In a paper just published in the Journal for the History of Astronomy, Stašo Forenbaher (Institute for Anthropological Research, Zagreb) and Alexander Jones (ISAW) announce the discovery of ivory fragments of a Hellenistic astrologer’s board in a part of a cave in southern Croatia that was sealed off towards the end of the first century BCE after having served as a cultic sanctuary. The board, which an astrologer would have used to display to his client the arrangement of heavenly bodies in a horoscope, is the oldest such object known to exist. It witnesses the rapid spread of Greek horoscopic astrology, which came into existence as a fusion of Mesopotamian and Egyptian astral divination with Greek cosmology probably not long before 100 BCE.

Nakovana Cave overlooks the Adriatic Sea from a ridge near the western tip of Pelješac Peninsula, 100 kilometers northwest of Dubrovnik. Some of the most important Adriatic sea-lines of antiquity pass through the channels below the cave. The Nakovana Project (directed by Timothy Kaiser and Stašo Forenbaher) began work at the cave in 1999, and towards the end of the field season a hitherto unknown extension of the cave was discovered. Fragments of pottery vessels were lying about, most of them Hellenistic finewares datable to the last four centuries BCE, evidently the accumulated remains from cult offerings. The ivory fragments were discovered among this material.

When complete, the board had twelve arc-shaped ivory plates forming a complete circle and representing the twelve signs of the zodiac. An astrologer would have displayed a horoscope by placing colored stones standing for the Sun, Moon, and planets in the places they occupied in the zodiac on a particular date, for example a client’s birthdate. It is not clear whether the board was actually used where its remains were found in Nakovana cave or whether it was deposited there as a precious offering.




Romance and Reason: Islamic Transformations of the Classical Past opened here at ISAW on February 14, 2018 and has already received several wonderful reviews:

Wall Street Journal
Art Net
Art Daily
Times of Israel
Jerusalem Post
Cleveland Jewish News

This exhibition brings together an exceptional group of rare manuscripts that testify to the fertile relationship between medieval Islam and the classical world. With material ranging from lavishly illuminated romances, to eye-opening medical and scientific treatises, the exhibition provides an engrossing visual record of how, over the course of centuries, scholars, artists, doctors, scientists, and others in the Islamic world transformed Ancient Greek material for their own day.

The first part of the exhibition focuses on the Islamic version of the story of Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE). No single figure from Greco-Roman antiquity was more lauded by or deeply absorbed into Islamic tradition than that of Alexander the Great (or Iskandar). Romance and Reason presents approximately thirty illuminated versions of the earliest-known Persian accounts of the life of Iskandar: the Shahnamah, or Book of Kings, an epic poem written by Abu al-Qasim Firdausi between 977 and 1010 CE, and the Khamsa, or Five Poems, by Nizami Ganjavi, dating from the late 12th century CE. With a variety of exquisite illuminations, the manuscripts here were created over the course of five centuries. Together, they portray the evolution of Iskandar’s character and identity, showing him as warrior, king, seeker of truth, and more—reflecting growth and change in the Islamic world and the increasingly integral role that Iskandar played in its founding story.

Iskandar Attends the Dying Dara
Author: Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209); Copyist: Unknown; Language: Persian
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Folio: H. 25 cm; W. 15 cm
Iran, 17th century
Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Frank L. Babbott: 34.5996
(c) Brooklyn Museum

The second section of the exhibition is devoted to scientific and mathematical topics. Highlights of the exhibition’s especially rich assortment of medical materials include four 12th century manuscripts, all by different artists, illustrating vignettes from the five-volume De materia medica, written in the first century CE by the Greek physician Dioscorides Pedanius, as well as one of the most important medical works written by an Islamic scholar:The Canon of Medicine, by Persian physician, astronomer, and thinker Avicenna. 

Also on view are works illustrating how mathematicians in the Islamic world absorbed Greek mathematics—expanding, synthesizing, and refining the discipline—but also combined Euclidean geometry with other methods of solving numerical problems to create a new field of mathe­matical research: algebra. Additional, strikingly illustrated scientific manuscripts show the development of astronomy and astrology. 

Organized by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, in partnership with the National Library of Israel, Romance and Reasonexplores such Islamic representations and adaptations of Classical figures and thought through works from the 11th through 18th centuries, created in Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Turkey. 

The Canon of Medicine (Al-qanun fi al-tibb)
Folio 386 verso: Opening of the Fourth Book
Author: Avicenna (980–1034); Copyist: Timurid court workshop;
Language: Arabic
Ink and gold on paper
Folio: H. 25.5 cm; W. 16 cm
Iran, early 15th century
Courtesy, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: MS A 53
ISAW / Bruce M. White, photographer, 2017 



Most of us have an idea — especially in a city like New York — of what gentrification looks like. We’re familiar with the perceived influx of bearded hipsters across Brooklyn, completing freelance design projects on their MacBooks while drinking cold-brew coffees. We see the closure of smaller, independent groceries to make way for a Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s. Many of us are aware of the rising rents and property values in a neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification. As we spend our daily lives in a city undergoing various stages of gentrification, most of us have a preconceived idea of what gentrification means, and what it looks like.

My research during my first six months at ISAW has explored the ways that gentrification may have also been occurring in the Roman world, specifically in the cities of Roman North Africa. A boom in the construction of monuments and elite architecture from the 1st–3rdcenturies CE has left a lasting impression on both scholars and tourists, and a great number of North African sites — cities such as Timgad (Algeria), Carthage (Tunisia), or Lepcis Magna (Libya) — are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. We know less, however, of how residential spaces may have changed during this same period.

Using ideas borrowed from studies of the modern city, I identify two particular hallmarks of ancient gentrification: the consolidation of many properties into a single, larger residence, and the displacement of industry for elite housing. In each case we can see that Roman gentrification involves the displacement of less affluent populations by incoming elites. Ancient gentrifying forces, like those in present-day NYC, focus on neighborhoods that are close to amenities and areas where abandoned or decaying properties might encourage redevelopment. The character of a place, its history, and its architecture were also important factors in what made a given neighborhood ‘gentrifiable’.

This work will be submitted for journal publication this spring, and I’ll next turn my attention to another urban process — sprawling growth — that has significance both in the ancient Mediterranean and in the modern world.





About sooteris kyritsis

Job title: (f)PHELLOW OF SOPHIA Profession: RESEARCHER Company: ANTHROOPISMOS Favorite quote: "ITS TIME FOR KOSMOPOLITANS(=HELLINES) TO FLY IN SPACE." Interested in: Activity Partners, Friends Fashion: Classic Humor: Friendly Places lived: EN THE HIGHLANDS OF KOSMOS THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF AMENTHE
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