narratives of Power! This conference has been organised by our postgraduate research students and, as you can see below, promises to be a fantastic event. We look forward to seeing you there!

From the organisers:

On the sixteenth of November the Universities of Wales Institute of Classics and Ancient History Postgraduate conference will take place in the Council Chamber and Conference Room 2 in Singleton Abbey. PhD candidates in the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology at Swansea University have this year organized the conference. The topic of this year’s conference will be Narratives of Power, and explores powerful narratives in Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Near East. After a successful call for papers, the conference has drawn speakers from across Britain and beyond. The conference will feature twenty-two speakers, from eighteen institutions (including all three UWICAH Universities, Swansea, Cardiff and Trinity St David’s, Lampeter) and run from 09:30-17:30; followed by a roundtable debate and drinks in a nearby pub.

The delegates have interpreted Narratives of Power in a wide variety of ways, and therefore there will be talks on many topics including mythology, material culture, rulers, identity and more. Furthermore, we are thinking of publishing some of the papers from the conference in an edited volume. Food and drinks will be provided for attendees of the conference, and we hope to see as many people as possible from Swansea to support the event. If you are interested in attending, email uwicahconference2019@gmail.com and/or sign up on Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/uwicah-2019-narratives-of-power-tickets-73538673151).

 

Eventbrite QR code:

Best Regards

Thomas Alexander Husøy, William Clayton, Urska Furlan.

Conference Programme

Singleton Abbey, Swansea University, SA2 8PP

 

Time Council Chamber Conference Room 2
9.30 Registration
  Classics Egyptology I
10.00 Rebecca Rusk (Reading): The Rule of Zeus in Hesiod’s Theogony Thomas Humphrey (UWTSD): Power and Diplomacy in the Amarna Letters: Cypro-Egyptian Relations in the 14th Century BCE
10.30 Brian McPhee (North Carolina): Brawn Without Brain? Mythopoetic Trajectories in Heracles’ Teratomachies Rachael Cornwell (Liverpool): The Power of Change: The Accumulated Impact of Minor Linguistic Changes on the Egyptian Verbal System
11.00 Georgina Homer (Open University): Infamous Medea: Power Through Reputation and Infamy John Rogers (Swansea): “I Made This as an Act of Praise”: Power and Agency in 7th-Century BCE Egyptian Non-Royal Statuary
11.30 Gina Bevan (Cardiff): Medusa’s Rape: Lady Gaga and Victimhood Marwa Abdel Razek (Cairo/Cairo Museum): The Mystery of Female Figurines (Concubines) Represented on Plaques and Beds in the Cairo Museum
12.00 Lunch
  Archaic and Classical Greece Egyptology II
12.45 Thomas Alexander Husøy (Swansea): Thessaly and the Narrative of Identities in Central Greece Lonneke Deipeut (Leiden): Horses in Egypt: A Status Symbol or a Status Marker?
13.15 Richard Phillips (Birkbeck College, London): Cultural and Political Soft Power in the Ancient Greek World: Paros and Athens Islam Alwakeel (Ain Shams): Offering of the Field (sḫt) in the Egyptian Temples of the Greco-Roman Period (Edfou-Dendara)
13.45 Matt Thompson (Nottingham): Projecting Power By Displaying Nothing? Possible Motivations for the Apparent Refusal of the Spartans to Dedicate Captured Arms Henry Bohun (UWTSD): Exploring Ptolemy II Within the Narrative of Ancient Egyptian Kingship: Ruler Cult and Material Culture
14.15 Ana Garcia Espinosa (Cardiff): Mercenary Armies and Power: The Narrative of Leadership in Xenophon’s Anabasis Frédéric Rouffet (Paul-Valéry): Title TBC, Egyptian Magic
14.45 Tea/Coffee

 

 

Time Council Chamber Conference Room 2
  Late Classical Greece Egyptian and Roman History
15.15 Maria Gisella Giannone (Exeter): Narratives of Power By and Within Athens in Isocrates’ On the Peace Ella McCafferty Wright (Cambridge): The Meroe Bust of Augustus and Narratives of Rebellion
15.45 Leon Battista Borsano (Scuola Normale Superiore): Kyrios Estō: Narrative(s) of Power in Late Classical Lycia Consuelo Martino (St. Andrews): The Last Republican or the First Emperor? Discussing Suetonius’ Divus Iulius and the Political Power of Biographical Writing
16.15 Roberta Dainotto (Crete): Building Concepts of Power Through Narrative in Forensic Speeches: The Case of Apollodorus Domiziana Rossi (Cardiff): Sasanian Kings as Decision-Makers: Reshaping the Ērānshahr
16.45 Roundtable Discussion of Day
17.30 Close

 

Calling all filmmakers – Job advert for the project The Ancient World on Film!

