Nicholas Melvani. Late Byzantine Sculpture. Studies in the Visual Cultures of the Middle Ages (SVCMA 6). Brepols Publishers, 2013.
This book provides a detailed description and interpretation of multiple aspects of sculpture from late Byzantine monuments. Although individual monuments of the late Byzantine period have been exhaustively published and analyzed, the role of their sculptural decoration is usually overlooked. Whereas architectural features and, especially, wall paintings are treated in full detail, sculpture is approached as a mere decorative art which complements the overall appearance of a building. However, careful examination of late Byzantine sculptures found in situ or through excavation, as well as research into museum collections, reveals that late Byzantine sculptors had reached a very high degree of artistic accomplishment and that their creations should be treated as works of art of the highest quality. Moreover, by interpreting each work, even those of a purely decorative nature, according to the space it occupied, by deciphering what is depicted (including religious themes and political symbols), as well as by taking into account the wider context within which sculpture was produced during the period under investigation, one can extract invaluable information concerning the artistic climate and the social circumstances which led to the development of late Byzantine sculpture.
The Plague of Justinian is estimated to have killed between 30 and 50 million people. Researchers isolated DNA fragments from the teeth of two plague victims buried in Bavaria. Using these fragments, they reconstructed the genome of the oldest Yersinia pestis, the bacterium responsible for the plague, and compared it to a database of genomes of more than a hundred contemporary strains. Results show that the strain responsible for the sixth-century outbreak was an evolutionary 'dead-end' and distinct from strains involved later in the Black Death and other plague pandemics that would follow.
Read the article at The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Ben Russell. The Economics of the Roman Stone Trade. Oxford Studies on the Roman Economy. Oxford University Press, 2013.
From Oxford University Press
The use of stone in vast quantities is a ubiquitous and defining feature of the material culture of the Roman world. In this volume, Russell provides a new and wide-ranging examination of the production, distribution, and use of carved stone objects throughout the Roman world, including how enormous quantities of high-quality white and polychrome marbles were moved all around the Mediterranean to meet the demand for exotic material.
The long-distance supply of materials for artistic and architectural production, not to mention the trade in finished objects like statues and sarcophagi, is one of the most remarkable features of the Roman world. Despite this, it has never received much attention in mainstream economic studies. Focusing on the market for stone and its supply, the administration, distribution, and chronology of quarrying, and the practicalities of stone transport, Russell offers a detailed assessment of the Roman stone trade and how the relationship between producer and customer functioned even over considerable distances.
Jitse Dijkstra. "Monasticism on the Southern Egyptian Frontier in Late Antiquity: Towards a New Critical Edition of the Coptic Life of Aaron." Journal of the Canadian Society for Coptic Studies, volume 5, no. 1 (January 2013): pp. 31-47
In this article, a new critical edition will be announced of an important work in Coptic literature, the Life of Aaron, which contains stories about the lives of ascetic monks on the southern Egyptian frontier in the fourth and early fifth centuries, and was probably written in the sixth century. Even though the first edition of this work was already published by E.A. Wallis Budge in 1915, it remained virtually untouched until quite recently and a critical edition was required. The project announced in this article, which is being carried out in collaboration with Jacques van der Vliet (University of Leiden/Radboud University Nijmegen), will fulfil this desideratum. In addition to a brief discussion of the literary and historical significance of the text, a preview of one passage from the work is offered, which will give an impression both of what the edition will look like and to what extent it will be different from the first edition. At the end of the article, three as yet unpublished fragments of the earliest witness to the work, a sixth- or seventh-century manuscript on papyrus, will be discussed, and in particular their relation to the only complete, tenth-century manuscript of the Life.
