BANEA Abstracts

Abstracts of the BANEA Conference Session “Sacred Nature & Structuring the Sacred:
Constructing and Re-Writing Sacred Landscapes in the Ancient Near East” (7th January 2016, Lampeter)

Here you find all the abstracts. For any questions or comments, please contact Ralph Häussler or Gian Franco Chiai.


Selga Medenieks (Classical Association of Ireland): Cyrus the Great of Persia and Acculturation of Religion at Sardis

The archaeology of the sacred landscape at Sardis, on the fringes of ancient Anatolia, has much to tell us about a persistent conundrum of ancient Near Eastern history: how Cyrus the Great of Persia utilised religion and religious institutions in the conquest of new territories and in the consolidation of political power.
For his tolerance and, indeed, support of foreign religions during his rule, Cyrus has come to be regarded as the world’s first humanitarian imperial leader. This reputation is based largely on actions in Babylonia and Palestine (related in the Cyrus Cylinder and the Old Testament), but little is known about Anatolia and the period in which the king’s religious policies were probably formulated and first implemented.
On his arrival in Anatolia in the mid-sixth century BC Cyrus pioneered an innovative strategy of religious acculturation to encourage unity in newly-conquered communities. In particular, evidence at the Lydian capital of Sardis demonstrates the establishment of Persian religion alongside (rather than superior to or instead of) existing customs, as well as the rapid acculturation of Persian and Anatolian religious practices. Most significant, perhaps, is that Cyrus and his Persian governors facilitated the acculturation of their own religion whilst actively participating in the development of local cult.
Remarkable examples of Persian influence on Lydian monumental religious buildings, tumulus tombs, and burial practices from the period immediately following Cyrus’ victory over Croesus can be cited that constituted public demonstrations of the new landscape, both literal and ideological. This paper explores these physical changes and considers their implications for the political and cultural environment.
The sacred spaces created at this time in Sardis demonstrate that the religion and religious institutions of the conquered, rather than the conqueror, were pivotal to the taking and exercise of power in newly-subordinated provinces – an original approach to empire-building that brought about Cyrus the Great’s positive reputation in posterity.


Eris Williams Reed (Durham): The Ever-Weeping Mountain: characterising Baal and Zeus on Jebel Aqra.
My paper proposes that the meteorological environment of Jebel Aqra was actively referenced in the characterisation of its associated gods. Located on the Turkish coast near the Syrian border, the mountain is exposed to multiple weather fronts that commonly cause localised thunderstorms. Consequently, the local storm-gods Baal-Saphon/Haddu and Zeus-Kasios/Keraunios were known to inhabit Jebel Aqra in the Ugaritic and Classical periods respectively. I argue that the characterisation of these gods – namely, their meteorological and orographic corporeality – by their worshippers is testament to a conscious connection between landscape and religiosity that transcended different patterns of worship. As a result, Jebel Aqra not only offers an example of a sacred landscape that was created and recreated across different religious traditions; but also highlights the endurance of religious reactions to and interactions with the environment.
The distinctive meteorology of Jebel Aqra is due to both its coastal setting and high elevation, such that several low pressure systems converge around the mountain. These systems not only provide the reliable, heavy rainfall associated with ‘Ever-Weeping Mountain’ (Malal. Chron. 8.207); but also contribute to cloud and thunderstorm formation. In the transition period between summer and winter – when these systems are at their most variable – thunderstorms frequently erupt around the mountain and signal the end of the summer drought. Indeed, these striking meteorological conditions were deemed to be both characteristic of the local landscape and embodied by the gods connected with the mountain.
The fact that the local environment of Jebel Aqra stimulated the development of religious life in its surrounding communities – thus indicating a cognisant relationship between landscape and religiosity – is demonstrated by various sources in both the Ugaritic and Classical periods.
In particular, the fourteenth-century BC Baal Cycle recounts the rise of the storm-god Baal-Saphon/Haddu within the Ugaritic pantheon. Baal’s ability to manipulate rain and thunderstorms is a recurring theme throughout the poem; but the god is only able to realise fully these abilities after occupying Jebel Aqra. Once enthroned, Baal releases the full extent of his stormy powers, making his thundering voice heard across the land and terrifying his enemies with lightning (KTU 1.4 VII: 29-42). Baal’s form here is significant: the visible and audible manifestations of his power are his lightning bolt and thundering voice. Thus, Baal is not simply conjuring the thunderstorm but rather he is the thunderstorm erupting around Jebel Aqra. Simply put, Baal’s characterisation is a direct reflection of the natural environment within which the god is located.
Comparisons can also be made with Zeus-Kasios/Keraunios who, like Baal, resided on Jebel Aqra and manifested as a thunderstorm. Various Graeco-Roman authors situate Zeus on the mountain (cf. e.g. Dio 69.2.1; SHA Hadr. 14.3; Lib. Or. 18.172; Malal. Chron. 8.199); and the god supposedly appeared as a lightning bolt to, amongst others, Seleucus Nicator and Hadrian (App. Syr. 58; Dio 69.2.1). Further, from the first century BC onwards, the nearby city of Seleucia issued coins depicting an enthroned lightning bolt (Butcher 2004: Nos. 1-34), followed by images of an enshrined mountain-shaped stone labelled as ‘Zeus-Kasios’ under Trajan (ibid: Nos. 52-59). Thus, once again, the local environment of Jebel Aqra was referenced in the characterisation of the mountain’s associated god.


