CCANESA Research

CCANESA is home to a number of exciting projects that span Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology. Current projects underway at CCANESA include:

ARC Projects 2017

Theatre and Autocracy in Ancient Greece

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The Great Theatre of Syracuse and late-Archaic temple on the terrace above

Funded by the Australian Research Council (Discovery Project 2017-2019) with contributions from the Swiss Science Foundation and University of Paris 8, this project furthers CCANESA’s programme of collaborative research in the history of the Greek theatre. Its chief investigators are Professor Peter Wilson; Professor Eric Csapo; Emeritus Professor J Green; Professor Brigitte Le Guen; Dr Elodie Paillard; Dr Jelle Stoop.

Plato claimed that poets of tragic drama ‘drag states into tyranny and democracy’. The word order is deliberate: he
goes on to say that tragic poets are honoured ‘especially by the tyrants, and secondly by the democracies’
(Republic 568c). For more than forty years scholars have explored the political, ideological, structural and
economic links between democracy and theatre in ancient Greece. By contrast, the links between autocracy and
theatre are virtually ignored. Theatre and Autocracy will be the first systematic study ever undertaken of the
patterns of use made of the theatre by tyrants, regents, kings and emperors. It represents a crucial step in the
transition of research on the ancient theatre from a focus on a canon of texts and their fifth-century, democratic
Athenian context to the study of theatre as a vital political and social institution, possibly the vital political and
social institution, for more than half a millennium of Greco-Roman history. It will open up this period to the forms
of integrated social, political and economic analysis that have proven so fruitful for understanding the theatre of the
Classical Athenian democracy and in so doing, transform our understanding of this key institution. This dual shift
in chronological and political perspectives will allow us to test the hypothesis that the Greek theatre was a far more
malleable and complex institution than has hitherto been suspected. And we anticipate that it will vindicate Plato’s
perception that, however important tragic drama and theatre were to ancient democracies, they were the ideal
medium for gaining and sustaining absolute power. Theatre has been characterised as ancient democracy’s
supreme cultural artefact. Theatre and Autocracy will explore how, from its earliest days, autocrats aspired to turn
a medium of mass communication into an instrument of mass control, but also how, paradoxically, the masses in
the theatre reclaimed the communicative function to effectively turn theatre into a space where power was not
simply asserted, but negotiated.

The project will hold a major international Colloquium in 2018 with associated public lectures.

There may be opportunities for short-term intensive research collaborations for doctoral students or early career researchers working in this field. Please contact , Classics Research Administrator (CCANESA), to express interest.

Shifting the Foundations of Zoroastrian History: a fresh focus on Khorezm

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Wall painting of an ibex, Akchakhan-kala, Uzbekistan, c. 50 BCE



This project, by CCANESA director Professor Alison Betts, aims to explore the importance for Zoroastrianism of images of Avestan gods in Uzbekistan.

This project aims to explore the importance for Zoroastrianism of images of Avestan
gods in Uzbekistan. Zoroastrianism is an ancient religion, but little is known of its
early development. Recent finds of massive six-metre-high murals of Avestan gods
decorating the royal ceremonial centre of Akchakhan-kala in Khorezm provide
evidence of early formal Zoroastrian practices, in a region not considered a centre of
early religious development. The project will study this data and its implications for
later religious beliefs, drawing particularly on evidence for burial practices in the early
Islamic period and indigenous tribal practices. The project aims to enhance
understanding of one of the world’s significant religions.

In 2017, this project received an Australian Research Council (ARC) award to help advance research into early Zoroastrianism.



Australian Paliochora-Kythera Archaeological Survey (APKAS)

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Archaeological Field Survey in 2000



This project, a collaboration between Ohio State University and the AAIA, seeks to understand the settlement history of northern Kythera from remote antiquity to the present. Specifically, APKAS seeks to answer these questions: why was the area of Paliochora not settled until ca.1000 AD, why was it abandoned following the sack of 1537 and why did it remain abandoned thereafter?

At a broader level, the project will help to illuminate the history not only of Paliochora but also of the many similarly-located sites throughout the Aegean and elsewhere in the world. The project will make a significant contribution through exploring theoretical models for settlements in moderately adverse environments in middle range cultural settings, and provide an explanatory model for the utilisation of marginal niches for discrete periods of time. This will contribute to discussion of the role such settlements have in their broader cultural setting.

CCANESA affiliates associated with APKAS include Dr Stavros Paspalas, Dr Bernadette McCall, Lita Diacopoulos, and Annette Dukes.

Visit the website for more information.

Biondo Research Network

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Flavio Biondo




This project dedicated to the study of Flavio Biondo is helmed by our very own Frances Muecke.

