2013 8th to 10th July
Trade, Travel and Transmission in the Medieval Mediterranean Third Biennial Conference of the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean Churchill College, University of Cambridge (UK)

Confirmed keynote speakers: Prof. David Abulafia (University of Cambridge) and Prof. Carole Hillenbrand (University of Edinburgh)

Abstract deadline: 1st December 2012

The Society for the Medieval Mediterranean is proud to announce our forthcoming third biennial conference, with the theme of ‘Trade, Travel and Transmission’. This three-day inter-disciplinary conference will bring scholars together to explore the interaction of the various peoples, societies, faiths and cultures of the medieval Mediterranean, a region which had been commonly represented as divided by significant religious and cultural differences.

The objective of the conference is to highlight the extent to which the medieval Mediterranean was not just an area of conflict but also a highly permeable frontier across which people, goods and ideas crossed and influenced neighbouring cultures and societies.

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers in the fields of archaeology, art and architecture, codicology, ethnography, history (including the histories of science, medicine and cartography), languages, literature, music, philosophy and religion.

Submission on the following topics would be particularly welcome:

  • Activities of missionary orders
  • Artistic contacts and exchanges
  • Byzantine and Muslim navies
  • Captives and slaves
  • Cargoes, galleys and warships
  • Costume and vestments
  • Diplomacy
  • Judaism and Jewish Mediterranean History Literary contacts and exchanges
  • Material Culture Minority Populations in the Christian and Islamic Worlds
  • Mirrors for Princes
  • Music, sacred and secular
  • Port towns/city states
  • Relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims
  • Religious practices: saints, cults and heretics
  • Scientific exchange, including astronomy, medicine and mathematics
  • Seafaring, seamanship and shipbuilding
  • Sufis & Sufi Orders in North Africa and the Levant Sultans, kings and other rulers
  • Trade and Pilgrimage
  • Travel writing Warfare: mercenaries and crusaders

Please send abstracts of no longer than 250 words, together with a short CV (max. 2 sides of A4) to Dr Rebecca Bridgman (University of Cambridge, Vice-President of the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean) at the following e-mail: smmconference2013@gmail.com

Submissions must be received by 1st December 2012

2012 4th December
Pyramids, Philae and Petra: Edward Lear’s Travels in the Near East

With Briony Llewelyn, Art Historian

Tue 4 Dec, 2–3pm Venue: Headley Lecture Theatre £4/£3 Concessions. Booking Essential

Lear travelled more widely and recorded the landscape more faithfully than any other artist of the period. This lecture looks at his journeys in the Near East and how they influenced his art in different media.

For further information please contact; Oxford University

2010-ASTENE Study Days

In 2010 Study days were held at the University of Oxford’s Department of Continuing Education, Rewley House, Oxford.

The first Study Day – Near Eastern Monasteries and Western Travellers – was on Saturday, 3 July 2010, at Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford.

Travellers from Western Europe to the Near East frequently visited monasteries. Many simply found them convenient places to stay. Others hoped they would discover manuscripts of both Biblical and Classical texts. What did they actually find? How were they received? What were the monks like and what was the state of the spiritual life? How did the travellers react to forms of Christian worship and theology different from their own?

Director of Studies: Professor Malcolm J Wagstaff
Contributors: Lucy Pollard, Dr Emma Loosley, Nicholas al-Jeloo, Dr Sebastian Brock, Dr Anthony O’Mahony

The second Study Day – Byron’s journeys to Greece – was held on Saturday, 27 November 2010, at Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford.

2012-September-22: ASTENE Walking Tour of Kensal Green Cemetery

A chance to take a guided walk of the extraordinary Egyptianising funerary monuments of Kensal Green Cemetery, supplemented by select monuments of famous travellers relevant to ASTENE. Meeting at the cemetery at 2 pm we will be led by Cathie Bryan. Refreshments will follow in the Dissenters Chapel.

