Claudia Moser Studies the Archaeological Record of Ritual Sacrifice

March 12, 2013
The Sanctuary of the Thirteen Altars, Lavinium
Fosso dell' Incastro, Ardea
S. Omobono, Rome
Altar from the Sanctuary of the Thirteen Altars, Lavinium
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Claudia Moser is the winner of the Irene Rosenzweig/Samuel H. Kress Foundation/Helen M. Woodruff Fellowship of the Archaeological Institute of America Pre-Doctoral Rome Prize in Ancient Studies and a Ph.D candidate at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University.

What part of the United States did you come from?
I grew up in New York City. But most recently, as a graduate student at Brown University, I have been living in Providence, Rhode Island.

Describe a particularly inspiring moment or location you've experienced in Rome thus far.
After dinner at the Academy one night, I gave an informal presentation about a contemporary, religious sacrifice (for the major holiday Kurban Bayrami) that I had recently witnessed in Istanbul. A collaborative, animated discussion emerged among specialists in a range of different areas (religious studies, Islamic studies, medieval history, Arabic, and classics). Everyone was contributing observations about linguistic choices, asking methodological questions, or offering additional, insightful examples from other cultures or time periods. The cross-cultural and cross-discipline dialogue that occurred that night in the Salone has provided an approach to the study and understanding of sacrifice that has greatly informed my work.

Have you had any "eureka!" moments or unanticipated breakthroughs in the course of your work here?
A couple of months ago, another Fellow in archaeology and I went out to Ostia Antica for the day. In my dissertation, I am studying a sanctuary within Ostia about which there is very little published material and the sanctuary is difficult to fully understand, especially by looking at plans alone. I wanted to have a second pair of eyes look at the sanctuary to see if together we might be able to read the space better. After an hour and a half of moving around the sanctuary and carefully looking at everything from joins in tufa blocks to lines of bricks indicating a rise in ground level, we had made sense of the site! It was truly a “eureka” moment.

What part of your project has been or do you anticipate will be the most challenging?
A challenging (but somewhat expected) aspect of my project has no doubt been getting permessi to do work I need to do on some of the sanctuaries I am studying in my dissertation (but all my requests have been successful so far!). But perhaps what challenged me most this year occurred when I was working on a chapter on the specific, off-axis orientation of particular altars. Unexpectedly, I was faced with having to learn (at least at some basic level) a new field of study that I had no background in whatsoever – astronomy. In my study at the Academy, I put up different star charts on my bulletin boards to better learn and visualize what I was studying (and at night looked at the sky and the stars from the terrace of the McKim, Mead & White building).

What aspect of your project are you most looking forward to?
Well, honestly, after all the time and work that has gone into it thus far, I am really looking forward to finishing my dissertation!

What's surprised you most about living in Rome?
That I don’t want to move back to America. But in all seriousness, I have been to Rome a number of times before but what has surprised me most about being here this year is getting to see sites or areas of the city I may have seen many times before but through a completely new light. I have gained totally new perspectives on these once familiar sites by listening to scholars and specialists in different fields comment on, for example, aspects of the careful construction of a set of stairs or the way a particular sculpture was designed and displayed.

How have you managed the balance between your work (time in the studio/study) and engagement with Rome and Italy (travel, sightseeing, interactions with locals)?
A major component of Roman sacrifice was a large communal feast after the ritual slaughter. The Rome Sustainable Food Project has provided many wonderful occasions for such communal feasting (minus, of course, the ritual sacrifice).

How do you anticipate your Rome Prize Fellowship will influence future work?
Living and working at the Academy this year has allowed me to develop many friendships and meet many colleagues across disciplines. For example, a Fellow in architecture and I use weekly runs together in the nearby park as a venue to discuss different conceptions of and ways to view space, different definitions of ritual infrastructure, different understandings of landscape and urban development. Such cross-discipline collaboration has taken another, more formal form this year as well. With another Fellow (a historian of ancient Christianity), I have been organizing an interdisciplinary, international conference on the topic of the material evidence of cult practice to be held at the Academy in May. This workshop will bring together scholars working on a range of topics across the Mediterranean from the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE. I have no doubt my year at the American Academy has set the stage for future exciting, collaborative, interdisciplinary work.

What is your favorite spot at the Academy? or in Rome?
I have been trying to think of my one favorite spot in Rome and haven’t been able to come up with a single answer. I think the reason is that I don’t have one specific place. Rather, my favorite place in Rome is mobile. What I mean by this is that in many ways, I have experienced Rome not by sitting in a single place and watching people pass by me but instead by walking the city, taking distinct paths past certain monuments (taking Via delle Fornaci down to the Vatican from the Academy, turning one corner and seeing the dome of S. Peter’s in the distance), past neighborhood fountains (Piazza della Suburra in Monti), and of course past favorite gelaterias (too many to name). Getting to experience Rome on foot has really given me a sense of the city, the people, the culture; moving through the streets is what Rome is for me.