This week on Two Friends Talk History, I spoke with Dr Maxime Ratcliffe, hot off the press with his recently awarded doctorate, to discuss Romano-British well depositions, and the tantalising mysteries that were buried within them. We explore their persistence in the British landscape, and their possible uses in antiquity.
Dr Ratcliffe’s thesis analysed the social history and topographical significance of the locations where the lead tanks were discovered – and continue to be discovered! They are surprisingly prolific in Britain, and quite unique as a collective practice; only four decorated lead tanks of similar form have been found elsewhere within the region contained by the Roman Empire: three were found in Italy and one in Switzerland (Crerar 2012).
Top left: Cavensham lead tank; bottom left: reconstruction; right: Mithraeum from Wallbrook – well in top left corner.
Scholarship in the 1970s suggested these lead tanks be considered as early Christian baptisms (Toynbee 1964). In Crerar’s 2012 article, she noted that they were commonly analysed as Romano-British art and religious practices, but “few scholars have recognised that their design and potential use make them worthy of separate and more detailed consideration”…which is where Dr Ratcliffe joined the investigation. The areas that had previously received little attention – how the tanks were used, how they were destroyed, what was found contextually with them and how they might have been viewed by Roman-British society- are all aspects of Maxime’s study into the elusive tanks.
2. List of locations where lead tanks were found as of 2012 (Crerar).
If you would like to learn more about the Ashton tank, which was featured for the podcast cover art, this article is free and accessible. Reading Museum’s online catalogue gives a nice reconstruction of the crushed lead tank from the well at Dean’s Farm in Caversham (1988): Click Here.
If you would like to get in touch with Dr Ratcliffe on the Durham University Archaeology department website here, or you can follow him on Academia.edu.
While we wait excitedly for Dr Ratcliffe’s work to be made public, a useful introduction to the lead tanks (baptismal fonts) of Romano-Britain can be found in Crerar, B. (2012). Her article, “Contextualising Romano-British Lead Tanks: A Study in Design, Destruction and Deposition” in Britannia,43, 135-166 was an interesting read and had excellent visualisations.
Thank you for tuning in to Two Friends Talk History and checking out this blog!
This week on Two Friends Talk History, Zofia interviews Dr Elke Close about Polybius, an Achaean statesman, teacher, and historian from the Hellenistic period. Polybius was active in Megalopolis at the tail end of the period of Greek independence following the wars of the Hellenistic kings and the rise of the Roman empire. His surviving text, Histories, has provided scholars with unparalleled evidence for the social and political changes that led to the changing balance of power in the Mediterranean in the second century BCE.
From the introduction of Polybius’ Histories, we are told of the weight and significance of his treatise for readers to understand the rise to power of Rome, while synthesising the events more broadly around the Mediterranean.
But all historians, one may say without exception, and in no half-hearted manner, but making this the beginning and end of their labour, have impressed on us that the soundest education and training for political actions is the study of History.
His aims are outlined, and through his unique position as Achaean statesman and hostage in Rome, Polybius had intimate access as a teacher and client to one of the most powerful Roman families, the Cornelii Scipiones. Due to his proximity to power and usefulness, Polybius rode shotgun on several watershed moments of the Republic.
Tis the season when we celebrate community and the change of the year! How did the Romans celebrate the end of the year?
The Roman celebration of Saturnalia was held for several days in mid-December to celebrate the passing of seasons, with its roots in the worship of the agricultural god Saturn. Saturn was syncretised with the Greek Kronos as the Romans came to control Greece, becoming increasingly invested in their gods. Saturn is often depicted as an older bearded man holding a scythe, an acknowledgement of his agrarian roots. The temple of Saturn in Rome stood prominently in the forum and is evidenced to this day by eight impressive columns and a partial podium.
