Category Archives: reading

Were Pagan Temples All Smashed Or Just Converted Into Christian Churches?

This week over at the Forbes column [access it here], I discuss an article in the new volume of the Journal of Late Antiquity (10.1) It is a great piece of scholarship written by ancient historian Feyo L. Schuddeboom and is called “The Conversion of Temples in Rome.” The article effectively uses archaeological evidence for temple conversion within the city of Rome during the period of Late Antiquity (ca.300-800 CE in this case) in order to further dismantle the myth that all Roman temples were smashed to bits by angry pagans. Using the case study of Rome, Schuddeboom also suggests that temples being converted to churches was usually a pragmatic act rather than one meant to demonstrate the “triumph” of Christianity over paganism.

The article has a helpful map within it. It was also a great excuse to insert some pictures from Santa Maria Antiqua; a 6th century church in the Roman Forum. I was lucky enough to be able to see this converted quadriporticus church near to the ramp that leads up to the Palatine from the Forum Romanum and to glimpse at its recently restored frescoes (see images below).

Enjoy these photos and this amazing new issue of the JLA. If you care to read about another converted temple in Rome, feel free to read my article on the history of Roman Curiae. The Curia Senatus was a Roman temple and also the Roman Senate House–since senate meetings could only technically be held within a consecrated space in the city of Rome.

Hold My Mead: A Bibliography For Historians Hitting Back At White Supremacy

On September 6, 2017, medieval historian David Perry published an article in the Pacific Standard remarking on how medievalists can counter the use of medieval history by White Supremacists. As Prof. Perry noted in his post, “…mostly we’re just a collection of predominantly white scholars who are surprised and disturbed to discover our classes and books might be well-received by white supremacists.” The piece hit home for many classicists as well; a field which has also grappled with the appropriation of antiquity by white supremacists. What follows is a bit of an outline of the articles written in the past year which explain the state of the problem and provide some steps towards countering this abuse of the historical record. I have never seen the medieval and ancient worlds as two different realms. Thus this short bibliography melds the two together in hopes that we can see each field’s efforts to combat this problem.

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Bishop Petros with Saint Peter (974– 997 CE) by Unknown and from Faras. Now at The National Museum in Warsaw.

Ancient History: 

Beard, Mary, “Roman Britain in Black and White,” A Don’s Life: Times Literary Supplement (August 3, 2017).

Bond, Sarah E, “A Short History Of Torches And Intimidation,” Forbes (August 15, 2017).
_____”Why We Need to Start Seeing the Classical World in Color,” Hyperallergic (June 7, 2017).

Futo Kennedy, Rebecca, “We Condone It by Our Silence: Confronting Classics’ Complicity in White Supremacy,” Eidolon (May 11, 2017).
_____”The Ancient Mediterranean Was Diverse. Why Do Some People Get So Upset When We Talk About It?” Classics at the Intersections (August 8, 2017).
_____”How is the Ancient Mediterranean Diverse If Everyone There Is “White”?” Classics at the Intersections (August 17, 2017).
_____”Blood and Soil from Antiquity to Charlottesville: A Short Primer,Classics at the Intersections (August 17, 2017).
_____”Using Genetics to Prove Ancient Greeks Were “White”?”Classics at the Intersections (August 26, 2017).
_____”Why I Teach About Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World” Eidolon (September 11, 2017).

McCoskey, Denise Eileen, “What Would James Baldwin Do? Classics and the Dream of White Europe,” Eidolon (August 24, 2017). Please note that this is essential reading by a leading scholar in the field of race in antiquity.

Morley, Neville, “Diversitas et Multiculturalismus,” The Sphinx Blog (August 2, 2017).

Robey, Tracy E. “The Long History of Damnatio Memoriae and the Destruction of Monuments,” Jezebel (August 16, 2017).

Umachandran, Mathura, “Fragile, Handle With Care: On White Classicists,” Eidolon (June 5, 2017).

