To keep my sanity and to take some art breaks during this time, I am making colouring sheets that are free to print, share and enjoy. I will be uploading printable PDFs here, and posting images to my social media pages. Since we are all staying in doors for the good of the realm/humanity, we might as well fill some of that time having some fun and learning about ancient art and archaeology!
Everyone who has grown up on Disney will feel strongly about these characters and how they imagine they can or should be re-imagined. This is a bit of fun and I selected the mash-ups that made the most sense to me.
If you are an educator, practitioner or just curious about these or any of my other work, please feel free to get in touch!
For anyone who has had to go to Mykonos on their way to Delos, I’m sorry. Mykonos in the modern period has been blessed with Instagrammable vistas, from its white-painted walls with brightly coloured doors, to the overpriced meals, it is every social media influencer’s dream. However, when one is traveling to the nearby island of Delos, a brief stay in the tourist labyrinth awaits.
Thankfully my time in Mykonos, while conducting field work, was brief. To ensure we would be able to catch a ferry crossing to Delos, we planned a day and a half in this little seaside area. With ferry tickets and a frappe in hand, my colleague and travel buddy Ms King and I, set off to the sacred island of Delos!
Legendary birthplace of the ancient world’s deadliest twins, Apollo and Artemis, the island was a sacred site well into antiquity. A historically important trade hub for merchants crossing the Aegean, Delos was a crucial point for the exchange of ideas, art, goods and slaves. The island of Delos itself drew many cults from across the ancient world. Of particular interest to me were the several temples to Serapis and Isis located fairly high up the hill. These newcomers to Delos were part of the expanding religious landscape of the island in the Hellenistic period.
Delos’ sanctity was ensured during the Peloponnesian wars when under oracular guidance the island was required to divest itself of the dead. That is quite uncommon. As is the case now, communities are very connected to their dead. Disturbing graves and reburying the remains on another island seems extreme. Under the guidance of the Delphic Oracle, and just like Disneyland, all of your prayers could be answered; but you couldn’t die or give birth on Delos any longer.
Various leagues were created and centered here to deal with military and political threats, the Delian league during the Persian Wars, and the Nesiotic League during the wars of the Successors of Alexander the Great. It is at this point, during the 3rd century BCE that the island was in the hands of the Ptolemaic Empire and the influence of the Alexandrian kingdom, and its gods was most pronounced on the island.
With more temples to Egyptian gods in one city anywhere outside of Egypt, save Rome, Delos is an interesting location to try to understand the ways in which religious integration occurs and the role in which the urban landscape is a factor.
In 167/166 BCE Delos’ political fortunes changed with the growing influence and meddling in the Aegean of Rome, the island was handed over to the Athenians, who expelled the Delians. As a Roman free port, Delos benefited from the Italian aggression towards competitor cities, until an enemy of Rome sought to disrupt the Republic’s income by sacking the little holy island full of people making money from slaves. The Mithradatic Wars had two waves of destruction in Delos, coming to a head in 69 BCE.
No longer the safest outpost for ensuring Rome’s transportation of slaves and non-human trade goods, Rome made the southern Italian city of Puteoli the new port-de-jour. With that decline and depopulation Delos turned into a relic.
The temples of Isis and Serapis in Delos are built across several phases and interestingly took different forms while they thrived. One associating itself with a more ‘authentically’ Egyptian-style, and another with a more Hellenic-Alexandrian form, they co-existed though not always in perfect harmony.
It was a perfect day to explore this incredible UNESCO World Heritage site, and as I continue with my research, it is always an enriching experience to go to these spectacular sites with my research questions in mind. After a decade passing since my last time here, much remained the same, but due to increased interest in the cults of the Egyptian gods and their relationships with Hellenic and Italic deities, the deities I study tend to get highlighted! The archaeology museum was equally worth the trip to see, with excellent mosaics and gorgeous statues.
