World Architecture and Society

Today I am pleased to announce the publication of World Architecture and Society: From Stonehenge to One World Trade Center, edited by Peter Louis Bonfitto and published by ABC-Clio. This book contains short essays on a huge number of structures, buildings and monuments, with the explicit goal of situating their architectural features within the social fabric of the societies, past and present, that created and used them.

The Severan Basilica, adjoining the forum at Lepcis Magna, Libya, dedicated in 216 CE (Wikidmedia Commons)

I have contributed three essays, on the Ziggurat of Ur, the Apadana at Persepolis, and the Severan Forum at Lepcis Magna. The first two are obvious choices given my interests and expertise, but Lepcis Magna was my suggestion too. I think it’s great because 1.) it’s visually stunning, 2.) it was built in Africa by an African emperor, 3.) it is Roman in form, and clearly responding to structures and spaces in Rome, like the Forum of Trajan, and 4.) it is not a slavish copy of Roman architecture but rather a version of it, one which in many respects prefigures important features of medieval European architecture (just look at that colonnade).

Reconstructed colonnade in the Fortum of Lepcis Magna, Libya, dedicated in 216 CE (

I reckon this proves I’m still a classical archaeologist after all!

J. A. Baird’s Dura-Europos

My time at the Bard Graduate Center, sadly, is nearly at an end. But despite my medical interlude, this time has been very productive for me and has effectively jumpstarted my project on Parthian art and Dura-Europos. It is therefore an opportune moment to reflect on one of the most valuable resources I have used this fall: J. A. Baird’s wonderful book Dura-Europos (Bloomsbury, 2018).

I like this book especially for three reasons:

1.) It does not oversimplify. Despite its extensive excavation, Dura-Europos is a pretty complicated site. Baird embraces this, but still writes lucidly about the complications.

2.) It pays close attention to the orientalist and colonialist contexts in which Dura-Europos was excavated in the 1920s and 30s. This is important because these contexts informed the interpretation of the site by Breasted, Cumont, Rostovtzeff, Hopkins et al., which in turn has been the basis for all future scholarship on it.

3.) It treats Dura-Europos as a Parthian site. One of the peeves on which I am building my current project is that Dura is usually understood mainly from a Roman context. While there are good reasons for this, it was also a Parthian site for most of its history. Baird’s treatment is therefore very useful for my project, and I feel less like a lunatic yelling at the moon (though not much less, but that is a separate matter).

Baird has worked on Dura-Europos for more than ten years. I’m a little intimidated by that, since I’ve worked on it for a few months at most. To some extent it makes me feel like I have no business writing about the site at all. But, paradoxically, it is Baird’s long experience that has enabled me to do my project, since I can build with confidence on foundations she has laid. It is a good example of how depth and breadth are both necessary in the field of archaeology.

No More Sacklers

A few days ago the Met announced that the Sackler name would be removed from several endowed galleries, including the Sackler Wing which houses the Dendur Temple and the Assyrian sculpture court.

The Temple of Dendur (ca. 10 BCE) in the Sackler Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art

I applaud this decision. The Sacklers, like Andrew Clay Frick before them, profited from the misery and suffering of others, and their donations to the Met and other museums, while very welcome, are essentially the ethics equivalent of money laundering. Of course, the Sacklers haven’t given the Met any money in a long time, so this was perhaps an easy decision for the Met, but I think it sets an important precedent, especially for an institution that is so dependent on donors and so resistant to change.

In memoriam Antonio Invernizzi (1941-2021)

Today I learned of the death of Antonio Invernizzi, an archaeological titan. Prof. Invernizzi was a champion of Near Eastern art and archaeology, especially following the time of Alexander — a period very much in need of a champion! He excavated at both Seleucia-on-the-Tigris and Old Nisa, making him one of the foremost experts on the Parthians (a topic close to my heart, especially these days). He was also a prolific scholar and teacher, helping to train a generation of archaeologists which is now illustrious in its own right.

Since I don’t have a picture of Prof. Invernizzi, I instead share an image of a clay sculpture from the Square House at Old Nisa, an object which he published and helped to publicize, to all our benefit.

Clay sculpture from the Square House, Old Nisa, Turkmenistan, ca. 1st cen. BCE.