Fieldwork: Looking at fragments – September 2023

In September 2023, my investigations of the Asklepieion near Pergamon involved reviewing the material culture of the sanctuary.

While the aim of the 2021 season was to identify on site and understand the 18 different architectural layers identified by the excavators (see the blog ‘Tracing Walls’), it was now time to examine the material culture in closer detail. Our Deep-Map of the Asklepieion contains over 3000 items, all of which have been published, largely in the Altertümer von Pergamon series. While several inscriptions may be seen on site, just a few select items are on display in the Bergama Museum, so I was very fortunate to get to spend time in the depots, to now come to terms with the vast quantities and variety of material culture at the shrine, indicating the broad scope of activities that went on there, over a long temporal arc expanding from prehistoric times to the present. It was interesting to see the selection process, especially by Gioia da Luca, whose work at the time formed a benchmark for much of the subsequent work on Hellenistic pottery.

The amount of material was both exciting and sobering, as it quickly became clear that the material in our deep map is only a fraction of the material from the sanctuary! Nonetheless, this gives an indication of the many different uses of the shrine over time, as well as some of the hotspots. I plan to return next year to continue these studies.

The central rooms of the Asklepieion, where ritual sleep presumably took place (photo cgw)

This fieldwork was possible through support from the project team of the DAI Istanbul, directed by prof.dr Felix Pirson, and with great help from Ulrich Mania, and the team of the TransPergMikro project. I am also grateful to the Max-Weber-Kolleg of the University of Erfurt, who provided funding through the project ‘Religion and Urbanity. Reciprocal formations’ (FOR 2779).

Distant deities, central places – reconsidering the ‘extra-urban’ sanctuary – April 2023

Sanctuaries located at a distance from major centres of population in the ancient world are conveniently labelled by scholars as ‘extra-urban’. Most scholars have an idea as to what kind of sanctuary this indicates. But how accurate is this image? How has the designation of ‘extra-urban’ steered our thinking about these special places of cult? What implications does the term bring with it, and what other dynamics might be left out of the picture?

Thomas Cole, ‘The Temple of Segesta with the Artist Sketching’, oil on canvas, 49.85 x 76.52cm, c.1842 – Museum of Fine Arts Boston –

These are questions that a couple of colleagues and myself have wrestled with for some time in our research. Axel Frejman, who has studied Labraunda, among other sanctuaries, and I have especially been discussing this for some years, and this led to the Complexity at Sacred Sites workshop in Uppsala in November 2022. This was intended as a step towards an international conference in 2023. Floris van den Eijnde joined our team, he investigates among others the sacred landscape of Attica.

Together, and with substantial support from the Riksbankens Jubileumsfonds, we organized a conference last April via the Swedish Institute at Athens under the title Distant Deities, Central Places – Reconsidering the ‘Extra-urban’ Sanctuary. The central aim was to address the questions above by reconsidering the terminology that we use to describe and discuss sanctuaries with our colleagues, but also by realigning our thinking about places of cults, and our positioning of them in the divine and human landscape.

We were able to attract an international group scholars, at different career stages, who addressed topics ranging from the Bronze Age to the imperial period, and from Italy in the West to Syria in the East, with approaches that questioned terminologies and theories while being substantiated with case studies and a spectrum of empirical evidence – as the programme flyer indicates.

Distant Deities, Central Places – 4-6 April 2023, Athens – programme

We were very pleased at the richness of the papers, which no doubt raised some eyebrows – Delphi as a very urban sanctuary, the Artemision at Amarynthos, or Kakopetria-Agilades on Cyprus as vitally central places of connections, the networks of Minoan peak sanctuaries, and cave shrines connecting maritime sites along the coast of the Ionian islands, to name just a few. The broad range of topics and approaches allowed us all to draw some comparisons between cultures, places, and over time. In short, the different papers showed us how truly complex sanctuaries beyond the boundaries of the urban nucleus can be, and the many functions that they can fulfil simultaneously, spilling well outside the confines that our scholarly frameworks often squeeze them into.