From the late Republican period (the last 1oo years or so BCE) the midwinter celebration officially grew from three days to five in the Principate (December 17th to December 23rd). These were just official trends as it’s generally believed that unofficially it was a week, a bit like now depending on your employment. For the Romans work, studies and legal actions came to a halt and people were ready to party!
In Lucian’s Saturnalia, he speaks with the voice of Saturn in dialogue with a priest, observing how the revelries in his name should take place among the Romans: gaming, dancing, song and drinking were all part of the celebration of Saturnalia; it also involved things familiar to us today like decorating homes with greenery and wearing bright and colourful clothing (synthesis), like ugly sweater parties! Lucian’s Saturn is a very reasonable god who lays out three “laws” for gifting, celebrating and banqueting, emphasising fairness in all measures and not being compelled to act or gift beyond your means.
The King of Saturnalia
A king of Saturnalia acted as the ‘Lord of Misrule’ (like Carnivale) in these celebrations. Elected as the mock king, the Saturnalicius princeps, this agent of acceptable chaos in the household would walk the line between being a cheeky chap and straight up humorously (presumably) insulting guests and members of the household. Bear in mind that Roman households could be somewhat larger than ours – the nuclear family at the centre could include grandparents, cousins, adopted family members, children from other marriages, guests and the enslaved household labourers. Many of the societal norms were relaxed and played with in the household, where during this period the enslaved could eat at the head of the table with those who owned them taking a lower status position. Women too could mingle with men (in some circumstances) a little more freely and could hang together and gamble.
Gifts for Saturnalia
Gift-giving was an important part of Saturnalia. Gifts of high value were not necessarily what one would expect, generally the humour of lower cost gifts was appreciated- like trolling a friend with a joke gift. Catullus wrote of receiving epically bad poetry for a gift and it is fun to imagine the kind of hilarious insults he possibly wrote for friends for their gifts, like getting ‘read’ by Oscar Wild but smuttier. Saturnalia gifts could include: sausages, dried fruit, wine, piglets, wax candles (cerei), dolls, toys, books, statues, tools, exotic pets and more!
The last day of Saturnalia
As all good things must come to an end, so too did the annual revels of the Romans. On the last day of Saturnalia one would give sigillaria – terracotta or wax figurines, shaped in the likeness of familiar deities, mythical figures or easily caricatured types (grotesques). The day itself was called ‘Sigillaria‘; the gift type and gift-giving influenced the day’s name. Much like Boxing Day which one theory suggests may have started (according to the OED) as the first weekday after Christmas when postmen, delivery workers and servants of various types would receive a Christmas box, in which was some type of gift or tip. Possibly due in part to the ways gods were part of the everyday lives of Romans, and worshipped in the home in small devotional figures – the Lares – as guardians of the home, it is not surprising that a popular gift would include their likenesses in inexpensive small gifts, conferring further good luck and protection. For the wealthy, these gifts could be made from costly materials like gold or silver. Given their popularity, someone who crafted and sold this merchandise was called a sigillarius. Vendors were quite busy at this time of year, setting up stalls like the Christmas markets we are familiar with today.
The Romans had many festivals throughout the year, and a few days after the wild revels of Saturnalia, they celebrated the sober and solemn Compitalia, another festival in which metaphoric beginnings and endings are associated with the end of the year. Named after compita (crossroads), the recently revelrous enslaved peoples would offer sacrifices on behalf of the households within the neighbourhoods they lived to the Lares of the crossroads. Perhaps it is fitting to have a week of revels which brought families and friends together be followed up with a more sober festival which celebrated the bonds of community. Saying goodbye to the year is always fraught with bittersweet reflections with this year being notable in that regard, as surely in many world-changing years before the communities celebrating these rites would join together to celebrate and pray for better times ahead.
Two Friends Talk History is a podcast where public historian, Zofia, chats with scholars, archaeologists, researchers and more to explore fascinating histories, look behind the scenes and ask the big question that’s missing in much academic discourse: so what? Why is this relevant today?
