Aphrodite’s first birthplace

Prof. Smith on 'Aphrodite's Isle', Cranae, near Gythio.

Prof. Smith on ‘Aphrodite’s Isle’, Cranae, near Gythio.

On the summer solstice, Prof Amy Smith made her first visit to the island of Kythera, Aphrodite’s first ‘birthplace’ according to Hesiod. During this visit coincidentally Amy’s latest article, Aphrodite signified more than beauty, appeared in The Conversation. Amy’s visit to Kythera is part of the Summer Session of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, which she is co-directing, as Gertrude Smith Professor, with Prof Amelia Brown (University of Queensland). Amelia and Amy took their students to Kythera en route to Crete and on the return yesterday visited another ‘Isle’ sacred to Aphrodite, Cranae, now home to a Greek naval lighthouse, where in antiquity Helen & Paris are rumoured to have sojourned en route to Egypt.

Profs. Brown and Smith are keen to enthuse their students with the subjects of their own research, which coincidentally intersect on Aphrodite, but also the depth and breadth of physical information — sites and artefacts as well as geography — that evidence the history and archaeology of Greece. This 6-week programme also provides students a chance to learn from the many other archaeologists, curators, conservators and other experts working on site over the summer months.

Profs Brown & Smith with ASCSA Summer Session 2024 students at Mochlos, with its excavator Dr Giorgos Doudalas (UNC Greensboro)

Profs Brown & Smith with ASCSA Summer Session 2024 students at Mochlos, with its excavator Dr Giorgos Doudalas (UNC Greensboro)

You may find some of Prof. Smith’s other work on Aphrodite here:

Classics success at the Doctoral Research Conference

On Wednesday 12th June, the University of Reading held the annual Doctoral Research Conference, an event which showcases the diversity of doctoral research undertaken at Reading.

Two of our own researchers, Adél Ternovacz and Daniel Bartle, presented posters on their research at the conference, and we would like to congratulate both of their contributions.

Adél Ternovacz discussing her poster.
Image curtesy of the Univeristy of Reading Doctoral and Researcher College.

Further congratulations go to Adél, whose poster won the prize.

The posters submitted by Adél and Daniel cover two very different, but equally interesting topics, which demonstrate the diversity of research within the Classics department.

Adél’s research poster presents a lunula pendant adorned with a Roman carnelian gem, discovered in a Sarmatian settlement in Tiszaföldvár, Hungary. Lunulae, crescent-shaped pendants worn by women and children, served as protective amulets in both Roman and Sarmatian cultures. In the Carpathian Basin, the Sarmatians—an Iranian people—were the most significant barbarian population during the Roman Imperial Period. This research explores how Sarmatian culture adapted and incorporated the Roman gem, deepening our understanding of the cultural exchange between the two civilizations.

Daniel Bartle discussing his poster.
Image curtesy of the Univeristy of Reading Doctoral and Researcher College.

Daniel’s poster focuses on the Indo-Iranian borderlands during the late fourth to third centuries BC and the diplomatic activity across it. This period would see the establishment of new empires on each side of the frontier, the Seleukids in Iran and the Maurya on the Ganges, representing a time of political transition and upheaval in the region. This research will examine three specific interactions between the two new states and their effects, the treaty of the Indus in 303 BC, the edicts of Ashoka, and the anabasis of Antiochus III, shedding light on the dynamic relationship of warfare, trade and gift exchange that existed across the frontier.

Both Daniel and Adél reflected positively on their experience of the event, commenting on the opportunity to interact with students and their work from across the university.

“The Doctoral Research Conference offers a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow students from various disciplines and learn about their projects. It was truly inspiring to see such a diverse range of innovative work.” – Adél Ternovacz

“The Doctoral Research Conference was an interesting experience involving both varied disciplines and means of presenting. Likewise, offering fresh perspectives from the other disciplines.” – Daniel Bartle

Once again, congratulations to Adél and Daniel, and to all the students who contributed to the event.

Adél Ternovacz

Upcoming Conference: Narrative and argument in Greco-Roman antiquity

On 4-5 July 2024, the University of Reading is hosting a two-day conference which seeks to re-investigate the relationship between narrative and argument in ancient literature (broadly defined).

