Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The material semantics of the ‘palace of Mithridates’ in Samosata

Innovating objects in a Eurasian center of the Late Hellenistic period.

2016 - 2020

This research intends to unlock and analyse the excavation data pertaining to the rescue excavations of the Late Hellenistic ‘palace of Mithridates’ of Samosata, located in modern southern Turkey. Although this site is of upmost importance for the study of cultural innovation in the Hellenistic Near East, the finds and architectural configuration of this ‘palace’ have remained largely unpublished and thus severely understudied.

'Palace of Mithridates'

The so-called ‘palace of Mithridates’ is a large aristocratic or perhaps even royal structure that was adorned elaborately with detailed mosaics and high quality wall paintings in the second Pompeian style. It is a context in which many different styles, forms and traditions were brought together, creating a cultural ‘bricolage’, of which the dynamics and specific cultural and social impacts can be studied through an object-centred approach.

Cultural innovation

As it has been claimed that cultural innovation was extremely important in the many dynastic monuments of the Late-Hellenistic kingdom of Commagene and in the wider Hellenistic World (Versluys 2016) - for instance in terms of community building and self-representation - it is deemed necessary to analyse the material culture of the ‘palace of Mithridates’ within this wider Late-Hellenistic Eurasian context. 

Using a theoretical framework which attempts to combine recent scholarly work connected to the so-called ‘material turn’ (Gell 1998; Miller 2005) – giving full attention to the ways objects influence social practice and human thought - with more established ideas about visual semantics (Hölscher 1987; 2014), this study hopes to provide not only an important contribution to ideas about cultural innovation in the Hellenistic Near East and beyond, but also to add to debates about object agency, semiotics and, more particularly, the innovating impact of ‘travelling objects’.  

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