Ancient World Seminar

Erechtheion, Acropolis, Athens
(Photograph: Andrew Stephenson)

The Ancient World Seminar is held at 1-2 pm usually on Monday during semester for presentations and discussions of papers from students and academic staff on all aspects of the ancient world.


Brent Davis:


Arts West North Wing, Room 353 (Interactive Cinema Space) unless noted otherwise.

2018 Programme

26 February

Professor Peter Attema, University of Groningen

Life and Death at the Gates of Rome: Recent Results of Settlement and Mortuary Archaeology at Protohistorical Crustumerium

Crustumerium is a Latin settlement located on the left bank of the Tiber, at only a few kilometers from the heart of ancient Rome.  Founded in the mid 9th century BC, it grew into a sizeable town during the 7th and 6th centuries, only to be abandoned at the turn of the 6th c. BC., allegedly under pressure of expanding Rome.  Archaeological excavations and surveys and, unfortunately, also looting practices, have, since Crustumerium’s discovery in the late 1970s, revealed an extremely rich burial record around the settlement as well as detailed information on the chronology, nature and extent of the settlement itself and its rural catchment.  The presentation will, apart from a concise overview of work done since the 1970s, focus on the recent investigations carried out since 2006 by a joint team of the Groningen Institute of Archeology and the Archeological Superintendency of Rome.  Especially the discovery of a huge artifical mound, presently under excavation, will receive attention, as this monumental structure forms a key element in our understanding of the settlement and mortuary history of Crustumerium.

5 March

Chris Faraone, University of Chicago

Protection against Fear of Punishment from Hecate Ereschigal: Another Look at a Magical Recipe in Michigan (PGM LXX 4-19)

A complicated recipe in a late-antique Greek magical handbook in Ann Arbor describes how one can avert or escape fear.  Its rubric is usually translated as “[Charms of] Hecate Ereschigal against fear of punishment” on the assumption that Hecate Ereschigal is a helpful deity.  Ereschigal (i.e. Ereshkigal) was, however, a fearful underworld divinity in Babylonia, who punishes the dead, and both Hecate and Ereschigal (sometimes also accompanied by Persephone) appear together as agents of punishment on Roman-period curse tablets and in magical recipes for similar kinds of curses.  I will argue that the sequence of protective speech-acts and gestures proposed by the recipe closely reflect those learned or performed by people during initiations into a mystery cult and that the punishment to be feared was originally in the underworld and in the afterlife.

6 March (Tuesday)

Arts West North Wing, Room 553

Dr Bernice Jones

Aegean Haute Couture and its Interconnections in the Near East and Egypt: Deciphering the Dress Codes

This lecture considers Minoan and Mycenaean dress within the broader context of the ancient Near East and Egypt.  As valuable as precious metals, a significant commodity of trade, luxurious in design and decoration, Minoan dress rivaled that of its Near Eastern and Egyptian neighbors.  This study traces the impact of Minoan clothing on its neighbors and finds that, among other things, some facets of Minoan ritual dress, and thus aspects of Minoan religion, originated in the Near East, were adopted by the Mycenaeans and continued in the Homeric epics.  By considering Aegean dress within the Eastern Mediterranean milieu, it’s possible to identify indigenous costume innovations and transmissions and transformations from the Near East and Egypt.

Since ancient Aegean textiles and garments have not survived, the study compiles a typology of the corpus of garments represented in sculpture, frescoes and glyptic to glean evidence for construction.  It further considers the manufacturing techniques of extant Egyptian clothes, comparable images of ancient Near Eastern garments, textile manufacture on the warp-weighted loom and dress documented in Mycenaean Linear B, Greek and Near Eastern texts.  The combined evidence is buttressed by experiments in replicating Aegean and related Near Eastern garments as well as the weave structures of patterned cloths and bands.  The replicated clothes are arranged on live models who assume the various positions of the clothed figures in the frescoes and sculptures they imitate, thereby bringing the ancient figures to life.

12 March

Elizabeth Pemberton, La Trobe University

Small and Miniature Vases from Ancient Corinth: Does Size Matter?

Small and miniature vases have been neglected in archaeological reports until fairly recently.  They are not attractive, usually without any interesting decoration and very conservative in shape.  But in Corinth they number in the tens of thousands, mostly from sanctuaries but also graves and domestic contexts.  I will summarise the major shapes looking at examples from three Corinthian sanctuaries and also graves of the North Cemetery.  After this survey, I will propose some reasons why miniature vases are so important, citing several ancient authors who give us clues as to their meaning and function.

19 March

Jacob Heywood, University of Melbourne

Painted Minoan Larnakes: The Context and Significance of Funerary Iconography on Late Bronze Age Crete

The Late Minoan III period on Crete (ca. 1430-1100 BCE) was characterised by substantial socio-political discontinuity following the decline of the Minoan palaces. Alongside island-wide changes in material culture, the period was marked by a clear shift in mortuary practices, which included an expansion and re-invention of the pre-existing tradition of burial in clay containers known as ‘larnakes’. Unlike earlier examples, many LM III larnakes are adorned with rich abstract painted compositions. These draw upon a wide range of floral, faunal, cultic, and geometric motifs, many already well-established in Cretan iconographic traditions.