Withun, David, “African Americans and the Classics: An Introduction,” Black Perspectives (AAIHS) (September 7, 2017).

Wenger, Ayelet, “‘Our’ ‘Classics’: Problems of Difference in Western Civilization,” Eidolon (August, 28, 2017): A great question to begin with: “The Greeks and Romans of yore are dead. The Europeans of now speak tongues only distantly related to theirs. So, the question: whose Classics are they, anyway?”

Zuckerberg, Donna, [Just Read Everything]. Dr. Zuckerberg is the editor of Eidolon. She frequently writes on this topic, and thus I would suggest just reading everything she has to say on the topic. Particularly her piece on “How to be a Good Classicist Under a Bad Emperor” November 21, 2016.

Medieval History: 

Gabriele, Matthew, “Islamophobes want to recreate the Crusades. But they don’t understand them at all,” Washington Post (June 6, 2017).

Dark Age, Dr. @drdarkage [Added by Prof. Dorothy Kim]

Harland, James M.,”‘Race’ in the Trenches: Anglo-Saxons, Ethnicity, and the Misuse of the Medieval Past,The Public Medievalist (February 17, 2017).

Kim, Dorothy, “Teaching Medieval Studies in a Time of White Supremacy,” In the Middle: Peace, Love & the Middle Ages (August 28, 2017).

Livingstone, Josephine, “Racism, Medievalism, and the White Supremacists of Charlottesville,” New Republic (August 15, 2017).

The Public Medievalist,Race, Racism, and the Middle Ages,” (Blog Sub-Heading).

Washington Post Staff, “Deconstructing the symbols and slogans spotted in Charlottesville,” Washington Post (August 18, 2017).


Hartsuyker, Linnea, “We shouldn’t let the racists own the Vikings,” (August 24, 2017).

Khazan, Olga, “How White Supremacists Use Victimhood to Recruit,” The Atlantic (August 15, 2017).

Perry, David, “White supremacists love Vikings. But they’ve got history all wrong,” Washington Post (May 31, 2017).

Truitt, E.R., “Fantasy North: The top of the globe has always meant fantasy, myth, adventure. What explains the icy northern grip on our imagination?” Aeon (February 15, 2016). [Article submitted by Prof. E.R. Truitt]

Varghese, Sanjana, “White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren’t always that keen on the results,” New Statesman (August 18, 2017).

Official Statements from Academic Societies:

Medieval Academy: On August 18, 2017, the Medieval Academy condemned “the appropriation of any item or idea or material in the service of white supremacy. In addition, we condemn the abuse of colleagues, particularly colleagues of color, who have spoken publicly against this misuse of history.”

Society for Classical Studies: In a statement from the SCS Board of Directors, the organization noted: “…the Society strongly supports efforts to include all groups among those who study and teach the ancient world, and to encourage understanding of antiquity by all. It vigorously and unequivocally opposes any attempt to distort the diverse realities of the Greek and Roman world by enlisting the Classics in the service of ideologies of exclusion, whether based on race, color, national origin, gender, or any other criterion. As scholars and teachers, we condemn the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.”


Classics and Social Justice: The mission of this group is stated thusly: “Outreach that brings classics out of the academy and returns it to the least privileged in our society.” A section heading of their blog brings together a number of syllabi addressing social justice topics in the study of antiquity. 

Futo Kennedy, Rebecca, “Bibliography for Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World,Classics at the Intersections (August 14, 2017).

Eidolon: A new feature area for the online Classics journal is #syllabi, which reacts to the use of various classical authors and issues within the zeitgeist with sets of reading on the issue. The first one is on Thucydides and is written by ancient historian Neville Morley.

  1. Morley, Neville, “Thucydides and Contemporary Politics: A Syllabus,” Eidolon (September 1, 2017).
    a.  Mendelsohn, Daniel, “Theatres of War: Why the battles over ancient Athens still rage,” The New Yorker (January 12, 2004).