We were very fortunate to have Jenny Wallensten, the director of the Swedish Institute at Athens, make arrangements for the conference to be held in the lecture hall of the Italian Archaeological School at Athens, the same venue as the workshops organized by Robin Hägg on Greek religion several years before. The conference proceedings will be published in the same series, on Greek religion, Acta Instituti Atheniensis Regni Sueciae 4˚ series.

Story Maps in the Classroom

Last Friday (17 March) we just gave another edition of our story map workshop for this year’s MA course Atelier Living Heritage, taught by Professors Knoeff and Santing of the History Department at the University of Groningen.

In this session I first discussed the spatial turn, how maps always tell stories, and what deep maps are. The students read Earley-Spadoni 2017 ahead of time and came up with a lot of good ideas on what deep maps are, focusing on the many layers that they can have.

We then talked about Story Maps as a way to convey a deep map, and then Alexandra explained what a story maps is, using a new example: On the Road to Healing. This new story from the Asklepieion in Pergamon focuses on the Sacred Way, or Via Tecta, that links the Asklepieion to Pergamon.

To open the On the Road story map separately, click here.
See also our growing collection of story maps on the Asklepieion here

I wrote a short text, gathered images, and Alexandra turned them into this exciting and immersive story map, which centers on the story of Tapari, who traveled to the Asklepieion in search of healing for their eyesight.
NB: spoiler alert – this is based on a real Tapari known from the inscription IvP III 111b!).

Using the text and images as pre-fab building blocks, students got to recreate this story map, while getting ideas about how they could use story maps in their own projects. They are all responsible for making some kind of public outreach, and towards the end we discussed how story maps might be a good way to communicate information of historical objects, architecture, events, or personal experiences (like Tapari’s). The students have a lot of individual projects going on, connected to different museums or collections in and around Groningen, and they had several interesting ideas about how to story maps could create a good link with their audience.

Alexandra has also instructed students from previous courses on the use of story maps. Another recent MA course at Groningen, Urban Timescapes in the Graeco-Roman World, which focused on the use of temporal narratives in establishing social and political presence, through sanctuaries, public spaces, and also necropoleis and other ritualized settings. Students came up with some excellent story maps, which they presented in the Reality Theatre at the University of Groningen, with the help of Adri Mathlener.

Their final story maps give excellent insights into different ways that time was used in urban contexts, in examples that range from Asia Minor, the Aegean, the Greek mainland, and the Italian peninsula.

To open this collection in a separate window, click here


T. Earley-Spadoni (2017) ‘Spatial history, deep mapping and digital storytelling. Archaeology’s future imagined through an engagement with the Digital Humanities’, Journal of Archaeological Science 30, 95-102.

Complexity at sacred sites – Uppsala workshop follow-up

More than a place of worship: complexity at sacred sites in the ancient world
8 December 2022 – Uppsala University

Asklepieion of Kos (photo: Christina Williamson 2019)

In December 2022, a workshop on the complexities of sacred space was organized by Christina Williamson and Axel Frejman at Uppsala University, see previous blog. The aim was to approach the magnitude of meaning at sanctuaries by transcending the regular disciplinary boundaries by engaging scholars from Groningen and Uppsala from different areas – theology, archaeology, and ancient history – who use both textual and material culture to understand their functions. A secondary aim of the workshop was to give early career scholars from Groningen an international venue to present their work, expand their networks, and inspire them to move beyond the confines of their disciplines in their approaches. The workshop, which took place on 8 December from 13.15-17.00 in a lecture hall in the new Blåsenhus building of Uppsala University, was also made available online so that members of CRASIS and the partners in the ENLIGHT program could join in, as well as other interested persons.

