McMullen Museum of Art Boston College


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Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity
Exclusive Exhibition: February 5 – June 5, 2011

Treasures on Display, Excavated from Ancient Multicultural City, Altered Understanding of Religious Practice in Late Antiquity

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (12-10) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College is the exclusive venue for Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity, which showcases well-preserved Roman artifacts excavated in the 1920s and 1930s from the ancient city Dura-Europos, located in the desert of modern-day Syria high above the Euphrates River. Organized by the McMullen and the Yale University Art Gallery, it is on display from February 5 through June 5, 2011.

Comprising 75 of the most significant treasures from Dura-Europos, the exhibition tells the story of this vibrant multicultural city inhabiting a crossroad between major eastern and western civilizations. Between 1928 and 1937, archaeologists from Yale University and the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres uncovered buildings and made discoveries that fundamentally altered scholars’ understanding of religious practice in late antiquity, according to exhibition organizers.

Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity partially reconstructs some of the city’s ancient religious spaces with their celebrated wall paintings and explores interactions among the disparate cultural, religious and professional groups that inhabited Dura-Europos.

“The McMullen is pleased to collaborate with the Yale University Art Gallery and an interdisciplinary team of scholars from around the world to organize an exhibition that will tell the story of Dura-Europos,” says McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “Informed by new scholarship, this exhibition represents a special opportunity for museum visitors to view rarely seen works from Dura-Europos, examine the objects in context, learn about life in this ancient city, and contemplate the benefits of such a multicultural society today.”

[MEDIA NOTE: Jpg/Tiff images available upon request from the McMullen Museum: please call Mary Curran at 617.552.4676 or e-mail her at A slideshow of images and more exhibition details are available at]

Exhibition Curators

Serving as co-curators are Yale University Art Gallery Associate Curator of Ancient Art Lisa R. Brody and Boston College Assistant Professor of Classical Studies Gail L. Hoffman.

According to Brody, “Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity brings together many of the most significant artifacts and works of art excavated at Dura-Europos, now in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. This thematic exhibition brings objects out of the Gallery’s storage facilities, many of them newly restored, to show the amazing juxtaposition of culture that existed in this well-preserved ancient city.” Approximately 12,000 of the excavated objects came to the Gallery in the 1920s and 1930s, and it has been 30 years since the last major exhibition of Yale’s Dura-Europos artifacts.

“Collaborating with colleagues at the Yale University Art Gallery and the McMullen Museum of Art has proven a great pleasure,” Hoffman adds. “We have tried to present old favorites alongside less well-known pieces to challenge viewers, and scholars, to consider these materials within the context of the city as a whole, asking them to imagine how the people from many different cultures who visited and inhabited the city interacted to create new and unexpected forms of art, architecture and religion.”

Public Opening Celebration: Monday, February 7, 7-9 p.m.
On February 7, the public is invited to join BC community members at an opening celebration with evening viewing at the Museum. It will feature a coffee and dessert reception in Devlin Hall room 111. The event is free of charge. For information:

Dura-Europos: The City

Located at the contested borders between the Seleucid, Parthian and Roman Empires—and on the Euphrates River, a major north-south transportation artery—Dura-Europos was home to a multicultural population. Settled by Macedonian veterans around 300 BCE, Parthians captured Dura-Europos late in the second century BCE and made the city into a fortress which flourished as a trading post on the western border of their huge empire. In the mid-second century CE, Romans seized the city and turned it into a major garrison on their empire’s eastern frontier. Remains of parchment, papyri and carved inscriptions attest to the numerous languages spoken and written in ancient Dura-Europos, including Greek, Latin, Aramaic (Palmyrene and Syriac), Middle Persian, Parthian, Hebrew and Safaitic. The religions that coexisted in the city speak to an equally complex cultural environment, with temples to Greek, Roman and numerous Near Eastern gods, as well as dedicated places of worship for Christians and Jews. Abandoned after a Sasanian siege and sack in 256 CE, the site remained virtually unexplored until 1928, when excavations at Dura-Europos were initiated by Yale University.

Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity

Organized to draw visitors into different segments of the city and develop themes of contact and interaction, the range of material displayed reiterates a subtext explored throughout the exhibition—how the process of archaeology informs the past and the present. In the outside foyer, didactic panels with reproductions of archival photographs outline the history of Dura-Europos and its excavation.

Along a single street, excavators brought to light a synagogue with painted walls depicting Biblical scenes—something the world thought impossible given the prohibition against graven images in Jewish law; one of the earliest Christian house churches with the earliest-known baptistery; and a place of worship for the mystery religion of Mithraism. Many other religious buildings of Greek, Syrian, Mesopotamian and Roman deities surfaced, as did numerous cult reliefs and other sculptures, paintings, papyri, parchments, coins, well-preserved military equipment, and items of everyday use.

The exhibition presents partial to-scale reconstructions with wall paintings and computerized virtual reality spaces recreating the original settings of the art in the Baptistery, Synagogue and Mithraeum, the most well-known material from Dura-Europos. A display of sculpture and other artifacts relating to pagan religions of Dura examines the range of deities worshipped, and a room nicknamed the “talking heads” surrounds visitors with portraits and objects revealing the cacophony of languages written and spoken at Dura-Europos. Also explored are the numerous professions practiced in the city, and the identities of individuals and groups normally hidden or excluded from historical records—for example, slaves, women and children.

Accompanying Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue of the same title, which includes 18 scholarly essays by an international group of participants and a color plate of each object on display. With a range of specialists—from Yale, Boston College, Harvard and Brandeis universities, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and universities in Great Britain and the Netherlands—covering the Hellenistic to the Islamic period, the catalogue—like the exhibition—seeks to reintegrate thinking about the city of Dura-Europos. According to exhibition organizers, it encourages consideration of the tremendous range of significance that these materials have in our understanding of religious and ethnic identity in antiquity compared to the way such identities are constructed today. Like the ancient city, where there were myriad cultures in contact and in communication, the publication seeks to break disciplinary boundaries and place scholars of Dura-Europos in dialogue with each other and the public. The publication is supported by the Peggy Simons Memorial Fund.

Exhibition Sponsors/Support

Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity was organized by the McMullen Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery. Presentation at the McMullen has been underwritten by Boston College, the Patrons of the Museum and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional support was provided by the Newton College class of 1965. Much of the exhibition will be installed as part of the permanent installation at the Yale University Art Gallery when it reopens in 2012 after renovations.

McMullen Museum Installation

The installation is designed by McMullen Museum exhibition designer Diana Larsen. Text is designed by the McMullen’s graphic designer, John McCoy. Labels and wall texts were written by the exhibition co-curators and copy edited by the McMullen’s publications administrator, Mary Curran.

Accompanying Free Public Programming:

The following lectures will be offered at Boston College. For more information, visit

February 3, 4–5:15 p.m.: The Problem with Parthian Art at Dura-Europos
By Lucinda Dirven, Associate Professor of Ancient History, University of Amsterdam. Location: TBD.

February 4, 3:30–4:45 p.m.: Death in the Dark, Blood in the Streets: Mine Combat and Street Fighting at Dura-Europos, Syria, ca. 256 CE
By Simon James, Reader in Archaeology at the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, UK. Location: Devlin Hall room 101.

March 21, 4–5:15 p.m.: Conservation Crossroads: Treatment of the Dura-Europos Artifacts and Paintings
By Carol Snow, Object Conservator, Yale University Art Gallery. Location: Devlin Hall room 101.

McMullen Museum of Art

The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and international community. The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University's central teaching mission, the Museum's exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 by the late BC benefactor, trustee, and art collector John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours

Admission is free; handicapped accessible and open to the public. Located in Devlin Hall on BC's Chestnut Hill campus, 140 Commonwealth Avenue. Hours during this exhibition: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Extended hours: May 21 and 22, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; May 23, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; June 3, 4 and 5, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Museum will be closed on: April 18, 22, 24; May 30. Free group tours: Sundays at 2:00 p.m. from February 13 through June 5. Tours also may be arranged upon request by calling 617.552.8587. For directions, parking and information on public programs, visit or call 617.552.8100.