Ephesus: A Turkish Pompeii and Tourist Homing Beacon

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In my recent adventures in Turkey we were lucky enough to visit the amazing site of Ephesus on the Western coast of the country. This site is a must see and I certainly understand the hype but as an academic a few things struck me which need to be addressed. Namely the lack of accurate information that is actually given by the tour guides we pasted. So here is some accurate information on this awesome site. And remember (I see this everywhere) the tour guides are not always right, do your research before you go.


Before I tell you about the site’s amazing archaeology, let me give you some background. Ephesus was established in the Greek period and was a major city all through to the later Roman periods. In Turkish it is now called Efes (yes like the beer) but the original Greek was Ἔφεσος which is where we take our English transliteration. In its height it was one of the largest cities in the Graeco-Roman world with a population of around 250,000 people in the first century BCE which certainly accounts for the large amount of material on the site. This site is huge!

There are two modern entrances to the site at either end but the main entrance is down at the bottom of the hills in the valley where you are immediately struck by the massive theatre which sits at the end of a long colonnaded street leading to the city’s harbour. To the right of this theatre is the entrance to the main part of the site, the paved streets that are lined with houses, shops, bath houses, toilets, government buildings and of course the famous library of Celsus. If you do get a chance to visit this site then be warned it is easy to miss this path to the main site because of the huge number of tourists that dwell in the shade in that area and block the entrance. It took us three attempts to find it.

The site itself has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic age. Excavations at the mounds in the area have demonstrated this. The habitation appears to be continuous as excavations at the Ayasuluk hill in the 1950s also turned up Bronze age material and a burial ground from the Mycenaean period. Artefacts included ceramics and tools around the ruins of the later site of the basilica of St John which you can still visit today. Hittite sources also tell us that the area held a settlement named Abasa which was in use under the rule of the Ahhiyawans before the Greek migrations took over the area in the 13th and 14th Centuries and established a new settlement. Ephesus was eventually founded as a colony in the 10th century BC. The mythical story of its origins involved King Kadros who was led to the place of Ephesus by the famous Delphic oracle. Though there are several other origin stories including those discussed by Pausanias and Strabo concerning the queen of the Amazons, Ephos, as a founder.

Over the centuries the city saw many conflicts including attacks by the Cimmerians and the Lysians. The city though continued to prosper and became the base of and producing a number of significant historical figures. For instance, the poets Cllainus and Hipponax, the philosopher Heraclitus and the physicians Soranus and Rufus whos writings we still have today. The Classical period saw more conflicts with the Ionian revolt and the Peloponnesian war, in which Ephesus originally allied with Athens and then switched to Sparta in the later stages. During this time though it continued its upward climb and produced even great female artists like Timarate who is mentioned in Pliny the Elder as the painter who produced a fabulous representation of the goddess Diana.

Alexander the Great liberated the site from Persian rule at the end of the Classical period and is said to have entered Ephesus in triumph. He even proposed to rebuild the Temple of Artemis which had been burned down in previous conflicts. After the death of Alexander though turmoil retuned under the rule of his general Lysimachus but after his eventual death, Ephesus became part of the Seleucis Empire and then was governed under Egyptian rule from the late 2nd century BC. Ephesus eventually became a part of the Roman Republic. All these influences and changes certainly led to a diverse site with establishments of buildings and institutions in all these periods. And the diversity continued as the site continued to function as part of the Byzantine era when Constantine I rebuilt much of the city and built a new public bath after the conflicts of the Roman period. Unfortunately though Ephesus has one enemy which they couldn’t defeat, the area is often troubled by earthquakes and one in 614 partially destroyed the city again.

Considering all the conflicts it has seen, all the people and leaders, it is both understandable and surprising that so much is left of this site. And so now we have got through the date part and you have some background information let me tell you about the site itself from an archaeologist’s perspective.

Ephesus - Efes
Library of Celsus

This site really is the archaeologist’s dream, I would happily dig on this site for years and years. You can see obviously that much of the site has been reconstructed which is fabulous and appears to be very well done. There are certain areas though that obviously stand out. The first of these being Celsus’ library. Apart from witnessing teen girls posing doing duck faces next to a status of wisdom (I’m so glad these statues are replicas because i can see the real ones throwing themselves out of their niches in horror), this is by far the most magnificent part of the site. It is truly a shame that the majority of people who visit the site do not know much about it. The library was built at the beginning of the second century CE for Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, who was the governor of the province, by his son Galius Julius Aquila and was actually built as a tomb rather than specifically a library. The façade is all that really remains today but once upon a time this building is thought to have been able to hold over 12,000 scrolls. As such it is thought to have once been the third richest library of the ancient world following the libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum. The library is an amazing building and to someone who understands its significance it really does stand for the virtues that are inscribed on its walls including knowledge, wisdom, intelligence and valour. Just ignore the posing tourists who are updating their Facebook profile pictures.

While it appears that most people go round, look at the theatre and the library and then have an ice cream, this site has some truly amazing parts that you only really appreciate if you have researched them before hand or know about archaeology. The agora for instance, which was built in the Roman period played an important role as a social and political meeting place but the archaeology shows that the area was in use far before these functions. Excavations have brought to light graves from the seventh and sixth centuries BCE including an archaic sarcophagus made from terracotta. There is also a well preserved water reservoir in the corner of the ahora which demonstrates just how technically accomplished these people were. Its water was supplied by the Pollio Aqueduct which supplied the whole city from 5km away. The agora also contained stoas and a temple with dedications to the cult of Isis and evidence of rebuilding in different periods indicative of the turmoil the city suffered.

The emphasis on the large theatre is well justified but the odeon is also a significant area. Unfortunately it was while looking at this I heard a tour guide tell tourists incorrectly that they used to have gladiator fights here…It’s an odeon, it is tiny, just no. First of all this area was used as a Bouletarion (a meeting place) for meetings of the Bouleia (council) and members of the Demos. It was also used for performances. The building is impressive though fairly small in size and demonstrates the wealth of its benefactors. It was orders by Publicus Vedius Antonius and his wife in the second century.

Among other impressive areas of the site is the well reconstructed fountain of Trajan built at the start of the second century CE. It’s columns and pediments really give you an idea of what it would have looked like in its prime. It is an excellent tool for giving the visitors more of an idea of the ancient city and its statues are now in the museum. It is just a real shame that the Ephesus Archaeology Museum is shut for renovations for an entire year!

There is so so much to this site it can not be written down. I could tell you about the temples, the gateways, fountains, houses, whole city but you have to visit it to appreciate everything. Either way I encourage that you look up this site and read more because this really was a site to remember.

Odeon at Ephesus
Inscriptions at the Library of Celsus
Colonnaded street
Gateway with Greek Inscriptions

Antiochia ad Cragum: Archaeology Blog 2013

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Deutsch: Burgberg mit Zitadelle von Antiochia ...
Fortress above Antiochia ad Cragum

Only eleven days until travel and digging resumes for the 2013 season. This year we will be working on the agora it seems, shop complex and mosaic so you are bound to see lots of photos and interesting reports from this years season. So here is some background information on this amazing site where we will be digging and translating.

Excavations are currently being undertaken by the Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project headed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the area of Rough Cilicia in modern Turkey.[1] The excavation site of Antiochia ad Cragum (Αντιόχεια Κράγου) is located about 8 miles to the East of the modern town of Gazipaşa, in the area of the village of Guney. Over the centuries, Antiochia ad Cragum has also been known by the names of Antiochetta and Antiochia Parva which basically translates to ‘little Antiochia’. The additional name ‘ad Cragum’ comes from the site’s position on the steep cliffs (Cragum) overlooking the Mediterranean coast in Southern Anatolia. The site covers an area of around three hectares and contains the remains of baths, market places, colonnaded streets with a gateway, an early Christian basilica, monumental tombs, a temple, and several unidentified buildings. The city itself was built on the sloping ground that comes down from the Taurus Mountain range which terminates at the shore creating steep cliffs; in some places several hundred metres high. The temple complex is situated on the highest point of the city and most of the building material remains though in a collapsed state. There is also evidence of a gymnasium complex nearby.

