What did Greek pilgrims call themselves? An ampulla from Sardis suggests an answer

As followers of my research (and blog and tweets) will know, I’m currently working on a book project that examines the economics of pilgrimage in late antiquity. One form of economic activity related to pilgrimage was the production, exchange, and movement of pilgrimage souvenirs. In the process of researching, cataloging, and mapping such souvenirs, I came across one with an inscription that I think provides some insight into how Greek-speaking pilgrims referred to themselves and how they used their souvenirs. I provide here some preliminary thoughts before more formal publication.

First, perhaps, a few words about why it is difficulty to know what pilgrims called themselves in late antiquity. One of the peculiarities of studying pilgrimage in the late Roman and early Byzantine periods is that when using words like “pilgrim” and “pilgrimage” we are anachronistically using terms that describe an identity and ritual that did not have specific terminology in late antiquity. The Latin peregrinus, from which the English word pilgrim descends, can describe a religiously motivated traveller, but it can also describe other sorts of travelers or wanderers. In addition, it is not clear that pilgrims would have used peregrinus to describe themselves (Maraval 2002:63-64).

The lack of clarity concering what pilgrims would have called themselves is not entirely due to a lack of sources surviving from antiquity. There are three first-person narratives of travek to the Holy Land from the late antique period. There are others sources as well, like Theodosius’ text and the Breviarius, but they are very short and don’t provide much information about the journey or the pilgrim — although they have some useful details about the holy sites. There are also some third person narratives, like Jerome’s Encomium of Paula, but they also don’t tell us what pilgrims called themselves. Jerome occasionally uses the word peregrinus, but it’s not specific to Paula or pilgrims, and it’s not clear that Jerome uses the word to refer to religiously motivated travel, in the way English speakers use the word “pilgrim” today. The most famous of the first-person narratives is that of Egeria. She traveled from western Europe to the Holy Land in 381-3 and is the most specific about what she is up to. She famously describes herself as traveling “for the sake of prayer” gratia orationis (13.2, 17.1) in a narrative epistle written from Constantinople to her “sisters” back home. A slightly earlier text, by an anonymous traveller from Bordeaux, from the 330s, has left us a detailed itinerary for travel from Europe to Palestine and back, with important details about Jewish and Christian (and a few other) holy places. However, he leaves the reader to infer what his purpose was. He nowhere gives himself a title like peregrinus. The richly detailed narrative written by the Piacenza Pilgrim about 570, likewise, does not use the term peregrinus nor does he describe his journey as a peregrinatio, pilgrimage, although it is clear his motivation is to see and experience the holy land with all of his senses (for discussion, see Johnson, DOP 70, 2016).

Another peculiarity of pilgrimage narratives is that they survive exclusively in Latin, even though other literary sources and material culture (such as pilgrimage souvenirs with Greek inscriptions) indicate that Greek-speaking pilgrims travelled to the Holy Land as well. Thus, with the question of what Greek pilgrims called themselves we would seem to be at a double loss — the surviving first-person narratives are in Latin, and the Latin word peregrinus doesn’t exclusively mean “pilgrim.” The problem of what Greek pilgrims called themselves has been explored in a short essay by Cyril Mango (1995:1-3), who pointed out the interesting fact that Greek pilgrims in the early modern period adopted the term hadji from the Ottomans — using it to describe Christians traveling to the Holy Land — before dropping it for the more acceptably Greek proskynetes. Mango also points out that the Greek word for stranger or traveller, xenos, (pl: xenoi) had much the same problem that the Latin peregrinus had — that it could describe any traveller, not necessarily a “pilgrim.” He notes a 12th century Greek source that describes pilgrims by by the cumbersome phrase “those who travel in foreign parts [xeniteuon, a verbal form of xenos] for the sake of Christ” which suggests that even by the later middle ages, xenos did not uniquely signal “pilgrim.” So, how did “those who travel(ed) in foreign parts for the sake of Christ” refer to themselves when they did not want to use such a cumbersome phrase?

An ampulla excavated at Sardis in 1994-95 suggests one answer. The image below, from Greenwalt and Rautman’s 1998 publication (AJA 102:465-505, fig. 13) is of an ampulla of the Asia Minor type, a form often associated with Ephesus and usually dated to the 6th-7th centuries (Examples in Vikan 2010:34-36).