New Friends on Two Friends
Carrying on from season 1 in which Zofia and Liam explored the ancient world through stories and interviews, season 2 invites new friends to Two Friends. Find me on Instagram at Two Friends Talk History and Patreon at ArchaeoArtist.
In this episode of Two Friends Talk History, Zofia interviews Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of St Andrews, and founder of the Visualising War and Peace Project, Dr Alice König. In this interview, Zofia asks Alice about ideas of representing war in antiquity, and if concepts like a ‘peace movement’ was possible in a period of Roman Imperium. We discuss the absences in war narratives, and war’s impacts on women and children, and then turn our attention to the podcast series that Dr König and Dr Nicolas Wiater, launched in 2021, the Visualising War and Peace podcast. The Visualsing War and Peace podcast has over 60 episodes and seeks to present listeners with cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives on how war and peace were visualised in the past and how new narratives these established frameworks are seeking to disrupt the ways we talk about, teach and reproduce conflicts.We also discuss the upcoming exhibition Alice has organised with the artist, Diana Forster, opening May 25th at the Wardlaw Museum in St Andrews, 'Somewhere to Stay’. The exhibition focuses on the forced migration experienced by Diana's mother, a young Polish woman, during WWII.To hear Diana's episodes, you can listen to Art and War with Diana Forster or Visualising Forced Migration Through History.We also discussed the upcoming exhibition collaboration with Hugh Kinsella Cunningham, titled 'Picturing Peace in the Congo'. you can find more information linked here. You can get in touch with Dr Konig at the University of St Andrews and her work on the Visualising War and Peace project here. Alice is also on Twitter @KonigAlice or @VisualisingWar. You can also follow the project on Facebook and Instagram, and there is an excellent blog series that you can follow through the project website/blog. For links to show topics:On the appropriation of Classics topics/symbols etc by alt-right groups, helpful scholarship can be read here on Pharos' website: https://pharos.vassarspaces.net/To get in touch and find out more about Two Friends Talk History:Find us on InstagramSupport us through Patreon Buy our merch on RedbubbleExplore more resources and topics about the ancient world on ArchaeoArtistMusic by the wonderfully talented Chris SharplesImage credits: cover illustration by Zofia GuertinIf you'd like to get in touch, email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two Friends Talk History Art
I have been challenging myself with creating the mash-ups in my own digital drawing style but, where appropriate, using the historical style the original image was made in. These episode images are available as mugs, tees and postcards on our Two Friends Talk History Redbubble Shop!
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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.
This spring, my friend and fellow St. Andrews colleague, Dr Briana King, and I traveled to Greece for fieldwork in our studies. With intersecting interests, Briana and I were able to plan a truly spectacular trip and gain new insights into our own research questions as well as each other’s work. Through careful budgeting and receiving funding through several pathways, we were fortunate to achieve quite a lot in two weeks. We began our fieldwork in Cyprus, to investigate the earliest sanctuary site of Aphrodite!
With a long history reaching back into the Neolithic period, Cyprus has seen waves of cultural and political change throughout its recorded history. Annexed in 295/4 BCE by the Ptolemy I Soter (the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty), it remained within their dynastic control for 250 years. Though Cyprus still retained semi-autonomous government with the Boule (council), Demos (popular assembly) and the Gerousia (council of ancient Boomers). This continued until it was annexed by Rome in 58 BCE during the dynastic struggles between Cleopatra VII and her siblings, and settled into Roman hands following the civil war with Octavian and Antony. Cyprus would fall into the hands of several other powers over the next two thousand years (the Arab caliphate, the French and Venetians and the Ottomans), until today where it currently remains divided by Greece and the occupied portion under Turkey.
Cyprus’ place-names have popped into my studies for years came from this island. Unsurprisingly, due to the proximity to Egypt (a straight line to Alexandria) and the political fortunes of Cyprus, there was several connection-points with the Egyptian gods which I hope to explore further in my research.