Please note that PRE-BOOKING IS ESSENTIAL FOR THIS TOUR so if you wish to attend this event please contact Patricia Usick at events@astene.org.uk before 28 August 2012.

2013 Tenth Biennial ASTENE Conference

ASTENE will hold its next biennial conference from Friday 12 – Monday 15 July 2013 at Aston University, Birmingham, UK.

The Conference registration and bursary application forms will be posted nearer to the time.

Posted in Uncategorized

Chairman’s Report – 2008 to 2009

Through the last year your committee has met three times (in October, January and April) and also held an ‘away day’ for more lengthy discussion last October. Business included a decision to increase the subsidy on collections of papers published by ASTENE – this applied to our latest book, Saddling the Dogs, edited by Diane Fortenberry and Deborah Manley, published by Oxbow Books, and launched at the Durham Conference.

Our previous title, Who Travels Sees More, edited by Diane Fortenberry and published in 2007, continues to sell well. Robert Morkot is working with Norman Lewis on behalf of ASTENE towards the publication of William Bankes’ manuscript on the exploration of Palestine in the early 19th century. We agreed to arrange day schools during the year and into the coming years. On 4 October 2008 we held a study day organised by committee member Janet Rady in conjunction with Leighton House Museum, Kensington, and linked to the Tate Gallery exhibition on Orientalist artists and travellers. The study day, Orientalist Artists in an Orientalist House, included papers by ASTENE members Sarah Searight on Lord Leighton and William de Morgan, Kathryn Ferry on Owen Jones, Briony Llewelyn on Frederic Lewis and myself on WilliamMuller.

We hope, following a meeting in London between me, committee member Paul Robertson and Father Justin, Librarian of St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, to follow up work on the ‘travellers’ books’ in the monastery library.
During the year, quarterly Bulletins have been published, edited by Deborah Manley; the third will be edited by Robert Morkot. Diane Fortenberry has greatly assisted with the design of the Bulletin.

In November 2008 our Events Organiser, Elisabeth Woodthorpe, worked with ASTENE member Anthony Sattin on an unforgettable Nile cruise on a rebuilt dahabeeyah. On the tour’s last night in Egypt, we held a very small ‘conference’ in Cairo and were joined for dinner by five local and two other visiting members. Although Elisabeth is retiring from the Committee after six years’ good work, she has generously agreed to help with the future overseas tour to Greece and Albania. Her post as Events Organiser has been taken over by Patricia Usick, who acted as ASTENE’s first Secretary.
A proposal to assist with a survey for repairs to ‘Yanni’s House’ at Qurna had been discussed during the year, and was followed up in a meeting between me, Robert Morkot and a representative of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Luxor. Sadly, despite an agreement in principle to this survey, the house (which members visited on the Nile tour) was subsequently demolished – a sad end to Egyptian 19th-century cultural heritage.

In April 2009, a conference on the traveller and writer Herman Melville was held in Jerusalem. ASTENE member Professor Ruth Kark represented our interest, but the programme overall was perhaps too biased towards literary criticism to interest many of our members.

Finally, since our last Annual General Meeting, Angela Reid was co-opted (and is now duly elected) as Secretary, and Myra Green agreed to be Bulletin Reviews Editor. Diane Fortenberry has stepped down after five years as Treasurer, with Karen Dorn elected to take her place. As I myself retire from the chairmanship I have every confidence the ASTENE Committee will give the new Chairman, Robert Morkot, all support and encouragement in the years ahead.

Brian Taylor

The Modern Neighbors of Tutankhamun: History, Life, and Work in the Villages of the Theban West Bank
Reviewed by Peter A. Clayton

The Modern Neighbors of Tutankhamun: History, Life, and Work in the Villages of the Theban West Bank, by Kees van der Spek.
American University in Cairo Press, 2011. xxxi + 500pp, 75 b&w illustrations, 12 tables. Hb, ISBN 978-9774164033. $34.95.

