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 Italian Colonialism: A Three-Day Conference at the Museo delle Civiltà, Rome (22-24 June 2023)

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.

Rome’s EUR district was built for the Esposizione Universale Roma 1942, which never took place due to the outbreak of the Second World War. At the end of the road is the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana or the so-called ‘Square Colosseum’. Photo by author.

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.

Summer Term 2023 Reading Classics Research Seminars

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Summer Term 2023, 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 3 May, we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars. Our Spring 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! Attendance is free and open to all! To attend please follow this link: bit.ly/3Lyq4R4! Below you can find a poster with all titles.

Full list of titles

3 May

Erica Bexley, Durham, Looking for Octavia: history and reception

10 May

Alba Boscà Cuquerella, Salamanca/Bristol, How to apologise if you are a woman: some remarks on the use of gnomai by Euripidean female characters

17 May

Joe Watson, Warwick, Ciris’ progress: genre, metapoetry and philosophic ascent in the Ciris 

24 May

Diana Rodríguez Pérez, Oxford, Ancient repairs on Athenian pottery: preliminary thoughts – and a cup

31 May

Julie Doroszewska, Warsaw, Thinking of thinking: conceptual metaphors of cognition in the Plutarchian corpus

 

Classics goes Forensic

This week, PhD student Summer Courts will be collaborating with Dr Sophie Beckett and Cranfield University’s Forensic Institute to continue her research on the two Early Medieval individuals from Lowbury Hill. These two people, one male and one female, have had vastly different stories told about them. The man, who was buried under a mound with a variety of weapons and other grave goods has been interpreted as an Anglo-Saxon warrior, as displayed in the Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock. Conversely, the woman who was buried in the line of the Roman-period enclosure wall on the site has been viewed as a human sacrifice or a victim of facial mutilation.

During a previous visit to Cranfield, Summer studied the bones of the Lowbury Lady in order to create a biological profile (sex, age, stature, and health assessment) and investigate claims surrounding her death. Careful analysis revealed that the Lowbury Lady may not have been as old as initially reported, with several aging methods revealing an age between 30 and 45-years-old. Additionally, we learned that the woman would have stood between 5’ 3’’ and 5’ 5’’ tall. Examination of skull revealed no traces of a violent death, but did show that many of the fractures to her cranial bones would have occurred after death due to the compressive force of the earth beneath which she was buried. This is evidenced by the angle of the fractures and the staining of the bone exposed by the breaks, which is the same colour as the external bone surface. Fresh breaks are usually lighter in colour than the external bone surface and peri-mortem fractures have a different appearance than older fractures.

The Lowbury Lady’s cranium showing fractures and repairs. Photo: Summer Courts

This week will see Summer continue her work on the Lowbury Lady by selecting samples for destructive analysis. Samples from the woman’s teeth will be sent to the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in Glasgow for strontium and oxygen isotope analyses which will reveal where she grew up and answer questions about whether or not she was local to the area around Lowbury Hill, Oxfordshire. Summer will also send bone samples for carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis to gain insight into the types of food the woman was eating. Finally, the Lowbury Lady’s temporal bone (the part of the skull near the ear) will be sent to Germany for a DNA analysis in collaboration with Dr Stephan Schiffels at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology  so that we can find out more about her ancestry and any diseases she may have had.

Over the next week Summer will also be selecting samples from the Lowbury Man for destructive analysis. Previous analysis by Cranfield University MSc student Harriet Bryant-Buck has shown that Lowbury Man was 45+ years of age at death, stood between 5’ 5’’ and 5’ 10’’ and grew up in Western Cornwall or the somewhere along the western coast of Ireland. Summer will also be sending a portion of the Lowbury Man’s temporal bone (the part of the skull near the ear) to Germany for aDNA analysis. The temporal bone has been selected for sampling as the bone that forms the petrous portion of the temporal is extremely dense and is more likely to retain traces of DNA than other, less dense bones.

This research, which has been generously funded by the AHRC via the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, will give us a wealth of new information about the Lowbury duo and will begin to allow us to tell their stories in a more holistic and nuanced way than before, providing a window on the real lives of these two individuals from our early medieval past.

Spring Term 2023 Reading Classics Research Seminars

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Spring Term 2023, 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 18 January, we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars. Our Spring 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! Attendance is free and open to all! To attend please follow this link: bit.ly/3VaUN86! Below you can find a poster with all titles.