The close of a new decade is an inevitably reflective time. The last time the decade turned, I was in my twenties finishing my undergraduate degrees in Vancouver. It feels like a memoir’s worth of writing could barely sum up the last ten years, so I will stick to just one year. 2019 was possibly the most had some of the biggest highs and lows I have gone through in my academic and personal life. Perhaps it is fitting then that at the end of this decade, it was time to go through another life-changing gauntlet of challenges and opportunities.
Travel and Fieldwork
It was a big year for fieldwork. Luckily, that is my reason-d’être for travel. I discovered a few years ago that travelling with a question in your mind makes the whole experience richer and satisfying when you can answer those questions. When I started researching Isis and the Egyptian cults, it became quite consuming and fortunately for me, dispersed throughout most of the Roman Empire. This has been a blessing in most cases, and this year, with one of my dearest friends, we were able to combine forces and research topics to do fieldwork together across much of Greece.
Germany! Mainz and Frankfurt
In January, I popped over to Germany for a weekend to go check out the temple of Isis in Mainz. This site was excavated during the building of a shopping mall, which sits on top of it. A shared temple with Magna Mater, this city had some really great archaeological museums and things to explore. I used to travel alone a lot more, and scooting off for a few days on my own was a lot of fun.
My recent post about Padua highlighted some of the things that made it a delicious visit to one of my favourite countries, but for me, one really lovely part of the trip was getting to spend time around the kitchen table with the family of a dear friend. I miss that part of family life a lot as an ex-pat. I love spending time with the families of friends, feeling the warmth of their love and bonds of family, even doing normal things like grocery shopping and having a cup of tea.
Greece and Cyprus
Travelling together for a few weeks was a blast and we covered a lot of ground. Laying down groundwork for a future co-publication, hopefully, we learned a lot about each other’s research and where it intersects! Greece is a country that formed mythical impressions in our minds from studying these places over so many years, and getting the opportunity to drive to many sites here together was a dream come true.
With some careful planning and Jedi-level budgeting, Briana and I crushed it: Nicosia, Paphos, Palaepafos, Limassol, Mykonos, Delos, Thessalonike, Philippi, Amphipolis, Vergina, Dion, Volos, Nemea, Mycenae, Corinth, Athens, Epidaurus, Pella, Marathon, Nafplio, Sounion and Eleusis!
With so many beautiful locations, and fascinating material culture, I will definitely be posting some cool snaps and historical tidbits about these places in 2020.
Italy: Roadtripping and the Aeclanum Excavation
For the first time since I started going to Italy to try and learn new skills (excavating or public archaeology), I had the good fortune of jointly renting a car with several friends for the duration of our time there. Liberating and exhilarating would be the best summary of that experience. We were able to finally see some of the surrounding areas of Passo di Mirabella, which are incredibly beautiful. I am so grateful for the time I was able to spend with these ladies trying incredible foods, splashing around in creeks, going to ruins and museums and feeling a bit like a kid again!
Launching a graphic novella in Italy!
Vita Romana: at the baths of a Aeclanum was launched this summer in Passo di Mirabella. It was a labour of love that I am super proud of. Completing a project like this was exciting, and working with Ambra Ghiringhelli and Josef Souček- two creative and talented scholars- was so rewarding! With Vita Romana we learned a lot of things about a collaborative creative process, and it would be really cool to work on other stories about Roman daily life!
For the first year in my life, making art was a significant component of my earnings. I still make silly fun things ( #ImSorryChris ) for myself, but between small commissions, selling posters, paintings in Mariachi, and my public archaeology work this was my most successful year as an artist!
Our west coast wedding
One fateful day in the summer of 2017 I proposed to my husband, over a beer in front of the Pantheon in Rome. After a week on holiday of trying to find the perfect moment and location, everything went wrong. Comically wrong. After a cringe-worthy number of failed attempts, the end result was after a week of nearly asking Chris to marry me, I just went for it with a spontaneous and slightly rambling proposal.
Two years later we had our big day in Vancouver, surrounded by friends and family in a gorgeous location, we tied the knot. As a testament to how ridiculous I am and how accommodating my husband is, I insisted on sneaking in all sorts of archaeology and classics-themed elements into the wedding.
