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02/20/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Revisiting Harappan Iconography

Seals, Sealing and Tablets as Small Windows onto the Indus Valley Civilization

Marta Ameri

During the second half of the third millennium BC, the Harappan civilization covered an area of over one million square kilometers in South Asia, extending from the Afghan highlands to Western India. Excavations sites in modern-day India and Pakistan like Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, and Dholavira have shown that this impressive civilization was characterized by a shared material culture and extensive trade networks. A fascinating example of this shared material culture is the extensive corpus of miniature arts — seals, seal impressions and molded tablets — found at sites throughout the Greater Indus Valley. The iconography of the Harappan world embedded in these objects includes a number of iconic characters, scenes, and narratives. While there is no question that these images played an important role in the visual codification of Harappan culture, the fact that the Indus script remains undeciphered, paired with the lack of comparable iconography in contemporary or later contexts, poses significant challenges to their interpretation. This talk focuses on the role that seals, sealings and tablets play in codifying the visual vocabulary of the Harappan world and on how the imagery they bear may have conveyed information to an informed viewer.
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02/21/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

The Autobiographical Polis

Community and History in Classical and Hellenistic Greece

Daniel Tober

All communities tell stories about themselves. In literate communities, this historical consciousness manifests itself not only as cultural memory but also as local historiography. The ubiquity of the form is astonishing; whether the focalizer is polis or urbs, county or parish, state or nation, local history abounds. My talk, "The Autobiographical Polis," explores the phenomenon of local history in Classical and Hellenistic Greece, suggesting that the self-identity of a Greek community is reflected in the way its members construct narratives of the collective past.
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02/22/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Fragments of Greek Science in a Palimpsest from Bobbio

Alexander Jones

In 1819 Angelo Mai discovered that on several pages of an 8th century codex of Isidore of Seville's "Etymologies" in the Ambrosiana Library in Milan, the Latin text was written over partially effaced scientific texts in Greek. With the exception of Ptolemy's "Analemma," which we have in a 13th century Latin translation by William of Moerbeke, none of the Greek texts in the Milan palimpsest survive in any other copy, and their authors are unknown. This lecture will retrace the rather sad story of this manuscript, explore what we can learn from the texts, and consider the prospects of recovering more of them from the many pages that have so far been very incompletely transcribed.
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02/26/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Immortalizing Death at the Sanctuary of Orthia

Elite Traditions between East and West

Megan Daniels

The corpus of carved ivories from the sanctuary of Orthia at Sparta has often been invoked as evidence of religious and artistic interrelations between Sparta, Crete, and the Levant in the Iron Age. In this talk, I explore these long distance interrelations through the lens of shared ideologies of death operating amongst communities of elites across western Asia and the Aegean in the eighth to sixth centuries BCE. In particular, I examine a seemingly anomalous scene on two ivory plaques showing three figures mourning a deceased male and its mythical and ritual place within the larger votive repertoire from the sanctuary of Orthia.
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02/27/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Film Screening: "The Poor Man of Nippur" in the Original Language

"The Poor Man of Nippur" is a comic folk tale in Babylonian language. The main manuscript is a clay tablet from 701 BC found at the site of Sultantepe, in South-East Turkey. It probably stems from an ancient scribal school. The story is 120 lines long, laid out in verse. Recounted by a third-party narrator, it tells of the three-fold revenge which one Gimil-Ninurta wreaks on the local Mayor, after the latter wrongs him. In 2017 the story was a “set text” for Cambridge Assyriology students, who thought it would be interesting to dramatize it (in the original language, of course). The project grew in complexity and ambition, until it ended up as a short film — probably the first of its kind – directed by current ISAW Visiting Research Scholar Martin Worthington. English subtitles are provided.
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03/01/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Containers, Commodities, and Greek Colonization in the Mediterranean of the 8th Century BCE

Antonios Kotsonas

The 8th century BCE is punctuated by milestones in the history of the ancient Mediterranean and by a remarkable intensification of connections, from the Near East to Iberia. There are numerous interrelated processes and cultural conditions that may have shaped this development, but one factor that seems to have influenced the Mediterranean sphere was colonization, which mobilized Phoenicians and Greeks to establish new communities overseas, and thus to reshape the cultural and economic landscape of the entire region. The lecture revisits the traditional discourse on the economics of Greek colonization and argues in support of “commercial”—as opposed to “agrarian”— stimuli, using evidence of transport containers and the commodities they contained, the latter being the “soft things” that often leave no trace in the archaeological record.
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03/05/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Beyond Thucydides