The goddess of many names: the sanctuary of Aphrodite
Starting in Cyprus was very important to Briana’s research: Paleopafos is the OG Aphrodite cult site where she was worshiped in the form of a black stone (below left). The Sanctuary of Aphrodite, barely visible on the archaeological site, requires some imagination to envisage what it could have been like. Set atop a higher elevation, the site would have commanded an impressive presence on the landscape and awarded visitors with a stunning view out to the sea.
A rose by any other name…
While Hesiod called Aphrodite ‘Cyprus-born’ around the 8th c. BCE, the goddess was not called that in Cypus until the 4th c. BCE. The significance of place-names for her identity can be seen in inscriptions where is called ‘the Golgian or Paphian’ from her sanctuaries at Golgoi and Pafos. A city’s prestige could be significantly enhanced by a notable sanctuary or cult site. You can see below some interesting details about the places or priorities associated with the goddess of Cyprus.
“Kyprogenes- Cyprus born goddess; Potnia Kyprou – the mistress of Cyprus Akraia – the goddess of promontories; Pontia, Einalia – the marine goddess Ourania – the heavenly goddess; Pandemos- goddess of all Egcheios – the goddes with the spear; Kourotrophos – the goddess patron of infants “
Figurines found across the island, and spread to other Mediterranean cities, show ongoing development in the iconography of the Great Goddess of Cyprus. Theories range about their uses, whether they are images of early forms of Aphrodite, her priestesses, companions for the dead or talismans for fertility or the afterlife.
She certainly glowed up though.
As Aphrodite’s form changes over time, you get gorgeous examples like the Aphrodite from Soloi (right) which has that sexy contrapposto!
For scholars and history nerds, these places are important and aren’t normally on a tourists’ itinerary. Cyprus is known for its beaches, boardwalks and boating which we briefly explored. Though this isn’t my topic of expertise, it was really cool to experience it with someone who has a passion for Aphrodite scholarship, like mine for Isis!
With Google taking on a merry-go-round of routes through the hills and ostrich farms, we eventually arrived at Nicosia to visit the archaeological museum. It had a substantial collection of beautiful things
With the archaeological site of Salamis inconveniently closed, we checked out a few other interesting locations in Cyprus! A brief walk along the promenade along the sunny boardwalk in Limassol.
What surprised me about Paphos is that it was like a tiny hot British town plunked in the middle of the Mediterranean. Walking around, the signs were in English and I didn’t hear an ounce of Greek being spoken. The archaeological site was worth a wander, but if I was looking for Greek culture and a trip away from the UK, it was eerily like being back in Britain.
Neopaphos & the Tombs of the Kings
Some unexpected surprises along the way included the rental car with no working headlights and the incredible discovery of a late-night delivery of the best souvlaki and Greek salad of my life. With a lot of terrain covered over a weekend, there is still a lot left to explore there and worthy of a solid return trip.
In fair Padua, where we lay our scene…My Shakespeare may be a bit dusty, but that is definitely maybe how that goes, right? There were certainly enough ‘Juliette windows’ to make you think you might be stepping into a Shakespearean play!
Until recently, Padua was an elusive northern Italian city in the Veneto on my list of places to visit, but I’d never quite made it up there. With very limited experience in northern Italy, I planned to surprise my husband for his birthday with a weekend in Padua. We packed our bags and hopped a flight with a friend and colleague, Dr Lucia Michielin, to stay a few days in her hometown and experience the city, the mountains, and her family’s gastronomic traditions.
Padua is radiant, serving you sunshine with arcaded walkways and boutique shops for days. The history of Padua is etched into the very walls of the shopping areas! Markers of older commercial activities, as pointed out by our knowledgeable local hostess, created in a few different shapes to suit several types of common products to make sure no one was getting ripped off.
