David Castriota

BA, New York University. MA, MPhil, PhD, Columbia University. Special interests in Greek art of the classical and Hellenistic periods, Roman art of the late republic and early empire, and the art of prehistoric Europe; author of Myth, Ethos, and Actuality: Official Art in Fifth-Century B.C. Athens, The Ara Pacis Augustae and the Imagery of Abundance in Later Greek and Early Roman Imperial Art, and a critical commentary on Alois Riegl’s Problems of Style: Foundations for a History of Ornament; editor of Artistic Strategy and the Rhetoric of Power: Political Uses of Art from Antiquity to the Present; recipient of fellowships from the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Early Christian and Byzantine Art and the Society of Fellows of Columbia University and of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Philosophical Society. SLC, 1992–

Course Information

Current undergraduate courses

Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians

Year

The study of the Greco-Roman world and its contribution to the evolution of ancient Mediterranean culture remains a primary object for classical studies. But what of the complex connections or interactions that existed between the urban cultures of the Greek and Roman world and the so-called “barbarian” peoples? What does the term “barbarian” imply as used by the Greeks and their Roman successors? Was it simply meant to denote “otherness,” or did it signify notions of social and material cultural or technological inferiority, as well? What did Greek culture in its formative stages borrow from its non-Greek neighbors? In the course of time, what technologies and modes of artistic expression did “barbarian” peoples of Asia and Europe absorb from the classical world? How does consideration of such issues help us to gain a clearer understanding of the whole substance and rhetoric of Western cultural identity? The answers to these questions are neither simple nor easy. They require a careful look at the cultural dynamic between the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans and an array of non-classical peoples—Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Celts, and various Germanic tribes—through a vast panorama of space and time. We will approach the problem from the perspective of history, especially through such primary sources as the histories of Herodotus, Polybios, and Tacitus. But we will also consider the problem from the perspective of art history or archaeology, since it was in the domain of material culture—the art of ornament and display—that tribal peoples of Europe and Asia found their most important modes of expression and most tangible form of interaction with classical peoples to the west and south.

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The Ancient Mediterranean

Year

Fall: The Early Greeks and Their Neighbors
Spring: Ancient Italy and the Hellenization of the West

Although the Romans come to mind most immediately as the people who absorbed and passed on the achievements of Greek civilization to the Western world, the transmission of Greek culture to Western posterity was a far more complex process involving various other peoples. Already during the late second millennium BC, Greek culture began to interact with that of their neighbors in the Near East and Egypt to produce a common, “international,” Eastern Mediterranean cultural zone. Later, after a period of collapse and regression in the early first millennium BC, renewed contact with the East would revitalize and revolutionize Greek culture which, in due course, came to dominate the entire Mediterranean region—even among Near Eastern peoples like the Phoenicians, who had formerly been the teachers of the Greeks. But it was especially among the peoples of Italy, above all the Etruscans and early Romans, that Greek artistic and literary culture took root. No other region was ever able to absorb Greek ideas so thoroughly and consistently while also managing to preserve a unique cultural identity. And in the end, it would be the Romans rather than the Greeks themselves who would spread and administer an advanced stage of Hellenism from western Asia to Britain. The course will explore these issues for the entire year. The fall portion, The Early Greeks and Their Neighbors, will first examine the beginnings of Greek civilization in the Late Bronze Age—its relation to Minoan Crete and Egypt, as well as connections with the Hittites, Phoenicians, and Assyrians to the east. Then we will consider the so-called Orientalizing process, in which the Greeks adapted Phoenician and Egyptian culture to produce a distinctive new civilization in the seventh and sixth centuries BC. The spring half, Ancient Italy and the Hellenization of the West, will focus on how the Greeks affected Italic peoples like the Etruscans and Romans, who emerged as the dominant political force in Italy and then across the Mediterranean and southern Europe. The course will apply a varied approach, concentrating largely on material culture, art, and architecture—but also on literary and historical data—to achieve a larger cultural perspective.