Three scholars from Groningen and two from Uppsala presented and exchanged ideas with an international audience. After an opening by Christina Williamson (associate professor ancient history, Groningen), who presented the aims of the workshop, Axel Frejman (postdoc archaeology, Uppsala) chaired the rest of the afternoon. Adam Wiznura (PhD ancient history, Groningen) began the session with a paper entitled ‘Problematizing sacred space: The Thessalian sanctuary of Athena Itonia’, in which he focused on the votive practices and shifting scopes of the shrine of Athena Itonia regarding local versus Thessalian identities. In his paper ‘Memories of holiness and contested claims: The case of the Temple Mount / Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem’, Håkan Bengtsson (associate professor theology, Uppsala) unfolded many of the layers of religious and political meanings of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, demonstrating how it is contested space. Temporal complexities were the topic of the paper of Christina Williamson, ‘Sanctuaries as complex timescapes: The Asklepieion of Pergamon’, in which she discussed elite, private, and civic perspectives of time that interacted at the Asklepieion in Pergamon. Sacred complexities are at the heart of the PhD project of Pim Schievink (PhD ancient history, Groningen), who focused on the Koan Asklepieion as a complex space in which healing rituals intermingled with honors bestowed on the elite, recognition of the ephebes, representation of civic tribes, and movement in his paper ‘Constructing the sacred on Kos: Voices, practices, and experiences in the Asklepieion of Kos during the Hellenistic period’. Gunnel Ekroth (full professor classical archaeology and ancient history, Uppsala) closed the workshop with a presentation of the results of her ‘Temenos’ project, in her paper entitled ‘What’s in a name? Temenos and hieron as designations of sacred space’. She urged us to look through the blank spaces on the plans of sanctuaries in addressing the many different types of contexts in which the concepts of temenos and hieron are applied. The papers were all well received and followed by engaging discussions from scholars at all levels. The three delegates from Groningen were moreover treated to a tour of the extensive archaeological collection at Uppsala University, and visited the ancient site at nearby Gamla Uppsala, a historically complex sacred space in its own right.

Pim and Adam at Gamla Uppsala (photo: Christina Williamson)

The workshop was organized in the context of a research fellowship for Christina Williamson at Uppsala University, and was funded by the interdisciplinary research network CRASIS, in Groningen as well as ENLIGHT (Groningen), the department of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala., at Uppsala University, and especially the interdisciplinary research network, AGORA,

Axel Frejman and Christina Williamson developed this workshop as a step towards a major international conference that they are co-organizing (with Floris van den Eijnde, Utrecht) on sanctuaries in the ancient world, to be held at the Swedish Institute in Athens, 5-8 April 2023, under the title ‘Distant deities, central places: Reconsidering the “extra-urban” sanctuary’.

Workshop in Uppsala – 8 December 2022 – Complexity of Sacred Spaces

As part of my research fellowship in Uppsala, I am co-organizing, with Axel Frejman and Gunnel Ekroth, an informal afternoon workshop under the title More Than a Place of Worship: Complexity at Sacred Sites in the Ancient World. This will be held on 8 December 2022, in Uppsala, at the Department of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History.

Sanctuaries in the ancient world are often considered for their rituals, their monumental architecture, or their political dynamics, but rarely are they understood as highly layered spaces that fulfilled a variety of meanings for a variety of users, with a variety of motives. Such complexity shows the real magnitude of these religious sites, yet this is often overlooked as scholarly studies tend to focus on single types of sources or aspects. This workshop aims to transcend the regular disciplinary boundaries by engaging scholars at different stages in their careers from Groningen and Uppsala and from different areas – theology, archaeology, and ancient history – who use both textual and material culture to understand the multifarious functions of sanctuaries.


  • 13:15-13:30 – Intro
  • 13:30-14:00 – Adam Wiznura (PhD Ancient History, Groningen), ‘Problematizing sacred space: The Thessalian sanctuary of Athena Itonia
  • 14:00-14:30 – Håkan Bengtsson (Associate Professor, Theology, Uppsala),  ‘Memories of holiness and contested claims: The case of the Temple Mount / Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem
  • 14:30-15:00 – Christina Williamson (Associate Professor, Ancient History, Groningen), ‘Sanctuaries as complex timescapes: The Asklepieion of Pergamon
  • 15:00-15:30 – FIKA – coffee break
  • 15:30-16:00 – Pim Schievink (PhD Ancient History, Groningen) ‘Constructing the sacred on Kos: Voices, practices, and experiences in the Asklepieion of Kos during the Hellenistic period’
  • 16:00-16:30 – Gunnel Ekroth (Full Professor, Classical Archaeology, Uppsala), ‘What’s in a name? Temenos and hieron as designations of sacred space
  • 16:30-17:00 – discussion
  • 17:00 – ?? Drinks and buffet dinner in Engelska Parken

This workshop is sponsored by AGORA, the Uppsala research network for archaeology and ancient history, the ENLIGHT (Groningen) inter-university organization, CRASIS, the Groningen research network for culture, religion, and society in antiquity, and the Department of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala.