This week’s blog is a call for filmmakers interested in working on an exciting new collaborative project between staff and students at Swansea University, local communities. Details below:

The Ancient World on Film is an exciting new collaborative project between staff and students at Swansea University, local communities, and filmmakers. Filmmakers will work with staff and students in the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology to produce a short film (5-10 minutes) about the ancient world which opens up the subject to new audiences. Staff and students will be responsible for writing the script in consultation with local communities so that the films can be targeted effectively at our ideal audiences. However, we hope that filmmakers will embrace this opportunity to mentor our students and help them explore the creative potential of the medium. We are particularly keen to develop new ways of presenting information about the ancient world which go beyond the traditional documentary format and will welcome suggestions from filmmakers about how to do this. The films will be shown at a big launch at the Taliesin theatre in May 2019, where filmmakers and students will have the opportunity to discuss the production process with members of the public and invited guests.

We are producing four films in total and invite pitches from filmmakers to produce one or more of those films. For each film:

You Will Need:

* Demonstrable experience producing short films; ideally you will be able to demonstrate experience delivering a contracted film on schedule and on budget.

* To supply your own filming and editing equipment.

* Public liability insurance.

* To be prepared to undertake a DBS check if necessary.

* Ideally you will have experience producing films as part of a team, and particularly of working with community groups and/or students.

* Ideally you will be available to attend a workshop with members of the local community in late January or early February 2019. Dates will be confirmed after further consultation with all parties involved.

* To consult with students and staff during the script-writing period (February-March 2019). This can be done remotely if necessary.

* To be able to shoot the film in March or early April 2019. Filming is expected to take no more than one day.

* To provide a rough cut of the film for discussion by mid-April 2019.

* To deliver the final film by 30th April 2019.

* To attend a film screening at the Taliesin theatre on the University’s Singleton Park Campus on Monday 13th May from 4.30 to 7.30.

You Will Receive:

* A fee of £1,500 to be paid in two instalments (the first instalment to be paid after filming, the second upon delivery of the final film).

* A budget of £1,000 to make the film.

Deliverables

* 1 film (5-10 minutes in length) shot in Full HD format (1920×1080)

* Delivered as an MP4 file and one copy on a blue-ray disc

* Deadline for completion: 30th April 2019

* You will also be required to discuss a rough cut of the film with students at an appropriate moment in the process, likely in March or April 2019.

The Film

We are looking to create exciting, new films about the ancient world and we intend to give filmmakers and students plenty of scope to utilise their creative vision and skills to develop the film. In particular, we want to move beyond the traditional documentary format and find innovative ways to communicate information about the ancient world. For an idea of what we mean by all of this, feel free to have a look at an earlier project led by Dr Harrison.

 

To Apply

Send a brief (1 page max) cover letter detailing your experience and including a link to a showreel or equivalent to Dr Stephen Harrison (stephen.harrison@swansea.ac.uk) and Dr Joanne Berry (j.t.berry@swansea.ac.uk) by 23.59 on 31st December 2018. Shortlisted applicants will be contacted in the first week of January 2019 with a view to further discussion.

We would love to hear from interested filmmakers, so please send informal queries and expressions of interest to Drs Berry and Harrison.

Spotlight on a Mummified Crocodile from The Egypt Centre – by Warda Malik

Continuing our celebration of the Egypt Centre this week’s blog post is an edited version of a short piece of coursework originally submitted for the module ‘Egyptian Art and Archaeology’. For this assignment students were required to write an object biography for an exhibit in the Egypt Centre. Our author, Warda Malik, chose object W985 because crocodile mummies were neither something she had significantly come across before in lectures nor extensively read about.

Birds eye view of W985. Image courtesy of the Egypt Centre.

Object W985, exact provenance unknown, is a mummified crocodile and is currently on display in the ‘House of Death’ in the Egypt Centre, Swansea. W985 was initially perceived to be a false mummy as votive animal mummies were often empty or only contained fragmented remains. Votive animals usually died a natural death; however, many were deliberately killed ahead of religious festivals, as could have been the case with W985. It is probable that these mummies were produced at times when there was a shortage of the appropriate animal required. W985 was X-rayed by St James vets in 2008, revealing that the mummy contained the remains of a baby crocodile approximately 18 inches long inside, however, they were commonly placed alongside fully-grown crocodile remains. Some examples of other x-rays undertaken on mummified crocodiles from the same context can be observed in the following images:

