Rebel Scum! Conceptualising rebellion in Star Wars and the ancient Near East

Symbol-_-rebel-250x250The ancient world is full of rebellion. In my patch, the Bronze Age Near East, the world was one of dominant ‘great kings’ with imperial aspirations. In the southern Mediterranean was Egypt, ancient and arrogant; in the east, Babylon and later Assyria; in the north, the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni, which was later supplanted by the Hittite Empire. Most histories of the Bronze Age tell political and military tales of the waxing and waning of these great empires and the great campaigns of their rulers – people like Ramesses II or Šuppiluliuma I.

But these empires weren’t all there was, of course. There are other histories to be told. In my research I work on Ugarit, a small but important kingdom on what’s now the Syrian coast. It was militarily weak, but a great trading power. Like many of the small Levantine kingdoms, it found itself charting a dangerous course between the rival influences of its powerful neighbours. In the Middle Bronze Age it seems to have aligned itself with Egypt, but around the middle of the second millennium BC it made the shrewd political decision to ‘invite in’ the Hittites and become a vassal, sparing itself the punishing repercussions of being taken by force.

For the great kings of the Bronze Age, these smaller kingdoms were one of two things – vassals (either their own or someone else’s, assuming they accepted the legitimacy of the claim) or rebels. The latter was not, it is clear, a Good Thing.

These days we love rebels. At least since the twentieth century, western culture has celebrated the underdog who stands up against overwhelming power, especially when that power is grounded in tradition. People are proud to brand themselves ‘rebels’ or part of a ‘resistance’.

rebel-without-a-cause-poster3Often rebellion is associated with youth: we take it for granted that young people are by nature rebellious and questioning of the values and authority of their elders. Even those who seek to shut down such dissent often implicitly accept that this is part of the normal behaviour of the young. But youth – especially being teenage – is a highly culturally-constructed category. Arguably, these assumptions tell us more about our own culture than they do about human nature.
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Second CREWS Conference: Call for Papers

The CREWS Project’s second conference has been announced. This one’s my baby and focuses on something I’ve wanted to get people together to talk about for some time now – writing systems in context. There’s been a long tradition in studying writing systems to treat them as something rather abstract and self-contained. People have focused on linguistic and palaeographical questions, and there’s often not been as much attention paid to how they sit within society and culture. In this conference I’m hoping we’ll be able to bring together academics with very diverse backgrounds and expertise to think about things like the archaeology of writing systems, their cultural histories, their social significance. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, please check out the full details on the CREWS Project blog.


We are pleased to announce the second CREWS conference, to take place in March 2019.

‘Exploring the Social and Cultural Contexts of Historic Writing Systems’ aims to look at writing systems’ place in society and culture.

Full details, including the call for papers, are available on the conference page.

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Classical Trek: 4000 Years of Boldly Going

My friend Daniel has started something I always meant to do but never got round to because it’s such a daunting task – looking at the relationship between Classics and Star Trek. There’s a lot to say here. A lot. Even more if you include archaeology, which Star Trek is curiously obsessed with. This first instalment’s very interesting and you should all check it out.


From meeting the god Apollo in The Original Series, to the Roman-inflected Terran Empire in Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek has always drawn heavily on ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration. Since both Star Trek and Classics have been important parts of my life from a young age, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the more interesting way the franchise has engaged with the ancient world, whether through direct allusion or more subtle thematic patterning.

In this first instalment, I begin by looking at the very ancient roots of one of pop culture’s most famous split infinitives.

To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no-one has gone before.
This is, of course, the conclusion of the phrase that opens the credit-sequences of both the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. (1) This…

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Writing Round-Up

Sorry it’s still been slim pickings on this blog lately. I am still working on something, but it’s slow going. I’m getting married next month and between the arrangements for that and my other extra-curricular writing, I’ve not had as much chance as I’d like to write things for Ancient Worlds.

Anyway, if you want to catch up on what I’ve been writing in other places, here’s some of my recent output:

From Final Fantasy 12 to Uncharted 3: exploring gaming’s Orientalist fantasies (Eurogamer)


In-depth with the objects in the CREWS Exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum:


A Babylonian Tablet

A Replica Ugaritic Tablet

A Phoenician Arrowhead

I hope I’ll be able to get a proper Ancient Worlds article up soon!

In Praise of Video Game Castles

I’m aware that recently this blog has slightly devolved into a set of links to things I’ve written elsewhere. Unfortunately things continue to be busy and writing that’s either my job or I get paid for has to take priority. I promise I am working on a couple of substantial posts specially for Ancient Worlds, though. They might take a while, but I hope they’ll be worth it.

In the meantime, I’m on Eurogamer again, thinking about Video Game castles and how they differ from their real-world counterparts.

I do love me some castles…


Atlas Obscura Article

At the end of last year I made an Ugaritic biscuits cooking video. I kind of forgot to mention it on here what with all the pre-Christmas busyness, but it did moderately well. Now, in a slightly surreal turn of events for me, the website Atlas Obscura has picked up on it and interviewed me for an article:

Or, if you just want the original video, here it is: