OCLA: Research Projects (current and completed)
Hercules and the Ceryneian hind,
4th-century gold-glass from Rome.
The individual research being carried out in Oxford by OCLA scholars can be found by following the links to their personal web-sites. Listed here are the collaborative research projects which are based in Oxford, or in which OCLA scholars are centrally involved.
Ancient Alexandria Project
Alexandria had a unique role in the late antique East as the only major city there with an unbroken development of classical art, architecture and scholarship going back to the Hellenistic period. It continued to radiate architectural innovation and artistic influence, like its famous lighthouse, through the Byzantine and early Islamic periods (The Architecture of Alexandria and Egypt, 300 B.C. to A.D. 700, London 2007). The focus of the current phase of the Ancient Alexandria Project, directed by Judith McKenzie, has moved from architecture to late antique Alexandrian art, its characteristics and influence in a wider Mediterranean context, especially in Syro-Palestine on Christian and early Islamic monuments.
For further details, see Ancient Alexandria Project (PDF)
Ancient Commentators on Aristotle
The ‘Ancient Commentators on Aristotle’ project, based at King’s College London and directed by Richard Sorabji, has now completed the translation of 100 volumes, of annotated translation of late Greek Philosophy from the period AD 200–600. There are also five explanatory volumes, one of them with a second edition in 2010 and another with a second edition planned for 2015. We have bibliographies of 1990, 2004 and a preliminary one up to 2013 soon to be updated. See Lists of published volumes and bibliographies
Androna (Andarin), Syria — Excavations and Survey
Marlia Mango (Co-director with Dr Ugdeh of Hama and Prof. Strube of Heidelberg)
Excavation and survey of the large desert settlement of Androna were begun in 1997. Androna is recorded as a late Roman mansio on one of the routes from Palmyra to Antioch, and as a Byzantine kome renowned for its wine. The site has the remains of 12 identified churches and of two massive extramural reservoirs, and has produced over 50 Greek inscriptions. Settlement continued into the Umayyad period. The team from Oxford has concentrated on the excavation of a sixth-century bath-building at the centre of the settlement, and on survey-work within Androna’s territory – exploring the area’s agricultural potential, identifying ancient rural settlements, and investigating Androna’s remarkable water-management structures (which include six qanat networks, bringing water underground over long distances).
For further details, see: Androna Project
Aphrodisias was one of the most important cities of ancient Asia Minor, and for several decades has been the subject of a major programme of excavation, conservation and research by the Institute of Fine Arts and the Faculty of Arts and Science of New York University. The project is currently directed by Bert Smith. Much of the evidence uncovered, including a uniquely rich collection of statues and statue bases, dates form the late antique period.
For further details, see: Aphrodisias website
Below the Salt: A Study of the Human Remains and Associated Material from the Salt Mine at Chahrabad, Zanjan, Iran
Institute of Archaeology's Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art
Bible of Edessa Project
The Peshitta Syriac translation of the Hebrew Bible was probably the work of non-rabbinic Jews in northern Mesopotamia (Osrhoene or Adiabene) in the second century CE. The Peshitta Institute in Leiden is carrying out a project to provide English translations of all the books, with notes on the relationship to the Hebrew and Greek texts of scripture, and on their reception history. The members of the editorial board of this project are: Prof. Bas ter Haar Romeny (Leiden), Dr Wido van Peursen (Leiden), Prof. Jan Joosten (Strasbourg), and Dr Alison Salvesen (Oxford).
Byzantine Medical Manuals: Construction and Use
Professor Peregrine Horden, Dr Barbara Zipser
Start Date: May 2007; End Date: April 2010
Funding Source: Wellcome Trust; Funding Amount: £129,203
The project is a study in Byzantine medical texts. The Byzantine empire had a vigorous and long-lived medical culture that deserves study in its own right, not just because it was the conduit of ancient medicine to medieval Islam and Europe. Yet very little is known about it. Just a fraction of the over 2,000 Greek medical manuscripts that survive have been properly catalogued and analysed, and this is partly because of their chaotic appearance. However, since they were mostly texts intended to be used, there must have been some principles of construction that would enable the reader to find what he required. The project seeks to uncover those patterns of organisation and show how the texts could have been deployed in a variety of historical settings, educational and therapeutic.
Celtic Inscribed Stones Project (CISP)
This project, successfully completed at University College London between 1996 and 2002 under the direction of Wendy Davies, has produced an online database of all inscriptions on stone from all Celtic countries, from the period 400–c.1000.
