The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with Ersin Hussein
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
Looking at photographs of my favourite sites in Cyprus is a continual source of comfort. They bring back memories of research visits, and good times enjoyed with friends and family across the island. Images of such evocative landscapes are also a great source of inspiration. More than ever I have been revisiting images from Paphos, Kourion, Amathous, and Salamis.
When did you first come across these sites?
My family are Cypriot and are based across the island – some of my favourite memories growing up are of wandering around the ruins of Salamis. The more I read about the ancient history of the island the more I wanted to know so I was hooked on this landscape from an early age! The history, culture, and society of the island’s Roman period was the focus of my PhD studies and during this time I really got to know sites from across the island in more detail.
Can you tell me a bit about one of the sites and its context? What is it about the place that appeals to you most?
These photos that I took from the acropolis of Amathous back in 2012 sum a lot up for me about Cyprus.
I remember it being an incredibly hot day but I was determined to climb the dusty path up to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite Cypria. The identity and worship of this goddess was very different from that of the island’s chief deity Aphrodite Paphia who was venerated at the weird and wonderful sanctuary at Palaipaphos (see Tacitus, Histories, 2.2-4). At Amathous the goddess was bearded and possessed a hybridity of gender (Catullus, 68.51-52, 68.57; Macrobius, Saturnalia, 3.8.2). Her worship was also associated with other mythological figures such as Osiris (acc. to Pausanias, 9.41.1-3) and Ariadne (who was abandoned on Cyprus by Theseus acc. to Paion of Amathous. See FGrH, 757). At the top of the acropolis are the ruins of her incredible sanctuary as well as a monumental urn thought to have been used for rituals – the other is on display in the Louvre.
The view from the top is incredible. You can see the remains of the Hellenistic and Roman polis proper below, the shadow of the now sunken harbour in the sea, and across the waters is Egypt – a place that this polis shared many cultural connections with. A site like this really emphasises that Cyprus’ culture under Hellenistic and Roman rule was not homogenous or passive, but in fact very dynamic and the identity of its cities local, fluid, and plural.
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
I love to read and I am thoroughly enjoying re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels (a huge shout out to any other fans out there!). Exploring the Gower is high on the list too! We are fortunate in Swansea to be surrounded by amazing beaches and walks with great views of the coast.
Ersin Hussein is an ancient historian based at Swansea University. Her research primarily focuses on local identity formation in the conquered territories of the Roman Empire. To date her research has predominantly explored the history, society, and culture of ancient Cyprus from the time of its earliest settlers to more recent history. The phenomena of cultural exchange in the Roman Empire and the materiality of ancient artefacts (i.e. their use, abuse, reuse and reception) to articulate identity is of particular interest and drives her work. Her monograph ‘Revaluating Roman Cyprus: Local Identity of an Island in Antiquity’ is scheduled for publication with Oxford University Press.
Her research on local identity formation, particularly in relation to ancient Cyprus and its landscape, has been developed significantly over the years through a number of ongoing collaborations with visual artists and scholars in disciplines beyond the humanities. Not only do these foci inform her work on the island’s Roman period but they also shape her teaching and supervision of undergraduate and postgraduate students. Since joining Swansea, Ersin has worked closely with the university’s award-winning museum, The Egypt Centre, to develop object-learning research and teaching initiatives. This involves engaging students, specialists, and the wider public and with the collection, notably Greco-Roman artefacts.
Ersin is currently developing research on the cultural value of metals and identity formation in the Roman Empire. This work is ongoing and will feed into a much larger interdisciplinary project which will investigate the impact of metals on communities from antiquity to the present day.
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.