Meet the Team: Dr Aaron Hershkowitz

In this new series for the Krateros Project blog, we will introduce the team who are hard at work bringing our digital repository of epigraphic squeezes to life. We begin by profiling our project manager: Dr Aaron Hershkowitz.

Aaron earned his BA at the University of Maryland (2009) and his PhD from Rutgers University (2018). His PhD thesis focused on political leadership in 5th-century BCE Athens. Epigraphy played a major role in Aaron’s research: inscribed tribute lists of the Delian League were key sources for his thesis.

In 478 BCE, following the Persian Wars, the Delian League was formed between Greek city-states in Asia Minor and the islands of the Aegean, ostensibly as a military alliance against any enemies who might threaten them. The Athenians, who were the unofficial leaders of the League, extracted tribute (called ‘phoros’ in contemporary texts) from this group of allies, supposedly to offset the cost of military operations. After 454 BCE, this money was stored in the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis, and a 1/60th share of it (called the ‘aparkhe’) was dedicated to the cult of the goddess Athena. The Athenians displayed in public massive lists the amounts of aparkhe given by each member-group of the League. These lists were carved into stone, and many survive to this day, albeit in a fragmentary state. Aaron studied these inscriptions to gain unique insights into the economic, financial, and power structure of the League. His work has been recognized with several awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship in 2014-15.

As well as managing the Krateros Project, Aaron remains an active researcher: he serves as a Research Associate in the Institute for Advanced Study’s School of Historical Studies. Let’s get to know him a little better!

Why do you think studying epigraphy is so important?

Our knowledge of antiquity, Greco-Roman or otherwise, has to survive across thousands of years to reach us. This expanse of time strips away most minutia and ephemera, often leaving only a few “great” works. Objects like inscriptions and papyri, the subjects of epigraphy and papyrology respectively, preserve those minutia and ephemera, including a great many texts that are more practical, and less artful, than literary survivals. Thus, epigraphy and papyrology are two of the foremost tools in (a) learning about the lived experience of people in antiquity, and (b) providing a framework for (and fact-checking) the histories passed down in manuscript form.

When did you first become aware of squeezes? Had you worked with them before starting this position?

Because squeezes straddle the line between archaeology, history, and philology, it is not unusual for them to fall through the cracks of professional knowledge. Even experienced archaeologists, historians, and philologists can be unfamiliar with them. However, I had the great fortune to learn about squeezes from Angelos Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient History and Classics at the Institute for Advanced Study, while I was working on my PhD. During my PhD, I worked with squeezes both at IAS and in Athens during my Fulbright fellowship. Under the instruction of Professor Chaniotis and Stephen Tracy (Ohio State emeritus professor and the Krateros Project’s senior research associate) I learned how to judge letter forms and familiarized myself with inscription formats – all using squeezes.  

What is your favorite aspect of working on the Krateros Project?

The variety of it! One day I’m reading inscriptions to glean metadata, another I’m designing an automated platform for photogrammetry, another I’m handling budgets, another I’m writing a grant proposal, and so on. I love getting to try new things, putting my shoulder to the wheel and getting the satisfaction of seeing us roll forward. It has also been an especial honor and delight to partner with The Lawrenceville School, a nearby high school, to introduce their students to squeezes and Greek epigraphy. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, and the students really respond to the directness of the material.

Have you made any unexpected discoveries while working in the epigraphic library?

Yes, many! I discovered just a few weeks ago that, based on the notes on one of our squeezes, an inscription thought lost was probably simply moved to a different museum. We also had a very fortuitously-timed discovery just a few months ago, when we opened a squeeze box to find a set of plaster casts of ancient coins just as Dr Abbey Ellis, an expert in plaster reproductions of Greco-Roman cultural heritage objects, joined IAS and our team as a project advisor.

Stay tuned to the Krateros blog to meet Abbey, as well as the other members of our team, in subsequent posts.

Photo credit: Maria O’Leary Photography.

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