Such objects are usually interpreted as pilgrimage souvenirs that could be used to hold holy oil or other materials from a saint’s shrine or similar holy place. The iconography is singular for such an object. One side of the ampulla, the lower one in the image, features John the Baptist and an incised inscription that reads, ΑΓΙΕ ΙΟΑΝΝΗ ΒΑ(ΠΤΙϹΤΑ), a vocative invocation that can be awkwardly translated as “O Holy John [the] Ba[ptist]!” The other side, the upper image in the photo, is the more interesting for our purposes. It depicts the Virgin and Child and has an incised Greek inscription that Greenwalt and Rautman read as ΒΟΕΙΘΕ Τ(Ο)ΥϹ ΞΕΝ(Ο)ΥϹ “Help the Travellers!” which may, given that it is inscribed on a probable pilgrimage souvenir be better translated as “Help the Pilgrims!” If that it the case, then the ampulla presents epigraphic evidence for what pilgrims called themselves. The vessel is only 7.3 cm. tall. So, it could have easily been worn to work its protective powers as an amulet (on that topic, see Cline 2019 on my CV). It’s also worth noting that both inscriptions are incised and are not part of the mold that produced the image on the ampulla. Perhaps the creator of the object could incise the “Help the travellers/pilgrims” inscription for pilgrims and travelers in need of aid, while others might prefer to ask the Virgin for something else.

“Cisterns of Remarkable Beauty” at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

As part of my research into the ways that pilgrims and their guides authenticated holy sites during classical and late antiquity, I’ve been looking at springs, wells, cisterns, and other water sources that appear in pilgrimage narratives.  The reason for the focus on water sources is that pilgrims frequently mention them as a way to demonstrate the authenticity of a holy site. For example, the Bordeaux Pilgrim and the Piacenza describe the Well of Jacob as still flowing in their own day, as a means of authenticating the site they’re visiting, connecting the present to the past, and demonstrating continuing divine presence – as water from such sources is often associated with miracles and blessings.  The Bordeaux Pilgrim (BP) is particularly fixated on water and water sources.  Susan Weingarten noted that the BP describes over 15 water sources in his relatively spare account of travels in Roman Palestine.[1]  As many readers will know, the BP’s text is mostly a bare-bones itinerary that lists distances and stopping points on a journey from Bordeaux to the Holy Land in 333 CE.  In this respect, the BP text is similar to the 2ndcentury Antonine Itinerary. However, when the traveler enters Palestine at Caesarea, the text changes and the author offers commentary on mostly biblical and Christian sites.  The BP begins his commentary on the holy sites by describing their association with water, starting with the Balneus(Bath/Baptistry) of Cornelius the Centurion at Caesarea and continuing to the sacred spring at Syna (Shuni), where women bath and become pregnant.  The pilgrim explores other water sources during his travels, some of which you can see me talk about here, and others about which I’ll speak at the SBL in Denver in November.

The water that concerns this entry, however, comes from a curious sentence that appears in the pilgrim’s commentary on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  I was drawn to the passage after reading it in the translation by John Wilkinson – probably the most widely quoted English translation. According to Wilkinson’s translation, the pilgrim notes that Constantine built a basilica there and that it has “cisterns of remarkable beauty.”  I was really struck by the passage when I noticed Wilkinson’s translation, because it seemed to fit so well the BP’s general preoccupation with water.  I also just loved the idea that the one architectural detail of the church that the BP found beautiful were the cisterns.  Such a sentiment does not seem impossible for the pilgrim. For example, prior to arriving at the Holy Sepulcher, he comments on the size and scale of “Solomon’s” cisterns near the temple mount (590). The temple was, of course, no longer standing and the remaining water storage, although not from the Solomonic era, is proof for the pilgrim of Solomon’s reputation as a builder.

Reconstructed plan of Constantinian basilica at Holy Sepulcher. After Gibson and Taylor, 1994, p. 75.

When the pilgrim arrives at the Constantine’s church at the Holy Sepulcher and comments on the cisterns that Constantine built there, he makes Constantine into a new Solomon of sorts.  Unfortunately, while the cisterns most have been impressive for the pilgrim to note them, I don’t think he calls the cisterns “beautiful.” The Latin text of the description is as follows:

ibidem modo iussu Constantini imperatoris basilica facta est, id est dominicum, mirae pulchritudinis habens ad latus excepturia, unde aqua levatur, et balneum a tergo, ubi infantes lavantur (Itin. Burd. 594.2-4).