Scott Willians (Cardiff): (Re)constructing the sacred landscape of Saqqara

The collaboration of GIS with 3D reconstruction modelling is enabling the creation of an innovative multi-layered three-dimensional depiction of the complex sacred landscape of North Saqqara. The georeferenced landscape model is providing a digital research heuristic through the application of the latest theoretical methodologies within archaeological GIS. Informed by the theoretical framework, the project will visualise and reinterpret the Late Period monuments; their circumstance within the sacred funerary landscape of Saqqara, their temporal association with other monuments, and their influence of, and by, pathways of movement through the landscape.

Using three-dimensional simulation and representation enables the exploration and investigation of the potential for corporeal perspectives through a consideration of landscape and material affordances. This permits new approaches to landscape studies for environments that may no longer be extant or accessible and opens up new possibilities for research. Moving beyond simple line of sight analysis, the digital ancient landscape can be visually explored and examined from different perspectives; it can be assessed diachronically; including or removing structures extant or lost within specific periods; adjusting the time of day, or even the weather conditions. Whilst this method prioritises visual over and above other sensory modalities, it provides innovative opportunities for reassessment of the contested sacred landscape at Saqqara.

It has been suggested that representations are removed from the context of human participation (Thomas 2004, 200), and in situ field experience is paramount as the principle source of knowledge (Tilley 2004, 118-119), and these views are not without merit. However, these approaches should not detract from the adoption of representations in archaeological landscape studies to increase insight and aide interpretation of the archaeological past when implemented within controlled frameworks.


Thomas, J. 2004. Archaeology and modernity. London: Routledge.
Tilley, C. 2004. The materiality of stone: explorations in landscape phenomenology. Oxford: Berg.


Max Stocker (Edinburgh): Landscape, Literature and Symbolism in the Theban Necropolis: A Study of the Tomb-Chapel of Neferhotep.
My paper focusses on the 18th-Dynasty tomb-chapel of the high priest Neferhotep, which is located in Sheikh Abd el-Qurna in the necropolis of western Thebes, and which is unique among all known Egyptian tombs in containing three separate examples of the literary genre known as harpists’ songs. I analyse the relationship of the tomb-chapel to the surrounding landscape, and I discuss the material, architectural, and literary evidence which denotes and characterises sacred space both in the tomb-chapel itself and in the necropolis as a whole.
I firstly investigate the exterior setting of the tomb-chapel, its articulation within its natural and cultural landscape in the Theban necropolis, and how the surrounding environment was used to construct a sacred landscape in which the tomb-chapel itself was positioned. I argue that the tomb-chapel was constructed and situated in its position because of orientational and locational associations between the tomb-chapel itself, the Ramesseum, and the temples on the east bank at Thebes, and also because of the fact that Neferhotep was creating and immortalising a social world in Sheikh Abd el-Qurna by articulating his own tomb with those which surrounded it in various significant ways which I discuss. I then explain the significance of the tomb-chapel’s position within this sacred landscape to the harpists’ songs themselves.
Subsequently, I discuss the relationship of the three harpists’ songs to the interior of the tomb-chapel, in terms of performance, art, and architecture. I examine the content of the songs and their physical positions within the tomb-chapel, and I argue that the songs possessed a multi-faceted relationship to the rest of the tomb which operated on three primary levels, namely their employment in Neferhotep’s archiving of previous New-Kingdom traditions of tomb decoration, their role in the performance which the tomb embodied and signified, and their role in the architectural and orientational layout of the tomb-chapel, and in the wider landscape of the Theban necropolis.
Over the course of the talk, I therefore examine the physical structure of the sacred both within and without the tomb-chapel itself, allowing us to understand how the Egyptians perceived the landscape of the Theban necropolis, and how the planners of the tomb-chapel of Neferhotep might have conceptualised the tomb-chapel’s position and significance within that landscape.