The harbour at Antiochia ad Cragum measures about 250,000m squared and is one of the few large, safe harbours along the coast East of Alanya.[2] On its Eastern side are two small coves suitable for one or two ships but with limited opportunity for shipping and fishing due to wave activities. The area is well situated as a defensible position against invaders. Recent terrestrial survey at Antiochia ad Cragum has had emphasis on finding evidence of pirate activity which has been limited, but it has turned up pottery principally from the Byzantine Period with additional pottery from the late Bronze Age, Hellenistic and Roman Periods.[3] Thirty stone weights and anchors have been uncovered, alongside lead stocks from wooden anchors and almost twenty iron anchors representing the early Roman through Ottoman periods.[4] There is little evidence of pre-Roman occupation at the fortress or pirate’s cove at Antiochia ad Cragum. Banana terracing may have caused much of the evidence to have been erased. The maritime survey has turned up shipping jars, transport amphoraes and anchors from the Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic periods as well as a range of miscellaneous items. It is not possible to date the stone weights and anchors at present, but further research may assist in their analysis.[5] Many of them are small and likely to represent local fishing activities over a long period of time. The assemblage appears to indicate early activity to the West of the harbor moving East over time.[6] Access to the site these days is through the Guney village grave yard and past the old school house which is now used as the excavation’s artefact and equipment house.

History of the Site

The city of Antiochia ad Cragum was officially founded by Antiochis IV around 170 BC when he came to rule over Rough Cilicia. The site and its harbor likely served as one of the many havens for Cilician pirates along the South Anatolian coast, this is because of its small coves and hidden inlets. Unfortunately no definite pirate related artefacts or buildings are visible in the modern day. Antiochia ad Cragum’s pirate past ended with Pompey’s victory in the first century BC and the takeover of Antiochia IV. Initial occupation appears to have occurred in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, followed by a surge of activity in the Roman periods.[7] The area of Antiochia ad Cragum is also neighboured by a citadel on the Western peninsula which was built by Armenian princes and a well-preserved necropolis on the South-Eastern peninsula.

Pompey ended the pirate menace in 67 AD with a naval victory at nearby Korakesion, modern day Alanya. The emperor Gaius gave control of Rough Cilicia after this episode to the client king of Rome, Antiochis IV of Commagene around AD 38 and later in 41 AD under Claudius. After Pompey’s victory he founded and named Antiochia after himself but was removed by Vespasian in 72 AD. With this later change of control, Antiochia ad Cragum and the rest of Rough Cilicia fell under direct Roman rule as part of the enlarged Roman province of Cilicia. The numismatic evidence left at the site shows that there was a working mint at Antiochia for several centuries after the Roman takeover. One coin dates from 139-161 AD and reads of Marcus Aurelius as Caesar on the obverse with a nude male god holding a long sceptre and a mantle over his shoulder.[8] Other coins from Antiochia ad Cragum date from the mid-third century AD, with examples detailing Philip I and Trajan Decius.[9]

History of Excavations

The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project (ACARP) was founded by Professor Michael Hoff from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Rhys Townsend from Clark University in 2005. ACARP started off as a facet of the regional survey, the Rough Cilicia Archaeological Survey Project (RCASP) which ran under the field direction of Nicholas Rauh of Purdue University. The aim of RCASP was to document and record the physical remains of the major cities and minor sites within the survey zone, this zone included the site of Antiochia ad Cragum. The members of the RCASP research team have already prepared and published a number of publications detailing the progress of the survey.

In the summer of 2005 Hoff and Townsend formed the separate project at Antiochia ad Cragum with the collaboration of architectural engineer Ece Erdoğmuş who is also from the University of Nebraska.[10] Originally the project at Antiochia ad Cragum began operating under the aegis of the local archaeological museum in Alanya. But in 2008 it was granted a full excavation permit by the Archaeological Directorate of the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Professor Hoff is a professor of Art History in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he has been since 1989. Hoff specializes in Greek and Roman archaeology. Townsend is a lecturer with the Department of Visual and Performing Arts in the Art History Program at Clark University.[11]

The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project has several goals which will hopefully be achieved in the next few years. The project will be pioneering in architectural and archaeological studies in Rough Cilicia. The main goal is the restoration of the temple to a sufficient point. The temple reconstruction is a huge work in progress as currently the project does not know how much of the architecture can be reused. This will not be determined until the marble blocked have been removed to the adjacent block fields, cleaned and repaired. After this has been achieved and the podium of the temple has been completely revealed and assessed, then the extent of the restoration can be determined and a full and detailed plan for restoration can be submitted to the Preservation Board of Historical Buildings in Antalya. This plan and its subsequent approval will be needed before final submission to the Ministry of Culture in Ankara for actual permission to carry out restoration.

The goals for the temple are shared by the local governmental authorities and the Ministry of Culture in a collaboration involving archaeologists, engineers, authorities and preservation officials. There is also a huge collaboration with the local villagers who reap many of the benefits of the excavations. They receive short-term employment opportunities as workers and guards on site and also long-term economic gain and education from the project. The site foreman who looks after the site year round is also a prominent member of the local community in the village of Guney and banana grower.

The first full season of digging at Antiochia ad Cragum began in 2005 and began by documenting the temple’s remains by surveying every block in situ with a total station. Two-hundred and seventy blocks were recorded which will be used to create an accurate plan of the blocks and their find spots. This allowed the researchers to determine the basic structure of the temple and some of the decoration and moulding that originally were associated into the structure. At this point, the dedicatee of the temple was unknown but bust remains suggest possibly Apollo or an Imperial personage. The 2005 season hypothesized that the temple belonged to the first half of the third century AD.[12]

The 2007 and 2008 seasons of the excavation saw a total of four-hundred and ten blocks catalogued, almost 50% of the material of the collapsed structure.[13] In 2008, the excavation team used Ground Penetrating Radar to survey for underground features. This first focused on the block field to make sure they were free of anomalies. The GPR unit was also used to survey the top of the temple platform and it indicated the presence of an intact arched vault underneath the stone platform. This chamber was already suspected because temples nearby at Selinus and Nephelion include the same form of feature. Additionally Professor Erdoğmuş began analysis of the block and lime mortar on site in order to gather authentic materials and assess the condition of the existing materials for the restoration process.[14]

The 2009 season saw the team continue the architectural block recording and removal as well as remote sensing and excavation. The architectural block removal focused on the western and southern quadrants of the collapsed temple with refined documentation and photographic techniques. The blocks were removed with the help of a local crane operator who became adept at carefully lifting the ancient material. By the end of the season there was three block fields being used and four-hundred and thirty-four blocks successfully moved and five-hundred and forty-six blocks catalogued with almost half drawn. This has left three sides of the temple cleared with the east side still to be cleared. GPR was also used to scan the suspected vaulted chamber. 2009 excavations of the deposits under the platform allowed further scans to be undertaken and further indication of the vaulted chamber. Fiberscopic Remote Inspection equipment was also utilized to investigate the original structural and architectural designs of the temple. Several cavities were investigated but unfortunately none allowed for deep probing.[15]

The excavations focused on the temple mound in 2009 starting with two small trenches (001 and 002) in the northern quadrant. Trench 001 revealed a long wall running parallel to the cella wall alongside the Eastern side of the temple podium. Much pottery and a frieze fragment was uncovered as well as a decorated columnar drum fragment. Trench 002 revealed little information concerning post-antique usage of the structure. Thick marble fragments of a floor were uncovered in both trenches 001 and 002. The suspected chamber vault’s entrance remained undiscovered after no evidence of an internal staircase was found. A trench 003 was also excavated to probe the exterior rear façade of the temple. Excavation through the fill around the temple revealed no discernible stratigraphy. Trench 003 also revealed the top of the base moulding of the temple supporting a large orthostate course.

