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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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02/08/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

AIA Lecture: Greeks in the North

The Excavation and Survey of a Trading Port in Aegean Thrace

Nathan Arrington

Note: We are now fully booked for this event and are only accepting names for the wait-list. Ancient Thrace was a land of opportunity, adventure, and trouble. This talk presents the results of a Greek-American archaeological expedition that has explored a large trading port on the Thracian sea, south of modern Komotini. Established by Greek colonists in the 7th or 6th cen. BC, the settlement participated in a north Aegean trade network. The talk will present the history of occupation at the site; the evidence for daily life in the Classical and Roman periods; and the site’s contributions to economic, political, and social history. Excavation and survey have uncovered important information on the settlement and its changing relationship to the wider landscape and to the environment.
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01/30/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Cutting Rome Down To Size

The Gentle Art of the Historical Summary

David Levene

Three-quarters of the monumental work of the Roman historian Livy (59 B.C.-A.D.17) is lost. The single most important source to enable us to reconstruct the contents of the missing volumes is a summary known as the "Periochae," composed in (probably) the 4th century A.D. This summary, reducing each volume of Livy to a single paragraph, appears on its surface a mechanical exercise. However, this lecture will show that a comparison of the "Periochae" of the surviving books with Livy's original work reveals many subtle alterations and distortions, which reflect a distinctive historical outlook on the part of the summarizer. Armed with this knowledge of the summarizer's techniques, we gain a clearer picture of the missing books for which the "Periochae" provides us with our primary evidence, and can refine our knowledge of the events of Roman history that Livy described in the books now lost.
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01/25/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

ARCE Lecture: My Violent King

War and Violence in Non-Royal Sources

Niv Allon

Representations of violence abound in ancient Egyptian art and texts, where the figure of the smiting king is one of the longest enduring images. Trampling the nine bows with every step or recounting his victories in far away territories, the king is featured as a victorious conqueror who defeats Egypt’s enemies with vigor and violence. Many of these representations belong, however, to the royal sphere, and this paper will explore New Kingdom tomb art, autobiographical texts, stelae, and other objects to consider the image of the violent king among the elite and its own concepts of violence.
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01/23/2018 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

NYU Shanghai Lecture: Fluid Fire

The Rise of Phlegm within the Chinese World

Natalie Köhle

Medical treatises of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) make constant reference to phlegm (tan 痰) as both cause and consequence of disease. Phlegm figures as a central, indispensable concept in the Chinese imagination of the body and its pathologies. Curiously, however, the Huangdi neijing 黃帝內經 (first cent. B.C.), the earliest and foundational classic of Chinese medicine, does not mention it at all. The rise to prominence of the discourse of phlegm represents one of the most important changes in Chinese medical theory after the classical period. What does this transformation mean, and how did it occur?
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12/14/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

ARCE Lecture: Tricks of the Trade

Scribal Creativity in Ancient Egypt

Emily Cole

While working in the per-ankh or "house of life" where vast repositories of manuscripts were kept, Egyptian scribes made every effort to transmit ancient knowledge through Egyptian history. Over the course of several millennia, these individuals were confronted with damaged papyri, misinterpreted passages, and language difficulties. In this talk, I will look at the tools that were developed by those ancient intellectuals to overcome those problems and preserve Egyptian cultural materials even in the face of foreign rule in the first millenniums BCE and CE.
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12/12/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

NYU Shanghai Lecture: Dreaming in Common

China ca. 300 BCE – 700 CE

Robert Campany

Around 500 BCE, the Ionian thinker Heraclitus is supposed to have said: “For those who are awake there is a single, common universe, whereas in sleep each person turns away into his own, private one.” This fragment captures what seems to be an uncontroversial, common-sense observation and a view of dreaming that is dominant in modernity. What I will argue in this talk is that views of dreaming recorded or implied in a wide variety of texts in early and medieval China offer a strong contrast to this view of dreaming as private. There, the very experience of dreaming itself was understood as an encounter with someone or something other than oneself.
12/07/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

