Pomp, Circumstance, and the Performance of Politics: Acting 'Politically Correct' in the Ancient World

March 7–8, 2019OIS 2019 Symposium Poster Web_tn250.jpg

The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Organized by Kathryn R. Morgan,
Postdoctoral Fellow


When we imagine ancient political life, we think of powerful rulers and awe-inspiring monuments, not grassroots movements. But if the cacophony of our modern political discourse can teach us anything, it's that negotiating power and legitimacy is an ongoing conversation, not a monologue. This conference investigates moments and spaces in the premodern world where audiences had the opportunity to weigh in on the messages their leaders were sending. How did ordinary people experience and contribute to their political realities, and what strategies did rulers use to gain support?

Bringing together scholars working in a wide variety of disciplines and time periods, from prehispanic Mesoamerica and early historic India to the Assyrian Empire and papal Rome, this conference takes a bottom-up approach to evaluating the risks and rewards of acting 'politically correct'—or incorrect!—in the ancient world.

This event is free and open to the public.

Participants (Respondents**)

  • Emily S. K. Anderson (Classics, Johns Hopkins University)
  • Margaret M. Andrews (History, University of Chicago)
  • Jean Evans** (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
  • Gary Feinman (MacArthur Curator of Anthropology, The Field Museum, Chicago)
  • Marcella Frangipane (Ancient Studies, University of Rome 'La Sapienza')
  • Amir Gilan (Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University)
  • Katja Goebs (Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto)
  • Catherine Kearns (Classics, University of Chicago)
  • Augusta McMahon (Archaeology, University of Cambridge)
  • Kathryn R. Morgan (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
  • Linda Nicholas (Adjunct Curator of Anthropology, The Field Museum, Chicago)
  • James Osborne (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago)
  • Anne Porter (Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto)
  • Seth Richardson** (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
  • Lauren Ristvet (Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania)
  • Monica Smith (Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles)
  • Gil Stein** (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago)

Click to view and/or download speaker bios as a PDF.


Click to view and/or download abstracts and detailed schedule as PDFs.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Welcome by Christopher Woods, Director of The Oriental Institute
Introduction by Kathryn R. Morgan, Conference Organizer

9:30 Gary Feinman and Linda Nicholas, "Rethinking Politics in the Deep Past"

SESSION 1: Making Space | 10:00 AM–1:00 PM
Session Chair: Jean Evans

10:00 Anne Porter, "Schism: Audience Adherence to Contested Power at Tell Banat, Syria"
10:30 Augusta McMahon, "Spacious or Empty? Making Courtyards in Mesopotamia"

  • Coffee Break (11:00–11:30 AM) 

11:30 Monica Smith, "Sign/Signal: Ethnic Enclaves and the Creation of Familiarity for Urban Migrants Past and Present"
12:00 Emily S. K. Anderson, "The Reinvented Social Somatics of Ritual Performance on Early Crete: Engagements of Humans with Zoomorphic Vessels"

Response & Discussion, Jean Evans 

1:00–2:15 LUNCH BREAK

SESSION 2: Acting in Space | 2:15 PM–5:15 PM
Session Chair: Seth Richardson

2:15 Amir Gilan, "'I will not again interchange the spring and autumn festivals': Hittite kings between religious piety and political performance"
2:45 Katja Goebs, "Botched, Tweaked, Reinterpreted—Three Case Studies of Royal Ritual Behaviour in Ancient Egypt"

  • Coffee Break (3:15–3:45 PM)

3:45 Catherine Kearns, "Performing community: ritual, copper production, and local politics in Archaic Cyprus"
4:15 Margaret Andrews, "City and Soul: Marian Processions in Early Medieval Rome"

Response & Discussion, Seth Richardson

5:15–6:30 RECEPTION | Mesopotamia Gallery

Friday, March 8, 2019

SESSION 3: Reacting in Space | 9:30 AM–1:00 PM
Session Chair: Gil Stein

9:30 Kathryn R. Morgan, "Fumbling Towards Complexity: Collective Action and the Built Environment at Early Phrygian Gordion"
10:00 Lauren Ristvet, "An Imperial Audience: The Provincial Reception of Assyrian Political Rhetoric"
10:30 James Osborne, "The Great Silence: Politics and Resistance in the Syro-Anatolian Culture Complex"

  • Coffee Break (11:00–11:30 AM) 

11:30 Marcella Frangipane, "New Forms of Political Expression and Non-Religious-Mediated Ideological Manipulation at the Dawn of State Formation: The Evidence from 4th Millennium Arslantepe, Eastern Turkey"

Response & Discussion, Gil Stein 

1:00 LUNCH BREAK (End)


Kathryn R. Morgan

(773) 702-7497