Hsy, Jonathan and Julie Orlemanski, “Race and Medieval Studies: A Partial Bibliography” [Crowd-Sourced and by far the very best resource for the issues dealt with this summer in respect to diversity, race, and inclusion in medieval studies.]

Medieval People of Color Tumblr: My suggestion is to include a number of posts in your next Western Civilization or history course. This is also a fantastic image resource.

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August 2017 archive screenshot from the “People of Color in European Art History” Tumblr. 

As per usual with all of my previous bibliography, if you have something to add, please do so in the comments section. You will be credited for your contribution.

Digital Palmyra: Resources for Researching the Ancient City

Yesterday on the Forbes blog, I discussed recent attempts to reconstruct the ancient busts of Palmyra damaged by ISIS and repatriate them back to Syria. As I suggested in the post, such efforts highlight the import of digital methodologies such as 3D printing and photogrammetry, but also underscore art as an umbilical cord that allows us to create an emotional connection. Much like Delphi, art is often an ὀμφαλός (Greek for ‘navel’).

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Limestone relief of a woman and two children from Pamyra, dated to c.150 CE. Now at the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, MA. The inscription at the top reads: ‘Ba’altega, daughter of Hairan. Alas! Sim’on here son; Hairan, her son.’  (1908.3)

Palmyrene funerary busts in particular are an evocative medium that forces the viewer to make direct eye contact with the Syrians of antiquity. When I was at the Vatican Museums recently, I was amazed to see both children and their parents actually pausing on their way to the Sistine Chapel in order to gaze at the Vatican’s small collection of Palmyrene busts (a selection of which are below).

Here are a few projects and resources for investigating ancient Palmyra (and a few other sites) online, although this is by no means a comprehensive list.

Memory Matrix (MIT): An aesthetic project using digital technologies to recreate lost structures from the Middle East. As they note: “The Memory Matrix is a monument that explores the possibilities for future heritage creation, employing new fabrication techniques and transcultural workshops. The Matrix is made of border fences carrying over 20,000 small fluorescent Plexiglas elements. These elements are laser cut with holes outlining vanished heritage from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond.” This video is amazing.

Memory Matrix at MIT from Azra Aksamija on Vimeo.

The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra (Getty Research Institute): As per usual, the Getty Research Institute has used its massive digital archives and powers of good curation for good. Check out the Palmyra site map, the large collection of travel photos, and the resources for research on Palmyra. In the “modern” section, there is a helpful (if rather upsetting) explanation for why those portrait busts became collected by museums in Europe and the U.S. following the expansion of travel tourism in the 19th century: “As tourist photographs of the site began to circulate more widely, so did Palmyra’s artifacts, especially the famous funerary portrait busts (some of which are featured in this exhibition). Today, one can see thousands of Palmyrene antiquities outside the region: in American, Western European, Russian, and Turkish museums that had been secured during the late Ottoman rule (1876–1922) and subsequently during the French Mandate (1923–46).

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Temple of Bel, cella entrance , Jean-Baptiste Réville and Pierre Gabriel Berthault after Louis-François Cassas. Etching. Platemark: 18 x 11.4 in. (46 x 29 cm). From Picturesque travels of Syria, Phenicia, Palestine, and Lower Egypt (Paris, ca. 1799), vol. 1, pl. 46. ​​Image via The Getty Research Institute’s ‘The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra.’ 

Monuments of Syria (Dr. Ross Burns): A list of the historical sites in Syria. There is an area of the website just for Palmyra. There are lots of historical images and primary sources that can easily be put into a syllabus for educators. It also explores the destruction of monuments that has thus far occurred during the Syrian Civil War and the encroachment by ISIS.