Wilkinson takes mirae pulchritudinis“of remarkable beauty” to describe excepturia“cisterns.”  However, I think the more likely reading is that the phrase “of remarkable beauty” describes the basilica, and the phrase id est dominicumis an explanatory note in parentheses, before the sentence continues on with its main subject, the basilica.  So, a more likely translation is:

“Recently, at the very place [of the tomb] by order of Constantine a basilica of remarkable beauty has been built, that is a building of the Lord, which has cisterns at the side, from which water can be brought up, and a bath behind, where children are baptized.”

Aubrey Stewart, in his 1896 English translation for the Pilgrims Text Society, translates the passage similarly, having apparently decided that the beauty must belong to the basilica as a whole and not just the cisterns (p. 24).

There are a couple of other items of linguistic interest in the passage.

On basilica: As other scholars have noted, the pilgrim assumes that his reader may not understand what “basilica” means in reference to ecclesiastical architecture.  The term “basilica” is borrowed from Greek and can also describe a form of Roman civic architecture.  However, the use of the term for a church building appears to be new enough that the pilgrim has to explain it.

On balneus: Context indicates that the use of the term balneushere means a baptistry, although it can mean “bath” in other contexts. It follows that the term levantur means baptize here, although it can mean “wash” in other contexts.  The use of balneushere has important implications for other parts of the BP text.  For example, when the pilgrim describes the balneus of Cornelius the Centurion at Caesarea (585), he may refer to a baptistry or a bath, or a bath that is now a baptistry.  Whether or not the balneus the pilgrim saw belonged to Cornelius or even the first century remains an open question.  However, I think we can say for certain that while the cisterns at Constantine’s basilica were apparently worthy of comment, the Bordeaux Pilgrim describes the basilica as a whole as “of remarkable beauty” and not just the cisterns.

[1]S. Weingarten, “Was the Pilgrim from Bordeaux a Woman? A Response to Laurie Douglass,” JECS 7 (1999) 292 (of 291-7).


Did Egeria eat fish at Edessa?

As part of my research on Holy Land pilgrimage this year, I’ve been re-reading and translating the most significant accounts of early Christian travel in the region.  One of those texts is Egeria’s account of her travels.  Egeria was a Latin-writing traveller from the western Mediterranean who travelled in Sinai, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor between 381 and 383 CE.  When she arrived in Constantinople at the end of her travels in the Holy Land — but before setting off again for Ephesus — she wrote an account of her journey to her “sisters” back home.  The resulting text is a sort of extended epistolary narrative rich with details about her visits to holy sites.

Recently, I’ve been focusing on descriptions in pilgrimage literature of fountains, springs, and wells as part of an examination of how such places demonstrated the authenticity of holy sites, past epiphanies, and on-going divine presence.  Egeria has some fascinating descriptions of springs and wells.  One my favorite descriptions occurs when she describes her visit to Edessa in Roman Syria — modern Urfa in Turkey.  While there, the Bishop of Edessa shows Egeria the palace of the 1st-century King Abgar, who was famous in Egeria’s day for his legendary correspondence with Jesus, original copies of which Egeria reports to have been shown by the bishop at the gates of the city (19.16-19).  According to the story reported by Egeria, the Lord sent King Abgar a letter promising that no enemy would enter the gate of the city.  When the Persians later besieged Edessa, Abgar took the Lord’s letter to the gate of the city and prayed, which caused the Persians to retreat in darkness. The Persians did not give up easily, however, and they cut off the water supply to Edessa. Egeria reports that on the very day the water was cut off, God caused a spring to flow out of the palace (19.7-13).

Egeria offers further, intriguing details about the spring and its fish, which, I think have been misapprehended by the most recent English translations, which is too bad, because I really wanted them to be correct!  Egeria reports: Ibi erant fontes, piscibus pleni, quales ego adhuc nunquam vidi, id est tantae magnitudinis et vel tam perlustres aut tam boni saporis (19.7. Latin textFranceschini and R. Weber, 1965) John Wilkinson, in the most widely used English translation renders the sentence “…[We] saw the pools with fish in them. I have never seen fish like them, they were so big , so brightly colored, and tasted so good” (Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travels 1971/2002: 133).  Gingras’ translation is very similar: “fish of such great size, of such great luster, and of such good taste.” (Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage.  1970:78).  I really wanted Egeria to eat the fish at Edessa, in part because it is such a great image!  However, the Latin text is ambiguous as to whether it is the fish or the springs that Egeria found tasty – both the springs (fontes) and fish (pisces) are masculine plurals.  In fact,  John Bernard in his 1896 translation for the Palestine Pilgrims Texts leaves the English as ambiguous as the Latin.