We were touched and grateful to have family members and friends from all over the world who joined us for the wedding. My new family, from the UK, got to explore the province I love so much.
With hot and sunny weather August weather, the guests were subjected to volcanic heat during the ceremony! It was a truly happy day, and absolutely impossible without the support of my mom, sisters (Alex and Anaise), father and my tribe of women warriors, mothers and friends. It felt like all these hearts and minds got me to where I am today, pursuing the things that I am most passionate about, married to a wonderful, brilliant man who enriches my life while I chase my dreams.
Following the wedding, there was no rest for the wicked with escape rooms to solve, babies to cuddle and some wee excursions to spend some time with my family. In a exciting opportunity to come to the Sunshine Coast by a private sea plane! We were over the moon to be invited to this beautiful area and hang with my super lovely aunts and uncles. Spending time with friends and loved ones this summer was so restorative and the best part of the whole time in Canada.
Upon our triumphant return to the United Kingdom, we had the ultimate penthouse wedding reception with our incredible community of friends, coleagues and family. It was marvellous.
Manchester & Liverpool
Drawing this year to a close, we decided that connecting with some of our friends who made their way up to celebrate at our reception would be the best way to spend some free time (lol, free time) this winter. We had a magic weekend in Manchester with some beloved friends and colleagues I met in 2013 during our Masters! Manchester is unarguably one of the coolest cities in the UK. It’s got the architectural edge and multi-culturalism that reminds me of Vancouver. With a quick afternoon trip to Liverpool to do some research, we got to cross that city off the list as well. It is always such a pleasure spending time with our pals in Manchester.
As a little treat for ourselves, Chris and I wanted to spend a week in Belgium. Having visited about two years ago to the day, we were stoked to stay with our lovely friends and colleagues in Leuven. The talented Dr Close (Hellenistic History Instagram) and her lovely partner Stijn.
New Year, Who Dis?
It’s hard to believe all of these things happened within the last 12 months alongside school, work, project work at Aeclanum and so on. Like a last grasp at the hectic-life that used to signal to me that I was working hard enough, if I was too busy to blink, surely it meant I was working as hard as possible. Working hard, but perhaps, not working smart. This year was a kind of awakening. For many years I believed I had some sort of super-human ability to multi-task and problem-solve, whatever else was going on in my life, I could get it done. Whatever ‘it’ was. I would just sleep less, or socialize less, or work during other work…the mind boggles how all this made sense. What I discovered, rather late, was that this balancing act wasn’t balanced at all. It was a very typical high-achiever’s cocktail for burnout. Even projects and activities that gave me great pleasure, if they were not my thesis, then it had to go. Coinciding with moving house, this fall was all about starting anew and positively.
This year I am trying something new and sustainable: in life, in art and school, I will pare everything down to a focused and balanced year ahead.
Change in life, travel and work are always inspiring to me. With this excavation season, there were several developments in the programme which have already opened many doors. Pushing ourselves towards new skills and challenges, the team that came back together this year is working harder than ever to support the students and in our research. The 2018 dig season at Passo di Mirabella kicked off several weeks ago and for returning students and staff, and after an intense first year in my PhD, it was a pretty great feeling to get back to the site. With a few of us in different positions this year and including a new field project manager (Allison Kidd), and myself moving into project managing off-site alongside the Public Archaeology coordinating. The organizational flow appears to be working well already! The ethos of this excavation is generally oriented away from hierarchies but having people in place to provide additional support in a few key areas has made a big difference!
Getting back to work
The expansion of the programme offers a broad array of activities, and this year we have even more students coming for specialist training in pottery, osteology, epigraphy and, of course, longer-term excavation training. Public Archaeology appears to still be a bit of a mystery to students, but maybe one day I’ll have my own little troop to work with, but until then, I am always grateful for the occasional drop-in helping with drawing, activity planning and brainstorming. My youngest volunteer was arguably the most focused and enthusiastic public archaeologist yet! New teams of students and supervisors are working hard, but also trying to share their experiences via social media. Posting about their experiences on Facebook, Instagram and through personal blogs, students are engaging with the work from a digital perspective while keeping it interesting for their audiences!
