Former Classics Competition Champion, Harvey Phythian, now a first year student at Kings’ College Cambridge, reflects on his experience as a competitor in our 2017 Competition and offers his top three favourite artefacts from the ancient world as part of our Hall of Fame series.
“My first choice is this ‘reformed’ epigraphic coin from the early Islamic Caliphate under ‘Abd al-Malik. Coins are simultaneously very ordinary and significant items. This one is no exception, as in the 7th Century, the Islamic caliphate moved from some coins portraying images of caliphs and (though there is much debate) the Prophet Muhammad. As the caliphate continued its ideological war against the Byzantine Empire (who frequently used religious iconography on coinage) the idea that the Christian iconography was in breach of the 2nd commandment (not to make or worship idols) became their primary weapon. This in turn sparked iconoclasm in the Byzantine orthodox church and of course led to several holy wars.
My second choice is ‘Villa Jovis’ or the House of Jupiter, a surviving villa of the Roman emperor Tiberius on Capri. According to Suetonius, there were 10 villas on the island of Capri inhabited at some point by Tiberius during his 10-year stay (AD 27-37). Villa Jovis in some way contextualises and brings to life all the things we are told of Tiberius’ later years by Suetonius and Tacitus, especially some of the worst bits as this villa is a 30-minute walk from the centre and has a sheer cliff edge off one side, sat at the top of the island! But this also highlights the extent of imperial building works and the resources available for this house alone, as well as what it meant to be emperor in the shadow of Augustus’ memory.
My final choice is this wine price list, discovered intact on the side of a shop in Herculaneum, which was impacted incredibly by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Not only does this very well-preserved artefact show us that the town enjoyed a great deal of commerce, but also that, since the ancient past, people have had to contend with high drink prices! Still, this serves as an indirect reminder of the role of the environment in our understanding of the ancient past, that without the Vesuvius eruption (and the hard work of excavation teams and archaeologists) we would not get such a glimpse into ancient Roman life, something to consider for anyone studying material evidence of the classical world.
To all the finalists, I want to say well done. You have a great chance to exhibit a different process of thinking, learning and presenting from this competition. If you are passionate about what you have picked and have something genuinely interesting to say about it, then regardless of winning, you will have gained a fantastic experience offered by the Lytham St Annes Classical Association which will serve you in good stead for addressing intricate topics in the future. One of the best things about this competition is the fact that you are the expert on these things while you talk, and variety holds an important place. It was brilliant to give my talk on Diogenes and Cynic Philosophy from various angles, the support given by the LSA CA is fantastic and I am sure it will be another great night for the contestants and the Association.”
To enter the 2019 Competition, please read the Guidelines and submit your video entry by the deadline: Friday 25th January. We can’t wait to hear about your favourite artefacts, but if you can’t wait that long, why not share your #MyTopThree on social media and tag us (@lsaclassics) for a share or retweet!