However, Egeria’s descriptions of other springs shows that she tastes them and comments on them.  In fact, as I hope to show in a forthcoming paper, her comments on their taste and clarity are indicative of their holiness and authenticity.  While the taste of the fish could be indicative of such holiness, and thus also supportive of my paper’s point, Egeria exhibits a pattern of tasting springs elsewhere in her text.  So, I was curious how Pierre Maraval had translated the text in his widely used French translation.  As it turns out, Maraval appears to agree that Egeria tastes the water not the fish, translating: “il y avait là des fontaines pleines de poissons, telles que je n’en avais encore jamais vues tant elles étaitent vastes, tant leur eau était limpide et d’un gôut excellent.” P.Maraval, Égerie: Journal de voyage. ( 1982) 207.  Here, Maraval inserts “eau/ water” into the second part of the line to make clear what Egeria tasted.  As Maraval indicates in his notes, the fish in the pools were considered sacred in pre-Christian times as they were after the Islamic conquest.  In fact, pools still exist at Edessa/Urfa and they contain fish that are considered sacred, as Segal describes in his study Edessa: The Blessed City (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970) 2. The pools can be seen in the more recent photo below and the fish can be seen in the video.  So, while I really love the image of Egeria commenting on how tasty the fish were at the pools in the palace of Edessa, I don’t think she ate them.  Rather, she tasted of the spring bought forth by the Lord, and its delicious taste was an indicator of its sanctity.

Abraham’s Pool in Urfa. Photo:Bernard Gagnon, courrtesy of wikipedia commons.

The Piacenza Pilgrim’s Garlic and Radishes

As part of my research on early Christian pilgrimage, I’m taking the opportunity to go back through some of the most important pilgrimage accounts and make my own annotated translations.  In a few cases this had led to some very interesting discoveries.  At present, I’ve been making my way through the text my favorite account, that by the anonymous pilgrim from Piacenza, who travelled to the Holy Land between 560 and 570 CE.  As Scott Johnson has pointed out in a recent re-assessment of the Piacenza Pilgrim, the account has much to offer scholars of late antique Christianity and pilgrimage — despite the way in which many scholars have dismissed both the pilgrim and his account (DOP 70, 2016: 43-70).  The account contains a number of seemingly idiosyncratic practices and observations.  But, as Johnson points out, viewing the Piacenza Pilgrim’s practices as idiosyncratic assumes an understanding of what normative pilgrimage practices were, and the evidence for defining normative pilgrimage in the sixth century is lacking. In my opinion, the Piacenza Pilgrim most likely represents what many pilgrims were doing when traveling to the Holy Land from the West.

In any case, while translating the Piacenza Pilgrim, I’ve been comparing my translation to the standard Enlglish translation by John Wilkinson — an excellent translation and one that is the most commonly cited in English-language scholarship.  I was translating Piacenza Pilgrim 36.4, using the critical edition of the Latin text edited by Celestina Milani, Itinerarium Antonini Placentini: Un viaggio in terra sancta del 560-570 d.c. (Milano: Università Cattolica, 1977).  Milani’s edition helpfully lays out two branches of the older, recensio prior and the later recensio altera on opposing pages.  She also helpfully provides an Italian translation of the recensio altera.  The passage that got my attention, and the one supposedly about garlic and radishes in this entry’s title, describes how the Piacenza Pilgrim and his company were met at the roadside in the Sinai by “Saracens” who brought cold water from the interior of the desert, for which they would accept bread from the pilgrims.  The Saracens are described as bringing resticulas cum radicibus to the pilgrims, which Wilkenson translates as “garlic and radishes.”  However, the phase does not mean that.  Rather, a literal translation would be “ropes with roots” of which “radishes” are one possibility.  However, the type of root the Piacenza Pilgrim is referring to is suggested in the next phrase, when the Pilgrim describes the roots as having “the scent of a sweetness beyond any other spices…”  odor suavatatis super omnia aromata. Now, some people might describe radishes this way. However, in antiquity the “sweet root” is licorice.  Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary provides notes s.v radix, I.2 dulcis radix= licorice, citing Scribonius Largus, Compositiones Medicamentorum 170.  A similar definition appears in the Oxford Latin Dictionary,  s.v. radix, noting the “root that is called sweet,” is licorice, citing Celsus, de Medicina, 6.10.1:  radix quem dulcem appelant.  Celsus’ text goes on to say, that the sweet root can be “crushed and boiled in rain wine or honey wine…”  Indeed, licorice as the “sweet root” appears in the Greek term for it: γλυκύρριζα, glykorrhiza, “sweet root,”  which would seem to be the ultimate source of the English term with the initial “gl” having been dropped along the way.  So, it does not appear that the Saracens brought the pilgrimage the sweetest smelling garlic and radishes, but “ropes of licorice root” which grow in various parts of the eastern Mediterranean and was probably bundled for the pilgrims much as it is today, as seen in the photo below.