Full list of titles

18 January

Luigi Prada, Uppsala, The tale of the Egyptian crocodile-bird, or why Herodotus is not a liar

25 January

Rosalind Thomas, Oxford, 12TH ANNUAL PERCY URE LECTURE, ‘Polycrates assigns a mother’: Greek Tyranny in proverb, collective memory and the local ‘polis histories’

Booking required: bit.ly/3v4GgQB

1 February

Diana Rodriguez-Perez, Oxford, Ancient repairs on Athenian pottery: Preliminary thoughts – and a cup

8 February

Giulia Biffis, Reading, Lycophron and lyric poetry

22 February

Erica Bexley, Durham, Comedy in Seneca’s Thyestes (with an epiloque of Shakespeare)

1 March

Joe Watson, Warwick, Ciris’ Progress: Genre, metapoetry and philosophic ascent in the Ciris

8 March

Arietta Papaconstantinou, Reading, Objects, gender and credit in late antique Egypt

15 March

Anne Alwis, Kent, Model ascetics? Exemplarity in Theodoret of Cyrrhus’ Religious History

 

Autumn Term 2022 Reading Classics Research Seminars

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Autumn Term 2022, 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 5 October, we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars. Our Autumn seminar series, ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi, 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! Attendance is free and open to all! To attend please follow this link: bit.ly/3BYG7Td! Below you can find a poster with all titles.

 

Full list of titles

5 October

Robert Wisniewski, Warsaw/Reading, ‘Four sermons, some relics, a bishop and a curse: Constructing the cult of saints in late antique Hippo’

12 October

Jo Quinn, Oxford, ‘North African monumental architecture in the Hellenistic period within the frame of regionalism’

19 October

Sam Agbamu, Royal Holloway, ‘Petrarch’s Carthage: Between ‘race’ and religion’

26 October

Elena Giusti, Warwick, ‘Rome’s imagined Africa’

9 November

Jacke Phillips, SOAS/Cambridge, ‘Connecting ancient Egypt, Bubia and Ethiopia and even beyond’

16 November

Timothy Penn, Oxford, ‘The boardgames of Roman and post-Roman North Africa: A regional perspective on personal leisure in the past’

23 November

Elena Chepel, Vienna, ‘Dramatic competitions in Ptolemaic Egypt: New papyrus programme for the royal festival of Theadelpheia’

 

Professor Smith visits the Antipodes

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.

Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia, flanked by statues of Sokrates & Diotima

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!

Reading Classics at Rome: A review of the first post-covid study trip

Our undergraduate student, Kieran Evans, shares their experience from the first departmental study trip to Rome after the pandemic—in April 2022—along with a series of exciting and wonderful pictures of Rome! Thank you to everyone who participated to this trip, and particularly to Profs Amy Smith and Matthew Nicholls who organised it and led the tour!   

It started with a 2:15am meetup at the Sports Park building on campus to catch a coach for Heathrow. We left extra early just to make sure we had enough time for any delays or queues caused by COVID-19 restrictions at the airport. Despite being early hours of the morning, everyone was raring to go to Rome, bags packed, and the anticipation of getting to the airport was at a high. We just had to get through security then a rather long wait for the flight at 7am.  

The arrival into Rome, after the flight and coach journey, was only the start of the day in the ‘Eternal city’. We checked into our hotel in the afternoon, to get set for the first trek of the trip. Matthew Nicholls, our tour lead who came over from Oxford University, but in his role as Visiting Professor at University of Reading, walked us through some parts of the southern part of the city, checking out Roman building remains, seeing what remained of the concrete. One major theme of the trip was the material left behind in buildings, mostly the concrete that the marble would have covered up. From the first tour we saw how the massive structures, like the Porticus Aemilia, a long series of arched warehouses for food storage, or acting as a naval dockyard. They were impressive to look at, considering the size and how long they’ve been around, but like many Roman buildings the concrete lost the marble exterior, looted for other construction, or turned into lime. That same afternoon we came across one of the best views of the trip. From the top of the Aventine Hill, you could see across the city with St. Peter’s Basilica to the north peeking above the buildings before it. It became somewhat a preview of what to expect for the coming days, just spectacular. 

On day Two we visited monuments fitting the theme ‘Landscape of Victory’. Amy and Matthew had organised entering the Mausoleum of Augustus, very recently opened to the public. Such a grand monument which held the first imperial dynasty, was left in a state of ruin for years and recently restored for visitors to re-enter. Walking through the crypt we saw how the material again was laid bare, and how the diamond patterns bricks were organised into in the concrete. Some marble—the only marble left—greeted us at the entrance telling of how this place held the ashes of Augustus and his family. The building was remarkable to walk through. Like at all sites on the trip, Matthew and Amy told us everything there was to know, the way it looked when constructed, a wedding cake style of tiers of earth and trees planted on top and the history following. Somewhat surprising to hear was that, when the top tier collapsed, it filled the interior to create a new ground level above the original entrance and a space for a bull fighting arena. 16th-century entertainment turned it into a stage for the sport, then a theatre in the 20th century. It’s restored and the grand entrance is the only way in now, not the archway some 30 feet above it. 

My personal highlight of the trip was later in the day on visiting another monument, the Pantheon. Despite looking majestic from the front with the granite columns and inscription to Agrippa, it took a second to realise what I was looking at when we approached it from the south, only seeing the circular, brick building. Of course, when I finally recognised it, I got a little giddy. About an hour and a half before entering we had a lunch break and some of us found a restaurant on the piazza of the Pantheon. It was somewhat surreal sitting there eating proper Italian pizza and looking at the entrance of this building less than a hundred metres to my left.  

 

The group that went on the trip were great, insofar as everyone got on so well with each other, making meals out easier and so much more fun. Especially the final evening we all had in Rome, dining at Il Matto and drinking plenty of red wine with the excellent food. Amy and Matthew organised an amazing series of tours across the 6 days we were there. I cannot think of how that trip could have been better… maybe if we had another day there?

Musings of an Admissions Tutor and Outreach Officer and the reawakening after the pandemic

Our Departmental Admissions Tutor and Outreach Officer, Mrs Jackie Baines, shares her experience on arranging and running Open Days during and after the pandemic. You can read below her account on the various events and innovative methods undertaken in such a challenging period.

When taking on the role of departmental Admissions Tutor in 2016, and more recently Outreach Officer, little did I know of the enormity of the challenges which lay ahead.  We were about to be faced with the double blow of a fall in the number of 18-year-olds and then a global pandemic. Undergraduate numbers had remained relatively stable up to that point but now we were going to have to work much harder to recruit similar numbers of undergraduates in subsequent years.

The greatest of the challenges came with Covid-19.  Having run most of the 2019/20 recruitment cycle in-person—except for one Visit Day—we were obliged to complete the whole of the 2020/21 cycle online.  How, I wondered, were we to ‘sell’ our department and the Classics department student experience when nobody was in the building on campus.  It focussed my attention on showing our very best attributes in the online environment, with a small numbers of colleagues, current students and alumni.  At first, online presentations and using MS Teams were so very unfamiliar.  MS Teams Live also increased the difficulties.  We were not able to see our applicants, they were simply able to ask us questions in the chat function.  We rose to the challenge, knowing that we needed to portray our own personalities, our desire to support our students, our variety of modules, the wide-ranging scope of our research, to give a platform to our articulate, knowledgeable students and to show off the Ure Museum and even handle objects when we were not in the building.  We learnt to be ourselves in front of the camera and to cope in the online environment, even if sometimes sharing slides was a tricky hurdle.  It worked.  Our student numbers were good and we met our targets.  Our new students arrived in Reading and coped with an online Welcome Week and very little face-to-face teaching during the year.

Gradually we have now returned to in-person admissions processes.  We started with some very small-scale Open Days in July and then Open days with more visitors in October.  Our Visit Days were in person, but one Virtual Visit Day has been retained, allowing those unable to get the campus to have the opportunity to ‘visit’.  It has been wonderful to be back in person, to have the conversations which are impossible to replicate online.

Outreach too was thrust into the online world during worst of the pandemic.  The return to welcoming schools back into the department was an emotional experience.  I ran an alumni teachers’ event, linked to the Troy exhibition in the Ure Museum, in November. Three of our alumni, Niki Karapanagioti, Alex Winch and Jonny Herman, brought school groups.  Not only was it so gratifying to see children back in the building learning about the ancient world, but it was also very heart-warming to see our alumni renew their bonds with the department. Future teacher alumni events are in the planning.

We also enjoyed a Classics for All day on May 19th. Classics for all is the UK based charity which promotes the teaching of classical subjects in state schools. We have been overwhelmed by the interest and the thirst for events such as these.  Ninety Year 8 and 9 pupils signed up to come with their teachers and participate in a wide range of sessions, including learning about Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Roman maths and Ancient Greek language. This was a much larger scale event than on previous occasions. It was an event with wide ranging impact, involving sessions for the teachers where we could promote the teaching of classical civilisation and the ancient languages in schools, particularly for those whose schools are in areas of social deprivation. It gave some of our PGT and PGR students the opportunity to teach on the day and our current students the chance to act as student ambassadors. Above all we hope to have inspired the school pupils themselves and encouraged them to aspire to be our students, widening their horizons and giving them a glimpse of the delights of the ancient world.

Jackie Baines, Lecturer in Classics and Departmental Admissions Tutor and Outreach Officer

Summer Term 2022 Reading Classics Research Seminar Series

We are pleased to announce the launch of our Reading Classics Seminar Series for Summer Term 2022, 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 27 April, we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars, which 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! Attendance is free and open to all! To attend please follow this link: bit.ly/3K8h5lg! Below you can find a poster with all titles and a QR code leading to the attendance link!

For more information, please contact hod-classics@reading.ac.uk.

Full list of titles

27 April

Marion Meyer, Institut für Klassische Archäologie, Universität Wien, ‘Worshiping Athena in Athens: the Panathenaia, the peplos for the goddess, and Some Open Questions’.

4th May

Bernardo Ballesteros Petrella, Corpus Christi College Oxford, ‘Comparing early Greek, Babylonian and Sanskrit epic: the overburdened earth motif’.

11th May 2-5pm, a symposium on ‘Rome: city and country’, in honour of Professor Annalisa Marzano. NB this is an all-afternoon event.

18th May

Carol Dougherty, Wellesley College, ‘ “I’m a strange new kind of in-between thing aren’t I?”: Antigone and the Question of the Foreigner’.

25th May

no seminar

1st June

Michelle Zerba, Louisiana State University, ‘Eleusis at the Intersection of Antiquity and Modernity: The Mysteria, Altered Consciousness, and the Neuroscience of Transformational Experience’.