Piazza delle Erbe was a bustling residential area in pre-Roman era, then with intensification of urbanization, this area took the form of the piazza it is now by the 10th century CE. Within Piazza delle Erbe, the market is elegant and layered from the outside, and on the inside there are all sorts of traditional food items sold. The butcher and cheese mongers were mouth-watering.
Roman & Early Renaissance Padua
The archaeology museum of Padua had some Roman finds that I hadn’t come across before: a stargate- I mean, “well”! Obviously, we took silly pictures inside it.
Remains of an amphitheater are found in the city center near the Scrovegni Chapel and the Eremitani Museum of archaeology and art. Well worth a visit, though there was nothing pertinent to my research there, the banter is always fun when walking around an archaeology museum with a colleague.
Coming to Padua, we were most excited about visiting the Scrovegni Chapel with the famous fresco paintings by Giotto. Having studied this chapel in art school, I was really keen to see it in real life. Painted by Giotto and his workshop over the course of nearly two years, the chapel was consecrated in 1305.
The pictures don’t do it justice; the blues are electric and packed with detail. The vibrancy and realism for this period innovative, well in advance of when we would typically expect this type of work in the Renaissance. Giotto preceded them by 200 years!
From a heritage management perspective, the way they regulated tourism and its impact was clever. Taking small groups in at a time, allowing the temperature to acclimatize through a series of waiting rooms, visitors can explore but also preserve a fragile painted environment. It was a real privilege to see this chapel, and their conservation programme will keep it vibrant for years to come.
A drive to the mountains
Calazo di Cadore
After a day in town wandering and feasting, our hosts took us on a drive to their familial mountain home. The drive up was full of twists and turns, and the crisp air with gorgeous views was lit!
Scooting around Lago di Centro Cadore along the narrow walls of the dam I clutched at my pearls, it was beautiful and harrowing. I was grateful to not be the driver on this occasion! Whilst sauntering around the quiet and picturesque town center, we passed by the home of the famous painter Titian. Famous for the use of electric blues in paintings, extending the colour to subjects beyond the decoration of the Virgin Mary’s robes, one got the sense of how much this stunning blue was part and parcel of experiencing this area. The sky, the mountains and lakes were all so vibrant.
Within this packed daytrip, we saw gorgeous mountains, walked around a park and had a gorgeous rustic little sammich with tasty local meats! I could spend a season tucked away in one of these historic cabin homes enjoying the view. As a girl from British Columbia, the mountains are always calling me, and these mountains did not disappoint.
Within a 72-hour period, we sampled a significant array of incredible culinary delights. It seemed impolite to take photos at the dinner table, but I can assure you, each meal was like a delightful sampling of many dishes.
In my attempt to broaden my horizons in the kitchen and decrease general consumerism, I’ve taken to buying foodstuffs as culinary souvenirs. I am excitedly trying my hand at these dishes, and slowly learning about the ethos of Italian cooking. While I will NEVER give up my afternoon cappuccino no matter how many taboos that crosses, I am willing to abide by SOME culinary rules when the results are delicious.
Our generous hosts took me to local farmer’s market, butchers and grocers showing me which ingredients to use to try and replicate the dishes they cooked. It was the most magnificent bounty I have ever seen; the blessings of Fortuna were upon us. The greens, artichokes, creme caramel, fresh cheeses and meats were probably the best souvenirs I have ever brought home.
Once we were back in Edinburgh, I wanted to try my hand at a wee dish that our lovely hosts made one evening. Parma ham wrapped radicchio and local soft cheese.
The flavours of the fresh produce were fantastic, and being a heathen, I even played with other types of meat to wrap the radicchio and cheese.
Many of our trips take us to locations where we have friends and colleagues, which offers such a rich and interesting way of experiencing a place. Spending a weekend with the Michielin family made me fall in love with Padua and get a little more culinary confidence!
With the 2019 Open Day at Roman Aeclanum, this post reflects on the last three years of public outreach development I have worked on in Passo di Mirabella, southern Italy.