Licorice root

This is a minor philological point in my overall research, but it does reveal what sorts of discoveries are still to be had in the texts and what a reexamination of some passages can reveal about what late antique pilgrims encountered on their journeys.

Research in Jerusalem 2017-18

As some of my readers — and twitter and instagram followers — know, I was awarded an NEH Fellowship from the Albright Institute in Jerusalem to work on my next book project, tentatively titled “Sacred Travel in the Roman Empire and the Making of Christian Pilgrimage.”   I arrived in Jerusalem in late August and I plan to be here working on the project until early April 2018.   The project examines literary sources, as well as artifacts, architecture, and other forms of material culture related to pilgrimage in the Roman and early Byzantine periods.  I’m particularly interested in examining the search for authentically sacred places by late Roman and early Christian pilgrims, how religious authenticity was defined, and the role that pilgrimage souvenirs played in demonstrating the authenticity of pilgrimage destinations and the authenticity of the pilgrim’s experience.  I’m also exploring the economic impact of pilgrimage — particularly souvenir production and circulation.  So, while much of my time here will be spent in the library, I’ll also be visiting pilgrimage sites, tracing pilgrimage routes, and examining objects like pilgrimage souvenirs produced in the early Byzantine period.  I’ll plan to update the blog as I visit sites and consider pilgrimage objects.  In the meantime, however, I thought that some readers might like to see where I’m doing my research while in Jerusalem.

Much of the time, I’ve been using the library and research spaces at the Albright Institute, where I have a very nice carrel in the library.

The Albright library contains a distinctive collection of archaeological publications and archival materials.  More than that, the Albright is unique location in Jerusalem to meet with scholars from around the world who are working on projects related to the Holy Land.  It is also a very pleasant location in which to think, read, and write — as seen in the image of the courtyard below, where tea is taken at 4 p.m. and where I have been eating lunch.



Another advantage of working at the Albright is the close proximity to other research facilities, such as the Rockefeller Library and Museum and the Bibliotheque St. Étienne at the École Biblique and Archéologique française de Jerusalem. I’ve been spending much of time at my reserved desk space at the École biblique, where there is an excellent collection of material related to late antique Christianity in the Holy Land.  When I’ve drawn attention to some books that I thought they should have, they have offered to acquire them for the library.  It’s been a great place to work and do some bibliographic exploration.  It’s also a very inspiring setting as you can see in the images below.  I plan to keep posting once a week or so with images related to my research.  So, stay tuned!

My table at the École

Church of St. Étienne and garden at the École biblique

Ossuary in the stairwell at the Bibliotheque St. Étienne


Excavations at Legio

The OU students and I, along with the JVRP staff, our colleagues from SUNY Brockport, and students from other universities, recently wrapped up our part in the excavations at Legio, the castrum of Rome’s 6th Legion.  The project is directed by Matthew Adams and Yotam Tepper, and you can find out more about the project at the homepage of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project.   The project includes staff and volunteers from several different institutions, including assistant director Melissa Cradic, archaeobotanist Jen Ramsay, and myself.  The OU program operates within the broader structure of the JVRP summer archaeology program, and allows OU students to receive credit  directly from the University of Oklahoma.  Seven students completed the program this year — most with scholarship support from the Schusterman Center for Judaic and Israel Studies at the University of Oklahoma.  In addition, the Religious Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma provides funding to support the excavation’s educational program and consortium.  On the OU program, students spent three weeks excavating at Legio after participating in the five-day study tour, described in my last post.  

Professor Jen Ramsay, Director Matt Adams, myself, and some of the other staff and students working at the Legio excavations.


The excavations and field school provide the opportunity for students to learn first-hand about modern archaeology in Israel.  Students learn to excavate using large and small tools,  learn to keep a field journal with plans and notes, learn about how we use the equipment like the total station, learn about our database and using iPads in the field, learn about our photogrammetry projects, and many, many other things.  They learn a lot in three weeks!  It can be a very intense experience, getting up around 4 a.m. to be at the site by 5 a.m. to start when the weather is cool, working outside until 1 p.m., washing pottery and processing finds in the late afternoon, attending lectures in the evening (including one by me!), and then traveling on the weekends to interesting places in Israel.  I’m getting tired just writing about all of it!