Research and Public Archaeology
This year marks my third season with the project, and second in a Public Archaeology role. It is another ambitious year. I have been working on new activities which aim to bring the participants closer to the daily life of Ancient Romans. This year we have been able to jump ahead towards more sophisticated engagement materials, since we are able to build on the work from last year.Through regular social media updates, my work has been in part illustrating, but the overarching plan for the Open Day and further research is focused on asking questions relating to pedagogical approaches that will be answered via through educational posters and games during the Open Day. The data collected will be assessed in a follow-up project I am working on in the last fortnight of the excavation season. The games and learning materials bridge modern audiences (specifically children but also to encourage adults as well) wtih themes like international trade and community within the urban spaces of Aeclanum. Through a close collaboration between myself (project development and art direction) and the brilliant GIS and digital graphics team (Josef Soucek and Lucia Michillen), and our field directors, Dr. Ferdinando di Simone and Dr. Ben Russell, we are producing materials at a rapid pace entirely in-house, which is unique in my experience and really allows the Aeclanum project to break new ground in terms of outreach. By linking our outreach materials to new research we are undertaking on the site annually and adapting our creative materials to reflect the developments in these research questions, we can integrate students with related research and skills into the work we are doing.
The Open Day is a few weeks away still, but at the rate the students are excavating, we are certain to have an even clearer image of the stratigraphic processes in the trenches, and what this seasons’ research will be able to elucidate before the end of the season.
“To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world”
– Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays”
The concept of ‘the flâneur‘ is an old one that has recently entered my mind as my PhD research is starting to intersect conceptually with my artistic experiences within ancient city spaces. As someone who feels that you need to walk a city to really experience it, I also believe to really see a city, it helps to sketch it; not the whole thing, and not just its monuments, but small details and elements. The 19th century French symbol of the flâneur is relatable to me for that reason.
For the flâneur, one interacts within urban spaces through engagement (in painting or writing) and observation, but still remains apart- both a performer and spectator. The lesser-known ‘flâneuse’ is the female chronicler of urban life in the 19th century, figures like Virgina Woolf, as discussed in this article, are part of the underespresented presence of female urban explorers. As a modern female explorer of ancient urban spaces, creating a space to discuss, share and engage with these ideas and locations in the public sphere is important to me.
Macellum of Pozzuoli, Italy. 2014
Additionally, this concept resonates for me, as an archaeology student and artist, because it embodies more than a spirit of adventure and making art, but also a spirit of understanding and trying to piece together the urban landscapes that have developed and disappeared over time.
Maratea and the statue of Cristo Redentore, 2015.
Since my first trip abroad, in 2002, the drive to sketch and take in everything that I could has formed an important part of appreciating a significantly bigger world than I knew. Sketches from my earlier books explored famous portraits and statues the likes of which I’d only ever seen in Art History courses.
Faces from Florence, 2008
Boticelli: Madonna of the Magnificat, Florence, 2008.
This initial exposure provided me with access to masterpieces in galleries that were unlike the art I could see with any regularity in Canada. Sketching from paintings was a lot of fun and I felt so fortunate to see the images, but my first visit to archaeological sites in Greece and Italy really affected what I wanted to draw.
Visiting many sites in the Mediterranean over the last 10 years, I was able to sit and breathe in these ancient cities by focusing in on the shapes and forms of the stone, lines of sight, and views between one temple to the streets or the valleys below. My curiosity directed me to explore artifacts and material culture that were used to adorn Greek, Etruscan or Roman buildings and the individuals who navigated through them.
From Observer to Preformer
The most inspiring pieces of art in the world were at my fingertips (sketchbook and pen tip), but my shyness about drawing in front of strangers took a few years to overcome. Ironically, the simple act of drawing in public would lead to some of the most interesting encounters with fellow travellers, curious children and tour groups. I have found the quiet study of the place you are in, or artifacts in front of you, signals something unspoken to other people which is inviting.
