Antioch through the Ages

Antioch-on-the-Orontes (modern Antakya, Turkey) was one of the great cities of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds and remained an important center through the Byzantine, Seljuk, Crusader, and Ottoman periods. From 1932 to 1939, an archaeological expedition to Antioch by a consortium of institutions, including Princeton University, produced a remarkable wealth of excavated finds that opened novel vistas onto a city that played a fundamental role in the shaping of politics and cultures in the Greek and Roman East for more than a millennium.

Follis of the Emperor Licinius, minted in Heraclea a.d. 316–17, excavated at Antioch on July 17, 1937, beneath the “Green Carpet” mosaic now at Dumbarton OaksPrinceton University was given possession of a portion of the finds from the excavations, including the many Roman mosaic pavements now displayed in the Art Museum, McCormick Hall, Firestone Library, and the School of Architecture (see Princeton also received a large number of fragmentary marble sculptures and a variety of smaller works, including lamps, ceramic and glass vessels, seals, jewelry, terracotta figurines, and decorative and functional implements of bronze, iron, bone, and ivory, ranging in date from the Hellenistic and Roman periods to the Byzantine and Islamic eras. These finds are now in the collection of the Princeton University Art Museum. In addition, some forty thousand coins from the excavations are housed in the Numismatic Collection in Firestone Library. The records of the excavations are in the care of the Department of Art and Archaeology. 

Roman, Antioch-on-the-Orontes, The House of Menander: Apollo and Daphne, late 3rd century a.d. Mosaic pavement, h. 190 cm, w. 592 cm. Gift of the Committee for the Excavation of Antioch to Princeton University. Photo: Bruce M. White Princeton faculty and students, as well as other archaeologists who excavate in the Antioch region, have long desired greater access to these artifacts. The University is steward of the material and has always made it available by appointment, but access has never been easy. One reason is the sheer quantity of material, much of it housed in more than three hundred storage boxes and trays. Many items are not formally accessioned into the Museum’s collections, and until recently even digital access has been largely restricted to a relatively small number of objects, mostly mosaics and stone sculptures, inscriptions, and architectural fragments.

Roman, Antioch-on-the-Orontes. Head of a satyr with the hand of hermaphrodite, Roman copy of a Hellenistic type, 2nd century a.d. Medium-grained white marble, highly crystalline, h. 23.6 cm, w. 18.4 cm, d. 18.3 cm. Gift of the Committee for the Excavation of Antioch to Princeton University. Photo: Bruce M. White In recent years, a team of scholars from other institutions has come to Princeton periodically to study materials from a specific sector of the excavations, in collaboration with scholars from Princeton’s academic departments, museum, and library. It is critical that their findings, along with historical photographs, field books, find cards, and maps, become accessible to scholars and students for further study and collaboration. To this end, the Art Museum, the Library, and the Department of Art and Archaeology are collaborating with the Stanley J. Seeger ’52 Center for Hellenic Studies to implement a David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project grant, which was received by Dimitri Gondicas, director of the Seeger Center and lecturer in Classics and Hellenic studies. In spring 2015 the grant is funding the course “Antioch through the Ages,” taught by Alan Stahl, curator of numismatics and lecturer in the Departments of Art and Archaeology, Classics, and History, with the participation of faculty from several departments, including Michael Padgett, the Art Museum’s curator of ancient art. The course will allow students to experience hands-on access to unique materials and art objects, a connection regularly afforded the students of instructors who make use of the Museum’s collections for teaching.

The grant is also funding an interdisciplinary digital humanities initiative that involves the Art Museum, the Library, the Department of Art and Archaeology, and Princeton students in the cataloging, digitization, and online publishing of Antioch records, research, and artifacts. This unprecedented integration of crossdepartmental collections will serve as a prototype for the future use of these collections. The project will provide online access to Princeton’s unique archaeological treasures for students in the course to develop and build an Antioch research website that will demonstrate how access to these resources can be useful for future study. 

Selection of small finds from the Antioch holdings in the Art MuseumAlong with those mentioned above, team members include Princeton students Kathleen Feng ’18, Annie Hadley ’17, Margot Yale ’17, and Hoi Ki Yuen ’15; the Department of Art and Archaeology’s Trudy Jacoby, director of the Visual Resources Collection, and Michele Mazeris, curator, Image and Historic Collections in Visual Resources; the Museum’s Janet Strohl-Morgan, associate director for information and technology, and Cathryn Goodwin, manager of collections information; and the Library’s Nikitas Tampikas, special projects developer. 

The project will demonstrate the feasibility of an online Center for Antioch Materials that will allow collaboration between international scholars, faculty, and students and provide insight into the world of Antioch for a global public.