On the Polychromy of Ancient Palmyra” (Alex Nagel, Smithsonian Institution): A post on the polychromy added to Palmyrene portrait busts. The Smithsonian has indeed been engaging in analysis of the polychrome remnants left on at least one bust in their collection. As Nagel remarks about a particular limestone relief with remnants of red on the jewelry: “Microscope images would make painted details much more visible and a red colorant on the statue has recently been identified by scientific analysis. Qualitative elemental analysis of a small sample taken shows the presence of Al, Si, Ca and Fe with a strong presence of iron.”

On a side note: You can often see the red left on inscriptions from antiquity. Red paint was applied to make them stand out to readers; a common use of color for textual emphasis. In the middle ages, manuscript assistants called rubricators added red to certain letters to make them stand out. There is even a famous monk known for his ability to apply red, who was given the nickname Rubricius.

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Funerary relief bust; Syria, 231 CE; Limestone; Freer Gallery of Art; F1908.236 (Freer Gallery).

Sketchfab and Palmyra: As I pointed out in the Forbes article, there are a number of 3D models popping up online which are either made on-site from a museum bust or from a composite of photos that produce photogrammetric data that can be used to create a 3D model. As I have written about before, there are indeed ethics that must be applied to 3D printing cultural heritage and there is indeed the danger of “digital colonialism”–particularly if the object is not contextualized or you are making a profit from its display. Right now my favorite model is a 2nd-3rd c. bust from the Louvre.


These are just a few of the interesting digital projects focused on Palmyra right now. My hope is that the creation of both digital and museum-based relationships to the Syrian past will not only make us reflect on current cultural heritage issues, but also serve to create a connection to the present. Syria’s civil war continues to take the lives of thousands of civilians and the death toll now stands at close to 500,000. Consequently, these digital projects are fantastic, but we must keep in mind that accepting the art of Syria but rejecting its people is not an option. 


A Palmyrene bust of a woman with polychrome jewelry now at the Musée de Grenoble (Photo taken by David Meadows and used with permission).

Legitimizing The Blog: On Reading, Citing & Archiving Blogposts

Over at the Forbes blog this week, I wrote about an issue within academic blogging that has been bugging me for a long time: Why aren’t more academic blogs cited in the footnotes of journal articles and within academic books? While there are certainly still specious blogs that abound on the web, the number of trusted, well-sourced, and highly researched academic blogs is on the increase. This post was meant to point out some blogs that are dependable and quite rigorously reviewed, to demonstrate how they might be cited, and then to show readers how to archive a blogpost. I will briefly go through these steps below.

  1. The Blogs: There are myriad blogs (Fun fact: In the plural, a Greek myriad=10,000) focused on classical antiquity. Tom Elliott (NYU-ISAW) runs a comprehensive feed aggregator called Maia Atlantis that will allow you to explore almost everything posted on the web having to do with the ancient world. In terms of my morning blog habits? While sipping coffee, I tend first to turn to the Rogue Classicist and then to move onto the medieval world by skimming any new posts from Littera Visigothica or Medieval Books.Trust and familiarity are big parts of reading and then citing academic blogs, but you will quickly come to learn the notable professors, librarians, scientists, and researchers in each field who post reliable content; however, just like anything else, you are still responsible for evaluating each post. Reading academic blogs may require a bit more source criticism and critique, but they are a great way to hear new ideas, to find out about recently discovered archaeological remains, or to find out about news fast. For instance, the AAIHS’ Black Perspectives blog is rigorously peer reviewed and contributed to by numerous scholars that provide citations and copious bibliography, all while reacting to current issues in real time.
  2. The Citation Format: Once we have a blog post we wish to cite in our own book manuscript or journal article, it is time to properly cite according to the accepted style manuals. There are standard formats for citing a blog post in MLA and Chicago Style, which can then easily be integrated into your footnotes and bibliography.First name Last Name, “Title of Blog Post,” Blog Title (blog), Publisher/Sponsor of Blog (if applicable), Month Date, Year of post, URL.Here is the Chicago Style format for a blogpost from Kristina Killgrove on crucifixion:Kristina Killgrove, “Line on the left, one cross each: Bioarchaeology of Crucifixion,” Powered by Osteons (blog), November 4, 2011,

    I find that using the Zotero extension for your browser helps you keep track of online reading. This open source citation tool (originally created at George Mason University) will allow you either to find the proper citation through a Worldcat search or you can take a snapshot of the webpage and then cite that.