Anja-Silvia Goeing, and Anthony T. Grafton, eds. Collectors’ Knowledge: What Is Kept, What Is Discarded / Aufbewahren oder wegwerfen: wie Sammler entscheiden. Brill, 2013
Drawing on case studies from the thirteenth to the twentieth centuries, covering Europe and beyond, Collectors’ Knowledge: What is Kept, What is Discarded investigates how knowledge was acquired, organized and sometimes lost. It examines collections of texts and objects—libraries, textbooks, miscellanies, commonplace books, data collections pertaining to historical events, encyclopedias, royal and ducal treasures, curiosity cabinets, galleries and museums—to uncover the processes of accumulation, organization, selection and rejection that have shaped learning. The essays emphasize the complex relationship between the intentions of collectors and the limitations they encountered—issues of format, presentation, display and storage—as well as outside forces that disrupted their aims, including pillage and natural disasters.
Introduction - Lois M. Farag
PART ONE: COPTIC CHRISTIAN HISTORY
The Pre-Christian Period: Changing Times and Cultural Endurance - Mariam F. Ayad.
The Early Christian Period (42-642): The Spread and Defense of the Christian Faith under Roman Rule - Lois M. Farag
The Early Islamic Period (642-1517): From the Arab Conquest through Mamluk Rule - Maged S. A. Mikhail
The Ottoman Period (1517-1798): Beyond Persecution or Tolerance - Febe Armanios
The Pre-Modern Period (1798-1952): The Age of Coptic Citizenship and Reform - Maged Hanna
The Modern Period (1952-2011): An Era of Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs - Saad Michael Saad
PART TWO: COPTIC RELIGIOUS CULTURE
Theology: Defending Orthodoxy - Lois M. Farag
Monasticism: Living Scripture and Theological Orthodoxy - Lois M. Farag
Spirituality: In God’s Presence - Lois M. Farag
Liturgy: Heaven on Earth - John Paul Abdelsayed
Music: Performing Coptic Expressive Culture - Carolyn M. Ramzy
PART THREE: COPTIC LITERARY CULTURE
Coptic Language: The Link to Ancient Egyptian - Hany N. Takla
The Greek Literature of the Copts: Innovative and Formative Era - Lois M. Farag
Coptic Literature: Copts Writing in their Own Tongue - Hany N. Takla
Coptic Arabic Literature: When Arabic Became the Language of the Saints - Samuel Moawad
PART FOUR: COPTIC MATERIAL CULTURE
Art: A Multifaceted Artistic Heritage - Gawdat Gabra
Byzantine-period material in the new issue of ‘Atiqot
Rafeh Abu Raya and Miguel Weissman, "A Burial Cave from the Roman and Byzantine Periods at ‘En Ya‘al, Jerusalem" (Hebrew)
A rock-cut burial complex, comprising a courtyard and a cave, was excavated at ‘En Ya‘al, Jerusalem. The cave contains a burial chamber, a standing pit, loculi (kokhim) and a repository. The excavation yielded many ceramic oil lamps and vessels dating to the fourth–seventh centuries CE, with a few dating to the Early Islamic period; glass vessels, beads and metal objects, dating to the Early Roman–Byzantine periods; and a Christian bronze pendant. The plan of the cave is characteristic of Second Temple-period burial caves. The next phase of use was during the mid-first–second centuries CE, and the final use of the cave was during the fourth–seventh centuries CE. The cave was probably in use until the late Byzantine period, and may have been plundered in the Abbasid period, as attested by an oil lamp of that period.
Anna de Vincenz, "Ceramic Oil Lamps and Vessels from the Burial Cave at ‘En Ya‘al, Jerusalem"
Most of the ceramic lamps and vessels from the burial cave at ‘En Ya‘al were retrieved from the cave courtyard; merely a few originated in the standing pit. A large number of lamps were found, comprising three main variants of the candlestick-type lamp; one of them bears a Greek inscription. The majority of the lamps were unused, with only a small number showing burning signs on the nozzle. The fragmentary pottery assemblage includes mainly small vessels, such as bowls and juglets, as well as some larger bowls and mortaria. This assemblage is dated to the Byzantine period, with a few Early Islamic fragments.
