Ancient World Seminar

Trajan's Column, Rome
(Photograph: Andrew Stephenson)

The Ancient World Seminar is held on Mondays from 1:00-2:00 during semester for presentations and discussions of papers from students and academic staff on all aspects of the ancient world.


For information on the seminar series or to be added to the email list please contact Dr Andrew Turner (


The seminars will either be held live in Babel G-03 (Lower theatre) or else on Zoom — this naturally includes those by speakers who are interstate or overseas.  We will also endeavour to ensure that for the live lectures a direct Zoom feed is provided to list subscribers who are unable to attend in person.  Meeting details will be emailed in the week before each seminar.  For further details please email Dr Andrew Turner (

2022 Programme

14 March - Babel G-03 (Lower theatre)

Peter Mountford, The University of Melbourne

Caesuras and Sense Pauses in Virgil’s Hexameters: An Examination of Passages in the Aeneid

Much teaching of the scansion of Virgil’s hexameters has centred on the written versions of the Aeneid.  Teaching has focussed on the main caesura in the third foot as the sense pause in the line e.g. Nussbaum (1986).  The scansion of all the complete lines of the Aeneid suggests that, while the sense pause and the caesura in the third foot do coincide, this is the case in less than half the lines.  Quintilian (Inst. 11.3.35-8) gives us a brief insight into the way in which pauses were used in reading the Aeneid. This and the presenter’s scansion of all the lines suggest that Virgil displays great flexibility in the use of pauses.  This paper examines a small number of passages to illustrate that this is the case. The paper suggests that students should be encouraged to consider the way in which the poem would be delivered orally rather than focussing on the written form.  The paper also aims to show Virgil’s mastery of the hexameter.

Peter Mountford spent his working life teaching Classics in schools in the UK and Melbourne.  He was head of Classics at Melbourne Grammar School for the last ten years before early retirement in 2002.  He then undertook an MA at the University of Melbourne (completed in 2005) on Issues of Leadership in Virgil’s Aeneid.  This was followed by a part-time PhD at the University of Melbourne on the topic ‘Maecenas and his Circle of Poets: An Etruscan Presence in Augustan Rome.’  His doctorate was awarded in 2016.  During this period ne lectured in Latin and Classical Studies at both the University of Melbourne and Monash University.  In 2019 Routledge published his biography of Maecenas.  He has been involved in various roles for the VCAA in both Latin and Classical Studies for over forty years.  He has been chief examiner and chief assessor for Latin for many years.  In 2018 he rewrote the VCE Study Design for Latin.

21 March

Frederik Vervaet, The University of Melbourne

Constitutional Innovation During the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE): Some Unintended Consequences

The severe crises and challenges of the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE) prompted the traditionally conservative Roman Senate to introduce several institutional innovations, some ad hoc, for a single purpose, others eventually becoming structural fixtures of the republican machinery of state. This paper endeavors to single out and discuss those novelties that would have significant if unintended consequences in the late Republic, as they served as precedents for some of the most contested extraordinary empowerments arrogated by a number of autocratic strongmen, from Sulla Felix to Augustus Caesar.

Frederik Vervaet received his PhD from Ghent University as a Research Fellow of the Research Foundation - Flanders. After graduation he moved to UC Berkeley where he spent the academic years 2002-2004 as Francqui Fellow of the Belgian American Educational Foundation and Lecturer in the Departments of Classics (Fall 2003) and History (Spring 2004). This was followed by a three-year stint as Assistant Professor back at Ghent University, including a term at Oxford as Visiting Scholar at Wolfson College and Research Associate of the Classics Centre. He joined Melbourne's School of Philosophical and Historical Studies in June 2007, where he was promoted to Senior Lecturer in May 2011 and in October 2015 to Associate Professor. Amongst his many outstanding achievements here, one of the most significant was the award in 2020 of an ARC DP grant for the project Augustus and the Roman Triumph: A Study in Creeping Authoritarianism.

For the Zoom link please email Dr Andrew Turner (

28 March

Emily Poelina-Hunter, LaTrobe University

Ngayoo Wiliyanoo: I am the Freshwater Mussel

This project merges two of my academic research fields: Aboriginal studies and archaeology. It aims to honour my totemic responsibilities, as the freshwater mussel (wiliyanoo in Nyikina) from the Fitzroy River (Mardoowarra) is my totem. Gaining the knowledge to understand and protect wiliyanoo is an important cultural aspect of totemic relationships and an individual as well as communal responsibility. Because wiliyanoo is my totem, I cannot eat it, and I have a responsibility to ensure its survival for the next generation, just as my family and Elders have done before me. The Ngayoo Wiliyanoo project will investigate how freshwater mussels are used by Aboriginal Nyikina people. When I say ‘used’ I mean: a) how and why they were harvested, cooked, and eaten; b) how and why the shells were used in cultural identity making – through using them as adornments (e.g. by piercing the shells and stringing them into necklaces), and if the shells were used as tools for body modification like hair-cutting, shaving, scarification, piercing, or blood-letting for medicinal and ceremonial reasons; and c) how and why the shells were used to process animal skins and vegetation. By reviewing the existing literature on the archaeological findings of freshwater mussel use in other Aboriginal communities in Australia, I hope to create a methodology for applying similar techniques to wiliyanoo research in Nyikina country in the Kimberley, Western Australia.

