National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Lindsey Mazurek

Affiliation: Indiana University, Bloomington

Lindsey Mazurek is an Assisant Professor in the Department of Classical Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research focuses on issues of race, ethnicity, identity, change, and materiality in the Roman Empire. She received a Ph.D. in Art History at Duke University, where she began to study cults of the Egyptian gods in non-Egyptian contexts. Dr. Mazurek wrote her dissertation on sculptures of Isis and Sarapis from Hellenistic and Roman Greece. Since then, she has held positions at the University of Oregon, Bucknell University, and the Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her research is inherently interdisciplinary, and draws on a wide array of evidence, methods, and approaches to reframe our understanding of the ancient world.


Historian Edward Gibbons, who wrote History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, famously listed migration as one of main reasons for Rome’s fall. But, as Emma Dench argues, migration is at the heart of Rome’s own origin story, appearing as a key theme in myths like the story of Romulus and Remus and the rape of the Sabine women. Historical and archaeological studies also provide ample evidence that the Empire’s population was highly mobile: people traveled to seek education, visit famous sites, go to court, and most frequently, buy and sell goods, even as we struggle to identify individual migrants and their stories. How, then, do we find the people who moved across the Empire? In this talk, I examine the evidence for migrants and migration at two key ports in the Roman Empire: Delos and Ostia. During the Roman Republic, the Greek island of Delos drew traders from all over the Mediterranean world who established small resident communities alongside each other. From Syrians to Italians to Egyptians, these communities developed customs and cults that affirmed their origins while living and working in the city’s cosmopolitan Greek-speaking community. At Ostia, which served as Rome’s main port during the 1st-3rd centuries CE, we can observe similar group experiences in the commercial realm while religious spaces integrated more freely. I conclude with examples of forced migration, such as slavery and warfare, which also drove mass movements of people across the Empire. This overview highlights the importance of migration to our understanding of the Roman Empire and the many impacts, both positive and negative, that migrations had on everyday people in the ancient Mediterranean.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader): (“Memorializing Connectivity: Ostia Antica’s Piazza delle Corporazioni” )

From neopagans to feminists, many today think of Isis as a goddess of and for women. Given that Isis was a patron of childbirth and marriage, two activities closely associated with women in antiquity, this assumption is not entirely off the mark. Women also appear frequently in artistic depictions of the Isis cult, from wall paintings at Pompeii to gravestones in Athens. But women were largely excluded from priesthoods and other positions of power and were marginalized further through cult regulations. How, then, can we understand women’s experiences of Isis? In this talk, I bring together literary, epigraphic, and artistic evidence to examine the roles of women and femininity in Egyptian cults during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. I begin with a brief overview of the cults and their expansion throughout the Mediterranean. Next, I turn to a series of hymns used to worship Isis in this period that describe Isis’ character and powers, most of which emphasize her role as a patron of key aspects of women’s lives. While inscriptions from sanctuaries demonstrate how rarely women held positions of power, some women still found ways to impact Isiac communities through building projects and other benefactions. I then turn to visual media like painting and sculpture, where Isiac women appear frequently, either in the midst of performing rites or dressed in costumes that connect them closely with Isis. I argue that these images use women as symbols of the cults’ more unusual aspects, in keeping with negative descriptions of Isis devotees in Latin literature. This evidence paints a complex and dynamic portrait of the female experience of Egyptian religion, which relied on women to communicate its ideals, including exoticism and difference, to a broad audience while denying them power and status.

When Isis first arrived on Greek shores in the 3rd century BCE, her new followers had to build sanctuaries appropriate to an Egyptian goddess. In the process of imagining a place for their Greek Isis to dwell, devotees came up with a wide range of eclectic solutions that intertwined local needs, imperialist fantasy, and fantastical chronology. These sanctuaries do not draw from contemporaneous Egyptian art and architecture, but rather from Greek stereotypes about Egypt and the Nile River. Isis’ Greek temples, I argue, allowed Greek devotees to imagine Egypt in a way that responded to their own experiences as provincial subjects of the Roman Empire. I begin with a brief overview of Isis’ and Sarapis cults’ arrival in Greece in the early Hellenistic period. Then, I turn to literary evidence, in which Greco-Roman authors from Herodotus to Pliny the Younger characterize Egypt as a timeless and strange place and highlight its unique flora and fauna. I next trace the popularity of these ideas in wall paintings and mosaics, where depictions of the Nile convey ideas of otherness and imperial control. I conclude by discussing the sanctuaries of the Egyptian gods at Marathon and Gortyna. The sanctuary at Marathon combines imaginative architecture that resembles Pharaonic Egyptian temples, archaizing sculpture that evoked a timeless Greco-Egyptian past, and a riverine setting that recalled the Nile Delta. At Gortyna, the sanctuary includes both an underground water crypt that echoed the Nilometers used to measure the river’s annual flood and cattle statuettes that personified the river’s waters. Taken together, this evidence suggests that Greek devotees used sanctuary spaces to explore Greek conceptions of Egypt as an imagined, far-off, and ancient place that they could control in much the same way that Rome controlled and imagined Greece.

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