Frequently, I am asked what on earth I am doing in Italy. Why all the cartoons? What’s it all for?
In 2017, I was given the opportunity to work on an excavation with the Apolline Project and the University of Edinburgh in Passo di Mirabella, Roman Aeclanum, as the Public Archaeology Coordinator. This was an new direction for my work with a lot of exciting potential. The hobbies that I naturally gravitated towards ( included travel photography and illustrating, blogging and other forms of social media) coupled with the subject matter I enjoyed (archaeology and art history) formed a useful starting point for conceptualizing how to approach outreach for an archaeological site with minimal public exposure. Over the next three years, I worked towards creating interconnected projects that were designed to start a narrative of the history of the site and began the groundwork for Vita Romana: at the baths of Aeclanum. With support from the University of Edinburgh’s History, Classics and Archaeology department and the Institute of Classical Studies, I have been fortunate to share these public archaeology activities with the wider academic community working in Classical engagement.
Public Archaeology: why does it matter?
“Public archaeology is really just public relations. It is getting the public interested enough to care and those who care interested enough to engage.”
– Dr. Jody Steele is the Heritage Programs Manager at Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority.
The role of public archaeology, within the umbrella of specialisms of archaeology, is finding relevant and interesting ways of communicating the research objectives and material remains of the site. The sub-discipline is still new, and as such, still strives to justify itself and the importance of the work. Future funders, archaeologists, politicians and so on learn about the importance of heritage as children in most cases and as such, continuing to hone and develop how we deliver these messages about the importance of heritage management and research is fundamental to its continuation. With no exaggeration, if people are not engaged and well-informed about the importance of archaeology, it simply won’t happen nor will it receive funding.
Running a public archaeology programme or project requires marketing and public relations work, it also is heavily reliant upon the skills, expertise and historical knowledge of the individuals behind the work. By focusing first on the relationships within the local community then translating those interactions and efforts more broadly, we managed to do some pretty cool and unique things!
These ideas were articulated by our site supervisors this summer in a video made by one of our student volunteers, Jazz Demetrioff. The research objectives set at the onset of the excavation shape the direction the excavation and thus outreach will take. The research questions are answered over the season through the material culture and structures discovered. I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about and trying to articulate why public engagement matters, and how the projects I have had the fortune of working on in Italy are helping me plan future outreach projects.
Public Archaeology in Aeclanum: 2017-2019
First Year: 2017
The formative work with the archaeological site of Aeclanum was a mixture of reconnaissance and coming up with a cohesive set of materials we could begin presenting to the local community. When we arrived there was one pamphlet in Italian with very technical (scarce) archaeological maps, and no site signage or historical narrative for the site. The first steps, then, meant creating some basic materials for young visitors!
Second Year: 2018
We produced outreach materials that focused on the multi-phase bath complex and the role of public bathing in Roman daily life. This included posters for adult audiences and young visitors to the site which reflected the finds that were excavated in earlier campaigns and the current research. A particular favorite was the marble map game, which encouraged kids to explore where the marble in Aeclanum came from! We updated the game in 2018 to include further details like marble traders across the Mediterranean!
Neratia’s Lost Ring: at the baths of Aeclanum
Emily Johnston, an excavation supervisor, worked on a public outreach project with the Apolline Project for 2018, Neratia’s Lost Ring: at the baths of Aeclanum. This exploration of Roman baths in a short-story format, allows the reader to get to know the space and customs as experienced by Neratia (wealthy patrician’s daughter) and Caius (freedman’s son). As the narrative follows the youths trying to find Neratia’s missing ring, the mechanics of the bath complex are explained. I supplied a few illustrations for her story, which were linked into the graphic novella! We are hoping to launch this short story for winter, 2019.