Amidst strong trends in both rhetorical and narratological analysis, observations about the interplay between narratological structures and rhetorical methods of persuasion have tended to be at the margins of classical scholarship; but there are indications of a shift towards the foreground. For example, recent scholarship on Archaic and Classical Greek Lyric and Drama explores the discourse of ideology through the analysis of literary mechanisms and language shaping the political dimensions of the various genres. Another example of a recent shift is in the field of hagiography, where literary aspects are increasingly investigated in the context of the texts’ assumed ideology, resulting in some interesting insights into the unexpected complexities of the relationship between what the texts appear to want to the readers to do or believe, and the narrative strategies employed in these texts.

To explore and consolidate these trends, our conference brings together scholars interested in the interaction of political, literary, narratological, and cultural analysis of ancient literature to retrace the narrative mechanisms and discourses shaping the (im)balance between ideology, argument, and narration in ancient texts.

This conference will be held as a hybrid with both in-person and online attendees welcome. You can register your attendance here.

New Survey for Teachers in Ancient World Studies

Figure 1: Generative AI in the Ancient World Studies Classroom Teacher Survey –

Do you teach any topic related to the ancient world? Do you have thoughts about generative artificial intelligence? Researchers in the Department of Classics at the University of Reading want to hear from you!

Thanks to a University of Reading Research Collaboration and Impact Fund (RCIF) grant, Jackie Baines and Edward A. S. Ross are carrying out survey research into the impact of generative AI in wider ancient world studies classrooms. If you teach about any aspect of the ancient world (broadly conceived), please take 10 minutes to complete the survey here (Figure 1).

Figure 2: iGAIAS: Investigating Generative Artificial Intelligence in Ancient World Studies.

This research is part of Jackie and Edward’s wider project iGAIAS: Investigating Generative Artificial Intelligence in Ancient World Studies (Figure 2). Their work explores ethical and effective applications for generative AI in ancient world studies to make them more accessible for classicists and the wider public. This includes an upcoming temporary exhibition in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology on inherent biases about the ancient world in generative image AI. Research for this exhibit is supported by undergraduate students Shona Carter-Griffiths, Hannah Gage, and Jacinta Hunter.

Jackie and Edward have also recently published a new article on the first phase of their generative AI research in the Journal of Classics Teaching. This article discusses the generative AI ethics training sessions for ancient language students and teachers over the Autumn 2023 term.

Summer Term 2024 Reading Classics Research Seminars

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Summer Term 2024, which will boost our Wednesday afternoons with constructive and stimulating lectures and discussions on various aspects of Classics research!

In this series of lectures, starting on 24 April, we welcome a diverse group of speakers in our Departmental seminars. Our Summer seminar series will explore a variety of topics and periods of Classical studies. All seminars will be livestreamed on MS Teams; tune in every Wednesday at 4pm (unless otherwise stated)! Attendance is free and open to all! To attend please follow this link: https://bit.ly/3UkPo10. Below you can find a poster with all titles.

Full list of titles

24 April

Shaohui Wang, Northeast Normal University, China, and University of Cambridge, ἰὼ, ἰή, ἰέ – a survey of ritual cries and emotions in ancient Greek religion and the parallels in Chinese religious practice

1 May

Chris Pellin, University of Oxford, I want to be Great too – but how? Alexander, Augustus, and Livy

8 May – Postponed

Mathura Umanchandran, Exeter University, Race, Empire, and Decoloniality Seminar

15 May

Jordan Miller, University of Cambridge, Under the Bed and among the Dead: Monsters in Ancient Egypt

29 May

Polly Low, Durham University, Nothing to see here? Inscriptions and the early Athenian Empire


All (unless otherwise labelled) starting at 16:00 in Edith Morley 126J

For more information contact e.m.m.aston@reading.ac.uk

Classics and Generative AI: New Resources and Opportunities for Staff and Students

Figure 1: Baines, Jackie, Edward A. S. Ross, Jacinta Hunter, Fleur McRitchie Pratt, and Nisha Patel. Digital Tools for Learning Ancient Greek and Latin and Guiding Phrases for Using Generative AI in Ancient Language Study. V2. March 12, 2024. Archived by figshare. http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.25391782.v2.

Over the past year, Jackie Baines and Edward A. S. Ross have been researching the ethics of generative AI in teaching Classics and ancient languages as part of their Teaching and Learning Enhancement Project (TLEP) “ChatGPT: A Conversational Language Study Tool.” Their work on this project has initially led to the Classics Department’s AI guidelines and citation guide, and now Jackie and Edward have produced a guiding phrases document and aseries of tutorial videos for staff and students about ethical and effective uses for generative AI.