Daniele Salvoldi (Berlin): (Re)Constructing the Sacred Landscape of Nubia in the Early Nineteenth Century
Following the Egyptian conquest of Sudan in the 1820s, Western travellers could access and explore the Upper Nile Valley with more ease. Early expeditions such those of Cailliaud, Waddington and Hanbury, English, and Linant would map and describe for the first time the many ancient sites of Sudan. By recording the different layers of religious landmarks such as ancient Egyptian and Meroitic temples, Medieval Christian churches and monasteries, and Muslim shrines and mosques, the explorers would follow patterns of classification typical of the Orientalist attitude. This paper aims at exploring such narratives and the scholarship behind them.


Monica Hanna (The Egypt Heritage Task Force): The Deconstruction of New Space Identities for Looted Archaeological Sites: The Case of Abusir el-Malek
Academics have constructed an ‘Ancient Egypt’ that many have consumed globally. This construction came from the very early explorers and orientalists as well as classical writers and Biblical scholars. This has encouraged many to claim its ownership, whether through the interpretation of excavation finds, historical accounts or through buying objects by museums and collectors alike. This ownership of Ancient Egypt has usually discredited modern Egyptians, who have been seen as a nuisance by foreigners and local authorities alike. Archaeological space in Egypt is being negotiated more than ever in terms of ownership, identity and accessibility since the 2011 political change. Looting has spread at a very fast rate in many Egyptian archaeological sites. This paper will analyse the heritage and looting undercurrents in the site of Abusir el-Malek (Beni Sueif), currently on the 2016 World Monument Watch, in an attempt to analyse the problem from different angles. Abusir al-Malek is a site with an occupation span from Early Dynastic down to the Islamic Period, characterized as a burial ground and a monastic site of particular relevance in the religious landscape of historical Egypt.


Marco Palone (Freiburg): Desacralized Landscapes: nilotic views in the Ethiopic Stories by Heliodorus
In the Ethiopian Stories, three settings could be considered sacred landscape: the Nile mostly, Delfi and the sacred meadow (orgàs) where the story comes to an end, in the capital of Ethiopia, the city of Meroe.
According to the present research, the Nile in his different parts is subjected to a process of desacralization. Right at the first scene of the Novel the mouth of the river, sacred for the Egyptians, is polluted by the blood of the victimes of a slaughter and by the remainings of a banquet. In the final part of the story the flow of the Nile is artificially diverted and used to besiege the city of Siene, whose walls collapse in his waters. Moreover his name becomes object of a numeric interpretation according to the Greek numerical system and then also the information about the Egyptian Goddess of the Nile is contradictory.
The process of desacralization doesn’t spare even the sancta sanctorum of the Greek Religion: Delfi and his priest Caricles.
Only the sacred meadow of Meroe, where the story ends, seems to resist this process. But the orgàs of Meroe is a distant place, it belongs to an exotic dimention. The desacralization of the landscape is therefore strictly submitted to the new needs of the narrative prose.


Gian Franco Chiai (Berlin): Christianising the sacred landscape in Phrygia: the case of Hierapolis
Reconstructing the sacred landscape in Roman Phrygia means reconstructing an intricate puzzle of local cults, cult practices and religious traditions. Rural areas were characterised by the presence of countless small sanctuaries in which deities were worshiped that were regarded as the omnipotent rulers of the territory and its inhabitants. The Phrygian poleis constructed for themselves (and frequently also in competition with each other) a noble Greek origin by creating new mythical traditions or manipulating existing ones. The elaboration of these mythical traditions was often connected with the formation of a new sacred landscape in which, for example, Greek place names replaced the old Anatolians ones, and temples and altars endorsed the holiness of the sacred spaces. The Christianisation of Roman Phrygia led to a widespread and systematic Christianising of the local sacred landscapes both in the countryside and in the cities. The old temples, symbols of the so-called ‘false believe’, were often destroyed or rebuilt as churches. Furthermore, the Christian communities created also new myths and legends, aiming at replacing the old ‘pagan’ myths in order to demonstrate the superiority of the new belief, like the folk tale of Saint Philipp, who, having killed a dangerous snake in Hierapolis, was worshipped in the city and destroyed its ‘pagan’ temple. Taking into account the diverse literary, epigraphic and archaeological sources, this paper aims at reconstructing the Christianising of the sacred landscape in Hierapolis and in its countryside during the Late Antiquity.


