Research News

History of Art scholar organizes meeting in Greece on ancient water use

Fountain of Peirene, ancient Corinth

The importance of water in ancient times as a central element in belief and community identity was a theme of a summer symposium in Athens, Greece, led by Associate Professor of History of Art Betsey Robinson.

Scholars from Albania, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States offered interdisciplinary perspective at “Water Cult and Culture in the Mediterranean World of the First Millennium BCE.”

Professors Sophie Bouffier and Iván Furnadó Ortega of Aix-Marseille Université worked with Robinson on the July 15-16 conference, which stayed on schedule despite challenges associated with the economic turmoil in Greece.

“Water is a precious and often very limited resource around the Mediterranean,” Robinson said. “In antiquity, water was carefully stewarded and its sources revered. The conference highlighted the ways that water usage evolved as diverse populations from areas such as Southern Europe, the Levant and Northern Africa came into contact.”

Presentations on water cult explored archaeological evidence of ritual practices at springs, water use in sanctuaries, and the role of water in the worship of Asklepios, the god of ancient Greek medicine. Cultural topics included hydraulic architecture, the representation of nymphs in Greek art, and the poetics of water and its propagandistic value in pan-Mediterranean politics.

Sessions at the American School of Classical Studies and the École Française d’ Athènes were followed by a series of on-site seminars led by Greek, German and American archaeologists.

The symposium was the first of several events sponsored by HYDRΩMED: Gestion des ressources en eau en Méditerranée pendant le 1er millénaire avant notre ère, an international research network funded by A*MIDEX, the Aix-Marseille University Foundation, and directed by Bouffier.

Subsequent HYDRΩMED gatherings will focus on geomorphology and hydrology, the engineering of water catchment and transport systems, and the history of water management around the Mediterranean before the Roman Imperial period. Robinson, who also has appointments in anthropology and classical studies, will spend April 2016 as a visiting scholar at Aix-Marseille Université, courtesy of HYDRΩMED.