Dr Emma Aston wins Mary White Prize 2012

The Mary White Prize for Best Article in Phoenix for 2012 has been presented to Dr Emma Aston, University of Reading, for her article “Friends in High Places: The Stereotype of Dangerous Thessalian Hospitality in the Later Classical Period” in Phoenix volume 66.3-4, 247-271.

Dr Aston’s “Friends in High Places: The Stereotype of Dangerous Thessalian Hospitality in the Later Classical Period” was a unanimous choice for the inaugural Mary White Prize.

There were a number of original and thought-provoking papers, but Aston’s contribution stood out for the quality and development of its argument, its sensitive reading of primary texts, and its engagement with a variety of scholarly debates.

Aston’s conclusions were thorough and convincing, and the judges believed her success in situating her study of a specific stereotype within the larger context of self-representation in classical Greek culture deserved particular recognition.


Event: Revisiting the Apion Archive

The Department of Classics is proud to support a round-table discussion ‘Great Landowners and the State in the Sixth Century: Revisiting the Apion Archive’, chaired by Professor Roger Bagnall (ISAW, New York).

apionThe event has been organised by the Oxford Roman Economy Project and our colleague Dr Arietta Papaconstantinou, and it will be held at All Souls College, Oxford, on 27 May 2012.

Since the publication of Jean Gascou’s ‘Les grandes propriétés, la cité et l’État en Égypte byzantine’ in 1985 (in Travaux et Mémoires du Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance), the issue of the concentration of land in private hands during the sixth century and the role it played in the weakening of the Empire has been a matter of lively debate, especially after the the publication of Peter Sarris’s Economy and Society in the Age of Justinian (2006).

Central to the debate is the evidence from the large archive of the Apions, a senatorial family of with estates in Middle Egypt and a residence in the city of Oxyrhynchos. Views that seem irreconcileable have been exchanged between papyrologists and historians, and between different schools of economic history.

The recent publication of Todd Hickey’s long-awaited Wine, Wealth, and the State in Late Antique Egypt: The House of Apion at Oxyrhynchus (Ann Arbor 2012) is an important contribution to that debate, and offers an occasion to bring together scholars who have contributed to that debate in the last decades and to discuss the issue anew, in the light of new evidence and in with the wish to widen the context chronologically and geographically.

Please note: Professor Bagnall will also give a special lecture, hosted by Reading’s Centre for Hellenic Studies: ‘On the edges of society? Funerary workers in Roman Egypt’ at Reading: Tuesday, 22 May, 4pm, Ure Museum (HumSS G38). Everyone welcome!

Dr Matthew Nicholls on BBC 4

Catharine Edwards and Matthew Nicholls. - Photo Brian J. Ritchie / Hotsauce.

Catharine Edwards and Matthew Nicholls. – Photo Brian J. Ritchie / Hotsauce.

Dr Matthew Nicholls has been involved in three TV projects this year, helping to bring Roman history to a wide audience. The most recent, a three-part series on Roman imperial women, will air from May 29th on BBC 4, presented by Catharine Edwards.

The series looks at the colourful careers of the women behind the throne in ancient Rome, and its subtitle, ‘Mothers, Murderers and Mistresses’, hints at some of the stories it will tell. Dr Nicholls was asked to contribute to the first episode on the Julio-Claudian women, which was filmed in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He was then asked back for episode 3 to talk about the turbulent lives and careers of the Severan women, all of whom were, confusingly, called Julia (Julia Maesa; Julia Avita Mamaea; Julia Domna, charismatic wife of the African emperor Septimius Severus; and Julia Soaemias Bassiana, mother of Elagabalus who, even by the high standards set by earlier emperors, was outstandingly depraved and incompetent).

Between them these women offer fascinating insights into the turbulent world of imperial dynastic politics, showing the very different ways in which imperial wives and mothers negotiated the impossible powerful-yet-powerless roles they inhabited, and how our (male) historical sources tended to portray them. Dr Nicholls also helped contribute to the maps for the documentary.

Earlier in the year Dr Nicholls also appeared in Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s documentary on the religious history of Rome, flying out for a day to film in an eerily emptied Capitoline Museum. He also used his digital reconstruction skills to create a series of reconstructions of Roman sites in Scotland for another BBC documentary, Rome’s Final Frontier. Along with colleagues in the Department of Classics he enjoys these opportunities to communicate his research work to public audiences, and is always glad to respond to enquiries.