Erdogmus, E., Buckley, C.M., and H.Brink, ‘The Temple of Antioch: A Study of Abroad Internship for Architectural Engineering Students’, AEI 2011: Building Integration Solutions: Proceedings of the 2011 Architectural Engineering National Conference, March 30 – April 2, 2011, (Oakland, 2011), 1-9

Hoff, M., “Interdisciplinary Assessment of a Roman Temple: Antiochia ad Kragos (Gazipasha, Turkey),” (with E. Erdogmus, R. Townsend, and S. Türkmen) in A. Görün, ed., Proceedings of the International Symposium on Studies on Historical Heritage, September 2007, Antalya, Turkey (Istanbul 2007) 163–70.

Hoff, M., “Bath Architecture of Western Rough Cilicia,” in Hoff and Townsend, eds. Rough Cilicia, New Historical and Archaeological Approaches. An International Symposium held at the University of Nebraska, October 2007 (Oxford 2011) 12 page ms; forthcoming.

Hoff, M., “Lamos in Rough Cilicia: An Architectural Survey,” (with R. Townsend) Olba 17. Proceedings of the IVth International Symposium on Cilician Archaeology, Mersin University, Mersin, Turkey, June 4–6, 2007 (Mersin 2009) 1-22.

Hoff, M., “Life in the Truck Lane: Urban Development in Western Rough Cilicia,” (with N. Rauh, R. Townsend, M. Dillon, M. Doyle, C. Ward, R. Rothaus, H. Caner, U. Akkemik, L. Wandsnider, S. Ozaner, and C. Dore) Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Wien (JÖAI) 78 (2009) 169 page ms; forthcoming.

Hoff, M., “Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) 24. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (24th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2007) 231–44.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2009 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 8 (2010) 9-13.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2008 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 27. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (27th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium).Turkish Ministry of Culture, Ankara 2009 (with R. Townsend and E. Erdogmus) 461-70.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2008 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 7 (2009) 6-11.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2007 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 25. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (25th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2009) 95-102.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2007 Season,” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend, S. Türkmen) Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 6 (2008) 95-99.

Hoff, M., “The Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 4 (2006) 99–104.
Hoff, M. and R. Townsend, eds. Rough Cilicia. New Historical and Archaeological Approaches. An International Symposium held at the University of Nebraska, October 2007 (Oxford 2011) forthcoming.

Marten, M.G., ‘Spatial and Temporal Analyses of the Harbor at Antiochia ad Cragum’ (2005) Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations Paper 2715

Turner, C.H., ‘Canons Attributed to the Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381, Together with the Names of the Bishops, from Two Patmos MSS POB’ POG’ ’, The Journal of Theological Studies (1914) M: 72

[1] I’d like to thank Professor Michael Hoff of the University of Nebraska for the permission and freedom to write articles based on the excavations which are due to be published this year, in addition to Associate Professor Birol Can of Ataturk University for his kind permission to publish information on the mosaic and current excavations being undertaken by Ataturk University at Antiochia ad Cragum.

[2] Marten, M.G., ‘Spatial and Temporal Analyses of the Harbor at Antiochia ad Cragum’ (2005) Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations Paper 2715: 5

[3] Marten 2005: 63-68

[4] Marten 2005: 43, 50

[5] Marten2005: 43

[6] Marten 2005: 56, fig. 4.2 – Antiochia ad Cragum Artifact Distribution

[7] University of Nebraska Lincoln Website, Project History –

[8] Antiocheia (AD 139-161) AE 26 – Marcus Aurelius 100 views Marcus Aurelius as Caesar, 139-161 AD. AE26 (10.40g). ΑΥΡΗΛΙΟC ΚΑΙCΑΡ, head right / ΑΝΤΙΟΧЄΩΝ Τ-ΗC ΠΑΡΑΛΙΟΥ, nude male god holding long scepter, mantle over shoulder. Nice green patina, VF.

[9] Antiocheia (AD 244-249) AE 29 – Philip I58 views Philip I, 244-249 AD. AE29 (13.00g). Laureate draped and cuirassed bust right / ANTIOXЄωN THC ΠAPAΛIOV, eagle on wreath. Very fine; Antiocheia (AD 249-251) AE 26 – Trajan Decius279 viewsTrajan Decius, 249-251 AD. AE26 (7.83g). Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / Eagle standing facing on wreath, head left. Good VF, jade green patina.

[10] “Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) 24. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (24th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2007): 231–44.

[11] Project Sponsors include: National Science Foundation, Loeb Classical Library Foundation, Harvard University, Research Council, University of Nebraska, Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Nebraska, College of Fine and Performing Arts, University of Nebraska, Dean’s Office, Clark University

[12] “The Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 4 (2006): 99–104; “Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) 24. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (24th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2007): 231–44.

[13] “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2007 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 25. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (25th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2009): 95-102.

[14] “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2008 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 27. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (27th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium).Turkish Ministry of Culture, Ankara 2009 (with R. Townsend and E. Erdogmus): 461-70

[15] “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2009 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 8 (2010): 9-13.

Welcome to GraecoMuse!

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This site is aimed at similar people who are interested in archaeology, ancient history, philology and epigraphy. Interesting stories, archaeological tidbits and blogs will be put up as I partake in digs myself and come across things to share.

This page can also be followed on FACEBOOK and TWITTER for regular discussions and news updates. Enjoy and please comment and share.

Please SCROLL DOWN for the most recent posts. Previous posts can be searched through the search bar or browsed in the archives by month on the right hand side bar.

Restituta: The Training of the Female Physician

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Now that the journal has been officially launched. Here is a link to my newest academic publication for anyone interested.

Metz Medica – Female doctor inscription from Rome in Latin

Restituta: The Training of the Female Physician

“The ‘Restituta Inscription’, IG XVI 1751, is a unique inscription dedicated by a woman, Restituta, to her professor and patron Claudius Alcimus, who was also a doctor of Caesar. The inscription is unique because it is the only excavated epigraph that documents the relationship between a female physician and her male teacher.The content alone makes the ‘Restituta Inscription’ significant to understanding the role played by women in the medical profession of first-century-CE Rome. The purpose of this paper is to place the ‘Restituta Inscription’ within its historical context and to interpret its content in terms of both the dedicator’s connection to the medical profession as well as the interaction between males and females within that profession. Supplementary inscriptions and literary evidence will assist in this analysis…”


Pre-Constantinian and Byzantine Christian Attitudes towards Images

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Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.”