    Screenshot that exemplifies how to use the Zotero extension in the Chrome browser.

    3. The Archive: On my own blogs, I tend to cite primary sources by giving the classical citation  (as stipulated by the Oxford Classical Dictionary [PDF]) or by hyperlinking back to the texts themselves. Usually this means a link to the Perseus Project or to LacusCurtius. I trust both Tufts University and LC’s Bill Thayer, who respectively run these sites, and also have confidence in their stable URIs. However, there are still a lot of dead or broken links when you only hyperlink back to either a primary or secondary source, and certainly this won’t work well for an ebook or journal article. The fear of corpse-links is not only founded, it keeps people from citing blogposts or webpages.

    Taking the attitude that webpages are ephemeral and thus unworthy of proper citation is something we have got to abandon. My institutional repository scrapes my blogs and then archives my posts in my individual IRO account. However, you don’t have to have an institutional repository in order to create an archive of your own blogposts or of the ones you wish to cite. We have at our disposal a number of citation tools (e.g. the aforementioned Zotero snapshot) and archiving sites that can allow us to archive a post in order to verify the words we quote for future audiences or to provide a later reference. Over at the Internet Archive, there is the so-called WayBack Machine. This service has permitted thousands of datasets from the federal government to be recorded, saved, and archived prior to their deletion under the Trump administration. It can also allow you to save a webpage and then site a stable, archived version via a link provided by the site.

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Screenshot of the Internet Archive’s ‘WayBack Machine’ interface. Just capture a web page’s current content by entering the URL and then hitting “save page.” The you can use the link in your bibliography, footnotes, or research records.

Academic blogging is a rather thankless task at times, but take heart: the visibility and recognition of blogs as valid publications is increasing. As authors, bloggers are still responsible for what they publish and should be held accountable for the things they say. But that means that readers must, in turn, cite the blogposts they are using in their own work. Over the years, I have seen a number of the ideas, images, and translations that I have posted reused without attribution. I am not here to point fingers, I am simply going to state the obvious: We live in a digital world, but plagiarism is still plagiarism, whether you copy and paste from a book or a blogpost. Our citation habits must expand to include the academic blog if we are to further legitimize them as publications. There really are no more excuses.


The Itinerarium Egeriae: Mapping Egeria’s Pilgrimage On Candlemas

In the Roman Catholic Church, the celebration held forty days after Christmas is the festival of Candlemas (February 2). Candlemas recognizes the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary forty days after giving birth (Luke 2:22-29). This was in accordance with Jewish purity law (Lev. 12:4) which required women who had just given birth to remain separate from the temple. On this Candlemas, I wanted to take a look back at the development of the liturgical calendar in Late Antiquity and also to consider the role of late antique women in shaping our knowledge of both liturgical practice and the geography of piety in the early Christian Mediterranean.

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An illustration of the presentation of Jesus in the temple from the Menologion of Basil II (ca. 1000 CE). I have indeed used a screenshot from the digitized version of Vat.Gr.1613 that can be accessed in its entirety at the Digital Vatican Library website.

We know that the emperor Justinian set Candlemas within the city of Constantinople and elsewhere in the East for February 2. In the year 542 CE, the emperor decreed this celebration as a means of entreating the purity of the Virgin Mary to remedy the outbreak of plague that was ravaging the city at that time. However, the origins of the festival likely lay in the early fourth century. Around the year 381-384, a pilgrim text written by a woman named Egeria, who derived either from southern France or northwestern Spain, remarked on the festival in Jerusalem thusly: 

‘Sane quadragesimae de epiphania ualde cum summo honore hic celebrantur. ‘

Her reference to a celebration held on the fortieth day after Epiphany likely demonstrates that Candlemas was originally celebrated on February 14, exactly forty days from Epiphany celebrated on January 6. Notably, when celebrated on February 14, Candlemas was then just the day before the popular Roman Lupercalia of February 15–where the raucous but traditional Roman religious purificatory rites of februa were carried out. Christian or not, the month of February was then a time for purification in the fourth and fifth centuries.


