Recent Research on Sparta

By Dr James Lloyd-Jones, 23rd November 2020.

The last two weeks have been something of a Sparta bonanza, and I’m not just talking about Ted Cruz’s tweet of a photoshopped Gonzalez flag with a roast turkey above the words ‘come and take it’. Those words, spuriously attributed to King Leonidas of Sparta at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE, have a long and troubled history.

This is just one of the many ways that the legacy of the battle of Thermopylae manifests today. Last Saturday (21st November) was an occasion to discuss the reception of the battle of Thermopylae in this, the (nearly) 2500th anniversary of the battle. I’d decided earlier on in the year that it would be good to hold an event in the UK to explore the legacy of Thermopylae and mark the anniversary, so got in touch with the Hellenic Society to see if they would be interested in hosting it. The “Thermopylae 2500” conference was also a chance to try something a bit different online by pre-circulating the speakers’ papers with the conference itself consisting of breakout groups and panel Q&As to explore the speaker’s papers and broader themes. We have a range of amazing papers and videos on the website (where they will remain for the foreseeable) ranging from contemporary responses to the battle in antiquity, to how Leonidas and Thermopylae were alluded to during Panamanian independence. Many thanks to everyone who participated in the range of lively conversations that were had on the day.

Alongside the Thermopylae 2500 conference, I’ve been able to participate in a few other events. As part of the SpartaLive! series, run by the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies and the City of Sparti, I was invited to share some of my research into Spartan music (the topic of my doctoral thesis). In my talk, I introduced listeners to some of the key sources and ideas that can be drawn upon to study the importance that music played in Spartan society over time. This ranges from fragments of surviving musical instruments, artistic depictions of musicians (on figured pottery, bronze statuettes, and other media), and of course textual and epigraphic evidence. You will be able to find my talk and others on the SpataLive! website here.

A scene of music on a Lakonian vase, c. 530 BCE. British Museum, 1854,0810.4.

In October, I was invited to present my research on the Spartan lead votives as part of the seminar “Metal Offerings in Greek Sanctuaries: votive gifts, rituals, disposal”, organised by Rita Sassu (Sapienza University of Rome) and Chiara Tarditi (Università Cattolica, Brescia). The lead votives are one of the most unique facets of material religion in Sparta. Over 100,000 were found at the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, and many thousands more at other sanctuaries. My talk focused on how archival and scientific analysis are contributing to our re-interpretation of the votives.

As we begin to wrap up this term, I look forward to sharing some of my research on Sparta with our undergraduates, as I convene a new module on Sparta for next term.

The Ure Museum: The Nine Lives of A Mummified Cat’s Head

By Dr. Claudina Romero Mayorga, November 2020.

This year’s edition of Heritage Open Days (11-20 September) at the Ure Museum was a bit different. For the annual HOD we would normally host a talk and open the museum on a Saturday with free activities for families, but the pandemic forced us to step up and go virtual. What could we offer to attract people back to their computer screens during a time when families had already been online for 6 months!?

Since the theme for this year was “hidden nature” we chose to focus on the mummified cat’s head that is spending its afterlife in one of our cases. Our staff and some colleagues in the Department of Classics created a series of short videos under the title “The 9 lives of the Ure Museum’s cat’s head”. Each life of the cat – and each day of the festival – would be devoted to discovering a specific aspect of our feline. After all, the internet loves cats.

Dr Hana Navratilova started with Bastet and the wide range of powers that this Egyptian goddess displayed. Prof. Ian Rutherford then offered a refreshing and honest point of view: what we know–and don’t—about the ancient Egyptian custom of sacrificing cats. Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga gave us a gory insight into the mummification process and a step by step guide to mummifying a sardine (and to keep our cat well fed in the afterlife). Prof. Rachel Mairs provided us with an eco-friendly vision of ancient Egypt by focusing on how papyri were recycled into cartonnage.

The Ure Museum curator, Prof. Amy Smith and the assistant curator, Jayne Holly, then reminded us of their important “behind the scenes” work. By tracing back the cat’s provenance—where it comes from, when was it added to our collection, who gave it to us–we discovered bits of our own history. Lending our feline to another museum and running some tests in the lab to become part of the ancient Egyptian Animal Biobank also expanded our knowledge of this spooky artefact.

