David Castriota

Mary Griggs Burke Chair in Art & Art History

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–

Undergraduate Courses 2018-2019

Art History

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

Open , Lecture—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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First-Year Studies: Gods, Heroes, and Kings: Art and Myth in the Ancient World

Open , FYS—Year

In modern terms, myth has come to be commonly understood as the antithesis of history. Whereas history is taken as a reasoned, factual account of the past and how things came to be, myth appears to operate in the realm of fiction or fantasy. Myths may have the claim of venerable tradition, but they are no longer accepted as an accurate record of events. The ancient world, however, made no such black-and-white distinctions. In antiquity, myth was accepted as early history. Its heroes were real, and their actions were thought to exemplify essential paradigms of political order and morality. Consequently, this course will apply a different approach in which myth is distinguished from history not by a truth test but, rather, by virtue of its function as a means of cultural self-representation. We shall examine the myths of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome—both in their literary form and in various media of visual art. Throughout, our goal will be to understand the potency of these narratives as vehicles of social or cultural values and as tools of power legitimizing and justifying closely entwined notions of religious and political authority. The course will close by considering how, in Late Antiquity, Christian narratives and ideologies in the literary and visual arts developed from the mythic traditions that preceded them.

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Previous Courses

The Greeks and their Neighbors: The Hellenization of the Mediterranean From the Homeric Age to Augustus

Open , Seminar—Fall

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 early first millennium BC, Greek culture began to affect the neighboring peoples to the east, such as the Phrygians, Lydians, and Lycians, as well as the Greeks’ western neighbors in Italy: the Etruscans and Romans. In time, the Phoenicians and their western colony of Carthage and the western regions of the great Persian Empire would increasingly come to adopt many aspects of Greek material culture, art, and religion—even before the Asiatic conquests of Alexander the Great and his successors. It was this long and varied process that the Romans gradually inherited and fused into a pan-Mediterranean Greco-Roman Pax Romana, beginning with Augustus. The course will examine this process from the perspective of artistic monuments and literary or historical sources, as well.

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The Age of Arthur: Post-Roman Britain in History and Legend

Open , Seminar—Fall

The fate of the western Roman provinces during and after the collapse of the imperial center in the fifth century remains a major concern for historians of Late Antiquity, yet no single former Roman province has proven to be as obscure and resistant to serious historical study as Britain. Through much of the 20th century, a substantial body of historical research was devoted toward developing the figure of Arthur, a Post-Roman ruler or warlord who strove to preserve something of Roman imperial order and culture while stemming Germanic or Anglo-Saxon settlement. More recently, however, the tide of scholarship has turned against a historical Arthur. The fact remains that Arthur is unattested in any historical sources of the late antique or early medieval periods. Nor is there much evidence that Anglo-Saxon settlement was effectively shaped or contained by native Romano-British resistance. Consequently, the course will examine the origins of Arthur as a figure of legend rather than history, and we will examine the factors that led to Arthur being accorded historical status—first in the early medieval period and then in modern scholarship. At the same time, we will attempt to establish the basis for a genuine dynastic and political history of Britain from the fifth to the seventh centuries.

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Art and Myth in Ancient Greece

Open , Seminar—Year

The spring semester (Intermediate) is open to students continuing from the fall semester or by permission of the instructor.

Over the course of the year, we will examine the use of mythic imagery in the visual arts of the Greeks and peoples of ancient Italy from the eighth century BCE to the beginning of the Roman Empire. Although concentrating on vase painting, wall painting, and sculpture, we will consider all media—both public and private. We will focus largely on problems of content or interpretation, with special attention to the role of patronage in the choice and mode of presentation of the mythic themes. In order to appreciate the underlying cultural or religious significance of the myths and their visual expression, we will also examine the relation of the artworks to contemporary literature and the impact of significant historical events or trends. Fall semester: Homeric and Archaic Greece. We will examine the earlier Greek development from the Geometric to the Classical periods, focusing on the paradigmatic function of mythic narratives—especially the central conception of the hero and the role of women in Greek religion and society. Discussion will also concentrate on key historical or political developments, such as the emergence of tyranny and democracy. Spring semester: From Classical Greece to Augustan Rome. We will begin with the use of myth during the Classical period, focusing on the impact of the prolonged conflict with the Persian Empire and the great monuments of Periclean Athens. We will then consider Greek myth in the later Classical and Hellenistic periods and the absorption of Greek myth in the art of the Etruscans and early Romans. The course will conclude with the adaptation of Greek myth within the emerging Roman Empire.

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The Birth of Medieval Europe

Open , Seminar—Year

The spring semester (Intermediate) is open to students continuing from the fall semester or by permission of the instructor.

Over the course of the year, we will examine one of the most challenging problems of Western and European history: the transformation of the Roman Empire and the ancient world into the world of medieval Christian Europe. Toward this end, we will examine major artistic monuments against the background of a broad range of evidence, including literature and religion as well as military and political history. Within this perspective, the fall of the Roman Empire will emerge not as an event but as a process, one that unfolded slowly over several centuries to evolve continuously into the complex mosaic of early medieval Europe. Fall semester: The Fall of the Roman Empire. We will examine how Rome went from a period of unquestioned power and prosperity in the late second century AD to an era of economic, political, and military instability that resulted in a steady decline, punctuated by periodic revivals that ultimately failed. The course will focus on the root causes of this decline in Roman military and economic policy under relentless pressure from barbarian Europe and the neighboring Persian Empire. We will also consider the emergence of Christianity, not so much as a cause or symptom of decline but as the cultural process through which the Romans reinvented themselves one last time. Spring semester: From Barbarian Kingdoms to the Holy Roman Empire. We will begin with the various Germanic “successor states” that filled the vacuum left by Rome’s collapse. We will examine the culture of the various Germanic peoples who settled within the former Roman territories and how it gradually yielded to a surviving Roman culture or civilization. A key factor here will be the early medieval church hierarchy that rapidly came to assume the organizing cultural and administrative role formerly maintained by the Roman Empire in Western Europe. We will then consider how the Merovingian Frankish successor state eventually merged with the papacy to revive the old Christian imperial ideal as a new “Holy Roman Empire” under the Carolingian and Ottonian dynasties. Here, we will examine the theme of revival not only as a political and economic phenomenon but also in terms of the great rebirth of architecture and the arts under Charlemagne and his political heirs.

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The Ancient Mediterranean

Open , Seminar—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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Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians

Open , Seminar—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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