Pasts Imperfect (3.31.22)
Isis in a Global Empire, Robot Dogs at Pompeii, and more
This week, Lindsey A. Mazurek discusses the study of ancient religion and her new book on Isis. Then, video games and ancient history, a robotic dog surveils Pompeii, pigments at Çatalhöyük, and more.
The Goddess Isis in a Global Empire (Lindsey A. Mazurek)
In the late 4th or early 3rd century BCE, an Egyptian priest named Apollonios traveled from Memphis to the Greek island of Delos. On that journey, he brought a statue of the god Sarapis and introduced the worship of Egyptian gods to his new neighbors. He and, in turn, his son led the cult within their home for many years, drawing an active and engaged community of devotees. His grandson, however, realized that the cult required a larger dedicated space. After receiving a message from the god, he purchased a piece of land that was filled with garbage. He and his followers built a new temple, probably the site now called Sarapieion A, and continued to grow. But the community drew the ire of neighbors, who filed suit with the Athenian authorities, for reasons unknown. Miraculously, Sarapis intervened in the court, and the community was able to thrive.
This incredible account, called the Chronicle of Sarapieion A, highlights the role of mobility in the cults of Isis, Sarapis, and the other Egyptian deities. It is not surprising, then, to see case studies drawn from these cults throughout recent studies of globalization. Miguel John Versluys, who originally focused on Isis studies, has emerged in recent years as a leading theorist of ancient globalization. Other scholars focused on large-scale questions about the nature of Roman imperialism and expansion like Jorg Rüpke and Greg Woolf have increasingly turned to Egyptian cults as a venue for exploring how the disparate parts of the Mediterranean created a shared culture.
In my recent book, Isis in a Global Empire, I put mobility at the center of the story as a way to think through globalization’s impacts on a regional scale. People like Apollonios moved across the Mediterranean, bringing the Egyptian gods with them. But they also brought their ideas about the gods and how they should be worshipped, in the form of a series of hymns called aretalogies. Found at sites throughout Greece and Asia Minor, these metrical texts defined Isis’ parentage, her powers, and her personal characteristics. The Chronicle of Sarapieion A, which included aretalogical passages, is part of this corpus. Ian Moyer (2017) has demonstrated that these texts were punctuated consistently, suggesting that they were read as part of a scripted rite practiced throughout the region. Isis devotees in Greece and Asia Minor, then, worshipped the same gods in the same ways, at least in some key rites.
Despite their clear relevance to contemporary issues of migration and cultural change, the study of Isis and her cults has been treated as marginal to our understanding of the ancient world. Francophone scholars have long dominated the field of Isis studies, which grew out of Franz Cumont’s interest in what he termed ‘Oriental cults:’ the cults of Isis, Mithras, and Cybele. But in Anglophone publications, Isis and her cults are barely mentioned, if they are mentioned at all. This omission is puzzling given the near omnipresence of evidence for Isis worship throughout the Mediterranean. Laurent Bricault’s Recueil des Inscriptions concernant les cultes isiaques (RICIS) project, which consists of three published volumes, an atlas, four supplements, and an ongoing mapping project, demonstrates that Isis and her companions received veneration from Hadrian’s Wall to the Crimean Peninsula to modern Portugal, as well as throughout North Africa and the Nile Valley.
Why, then, are many people surprised to learn that cities like Rome, Athens, Pergamon, and Baelo Claudia all featured prominent sanctuaries to Egyptian deities? In my view, these attitudes say more about what we expect from the Greeks and Romans. Many scholars today working on the connections between white supremacism and classical studies, such as Dani Bostick, have demonstrated that many modern readers want to see a direct line between white culture and the ancient Greeks and Romans. Our inability to see Isis and Sarapis, even when they are right in front of us, comes from the other side of the same coin. The idea of someone quintessentially Greek like Herodes Atticus worshipping the Egyptian gods flies in the face of our modern ideas and narrow definitions of Greekness. Going forward, it is up to modern scholars and readers to recognize a broader and more variable definition of Greekness, Romanness, and other forms of ancient identity that existed alongside the touchstones of classical culture.
Bonnet, C., V. Pirenne-Delforge, and D. Praet, eds. Les religions orientales dans le monde grec et romain: cent ans après Cumont (1906-2006). Bilan historique et historiographique. Colloque de Rome, 16-18 Novembre 2006. Brussels: Belgian Historical Institute of Rome, 2009.
Bricault, L. Atlas de la diffusion des cultes isiaques : IVe s. av. J.-C.- IVe s. apr. J.-C. Mémoires de l’académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres 23. Paris: Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, 2001.
———. Recueil des inscriptions concernant les cultes isiaques : RICIS. 3 vols. Mémoires de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres 31. Paris: De Boccard, 2005.
Martzavou, P. “Les cultes isiaques et les italiens entre Délos, Thessalonique et l’Eubée.” Pallas 84 (2010): 181–205.