The guiding phrases document is a compilation of digital learning tools, including generative AI tools, for learning Ancient Greek and Latin. With the help of undergraduate students Jacinta Hunter, Fleur McRitchie Pratt, and Nisha Patel, the Classics AI Testers for the project, Edward and Jackie prepared and tested 10 “copy-paste”-able prompts to streamline generative AI use for supporting ancient language learning. These guiding phrases are tailored for students of elementary, intermediate, and advanced Ancient Greek and Latin at the University of Reading, but they are also couched with tutorials on how to customize them for a more personalized experience.

In order to increase generative AI literacy and make current guidelines more accessible, Jackie and Edward have also prepared a number of tutorial videos about the ethics of using generative AI and proper methods for using these tools. A playlist of these videos is available here.

Figure 2: #STOPandTHINKbeforeyouGENERATE

Alongside these videos, Edward and Jackie will be hosting a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) workshop on methods for using a variety of generative AI tools to support ancient language teaching and for introducing generative AI ethics to students (Figure 3). This event is funded by a Council of University Classics Department (CUCD) Education Grant and is completely free to attend. There are also some travel grants available for local teachers intending to participate in-person. Please email Jackie Baines (j.baines@reading.ac.uk) if you are interested in a grant. If you are interested in attending, please sign up for in-person or online attendance here.

Figure 3: Using Generative AI to Support Ancient Language Teaching CPD Workshop.

Jackie and Edward have also surveyed staff and students in the Classics Department over the past year about the impact of generative AI on their studies. The results of the initial surveys will be published in the Journal of Classics Teaching shortly. The results of the second set of surveys will be presented at the Digital Humanities and AI conference.

The next stage of their research, now funded with an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) grant, will focus on the biases present in generative image AI, specifically those related to the ancient world. The pilot study for this part of the project was completed by undergraduate student Shona Carter-Griffiths, and we are currently hiring a second-year undergraduate student to continue this work over Summer 2024 (Figure 4). If you are interested in applying for this role, please find the full details and application requirements here.

Figure 4: Gerard Butler with a Spear: Locating Modern Stereotypes for the Classical World in Generative Image AI

Spring Term 2024 Reading Classics Research Seminars

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Spring Term 2024, which will boost our Wednesday afternoons with constructive and stimulating lectures and discussions on various aspects of Classics research!

Our seminar series will explore a variety of topics and periods of Classical studies. Seminars will be livestreamed on MS Teams – links to follow. Attendance is free and open to all! Below you can find a list of all titles.


7 February

Fiachra Mac Góráin, UCL, Gender euphoria: La Cerda on Virgil’s Camilla, Joining link https://bit.ly/49iVvYr 

21 February

Maeve McHugh, Birmingham, Finding the Ancient Farmer in Fables and Bones, Joining link https://bit.ly/3UrXIN6

14 March – 17:00

Irene Lemos, Oxford, Euboeans at home and abroad in the Late Bronze and Iron Ages (in person only), to be held in Palmer Building, room 108


All (unless otherwise labelled) starting at 16:00 in Edith Morley G25

For more information contact e.m.m.aston@reading.ac.uk

Celebrating Seferis with our own Dr. Dimitra Tzanidaki

The famous 20th century Greek poet, George Seferis, was celebrated at the Hellenic Residence in London on Monday the 27th November. The occasion was the 60th anniversary of Seferis’ being awarded the Nobel Prize for poetry, and was held under the auspices of the Greek Ambassador, Mr Yannis Tsaousis, in the presence of the Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic, Mr Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The setting at the Ambassador’s residence was very fitting, as Seferis lived and served there as Greek ambassador to the UK from 1957-1961.

The Greek Embassy in London has now launched an exhibition, “George Seferis: the man, the poet, the diplomat,” which will be on permanent display in the ‘Seferis Office’ and open to the public at the Hellenic Residence with a plethora of objects, works and documents relating to Seferis’ life, poetry and diplomatic career. The exhibition builds upon an initiative by the President of the Hellenic Republic, Ms Katerina Sakellaropoulou, which led to the donation of 32 objects from the Anna London & Nikos Paisis collection to the Greek Embassy. 

Professor Roderick Beaton, ex Korais chair at King’s College London, was among the distinguished guests and has now been honoured by having the reading room next to the ‘Seferis Office’ named after him for his lifelong contributions to Modern Greek Studies and his love of Greece.

