Winner Dissertation Prize 2023
The assembled palace of Samosata. Object vibrancy in 1st c. BCE Commagene.
Supervisor: Prof. dr. M.J. Versluys
Co-supervisor: Prof. dr. M. Blömer
Nomination: Leiden University, Faculty of Archaeology
Overwegingen van de selectiecommissie
Commagene, a small kingdom in what is now south-eastern Turkey, is widely known for the World Heritage site of Nemrud Daǧ with its extraordinary statues. Less well known is the capital, Samosata, with its vast palace complex. This is certainly also due to the fact that the complex was flooded following the construction of a dam in the 1980s. Moreover, the emergency excavations carried out shortly before this flood have never been published. In his thesis, Lennart Kruijer has collected all this material and on this basis he has managed to construct a very complete and clear excavation report, with the necessary images and maps. Based on this reconstruction, he also refutes some older ideas about two building phases.
Kruijer places his clever reconstruction beautifully into the cultural history of the Hellenistic era and he uses this to improve our view of that period. Until now, scholars of Commagene have generally gone along with the image that the monuments of Nemrud Daǧ themselves very deliberately create: that it is a combination of Persian and Greek elements. The image of a mixed culture in between fitted older approaches to Hellenistic culture very well. Kruijer clearly shows how inadequate this image is. He argues that the idea of two cultures, a Western and an Eastern one, coming together as closed blocks does not apply to today’s Middle East, nor did it apply back then: there had been contact before, and the fact that people locally make self-conscious choices from a global range – and thus form something new from different elements – should not be forgotten either.
What contributes greatly to the originality and innovative power of the thesis is the fact that, in the wake of a movement called New Materialism, Kruijer very successfully develops his own methodology. This methodology no longer assumes that objects are completely passive and that humans determine everything. Instead, there is an interaction between objects and people. Too often it has been assumed that choosing certain objects or styles also meant choosing a certain identity, based on the idea that objects have a fixed meaning. When it comes to making choices, however, other arguments often come into play. As he argues, what an object means is not always the right question; it is also about what it does.
Thus, the originality and international significance of Lennart’s thesis lie not only in the reconstruction of the palace complex at Samosata. His contribution to the international debate on culture and identity in the Middle East during the Hellenistic period is important for anyone studying this period. Kruijer’s New Materialism approach is not simple: the methodology demands wider application and involves extensive terminology. It is to Lennart’s great credit that he manages to keep it very clear and accessible. He offers us a very readable book and makes his method very attractive to others who would like to start working with it.