We are delighted to announce a new exhibition— Locus Ludi: Anyone can play!—on display at the Ure Museum from 6 September until 30 November, 2023.
This new exhibition, inspired by the European Research Council funded project Locus Ludi: The Cultural Fabric of Play and Games in Classical Antiquity, led by Professor Véronique Dasen, is an opportunity to explore the rich collections relating to games and play in antiquity that are available not only at the Ure Museum but at other UK museums. The exhibition is co-curated by Jayne Holly (Ure Assistant Curator) and Summer Courts (one of our PhD candidates) and benefits particularly from Summer’s expertise in ancient games. We are most grateful to Colchester and Ipswich Museums, Reading Museum, The British Museum and the University of Reading’s Special Collections for the loan of important artefacts from their collections.
Another highlight is the game pieces and other contents of the Stanway Doctor’s Grave, a first-century AD tomb discovered by archaeologists in Stanway, Essex, in 1996. (NB you may have heard that ‘Doctor’ referred also as ‘The Druid of Colchester’, for indeed it is unclear whether he was Celtic, Roman, or other, Druid or even doctor. Nontheless he was buried with a unique gameboard that still baffles experts. You can learn more about it with this video made by the Panoply Vase Animation Project (created with support from the University of Reading’s Friends and Arts Committee) and of course by visiting the exhibition in the Ure Museum!
We have planned several exciting activities and outreach events to coincide with this exhibition. All are welcome but please note that bookings are required for the first two events:
- 16 September, 10am–4pm: Unwrap ancient games for Heritage Open Days
- 30 September, 12–2pm: Summer Olympots to celebrate National Sporting Heritage Day
- 16 October, 5pm: Play or cheat? Games in Greek and Roman antiquity. The James E. Gordon Lecture, from Prof. Véronique Dasen (Fribourg) (download the poster here).
- 22 November, 6 pm: More than just fun and games: Why study board games in Roman society? A lecture from Dr Timothy Penn (Oxford) with an opportunity to view the exhibition (download the poster here).
Written by Samuel Agbamu
Rome is a city steeped in the history of empire. Few tourists will fail to visit any number of the imposing remains of the Rome of the Caesars, be it the Colosseum, Pantheon, or the Forum. Yet the imperial history of Rome did not end with the putative fall of the Western Roman Empire, whenever we might date that, nor with Charles V’s sack of Rome in 1527, nor even with the incorporation of Rome into the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. Of the major European imperial powers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Italy stands out as perhaps the least discussed, either inside or outside Italy, and one of the least understood. Because of its easy association with the Fascist regime, which held power from 1922 to 1943, and the invasion of Ethiopia launched by Mussolini in 1935, the legacy of modern Italian imperialism is frequently subsumed into the question of Fascism. Yet Italy pursued an imperial agenda almost at the same time as being unified as a nation in the 1860s, and the legacies of its colonial endeavours persisted long after the death of Mussolini, and continue to be felt in many ways today. Furthermore, Fascism is well known for adopting, adapting, and inventing ideas drawn from ancient Rome, from the so-called ‘Roman salute’ to the symbol of the Fasces itself. Yet modern Italian imperialism, prior to Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922, had a long history of posing itself as ancient Rome’s successor, returning to regions that had once been part of the Roman empire.
It was with such considerations in mind that Elena Giusti (University of Warwick) and I organised a three-day conference in Rome in June 2023. When we began to put the event together, we did not know that we would be having these discussions in a country run by Georgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party. Fratelli d’Italia are the heir to Mussolini’s Fascist party, and were swept into power partly on the basis of virulent anti-migration policies. Many of the migrants who are targeted by Meloni’s xenophobic rhetoric and policies depart for Italy from the coast of North Africa, especially Libya, a former colony of Italy. Similarly, many of the migrants originate from Italy’s former east African colonies. Italy’s right-wing, anti-immigration governments have been especially vociferous in their hostility towards those crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe’s southern shores, despite the fact that Italian imperial ideology once promoted the notion that the North African coastline was Italy’s ‘Fourth Shore’, and that Libya was, in fact, a part of Italy. Such ongoing ramifications of Italy’s past imperial claims, many of which were based on selective readings of North African ancient history, made the urgency of this conference acutely felt.
The conference was hosted at the Museo delle Civiltà in Rome, in collaboration with Rosa Anna di Lella and Gaia Delpino, cultural anthropologists working at the museum. Set within the imposing EUR district of Rome, the ultimate architectonic expression of Fascism’s self-representation, the museum holds the collections of the former Museo Coloniale, inaugurated by Mussolini in 1923. Recently, the museum has been working to contextualise and expose the hidden histories of its collections, culminating with the current exhibition, Museo delle Opacità. In this context, to host the conference in the heart of an area built in Fascism’s image, but in an institution working hard to address the legacies of colonialism and Fascism from within, offered a particular poignancy to the event’s proceedings.