If you would like to join online, please contact us for the zoom link at:

Discussing deep-mapping in Nijmegen – 7 November 2022

We just had the honor of kicking off the brand new Radboud Ancient and Medieval (RAM) Lecture Series‘ at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, at the invitation of Dr Marleen Termeer. This is an exciting new series of lectures that highlights new and interdisciplinary approaches in studies of the pre-modern world. Especially good to note is the broad audience, ranging from BA students to established scholars (as well as my artist husband and engineer dad on this occasion). Altogether this colorful mix produced a lively and fruitful discussion, which continued over dinner in an Afghan restaurant.

The Elinor Ostrom building at Radboud University in Nijmegen

Our presentation focused on the angle of deep-mapping as an approach towards integrating a wide variety of data, differing in quality and resolution, as a means of understanding the gravity of place in attracting levels of meaning across different scales, and how the Asklepieion in Pergamon is ideally suited to this approach.

We got some very good questions, mostly centered on the data, such as how secure are the locations and how heavily will our interpretations rely on our spatial location? We are indeed considering ways of making the ‘fuzziness’ of data visible. Another question was raised about using a relational database; this is what we want but to start with we first need to come to terms with the different kinds and qualities of the data we are dealing with, before structuring it too heavily. An interesting comment concerned any sources that we might have for sensory data, and will we incorporate that? There is not a lot of textual evidence, but we know of some cures that were very painful (moaning), also the surrounding presence of water, flora and fauna, sacrificial smoke, and of course the latrines. Another question concerned post-antique or the Christian Asklepieion. Habicht (IvP III, pp.19-20) noted a small Christian and Byzantine settlement on the site, and suggests that the rivalry between the healing powers of Christ and the cult of Christianity, as noted by Origen against Celsus in the third century AD, may well have its origins in the Pergamene Asklepieion, world renown in that era.

These are just a few of the questions that give us food for thought. In return, Alexandra invited the audience to participate in our next research focus, which will examine the coinage, giving them the option of selecting which period we will analyze first.

You can also help us out here, by scanning the QR code (no worries about Bitcoins here!), and voting for the period that you think would be most interesting to learn about first. We will then create a story map for this period, and will keep you posted if you like!

Select the era of your preference from:

  • Late Classical
  • Pre- Attalid
  • Attalid
  • Early Roman
  • Early Imperial
  • High Imperial
  • Third Century
  • Late Antique
  • Byzantine
  • Ottoman

Looking forward to your votes!

‘Tales from the Asklepieion of Pergamon’ at the Arts Festival – 17 September 2022

Tales from the Asklepieion

The Arts Festival, on Saturday, 17 September, presented us with a unique opportunity to transform a corner of the University of Groningen into the Asklepieion of Pergamon. The corner was in the Exhibition Hall of the Harmony Building, which houses the Faculty of Arts / Humanities. Ours was one of five projects that interacted with visitors.

Alexandra Katevaini is the genius behind this project. She had been wanting to find a way for the public in general to engage with our project. The festival provided a perfect venue, but we were a bit late in finding out about it, so we had to act fast! While Christina established contacts and did some of the graphic design, Alexandra set about designing the project in 3D space, creating encounters between visitors of the Arts Festival and ancient visitors at the Asklepieion in Pergamon, through projections and story maps. She selected stories that in our Deep Map are linked to a corner of the Asklepieion in the northwest area, between the Theater, the rocky spring and Roman Baths, and the Felsbarre, or rocky ridge where the oldest temples are located.

Deep-map of the Asklepieion – the black square shows the corner that was the area of our focus for the project.
This is the area of the Asklepieion that we zoomed in on in the presentation, with 17 inscriptions and narratives from Aelius Aristides

This corner was the scene of some of Aelius Aristides’ activities, and according to the Altertümer von Pergamon (vol. VIII.3 on the inscriptions of the Asklepieion), at least 17 inscriptions, most belonging to honorific statues, were identified as coming from this area. All of these date to the imperial period, but some of the earlier inscriptions were relocated to this area after the massive extension of the sanctuary in the second century AD.
This corner of the shrine had become a true hot spot in the imperial era! In the Exhibition Hall, it became our focal point.

