Review of Ptolemy I and the Transformation of Egypt, 404-282 BCE

Tara Sewell-Lasater of the University of Houston has just reviewed Ptolemy I and the Transformation of Egypt, 404-282 BCE in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review. I am pleased to report that she saw my chapter, “The Role of Coinage in the Political Economy of Fourth Century Egypt,” in a very favorable light, and I am especially gratified that she appreciated my efforts to integrate coins into the study of the ancient Egyptian economy.

This chapter grew out of my 2011 paper for the American Numismatic Society’s Eric P. Newman Summer Seminar. Part of it, focusing on the fifth century BCE, will appear in a my forthcoming book Archaeology of Empire in Achaemenid Egypt. But in trying to understand the role of (Greek) coins in Persian period Egypt I found myself trying to understand the structure of the Egyptian economy, and the paper accordingly ballooned into this chapter! The fourth century, which really falls outside of the parameters of my book, was the perfect place to try to test these ideas.

As I have often said in person, I am not an Egyptologist and I have no ambition to become one. Nor am I especially skilled as a numismatist, though I continue to develop my abilities in that area. So this chapter will probably be my only foray into Egyptian history and archaeology outside of the context of Achaemenid rule. I am happy that it has been well received so far!

Incidentally, I have also published a very brief discussion of this same topic on pages 113-15 of Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World, the catalog accompanying the eponymous exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum (which closed September 9).

The Animal-Shaped Vessels book is here

At long last I have in my hands Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings, edited by Susanne Ebbinghaus (Harvard Art Museums, 2018). It features my essay “From the Mediterranean to China — After Alexander,” which discusses Parthian, Sasanian, Sogdian, Gandharan, Tibetan and even Chinese rhyta and other vessels. It also includes Susanne’s essay “Emblematic Animals at Iron Age Feasts,” to which I contributed a discussion of pitchers, with examples from Kush, Iran, Cyprus, and Etruria.

Susanne has been studying rhyta and other zoomorphic vessels since the 1990s, and this book, along with the exhibition of course, represents the culmination of decades of work. While I’m certain she has more to say on the subject, this book is the authoritative statement on vessels of this sort, and I am honored to have contributed to it.

Upcoming lecture on Achaemenid silver

On November 3 I will give a lecture at the symposium Between Art and Asset: Silver Vessels from Antiquity to Today at the Harvard Art Museums. My lecture is entitled “Achaemenid Persian Silver: Notes on the Fungibility of Meaning.” I’ve posted the abstract below:

The functions of silver in antiquity are easily discernible from the surviving objects made of it. But, as in the present day, ancient silver had multiple meanings; it could be a status symbol, a mark of royal favor, or currency. My goal is to examine the evidence for the various meanings of silver in the Achaemenid Persian Empire (c. 550-330 BCE), and to consider how these meanings, like the metal itself, could be readily transformed.

I’ll be discussing a number of objects in the Harvard and Met collections, as well as the concepts of value and social and economic capital.

Animal-Shaped Vessels opens tonight!

Bronze rhyton with centaur holding goat, perhaps Saka, c. late 1st millennium BCE. From Gilgit (Pakistan). Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, EA 1963.28. One of my favorite objects in the show!

The exhibition Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings opens tonight at the Harvard Art Museums, with a keynote lecture by Michael Dietler of the University of Chicago.

To my mind the real intellectual value of this exhibition is the way it explores the transmission of forms and ideas across time and space. The form of the rhyton, or drinking horn, is easily adopted by one group from another, but the ideas underlying that form — its meaning, or ritual significance, for example — are not necessarily adopted along with it. And the rhyton form itself also changes, depending on how different groups understand it, or based on aesthetic sensibilities or technological preferences. This exhibition brings together an essential body of evidence for examining this fascinating topic.

I worked on this exhibition as a curatorial fellow at Harvard in 2014-15. Mostly I did object research on Hellenistic, Parthian, Sasanian, Gandharan and Sogdian vessels, on which I wrote the relevant chapter of the companion book, but I also helped with some preliminary design aspects, and even identified some potential loans. When I left Harvard in 2015 many aspects of the show were still in flux, so I am very much looking forward to seeing the final product.

Welcome to my site

This is my new website, hosted through Humanities Commons. It provides information about my current and past research, my museum work, links to my published papers, and anything else I may wish to share. I should note as well that this site is no way affiliated with any of my current or past employers; I am solely responsible for everything you see here. It should be fully up and running in the next few weeks.