Luxor, the site of ancient Thebes, is reckoned to be the largest open-air archaeological site in the world, and has been the focus of intense Egyptological and archaeologica activity and research for over two centuries. There are temples on the East Bank, but the greater focus has always been on the West Bank, the so-called ‘Cities of the Dead’, where the tombs of the nobles, the Valley of the Kings and the mortuary (memorial) temples of the pharaohs of the Middle and New Kingdoms are to be found. Living there among the tombs, literally beneath this ‘shadow of death’, in the village of Qurna, are the Qurnawis. They have been an integral part of the Egyptological work as labourers on archaeological excavations, but also noted with opprobrium as tomb robbers and dealers in illicit antiquities. This largely stems from the discovery by the Abd al-Rasul’ family of the royal cache of mummies around 1871, which was finally declared in 1881.

Van der Spek’s book is a brilliant anthropological fieldwork study, a triumph in recording the life of a vibrant community as it faces destruction. The background history of the Qurnawis is documented from their appearance in early European travellers’ accounts, to their modern, personal life in seasonal work on digs, augmented by official posts as guardians of the nobles’ tombs; and their active daytime activities selling souvenirs, creating fake antiquities and modern ‘antiques’, many of remarkable quality echoin ancient craftsmen. Chapters 8 and 9 (pp. 219–87) are particularly valuable in their detail of the village life and structure. The author is a master of the literature Unfortunately, one major reference often cited and quoted (Lange, 1952) is absent from the bibliography. The very full notes often provide an almost parallel text with detail that many familiar with the area, including archaeological teams, will find especially valuable.

The general visitor and most archaeologists have no idea of the depth of the Qurnawi cultural background—they only see the community as a colourful addition to their focus on its antiquity. Before the official eviction from the village and it destruction, people such as Caroline Simpson made valiant efforts to bring the story and history of the Qurnawis to themselves and to the wider circle of tourist visitors. However, despite initial official support, that was reneged on by the bureaucracy and all swept away including historic houses incorporating tombs used by Sir Gardner Wilkinson and ‘Yanni’ (Giovanni d’Athannasi), both major figures in the early days of study and collecting antiquities.

Professor Kent Weeks, in his Foreword, sadly notes that a world known to many over decades has been swept away by bureaucracy to create ‘theme park tourism’. Officially the answer to Egypt’s economic problems (tourism accounts for over 50 per cent of Egypt’s foreign income), ‘many believe that this is resulting in the Disneyfication of Luxor the suppression or physical removal of its indigenous people and their culture, and the creation of an artificial Ancient Egypt Land whose appearance owes more to Hollywood than to historical veracity’.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism hopes to see 16,000 visitors a day on the West Bank by 2015, but only a small amount of the income from tourism is used to train antiquities staff or protect the monuments. We must be grateful to the author for documenting in a classic account the history of these people as the light is extinguished on the unique cultural heritage of the Theban West Bank.

Peter A. Clayton

Belzoni: The Giant that Archaeologists Love to Hate.
Reviewed by Peter A. Clayton

Belzoni: The Giant that Archaeologists Love to Hate, by Ivor Noël Hume.
University of Virginia Press, 2011. xi + 301pp, 39 colour plates, 47 b&w illustrations, 1 map. Hb, ISBN 978-0813931401. $34.95.

It is over half a century since the last good book on Giovanni Belzoni was published (Mayes, 1959). Here, written by a noted archaeologist and former Director of the Colonia Williamsburg archaeological research programme, is a splendid and up-to-date story of the, literally, giant (2m tall) and pioneer Egyptologist. Many writers of recent years have had a tendency to denigrate Belzoni and his work, but Howard Carter wrote that his work in the Valley of the Kings was the first large scale excavations in the Valley, an ‘we must give Belzoni full credit for the manner in which they were carried out … on the whole the work was extraordinarily good’. Belzoni’s detractors fail to recognise th ethos of the period in which he worked, and they should be mindful of Matthew 7:1. Hume’s new biography puts Belzoni firmly in his place as a pioneer who really thought about his discoveries—he was no rabid collector like his rival Drovetti, without any thought for interpretation or context.