Scholarly examination of larnax decoration has typically focused on reconstruction specific elements of Cretan eschatological belief, while other potentially-important aspects of its practical and ideological role within the context of mortuary activity have received minimal attention. This presentation discusses the relationship between larnax decoration and the broader context of mortuary innovation across Crete, and will also consider its potential mnemonic value within communal funerary events.

26 March

Peter Mountford, University of Melbourne

The Question of the Anonymity of the Elegiae in Maecenatem and the Consolatio ad Liviam

The two Elegies on Maecenas were initially included as one elegy in the minor works of Virgil in a ninth century catalogue from the monastery at Murbach.  Virgil, however, had died eleven years before Maecenas and could not have described his death, which is the focus of the second elegy.  Various other poets of the period have been suggested, but no-one has successfully proved who the author was.  Some commentators, such as Dyer (1894) and Levi (2012), dismiss the elegies as of little value.  This paper argues that there are good reasons for concluding that the author was none other that Augustus himself.  If this argument has validity, it has implications for the authorship of the Consolatio ad Liviam, as both the Duffs (1934) and Schoonhoven (1980) suggest that the author of that poem is the same as that of the elegies.  This paper argues that there is evidence in the Consolatio that this is not the case.  It suggests instead that the author can be found elsewhere.

9 April

Danqing Zhao, University of Melbourne

Foreigners and Propaganda: War and Peace in the Imperial Images of Augustus and Qin Shi Huangdi (MA Completion Seminar)

This presentation will comparatively examine how the first emperors of Rome and China, Augustus and Qin Shi Huangdi, manipulated the portrayals of foreigners and ‘barbarians’ to generate their imperial image.  By analysing the Res Gestae of Augustus and the stele inscriptions of Qin Shi Huangdi, I will argue that the two emperors’ presentation of foreigners in their propaganda was not simply limited to aggrandising their military persona.  Even in the context of war and peace, both the Princeps and the First Emperor utilised foreigners as a way to elevate their moral character and display their superhuman connection to the divine.

16 April

Robyn Whitaker, University of Melbourne

Word Versus Image: Agonistic Ekphrasis of the Divine in First-century Christian Literature

The biblical Apocalypse of John (Book of Revelation) is known for its vivid visions and anti-iconographic stance.  This lecture examines the use of ekphrasis in the Apocalypse in the context of other epiphanic literature of the period.  Ekphrasis becomes a way for the author to make present a deity perceived to be absent and, more specifically, to compete with the iconography of the Imperial cult.  In doing so, I will show how the author participates in the agonistic synkrisis between plastic art and poetry that was a widespread topos in Greco-Roman literature and one that particularly focussed on how best to represent the gods.

23 April

Andrew Connor, Monash University

What Does Religious Persecution Look Like?  Reassessing the Confiscation of Temple Property in Roman Egypt

The wholesale confiscation of land, businesses and other property belonging to the temples of Egypt by Roman officials, starting under Augustus, generally plays a central role in our constructions of the religious and economic landscapes of Roman Egypt.  But what is the evidence for such a massive program of confiscation?  In this talk, I will survey the surviving evidence—papyri, inscriptions and literary—adduced in support of confiscations, as well as placing these texts in their wider historic, generic and rhetorical contexts.  Finally, I will discuss some well-attested instances of religious persecution in the pre-modern world and suggest some ways in which these programs of repression or persecution (as the Roman attacks on Egyptian religious property are supposed to be) appear in the documentary, literary or archaeological records.

30 April

Tim Parkin, University of Melbourne

Just How Spaced Out Were Roman Children?  Demographic Control and Maternal Health in Antiquity

As part of a conference later this year on maternity, I have been asked to speak on the topic of ‘birth spacing’ – i.e., the interval in time between the date of a live birth and the start of the mother’s next pregnancy – in the ancient world. The measure is an important one in demographic terms, as the length of the interval between pregnancies can have significant effects on both fertility and mortality levels, but it can also be quite revealing in social and cultural terms as well, not least in terms of the ‘control’ of women’s fecundity and health. It is also a measure that in historical terms is particularly difficult to ascertain. In this talk I would like to present some initial and wide-ranging thoughts on this topic. In the process I shall also be raising a problem I have with Cicero.

7 May

Bengi Basak Selvi, University of Melbourne

Obsidian from Early Bronze Age Sos Höyük, Eastern Anatolia

14 May

Roslynne Bell, University of Melbourne

Augustus and the Temple of the Magna Mater (or: How Can I Ignore the God Next Door?)

21 May - National Archaeology Week

Gijs Tol, Jacob Heywood, Claudia Sagona, Giorgi Bedianashvili, Brent Davis, Madaline
Harris-Schober, Andrew Jamieson - University of Melbourne

From Rome to Syria: Snapshots of Recent Fieldwork by University of Melbourne Archaeologists

Past papers