The Late Period (664-332BC) witnessed a dramatic rise of animal cults in ancient Egypt and may have been a result of artistic archaizing of the period. Unlike most of the Mediterranean, Egyptians did not regard animals as inferior to humans, and believed that they had a soul. In ancient Egypt, crocodiles were predominantly associated with Sobek ancient Egyptian crocodile deity) who was venerated from the Old Kingdom. His cult increased particularly during the Ptolemaic Period. Crocodiles’ natural habitat was largely the Nile and they were generally considered as the offspring of the annual inundation and acted as a symbol for the Nile’s fertility. Crocodiles tend to transport their young in their mouths to ensure safe travel, and additional baby crocodiles could symbolise a positive nurturing quality of an otherwise dangerous animal. Additionally, sacred animals were identified by their ‘special markings’ which acted as proof of their embodiment of specific gods. Therefore, it is likely that W985 was worshipped as a living incarnation of Sobek during its lifetime.

Map of ancient Egypt showing the areas of Tebtunis, Kom Ombo and the Fayum.

The most prominent cult centres of Sobek in ancient Egypt were Tebtunis, Kom Ombo and the Fayum region. The excavations of Tebtunis in the 1930’s unearthed many shallow graves, with crocodile remains found buried in the sand. A distinctive style of wrapping the crocodile remains in sheets of papyrus had been adopted and can be dated to the Greco-Roman period due to writing found on recycled papyri. From this, one can conclude that W985 is unlikely to have originated from the site of Tebtunis as it does not bear the characteristic papyrus wrapping found on other contemporary crocodile mummies.

Situated in Lower Egypt, near the Delta region, the area of Kom Ombo gained importance during the Ptolemaic Period due to its access to several trade routes and had a temple dedicated to both Sobek and Horus (Egyptian deity, associated with kingship). Living Crocodiles may have been kept in the vicinity due to the high regard given to Sobek. After its death, the crocodile would have been mummified and buried, achieving the state of immortality. During special religious festivals, mummified animals dedicated to specific deities were taken for procession and later buried in catacombs, sealed until the next celebration. It may be probable that W985 was initially found in such a cache, perhaps near the site of Kom Ombo rather than Tebtunis or the Fayum region as simpler burials of shallow graves were more common in those areas.

My experience at the British School at Athens Summer School 2016

Guest blog post by Minette Matthews, 2nd Year Ancient History Student

Every year the British School at Athens offers an intensive 3 week summer course for undergraduate students interested in Ancient Greek history. On this course, students are taught by 3 specialists in Greek Ancient history – one of them being Dr. Chryssanthi Papadopoulou, the Assistant Director of the British School at Athens. Approximately 10 days are spent in Athens looking at various archaeological sites and museums (among these the Acropolis, the Parthenon Museum, the Kerameikos, and the National Archaeological Museum), and 11 days in the Peloponnese visiting Mycenae and Tiryns, and Corinth, to name a few. In 2016 I successfully applied for a place on this course.

Figure 1. Caryatids on the Erechtheion. Acropolis, Athens

 

(more…)

Nero and History: A Clash of Interest

 

By Oscar Brierley, 2nd Year Classical Civilisation Student
Student Interest Research

 

 

 

 

 

The Remorse of Nero, J. W. Waterhouse. 1878. A depiction of Nero lamenting after the assassination of his mother Agrippina in AD59, notoriously by his own command.

 

I was first introduced to the intricacies of Nero’s reign of AD54-68 in Dr Nigel Pollard and Dr Joanne Berry’s Rome: From Village to Empire module. While I had heard of him before, the interpretation that I had of him was merely superficial, devoid of any historical methodology. What I learned about him in these lectures, however, challenged this view in the most fascinating way: it brought to light the facts of Nero’s reign, with no bias, creating a completely different character from what had been formed in my mind. This is the basis of my fascination with Nero, and, to an extent, my love of history. The fact that there are so many interpretations of Nero, so often exaggerated to draw in an audience, simply reflects that very little has changed since his reign. Some of Suetonius’ more extravagant accounts continue to be repeated today, and filtering through these accounts to find the truth never ceases to entertain me.

The idea that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned” has long been rejected by historians. However, the notion that Nero was a debased, merciless emperor to the extent that he would not look out of place in a horror story still remains laced within history. The name Nero has become so synonymous with brutality that if you were to call someone “Neronian” you would most probably follow by offering them a therapist appointment. Most people, when Nero is mentioned, would call back to Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus in Gladiator, and think that he is a close enough representation. If Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars, and a number of other works on Nero’s life are taken as fact, this perception would not be far from the truth.

