National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Jennifer Tobin

Affiliation: University of Illinois

Jennifer Tobin is Associate Professor with the Departments of Classics, History, and Art History at the  University of Illinois at Chicago, and holds her degrees from the University of Pennsylvania  (Ph.D.) and Stanford University.  Her areas of specialization are Roman archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean, and Anatolian archaeology, she is Director of Excavations for the Bir Madhkur Project in Jordan, and since 1997 she has been the Architectural Consultant to the Tel er Ras excavations in Israel.  Professor Tobin has published and spoken widely, and has also recorded lectures for Modern Scholar.


Although most people today are aware of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, few can name all seven.  Perhaps fewer still realize that throughout much of its history the list was never static.  From the time of its creation in the 3rdcentury BCE until the Renaissance when the list finally became canonized, “Wonders” were added and removed from the list according to such factors as political expediency, religious affiliation and personal taste.  Although the list has been constantly adapted, the idea of the Seven Wonders has remained a cultural icon for human achievement to this day. Why has it maintained such popularity for over 1700 years?  Certainly, much of the appeal lies in the pleasure of contemplating buildings and statues of great size, intense beauty and ingenious craftsmanship.  This lecture argues, however, that in the pre-modern world the list of the Seven Wonders functioned as an arena to display dominance and power.  By reviewing the cultural climate in which the list was initially created together with the historical circumstances that motivated changes to the list, this lecture will explore how the list of the Seven Wonders has promoted notions of cultural, political and religious supremacy from antiquity to the present.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

P.A. Clayton and M. J. Price, The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (2002)

When Constantine the Great sent his mother Helena to the Holy Land to identify and develop sacred Christian sites, he unwittingly set into action a movement among religious women throughout the Roman Empire. Emulating the queen mother, their goal was to explore their religion by visiting places mentioned in scripture.  During the 4th-6th centuries female pilgrims of noble and not so noble birth journeyed to Jerusalem, Egypt and the Levant, exhibiting a kind of mobility that women rarely experienced in prior centuries would not enjoy again until modern times.  Perhaps the best known of these adventurers is Egeria, who in the late 4th century CE spent three years traveling through what is now Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Israel, Turkey and the Palestinian Territories.  She recounted her experiences in a series of letters that still survive today.  This presentation tracks the journey of Egeria, exploring the landscapes and monuments she encountered and investigating the challenges that she and other female explorers confronted.   By doing so we have the unique opportunity to observe this pivotal time in history from a female perspective.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

J. Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travels (1999)

The Cocks and Hens relief on display at the British Museum has long defied interpretation.  Set up on the acropolis of Xanthos in Lykia (SW Turkey) ca. 470 BCE, the limestone frieze presents five to six pairs of roosters engaged in cockfighting while hens look on.   It is associated with other friezes of contemporary date and similar style discovered on the Xanthian acropolis that graced three or four monumental tombs erected during the reign of King Kuprlli of Xanthos (ca. 480-440 BCE). These reliefs depict scenes that are standard in Lykian funerary art: men in procession, feasting, sphinxes, etc.  However, the cockfighting scene, while clearly part of the same corpus, is unique in the Lykian funerary genre.   In their publication of the Cocks and Hens relief (RA 1976) Pierre Coupel and Henri Metzger explain the presence of cocks and hens as a reference to funerary rites, since it is known that at least in the Roman period, roosters were sacrificed at Lykian tombs.  This lecture presents an alternate explanation, arguing that the birds are an allusion to the nobility inherent in the fighting cock and serve as a metaphor for the strength and courage of the Xanthian people. Specifically, the presentation argues that the image of the fighting cock, known to battle to the death rather than be defeated by its opponent, is an evocation of events of ca. 546 BCE, when the Persians invaded Xanthos prompting the entire populace to kill themselves rather than be taken prisoner.

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