All videos were posted on our website and advertised on social media, enabling us to engage with people around the world. Our number of followers on Twitter and Facebook rocketed; international institutions liked our posts and we created a series of colour-in pages that accompanied each video for younger kids. In the end, our Heritage Open Days were more accessible than ever. If you missed the videos, you can still watch them at: https://collections.reading.ac.uk/ure-museum/whats-on/cat/.

New Artwork to be Inspired by University Classics and Archaeology Collections

     

A creative take on artefacts in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at the University of Reading will be produced thanks to Meeting Point, a scheme putting art in unexpected places.

The Ure Museum, in the Classics Department, located in the Classics Department in the Edith Morley building on the Whiteknights campus, has been chosen as one of six museums and heritage sites to work in partnership with artists to commission a new work of art inspired by each venue.

The Meeting Point programme is led by contemporary arts agency Arts&Heritage, which supports small and medium scale museums to put art at the heart of their programmes and to forge new relationships between the contemporary arts and heritage sectors.

Professor Amy Smith, Curator of the Ure Museum and Head of the Classics Department at University of Reading, said: “Meeting Point is a great way to keep museums at the forefront of cultural activity, that is, to help ever wider audiences see the connection between contemporary creative arts and the collections of historical, archaeological and sociological information encapsulated in our museums.

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We are really looking forward to discovering how artists might respond to different aspects of our collection, perhaps even our archives which themselves tell great stories about those who collected and curated the collections in the 19th-20th centuries. We are also hoping to recruit an artist who is interested to share their creative process with the students.”

The Meeting Point programme has previously worked with venues in the North East, North West and the midlands, partnering more than 20 museums with artists from across the UK.

As well as commissioning a new artwork which responds to their collection, each venue also receives training in best practice for working with artists.

Steph Allen, Executive Director at Arts&Heritage, said: “Arts&Heritage works with museums and heritage sites which have little previous experience of commissioning contemporary art.

We’ll be working with these six venues to pair each with an artist who will create a brand new piece of work – which could be anything from sculpture to a sound installation – created especially for the venue and inspired by its history and collections.”

Arts&Heritage is funded as a Sector Support Organisation by Arts Council England through its National Portfolio Organisation funding.

The other museums selected to take part in the Meeting Point Programme are Didcot Railway Centre; the National Paralympic Heritage Centre in Aylesbury; Furzey Gardens in the New Forest National Park; and‘a space’ arts; and The Brickworks Museum in Southampton.

 

-The Meeting Point Team

The Price of Purple – The Procurement of Dyes and Colourants in the Ancient World.

Archaeology Magazine has recently published an article on new archaeological evidence of a robust dye industry, that endured on the Mediterranean coast for millennia. University of Reading’s Prof. Annalisa Marzano of the Classics Department has provided expert analysis alongside an interdisciplinary board of specialists, on how archaeological finds can offer insights to the procurement, production and purchasing of dyes in the ancient world. Read The Price of Purple HERE.

 

Seminar Series Programme -Autumn 2020

The Department of Classics’ Autumn 2020 seminar series will take place on Wednesdays at 4pm, via MS TEAMS. To request a link to attend one or all of the following sessions, please email a.c.smith@reading.ac.uk

7 October: Prof. Thorsten Fögen (Durham), Rival or ally? Competition, controversy and polemics in ancient technical discourse

14 October: Dr Maria Pretzler (Swansea), The Beginning of the Peloponnesian League – not quite as Herodotus tells it?

21 October: Dr Chris Stray (Swansea), Uncovering Kenneth Dover: A scandalous eminence.

28 October: Dr Jennifer Cromwell (Manchester Metropolitan), The use of indigenous languages in conquest societies: the case of Coptic in early Islamic Egypt

11 November: Prof. Fiona Macintosh (University of Oxford), Archiving and Interpreting Performance

18 November: Dr Jack Hanson (Reading), Cities, temples, and scale: A comparative approach

25 November: Dr Julia Hamilton (Leiden), Secondary epigraphy in Old Kingdom Saqqara