Flavio Biondo (1392 - 1463) was a humanist historian and is credited as one of the first archaeologists. It is Flavio to whom we owe the chronological division of Ancient, Medieval and Modern for history. In his role as secretary to the Apostilic Chancery, Flavio worked under four different popes: Eugene IV, Nicholas V, Callixtus III and Pius II. In his two greatest works, the Italia illustrata and Historiarum ab inclinatione Romanorum imperii decades, Flavio catalogued the history and geography of the Italian provinces, tracing the chronology between ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy.

The Biondo Research Network aims to provide a comprehensive guide to Biondo and his close associates, offering information on new publications, planned events and conferences.

More information can be found at Repertorium Blondianum.

Paphos Research Project

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2010 field season at Paphos

Since 1995, the University of Sydney has been excavating the ancient Hellenistic-Roman theatre of Nea Paphos. The theatre, a World Heritage listed site, is directed by Emeritus Professor J.R. Green, Dr Smadar Gabrieli and Dr Craig Barker, under the auspices of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus.

The excavations have revealed a theatre used for performance and entertainment for over six and a half centuries (circa 300 BC to the late fourth century AD). At its maximum extent during the reign of the Antonine Emperors of the second century AD, the theatre could seat over 8500 spectators. Considerable Medieval and post-Medieval period finds have also been uncovered, as Paphos was a major trading port at the time of the Crusades. Fieldwork is currently concentrating on investigating the urban layout of the surrounding theatre precinct including revealing paved Roman roads and a Roman nymphaeum (water house).

As well as the physical excavation of the site, the team is working on the interpretation, cataloguing and publication of ceramic and other finds. The project is interested in: the development of theatre architecture; the materiality of the spread of theatrical performance to the eastern Mediterranean during the Hellenistic period; ceramic production in Cyprus from the Hellenistic to post-medieval periods; the urban layout of the ancient city; and the Roman use of water in an urban context.

Other CCANESA associates affiliated with this project include Dr Bernadette McCall and Meg Dains.

For a detailed look at what our researchers have achieved at Paphos, visit the website.

Pella in Jordan

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The site of Pella in Jordan

Over the past thirty-eight years, the University of Sydney has been excavating Pella in Jordan, a site under human occupation since c.8000BCE.

The tell at Pella contains over 20 metres of occupation debris spanning the past 10,000 years. Excavations by the University of Sydney have already unearthed many important discoveries, including: Neolithic housing (ca. 6000 BCE); Chalcolithic period storage complexes (ca. 4200 BCE); Early Bronze Age stone defensive platforms (ca. 3200 BCE); massive Middle Bronze Age mud-brick city walls (ca. 1800 BCE); Middle and Late Bronze Age temples and Palatial residences (ca. 1800-1200 BCE); a Late Bronze Age Egyptian Governors’ Residence with clay tablets (ca. 1350 BCE); large areas of a Hellenistic city (destroyed by war in 80 BCE); the theatre, baths and fountain-house of the Roman Imperial city (ca. 150 CE); three Byzantine churches and a Bishop’s palace (ca. 550 CE); an Umayyad Islamic city destroyed by an earthquake (ca. 750 CE); an Abbasid caravanserai (ca. 950 CE); and a Mameluke mosque and administrative compound (ca. 1350 CE); and many other finds that bring Pella’s history up to the present day.

NEAF have had an immense impact on the excavations at Pella, providing opportunities for members of the general public to work alongside University of Sydney researchers at the site of the dig.

More information can be found on the NEAF website.

Zagora Archaeological Project

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View of Zagora site from the East [Photographer Bob Miller]

The AAIA, in conjunction with the Department of Archaeology, The Powerhouse Museum and the Archaeological Society at Athens has been excavating the settlement of Zagora, on the Aegean island of Andros.

It was an Australian team, led by Sydney University Archaeology Professor and AAIA Emeritus Director Alexander Cambitoglou, that in the late 1960s and early 70s conducted (under the auspices of the Archaeological Society at Athens) the first major excavations of the site. This revealed much of the settlement layout, and many of the artefacts discovered are now in the Archaeological Museum of Andros.

40 years later, an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant allowed Australian researchers to return, and continue the exploration. The grant was awarded to the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sydney and the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens. The Powerhouse Museum, the Archaeological Society at Athens and the Institute for Mediterranean Research (Crete) are major participants in this important project.

The 2012 fieldwork took place for six weeks from mid October to late November, and in 2013 and 2014 for six weeks from late September to early November. The Zagora Archaeological Project utilises 21st century methods to add breadth and depth to our knowledge of this unique town.

CCANESA affiliates working at Zagora include Professor Margaret Miller, Associate Professor Lesley Beaumont, Dr Stavros Paspalas, Beatrice McLoughlin, Dr Wendy Reade, Alba Mazza, Madeline Bowers, Charlotte Kowalski, Meg Dains, and Annette Dukes.

Information about the project is hosted on the Powerhouse Museum website.