Staff Spotlight, August 2017
See also: Clare Rowan; Michael Scott
Professor Zahra Newby has recently been awarded a Leverhulme Research Project Grant on the topic of 'Materiality and meaning in Greek festival culture of the Roman Imperial period'.
Religious festivals were important times of civic cohesion in Antiquity, allowing communities to come together in worship of their patron deities, and to showcase their religious and mythological traditions. They were also times when social hierarchies were on very public display, manifested in the ordering of processions or the distribution of sacrificial meats. Much of our evidence for festivals comes from material culture, such as inscriptions detailing festival foundations or lists of victors, or images on coins or architectural reliefs (fig. 1). Yet while these have been widely mined as sources of evidence, they have not often been looked at as active players which themselves helped to construct the meaning of festivals for their donors, participants and viewers.
During this three-year project, Zahra will lead a team of specialists in epigraphy, numismatics, and art to explore the ways that material culture played an active role in formulating what festivals meant to their communities and in communicating that message further afield.
Token Communities in the Ancient Mediterranean:
This was the first year of the European Research Council funded project Token Communities in the Ancient Mediterranean, a five year project that will publish and analyse tokens from the ancient Mediterranean. In the last year the team has been working on unpublished material across Europe: the Egyptian tokens in the Ashmolean and Petrie Museums, the British Museum ancient lead token collection, and unpunished material from Athens and Sicily. The British Museum holds more than 2000 unpublished lead tokens from antiquity, with specimens from Rome, Italy, Egypt, Athens and Israel identified to date. The tokens carry a wide variety of images: portraits of emperors, gods and goddesses, palm branches, military and mythological references, letters, ships, as well as other charming and absurd images, festival cries and chants, for example the cry of the Saturnalia festival “Io Io Saturnalia!”. The precise purposes of these objects remains to be determined, but at the moment we think that some, at least, must have been connected to festivals.
The project also held a major conference this year bringing together scholars working on tokens from all over the world, including Denise Schmandt-Besserat, a world renowned archaeologist who discovered that prehistoric tokens led to the development of writing and abstract number. An interview with Denise will be published in Warwick Exchanges. You can follow our progress on our Twitter account (@ancient_tokens), as well as on our website http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/classics/research/dept_projects/tcam/.
Research: Michael has won a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for 2017-8, to investigate the socio-cultural and political impacts of the trade in luxury goods across the Mediterranean, Asia, India and China in antiquity. More about the project can be found here on the Leverhulme website: https://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/awards-made/awards-focus/meaning-and-impact-luxuries-across-ancient-world-100-bce%E2%80%93300-ce
Teaching: Michael was awarded a Warwick Award in Teaching Excellence in the summer of 2016, and has during the course of this year been using the award to develop his teaching practice, including the purchase of equipment for podcasting as part of taught modules and the development of a whole new teaching module on ancient global history. He has been put forward by the University for a National Teaching Fellowship, the highest award possible for teaching in the UK, with results due at the end of July – fingers crossed!
Impact, Outreach and Engagement: Michael has continued to present new TV series in 2016-7, with a 3 part series on BBC1, Italy’s Invisible Cities (co-presented with Alexander Armstrong), and a 2 part series on BBC 2: Sicily: Wonder of the Mediterranean.
He has at the same time been working on a new web portal project, funded by the Strategic and Department Warwick Impact Grants. Oiko.world, based on Michael’s recent book Ancient Worlds (Penguin Random House 2016), showcases the interactions between ancient cultures across the Mediterranean, Asia, India and China 1st-4th centuries AD.
Image: relief from the Theatre at Hierapolis (modern Turkey) showing Septimius Severus presiding over the city's festival to Apollo. CC BY-SA 2.0 Carole Raddato.
Michael designed the portal working in conjunction with Warwick Academic Technologist Steve Ranford and an external web development agency Computerminds. Michael has also worked with two teams of undergraduate and postgraduate Warwick Classics students to help load Oiko.world with data. In early May 2017, the site was published in beta version at a conference for UK based digital technologists and is now in final stages of improvement before its public launch. (See photo of the Oiko.world team at the conference in May)
In 2017-8, Michael will also be leading Warwick Classics’ contribution to a new national initiative, the Advocating Classics Education project (aceclassics.org). The aim is to increase the take up of Classical Civilisation and Ancient History across the UK school system, and Warwick is one of 16 partner Universities to be hosting events to inspire students and teachers to take up the study of the ancient world.