Seals and Identity in Byzantium

Public lecture: Tuesday, 13 June, 2017, 6:30
Venue: Forum Theatre, Arts West, The University of Melbourne

Claudia Sode, Professor of Byzantine Studies, University of Cologne

Given the inadequacy of other means of securing documents, individuals at almost all levels of Byzantine society used personal seals that they would change frequently to mark changes in their career or status.  Some 80,000 of these survive for which the inscriptions indicate the owner’s name and title and the office held.  But they also show an image which, far more than mere decoration, acts as a medium to convey identity by reference to specific iconographic subjects.  By discussing how homonymity, gender, family devotions, offices, or urban affiliation have stimulated an individual’s choice of iconography, it is the aim of this paper to demonstrate what an essential body of material seals are for any investigation devoted to the question of identity in Byzantium.

Claudia Sode is Professor of Byzantine Studies at the University of Cologne which she is currently combining with a 3-year appointment at Changchun University in China to promote and develop Byzantine Studies in China.  She gained both her doctorate and her Habilitation at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena.  She has published extensively on Byzantine studies with particular emphasis on Byzantine seals and their value for interpreting aspects of Byzantine social history with 3 books, some 8 book-length editions, 13 articles and 11 chapters in books.

Download the flyer.

Free event, please register.

Interpreting a Sculptured Cave on the Banks of the Euphrates in Syria

Public lecture, Thursday, 18 May, 2017, 6:30
Venue: Theatre D, Old Arts Building, The University of Melbourne

Heather Jackson, Honorary Fellow, Classics & Archaeology, University of Melbourne

It is important, in these days of destruction of the ancient heritage of Syria, to bring this site, excavated by the University of Melbourne and Australian National University in 1996-1998, into the limelight. This spectacular sanctuary, now irrevocably damaged, was carved out of the local limestone cliff above the Euphrates and could be accessed only from the river by steep steps. It housed two zones of near-lifesize figures around the walls, nearly all women apparently carrying offerings. Larger figures include a seated mother with child; a full-sized stone bull in a niche waiting to be led to the blood altar in the middle of the floor; two large animals, either lions or horses, framing a lost centrepiece; and on the west wall, three possible tombs. The floor was originally covered in mosaic tesserae. The emphasis on women suggests a predominantly female cult or occasion, while the arrangement of the figures and the presence of the burials may suggest that this is the tomb of either a local queen or a high-born priestess. Certain features date it to the 2nd century AD, a period when the Romans were much in evidence on the Euphrates. However, the frontal stance of the figures and their style of dress are reminiscent of the sculptures of Palmyra, further south, as well as the ‘Parthian’ figures at Hatra. This is a truly multi-cultural monument, providing a glimpse of the knowledge we have lost about the resilience and vigour of the indigenous Syrian population, and their local culture.

Dr Heather Jackson is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her research and publications have been mainly concerned with the Hellenistic site of Jebel Khalid on the Euphrates in Syria. She has also engaged with the University of Melbourne’s collection of Greek vases, and was the curator of the exhibition of these in 2016. She has assisted with the curatorship of the current exhibition in the Potter: Ancient Syria, Modern Conflict.

Download the flyer.

Free event, please register.

Drinks and Drugs: Entanglements of Aegean Pottery in the Late Bronze Age Canaan

Public lecture, Wednesday, 29 March, 6:00
Venue: Kathleen Fitzpatrick Lecture Theatre – B101, Arts West Building, The University of Melbourne

Professor Philipp Stockhammer, Ludwig-Maximilians- University Munich

We are currently witnessing a continuing epistemological gap between the vivid discussion on the phenomenon of cultural encounter and transculturality in Aegean and Near Eastern Archaeology and the reality of methodological approaches in archaeological interpretation.  In order to develop a methodological approach for the analysis of transcultural phenomena in archaeology, Stockhammer will operationalize the complex anthropological discourse and transform it into a methodological approach for archaeological sources.  In this lecture, he will exemplify the potential of his approach on the basis of a case study, namely the appropriation and use of Aegean-type pottery at the Southern Levant in the 13th and 12th centuries BCE and the transformation of functions and meanings that emerged during the process of appropriation.  Intercultural interaction and goods exchange in the Late Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean have been the focus of archaeological research for years.  So far, however, form, function and meaning of an object have always been understood as an inseparable entity.  Stockhammer argues that we have to refocus archaeology’s approach towards items coming from the outside.  Therefore, the significance of the foreign object does not derive solely from the transfer as such, but rather from the ways in which it is used and contextualized in the receiving culture.  Stockhammer will focus on the pottery’s integration into discourses and practices and on the creation of new hybrid frameworks of meaning that do not conform with what had previously existed in the receiving society or in the areas of origin of the objects in question.

Philipp Stockhammer is Professor for Prehistoric Archaeology (focus: Eastern Mediterraenean) at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich and Co-director of the Max-Planck-Harvard Research Center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean at Jena.

Download the flyer.

Free event, please register at