Evening Lecture by Professor R.R.R. Smith (Aphrodisias Excavations, Director):
“Care of the Past: Buildings and statues at Aphrodisias in later antiquity, AD 200-600”
On Monday 20 March at 17:30 in C Blok Amphi (Faculty of Humanities)
What happened to the grandiose urban structures of the high Roman empire in late antiquity? The archaeology of both periods is unusually well-preserved at Aphrodisias, but we have the city of the second century because it was preserved in the city of the fifth century. The talk describes the layering of the past in one important late antique urban centre. There was decay and destruction but also maintenance, adaptation, and conversion.
Archaeological and historical research likes to define what’s new at any given time by wiping away what came before: each period thus makes a more or less new and distinctive contribution. But history and experience are rarely like that. We have instead a long accumulation, to which new things are added that have to make sense alongside still existing ones. Indeed, the monuments compress time in a way that elides much apparent novelty. The past was cared for and remained active; the present had to negotiate and compete in the same cultural register.
All this is easy to say. It is less easy to describe in any detail in its contemporary material and visual textures, but Aphrodisias is a good place to try.
Smith is from Edinburgh in Scotland and studied in Oxford. He taught in New York and Oxford and has been director of the Aphrodisias Excavations since 1991. He is interested in the visual cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and their interactions with social and political history.