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Moving Material Culture – The ‘Social Capital’ of Migrants in Membership Regimes of the Hellenistic World

Sabine Neumann

Philipps-Universitaet Marburg

Migration has significantly shaped the social life in the Hellenistic world. While migration has long been a topic of archaeological research, questions about the role of material culture brought by migrants in the new social contexts of host cities have rarely been addressed. Material objects provide a tangible link to shared cultural practices, memories, and emotions. Ritual objects or domestic furnishings was also part of how confessional groups encoded sacred and spiritual meaning (Basu – Coleman 2008). When people migrate or travel, they bring objects with them that can serve as memory objects and virtually connect them with their home places (Driessen 2018; Hamilakis 2016). Migrants often have or form social networks to import items or they produce objects to their new place of residence by absorbing new influences (Trabert 2020).

New material culture studies emphasized recursive relationships between people and objects by regarding them as “entangled” with each other (Hodder 2012; for exploring the entanglement of materiality with migration see Hamilakis 2016). Depending on the theory employed, humans and objects were further understood as mutually constituted through their interactions, rather than engaging with each other from autonomous and a priori subject or object statuses (Miller 2005).

In my paper I will examine the material culture of migrants as an embodied social resource, so to speak, that is brought into membership regimes as ‘social capital’ (in the sense of Bourdieux – Wacquant 1992), assuming that the objects imported by the migrants were valued by the host society. By examining the case of different Hellenistic cities in ancient Greece, I will discuss how migrants shaped their religious environment through material culture. I will focus in particular on sanctuaries of the Graeco-Egyptian gods (e.g. Rhodes, Delos, Eretria, and Priene), where religious specialists are attested in epigraphic sources, who were able to read hieroglyphics texts and to perform the sacrifices to the gods in an expert manner. The numerous Egyptian and Egyptianizing objects in the sanctuaries of these gods also attest to an import from Egypt or a local production of Egyptianizing cult objects (on Egyptianizing objects see Barrett 2017).

One question is to what extent migrants were able to use their knowledge of the production of objects, and of ritual skills as a form of ‘social capital’ or 'currency' in the membership regime (for the concept of membership regimes see Bosma – Kessler – Lucassen 2014; Oltmer 2018). Moreover, how could migrants use this knowledge to advance? What role does material culture play in the new contexts? How did the meanings of objects change when religious objects were transplanted to new contexts, for example, statues of foreign gods?

Session/Panel Title

Migrants and Membership in the Greek City-States

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