Over time I developed my own sense of style. I could explore patterns and elements taken from brick designs, patterns of lace on Dutch merchant collars, hairstyles of Roman and Greek elite women, and not worry what the person hovering over my shoulder thought.
profile of Queen dressed as Isis, 2nd century BC. Thonis-Heracleion
front view of Queen dressed as Isis, 2nd century BC. Thonis-Heracleion
Much of what made this passion for drawing more appealing was the utility of having something free and enjoyable to do with the many hours you spend while traveling to get to the place you are going. Waiting to cross the sea on a ferry or idle at a train station on my way to a new city, provided me a good amount of time to reflect on my sketches.
Aegyptiaca from Marseilles
Herakles Pottery Sherd
This reflection began to take greater shape and purpose once I started to do postgraduate research. Having questions and a focus of study in my mind affects the way I approach the ancient city spaces around me. It focuses my vision, but also encourages me to think on the connections between the visual elements across the Mediterranean. You don’t need to travel all over the Mediterranean to realise there is a shared visual culture being used with an incredible exchange of ideas and styles at play, but it was helpful to visualize the scope.
It began to create a tapestry of experiences (passive and active) in my mind of ancient art and the interconnectedness of ancient communities that had risen and fallen many centuries ago. I remain inspired to learn more and document it in a way that is meaningful to me and hopefully others. By saving a small piece of my experiences in a sketch or painting, I am starting to develop ways in which these small illuminations of incredible places and artifacts can be used to share the benefits of the study of Archaeology and Ancient History.
Deciding to listen to the good advice I was given at the onset of embarking on my PhD, I opted to follow the rule: once you’ve submitted something substantial, take a week and decompress.
The first few months of my PhD have been a whirlwind of new ideas, late nights and piles of reading. It had been three years since I’d written anything so formal, and the gap in between was noticeable. Like an unused muscle, my writing felt crampy and good for only one lap or two around the court. Though working old muscles can be exhausting, diving into the subject that you love is enjoyable and invigorating. After several years of wanting to spend my daylight hours working on something interesting and challenging, the last two months have sped by. With the completion of my first review submission, there was no shortage of things to work on and develop.Deciding to listen to the good advice I was given at the onset of embarking on my PhD, I opted to follow the rule: once you’ve submitted something substantial, take a week and decompress. That can mean many things of course. Understandably, long train rides and walking many miles might not be someone’s idea of decompression, but hey ho.1. Go Find Your Chill
Normally, I am the last person to take advice relating to self-care and relaxing (shudder), but I thought, ‘why not’? Four hours after submitting my work, I jumped on a train to Manchester to visit a couple of wonderful friends who I met during my MSc at Edinburgh. My wonderful hosts, both a current and future PhDs, welcomed and showed me their adopted city. Manchester was a beauty. With plenty of time to explore the downtown and no particular agenda, other than seeing what they love about it, I could relax and take it all in.
2. Take in a Bit of Culture
There is something restorative in going to art galleries, museums or creative performances. Even if you don’t necessarily like the art on display, just seeing what creative minds have been/are up to can take you outside of yourself for enough time to relax a bit. At least until the next “BREAKING NEWS” alert on your phone goes off. When needing to feel some inspiration, or just wanting a quiet space to draw, museums and galleries tend to be my preferred space to do so. Popping into the Manchester Art Gallery allowed me the rare privilege to see one of my favourite paintings in the flesh – Charles Auguste Mengin’s ‘Sappho’ – which was breath-taking and significantly larger than I’d imagined.The depth of the darkness in Sappho’s gown cannot be done justice with a digitized image, and the highlights looked iridescent in some spaces. Sappho, so often presented longingly and wistfully, is shown powerful, dark and mourning. Her angst and colour palette was a natural favourite for me in my high school goth years.3. Nightime Walks and Christmas Markets
Walking around at night when travelling alone isn’t always the safest choice, so when I have the opportunity for company, it is an excellent way to see another side of a city. As this was my first time in Manchester and it coincided with Christmas festivities, strolling around the streets at night was especially lovely. While making me homesick, one of the perks of living in the United Kingdom is the on-point Christmas markets. The smells of meat, waffles and mulled wine were amazing. It required all the will-power I possessed not to buy adorable kitsch ceramics, and eat all the treats.Onward through town we went, eventually settling into a pub near the university. Ample political debates, methodological discussions and general nerdiness ensued.