Only recently have we been able to read Roman history with a level of modern academic scrutiny. Before the nineteenth century, sources such as the works of Suetonius and Livy could mostly be accepted as fact, with little notion of the possibility of a personal, ideological narrative within their works. Recently however, there has been an increase of historians looking at history in the context the society in which they were written, and not their own. And yet still there remains a struggle to separate fact from fiction when it comes to modern accounts of Roman Emperors, most prominently those of the imperial era. Else Roesdahl perfectly describes ancient works driven by a personal narrative as “historical novels”, yet documentaries and books continue to disperse them as fact. Nowhere else is this as apparent as in depictions of Nero, which continue to be as sensationalist today as they were almost 2000 years ago.

Nero came at a time when the Roman senate was still adapting itself to a state ruled by a single emperor. The senate and Roman elite began to realise their need to secure influence which was rapidly dissolving under Emperors who noticed the senate was now merely an advisory institution. The pragmatic members of the elite, however, realised that there was still a way to exercise power over the Emperors: through writing. Roman elites had already been writing diaries and cataloguing letters for centuries, but not as extensively as during this time of slow senatorial alienation from imperial power. With loss of power came the rise of writing Roman “history”. Authors began to write with more than the glorification of the Roman empire in mind.

Suetonius’ account of the lives of emperors is wonderfully useful when attempting to discover the ins and outs of Roman society and its elites, but becomes frustrating in its description of details, some of which Suetonius could not possibly have known. He cites “reliable authorities” as his sources, which dissolves any form of reliability his statements have. A particularly far-fetched moment in his description of Nero comes after the assassination of his mother Agrippina by his own order. It states that Nero rushed to his mother’s corpse to examine and assess her body critically, perversely. This certainly does evoke a reaction of disgust in the reader, but this is exactly the reaction Suetonius desires. If he wanted to give his readers a chance to critically evaluate Nero, he would have omitted this moment entirely. Nero’s chapter in Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars is rife with moments like this, but sensationalist stories attempting to dramatise Nero’s life for an audience reaction do not end with Suetonius’ work. You simply have to watch a modern documentary on his life to find that ridiculous examples of imagery still remain. Documentaries begin with wonderful montages of brutality and fire overlaid with the sounds of screaming crowds and a deafening orchestra in the process of a violent fit. While it certainly is attractive to an audience, you could start a documentary on any Roman emperor with a montage of brutalities and remain safe in the assurance that it remains loyal to its source material. Nero’s violence was not unique, simply more public and personal.

Those who did not write history, the common people of Rome, it is harder to predict the opinions of. However, we can probably assume that Nero’s reign, being of such spectacle, was in fact enjoyed by the lower classes of Rome. His love of all the arts and past times of Rome, from poetry to music to athletics, ingratiated him with the Roman people, something an Emperor completely enthralled with the Senate would find nearly impossible. He thrived in this section of Roman society, something which has been difficult to determine due to the colouring of history by the elite. Nero’s obsession with Hellenic, artistic culture benefitted both him and the eastern half of the empire when he brought into effect a “liberation of the Hellas”, exempting Achaea and the Peloponnese from taxes. Upon his return, Nero acquired all manner of divine acclamations, “Nero Zeus the Liberator”, to name one among many others. On one side of this decision is a certain distaste from the Senate due to its removal of a large portion of income to Rome. On the other, however, was a huge increase in support for Nero from the lower classes, marvelling at his generosity.

And yet it cannot be denied that Nero was a man of few boundaries when it came to indulging a more extreme lifestyle. And it is in these indulgences that he simply happened to be on the wrong side of the authors of history. His obsession with art leaked into his political life, ­spawning a number of Hellenistic values being put upon the Senate and people of Rome. The most prominent example of this is the quinquennial Neroneia he introduced to Rome in AD60: a series of artistic competitions, modelling on Homeric contests. This slow merging of Hellenistic and Roman values in the public domain was unsurprisingly disturbing for the traditionalist Senate. While leaking into some parts of his political attitude, his love of art simply replaced and removed other aspects of politics. His apparent lack of reaction initially to Vindex’s revolt in AD68-69 shows his mental separation from some aspects of policy, and a reliance upon others – in this case probably Verginius Rufus, a nearby commander of an army – to solve the issues which he held no concern for.

So why do people love to dramatise his life so often? Part of the problem when looking at Nero’s life comes from the imaginations it seems to have captured. Recently, in Trier, there was an art exhibition using the theme of Nero’s death named Lust and Crime, a rather theatrical name intended to pull in those with less interest. In the same way that Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra twisted the love between its two protagonists to romanticise their situation, this art installation reveals representations of Nero’s life that have twisted him into a figure of mythical debauchery.