The graphic specialists on site, Lucia Michielin and Josef Souček, worked with me across almost every peice of art that was used for outreach. Their talents were widely appreciated, like finding a pretty rock but not realizing it was a gem till it was polished. Their skills with creating scientific panels based on the research, articulating the architectural findings and included 3D reconstructions of the significant archaeological structures reconstructions were essential to my comic renderings for Vita Romana: at the baths of Aeclanum. Due to the topography of Aeclanum, the bath excavated bath complex straddles a sloping hill and as such has distinctive buttresses, which when digitally rendered, provided helpful insight on how to include the city scenes around it.
Third Year: 2019
With the first two phases of outreach work at Aeclanum complete (panels, the short story, scavenger hunt and educational games), the next phase I was most interested to explore was getting feedback from the community and channeling this into a project that could capitalize on the knowledge of the team of specialists on-site and include up-to-date site interpretations, woven within the comic narrative. By concluding the 2018 outreach season with a survey and vote by the children from the local community who decided which style I would be drawing the comic in, I had my marching orders to get to work on the comic!
With Vita Romana, I wanted something that might help spark imaginations about how big and interesting this city was during its heyday through a stand-alone story, but grounding it in the real-world buildings and materials of Aeclanum. Also, I had never completed a comic book before and this was a challenge I wanted to dive into!
Vita Romana: at the baths of Aeclanum
Getting the gang together remotely meant that there was revisions and frequent dialogue. Ambra Ghiringhelli was like a fish to water getting the text written with care and historical consideration! Using an a-typical approach of having the storyboard roughed out and the text done afterwards, it was fascinating to see what joke she would come up with to match one of Neratia’s smirking faces or the right tone for a teenage daughter giving her mom some sass.
As this was my third year working with Josef, I couldn’t be more grateful for his ongoing collaboration. With his eye for details and in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, I could rely on him spotting all sorts of tiny details (and errors) that improved the whole project immensely. All of the images were sent to him to do his digital magic, fixes and formatting. You would be surprised how much work goes into making a comic look like a comic.
The breadth of things to consider when trying to create a graphic novella attempting to be rooted in archaeological and historical accuracy is astounding. This project has taken me on some really exciting turns which inevitably has meant that I am always learning, always questioning and trying to find evidence for the scenes I am creating.
The majority of influential imagery or material culture references were derived from the collections at the Museo Nazionale, Naples and the frescoes contained in the archaeological parks of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Social media outreach for these sites has been invaluable! With new discoveries coming all the time from Pompeii all the time, by following their Twitter and Instagram, I was able to integrate some of these exciting new finds into Vita Romana. Though Pompeii was covered by Vesuvius by the time our story in Aeclanum would have taken place, the tastes and styles used in decorating homes in these cities could easily be replicated by artisans in communities like Aeclanum. Indeed, the riches of Aeclanum could be much more akin to those at Pompeii due to their size and places along the road networks.
We had a great turn out this July at the comic launch, with hundreds of people visiting the archaeological park! The children’s scavenger hunt activity led them around the site using our third version (a self-directed version) of the archaeological passport as their guide. With Ferdinando crafting the texts and dealing with the translation needs, these materials will hopefully get English versions for download on Archaeokids!
They were asked to find the significant landmarks on the site with general information about their use, and fill out a letter which would lead them to the office piazza that contained the lost doll of Neratia Secunda, completing the narrative in the real world which is introduced in the passport. Once the children completed their scavenger hunt, they received a copy of Vita Romana: at the baths of Aeclanum, whose printing was generously funded by the Institute of Classics Studies (ICS).
The Road Ahead & Archaeokids.com
Seeing this stage of the journey come to a successful conclusion was pretty amazing. I’ve worked with some amazing people and had an incredible opportunity to have so much freedom to explore the ancient world in my favourite medium. The next steps ahead will involve working with the data collected from the launch, and an article which will be interesting to write this winter.
As always, I look forward to challenges and adventures ahead! Ferdinando and I are continuing to find new avenues to create and highlight the public archaeology work that started in Aeclanum and is expanding to other sites!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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