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Related Cross-Discipline Paths

Previous courses

Ancient Albion: Art and Culture in the British Isles from Stonehenge to the Viking Invasions

Year

Given their geographical setting at the northwestern extreme of Europe, the arts and cultures of “Albion,” or Britain and Ireland, have often been described by the term “insular” in the sense of isolated, discrete, or peripheral, yet nothing could be further from the truth. No less than six Roman emperors spent time in Britain, and four came to power there. To a great extent, Irish clerics were responsible for the survival of classical learning during the Dark Ages. Indeed, throughout history, cultural developments in the British Isles were intimately related to ideas and events on the European Continent and the Mediterranean. Following this basic premise, in the fall semester the course will examine civilization in Britain and Ireland from the late Stone Age or Megalithic period, through the Bronze and Early Iron Ages, to the coming of the Celts and the Roman conquest. In the spring, we will focus on later Roman Britain, Irish monasticism, and the emergence of Anglo-Saxon culture down to the arrival of the Vikings. At every turn, we will consider interactions with the urban civilizations to the south and west—the early Aegean, Greece, Rome, and the early medieval Continent—to discover that Albion was an integral part of the political, religious, and economic forces that have shaped the art and history of Europe up to the present time.

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Christianity and the Roman Empire

Year

Roman culture has traditionally been studied for its capacity to absorb and transform the ideas and beliefs of others, most notably those of the Greeks. This course seeks to examine the interaction between traditional Greco-Roman religious belief or ideology and various religious movements within Judaism from late Hellenistic and Roman times. Judaism of this period was itself complex and diverse, including breakaway groups such as the Essenes, as well as the messianic movement that eventually produced Christianity. The course will consider such developments against the background of Hellenistic Greek and Roman imperial religion and ruler glorification, eventually focusing on the transition of Christianity from its initial setting into an evermore significant component of Greco-Roman culture that diverged increasingly from its Hellenistic Jewish origins. The course will then examine the imperialization of Christianity in the fourth century under Constantine and his successors, concluding with the emergence of the Church as the heir of imperial institutions in the fifth and sixth centuries. Though focusing extensively on historical and religious texts, the course will also examine the evidence of artistic monuments.

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East vs. West: Europe, the Mediterranean, and Western Asia from Antiquity to the Modern Age

Year

Historically, competition or conflict between the European or Mediterranean West and the regions of the Middle East has been seen as a struggle between Christian and Muslim worlds, with roots in the era of the Crusades whose precedent and implications reach into the present time. While this course will focus extensively on the medieval period, it seeks to do so by situating the relations between Christian Europe and the Muslim world within a larger context as the result of geopolitical patterns that long antedated the emergence of Christianity or Islam. In the fall, the course will begin with the Greek invasion of the Near East under Alexander as a war of retribution for the Persian invasion of Greece more than a century earlier. We will consider how the political structure and culture of the multiethnic Hellenistic Greek kingdoms emerged from the wreckage of the Persian Empire and how Rome subsequently built on Hellenistic Greek experience and conflict with the Near East in establishing its empire. We will examine the emergence of Christianity as an example of a Roman or Western response to an originally Eastern religion and, conversely, the emergence of the Islamic faith and its new empire as an Eastern challenge to the Christianized Roman Empire of Late Antiquity. In the spring, we will see how this approach affords a very different view of the Crusades and the battle for the Holy Land as the outgrowth of longstanding cultural and political interactions or competitions that transcend religious faith and doctrine. The course will look at Christian and Muslim cultural relations in Spain and then close by examining the rise of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which originated as a Muslim regime in Eastern Europe and became a major power in Asia only after it had conquered the remaining symbol of the old Christian Roman Empire, Constantinople, in 1453. We will consider primary historical and literary sources, as well as major artistic monuments.

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History of Architecture: From Ziggurats and Pyramids to Cathedrals and Mosques: Ancient and Medieval Architecture in the Near East, the Mediterranean, and Europe

Fall

This course will look at a major focus of human endeavor: the built environment and the factors behind it, beginning with the earliest villages, towns, and cities until the emergence of the Renaissance in Europe. The course will look at all forms of architecture: public and private, religious and domestic. We will examine not only the buildings themselves and the technologies behind them but also the practical, religious, political, and economic forces that made architecture and cities a central facet of human existence. The course will start with the earliest cities in the Near East and Egypt, continuing into the classical culture of the Greeks and Romans, and concluding with Medieval Christian Europe and the Islamic world of western Asia and the Mediterranean. Group conferences will focus on relevant primary sources and, especially, on theoretical treatises like Vitruvius’ On Architecture. Midterm and final class essay assignments and a short thought piece on group conference will be required.

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