Dr Emily Poelina-Hunter is currently a Lecturer in the Aboriginal Studies discipline at La Trobe University, Melbourne. She applies Indigenous Standpoint Theory to her interdisciplinary research, and is passionate about decolonisation and reconciliation, recently becoming a member of the Reconciliation Victoria Board. Dr Poelina-Hunter has a background in classical archaeology, and her PhD thesis specialised in Cycladic sculptures (from the Aegean Early Bronze Age) and their capacity to reflect ancient tattooing and body modification practices. On graduating in December 2019, she became the third Aboriginal Australian to achieve a PhD in archaeology.

For the Zoom link please email Dr Andrew Turner (

4 April (via zoom)

Joseph Lehner, University of Sydney

Return to Cape Gelidonya and New Insights into Bronze Age Maritime Cultures of the Mediterranean

The ship that sank at Cape Gelidonya (Turkey) ca. 1200 BC is one of only three known wrecks dating to the Late Bronze Age, though this was an era of intensive overseas exchange in the Mediterranean. The shipwreck was among the first to be scientifically excavated, when in 1960 George Bass announced to the world the exciting discoveries he made. Newer discoveries at Cape Gelidonya have now shed new light onto this important site, and cutting-edge scientific analyses of the cargo now gives us brand new insight into Bronze Age technologies and trade networks. Even more, we get a view into the life of a maritime metal at the end of the Bronze Age when the Bronze Age empires of the Mediterranean and Near East experienced significant upheaval, and societies more broadly reorganized into a mosaic of novel social and political forms. This presentation places the Cape Gelidonya shipwreck in its cultural and historical context, revealing how production, transportation, and trade are linked in maritime cultures of this crucial time period and what new problems now emerge in the study of ancient societies in this dynamic region.

Joseph (Seppi) Lehner is an anthropological archaeologist who specializes in early complex societies of southwestern Asia and a DECRA Fellow at the Department of Archaeology at The University of Sydney. As an affiliated scholar of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Seppi is an assistant director of the Cape Gelidonya Project and coordinator of the associated archaeometallurgy program. He finished his PhD at the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and is a past Alexander von Humboldt German Chancellor Fellow at the University of Tübingen and a Senior Fellow at the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations at Koç University in Istanbul. By adapting and developing new methods in materials science and geochemistry, his work explores the development of early economies, trade, and technology, in particular the innovations and development of metallurgy. After starting his first field work in the North American Arctic, Seppi has worked across the Near East, northeast Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, and India. He currently co-directs fieldwork projects.

For the Zoom link please email Dr Andrew Turner (

11 April (6 pm via zoom)

Gustavo Vivas García, Universidad de La Laguna

Ronald Syme: The Historian, the Man, and His ‘Lack’ of Method

At the age of sixteen, the young Ronald Syme  contracted a severe case of the measles and feared he would lose his eyesight; indeed, he suffered partial loss of vision in his left eye due to the illness. As a result, he became determined to memorize as much information as possible – in fact, anything he read at all – since the incident scarred him with the fear that he would lose his eyesight altogether. Syme's prodigious memory is one of his defining traits and is frequently touched upon. Throughout his life, his quest for precision in the wealth of information provided in his articles and case studies, aided by his photographic memory, was one of the permanent features of his particular way of perceiving and writing History. This talk aims to be a journey through the vital and academic trajectory of a scholar who has influenced, like few others, the way in which we write and analyze the history of ancient Rome today.

Gustavo A. Vivas García holds an M.A. in Ancient History (Universidad Autónoma of Madrid) and a PhD at La Laguna University (Canary Islands. Spain). He has been teaching part-time in that University since 2015. His PhD has become a monograph, published by the University of Barcelona. His M.A. thesis dealt with the political role of the elite women (e.g. Octavia and Cleopatra), during the triumviral period and has been published as a monograph. He has researched  specially on the social and political history of the Late Republic and Early Roman Empire, and in the history of Classics and Ancient History.

For the Zoom link please email Dr Andrew Turner (

2 May

Donna Storey, The University of Melbourne

Here at the Borderland: Exploring Pre and Post Fascist Use of romanità in Italian Political Propaganda

From the placement of the Ara Pacis along the Tiber near the Mausoleo di Augusto, to replica bronze statues of Caesar and Augustus along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, to the imposing Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana (the ‘Square Colosseum’) in the EUR district, it is easy to spot visual representations of Italian Fascist use of romanità when wandering around Rome. Additionally, during his time as the dictatorial Italian Prime Minister, Mussolini also utilised ancient Rome in speeches, education, public works, and particularly in rhetoric surrounding the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, and the Fascist quest to create a new Roman Empire. Everywhere, and just about everything, had the touch of romanità during the ventennio fascista, or the twenty years of Fascist rule.