4. Treat Yo SelfThis might seem fairly obvious, but taking 30 minutes out of the day to have a leisurely coffee or popping into a print shop and finding Liam Gallagher greeting cards (nailed it, Manchester) is sometimes the treat you need to clear your head. It doesn’t have to be a big production, but leaving the to-go cup behind and just sitting in nice spaces with friends (or alone) is one of my favourite parts of a solo journey. Seldom do I plan a trip without packing as much as possible into the schedule, but trying it out this month was really rewarding and relaxing.
5. Reflecting Taking stock and heading home, I was thoroughly impressed by the juxtaposition between new and old buildings in the city. There is a lot of effort to create dynamic visual landscapes, which living in the historic neighbourhoods of Edinburgh, I occasionally forget that skyscrapers, tower block flats and vivid colour are normal to see. Shaking off the last few weeks of 14+ hour work days, and stress that ate normal stress for breakfast, I definitely came back feeling more refreshed, and through that, optimistic. Though only a few days, it was a wonderful stop.Next stop: BRUSSELS! 48 hours later, my partner and I jumped on a plane and were en route to Eindhoven for a week
October in Scotland has been, on occasion, described as so windy, “it’ll cut ye in half”. Locking myself indoors over this month to re-learn how to study has arguably been made easier by the poor weather. With the first month of my PhD done, and the piles of books I need to read steadily increasing, a kindly offer from my incredibly talented and successful bestie from Vancouver, to meet in Nice for a weekend, was pure class.
Place Massena et la Fontaine du Soleil.
My last rendezvous with Nice was in 2008 (the youthful and relatively tattoo free main picture dates to then); the sights and smells of Nice are summed up for me by ‘ça m’a marqué’. To walk the Promenade des Anglais again in the October sunshine was a welcome change of study space.I wish I could say that I studiously read up on much of the history of Nice, but that would be a lie. We came for sun, beaches and the famous cuisine that characterize this gorgeous little spot of paradise.The open-air markets had spectacular varieties of sea salts and spices, with dried herbs and lavender filling the air in the narrow winding streets.
A picnic of local specialties
For a few short days, the ambling life was pretty spectacular. But the itch to see some of the ancient history in Nice was more powerful than delicious paté and fancy cocktails.
Site Archéologiques de Nice-Cimiez
Though in the city centre of Vieulle Nice the shops and amenities were all bustling, Sunday morning in the outskirts of town was effectively closed for business. The imperative task of finding coffee and croissants before exploring Roman ruins was nearly impossible. Eventually, we secured essential pastries and found the archaeological site of Cemenelum. The hilltop archaeological park is situated in the fairly posh and residential neighborhood of Cimiez, and contains a small but interesting portion of the Roman baths.
Eastern bath complex
This Roman city was built not far from an established Greek city, Nikaia, and under Augustus, it became the capital of the province of Alpes Maritmae, with occupation and development into the 4th century AD.
Western bath complex
The bath complex and partial roads that remain were part of a bustling military encampment, servicing the legions as they passed through or remained stationed there. Some estimates have placed the inhabitants at 10,000, with a decent amount of seating in the amphitheater, back when it still had seats.
The face of habitation changed over time, and even with incursions from hostile tribes, Cemenelum maintained a community of Christians into the 7th and 8th centuries AD. The evidence of this phase is present in the houses that were built into the abandoned baths.
After a solid hike up to the site, it was time for a few remaining hours on the beach, and one last swim in the Mediterranean. With the first month of my PhD over, and the piles of books to read getting ever higher, a sunny weekend of ambling around in Nice was the perfect excursion as fall quickly turns to winter. Merci pour ce merveilleux voyage ma chère amie! A la bientot!
