Dynamics of Civilisation

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Deadline: 23 February 2015

The shape of ancient civilisation

Ian Morris (Professor of Classics, Stanford University)

World Map smaller

Thursday 26th March 2015

Time: 6pm to 7.45pm

More information can be found here.

Workshop: Antiquity’ and the dynamics of civilization

Antiquities small

Friday 27th March 2015

Time: 1-6pm

More information can be found here.

Watch Civilisation and its Critiques


The shape of ancient civilisation

Ian Morris (Professor of Classics, Stanford University)

World Map

Thursday 26th March 2015

Time: 6pm to 7.45pm

Location: Institute of Archaeology Lecture Theatre; 

followed by a reception from 7.45-8.30pm TBA

Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

Since modern scholarship began in the eighteenth century, it has focused not on 'ancient civilisation' but 'ancient civilisations'. Researchers divided the world up into Classics, Egyptology, Assyriology, Indology, Sinology and a host of other regional specialities. Focusing on the details of particular languages and cultural traditions, they emphasized the uniqueness of ancient civilisations rather than global patterns. In this lecture, Ian Morris argues that we are now in a position to tell a coherent story about ancient civilisation at the global level, tracing a ten-thousand-year tale of rising scale, development, peace, and prosperity--to be weighed against a parallel tale of rising inequality. Global antiquity culminated in a massive series of crises that rocked the Old World and then the New. Until we can make sense of ancient civilisation at a global scale, we cannot hope to make sense of the human story as a whole.


Kevin Macdonald (UCL African Archaeology)

Corinna Riva (UCL Mediterranean Archaeology)

All are welcome. The event is free and no registration is required.

A workshop will be held the following day to discuss these ideas further:

‘Antiquity’ and the dynamics of civilization


Friday 27th March 2015

Time: 1-6pm

Location: Pearson Lecture Theatre, UCL

Ancient history and ancient civilization enjoy an ambiguous status in modern western thought. On the one hand, the very roots of modern civilization are thought to lie in antiquity: Mesopotamia and Egypt, along with China, have traditionally been regarded as the earliest regions to produce cultures complex enough to merit the label ‘civilization’, while Greece and Rome have long been credited with laying the foundations of modern European civilization in particular. On the other hand, antiquity is also widely seen as fundamentally different from the modern world: in the popular imagination, it is a ‘lost world’ of ‘mysteries’ and exotic practices, while among academic historians it is bracketed with the Middle Ages as a pre-modern, pre-industrial world with social, economic and political structures and systems of values different from our own. Both of these contrasting perspectives are encouraged by the label ‘antiquity’, which suggests extreme remoteness in time but also hints at an age of origins.

The workshop addresses the question whether it is meaningful to define all human history before AD 500 (or indeed AD 1500 outside Europe), as ‘ancient’ and to treat this span of time either as the first stage in a largely linear development towards contemporary civilization or as a phase of development separated from modernity by a Great Transformation. Do ‘ancient’ societies have features which they share with one another but which distinguish them from modern (or medieval) society – as for example Max Weber, Karl Polanyi and Moses Finley argued with regard to social and economic structures? Or do the dynamics of civilization within ‘antiquity’ result in societies and cultures that differ structurally from one another but have in some cases important features in common with developments in the medieval and modern world? And how does ‘antiquity’ in modern western history compare to its equivalent in the history of other regions, such as China?


1.30-1.40 Introduction by Hans van Wees (UCL)

1.40-2.30 Rethinking Middle Eastern antiquity by Eleanor Robson (UCL)

2.30-3.20 Antiquity and the Middle Ages by David d’Avray (UCL)

3.20-3.50 Tea/coffee

3.50-4.40 Antiquity and China by Wang Mingming (Peking)

4.40-5.00 Response by Ian Morris (Stanford)

5.00-6.00 General discussion

6.00-7.00 Drinks reception

All are welcome. The event is free and no registration is required.

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