The fact of the matter remains, however, that we will never truly know Nero. We can only get two extreme accounts of him-one supportive, and one, more substantial, damning him. Though recently it has been accepted that the truth about Nero’s reign remains hidden somewhere between those two accounts, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly where. Modern romanticising of his reign has not helped this, and many documentaries and books on his reign merely act to obscure the balance between the two opinions. Nero has inspired so much artistic interest in his modern audience that his supposed final words, “what an artist dies in me”, take on a completely different meaning. Though an artist died with Nero, his death generated more works of art and imagination than he could possibly have wished for, transforming his rule into one of mythical proportions.

Written by Oscar Brierley

Reflecting on the definition of ‘cultural heritage’

I took Dr Heather Hunter-Crawley’s Greek and Roman Art and Architecture module last year and was taken on an art historical journey, studying the progression of art from Bronze Age Greece to the Byzantine era. One of the ways in which this module was brilliant was the way in which the students were taught how to ‘look’ at art, which isn’t as passive an experience as one may think (similarly to Alastair Sooke’s ‘Treasures of Ancient Greece’, a BBC Production which I highly recommend watching if you are interested in the art history of the ancient world). Heather teaches her students not only the historical significance of sculptures, pottery, and paintings – the Pergamum altar, and the Jockey of Artemision to name a couple of my favourites – but the ways in which they can be read and interpreted. However, while I could easily continue to write about the merits of this module that is not the purpose of this post. Instead I wish to write about a guest lecture given by Dr Nigel Pollard which was organised by Heather at the end of this module.

One focus of Nigel’s lecture was on the Hague Convention in 1954 which passed the Act on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, a law which made it a crime against human rights to damage or destroy a site or cultural or historical importance. The catalyst for this was the extensive damage done to sites during the Second World War, for example Coventry Cathedral or Pompeii. Now, this Act is enforced by groups such as the International Committee of the Blue Shield, which protect sites under threat and seeks to gain the co-operation of governments or other bodies that can help to implement this.


Figure1: Artemision Jockey. National Archaeological Museum, Athens

However, Nigel noted that while this law is commendable, it is not always enforced (of course some sites are easier to protect than others), and there is a global disparity in the definition of ‘cultural heritage’. For example in 2003 the Iraq National Museum in Bagdad was looted as a result of American forces not stepping into the security vacuum after the Taliban were pushed out. Also when comparing the number of UNESCO sites in Europe and Middle Eastern States the difference is quite staggering; 499 and 81 respectively (I use this example as Nigel’s lecture focused predominantly on the Middle East and the West). This to me suggests a dominant interest in Western sites and Western ideas of culture, perhaps at the expense of those elsewhere.  

Reflecting back on this lecture I can’t help but notice that in seeking to protect sites of cultural heritage, we are simultaneously potentially making them more vulnerable to cultural conflict. In the past, sites of cultural or historical importance have frequently been targeted by opposition parties as a means to demonstrate another culture’s vulnerability or lack of permanence in the world. In 25/24 BCE the Kushites invaded the province of Egypt (now North Sudan), and in a fit of triumph against Augustus, emperor of Rome, they severed a bronze head of Augustus (see figure 2), which they took back to Meroë and buried under the steps of their victory monument. Not only did this demonstrate resistance to Rome as it was never returned, but this symbolically showed the Kushites’ strength and perhaps cultural superiority over the Roman Empire, and would have evoked a sense of disgust from the Romans (if they knew that this had happened). 

With this in mind, it is perhaps not particularly surprising that cultural sites are damaged now, especially with Palmyra in mind (August 2015), and ongoing cultural conflict in the Middle East.

It is noticeable that the West has become increasingly desensitised to the atrocities that have been going on in the Middle East; some may go so far to say as disinterested. Therefore, destroying a place that we have so clearly stated is important to our culture seems an obvious way to attract our attention. Equally though, this Western interest in ancient sites has fuelled the selling of looted antiquities eg. from Apamea. Does that mean that the West is indirectly violating the 1954 Hague Convention?

While I agree that it is important to continue to protect sites with historical importance, I do think that we should be aware that there is a cultural disparity in the consensus in terms of ‘cultural significance’ which may have potentially caused conflict between groups of people. I also would argue that when people set out to protect these sites, it is necessary to be aware that increasing their publicity can have a negative impact. This is a diverse and complex topic, one which ultimately has no ideal solution.

Written by Minette Matthews, 2nd Year Ancient History Student

Here are a couple of links if you are interested in reading more on this:

http://ancbs.org/cms/en/about-us/about-icbs

http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13637&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

 

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