Starting excavation in the early morning, with the sunrise over Mt. Tabor and the Jezreel Valley

However, most students find that in the end the experience is very rewarding and some have even made some new, close friends.  The experience of making friendships on digs is one that I can relate to, as I a still keep up with some of the friends I made at my first archaeological project, at Isthmia in Greece, way back in ’96.

Of course, there are also opportunities for students to make some amazing discoveries.  The excavations this summer focused on the central area of the castrum, with the goal of exposing significant parts of the principia, the central headquarters building of the camp.  The excavations revealed significant architectural aspects of the castrum, as well as smaller fragments of decorative architecture that had been dislodged and destroyed since the period of the castrum’s use.  These small pieces of decorative architecture can be very exciting to find outside of their original context.

Deep in the trench –articulating a cut stone

The “dart” from an “Egg and Dart” molding

So, as we wrap up the 2017 season, and another group of students makes their way onward and homeward, many will have made contact with the past in ways that are only possible by participating in an excavation, and many will have made friendships and experiences that will be with them for years to come.

OU students at Legio. What a great crew!

Basalt paver in the shape of Oklahoma — clearly a good omen!

JVRP Study Tour 2017

On Thursday evening we wrapped up our five-day study tour of archaeological and cultural sites in northern Israel.  I’ve been assisting with the tour since 2014, and I think this has been one of our best years.  This year, we added a few stops to our usual itinerary in order to take be able to speak with excavators in the field and other experts two could offer their insight into new archaeological research.   We were able to visit Tel Kabri during the opening week of their excavation, and Eric Cline and Assaf Yassur-Landau were generous enough to give us a tour of the site and discuss some their finds from previous seasons and their goals for 2017.

Assaf Yassur-Landau explains Tel Kabri

 We visited Beit She’an, which is a perennial favorite.  The site features a classic near eastern tel, along with Roman city below.  Most of the visible remains from the Roman site date to between the fourth and sixth centuries, when the city was know as Scythopolis and served as the capital of the Roman province of Palestina Secunda.  Scythopolis is of particular interest to me, as excavators found multiple pilgrimage souvenirs in one of the late antique shops, which suggests a secondary market for pilgrimage goods.  In addition, the city appear in pilgrimage itineraries and there is evidence for a martyrium-style church on the top of the ancient tel, above the remains of a Roman temple.

Tel Beit She’an.  I love this tree.  It reminds me of the U2 song “One Tree Hill” 

An OU student examines a fallen column on the streets of Roman Scythopolis, likely evidence for the final earthquake to destroy the city in the eighth century.  

Tel Beit She’an from the main Roman street.  

We added the Roman site of Omrit to this year’s program, and we were fortunate to have of the excavators give us a tour of the site during the final days of their season.  The site features a multi-phase Roman temple that dates to about the first century CE and was constructed on top of an earlier Hellenistic shrine.  Interestingly, the Christian living at the site in the Byzantine period built over the temple’s altar with small church.

Roman Temple at Omrit

We again visited Nimrod’s Fortress, a medieval Islamic fortress, which offers fantastic views of the valley below.  Many of the towers remain largely intact and visitors can climb through the ancient gates all the way to the keep.

OU students at Nimrud’s Fortress 

Our final stop of the tour was the Roman site of Caesarea.  The remains are immediately impressive, and this year we had the added bonus of a tour by Beverly Goodman, who discussed her research on the destructive effects of tsunamis at Caesarea.

Late Roman/Byzantine mosaics near the harbor at Caesarea

Beverly Goodman explains the appearance of tsunami-caused deposits in strata within the hippodrome at Caesarea

We begin excavation on Sunday.  So, stay tuned for more in the weeks ahead!

The 2017 Study Tour and Legio Excavations

I’ll be back in Israel this summer, to help lead students on a study tour of archaeological and modern sites.  We have eight University of Oklahoma students with us this summer, almost as many students from SUNY Brockport, additional students from other schools, and some independent adventurers.

Our tour schedule is available here.  We’ll be keeping to the same general itinerary as in previous years, but with some exciting additions.  For example, Beverly Goodman is scheduled to talk to us at Caesarea.  Goodman’s work on ancient tsunamis has transformed our understanding of such events in the Mediterranean.  It should be exciting to hear from her about her underwater archaeology work.

