Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Current Dissertation Projects

Ben Abbott

Forging the Anchor: Antiochus I and the Creation of the Seleucid Empire

Ben’s dissertation focuses on the Seleucid empire and reexamines the formation of the empire under its first kings. His project focuses primarily on the reign of the second Seleucid king, Antiochus I. Most work on the early Seleucid period has been aimed at the titular founder of the empire, Seleucus I. Seleucus’ son, Antiochus I, has received surprisingly little scholarly attention, despite the fact that he ruled the Seleucid empire in some capacity for over thirty years, a duration only matched by Seleucus I and Antiochus III. Utilizing a diverse and increasingly available array of classical and Near Eastern sources including literary, epigraphic, numismatic, and archaeological evidence, his dissertation demonstrates that the reign of Antiochus was one of firsts. Among the many innovations made during his reign, Antiochus I was the first Seleucid king to define the bounds of Seleucid territory, the first to establish the Seleucid Era, the first to explicitly adopt Apollo as the primary patron god of the dynasty, and he was the first to explicitly and consistently put his own image on Seleucid coinage. While the actions of Seleucus I made many of these innovations possible, many of these traits that would become distinctive features of Seleucid rule were first truly established by Antiochus I.

The secondary aim of Ben’s dissertation is to challenge the perception of the Seleucids as Mediterranean-oriented kings of Syria. Rather, he argues that we should understand the physical and conceptual Seleucid center to be further east, oriented as much around their large city foundations in Mesopotamia, the Iranian plateau, and Central Asia as around their lands nearest to the eastern Mediterranean.

As the first in-depth study of the reign of Antiochus I, Ben’s dissertation rethinks the creation and formation of the Hellenistic world’s largest and most culturally diverse empire. The innovations made by Antiochus I were crucial to the development of the Seleucid dynasty and the ways in which it would rule its empire for the ensuing centuries.

 

 

Gavin Blasdel

Honors, Politics, and Community in Roman Athens, 31 BCE - 267 CE

Inscribed honorific portrait monuments dominated the civic and sacred spaces of Roman Athens. They clustered to form dense forests on the Acropolis and in the Agora, they lined the city’s major thoroughfares, and they even stood or sat amongst the spectators at the Theater of Dionysus. This phenomenon was not confined to the city center – they appeared, too, in the demes, from the port of Piraeus to as far afield as Rhamnous, and above all at Eleusis, whose sanctuary was home to the largest concentration of such monuments in Attica. While erecting honorific monuments was part and parcel of polis life everywhere, it seems to have held particular significance at Athens, where the total extant evidence, chiefly in the form of many hundreds of inscriptions, by far outstrips that of any other Greek city in the Roman period. The bulk of these monuments were dedicated or sanctioned by Athenian civic institutions – in other words, on many occasions throughout the year the people met in the city’s deliberative bodies (the Areopagus boule, the boule, and the ekklesia, amongst many other civic and private associations) to debate and vote on the award of honors to worthy individuals, who were usually their fellow Athenian citizens. Despite the prominence of the Athenian monuments in civic life and space, they have never been studied systematically in their own right.

My dissertation examines how these honors structured relationships within the political and social community of Roman Athens and argues that they were ultimately bound up with the question of what it meant to be Athenian, both as individuals and as a civic community, within the context of Rome’s empire. My argument employs a historical pragmatics perspective to demonstrate the performative quality of honorific inscriptions, whose language presents the polis as a collective institution in and of action. At Athens, the process of awarding honorific monuments involved significant citizen participation and investment, just as the wide range of honorands were recognized primarily for their public service to the community, not for expensive construction projects, often seen by scholars as the euergetic act par excellence. An Athenian “bouleutic class” based on the model of the Roman senate did not simply vote or extract honors for themselves – rather, the awarding of honors was variously marked by cooperation, competition, and even conflict amongst citizens in institutionalized settings. We get glimpses, sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit, of the stakes involved in the wording, form, placement of the monuments, and their “life cycles,” which could be surprisingly short. For this reason, my dissertation not only collects all the epigraphic evidence for honorific monuments in Roman Attica from the first century BCE to the third century CE, but also integrates material and archaeological evidence. The monuments were physical objects of various components and formats that were configured in specific physical spaces. To highlight these aspects, my dissertation offers several case studies of the assemblages of particular viewing contexts, such as the the Theater of Dionysus, Diogeneion Gymnasion, and the temple of Nemesis at Rhamnous.