“I divided the earth from the heaven. I showed the paths of the stars. I ordered the course of the sun and the moon”. (Kyme Aretalogy in honour of Isis)
Since backpacking in Europe in 2001, I have been drawn to images and archaeological sites relating to Isis. There are some things that just strike the right chord for you. My first experience with Isis (in a Greco-Roman style) was at the Capitoline Museum in Rome.
The statue fit my understanding of what classical sculpture was, and simultaneously had something a bit unusual. The features were so exquisitely carved, and the goddess’s accoutrements were unlike anything I had seen before. While visiting Pompeii during the same trip, I didn’t quite make the connection between the figure in the statue that I’d seen in Rome and the temple in which I had been standing.
During my undergraduate studies, I came across her again while reading Lucian’s ‘Metamorphosis (The Golden Ass)’. My attention was drawn to the way that Lucian described the power of this mysterious foreign goddess. What was so brash about Lucian’s novel was how much he subtly revealed, through winks and nods, about the mystery cult. He described esoteric celebrations, events and magical healing, all the while saying, ‘but it’s a secret, so I can’t really talk about it’. The story is familiar, in a Shakespearean kind of way, through all the hubris, metamorphoses, changes of fortune, and bawdy humour.
I was fascinated by this religious movement and how it functioned within the religiously pluralistic Roman society. Isis and her cult would ultimately provide some of the foundation of early Christian practices such as baptism, in addition to the depictions with Horus (the infant nursing on her lap is a dead ringer for the baby Jesus), presaging the metamorphosis into the Virgin Mary.
Jumping in with both feet, I was excited and wanted to understand more about this deity. However, my introduction to the topic began at a much later point in the history of the Cult of Isis; to understand the cult and its significance, I would need to go farther back and approach it more broadly.My Masters at the University of Edinburgh was spent exploring the Greek and Hellenistic routes of the cult, from multiple angles, to start filling in the picture (and creating many of my own pictures).
Isis’s power as a deity in Egypt rested in being the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. She bridged the continuity of kingship from one king to his descendant. Her original function as the literal and symbolic role – as the throne and king-maker in Ancient Egypt – changes quite dramatically once the cult is exported into Greece and Italy.
While the period of Isis worship in the pre-Hellenistic era (before 323 BCE) is interesting, what has captivated me more specifically is what happens with the cult in the Hellenistic-to-Roman period. Like a character from Sailor Moon, she gained many headdresses, wands, tools, and visual associations with other deities (Demeter, Aphrodite, Athena, Nike).
This is the period that I focused on during my MSc, researching the symbols and iconography over time, with an emphasis on the tiny figurines used in her worship. What I discovered was that her strength was in her flexibility. Her image could be adapted to all needs, wants and interests. She could be a local or international deity. She could be closely affiliated with a particular ruling dynasty, or one specific location.
Another investigation looked at the cult’s relationship with Athenian government in Delos, and some of the territorial quarrels that occurred between temples run by different factions on the island. The evidence of a push and pull scenario between Delos’ new overlords (the Athenians) and the previous residents, in the mid-second century BCE. Running cults was big business and politically useful to establishing ones career, and the Athenians had no interest in allowing an Alexandrian ‘Egyptian’ to maintain a monopoly on the worship of Isis in this economically powerful port.
While few temples of Isis remain in even remotely good shape, Pompeii possesses on of the most famous examples.
Pompeii had one of the best-preserved temples (though most of the decorations were long since removed and put in museums). It was fascinating to see the spread of Egyptian-looking artefacts which tend to denote cult membership. The items that were recovered from Pompeii are varied and showed decorations and materials of incredibly high quality that were made for, and used by, the Temple of Isis.
Another leg of the journey in my first large research project involved a trip to Palestrina (ancient Praeneste), some 40 km east of Rome. Part of what I wanted to see was the Egyptian artefacts, which remain some of the most exquisite examples of mosaic work from ancient history.