Alexandra then went to work making short stories via Story Maps of the different individuals – in the end she was able to create 10 stories, including one about this area itself. She then generated QR codes with cryptic titles which we printed on cards and taped to different surfaces in the Exhibition Hall – visitors could look for them like Easter eggs. Here are a few examples:…

Samples of the QR cards with individual stories, from the architecture (blue), inscriptions (green), and literary accounts (purple)

In designing the project, we were hoping to be able to project the plan of this corner onto the floorspace, and scatter the QR-cards in the projected area. But with the means available we were less than impressed by the result. So Plan B went into effect, which was to project a full-scale image from this corner across the wall in the background, with running imagery playing on a large screen behind us. Visitors standing across from us at our table would have had a realistic view of the corner from the shrine, from approximately the very same spot. The QR-cards were then scattered across the Exhibition Hall…

Altogether we were able to tell maybe 30 or 40 people about the project, and most took some time to access some of the stories via the QR codes. Especially considering we had only worked on this for three days ahead of the event, we are very pleased with the result – and consider this as Part I of Tales from the Asklepieion – we plan to add more Tales!

Meanwhile, you can browse the stories so far here…

Story Map collection with the individual stories from the ‘focal point’ in the Asklepieion.

‘Heroes in the Asklepieion’ – workshop for MA class ‘Atelier Living Heritage’ – 25 March 2022

Another opportunity to share the project Deep-mapping the Asklepieion presented itself to us in March, when we were invited to give a lecture for the MA course ‘Atelier Living Heritage’, co-taught by by Dr Margriet Hoogvliet and Prof. Dr Rina Knoeff. Among others, the course deals with new ways of presenting historical research, including the possibilities that digital technologies offer.

We decided to focus on the usage of Story Maps, with a lecture and a workshop, in which we explain what a story map is and how you can use it to communicate spatial narratives (see also Digital Storytelling by ESRI), and then let students try it out with some ready-made data.

The theme – Heroes in the Asklepieion

Our focus was on the honorific monuments in the Asklepieion of Pergamon. Alexandra Katevaini created a base story map, Heroes in the Asklepieion, which briefly presents the Asklepieion, then introduces the inscriptions at the sanctuary, focusing on the honorific decrees for the elite, both local and foreign, and focusing on people with strong ties to Rome. Most of these decrees were inscribed on bases that originally included statues of the person being honored, turning the sanctuary into a kind of ‘Hall of Fame’ that immortalized both the individual dignitaries and the relation between Pergamon and Rome.

Story map ‘Heroes in the Asklepieion’

The assignment for the students was to create a story map of one of the ‘heroes’ that could later be linked to the base ‘Heroes’ story map. This hero was Julius Quadratus Bassus, descendant of the Attalids, elite of Pergamon, and member of the Roma Senate, and honored in the Asklepieion via the inscription IvP III 21.

The mini-workshop – building a story map

start with a story board

We started with a story board, showing students how it is best to plan their story maps in thematic blocks. Once there is an overall structure and flow to the story, then you can start collecting texts, images and other media, especially maps, that will support the main point of each block. Since we only had an hour for our mini-workshop, we prepared texts and images in advance for the students to use, following step-by-step instructions.

First we drew out the story board, and explained how the different sections would become blocks in the story map. Then Christina began to tell the story of Julius Quadratus Bassus, starting with a brief biography, then his family network, a timeline of his activities, then the inscription, and the mapped network that can be drawn out from this inscription. While Christina was explaining these features, Alexandra created a story map on the spot, that students could follow. It was performance art!

After this it was the students’ turn to make their own story maps, following the same steps with the same data. They could try to recreate what Alexandra made, or try different approaches.

Julius Quadratus Bassus – the myth, the inscription, the network

Alexandra’s resulting story map is shown here and is the first in a series of ‘stories’ that we can derive from the inscriptions themselves.