Per ardua ad astra (Through hard work to the stars, that is…)


Prof. Peter Kruschwitz receives Gold Star Award from Kara Swift, RUSU VP Academic Affairs.

Prof. Peter Kruschwitz receives Gold Star Award from Kara Swift, RUSU VP Academic Affairs.

I was thrilled to win the coveted Gold Star Award 2012-3 – an award made by Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU), based on student nominations of lecturers that have made a significant difference to their studies at Reading. With only one such award per year per Faculty, this was a rather overwhelming experience, and I could not be more pleased that my work appears to have made a difference. Most of all, however, I was ever so delighted to learn what my students had highlighted in their comments: the strong academic culture of the Classics Department, and the support we all are always ready give to each and every individual student.

This gives me the opportunity briefly to reflect on one of my most recent administrative pleasures:

A couple of months ago, the department underwent Periodic Review. Periodic Review is a compulsory, regular quality assurance exercise for all departments at the University of Reading, and the remit of the panel is to endorse the continuation of all taught programmes in the department, provided that they were to be found of sufficient merit and quality. Moreover, the members of the panel, consisting of external subject specialists as well as colleagues from the University of Reading outside our subject area, are asked to identify both good practice and areas for improvement in our provision.

To be honest, Periodic Review is not everyone’s most favourite exercise, considering the amount of documentation and preparation that is required. The Department of Classics, however, took its usual constructive view: we talk about the development and improvement of our taught provision all the time anyway, so why not use this as an opportunity to reflect on this central part of our role somewhat more generally?

We have now received the panel’s report, and I am delighted to say that the report was nothing but glowing.

We were found to be an engaging, welcoming, and friendly community, where both staff and students convey an impression of enthusiasm, dedication, and pride in the department. The panel felt that our mechanisms for maintenance and enhancement of Teaching and Learning were exemplary, and they commend us on our collegiate academic community, in which the development of our students is seen as a cherished goal, based on our engagement in high quality research.

The panel was particularly impressed with our research culture, which includes staff-student collaborative research projects and student attendance at research seminars. This is also reflected in our strong culture of exploration and innovation in teaching, for example in our second- and third-year modules that allow our students to design their own research projects, that encourage enquiry-based learning, and allow for inclusive teaching and learning through a diverse, yet challenging range of assessments.

Finally, the panel noted a high level of student engagement in gathering feedback to enhance the quality of the Department’s academic provision, achieved through informal channels, such as a strong open-door culture and regular non-teaching contact between staff and students (if only these truly delightful aspects of our jobs could be reflected in the government-imposed datasets…), and through our more formal Staff-Student Liaison Committee.

Can we improve further? Yes, we can – and yes, we will. Based on the feedback of our review panel, our students’ constructive criticisms through all channels, formal and informal, we are currently looking into areas where we all feel we could do even better, and I hope we will be able to give an update on progress in these areas soon.

Peter Kruschwitz

Reading Classics Students at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research 2013

The British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) is an annual conference that offers undergraduates the opportunity to present a research project to fellow students and staff from universities across the UK and internationally. In this year’s conference, which was held in Plymouth in April, the wealth of student talent included no fewer than 9 delegates from the University of Reading, among them 2 students of the Classics department: Mathew Britten (Part 1 BA Ancient History and Archaeology) and myself.

Mathew said:

Mathew Britten and his presentation on Roman toilets entitled “Don’t get the wrong end of the stick”

Mathew Britten and his presentation on Roman toilets entitled “Don’t get the wrong end of the stick”

I was inspired to complete a research piece for the BCUR to challenge myself as a first year to commit towards completing an extra-curricular project I could be proud of. My lecturers were very encouraging and positively supportive, which helped to boost my inspiration to complete a project that was backed by my department. I chose to present a research paper on Roman toilets, because I thought it was interesting and something quite quirky that you don’t really get to grips with in day to day lectures.

My own inspiration for this project came, really, from the fact that I could be as independent as I liked when it came to choosing what to present. I thought “here is an opportunity to explore the topic that inspired me to pursue a Classics degree – the myths” (and most specifically dragons). My lecturers were enthusiastic with their support and advice and helped me overcome the challenge of condensing such a wide subject into a poster with a single conclusion, which was quite well received at the conference.

Both of us found it to be a brilliant experience, we relished the independence and creativity of the project and made a few new friends along the way. We would heartily recommend it to any undergraduate from any year because you are encouraged to go in any direction you see fit and the staff do a superb job in supporting you throughout the process!

Josh Panteli
BA Classics (Part 2)