For part of the tour, we’ll be staying at Kibbutz Mizra, an old favorite from past years, where the residents do some really creative things to re-use old bottle and decorate their gardens.

A re-used bottle windmill at Kibbutz Mizra

Following the tour, we’ll take part in the excavations at Legio, the castrum of Rome’s Legio VI Ferrata.  More details about Legio and what the excavations hope to accomplish this summer can be found here, and a news report about discoveries at Legio in 2015 can be found here.

I’ll be updating the blog with details and photos from the tour, so stay posted!  In the meantime, here’s a picture of sifting at sunrise from 2015.

Legio and sunrise on the Jezreel Valley, 2015

A note on objects in Orhan Pamuk’s “A Strangeness in my Mind”

My research dealing with objects related to pilgrimage, magic, and late antique piety has shaped how I read fiction.  In my last post, I commented on the role of objects, in particular Frank Frink’s creation of American art, in the book and film adaptation of Man in the High Castle.  This week, I finished reading Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind, which follows Mevlut from his Turkish village to Istanbul in a saga stretching from the 1960s into the 2000s.  The tale is told by a cast of first person narrators and occasionally an omniscient third person.  The entries for each narrator are short, typically one to three paragraphs, and occasionally a few pages.  Through their collective eyes, we see the sympathetic protagonist Mevlut arrive in Istanbul as an adolescent, build a squatter’s home in Istanbul with his father and other relatives, begin selling yogurt in the day and boza at night, try to finish school and fail, do his army service, court an older sister through letters when he believes he is courting the younger one, elope with the older sister, realize his mistake, marry the older sister anyway, start a family and raise two daughters, sell rice and chicken from a food cart, lose his cart, oversee a kebab restaurant, lose his job when he fails to report an employee scam, open a boza shop with his childhood friend, see the shop closed because of forces beyond his control, work as a parking lot attendant, quit after his wife dies in a home abortion, begin working with the same childhood friend as an electrical inspector, lose that job after the same friend is murdered, marry his childhood friend’s widow (who is also the younger sister of his wife whom he thought he was writing letters to years ago), see his daughters married, and see his childhood squatter’s home purchased for a large sum of money and turned into a high-rise apartment, in one of which he and his (second) wife will live before relocating to be further from their extended family.  As should be obvious, the story of the humble Mevlut is epic in length and scale.

A constant if Mevlut’s life is his love for the streets of Istanbul and his constant desire to walk the streets selling boza, a mildly alcoholic drink make from cereals.  Pamuk’s descriptions of the objects associated with Mevlut’s making and selling of boza, as well as his food cart, the furnishings of his squatter’s house and his later apartments, and other objects and spaces are where the book really shines, and such details unify an intentionally fractured narrative and not-enterirely-honest narrators.  Pamuk has focused on the relationship between memory, narrative, and everyday objects in other works — most notably Museum of Innocence, which has small museum in Istanbul where objects from the book are displayed, and perhaps my favorite Pamuk work, The New Life, which vividly describes nostalgia for the commercial objects of one’s childhood and lost cityscapes.

The pole that Mevlut uses to carry yogurt and boza trays across his back is introduced early in the book, and through all the vicissitudes of Mevlut’s life, this object is a constant presence, even as friends, a spouse, his childhood home, and daughters are all lost or change.  His journey with the pole and the objects it carries becomes a meditation for Mevlut until he can finally realize the continuity between his inner life and the streets and public life of the city.

Other, minor objects receive just enough mention to evoke their presence and make their significance to the story felt.  The glasses that are constantly being washed at the boza shop are tangible and their presence — demanding filling and washing.  Mevlut’s food cart provides a livelihood for his family and his family surrounds it with their efforts to make his (not very profitable) enterprise a success.  The cart was an object around which the family gathered, chained safely to a tree at night in the courtyard.  When it is stolen, Mevlut cannot choose another, even when a replacement is offered to him.

I cannot hope to do justice to the range of objects and material spaces that operate in the story, and obviously there are other aspects of the book that are worthy of praise and comment.  However, in this short note, I want to point out that the humble objects associated with Mevlut’s work and the way those everyday objects can summon connections to his family and Istanbul that have stuck with me after finishing the book.  I can still see Mevlut’s cart chained up to a tree and see the cups that his wife and sister in law washed in the back of the boza shop.  I can still see the swept-dirt floor and table of the house his father built.  Such objects and spaces render sensible the imagined lives and voices of his story.