Over the three days of the conference, we heard from not only classicists, ancient historians, archaeologists, but also scholars of Italian history and literature, as well as North African and East African history. Papers addressed such themes as Italian archaeologists’ promotion of colonialism in the Aegean and North Africa, the legacies of intellectuals who had used ancient history to support or resist imperial ideologies, ancient history in the Fascist Italian classroom, and new methodological and theoretical perspectives on Italian imperial history. The final day involved workshops organised by the museum on their colonial collections, while the conference was closed by Angelica Pesarini with a keynote on teaching Italian colonialism in the university classroom.
The conference confirmed that the relationship between Classics and colonialism in Italian contexts remains an important and still underdeveloped field of research. This remains the case despite a recent profusion of publications, including forthcoming monographs from Sergio Brillante and myself. There especially remains much work to be done on this topic from an avowedly anti-/decolonial perspective . Elena Giusti and I plan to publish an edited volume with De Gruyter including contributions from the conference.
More information about the conference, including the full programme and paper abstracts can be found here.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Institute of Classical Studies, the Past and Present Society, the University of Warwick Connecting Cultures funding scheme, and the Museo delle Civiltà in Rome.
To celebrate the work of our esteemed friend, colleague and Co-head of Department, Prof. Barbara Goff, we have planned a one-day conference in her honour, on the cusp of her retirement, Friday 22nd September 2023. We have assembled an international cadre of her colleagues, collaborators, (former) students and other associates to discuss the diverse range of inclusive and innovative Classical studies on which she herself has contributed so greatly to scholarship in our and related academic fields. The conference’s four themes, which engage with aspects of her teaching and scholarship are the following:
- Drama, Theory, History
- A Sporting Life
- Broad(er) Classics
- Re-roo/uting Classics
We are delighted to announce that we will be joined also by Dr Stella Keramida from University of Reading’s Department of Film, Theatre, and Television, who with her students is preparing a performance of (some of) Trojan Women.
Everyone is invited to join us — whether in person or online — to celebrate Prof. Goff on this august occasion, but please sign up here. Please do not hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further details or if you have any questions.
Amy Smith, Dania Kamini and Oliver Baldwin
When the Greek department of the Sorbonne University invited me to spend a term in Paris as visiting professor, my first instinct was to refuse. Owing to having been assaulted and insulted in equal measure there in my younger days I’d vowed never to set foot in France again – in fact I’d made that vow twice, having imprudently given France a second chance once before. But then again, can one really turn down an offer from the Sorbonne? The chance to teach some of the world’s top students, and to do it in French? Working with top scholars, using some of the world’s best libraries? So in the end I nervously accepted.
I needn’t have worried; perhaps France has changed, or maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten older and less attractive, but in two months there I was not attacked once. In fact, everyone was lovely to me (even the supervisor of the apartment building – previously I had never even heard of a nice super), and I had a great time. The library was amazing, and the students were terrific. A group of them worked together with me to make an edition and translation of an unpublished text: deciphering something that probably hadn’t been read in centuries, comparing the manuscripts to work out how they are related and which readings are more likely to be original, making an apparatus criticus, translating the text, tracking down quotations and historical references to figure out when and where it was first written, etc. Of course this process couldn’t be fully finished in two months, particularly as a sharp-eyed student found more manuscripts of our text just before I left Paris, but that means that we’re still working on it remotely, which is also fun. I can’t tell you quite what the text is, because we still don’t entirely know, but part of it consists of letters between a (probably fictional) fifteenth-century university student and his family. The family accuses the student of wasting time and money, and he assures them that he is studying very hard and never ever goes to parties, except for the ones that all the students attend …
I also gave lectures summarising my forthcoming book on Latin loanwords in ancient Greek. The book itself put a bit of a damper on my Paris visit, because the second proofs arrived while I was there. They were better than the first proofs, which had blighted my existence from September to January, but still problematic enough to put strict limits on the amount of sightseeing I could do during the four weeks for which I had them. However, when I managed to stop thinking about the problems in the proofs turning the book into French lectures was great fun. One lecture on which Latin words the Greeks chose to borrow and why, one on when and where they borrowed Latin words, one on what happened to the ancient loanwords in Byzantine and modern Greek, and one on what the evidence is for all this, how borrowing worked, and why the relationship between English and French is uncannily similar to that between Latin and Greek … I was in clover.