Triumphal arch mosaic in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Rome). This is the oldest known artistic depiction of the presentation of Jesus at the temple. (Image via Wikimedia under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 License and first noted to me by Caitlin Green).

As it happens, my medieval Latin class is currently discussing the import of ritual, liturgy, and the early Christian calendar by translating a portion of Egeria’s writings. Although she uses some quirky Latin, she provides a pivotal example of female prose writing in Late Antiquity. Notably, the only surviving manuscript is the so-called Codex Arretinus, an 11th century fragmentary text only found in the Italian city of Arezzo in the late 19th century. We know little about whether she was a nun (she does often address her fellow dominae) or just a learned pilgrim, but we can say that she wrote the Itinerarium Egeriae (or Peregrinatio Aetheriae) in an epistolary format that reflected on her travails while on pilgrimage to sites such as Mount Sinai and Jerusalem. She also pivotally records her liturgical experience while attending services in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

The geography detailed in Egeria’s extraordinary itinerary letters help us to reconstruct the broader network of movement amongst pilgrims in the late antique Mediterranean. Her itinerary, along with earlier itineraries such as the Itinerarium Burdigalense (Bordeaux Itinerary) of ca.333, together give us a good idea of the pilgrimage routes regularly used in the fourth century by both men and women. With the advent of GIS, there has been a push to map these pilgrimage routes, which in their original formats formed a textual list rather than a geospatial visualization. As one student noted: “A medieval Trip Advisor.” The best modern geographic visualization of these itineraries for you to use in your classes is at the Pelagios project’s Recogito site. Here you can find a number of late antique texts that can be “read” geo-spatially.


Map of the Bordeaux Itinerary as visualized by Recogito via the Pelagios Project.

Although we can map the routes listed in the anonymous Bordeaux Itinerary rather more easily and confidently, Egeria presents more of a challenge to modern geographers. Certainly the order of the sites that she mentions–Mount Sinai, Jerusalem, Constantinople–can give us some idea of the likely routes and roads she may have taken, especially when compared to other texts (e.g., Epiphanius) and set alongside the existing Roman road networks. But it is still admittedly oftentimes speculative. That is why I am always hesitant to point students to maps like the one at the ‘Egeria Project,’ which makes her text seem much more complete than it actually is.


Screenshot from, which has an incredible number of downloadable maps and itineraries that range from antique pilgrim routes to the modern day. This is the downloadable excel sheet for the sites from the Bordeaux Itinerary [Access Here].

I will be discussing the issue of “imaginary” or uncertain geography more at the Clerical Exile conference in April, but the very mapping of these routes can serve as an argument to suggest that we know more than we really do; a danger within the study of Late Antiquity that I and my colleague Candida Moss have similarly remarked upon. As ancient historian Ryan Horne recently asserted, uncertainty must be represented and flagged on maps, even if it is not a very satisfying practice. But, really, maps are not here to provide us complete satisfaction. Think of the use of dotted lines or blinking place-markers as a possible geographic signpost for inserting all those textual “maybes” and “perhaps-s” that frequently pepper academic writing in order to show that we are unsure. It is also a reminder that translating texts to different languages may cause problems, but so too does its translation to a different visual medium (text -> map).

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Recogito’s Map of the sites mentioned in Egeria’s Itinerary (381-384 CE). Map tiles created by the AWMC and used under a CC-BY-NC-3.0 license.