Cult of Saints
In 2014–2019, with collaborators in Warsaw and Reading, Oxford is hosting a major project on the origin and development of the cult of saints, funded by a grant from the European Research Council. Through the work of five researchers, the project will chart the development of cult up to around AD 700 across all the christianities from which early evidence survives (the Syriac- and Coptic-speaking worlds, Georgia, Armenia, the Greek East and Latin West). When completed, the project will have produced a number of monographs and a freely-available searchable database, on which all the evidence for the early cult of saints will have been collected and presented, in both its original language and English translation.
For further details, see Cult of Saints website
Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources
David Howlett and Carolinne White
For further details, see the Dictionary website
Jeremy Johns (Co-Director with Alison McQuitty)
A multidisiciplinary study of Khirbat Faris, a village in the Ard al-Karak in central Jordan, from the 7th century A.D. until the present. The project combines archaeological excavation and field survey, with artefactual, historical, palaeo-environmental, and social anthropological studies. Fieldwork is complete and final publication is in progress, with the first of three projected volumes in press.
Greek Scripture and the Rabbis
(European Seminar on Advanced Jewish Studies)
Project Leader: Dr Alison Salvesen
Up to the present, views of Scripture in Judaism from antiquity to the rise of Islam have been shaped by the fact that rabbinic literature is written in Hebrew and Aramaic, even though many Jews in the eastern Mediterranean and their religious leaders knew only Greek. Even the recent Cambridge History of Judaism (2006) failed to include a chapter on the role of Greek language and literature. The purpose of the project was an investigation of Jewish Greek versions of the Bible among Jewish communities of the first to sixth centuries CE, both from rabbinic sources and from internal indicators in what remains of the translations themselves.
Completed volume: T. M. Law and A. Salvesen, Greek Scripture and the Rabbis, Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology, 66 (2012)
The ‘Hexapla Project’ is collecting and publishing the fragmentary biblical texts which pertain to the Hexapla, produced by the Christian scholar Origen in the third century CE. These texts are all that remain of early revisions of an original translation (from Hebrew into Greek) of the Jewish Scriptures commonly known as the Septuagint, and represent a key witness to the thought and worldview of Judaism in Late Antiquity and also to interaction between Christians and Jews. The members of the editorial board are: Dr Peter Gentry (Louisville, Kentucky and the Septuaginta-Unternehmung, Göttingen), Dr Alison Salvesen (Oxford), and Prof. Bas ter Haar Romeny (Leiden).
Last Statues of Antiquity
Bert Smith and Bryan Ward-Perkins
In May 2012, ‘The Last Statues of Antiquity’ project published its on-line searchable catalogue of all the evidence for new, newly dedicated, or newly re-worked statuary in Late Antiquity, with over 2800 fully searchable entries, including multiple photographs of many of the objects, and transcriptions and translations of all statue-base inscriptions: http://laststatues.classics.ox.ac.uk/
Towards the end of 2015, a multi-authored print volume (The Last Statues of Antiquity) will be published, with a full discussion of all aspects of the late-antique statue habit, as identified by our empire-wide survey.
The Last Statues of Antiquity was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
For further details, see Last Statues of Antiquity website
Late Antique Egypt and the Holy Land: Archaeology, History, and Religious Change
Neil McLynn and Judith McKenzie
Late Antiquity (c. A.D. 250–750) saw a shift in religion in Egypt and the Middle East from paganism to Christianity and subsequently Islam. The texts that record this process have been intensely discussed; the archaeological dimension much less so. Since religious buildings are central to religious practice and identity, their treatment—survival, adaptation, or destruction—reveals a great deal. This multidisciplinary project examines the spatial and iconographic aspects of material culture to reveal a complex and nuanced picture of interactions between pagans, Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The data provided by the archaeological record of what happened to the sacred space of the gods and to their images will then be related to written accounts. Archaeological analysis can be used to calibrate the written record. By providing a perspective otherwise lacking, it can access the acts of participants and processes at a local level. These are voices that are omitted from, or presented differently in, elite religious or imperial sources. The geographic focus is on a comparison of two key areas of the former eastern Roman empire which later came under Islamic rule, Egypt and the Levant, which also exhibit regional differences. The results will be published in a book and a website.
The four year project, which began in September 2011, was funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant. It is a collaboration between Neil McLynn (a historian and the Principal Investigator) and Judith McKenzie (an archaeologist), with other participants for fieldwork, such as Ross Burns, Andres Reyes, Sean Leatherbury, Marlena Whiting, Sarah Norodom (for Syro-Palestine), and Mohamed Kenawi (for Egypt).