William Brockeden, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, National

William Brockeden, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, National Portrait Gallery, London.

From humble beginnings in Padua via the fair grounds of Europe, fate cast him into Egypt where, against all initial adversities, he found a calling and followed it. Some of the finest sculptures in the British Museum, notably the colossal 7½ ton head of Ramesses II and much else, the sarcophagus of Seti I in Sir John Soane’s Museum, the lid of the sarcophagus of Ramesses III in Cambridge, are all due to his endeavours. Added to that, he retrieved the Philae obelisk for William John Bankes (now at Kingston Lacey), o which the inscription was to be vital in Champollion’s decipherment of hieroglyphs in 1822. He was the first European to enter the Second Pyramid, of Chephren, at Giza, an the first to find the entrance to the Great Temple at Abu Simbel and, five years before Champollion deciphered hieroglyphs, realise that the ‘hero’ depicted on the walls there was the same he saw in Thebes, i.e. Ramesses II.Noël Hume brings Belzoni to life in his own words, and the world in which he carried out his explorations, and adds much new insight into that life as well as his own pertinent observations. He particularly puts more flesh onto the person of Belzoni’s long-suffering but devoted wife, Sarah. It is ‘S..’s Law’ that on excavations the best finds turn up on the last day, and Noël Hume has been similarly bedevilled. Belzoni died at Gato in Benin in 1823, and Sarah in Jersey in January 1870. Mayes (1959) did not know where she was buried, and both Noël Hume and the reviewer (unbeknownst to each other) have for years been trying to locate her grave via Jersey local newspapers, radio an personal contact, to no avail. As, literally, the book was finished and published, word came that her grave and inscribed tombstone had been found. Now the chase is on for details of how and who provided for her burial. Egyptological research, even after a couple of centuries, always has surprises and goals to pursue.

Peter A. Clayton


Postscript. Several people have searched for the grave of Sarah Belzoni in Jersey, but recently, by a happy case of serendipity, Anna Baghiani (Education Officer, Société Jersiaise, St Helier, Jersey) stumbled on Sarah’s name in the Records of the Channel Islands Family History Society, in the Jersey Archive. It was an erroneous entry by a unknown subscriber, but it provided a date and place of burial. With the help of Vic Geary, the cemetery supervisor, who held a detailed plan of the cemetery from the time, she and Dr John J. Taylor (Tutor in Egyptology) were able to find the grave. Taylor had walked past it many times on sunny afternoons when it was in deep shadow, but on a bright morning the inscription was partly visible, and there was no doubt that it read: ‘Sarah, widow of Giovanni Baptista Belzoni’. The original footstone reads: ‘S. B, 1870’. Permission is now being sought to clean the stone and restore the lettering. A photo of the grave in sunlight is reproduced in Ancient Egypt, vol. 12, no. 3, issue 69, Decembe 2011/January 2012, p. 16. An article on Sarah Belzoni also appeared in the February issue of the Armenian Egyptology Centre magazine, including details of her grave.

Cairo: My City, Our Revolution, by Ahdaf Soueif.
Reviewed by Anthony Sattin

Cairo: My City, Our Revolution, by Ahdaf Soueif. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012. 203pp, ISBN 978-1408826072. £14.99.

Ahdaf Soueif is a writer of many parts, and never more so than now. She is based in London and has not been a resident of Cairo for many years, but that didn’t stop her rushing back to Cairo in January 2011 when the rumblings against Hosni Mubarak’s regime suddenly turned from localised protest to a regimechanging nationwide movement. For the followingweeks she was part of the protests in Tahrir Square, she wrote about them in The Guardian and the Egyptian press, she gave television interviews and she collected material for a book about Cairo and the changes that were in the process of transforming it.