This was a quick post to point out some resources for studying a quite worthy late antique lady and using her to help reconstruct the world of late antique pilgrimage. I often read books on cartography in the late antique world that focus solely on the myriad men that came to shape the early Christian worldview. However, it must be remembered that even if writers like Egeria didn’t give us a diagrammatic representation of an area, many women contributed to the broader geographic discourse in the later empire. Collectively, these texts inform how we visualize a world we are no longer a part of, but which we frequently attempt to access. I think Prof. Moss put it best when she said: “Christian social networks, patterns of pilgrimage and missionary activity, and the art of letter writing united Christian communities and networks across the empire…Physical geography is webbed with social networks navigated by correspondence, plotted by travel, and reimagined by ancient cartographers” (2012: 21). Our vision of the late antique Mediterranean is still a complex, imperfect, and often deceptive network of people and places rather than a straightforward map, but then again, so is the world of today.

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Egeria’s mentions of Jerusalem, as visualized in Recogito. 

Picturing the Patriarch: Resources for Finding Illustrated Papyri and the Case for Image Licensing

Ancient and medieval papyri not only transmitted text, some even held illustrations. Mathematical, scientific, and magical papyri often had accompanying images meant to enhance the understanding of a text or perhaps to depict someone being cursed. Some historical and literary papyri (e.g., those of Homer) had illustrations as well. I was reminded of this fact this morning, as I reflected on the death date of the notorious Alexandrian patriarch Theophilus, who died on October 15, 412 CE.

We are lucky enough to have the Papyrus Goleniscev, a codex (fol. 6v, Pushkin Museum, Moscow) that was later published in color in 1905 (digital edition here) and then digitized by the Munich Digitization Center (Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum [MDZ]). The papyrus is originally from Alexandria, and perhaps dates to the 5th c. CE–not long after the death of Theophilus himself. The papyrus transmits fragments of the Alexandrian World Chronicle and has a pivotal depiction of the patriarch holding a gospel and standing atop the head of the Egyptian god Serapis, which had been destroyed along with Alexandria’s Serapeum.

The painting of papyri has been happening for millenia, and reveals not only what may have been important to those that painted them–but also what people found humorous. Over at the British Museum, they have one of my favorite papyri of all time, dating to the period of Rameses (1292 – 1077 BCE) and from Deir el-Medina (Thebes). It shows various animals engaged in common Egyptian trades: there is a hippopotamus and then a lion brewing beer, a cat serving a mouse, and a dog carrying grain. I like showing this papyrus when I give talks on ancient beer or in class, just to illustrate to students that anthropomorphized animals were amusing to people way before LOLZ Cats came around.


Image of an illustrated animal papyrus from the British Museum (c. 1200 BCE). Licensed under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 License. Check out that Hippo brewing some beer.

There are some beautiful images of Hellenistic era papyri (4th-3rd c. BCE) in the collection at the Brooklyn Museum as well. What is more? The Brooklyn Museum has placed their images under a creative commons license, which allows me to show you this stunning procession of Egyptian Gods below.


Illustrated papyrus from the 4th-3rd c. BCE showing a procession of Egyptian Gods. Image via the Brooklyn Museum under a CC Attribution 3.0 License.

The ability to look at this papyrus online with students or to use it for research purposes is a valuable one–but it comes with some caveats. Particularly, we must consider how an image can be used: in publications, in the classroom, and online. Licensing is something I have thought a lot about since beginning to blog at Forbes, but many images I cannot use simply because they are not available for free use by commercial outlets. I understand this sentiment completely, but it means I have to be very careful about the images I post at Forbes, which is a for-profit news corporation, versus my WordPress blog, which makes me no money. That is why I appreciate the clear use of Creative Commons licensing that marks how I can use an image. For the MDZ, who digitized the 1905 edition of the Papyrus Goleniscev, there is a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license that stipulates that I must note the institution and if I modified the image, and bans me from using the image for profit. Hence why I am writing this post on my WordPress blog.