Christian attitudes towards images in the early periods have been the subject of many scholarly debates over the more recent centuries.  First it seems necessary to look at the attitudes of Christians before the time of Constantine through the works of academics and Christian images themselves.  Scholars have often maintained that the attitude of the early Christians towards art was very negative.  Klauser set out to define proof of early Christian opposition to images based n the archaeology of the third and fourth centuries and believed that the attitude towards art was decidedly negative and aniconic.[1]  Finney assesses that the consensus view of images was primarily based on the Judaic roots of Christianity and Exodus 20:4.[2]You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below.’[3]

It is difficult to analysis the attitudes towards images throughout both the pre-Constantinian and Byzantine periods let alone compare them and determine whether there was significant differences in attitudes between the periods.  One of the main reasons for the issues in analysis is the many varying opinions of recent scholars on the attitudes of early Christians.  Adolf Van Harnak for instance believed that early Christianity was undermined and thrown off track by Hellenic influence and that the new ideas and the manufacture of religious images was an intrusive and hostile move by the Greeks.[4] Klauser and Van Harnak among others appear to have set out to prove an opposition to images before the pre-Constantinian period.  This suggests that much of the evidence that scholars were examining of the era was in fact positive towards images.  So how is this positive view of images seen in the archaeology of the period and how does this attitude differ from the post-Constantine/Byzantine period if at all?

Klauser’s three step view of the changing attitudes of the early Christians towards artwork is an interesting standpoint by which to compare the archaeological and written evidence.  Klauser defined the pre-Constantinian period as iconophobic and aniconic on at least a clerical level.  The later periods are defined as a progression through the submission to pressures from the uneducated laity and then the introduction of images into the church itself as a compromise of early attitudes and practices that he describes as typically early Christian.[5]  With these points in mind it is possible to compare and assess the attitudes of the early Christians on art, keeping in mind that the views of the laity and the clerical classes would often differ.  Belting for instance explains that ‘whenever images threatened to gain undue influence within the church, theologians have sought to strip them of their power’[6] where as Klauser’s interpretation of attitudes includes the views of the people being a contributing factor in the placement of images in churches.

The Catacombs at Rome provide a unique standpoint from which the attitude to art and images can be analysed for the first centuries of the Christian religion.  Until recently with the works of Wilpert, the monumental nature of images in the catacombs has been widely ignored.[7]  The catacombs contain a large variety of early Christian artwork and imagery dating from the first to the fifth century AD.[8]  The evolution of imagery can through these examples be traces and in relation the attitudes towards images of the early Christians.  For instance, the earlier images in the catacombs consist of many traditionally pagan ideologies and symbols that have been inserted into a Christian context to serve as part of the new religion with either the same ideas behind them or an idea sculpted to suit a more Christian framework.  The images from the fourth and fifth centuries show an evolution to more crude and clumsy interpretations of the Christian artwork, indicating a change in attitude.  This suggests that the attitudes of the early Christian population pre-Constantine were largely based on a traditional foundation where as the later periods saw a change in attitudes and in relation a change in the imagery displayed.

Virgin and Child. Wall painting from the early...
Virgin and Child. Wall painting from the early catacombs, Rome, 4th century.

Pre-Constantinian attitude to images can also be assessed through the interpretations made of the images in the Rome Catacombs.  Richter asserts that the outcome of the art is very sure of itself indicating that the portrayal of images in a Christian context was a widely accepted and perhaps desirable part of the Christian tradition in the pre-Constantinian period.[9]  This idea is also expressed by the evidence of conformity to prototypes seen in the catacombs which suggests that certain images were widely displayed.  For instance, two images of the good shepherd in the catacomb of Domitilla which resemble each other in ‘conception and motive, but differ in important details…although evidently deprived from a common prototype.’[10]  Other images in the catacombs that appear to conform to a common prototype include the breaking of bread and the adoration of the Magi.[11]  Along with this evidence of commonality, scholars have asserted in recent years that the Christians wished to adorn the tombs of their loved ones with images like those that had been put up in their earthly homes, indicating a link to traditional classical antiquity that the early Christians seem to have continued in part whether purposely or subconsciously.[12]  These points indicate that the Christians of the pre-Constantine period actually held images in some regard despite the opinions of the likes of Van Harnak and Klauser.

Finney asserts that the early third century and before, though being a time of artistic license for much Christian artwork, was also a time of aniconism where many Christians did see images and the display of those images as being against their beliefs.  Finney though also attributed external forces to changing this view suggesting that the negative attitude towards images in relation to the early Christians was from near the beginning a part of their ideals but not so big a part of the overall christian attitude that I could not be swayed.[13]  For instance, in the pre-Constantinian period, Christians who carried out acts of violence directed at Pagan religious artworks would have ‘invited disaster’ suggesting that that attitude was pro-image or at least tolerant.[14]  This tolerance towards images is further evidence in Rome, Ravenna and in many other places in the west which saw works of great importance ‘executed in the early years of Christendom.’[15]

The attitudes of the early Christians towards images in the period of Constantine appear to be continually mixed.  The wide variety of ecclesiastical paintings and works of art displayed and attributed to this period suggests that the general attitude was positive rather than the negative view that Klauser and Van Harnak contribute.[16]  Constantine’s edict of Milan in 313 suggests that he aimed to impress the populace and express the new state religion in a way that would appeal to all.  These edicts saw a turning point in ecclesiastical history but not in art as the old pagan ideas and motifs were simply taken over and ascribed new meanings with few changes in style that could be attributed to the new faith.[17]  Constantine did this through the creation of elaborate churches, paintings and monuments to press the impression of the new religion of the state.[18]  This suggests that the general populace in the time of Constantine had an attitude that was decidedly positive and images were appealing rather than feelings concerning heresy. By impressing the populace in this manner it is indicative that the early Christians who were converted with the enforcement of the state religion and those who were already Christian were not opposed to images and they were accepted in this period as part of the religion itself.

Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as...
Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as patron saint of Istanbul, detail: Emperor Constantine I with a model of the city.

There are many elaborate examples of images being used in conjunction with the new religion early on.  Eusebius for instance describes in his ecclesiastical history the church at Type and its painting and architecture as well as describing in his Vita Constantini the Christian monuments at Constantinople, Nicomedia and Antioch and the architecture of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.[19]  From these descriptions we can assess that the attitude of Christians in the Constantinian period was not entirely negative with Constantine himself (though he is reported to only have become a Christian on his deathbed) encouraging a taste for the liberal arts.[20]  Not only does this express the appeal of artwork to the people and the encouragement of its creation but it also illustrates that with the influence of traditional and pagan attitudes, which were still a significant part of Constantine’s thinking and the state’s, the Christians of this period appear to have acknowledged that art and in relation images had there place in society.

The attitude of early Christian is also illustrated through examples such as the early Christian mosaic at Deir Dakleh.  Dating to about the fourth century AD and discovered in 1918, the mosaic is a fine example of the high standard of art and workmanship that prevailed in the period suggesting that the attitude towards images and artwork was not completely negative.[21]  Artwork such as this indicates again that attitudes were not always towards the negative like many scholars believe but the degradation of the artwork and how like many images it was covered up over time suggests that either by the process of time or influence of changing views even the most highly of praised artwork saw a period where it was in a way downgraded in the hearts of the Christian population.

The use of images was continued in classical themes and elegance in a number of areas after the time of Constantine, for instance in Alexandria long after the adoption of Christianity.[22] This illustrates further that the attitudes were often mixed within the Christian populace as while many condemned it on the influence of Exodus and certain clerical groups and individuals, the artwork of the periods after Constantine before the era of the iconoclast still depicts many classical symbols and traditional images.  Such examples showing this include the niloctic landscape first applied to church decoration in the second half of the fourth century suggesting some symbolic meaning.  Also the famous letter of St. Nilus to Olympiodorus discussing the increasing number of biblical scenes in churches, and scenes on the walls of St. Maggiore in Rome dating to the fifth century indicate an acceptance of imagery despite much negative attention by the church.[23]

The attitude towards the image in the Byzantine period was influenced greatly between then and the pre-Constantinian era.  The constant attack on art by the Christians is seen with the belief that images were linked to atheism and superstition as well as sexual misconduct, a common complaint based on observed behaviour and a link to Judaism.[24]  Images were also condemned in light of apologist standpoints, though Clement applies platonic doctrine to refute the charge of atheism, seeing images as belonging to the plane of error and falsehood as related to platonic doctrine.[25]  For instance, some of the earliest Christian apologists interpreted the story of Diagoras as being in good sense when he ‘recognised a statue as a ‘mere piece of wood and he had the good sense not to confuse divinity…with hyle, which is created and perishable.’[26] This illustrates one of the most prominent attitudes of clerical society on and off throughout the periods which would have influenced the attitudes of the early Christians towards art as the Byzantine period went on despite the regeneration of positive iconophilic ideas and desire for images.