Nevertheless, in some respects teaching in Paris has given me an enhanced appreciation of Reading. Paris seems to be constantly full of demonstrations, protests, and occasionally riots; the main issue of contention while I was there was that people did not want the retirement age to be raised from 62 to 64, but there were also protests about many other issues, some completely beyond my comprehension. The French seem to take to the streets at the level of concern that would cause a British person to sign an online petition. And the Sorbonne is so afraid of being invaded and looted by protesters that every time there is the slightest danger, the whole university closes down and all classes are held on Zoom. One day when no big demonstrations were planned the Sorbonne nevertheless closed because there were about three students standing in front of one entrance to the main building and ‘blocking’ it with a little pile of wheelie bins and e-scooters. The door could have been unblocked in under 10 minutes by one not very strong individual, or we could just have used the other doors, but no – the whole university shut down, even departments in completely separate buildings. I found it very entertaining, though the amusement clearly wears off when one deals with this kind of thing on a regular basis.
Even when the university is open, teaching at the Sorbonne is not without difficulty. All classes are hybrid, but the IT is unreliable. You start off a class and then have to stop after 5 minutes because the online audience can’t see the slides, or because they can’t hear, or because the technician that you booked for an hour beforehand to solve these issues has finally showed up only after the start of the class. Then the technician takes a quarter of an hour of class time trying and failing to make the IT work, so not only do you have to abandon the online audience, but by the time he leaves everyone in the room has forgotten what happened in the first 5 minutes and you have to start over.
So despite how much fun Paris was, it’s also nice to be back here – and I am so glad that Reading decided against hybrid teaching!
Written by Professor Eleanor Dickey
During August 2022 Professor Amy Smith served as R.D. Milns Visiting Professor at University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia. Since Australia’s seasons are the opposite of ours, August is a great time of year to find hives of academic energy in antipodean Universities. Queensland’s early Spring feels like a comfortable Reading Summer: Amy’s hosts did a good job of getting her to meet the local flora & fauna and enjoy the watersports!
Classics at Queensland is part of a larger School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, just as we at Reading join with historians and philosophers in a School of Humanities. At Queensland, however, these postgraduates have an open plan work area that includes a kitchen and is surrounded by their teachers’ offices, one of which Amy was allocated during her short stay. And just as we have our Ure Museum, UQ Classics benefits from its own museum, named in honour of Prof. R.D. (Bob) Milns. On her first few days, therefore, Prof. Smith explored the Museum’s immense collection of fragments and spoke to the students—UQ’s Classical Society—about ‘Disiecta Membra or How to find value in fragmentary pots’.
Many of these pots were—unsuprisingly—late black figure Attic (Athenian) fragments, which fed into Prof. Smith’s presentation to UQ’s ancient history research seminar, on ‘The search for ancient Greek women at the feast’. The R.D. Milns Museum and perpetual endowment fund, which funded Amy’s visit, were created in large part with support from the Friends of Antiquity, a group of alumni, scholars and other teachers, who meet at UQ on a monthly basis to hear from local and international speakers. A highlight of Amy’s visit therefore was her public talk to the Friends of Antiquity, on ‘Festival ware for Athenian women’. This and her ancient history seminar talk relate to research she’s preparing with Katerina Volioti (Roehampton) for a book to be published by University of Wisconsin. At her last public lecture, for something completely different, however, Prof. Smith spoke on ‘Hercules: dancing queen’, bringing together her research interests in Herakles, myth, & dance.
On her way to Queensland, Amy took time out of her NZ holiday to catch up with colleagues & collections in Auckland and Christchurch. The University of Canterbury in Christchurch has restored its James Logie Memorial Collection of antiquities, much of which was broken in their 2011 earthquake and redisplayed in the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities in UC’s Arts Centre, just around the corner of the Canterbury Museum and on the same block that the (jn)famous Wizard of New Zealand could be found during her visit.
After her travels to Western Australia, Amy found herself on the doorstep of University of Western Australia (UWA) in Perth where, as in Reading, Classics and Ancient History is ensconced in the School of Humanities. She was kindly welcomed to their Friday seminar, with excellent presentations of current work from two of their postgraduate students, while Emeritus Professor John Melville-Jones, a numismatist, regaled her with stories about ‘referential’ style of the University’s Hackett Buildings, graced even with busts of Sokrates and Diotima. And the next week Reading and UWA postgraduates come together in a conference and exhibition on Monsters: From ancient to modern. Stay tuned for the upcoming release of the Monsters video tour and the online exhibition!