Hollanda Araştırma Enstitüsü  -  Nederlands Instituut in Turkije

Collecting sculptures, displaying identities: Roman archaeological heritage in Asia Minor against the background of national-building dynamics

Ketty Inannantuono (Radboud University, Nijmegen - NIT & RMO fellow)

One of the reasons why I’ve always wanted to become a Roman archaeologist is my passion for walking through anciently inhabited landscapes, while trying to figure out how people in different eras could have differently experienced those places. Despite this huge passion, until this last Autumn, I never had the occasion to travel in Turkey, famously hosting Roman remains between the most stunning in the world. In October and November 2019, however, the Netherlands Institute in Turkey has helped me to coronate this dream of mine hosting me in Istanbul. This splendid opportunity of academic and personal growth has been granted me by a newly inaugurated scholarship funded by the NIT and by the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden.
Beside offering me the possibility to finally visit many marvelous archaeological sites I admired and studied for long only through maps and photographs, this fellowship has allowed me to approach a research theme crucial for the further development of my PhD: namely the interpretation, use and appropriation of ancient monuments from Roman Asia Minor. As a member of the VICI project ‘Constraints and Tradition: Roman Power in Changing Societies’, at the RICH (Radboud Institute for Culture & History) at Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, I study imperial representations sculpted and inscribed on large-scale monuments set up in the far-flung territories once part of the Roman empire. Looking at these monuments, my analyzes attempt to decode intended messages and their possible understandings by ancient audiences. The aim is to explore how the notion of Roman emperorship was accommodated, and accordingly broadcasted in different settings, concerned with specifically local preoccupations. The power dynamics memorialized by monuments erected all over the Mediterranean - and far beyond, during the span of ca. 6 centuries were inevitably highly diverse. Nevertheless, the interpretations of the ancient monumental landscapes of the Roman empire have been traditional anchored to rather static concepts such as those of Roman and Roman provincial art, or that of Romanization. Within the conduction of my own research, therefore, I started to wonder about the impact generated by the use of these problematic categories. The last thirty years of academic debate have already contributed to highlight the major controversial aspects of these notions, such as their short-sided western-centric perspective, their inherent application of modern esthetic standards onto the analysis of ancient material cultures, and their deep ties with the modern phenomena of imperialisms and colonialisms. Studying how the concept of Roman heritage came into the ground in different geo-political circumstances, I believe, helps to shed a further light on the possible biases in-built in our traditional understandings of the Roman past.
During my research-stay at the NIT, I approached this study by looking at different strategies of display of Roman monumental remains from Asia Minor adopted by European and Turkish museums between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, during the heyday of nationalism. The criteria of musealization inspiring the exhibit in archaeological museums have been analysed as proxies for different understandings, and attempted appropriations of the Roman imperial age and its monumental landscapes within the context of diverse political contingencies. Allowing me to meet specialists on the subject working in Turkey, and to have a direct experience of the archaeological sites, of many of the analyzed museum, and of some archives documenting the dynamics of formation of such institutes, the opportunity to be a fellow and reside in Istanbul has been a great asset for the good results of this study.
These numerous reasons would have been already more than enough to be grateful for this generous fellowship. The Institute, yet, has offered me much more.
Placed at the very heart of Beyoğlu, one of the liveliest neighborhoods of the city, the NIT has revealed as the perfect residence from where to get to know the vivid cultural scene of Istanbul, inevitably falling in love with the city while still being able to focus on research. Great occasion to get to know the city and the area of Beyouğlu even better has been the participation in the workshop ‘Confronting the Classical at Pera’ organized by Frederick Whitling and resulted in an artistic exhibition held at the Swedish Institute at Istanbul, only few civic numbers far away from the NIT on the Istiklal Caddesi. This major axis populated by many consulates and national research institutes, is famously one of the most crowded areas in the world: literally soaked in the scents of the traditional lokantas, lightened by the flashy colors of the lokum and the spices exhibited in the vitrines, and incessantly animated by a frenzied mob of street artists, tourists, diplomats and academics. The gaudy and hectic atmosphere of the Istiklal, moreover, gets a perfect balance in the quiet and well-equipped library of the Institute, a true oasis of serenity (accessible h24!). Beside being an ideal working space, the NIT library, together with the collection of the ANAMED library, has been of great help, granting me access to many catalogues and specialized literature often not available in the Netherlands.
Fundamental agents for the great success this period in Istanbul, then, have been the beautiful people I met at the Institute. Adopting me as part of their own community, the fellows of the ANAMED have been of great inspiration and extremely good company during the Friday talks and especially in the many hours spent discussing while looking at the Bosphorus from the terrace! The genuine and friendly support of the staff of the NIT, last but not least, has been a constant point of reference for me, and have contributed immensely to make me feel at home in Istanbul. I would like to thank once again Fokke and Ülker for their marvelous hospitality.
I’m very much looking forward to coming back to the Institute and to the city of the world’s desires, of three empires and two continents.
See you soon, Istanbul!