The attitudes towards images however would have like anything been subject to regional diversity and political, cultural and religious spheres of influence.[27]  For example, it is evidence that the elites of the fifth century suddenly and purposely turned against classicism and artistic tradition.  This can be seen in a series of diptychs made by officials in the west.[28]  The fifth century saw many conflicts surrounding this point though works of art continued to be executed in private and public sectors pointing to a continual desire for images in churches by the public and the clerical majorities.  For instance, the detail on the dome at the church of St George at Thessaloniki, showing Saints Onesiphorus and Porphyrius.[29]  This indicates that while in some areas the attitudes towards images were negative especially to the upper classes that held power, in other areas images were being embraced still by the population.

Icons in the Byzantine period are an excellent source of assessment of changing and differing views on images in the period that we can use in our discussion of early Christian attitudes.  Throughout the Byzantine period icons were continually the subject of debate throughout the empire and in a number of Councils in the eighth century.  Belting’s point is considerably the case in relation to iconography as these councils indicate that many ecclesiastical and political groups and individuals condemned the use of art when held a position of power.[30]  The debate over iconography is particularly illustrated as the icon became motive enough for murder and political repression.[31]

From the outset the display of icons was recognised as an adaption of many pagan practices and hence debate on their use appeared almost instantly.[32]  In the eighth century they became the subject of much debate, Gregory of Neo-Caesarea for instance said that ‘the foul name of images, falsely so-called, cannot be justified by the tradition of Christ, nor can it be justified by the tradition of the apostles and the fathers’ at the council of Nicaea in 787.[33]  The opinion of Gregory of Neo-Caesarea, as the tradition of Christians can not justify giving images a foul name, is just one example of one side of the debate that raged for several centuries.  The second Iconoclastic council, that of 787, condemned the definition of the first Iconoclastic council at Hiereia in 754 held under the rule of Constantine V. Both councils and the content of their debates illustrate the strong differing opinions between the iconoclastic and iconophiles factions in the Byzantine world and the mixed attitudes of early Christians on images in this period.

An Iconoclast is describes in the Oxford English dictionary as a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions or ‘a person who destroys images used in religious worship, especially one belonging to a movement opposing such images in the Byzantine Church during the eight and ninth century.’ The Iconoclasts were a faction that had a strong holding in Byzantine society and their attitude towards images is a prime example of what many early Christians thought of images.  This iconoclastic attitude is one of the main reasons that attitudes towards images would have differed from the pre-Constantinian period compared to the Byzantine period.  This attitude whether held by the many or the few within the Christian population had a great influence on the exhibition and creation of images in the public and private sectors.  The influence of the iconoclastic movement would have stuck in the mind of the Christians just as the influence of an historical event or opinion sticks in the minds of anyone as displayed in our own morals and values today; they are based if not completely then at least slightly on those of the past.

The attitude of the majority of the Christian populace is seen with the restoration of icons under Irene from 780 to 802AD during her joint reign with her son Constantine VI.  This illustrates that the attitudes of the populace which Irene is said to have represented were some what differing from that of the powerful clerical individuals and groups in the period.[34]

Hagia Sophia provides us with an excellent source of interpretation for attitudes towards images in the Byzantine period after the Iconoclastic periods.  Hagia Sophia envelopes the trends Byzantine artworks after the controversies that, as discussed above, ruled the eighth and ninth centuries of Christian tradition and thought and expresses a newly registered desire for images to be portrayed that in many ways parallels earlier models.[35] Hagia Sophia also shows us that the attitude of the early Christians in the Byzantine period paralleled in some ways those of the pre-Constantinian age as the Christians looked again to antiquity to help represent aspects of the Christian faith.  For instance, the representation of Christ in the Byzantine times in comparison to pagan representations of Hermes, Dionysis or Apollo, and also often Zeus, Hades and Poseidon.[36]

The attitudes of early Christians in the Byzantine period, though maintaining much of earlier positive vibes that are assessed with the existence and form of pre-Constantinian imagery, was however subject to the influence of the controversies of the centuries.  Morey asserts that the Christians, while they returned to a less negative attitude towards images, remained instinctively distrustful of sculpture and similar forms of imagery due to them being ‘too real’ in their depiction of supernatural themes.[37]  Hagia Sophia is a prime example of how images evolved over time after the Christians decided to look for an ideal ‘commensurate with both the humanity and the divinity of the Son of God.’[38]  The images of Christ and his associates which were for so long through blasphemous by much of the Christian population is seen at places like Hagia Sophia in abundance, displaying how the attitude towards images returned to a more desirable want for them.  The attitude to these images is further backed up by the existence of inscriptions in the same or similar contexts.  For example the inscription on the face of the apsidal arch bearing a similar line to that preserved in the Palatine Anthology, ‘Icons which the imposters here destroyed, the pious sovereigns have restored again.’[39]

Christian Attitudes towards images changed and differed through out the periods from pre-Constantine to the Byzantine period.  Not only was it subject to change over the natural course of time but due to the events that define some of this time; the reign of Constantine, the reigns of emperors after Constantine, the iconoclastic councils and the establishment of an attitude in the majority of the population which was pro-icons. Due to these influential events, edicts and the like, though the attitudes of the early Christians towards images in the Byzantine period were in some ways similar to that of the Pre-Constantinian period, they also differed.  The attitudes of the early Christians throughout the ages is seen in a large number of examples such as the catacombs at Rome in relation to pre-Constantine and the Hagia Sophia in the later times.  These show that attitudes differed over time though some ideas were maintained and renewed at intervals.


An Early Christian Mosaic at Deir Dakleh, in The Burlington Magazines for Connoisseurs, Vol.34, No.193 (Apr., 1919), pp.144-145

Belting, H., Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (London, 1996), pp.1-14, 17-26, 30-36, 49-63, 102-109, 144-155, 164-173, 184-195

Cameron, A., The Later Roman Empire: AD 284-430 (London, 1993), pp.14-92

Cormack, R., Byzantine Art (Oxford, 2000), pp.1-37, 38-75

Downey, G., Education in the Christian Roman Empire: Christian and Pagan Theories under Constantine and His Successors, in Speculum, Vol.32, No.1 (Jan, 1957), pp.48-61

Finney, P.C., The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art (Oxford, 1997), pp.1-15, 39-58, 69, 146, 229

Frend, W.H.C. Religion Popular and Unpopular in the Early Christian Centuries (London, 1976)

Frend, W.H.C., The Rise Of Christianity (Philadelphia, 1984), pp.600-610

Harl, K.W., Sacrifice and Pagan Belief in Fifth- and sixth-Century Byzantium, in Past and Present, No.128 (1990), pp.7-27

Hillgarth, J.N., Christianity and Paganism, 350-750: The Conversion of Western Europe (Pennsylvania, 1969), pp.46-65

Holy Bible: New International Version, Hodder and Stroughton (London, 1996), Exodus 20:4

