UrbNet Residential Scholar (Autumn 2017): Rubina Raja

Rubina Raja is professor of Classical Archaeology at Aarhus University, Denmark. Since February 2015, she has been centre director of the Danish National Research Foundation's Centre of Excellence for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet) – the largest single contribution from a Danish research body to humanities research in decades. She received her DPhil degree in 2005 from University of Oxford, UK, and currently holds a guest professorship at the Max-Weber Kolleg für kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien at Universität Erfurt, Germany. 

Rubina Raja’s research revolves around urban development and religious identities in the eastern Roman provinces and the Levant. Among other things, she studies the largest corpus of Roman funerary portraits outside Rome, found in Palmyra, Syria, and directs an extensive excavation project in Jerash, Jordan, together with Achim Lichtenberger (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster), focusing on the so far unexplored North-West quarter of the ancient city Gerasa. Her work has received widespread, international acclaim and has earned her a number of distinctions for outstanding research, most recently the prestigious EliteForsk Award by the Danish Research Council / the Ministry for Research and Education and the Silver Medal by the Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters. 

Recent publications

Barfod, G., Larsen, J.M., Lichtenberger, A. & Raja, R. (2015). Revealing text in a complexly rolled silver scroll from Jerash with computed tomography and advanced imaging software. Nature Scientific Reports 5, 17765.

Lichtenberger, A. & Raja, R. (2016). Jerash in the Middle Islamic period: Connecting texts and archaeology through new evidence from the Northwest Quarter. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 132, 63-81.

Raja, R. (2016). Representations of priests in Palmyra: Methodological considerations on the meaning of the representation of priesthood in the funerary sculpture from Roman-period Palmyra. Religion in the Roman Empire 2:1, 125-146.

Lecture series

Title: The dynamics of urban networks in the Near East, 1st century CE–8th century CE

Outline: The Near East was already in Antiquity a densely urbanised region spanning extremely diverse cultures and geographical situations. At several points in time, the region stood at the centre of political upheaval, military campaigns and religious unrest, which reached far beyond the region itself and impacted the ancient world. In the time of the Roman Empire, the Near East was pivotal as a buffer and connection zone between the core regions of the Empire and the East. The broad variety of the pluralistic religious life of the region often clashed with monotheistic religions, which had their cradle in the region.

Judaism, centred in the coastal region of Judaea, became the reason for harsh conflicts with the Roman rulers, which in turn impacted the way in which much of the region was ruled under Rome. With of the rise of Christianity, the region became the stage for the development of what became a world religion. In the 7th century CE, the Arab invasion and the introduction of Islam to the region, made its impact – however, often in ways, which did not lead to as sudden changes in the material culture as often communicated.

As a backdrop for all these developments, cultural, religious and political, stood the cities, the urban sites, which functioned as drivers and catalysts for continuity as well as change. These were most prominently signified by urban plans and public monuments. Whereas much research has been done on the structure and development of urban sites over time, less attention has been paid to material groups, which tell us about the dynamics and nature of the networks, which took place both within sites and between them.

This series of five lectures will therefore focus on the nature of urban network dynamics in the Near East over a stretch of eight centuries, focussing, on the one hand, on the broad lines of enquiry into ways in which we may tease out the role cities and their networks played in this entangled region and, on the other hand, on examples of material groups that give insight into choices made by local societies and the potential reasons behind.

  • 2 October 13:15-14:15: Urban networks in the Roman Near East: Lines of enquiry
  • 9 October 13:15-14:15Palmyra: A network node at the centre or at the edge? A matter of perspective
  • 23 October 13:15-14:15Gerasa in the Decapolis: Local, regional and imperial networks
  • 20 November 13:15-15:15: Double lecture:
    The stuff of people: How and why things and ideas moved around  
    Urban matters: From the detail to the map that matters