New Approaches to Athenian Imperialism

Eric Driscoll

Drawing on overlooked genres of evidence and new theoretical approaches, my research illuminates how the fifth-century Athenian empire was not a stable, monolithic entity but, rather, a bundle of systems and processes that interacted and competed in complex ways. Athenian imperialism, I argue, attempted to control the collision of autonomous religious and economic systems and to subsume them within an imperial politics; but in so doing, it left itself open to contestation as well as accommodation in the languages of those systems. In this lecture, I explore some of the concrete domains in which the meaning of the Athenian empire was created and contested.
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03/08/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

ARCE Lecture: Dirty Pictures for a Dangerous Goddess

The Turin Erotic Papyrus

Ann Macy Roth

Papyrus 55001 in Turin's Museo Egizio, often called the "Turin Erotic Papyrus" has long been a subject of intense Egyptological interest despite its rather fragmentary state. Almost certainly the product of the community of royal artists at the village of Deir el-Medina on the west bank at Thebes, it dates to the later New Kingdom period, probably to the reign of Ramesses III (roughly 1184-1153 BCE). Two thirds of its length shows a sequence of twelve couples in sexual poses while the remaining third depicts a wide variety of animals engaged in role-reversed or anthropomorphic activities. Diverse interpretations of the meaning and social function of the papyrus have been proposed, ranging from cosmological to pornographic to cautionary, although most scholars seem to agree that it was intended for male edification and titillation. This X-rated talk will propose a new interpretation of the social function of the papyrus and suggest a rather different audience, pointing to a reinterpretation of ancient Egyptian erotica more generally.
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03/15/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Beauty Can be Dangerous to Your Health

George Saliba

The talk will address the circumstances under which beautifully illustrated manuscripts could become dangerous to your health. While the production of illuminated manuscripts certainly enhanced the beauty – and thus the price of the manuscript – this beauty almost always came at a price. At times this price dangerously involved sacrificing essential part(s) of a text in order to accommodate the illumination. Furthermore beautifully illuminated manuscripts usually involved at least two people: one to copy the text, the other, and more artistically talented one, to produce the illuminations, for it is indeed very rare to find an illuminated manuscript that was produced by one person who could perform both tasks. This cooperative effort was not always risk free either. This to say nothing of manuscripts that were translated from one language to another as was the case with most Greek manuscripts that were translated into Arabic. The talk will demonstrate how some of those intricate problems involved in the very nature of the production of illuminated manuscripts came to impact the final content of the text thus exposing the consumer of the text to real danger. The talk will demonstrate how some of those intricate problems involved in the very nature of the production of illuminated manuscripts came to impact the final content of the text thus exposing the consumer of the text to real danger.
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03/20/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Unscripted: The Visuality of Monumental Script in Ptolemaic Egypt

Emily Cole

In this paper, I will discuss the creative ways that individuals wove Demotic into traditional Hieroglyphic texts using a group of funerary stelae from the Ptolemaic cemeteries at Panopolis, modern Akhmim. These stelae created different visual experiences for audience members, dependent on their level of literacy. By drawing on both the textual and iconographic elements on the stelae, I will show that the individual agency of the person or family commissioning these memorials offered a means of innovating within the traditional realm of Egyptian religious representation. The updating of older features on these stelae with new approaches highlights the broader effect of changes to mortuary practice at this time, and the struggle to guarantee the religious efficacy of ancient rituals. Through this material, I will assess how individuals modified the visuality of both text and image on monuments of personal commemoration to accommodate new modes of interaction in the Hellenistic world.
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03/21/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Rostovtzeff Lecture Series: The Sky over Ancient Iraq: Babylonian Astronomy in Context

Lecture I: Babylonian Astronomy: Interpreting an Ancient Science

Mathieu Ossendrijver

In the first lecture the geographical and historical contours of Babylonian astronomy are sketched, the cuneiform sources are introduced, and the methodological framework for interpreting Babylonian astronomy as an ancient science is discussed. Babylonian astronomy takes us to ancient Iraq, where thousands of cuneiform tablets with an astronomical content have come to light since the end of the nineteenth century. What can we learn by studying these tablets? While early interpretations were strongly shaped by modern mathematics and astronomy, the focus of much current research has shifted to uncovering the conceptual framework of Babylonian astronomy and exploring its practical, institutional, political, religious, and social context. In order to achieve this, methodological considerations from the wider historiography and sociology of science are increasingly applied.
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03/28/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Rostovtzeff Lecture Series: The Sky over Ancient Iraq: Babylonian Astronomy in Context

Lecture II: Keeping the Watch: Babylonian Astronomical Diaries and More

Mathieu Ossendrijver

The second lecture will focus on the astronomical diaries and related texts, which are observational reports that emerged in Babylonia during the seventh century BCE and continued to be written for at least six centuries. Apart from astronomical phenomena, market prices, weather phenomena, river levels and historical events were also reported in these texts. They provide unique opportunities for reconstructing observational practices and the predictive methods to which these texts turn out to be intricately linked.
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