Kitzinger, E., Byzantine Art in the Making: Main Lines of Stylistic Development in Mediterranean Art 3rd-7th Century (Massachusetts, 1980), pp.7-22, 45-66

Laistner, M.L.W., Christianity and Pagan Culture in the Later Roman Empire (New York, 1951), pp.4, 131-138

Mango, C., The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453 (Canada, 1986), pp. 3-21, 32-50, 55, 113-117, 123-181

Mathews, T.F., The Art of Byzantium (London, 1998), pp.7-9, 17-32, 43-70, 111, 137-143

Michaelides, D., The Early Christian Mosaics of Cyprus, in The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol.52, No.4, From Ruins to Riches: CAARI on Cyprus (Dec., 1989), pp.192-202

Morey, C.R., The Mosaics of Hagia Sophia, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol.2, No.7 (Mar., 1944), pp.201-210

Richter, J.P., Early Christian Art in the Roman Catacombs, in The Burlington Magazines for Connoisseurs, Vol.6, No.22 (Jan., 1905), pp.286-262

Spieser, J.M., The Representation of Christ in the Apses of Early Christian Churches, in Gesta, Vol.37, No.1 (1998), pp.63-73

Talbot Rice, D., Art of the Byzantine Era (London, 1997), pp.47-67, 132-135

Talbot Rice, D., Byzantine Icons, in The Burlington Magazines for Connoisseurs, Vol.86, No.506 (May., 1945), pp.127-128

Treadgold, W., A History of the Byzantine State and Society (California, 1997)

Vermeule III, C.C., Roman Art, in Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol.20, No.1, Ancient Art at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), pp.62-77

Whittemore, T., The Unveiling of the Byzantine Mosaics in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol.46, No.2 (Apr.-Jun., 1942), pp.169-171

[1] Finney, P.C., The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art (Oxford, 1997)

Kitzinger, E., Byzantine Art in the Making: Main Lines of Stylistic Development in Mediterranean Art 3rd-7th Century (Massachusetts, 1980), p.9

[2] Ibid., p.15

[3] Holy Bible: New International Version, Hodder and Stroughton (London, 1996), Exodus 20:4

[4] Finney, op.cit., p.8

[5] Finney, op.cit., p.10

[6] Belting, H., Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (London, 1996)

Cormack, R., Byzantine Art (Oxford, 2000), p.1

[7] Richter, J.P., Early Christian Art in the Roman Catacombs, in The Burlington Magazines for Connoisseurs, Vol.6, No.22 (Jan., 1905), p.286 – even though the source for this information is rather old in comparison to today’s newer resources, written 1905, it is still a well defined and structured description of the catacombs at Rome and holds significance evidence of points that are unchanged in the century since it’s publication.

[8] Ibid., p.287 – fifth century is the latest date that can be given to the catacombs images with any certainty as the latest inscription found in the catacombs does not go higher than this century.

[9] Richter, op.cit., p.290

[10] Ibid., p.290

[11] Ibid., p.292

[12] Ibid., p.292

[13] Finney, op.cit., p.9

[14] Ibid., p.39

[15] Talbot Rice, D., Art of the Byzantine Era (London, 1997), p.7

[16] Finney, op.cit., p.8

[17] Talbot Rice, op.cit., p.9

[18] Mango, C., The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453 (Canada, 1986), p.3

[19] Eusebius, Hist. Eccles X, 4.37ff – the church of Tyre (c.317) – describing painting in 63 – Mango, op.cit., p.9

[20] Cod.Theod XIII, 4.1 – edict of Constantine to the Praetorian Prefect Felix, posted at Carthage in 334 – ‘need as many architects as possible…encourage…a taste of liberal arts’ – Mango, op.cit., p.14

[21] An Early Christian Mosaic at Deir Dakleh, in The Burlington Magazines for Connoisseurs, Vol.34, No.193 (Apr., 1919), p.145

[22] Talbot Rice, op.cit., p.14

[23] Mango, op.cit., p.22

[24] Finney, op.cit., p.40

[25] Ibid., p.43

[26] Ibid., p.49

[27] Kitzinger, E., Byzantine Art in the Making: Main Lines of Stylistic Development in Mediterranean Art 3rd-7th Century (Massachusetts, 1980), p.45

[28] Ibid., p.47

[29] Ibid., p.54

[30] Belting, op.cit., p.1

[31] Mathews, T.F., The Art of Byzantium (London, 1998), p.43

[32] Ibid., p.45

[33] Finney, op.cit., p.5

[34] De sacris aedibus Deiparae ad fontum, p.880, Mango, op.cit., p.156

[35] Morey, C.R., The Mosaics of Hagia Sophia, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol.2, No.7 (Mar., 1944), p.202

[36] Ibid., p.202

[37] Ibid., p.202

[38] Ibid., p.202

[39] Morey, op.cit., p.206

Women in Roman Religious Life

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Lefkowitz and Fant assert that the politically oppressed often turn to ecstasy as a temporary means of possessing the power they otherwise lack.  In relation to this assertion we see from a number of ancient texts and archaeological evidence that Roman women had an important place in the religious life of the empire and had a number of important roles. So here is a brief overview for you in light of the Roman religious festival of Saturnalia.

One of the most significant roles of women in Roman religion is found in the Roman cults and festivals.  Several of these were confined to women and were used to enlist divine aid and designed to uphold ideals of female conduct.  Pomeroy outlines that cults and festivals involving Fortuna were an important part of women’s religious life and roles.  Fortuna Virginalis, for instance, protected adolescent girls who ceremonially dedicated their small togas to her when they came of age and donned a stola while transferring to the protection of Fortuna primigenia.  This is just one example of how females interwove with religious activities as through the worship of these goddesses ensured the protection of those who would go on to produce the children of the state.  Women also played a role in the commendation of relatives to the divine powers.  For instance, the commendation of nieces and nephews at the Matralia which was only attended to by respectable women.  The role of women in the worship of goddesses and festivals was a significant part of state interests such as with the worship by women of the verticordia which was associated with domestic harmony, virtue and marital fidelity.  Augustus often emphasized such cults to do with women in the interest of the state.  Juvenal on the other hand, condemned many of these cults and practices and presents a more distorted picture based on women neglecting the cults designed for them.

From the statue in Rome. Costume of a chief ve...
From the statue in Rome. Costume of a chief vestal

The roles of women were not just confined to Roman cults, but also associated with a number of foreign cults that had made their way into the body of Roman religious importance.  Pomeroy explains that one such cult was the cult of Isis which made its way throughout the Roman Empire and while in often dramatic contrast to many of the traditional cults was especially attractive.  This attraction was caused by the way that anyone could relate to Isis and this was particular the case with women who had a massive role to play in its upkeep.  Archaeology and written evidence from Pompeii illustrates that many women were affiliated with this cult, such as one so called Julia who was a public priestess of the cult at Pompeii.  This individual woman also shows us that such women could hold a certain authority in their localities, as Julia while holding this title of Priestess of Isis also had a number of businesses and authority over her own estates and income, as well as being a prominent member of society.  This illustrates Pomeroy’s assertion that religion afforded an outlet for those whos lives were circumcised in other ways.

Imperial and ordinary women also held a large role in Roman religious activity even outside the priesthood.  Cicero, while often oversimplifying the association between women and religion, shows that women had a significant sense of obligation and participation in relation to religion.  This is seen in accounts of how his wife Terentia would associate herself with religion and take part in a number of religious ceremonies and practices as an obligation to the divine and state.  Plutarch also describes such roles of women in religious activities such as with the Bona Dea (the good goddess) when sacrifice was offered to the goddess annually in the house of the consul by either his wife or mother.  Plutarch also tells of certain festivals where women had roles even in earlier times, such as the Agrionia where the daughters of Minyas were chased by a priest ceremonially.