Soueif ’s Cairo book was already long overdue even before the Tunisian street trader Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight and lit the fuse on protests that brought down the government of President Ben Ali. Bloomsbury, Soueif ’s publishers, had commissioned a book about her Cairo some 15 years ago, as part of its ‘The Writer and the City’ series. For some reason— life, work, her commitment to the Palestinian cause, a sense of having more important things to write about—that Cairo book has never appeared—until now. Cairo, it turns out, is a book of two halves.

The larger and more successful part of the book is an account of Soueif ’s involvement in the protests that began in Cairo on 25 January 2011 and led to the downfall of President Mubarak on 11 February. Like most people, she was well aware that discontent was thick on the ground in Egypt, and nowhere more so than Cairo. But decades of successful repression on the part of the regime, and a failure of imagination, organisation and drive on the part of the opposition, had lured even the most optimistic observer into thinking that protest would remain small-scale and ineffective. But once started, things moved quickly. On 27 January, when she flew into Cairo, it was already clear wha was happening. She called her sister from the airport: ‘Where’s the revolution?’

Ahdaf Soueif in Tahrir Square, Cairo (photo by Hossam el-

Ahdaf Soueif in Tahrir Square, Cairo (photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy)

The answer, as we know, was that it was happening all over, but that its epicentre was Tahrir Square. Soueif bears witness, recording events in the square and her role in them, both as an activist and an observer. The account of the 15 days that follow is vivid and emotional: the heroism of the protestors might move you to tears just as the stupidity, duplicity and savagery of the authorities is likely to incite you to anger.Soueif is especially good at capturing the spirit of the square, the joys of handing out bread to complete strangers with whom one shared nothing but a common goal, the wa in which so much organisation fell into place—the field clinics (the word hospital would flatter the paucity of facilities with which volunteer doctors and nurses had to manage), the impromptu cinema showing crimes of the regime, the support given to the weak by the strong, to Christians by Muslims and visa versa. These passages capture the coming together of a people for the glorious and honourable purpose of restoring national dignity and reclaiming human rights.

The second narrative thread in this book, the ‘other half ’, records Soueif ’s reconnection with the place of her birth, her coming home. This is the nod towards the book commissioned long ago. Because of her absence, the personal reminiscences that punctuate the book are from another time—memories of other homes the family have lived in, of her parents’ political activism, of her aunt who lived within sight of the screen of the open-air cinema, of time on their land out on the desert’s edge or up on the Mediterranean coast. Some of these memories are evocative, some filled with longing. But there are not enough of these moments to create a significant personal landscape, or a memoir of the city. Instead, they look more like padding for what is a short narrative.

Happily, that doesn’t detract from the importance of this attempt to capture those heady moments leading up to the downfall of Mubarak. Since then, of course, February’s optimism has faded. Soueif has tried to plan for this by including events from July and October (at which point, presumably, she needed to get her pages to press). Part of th fascination of reading these reports from January to October of last year, and in reading the many other accounts of this period, now being published, including Ashraf Khalil’ very convincing Liberation Square, is to see how far and how fast things have changed, again. There is nothing in Soueif ’s book that envisages the current state of affairs. Tha the Muslim Brotherhood could win a majority in any election was always a possibility, but there is no suggestion here that the Islamist Salafi party would win 25% of the poll.

Then there is the naiveté of the assumption, once Mubarak had gone, that ‘all the ills which plagued our society in the last decades have vanished overnight.’ Far from it, as we now know. A year on from the start of the protests and Cairo looks a very different city, with many Egyptians talking with nostalgia of the stability of the Mubarak years. (I have even heard calls for a restoration of the monarchy.) Perhaps most striking of all is the innocence of the thought that ‘the army will guarantee peace and safety.’ Violent conflicts in the square and elsewhere nearby, the death of so many Copts, the burning of the precious library of the Institut d’Égypte… this and so much more has proved just how wrong one can be. For now, it makes a frustrating read. In years to come, however, people will ignore the predictions and probably much of the reminiscence, and read this book for the way in which it conveys the spirit of Tahrir during that heady time leading up to the downfall of a president.

Anthony Sattin