Tamar Winter, "The Glass Vessels, Beads and Metal Artifacts from the Burial Cave at ‘En Ya‘al, Jerusalem" (Hebrew)
The burial cave at ‘En Ya‘al yielded about 480 glass fragments. All but one of the glass vessels was free-blown of translucent colorless, light blue or light green glass. Several vessels were adorned with applied wound glass trails, and one vessel was decorated with shallow, mold-blown ribbing. The glass vessels from the site are typical of two eras: the Early Roman period (second half of the first–second centuries CE) and the Late Roman–Byzantine periods (fourth–seventh centuries CE). The beads—made of glass, carnelian and amethyst—and the metal objects—a ring, bracelets, iron and bronze pendants, a bell, copper/bronze trappings and an iron cross—are characteristic of the Late Roman and Byzantine periods. The finds are therefore associated with the latest phase of use in the burial cave.
Robert Kool, "A Byzantine-Period Pendant from the Burial Cave at ‘En Ya‘al, Jerusalem"
The pendant was found in the standing pit of the rock-hewn burial cave at ‘En Ya‘al. It is a cast-bronze, double-sided medallion, with two flat loops at opposite sides. A cruciform Greek monogram was incised or engraved on the flat surfaces of the medallion, possibly with the name of the pendant’s owner. Similar pendants were usually religious or amuletic in character. The inscription was engraved on the encircling edge of the medallion. It is a simple invocation, common on rings and bracelets from Byzantine Palestine, in which the owner invokes the name of a saint or holy person for help or good fortune.
Elie Haddad," Remains of a Public Building from the Byzantine Period and a Farmhouse from the Early Islamic Period North of Tel Lod (with a contribution by Nitzan Amitai-Preiss)" (Hebrew)
In a salvage excavation conducted north of Tel Lod, twelve squares were excavated, exposing finds from the Persian–Early Roman, Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. The finds from the Persian–Early Roman periods consisted merely of pottery and stone vessels. Two strata were identified from the Byzantine period: Stratum IIB yielded a segment of a flagstone floor belonging to a public building, and a few pottery vessels dated to the late third–seventh centuries CE; Stratum IIA comprised some architectural elements, a poorly-preserved lime pit and a plastered installation, as well as pottery vessels, a metal object and coins. The Early Islamic period is represented in three strata: in Stratum IC, a large building was uncovered, as well as pottery, small finds and coins; in Stratum IB, several walls were exposed, built in alignment with the Stratum IC walls; and in Stratum IA, graves were dug into earlier layers.
Robert Kool, "The Coins from the Excavation at Lod"
Twenty-two coins were unearthed in the excavation north of Tel Lod, of which 17 were identified: 5 coins date to the Byzantine period, 1 is a Byzanto-Arab coin, and 10 coins date to the Umayyad and Abassid periods.
Mummy-mania especially took hold, and mummy-unwrapping dinner parties became a must in fashionable society.
W. M. Flinders Petrie's Seventy Years in Archaeology (originally published in 1932) has just appeared as part of the Cambridge Library Collection, which reissues in paperback out-of-copyright books of enduring scholarly value, across the humanities, social sciences, science, technology and medicine. Caroline Murray, one of the CLC publishers, muses on the 19th-century craze for Egypt and Petrie's role in the fledging field of Egyptology.
William Matthew Flinders Petrie. Seventy Years in Archaeology. Cambridge Library Collection. Cambridge University Press, 2013
Images of Works of Art in Museum Collections: The Experience of Open Access. A Study of 11 Museums
Prepared for The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Kristin Kelly, freelance museum professional and writer based in San Diego. Published by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR Publication No. 157)
This report describes the current approaches of 11 art museums in the United States and the United Kingdom to the use of images of works of art that are in their collections and are in the public domain. Each approach is slightly different. By presenting the thought processes and methods used in these institutions, this report aims to inform the decision making of other museums that are considering open access to images in their collections. Download the report here.
Members of the late Roman élite commemorated the holding of certain offices by the distribution of ivory diptychs. This paper attempts to show how diptychs came to play this rôle; that they were not originally distributed by consuls but by any official who provided games; that they had nothing to do with the ecclesiastical diptychs that are first heard of at about the same time; that the custom spread from east to west, not from west to east; and that the earliest western consular diptychs are not illustrated with scenes from games because there were no multi-day consular games at Rome before the fifth century.