The Power of Objects and Art in “The Man in the High Castle”

So,  I’ve been thinking of reviving this blog for some time, but I’ve been struggle with exactly what to write about here.  As some readers may know, my current research relates to Roman and early Christian pilgrimage, and specifically the role of objects and space in the shaping pilgrimage experience. Over the past few years, I’ve also been reading works of fiction in which objects come to exert powerful forces on the characters and narrative.  I’ve decided to dedicate at least a few entries to my thoughts on some of these works of fiction, all of which have served to stimulate my thoughts about the power of objects and space in late antique religion.

My first essay is inspired partly  Bill Carahers’s blog and his discussion of the role of objects in Philip K. Dick’s novels, as well as by the Amazon series based on “Man in the High Castle.” After watching the Amazon series, I decided to read Dick’s novel of the same name.  The Amazon series diverges from the original book in many ways, which is to be expected, but I found one point of divergence to be particularly enlightening as to the role of art and objects in the book vs. the adaptation, the function of the art that Frank Frink produces.

Viewers of the Amazon series will recall the bendy-heart-shaped necklace that Frink produces for Juiana, which she takes to Rocky Mountains and back to San Francisco before it eventually ends up on the desk of Mr. Tagomi, the Japanese Trade Minister.  Tagomi seems to recognize something of its merits, declaring that the pendant has great “wu”  and meditating on the pendant at his desk.  In the series, the production of new American art appears to be outlawed, and only American art of the past can be bought and sold — as happens at Mr. Childan’s store.  The implication is that Japanese authorities recognize the power of art as a potentially subversive force and have thus banned the creation of new American art.  Frink’s creation, and Juliana’s and Tagomi’s possession of it, is therefore illegal, and perhaps an act of resistance.

The book describes Frink’s creation of a similar object, along with others.  Ed McCarthy assists Frink with his creations, and (unlike in the series) Robert Childan agrees to sell their creations at his store on consignment.  As in the series, a Japanese man recognizes the great “wu” of Frink’s creations.  However, it is not Tagomi who recognizes it here, but Paul Kasoura, an attorney who (along with his wife) is an aficionado of Americana.  Kasoura’s and Childan’s relationship is similar in the book and the movie — with Childan trying to ingratiate himself with a powerful Japanese couple by presenting them with American art.  In the book, however, Childan takes a risk and gives Kasoura one of Fink’s consignment pieces as a gift, thinking that perhaps the Japanese collector will like it, even though Childan himself doesn’t seem to think much of it.  Childan only sees the new American art’s merits when Kasoura perceives it, describing the appearance of new, American, art and marveling at its existence.  Kasoura’s pronouncement that new American art exists is met with incredulity (at first) by Childan and by Kasoura’s Japanese colleagues.

The impossibility of American art is a revealing divergence between the book and series.  In the series, such art is illegal because Japanese authorities recognize its power.  In the book, it is not that American art is illegal, it is simply inconceivable.  Dick’s descriptions of Childan’s and Kasoura’s dawning recognition of what they are seeing in Frink’s work are evocative of how one learns to “see” art and recognize the power of objects to shape and transform.  Soon after this recognition, Childan begins to believe in a new, authentic American material culture and (it seems) in the idea of America as well.

The appearance and recognition of Frink’s new American art builds along the same time-line as Juliana’s journey towards her apparently anticlimatic meeting with the Man in the High Castle [Hawthorne Abendson], who consults the I Ching to discover that the book (yes, here it is a book, not films) he has written about the Allies winning the war is true — although this would seem not be so, as Germans and Japanese have divided up much of the world.   As he and Juliana say regarding the Oracle’s response:

Raising his head, Hawthorne [the man in the high castle] scrutinized her. He had now an almost savage expression. “It means, does it, that my book is true?”

“Yes,” she said.
With anger he said, “Germany and Japan lost the war?”


The book ends rather abruptly after the meeting of Juliana and the Man in the High Castle.  The reader is left to wonder in what way Germany’s and Japan’s loss is “true.”  One possibility is a multi-verse, a idea borne out more fully in the series than the book.  However, the role of Frink’s art in the book suggest other possibilities, such as the re-appearance and re-emergence of an authentic America in the midst of occupation.  Frink’s art suggests that the story of allied struggle against Japanese imperialism and European Nazism is not over.  Rather, America lives and that, is spite of appearances, Germany and Japan may have already lost the war.