One of the most significant roles that a woman could have in Roman religion was that of a Vestal virgin.  Wildfang tells us that the vestals were inseparable from the Roman’s view of themselves and the state, which illustrates just how important the Vestals were to the state.  This in itself is indicative of the kind of power that the vestals held in the minds of the Romans and the kind of authority.  Juvenal would not even go as far to criticise the vestals.  These virgin priestesses belonged to no man and could incarnate the collective, the city itself.  And the hearth they tended with its undying flame was symbolic of the continuation of both family and community, as Pomeroy explains.  Their role was so entwined with the interests of the state that, as Livy explains, vestals often came under suspicion for it was conceivable that their misconduct had contributed to the misfortunes of the state.  This is a specific example of the firmly established principle of Greek and Roman thought connecting the virtue of women and the welfare of the state.  Aristotle also alludes to this ideology blaming Spartan women for the deterioration of Sparta; as does the Emperor Domitian who perceived a connection between popular morality and female degeneracy.  While the lives of vestals were severely regulated they held an emancipation and authority which other women did not.  The XII Tables show this, telling of how the vestals were to be freed from the power of their pater familias and the Vestals looked after a fire whose quenching threatened the very fundament of the city’s existence, the pax decorum.  Augustus tells of how the vestals had increased privileges like all ‘priests’, which could be taken to mean that they had the same authority as their male counterparts in the priesthood.  Suetonius and Vetruvius also indicate the privilege and authority of these women, telling us that they alone of women held seats in the imperial podium.

The vestals were not though the only public priestesses to hold authority in the Roman Empire.  The priestesses of Ceres, for instance, along with those of Fortuna were also entwined with the interests of the state and held the prestigious duty of administering a state cult.  Pomeroy tells that the cult of the Hellenized Ceres was exclusively in the hands of women and excluded men and those of low birth.  The Priestesses of these cults and other had the exclusive privilege of representing the city in the performance of holy rites.  Miletus explains that it was the role of the priestesses to throw meat on behalf of the city and no one else was to do so before them.  This indicates a certain control over religious matters on the part of the female.  Other evidence also pertains to the role of the priestess in religious practices.  An epitaph for a priestess from Rome around the end of the third century explains that such women were in charge of sacred objects and implements and marched in processions of religious significance before the whole city.  The authority of such Priestesses is again seen in example like from Pompeii with the Genius of Augustus dedicated by the Priestess Mamia with the use of her own funds and land.

Home Improvement: Issues with Interpreting Greek Domestic Archaeology

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Archaeological evidence is subject to many problems and difficulties when it comes to its interpretation.  Not only are the interpretations limited by physical features such as the lack of material, sites and samples; but are limited by the way people go about interpreting evidence, through bias, assumption and the overuse of sources such as the literary material.  One of the most prominent areas where this is illustrated is the Classical Greek household.

Pompeii - House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii.
Pompeii – House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii. (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

One of the most prominent difficulties in interpreting the archaeological evidence is that scholars and archaeologists are vulnerable to assumption, especially in relation to the information provided by written sources.  Interpretations are known to have a tendency to attempt to correspond with the literary sources and this creates issues when assessing the archaeology as we have a case of ideology versus the behavioural realities of the society under question.  With reference to Greece households for instance, we have the debate concerning the division of male and female within the household.

The majority of texts on this subject are dominated by the use of the words ανδρωνιτις and γυναικωνιτις.  In both Xenophon and Lysias these words describe two divided areas in the house.[1]  In Lysias the house  is described as such.[2]  Lysias (i.9-10) and Xenophon (Oec.9.5) tell us that parts of fourth-century Athenian houses were set aside as women’s quarters inaccessible to outsiders.[3] Vitruvius also refers to a γυναικωνιτις as consisting of a variety of rooms.[4]   In addition to this Demosthenes (37.45-46) speaks of inner private areas of the house.[5]  Hesiod also alludes to space and gender and the link between femininity and the inner rooms of a household.[6]  Such sources have strongly influenced the interpretation of archaeology in Greek houses.

Susan Walker in her work, in order to illustrate these principles set out in the written sources, divides the plans of several Greek houses into ανδρωνιτις and γυναικωνιτις.  More recent interpretations of the archaeology by scholars such as Jameson and Nevett assess that Walker’s attempts to attribute gender have little support in published archaeological record, with the exception of the ανδρον.[7]  Jameson asserts that archaeology might make us question the reliability of written sources in relation to attributing gender to space, ‘distinguishing between ideology and behavioural realities.’[8] Antonaccio explains that ‘texts cannot serve as a simple handbook to reading the archaeological record.’[9]  For instance, despite the literary evidence outlining separate areas for males and females it is not possible to truly identify areas in excavated Greek houses that correspond to this.  One can see though why making assumptions based on literary evidence could be appealing, the textual evidence often appears more persuasive that the archaeological record, for instance, literary sources for the γυναικωνιτις.[10]

Classical Greek households are a prime example of how archaeological evidence is difficult to interpret due to limited material as we have only remains.  The limited evidence for superstructures, for instance, means rooms and their archaeology cannot be interpreted fully.  This is seen at Halieis in House 7,[11] where the house was built with stone foundations supporting a mud brick superstructure.[12]  House 7 is exemplar of the vast majority of houses in Classical Greece with its mud brick superstructure which would not have survived.

Olythos provides us with an example of houses and their associated materials as seventy houses have been fully excavated. All of these materials, except the stone, are not very durable and such buildings are frequently poorly preserved.[13]  At Olythos again the walls were of mud brick and as a result little is known of their superstructures.[14]  This means that the organisation of these households and the functions of spaces are generally open to debate and the archaeological evidence cannot be properly interpreted.

Ancient Greek MosaicMosaic floor, House of Dio...
Ancient Greek MosaicMosaic floor, House of Dionysos (Photo credit: davesandford)

The lack of durability includes the difficulty in identifying upper levels of buildings.  We know from literary evidence that upper floors were known and some houses show evidence of stone stair bases.  But owing to a significant lack of stratigraphic or artifactual evidence it is not possible to distinguish debris in the archaeology that may have come from a second storey.[15]  This also presents a problem in interpreting the archaeological evidence as upper storey debris cannot be distinguished from floor level deposits.[16]  Nevett asserts that even when the buildings are well preserved they contain few fixtures and fittings allowing for a more acceptable interpretation.[17]

Who interprets the archaeology in itself creates issues.  Nationalist aims, sectarian objectives, and political agendas often act as a basis for the interpretation of archaeological evidence whether the interpreter realises that they are incorporating it or not.[18]  Two of the most prevalent of these is the concepts of feminist archaeology and androcentric views brought by male bias.[19]  These views of the interpreter coincide with the issues of assumption discussed earlier, as individuals make assumptions on the evidence based on their particular viewpoints or ideas which have sunk into their minds.

In relation to gender in the Classical Greek household Antonaccio explains it thus, that ‘pessimists’ see evidence as proof that women have always been oppressed while ‘optimists’ concentrate on valuing women, making their contributions visible and uncovering subversive power.[20]  This asserts that the mindset of an individual can have a significant impact on the interpretation of evidence as they attempt to find proof that coincides with their theories or ideologies.  One cannot provide the truly objective view that is thought necessary to interpret the bare evidence, even if they tried.  This in itself is a problem in regards to domestic archaeology.