The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina was breath-taking in person and represented an interesting fusion of culture and appropriation of the Hellenistic Alexandrians and the native Egyptians. Although it is an uneven cultural balance, with the prioritising of the Macedonian elite over the native Egyptians.
It is a rare gem of the exquisite mosaic work that was part of art market in Italy, before the Rome dominated the Mediterranean. It highlighted aspects of Egyptian cult which would find its way into Italy, though altered for Italian tastes.
So, what is next?
This September I will be stepping into the subject and delving deeper into urban design, Egyptian architecture and the art styles that appear in Roman cities. There are so many aspects and angles to investigate with this topic, and being able to work on a PhD toward this end is like a dream come true. There are still so many sites, statues, and sistrums to see in my journey into my studies of this Cult of Isis!
For the last few months I have taken a hiatus from writing my blog to focus on applying for a PhD at the University of St. Andrews. What a harrowing adventure! From start to finish, it was a good 3-month process with dozens of re-writes, stress and the agonizing wait to hear back. Even starting early, and following advice from friends and online, there were so many unknowns going into it. There were many moments of self-doubt, which had the uncanny ability to creep in when I needed it the least. With the support of some amazing teachers, mentors and friends, I managed to get someone interested in the incredibly nerdy stuff I love – Roman Aegyptiaca. In a post coming soon I will write about what that is, but for now…I will be studying Egyptian-looking things in Roman cities.
Khoiak Procession from the Nile Mosaic of Palestrina, Italy (2014)
While the outcome might seem straightforward, (person X likes (topic), studies Y = goes on to PhD) the path is rarely as clear as this. An interesting part of the curation on social media, is all of the crap that you don’t want people to see can easily be ignored, not reported or underplayed. I focus and emphasize the things that I am most proud of, that arguably demonstrate a clear connection to my goals and objectives. It’s not always a conscious choice, but it excites me to share upcoming adventures (research trips, excavation work, conferences etc), and even if those activities are the exception to fairly humdrum periods of time, I try focus on the positive and engaging elements in my life. That curation presents a deceptively well-planned and linear pathway however.
Roman road excavation. Merida, Spain (2014)
Like many people in the ‘millennial’ category, I have taken a strange circuitous route to finding a path. For many years I was uncertain what it was I wanted to do, or how I would even get there. My professional or academic shortcomings would emerge when I contemplated pursuing any concrete direction. Supporting myself through school involved things that looked remarkably unrelated: Italian train information CSR, custom picture framer, freelance artist, call centre CSR, book and video store sales person, maternity store sales clerk, telecommunications CSR, office administrator for an engineering firm, work-study intern with a museum, housing assistant, university credit secretary, repairs assistant, catering delivery driver, and endless amounts of ‘exposure’ work (free) and side-hustle to get through.
‘Work for exposure? Oh can I?’ Roman wind chime. Merida, Spain (2014)
Despite working in areas that for many would happily suffice as a career, I have always been half in and half out. Every work placement is an opportunity to learn useful skills, but nothing had any real resonance to me or inducement to stay long term. I always had an eye to what might be ahead and to apply to any and every opportunity, often ending comfortable employment for a scrambling uncertainty.
Egyptian relief. Louvre, Paris (2016)
Sure, I love ancient history, archaeology and art…but what can I really do with all this?
Throughout all of that, I knew I wanted to spend my life studying and sharing aspects of ancient history through art and writing, but unsure as to what my mixed-bag of skills would allow me to do. When I drew all of my work experience, hobbies and passions together a picture emerged that put the question to rest: I want to be an educator of Ancient History. Fundamental to this was attaining a PhD, and getting more focused and industry specific work experience.
See? So much time spent on ancient walls. Hadrian’s Wall, England (2013)
Having been accepted to St. Andrews, I now have several months to plan and prepare – skills my varied work experience has hammered into me. Much of the existential angst of ‘what will I do and where will I be next?’ can finally be put to rest for the next few years. With the patchwork of experience that has sustained me, now behind, I look forward with more clarity and focus.