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I started thinking about CC licensing this week largely because Dot Porter (Curator, Digital Research Services, in the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania) pointed out on her blog that it is frustrating when an institution says that texts are “freely available online” and then does not clearly delineate what they mean by this. In her post, she lists a number of questions one should answer when posting digital images (e.g., are your images licensed?) and does a fantastic job of laying out the logistics that need to be thought through when museums, libraries, individuals, or institutions disseminate digital images online.

Licensing is important for blogging, but also needs to be integrated into our Twitter lives. For a long time, I have been trying to do a better job of citing the sources for my images on Twitter and encouraging others to do so as well. I try to use my own pictures from museums or those freely available on Wikimedia, and to give attribution to people when I use Flickr photos or perhaps pull from their personal blog (e.g. Following Hadrian’s Carole Raddato, who is incredibly generous with her images). Other digital humanists, like Alice Lynn McMichael at MSU, have also begun to think about how Twitter licensing and tags can help us to use Twitter content for use in linked open data digital projects–like Pleiades.

Many on Twitter pointed me to the fact that Twitter has a description capability for images that was originally put in place for people with visual disabilities. As Twitter notes: “Enable this feature by using the compose image descriptions option in the Twitter app’s accessibility settings. The next time you add an image to a Tweet, each thumbnail in the composer will have an add description button. Tap it to add a description to the image. People who are visually impaired will have access to the description via their assistive technology (e.g., screen readers and braille displays). Descriptions can be up to 420 characters.” Twitter’s “image descriptions” function is a fantastic resource that we all need to use more. My hope is also that Twitter will begin to add machine-readable tags (e.g. as they do at Flickr) that will allow images posted through the social media service to be better archived and used by DH projects.

This post has certainly been a mix of ideas and topics, but licensing ideas have been brewing in my head for awhile (by me, not by an Egyptian hippo). This morning seemed as good a time as any to begin a deeper conversation on the importance of clear image licensing. It is also a chance to say thank you to those digital preservation librarians who work tirelessly to provide these images for public use. In my teaching demonstration just two years ago, while interviewing at the University of Iowa, I taught a passage of Homer directly from a papyrus image provided by the Homer Multitext Project. The students relished the ability to see how some of Homer’s texts were transmitted and to read the original papyrus–in all its funky handwriting. Having access to papyri while sitting at a desk in Iowa City has been an invaluable resource, but clear licensing by posters and clear citation by users is part of maintaining healthy digital relationships and respecting each other’s work.

Digital Resources for Papyri:

Duke University, (check out their list of papyrological resources here).

University of Michigan Papyrological Collection (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license)

Digital Papyri at the Houghton Library (Varying in copyright, but largely in the Public Domain).

Fantastic Papyrology Blogs

Roberta Mazza, Faces and Voices 

Digital Papyrology: News and commentary concerning digital applications, methodology and resources in papyrology.

 *Many thanks to Dorothy King, who sent me a ton of photos of the Papyrus Goleniscev this morning and has always been incredibly generous with her images.

‘Bind His Hands’: Curse Tablets and Charioteer Magic in Ancient Sports

Over on the Forbes blog this week, I wrote a bit about how social anxiety can be viewed through magic. In the case of curse tablets involving charioteers, we see an incredible amount of energy invested in sports. The culture of athletic competition and rivalry in chariot racing is not all that different from the seriousness with which Red Sox fans curse the Yankees or Green Bay Packers fans scream at the Minnesota Vikings–but the use of magic is something a bit different from the modern day. Fans, factions managers, and even the charioteers themselves often engaged in the writing of curse tablets later buried in graves, wells, on boundary zones, or on the outskirts of the hippodrome itself. They reveal a society that put at least some stock in the potency of magical practices like curses and apotropaic amulets, but also demonstrate the long history of people attempting to seize agency within athletic competitions. For fans and bystanders who felt so much emotion connected to the circus factions, magic was an outlet for fear and angst that gave them at least a modicum of perceived control. Read more over at the blog!