It is difficult to interpret archaeological evidence when one has a certain mindset.  This is illustrated in debate over gender and space in reference to Classical Greek households.  The ideas surrounding the archaeological evidence are varied and widely open to debate.  Walker, for instance, assumes that space was rigidly divided into male and female areas; Nevett on the other hand identifies that it is public areas that are male space and the rest of the house hold was an appropriate area for women, that space could be conceived as having varying amounts of maleness rather than there being two distinct categories.[21]  Walker seems to be trying to place an idea onto the archaeological evidence when the evidence does not necessarily conform to that idea.

Ancient Halieis
Ancient Halieis (Photo credit: diffendale)

Portability of artefacts also makes it very difficult to interpret the material as artefacts are often out of context and cannot be interpreted properly. In the case of Greek households and the domestic utensils that would have been used in them; these utensils could be used to explore the activities within the household and to answer questions of function and gender relations as well as social and economic questions.[27]  The interpretation of evidence is very difficult in light of a large fragment of it being portable and possibly not in context; it also means that we cannot tell what spaces had specialised functions. This also makes it difficult to assess the flexibility of space, implicit in Lysias with Euphiletos’ description of the relegation of his wife and child.[28] It is also difficult to interpret the archaeology as many tasks had little equipment and left little trace.

Comparative evidence in the form of cross-cultural and ethnographic examples has provided models for a number of interpretations throughout archaeology, for instance, strict architectural configurations of space along gender lines.[29]  This helps to correlate patterns and matching social structures which have been outlined in Greek literature in relation to households.  Nevett explores the use of comparative evidence in interpretation by comparing evidence from Nichoria, Lefkandi and Eretria to identify certain trends and distinctions.[30]  But, comparative studies in the interpretation of archaeology are not always helpful as they create a degree of difficulty as they may also be misleading. Morris asserts that comparative evidence can never prove a specific argument right or wrong.[31]  In interpreting archaeological evidence it is necessary to use comparisons but conclusions are in danger of being made that may correspond to the comparison but not to the evidence being interpreted itself.

Archaeological material also sees a large amount of variability over areas and time.  The interpretation of evidence is difficult in relation to these things as one must distinguish between different phases of use and types of material.  For instance, at Delos in the House of the Dolphins there is indication of not only different phases of use but influences from non-Greek patterns of domestic life.[32]  These introduce different priorities and social patterns over time and cultures which are difficult to distinguish and interpret in the archaeological record.

J.I 2012

[1] Nevett, L.C., Gender Relations in the Classical Greek Household: The Archaeological Evidence, in The Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol.90, Centenary Volume (1995), p.363 – , in Xenophon they are positioned side by side and in Lysias positioned upper and lower

[2] Lysias ‘Against Eratosthenes’ with an English translation by W.R.M. Lamb, M.A. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1930), Lysias I.9-10 – Now in the first place I must tell you, sirs (for I am obliged to give you these particulars)… πρῶτον μὲν οὖν, ἄνδρες,(δεῖ γὰρ καὶ ταῦθ᾽ ὑμῖν διηγήσασθαιοἰκίδιον ἔστι μοι διπλοῦν,  ἴσα ἔχον τὰ ἄνω τοῖς κάτω κατὰ τὴν γυναικωνῖτινκαὶ κατὰ τὴν ἀνδρωνῖτιν

[3] Morris, I., Archaeology and Gender Ideologies in Early Archaic Greece, in Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol.129 (1999), p.306

[4] Vitruvius vi.7, in Nevett, L.C., Gender Relations in the Classical Greek Household: The Archaeological Evidence, in The Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol.90, Centenary Volume (1995), p.336 – the γυναικωνιτις consisting of cubicula, triclinia cotidiana and sollae – Vitruvius though is well-known to have too many unknown factors, such as whether the date being referred to is contemporary to Vitruvius or to a date in the past, the geographical area in question and what were Vitruvius’ sources of information.

[5] Demosthenes 37.45-46, in Demosthenis.Orationes. ed. W. Rennie. Oxonii. E Typographeo Clarendoniano (1921) – the plaintiff charged that Evergus came to his home in the country, and made his way into the apartments of his daughters, who were heiresses, and of his mother; and he brought with him into court the laws concerning heiresses. οὗτος γὰρ ᾐτιάσατ᾽ ἐκεῖνον πρὸς ἅπασιτοῖς ἄλλοις ἐλθόντ᾽ εἰς ἀγρὸν ὡς αὑτὸν ἐπὶ τὰς ἐπικλήρους εἰσελθεῖν καὶτὴν μητέρα τὴν αὑτοῦ, καὶ τοὺς νόμους ἧκεν ἔχων τοὺς τῶν ἐπικλήρων πρὸςτὸ δικαστήριον

[6] Hesiod, 519-25 in Morris, I., Archaeology and Gender Ideologies in Early Archaic Greece, in Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol.129 (1999), p.308 – Hesiod states that ‘Boreas does not pierce the soft-skinned girl who stays indoors at home with her mother

[7] Morris, op.cit., p.306, ανδρον – men’s dining room

[8] Ibid., p.306

[9] Antonaccio, C.M., Architecture and Behaviour: Building Gender into Greek Houses, in The Classical World, vol.93, No.5 (May-Jun, 2000), p.525

[10] Gould, J., Law, Custom, and Myth: Aspects of the Social Position of Women in Classical Athens (1980), p.38-59

[11] One of only two houses at the site for which the full horizontal extent has been recovered through excavation

[12] Ault, p.485

[13] Nevett, L., Housing and Households: The Greek World, in Classical Archaeology, p.206

[14] Nevett, Gender Relations, op.cit., p.367 – despite fifty-five buildings being well-preserved enough to yield complete plans

[15] Ault, B.A., Living in the Classical Polis: The Greek House as Microcosm, in The Classical World, Vol.93, No.5 (May-Jun, 2000), p.487

[16] Antonaccio, op.cit., p.529 – Antonaccio explains that some scholars have taken this issue and assumed that the γυναικωνιτιν was located in the upper storey and this is why such an area is not apparent.[16]

[17] Nevett, Houses and Households, op.cit., p.206 – Unit IV.5 at Nichoria in Messenia has been interpreted in two different ways.  Coulson believes that Unit IV.5 had a small roofed area and adjoining enclosure, whereas Mazarakis Ainian believes that it was larger and fully roofed.  This shows that the same evidence can be interpreted differently.

[18] Renfrew, C., and Bahn, P., Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice (London, 2008), p.571

[19] As so much of archaeological writing is written my males even in the present day, despite the growing number of female scholars and archaeologists

[20] Antonaccio, op.cit., p.518

[21] Morris, op.cit., p.309

[22] Nevett, Gender Relations, op.cit., p.380

[23] Ibid., p.380

[24] Morris, op.cit., p.309

[25] Nevett, Gender Relations, op.cit., p.376

[26] Ault, op.cit., p.485

[27] Antonaccio, op.cit., p.528

[28] Lysias ‘Against Eratosthenes’ with an English translation by W.R.M. Lamb, M.A. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. (1930), Lysias I.9  – When the child was born to us, its mother suckled it; and in order that, each time that it had to be washed, she might avoid the risk of descending by the stairs, I used to live above, and the women below. ἐπειδὴ δὲ τὸ παιδίον ἐγένετο ἡμῖν, μήτηρ αὐτὸἐθήλαζεν: ἵνα δὲ μή, ὁπότε λοῦσθαι δέοι, κινδυνεύῃ κατὰ τῆς κλίμακοςκαταβαίνουσα, ἐγὼ μὲν ἄνω διῃτώμην, αἱ δὲ γυναῖκες κάτω.

[29] Antonaccio, op.cit., p.519

[30] Nevett, Houses and Households, op.cit., p.208

[31] Morris, op.cit., p.310

[32] Nevett, Houses and Households, op.cit., p.221