 

Max Dietrich

Greek Perspectives on Roman Civil War 

Max’s dissertation explores Greek historiography on the Roman civil wars of the 1st c. BCE. His work focuses on authors who were writing during the wars or within the following decades. He is interested in how these Greek elites received and understood the Roman civil wars, how their narratives defined and codified the cultural memory of these conflicts, and how their approaches may have informed later historiography in Greek and Latin.

 

  

Timothy Warnock

de barba: Facial Hair as Cultural Symbol in the Roman World

This dissertation is a cultural analysis of facial hair in the Roman world from the early second century BCE to the third century CE. Employing elements of anthropology, cultural history, and gender studies, it focuses on the cultural meanings of facial hair and its role as a communicative tool. As a highly visible feature, facial hair played an important role in self-presentation. Whether a man shaved his facial hair and how he chose to present it was a crucial element in how he conveyed and constructed his identity. Its length, arrangement, and upkeep could speak to countercultural connections, various masculinities, philosophical aspirations, life stage, urbane style, and geographic and ethnic affiliations, to name a handful of examples. In a similar way, various cultural meanings could be expressed via the depiction of facial hair in both visual and literary media. Embodied symbols, such as facial hair, are dense and multivalent. As such, they were open to interpretation and the reception of this symbol by others was as important as its embodiment by the presenter. Facial hair functioned as a proxy by which members of Roman society interpreted others. Individuals read different styles of facial hair as normative, transgressive, or alien. This work focuses on four groups of meaning. First, facial hair conveyed ideas about authority, antiquity, and wisdom. Second, it was crucial in male coming-of-age, as a social and ritual device in the first shaving of the beard. Third, the way that facial hair was styled and presented played an important role in male deportment and was a focal point for debates regarding competing ideas of masculinity. Lastly, facial hair served as an avenue for Romans to discuss class, rusticity, and ethnicity.

 

Kyle West

Disability in the World of Cicero

Kyle’s dissertation uses the writings of Cicero as a case study to argue that disability is an important, but so far understudied, category for understanding Roman thought and culture. His project sits at the intersection of intellectual, cultural, and social history. Drawing on recent debates within Disability Studies, he makes the case that while ancient historians of the past twenty years have been correct to move away from a simplistic, traditional notion of disability in the ancient world, which painted a very Hobbesian picture of the lives of people with disabilities – nasty, brutish, short, and often defined by infant exposure – the alternative approaches have left much to be desired.

Because they have been inadequately theorized, previous studies of disability in the Classical world have failed to speak clearly about disability as a complex interaction between biological, psychological, and socio-cultural factors. What matters is not only the specific impairments an individual may have, but the layers of cultural meaning through which those impairments are interpreted, the social environment in which an individual is expected (or not) to function, and the psychological outlook through which a person assesses their own impairments or those of others. For this reason, disability can manifest in dramatically different ways in different contexts. Because all societies have to confront the reality of impairments, it is therefore better to say that Roman disability looked different from its modern analogues, rather than to say either that disability is a strictly modern invention, or that ancient disability was an unqualified source of misery.

Cicero provides excellent ground for field-testing this new theoretical framework. Because the circumstances of his life and the purpose and scope of his writings were rich and varied, it is possible to see his rhetoric or “mental landscape” of disability undergoing many different permutations. Because of his outsized cultural influence, it is worth examining the particular part he plays in constructing disability overall. Of special interest are philosophical and didactic reflections on the vulnerable body, the use of impairment in rhetorical invective, and Cicero’s deployment of impairment language and metaphor to depict the psychology of his own struggles, especially in the Letters. Ultimately Cicero is presented as only one possible window onto a more nuanced ancient disability history. It is Kyle’s aspiration that this proof of concept will open the way for other perspectives on ancient disability to be explored.