Story map on Julius Quadratus Bassus

To be continued…

This was a great way to start scratching the surface of the thousands of stories that the Asklepieion has to tell. and a good way of communicating it with students.
This was the first time we ‘performed’ a story map, but Alexandra has taught students in a number of other MA courses how to build a story map as part of their course work:

  • MA 2020-21 Power and Cult in the Hellenistic World – story maps were used in lieu of a real excursion to Greece (due to COVID restrictions),
  • MA 2021-2022 Sacred Landscapes in the Post-classical world – story maps were used in support of an excursion assignment ;
  • MA 2022-2023 Urban Timescapes in the Graeco-Roman world – story maps are the final assignment.

But the Julius Quadratus Bassus story is a great kickstart to the series of stories to come…

A word of thanks

We are grateful to Margriet Hoogvliet for giving us this opportunity to share our work with her students. Margriet is also very keen on deep-mapping herself, and has applied some of the concepts in her own projects, which include Broeders 3D, an interactive encounter with the Brethren of the Common Life in Dordrecht, that she developed with Prof. Dr. Sabrina Corbellini and Dr Pieter Boonstra.

Mapping inscriptions at the Asklepieion with help from Zürich

Good news! Since December of 2021 we are working together with the team from the Ancient History section of the Historisches Seminar at the University of Zürich. Under the direction of Prof. Dr. Andreas Victor Walser, and with Dr Ursula Kunnert, this team is tracking the inscriptions of Pergamon in the context of their project ‘Inschriften von Pergamon’. Their project aims to re-examine the inscriptions of Pergamon published by Max Fränkel in 1890 and 1895 (Alterümer von Pergamon VIII. 1-2), but also those from the Asklepieion that were published by Christian Habicht in 1969 (Alterümer von Pergamon VIII. 3). The project also compiles ‘new’ inscriptions that have only provisionally been published, or not yet at all. This exciting project will result in a new publication within the series Alterümer von Pergamon that promises to deliver many new insights that will surely lead us to rethink some of our interpretations of the Asklepieion as well as Pergamon in general.

The depot south of the Asklepieion, where several of the inscriptions are stored

Part of the project included a careful inventory of the current location of the inscriptions, and both Prof. Walser and Dr Kunnert have kindly and generously shared the results of many long hours in the sun and careful location and identification of the inscriptions, across the landscape of ancient Pergamon and modern Bergama.

We are grateful to be able to include this level of detail in our deep map of the Asklepieion. This new modern layer of location has sparked some discussion on the mobility of monuments, both in ancient times, as some of extant inscriptions seem to have been moved to the North stoa of the imperial shrine, which seems to have functioned as a Hall of Fame, as well as in modern times, as some inscriptions are placed more or less near their original locations, others are kept farther away – some on site, some in the museum. We found ourselves asking who (across the ages) decides which inscriptions are seen, which are stored away?

These are important questions in considering the narrative function of a deep map!

Read more about the Zürich project here:

Deep-mapping in Mainz and Uppsala – November 2021 and May 2022

The presentations of our approach have led to updated versions of our story map, in which we discuss our approach towards deep-mapping, and how we apply that to the sanctuary of Asklepios in Pergamon.

On 29 November 2021, we were invited by Dr Matthias Grawehr to present the project at the Klassische Archäologie / Alte Geschichte / Karpeia of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. This gave Alexandra the opportunity to go into more detail on the data that we are incorporating as shapefiles in GIS. She created a separate story map Deep-mapping Different Data Sources that addresses her approach and types of data.

The Archaeology and Ancient History department of the University of Uppsala has also been very supportive, and during a short fellowship in the spring we were able to present the project at the Wednesday Seminar via the story map Deep-mapping the Asklepieion of Pergamon.

So the story map has been evolving since we first used it over a year ago, in 2021, until its present state. We see it as an ideal medium for online audiences, and will continue to update it. Story maps are just that, they tell stories through maps, but also through a mixture of media, with the text oftentimes in the supportive role, rather than the other way around.

But fortunately talks and lectures are increasingly in person these days, and for that we feel it more effective to focus on the images and functionality, rather than longish narratives that not everyone can read – at the end we send the audience to the story map through a link that they can access in their own time.