The Silent Fall of an Empire in 1200 BCE

Lorenzo d'Alfonso

The events causing the end of the Hittite empire at the end of the Late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean are still unknown, but while its causes have been widely discussed, little to no attention has been devoted to the lack of memory of it, as well as the lack of a clear attempt by later polities to claim the legacy of the Great Kings of Hatti. The talk will focus on the perceptions of the fall of the empire, and the non-uniform trajectories of its aftermath. The lack of central power allowed local groups to develop several political experiments. By the 9th century these were transformed into regional monarchies. Phrygia and Urartu are widely known to the great public. The talk will present evidence in support of the existence of a third one: the Land of Tuali.
12/06/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

NYU Shanghai Lecture: From Scripture to Literature

The Culture of Travel and the Making of Early Medieval Chinese Societies

Zhao Lu

From the first century BCE to the second century CE, China experienced a wax and wane of zeal for the so-called “Confucian” Classics. For example, in 72 CE, the court sacrificed to Confucius and his seventy-two disciples. But by 165 CE, the sacrifice was to Laozi 老子, supposedly a Daoist figure. While Yang Xiong 揚雄 (53 BCE–18 CE) believed that rhapsody writing was a minor and childish skill compared to classicism, Cao Pi 曹丕 (187–226 CE) two hundred years later claimed that literary writing was a grand, everlasting accomplishment, as opposed to the narrow-minded practice of interpreting the classics. What caused these seemingly opposite phenomena and attitudes, and was there any underlying relationship between them? This talk will explore how in the first two centuries CE China, classicism encouraged people to travel and in turn shaped their social relationships, material lives, and certain intellectual trends such as erudite learning and literary writing.
12/05/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

The History of Eighth-century Khotan as Seen from Khotanese Documents

Zhan Zhang

Khotan is an oasis on the southern rim of the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang, China. Viewed as an entrepôt along the “Silk Road,” Khotan is famed as a source of high-quality jade (in China) and musk (in Iran). Apart from sporadic mentioning in Chinese historical sources, however, we know next to nothing about the history of Khotan in pre-Islamic times. Fortunately, explorations and excavations in Xinjiang in the late 19th and early 20th centuries yielded a large number of manuscripts written in Khotanese, an Eastern Iranian language akin to modern Pashto in Afghanistan. These manuscripts, many of which are administrative documents directly from the offices of Khotanese officials, open up for us a rare window into the everyday life in Khotan during the late eighth century, when Chinese, Arabs, Tibetans, and Turks were all vying for supremacy in Central Asia.
11/30/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

The Prehistory of Crete

Malcolm H. Wiener

The lecture will first summarize quickly the history of Crete from the first known settlement in Crete c. 6900/6600 BC at Knossos to the collapse at the end of the Bronze Age c. 1200–1150 BC and the population nadir c. 1025 BC. We will then return to c. 1600 BC in order to focus on the nature and role of Knossian-controlled Minoan Crete and its seaborne empire at its zenith, considering among many other aspects the dependence of Minoan Crete on overseas sources for the copper and tin needed to create the bronze of the Bronze Age, the nature of the colonies, trading stations and ports of call required, and the cultural impact of Minoan Crete on the Mycenaean civilization of mainland Greece. Please note: This lecture is now fully subscribed; we are no longer accepting RSVPs or names for our wait-list.
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11/28/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Monumental Art and Political Change in Ancient Syria

Alessandra Gilibert

In the 12th century BCE, when the dissolution of the Hittite Empire released the Eastern Mediterranean communities into times of profound change, the polities of ancient Syria began experimenting with monumental art on public display. Exploring new communicative practices, local rulers decorated city gates and ceremonial squares with colossal statues and cycles of bas-reliefs with an increasingly manifest political content. In doing so, they initiated a unique tradition of public art that lasted five centuries and exerted a significant influence on neighboring regions. This talk will focus on the city of Carchemish between 1200 and 700 BCE and explore how monumental art was used to reinforce political practices, negotiate power struggles, express changing civic identities, and challenge the status quo.
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