Wu Xin (Jerusalem), Sacred Landscapes and Achaemenid Imperial Strategies in Central Asia
The Achaemenid Empire’s domination of Central Asia during the 6th to 4th centuries BCE constitutes one of the most important episodes in Central Asia’s history. Although difficult to find evidence of a strong Persian influence in the local material culture assemblages, the study of the settlement patterns in the region does, in fact, demonstrate that the Achaemenid administration left a clear signature on Central Asia’s landscape. Through the systematic institutionalization of the local landscape, the Achaemenid imperial control in Central Asia fundamentally transformed the socio-economic life of the local inhabitants. Constructing a sacred landscape formed an intrinsic aspect of this process.

Recent archaeological work in Central Asia, in particular, in Bactria and Sogdia, have uncovered at a number of sites (such as Kyzyltepa, Chashma Shafa, Bandikhan, and Koktepe) various types of ritual installations, such as fire platforms, fire altars, and temples. These discoveries shed new light on the early development of Zoroastrianism in Central Asia. Study of the distribution of the cultic structures in ancient Bactria suggests that, by imperial design, ritual and religious precincts formed an integral part of the Achaemenid institutional landscape. As part of their ruling strategy, the Achaemenids used religion as a tool to engage and organize the local populace and to create social coherence among local communities. Rather than controlling the local temples and cultic practices directly, the Persian King or his administrative representative assumed the role of benevolent patron to the local religious institutions, thus, ensuring the imperial control over the region.


Cordovana Orietta (Aarhus), Sacred landscapes of politics: Ghirza, Gurzil, and the Romans

The Late Antique settlement of Ghirza in the hinterland of Tripolitania (Libya) was the religious centre for the cult of the Berber god Gurzil. This paper will analyze the peculiar dynamics, which characterized this area of cross-cultural exchange between native tribes and the Romano-Byzantine central government. Religious and political elements were at the core of the cultural identity of the wealthy local elites who shaped the specific landscape of the internal frontier areas in that North African region. Some religious symbols of power may be very instructive to understand the political mechanisms in territorial control of both central government and local elites.


Christine Morris (Trinity College Dublin) and Alan Peatfield  (University College Dublin), Minoan Peak Sanctuaries between heaven and earth

This paper explores Minoan peak sanctuaries from the perspectives of both land- and sky-scapes, locating them between ‘heaven and earth’. Found throughout the island, these Cretan mountain shrines were in use during the Middle and Late Bronze Age (from around 1900 BC). Sacred landscapes were created through human experiences and entanglements that transformed space into place: the repeated journeys to the mountain; the evidence for the spatial organisation of activities and performances on the mountain site; and the permanent deposition of offerings, notably large quantities of clay figurines, within the rocky topography of the site. Each peak sanctuary is also enmeshed in a wider landscape: in this context, the paper discusses intervisibility and lines of sight between peak sanctuaries, and between peak sanctuaries and settlement sites. Finally, we take a broader perspective, embracing both land and sky-scapes, in order to explore some of the possible ways in which peak sanctuaries participate, both physically and symbolically, in the creation of an extended cosmology of landscape in dialogue with celestial phenomena.


Neil Erskine (Glasgow), Movement and the religiosity of routines in the Iron Age Negev: A Deleuzo-Guattarian approach to the archaeology of religion

Ancient Near Eastern religions are primarily interpreted from an elite perspective. Although some recent scholarship has attempted to foreground other groups, such as through studies of household religion, the textual focus of scholarship has left understandings of non-elite religious practice underdeveloped. Additionally, a lack of holistic archaeological approaches to religion has resulted in interpretations tending to focus on the practices of specific groups in isolation of each another. Consequently, a theoretical framework with which to analyse the breadth of society’s religious activity is in need of development. A possible solution lies in the construction of a methodology that seeks to access religiosity through data that does not privilege or obscure any particular group, such as that presented by the archaeology of landscape, movement and routine activities.
The work of Deleuze and Guattari, which is rarely employed in archaeological contexts, provides a useful basis for such an approach. Their concepts of the fold, which describes the internalisation of interactions between persons and with the world, and rhizome, which represents the complex network of experiences that comprises human thought and understanding, allow an experience-based analysis of the human interactions with each other and their surroundings that imbue the landscape with religiosity and sustain that religiosity through time.
Using sacred spaces in the Iron Age Negev as a case study, this paper applies these Deleuzo-Guattarian concepts to structural and artefactual data to illustrate the reflexive processes through which religiosity is created and sustained in a sacred landscape. In doing so, a reconstruction of religious praxis that does not exclude any particular sector of society is presented.