Mazurek, L. A. Isis in a Global Empire: Greek Identity Through Egyptian Religion in Roman Greece. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2022.
———. “The Middle Platonic Isis: Text and Image in the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods at Herodes Atticus’ Marathon Villa.” American Journal of Archaeology 122, no. 4 (2018): 611–44.
Pitts, M. and M. J. Versluys. Globalisation and the Roman World: World History, Connectivity, and Material Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Rüpke, J. From Jupiter to Christ: On the History of Religion in the Roman Imperial Period. Translated by D. M. B. Richardson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Versluys, M.J. “Exploring Aegyptiaca and Their Material Agency Throughout Global History.” In The Routledge Handbook of Globalisation and Archaeology, 74–89. London: Routledge, 2016.
———. “Understanding Objects in Motion. An Archaeological Dialogue on Romanization.” Archaeological Dialogues 21, no. 1 (2014): 1–20.
Woolf, G. “Only Connect? Network Analysis and Religious Change in the Roman World.” Hélade 2, no. 2 (2016): 43–58.
Public Scholarship on the Web
As The Atlantic notes, kids are learning more and more history from video games. Rather than throwing up our hands and lamenting the times and the customs, we can perhaps take a page from Deb Trusty’s notebook, as discussed in her new post at Peopling the Past, and engage with video games more in the classroom. In her post, she specifically addresses how she integrates “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.”
To prepare for each class, students read short translations of ancient texts that explored the section of the game that we would be play in class. For example, our day on Greek politics had them reading Aristotle’s Athenian Constitution. Each class period started with a short lecture on the topic that the students would encounter in the game and then they were allowed to play through a section of the Discovery Tour with their group. For the last 10 minutes of class, students reflected on any adaptations or modifications to their understanding of life in ancient Greece that occurred as a result of playing the game.
One of my favorite courses I have taken thus far was the required introductory methods course for all history PhD students, in which I read scholarship not usually assigned in traditional Ancient Mediterranean studies courses. These included Saidiya Hartman’s “Venus in Two Acts” on the method of critical fabulation; Robin D. G. Kelley’s “We Are Not What We Seem” on everyday acts of resistance by the Black working-class in the Jim Crow South; Lisa Brooks’ Our Beloved Kin as a new history of King Philip’s War; and Zeb Tortorici’s Sins Against Nature on the prosecution of sex acts in colonial New Spain. This course opened my eyes to the myriad ways that scholars can do history in more meaningful and self-reflexive ways, and these articles and books taught me that scholarship can and in some cases must be fundamentally activist.
As the University of Illinois news reports, a new genomic study of Native peoples around the San Francisco Bay conducted by scientists working directly with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe unveils “that eight present-day members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe share ancestry with 12 individuals who lived in the region several hundred to 2,000 years ago.” Why is this important? Well, it challenges the idea that the Ohlone were relative newcomers to the area:
the study challenges the notion that the Ohlone migrated to the area between A.D. 500-1,000…The ancestral individuals belonged to two villages near San Francisco Bay, one that persisted from about 490 B.C. to A.D. 1775, and the other that dated to A.D. 1345-1839.
In Scientific Reports, an open access article by E. M. J. Schotsmans et al. analyzes the pigments “associated with ritual activities and the creation of social memory” at the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük (Turkey, 7100–5950 cal BC).
This study presents the first combined analysis of funerary and architectural evidence of pigment use in Neolithic Anatolia and discusses the possible social processes underlying the observed statistical patterns. Results reveal that pigments were either applied directly to the deceased or included in the grave as a burial association. The most commonly used pigment was red ochre. Cinnabar was mainly applied to males and blue/green pigment was associated with females.
At Pompeii, a new robot dog is helping surveil the streets for looters or those engaged in vandalism. Cave Canem, indeed.
Conferences, Lectures, and CFPS
Registration is now open for the annual Association of Ancient Historians (AAH) meeting being held virtually. The link can be found here. The University of California, San Diego is pleased to welcome you to the 2022 AAH Annual Meeting, whichruns from 8am PDT on April 28 to 12pm PST on April 30 and will be held remotely. Please register beforehand!
At Loyola-Chicago on April 11, 2022 at 5:00 pm CDT, Adrienne Mayor will be speaking on “Biological and Chemical Warfare in Ancient Myth and History.” Register for the Zoom webinar here.
New Online Journal Issues @YaleClassicsLib
Colin is on paternity leave for the month of April. We celebrate and respect this. Congratulations!
If you wish to help the Ukrainian scholarly journal Arheologia, please see the new go fund me page set up to support it.
The Public Books section "Antiquities" continues to take pitches for articles to be published in 2022. You can pitch to our “Pasts Imperfect” column at the LA Review of Books using this form and to the new JSTOR column here. Thanks for reading!
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