Our own Dr Dimitra Tzanidaki-Kreps was grateful to be invited to this prestigious event. For the last 24 years Dimitra has taught Seferis, among many other Modern Greek authors, as part of her “My Mother’s sin and other stories” module for Reading’s Classics undergraduates. Dimitra sent us this reel https://www.facebook.com/reel/2020083211681431 with photos from the evening and with one of Seferis’ well known short poems «Just a little more» set to music by the Greek legendary composer Mikis Theodorakis:

Just a little more

and we will see the almonds in bloom.

Just a little more

and we will see the marbles glitter,

glitter in the sun

and the waves of the sea.

Just a little more,

so we can rise a little higher.

New book, ‘Scribal Culture in Ancient Egypt’, now available

A new book titled Scribal Culture in Ancient Egypt, written by Niv Allon and Reading University’s own Hana Navratilova, has recently been published by Cambridge University Press.

This book, which is part of the series Elements in Ancient Eqypt in Context, seeks to characterize the scribal culture in ancient Egypt. The book draws upon texts, material objects, and archaeological evidence, and aims to build on current discussions in literacy, as well as literary and social history.

The book is free to download for a limited time, so we encourage everyone to have look!


Further details are available via the Cambridge University Press website here.

Classics students visit Athens

On Saturday 28th October we set off on our odyssey to Athens. After a good night’s sleep from a full day of travelling, we dove straight into the agenda for Day One, which consisted of walking around the Kerameikos site, as well as the Agora, along with their respective museums. After a very short excursion at the Epigraphic Museum, we finished off our first day wandering around the National Archaeological Museum, home to some unique artefacts.

To kick off Day Two we made our way over to the main attraction, the Akropolis, a jewel of Athenian architecture. Once we made it to the top, the view of Athens was absolutely incredible, so obviously many photos were taken. An aspect of Greek theatre came into perspective as we stopped off at the Theatre of Dionysus on the way down, one of the numerous sites on the slopes of the Akropolis. Then after some lunch and shopping, we were shown around the Akropolis Museum, before heading back to the BSA to be treated to a lecture of “Redressing Aphrodite on Lord Hamilton’s Meidias hydra” by our very own, Prof. Amy Smith.

On the morning of Day Three in the Greek capital we walked around the Panathenaic stadium and were even lucky enough to see a vast collection of all of the Olympic torches to date, which was a memorable experience. That afternoon we leapt forward in history and visited the Byzantine and Christian Museum, and it was absolutely fascinating to learn about the impact that Christianity had on the development of the ancient world. For example, the ideology of the gods was completely reshaped and many of the myths and stories lost their influence on people in the ancient world. It is now so interesting to see the various aspects of antiquity that still exist in modern religion today.

In the midst of the trip there was an optional hike up Mount Lycabettus on the morning of Day Four, to obtain, as with the Akropolis, an outstanding view of Athens. This was just an early morning walk for anyone who fancied it and was certainly a great way to start the day.

After that we explored Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Forum and the Tower of Winds in the morning and then in the afternoon, we visited the Numismatic and Cycladic Museums. Being able to view a grand variety of ancient coins was just incredible. The detail depicted on the coins was outstanding, from images that referenced famous battles, deities, animals, historical figures to myths and scenes from epic poems. Some favourites included coins bearing: the chariot of the goddess Nike being pulled by four horses and the reunion between Odysseus and his dog Argus from Homer’s Odyssey was another fan favourite.

Moving away from all of the coins, our final site in Athens was the Cycladic Museum, where we explored various pieces of art from the ancient world, with Dr Rebecca Levitan from Kings College London, who turned our focus on the marble Cycladic figurines. These miniature figures mostly resembled women and there were very few that depicted men, with the design being very minimalistic and only showing a few select features, such as the nose, arms and breasts.

For our final day we exited the Athenian bubble, making our way over to Nafplio, and stopping at Mycenae to see the tomb of Agamemnon on the way. Our final museum stop was the archaeological museum, home to some fascinating artefacts such as pots, masks, armour and weapons.

Aside from all of the historical sites and museums we also had a lot of free time to explore the Greek culture along with its exciting cuisine, and although we had a busy schedule, we even managed to squeeze in a visit to the beach.

A week in Greece to be remembered. Many thanks to all involved in the organisation of this amazing trip.


Written by Henry Tandy