The extensive photographic database of relevant temples, churches, mosques, and other sacred sites is being published on the Manar al-Athar website: http://www.manar-al-athar.ox.ac.uk/ . This includes many sites in Lebanon, as well as the Holy Land, with evidence of conversion or shared usage. This detailed record will augment the print volume, which will include a gazetteer of the main sites in Syro-Palestine by Miranda Williams, with Judith McKenzie, Ross Burns, Marlena Whiting, and others. The further expansion and long-term development of the Manar al-Athar website has received support from a variety of additional sources.
Director: Dr Neil McLynn
Local Cults and the End of Paganism in the Eastern Mediterranean
Cultic practice in the East involved a sophisticated amalgam of local and classical culture. What at first appear to be sanctuaries with imported Greek or Roman features on closer inspection reveal continuity of local religious practice. This is demonstrated from new studies of archaeological evidence in Greco-Roman Egypt and Arabia/Nabataea, especially from two sites in particular: Alexandria’s most important pagan sanctuary, the Serapeum (temple of Serapis); and the Nabataean temple complex at Khirbet et-Tannur north of Petra in Jordan. It is also possible to detect how pagan worship ended in both places, with unexpected results. When other examples in Egypt are considered in the wider context of the Greco-Roman East by comparison with examples in Syro-Palestine further clues are provided. They reveal a complex and nuanced picture of the interaction between Christians and pagans: as seen in Christian treatment of formerly pagan sacred space, cult statues and iconoclasm, in a part of the world where similar issues still arise between religions.
Manar al-Athar Photo Archive
Judith McKenzie and Neil McLynn
The Manar al-Athar website, based at the University of Oxford, aims to provide high-resolution, searchable images for teaching, research, and publication. These images of archaeological sites, with buildings and art, will cover the areas of the former Roman empire which later came under Islamic rule, such as Syro-Palestine/the Levant, Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, and Spain. The chronological range is from Alexander the Great (i.e., from about 300 BC), through the Islamic period, to the present.
Initial development of this website is a pilot project attached to the larger project at the University of Oxford, Late Antique Egypt and the Holy Land: Archaeology, History, and Religious Change,above, which is funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant (see also other funding). Thus, it has strong coverage of Late Antique sites in Syro-Palestine which have undergone conversion from paganism to Christianity, and sometimes, in turn, to Islam. Other Late Antique strengths include mosaics (of Jordan, Syria, Antioch, and Tunisia), synagogues and Umayyad buildings.
Images are freely downloadable for use in academic and educational publications simply by acknowledging the source (no form-filling).
For further details, see: Manar al-Athar
A multidisciplinary study of the Upper Belice Valley in Western Sicily from the Upper Palaeolithic until 1500 A.D. The archaeological field survey is complete and its publication is in progress. The edition and study of the documentary sources by Jeremy Johns, Nadia Jamil, and Alex Metcalfe (University of Lancaster) is proceeding.
Oxford Roman Economy Project
Alan Bowman and Andrew Wilson
The Oxford Roman Economy Project addresses the fundamentals of the Roman imperial economy and analyses all major economic activities (including agriculture, trade, commerce, and extraction), utilising quantifiable bodies of archaeological and documentary evidence and placing them in the broader structural context of regional variation, distribution, size and nature of markets, supply and demand. The project, funded originally by the AHRC (2005-2010) and now by the Augustus Foundation through the generosity of Baron Lorne Thyssen, studies the economy of the Roman world between the Republican period and Late Antiquity, with a particular focus on the period between 100 BC and AD 350, including the era of greatest imperial expansion and economic growth (to c. AD 200), followed by a century conventionally perceived as one of contraction or decline, and then something of a revival under the Tetrarchy and Constantine. The project includes the development and maintenance of an online database of documentary and archaeological material from all over the Roman world, the organisation of conferences, seminars and occasional lectures, and the publication of research. In association with Prof. Chris Howgego of the Ashmolean Museum, the project is also developing a database of Roman coin hoards.
For further details, see the project website http://www.romaneconomy.ox.ac.uk/
Tchalenko Archive Project
The Georges Tchalenko Archive, housed in Oxford’s Institute of Archaeology, contains the working notes and papers, drawings, maps, and up to 20,000 photographs of Georges Tchalenko who worked for over 40 years on the exceptionally well-preserved late Roman/early Byzantine settlements and architecture of northern Syria. The project, which is on-going, is digitizing and assembling on a database this remarkable research-resource, in order to make it available to the scholarly world.