Where did this Fascist fixation with romanità come from? This seminar examines the development of romanità in the fifteen years prior to Mussolini taking power in 1922. In particular, it will focus on northern Italy and irredentist Ettore Tolomei, who demonstrated a seemingly endless obsession with Drusus and of using romanità in propaganda to firstly, justify the annexation of South Tyrol to Italy from Austria, and secondly, once that had occurred after World War One, to undertake a forced Italianisation on the mainly German speaking population. The seminar will explore whether or not Tolomei can be considered a predecessor of, and therefore influence on, the Fascist use of romanità, or whether Mussolini and Tolomei jointly seized on the romanità concept to separately further their distinct ideological ambitions.

Donna Storey is a PhD candidate at The University of Melbourne, examining fascist and pre-fascist use of romanità in Italian political propaganda, between the years 1906 – 1925. Her research examines the manner in which romanità was utilised to connect the politics, structure and society of ancient Rome with modern Italy so as to justify ambitions of territorial expansion and cultural domination. Donna currently works part time as a librarian in the Classics Library at Melbourne and is also a lawyer, having recently established her own law firm together with her husband Matthew.

For the Zoom link please email Dr Andrew Turner (

9 May (6 pm via zoom)

Dan Zhao, The University of Cambridge

Politicising Slavery and Manumission in Rome and China: A Comparison of Augustus and Wang Mang

Between 17 BCE and 9 CE, Augustus promulgated several laws regulating and restricting the manumission of slaves and reforming various aspects of the post-manumission relationship between freed slaves and their former owners: Lex Iunia [Norbana] (~17 BCE), Lex Fufia Caninia (2 BCE), Lex Aelia Sentia (4 CE), and Lex Papia Poppaea (9 CE). Exactly why Augustus wished to restrict the freeing of slaves is indeed perplexing, and nearly every dedicated study on this topic has produced a different understanding of these puzzling reforms. Theories ranging from demographic, economic, and ideological have all been raised. However, none of these competing theories has so far dominated our understanding of the Augustan manumission laws.

Around the same time on the other side of the world, the Chinese emperor Wang Mang (r. 9-23 CE), a usurper and sole emperor of the short-lived Xin dynasty, also issued an edict on freeing slaves. In contrast to Augustus, however, the famous edict of 9 CE forcefully condemned and outlawed slavery. This paper will examine why ancient Rome and China diverged so drastically on the issue of slavery and make some preliminary observations on the politics of freeing slaves in these two empires. By examining the political aspects of slavery and manumission with a comparative approach, this paper hopes to raise a new interpretation of the enigmatic Augustan manumission laws.

Dan originally completed a Bachelor of Commerce and worked in the banking industry for several years before returning to university to study ancient history. He completed a MA at the University of Melbourne, focusing on the portrayal of foreigners and ‘barbarians’ in the imperial propaganda of Augustus and Qin Shi Huangdi. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, where his thesis examines slaves and freed slaves in Roman politics.

16 May

National Archaeology Week Presentations

Babel G03, Lower Theatre

For the Zoom link please email Dr Andrew Turner (

Chloe Stringer. ‘Investigating river resource-use and changing environments on the Murray River’. Live.
Sclerochronology, the study of growth patterns and associated geochemistry in the accretionary hard tissues of biological organisms, such as mollusc shell, is a technique which can provide high resolution information about past environments. Its application to archaeological shell material allows for an analysis of the connection between past humans, their climatic conditions, and their use of resources.
In this presentation, Chloe Stringer will provide a brief overview of her PhD research project which applies the technique of sclerochronology to shell remains excavated from Ngintait and First Peoples of the Millewa Mallee Country, in the Central Murray Basin, to investigate past river-resource use and environmental change. She will also discuss recent field work undertaken as part of a modern calibration study.

Laura Pisanu. ‘The Bronze and Early Iron Age settlement dynamics in south Montiferru and northern Campidano Valley regions (Sardinia, Italy)’. Live.
Since the 1600 BC Nuragic groups seemed to have inhabited the south Montiferru and north Campidano regions (western Sardinia). During this time, they built stone towers, colossal tombs, and settlements. The construction of a large number of Nuragic monuments at the research area, as well as the complex architectural features of them, led earlier scholarship to suppose that Nuragic groups were hierarchically organised between the 1600 to the 900 BC. In order to better extent the economic and social aspects of Bronze and Early Iron Age communities in Western Sardinia, my research project aims at investigating reasons behind choices of Nuragic buildings’ locating and how they changed between the 16th and the 10th century BC. Therefore, I present preliminary data from topographic surveys which is a continuing part of my PhD research. The fieldwork activities involved 46 Nuragic sites, and the results of artefacts and monuments analysis may highlight the role of Nuragic control over resources, interactions with fortified sites, and overseas connections.

Emily Tour. ‘‘Let’s talk about clay, baby’: An investigation into the origins of Linear B’s administrative devices’. Live.

Tom Keep. ‘Recent Heritage 3D Modelling and Photogrammetry Projects: The University of Melbourne, The Hellenic Museum, and the Mernda VR Project’. Recording.

Lily Nash. ‘Connecting the Dots on the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape’. Recording.

23 May

Giovanni Piccolo, The University of Melbourne

Imperialism and Propaganda in Solinus’ Collectanea