Matthew McCarty

Assistant Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Beyond romanization : design and practice at the ionic building at Garni (Armenia) (2023)

This thesis offers a new account of an Ionic building at Garni (Armenia), built around the first century CE in a small kingdom caught between the Roman and Parthian Empires. Much previous scholarship on the building has been built from two problematic approaches: relying primarily on textual sources and political histories to understand the building’s significance, and defining the structure according to fixed categories of culture (e.g., “Greco-Roman”) and function (e.g., temple or tomb). Such approaches are also common in studies of the Roman frontiers more broadly. In order to move away from such approaches, this thesis focuses on the materiality of the Ionic building–that is, its materials, the techniques and competencies that helped to give it form, and the affordances of its physical features. I focus on the dynamic processes of design and construction to draw attention to the various resources and competencies necessary in the production of such a building, thus illuminating how the builders adapted various imperial, regional and local building traditions. Additionally, I consider the material affordances of the building as well as the possible experiences of its use, which reveal how Garni is monumentalized via its materiality as well as its location. By applying these new methodologies and by comparing Garni to a large dataset of temples found throughout the Roman Empire, but especially in Asia Minor and the Near East, I argue that Garni served primarily as a monumental landmark which stood at the confluence of various imperial, regional and local building traditions. This new interpretation demonstrates the inadequacy of cultural labels such as “Greco-Roman” or “Ionic” and of functional ascriptions such as “temple” or “tomb,” which do not communicate the architectural complexities of the building. Furthermore, this interpretation contributes to a better understanding of the history of Armenia and the various ways in which architectural forms and styles are modified, appropriated and redeployed. This thesis thus demonstrates how studies of materiality might offer a new path in the field of Roman frontier studies by encouraging scholars to assess buildings for what they are rather than what they are said to be.

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Reconstructing experience in ancient Rome and Chang'an: a comparative approach (2022)

No abstract available.

Shaping social relations at the grave : a spatial analysis of tombs 88-90 at the Isola Sacra Necropolis and Tomb B at the Vatican Necropolis (2022)

Scholars typically consider Roman funerary monuments to be static representations of the commissioner or deceased. However, this common approach limits our inquiries to a single individual and the moment of the tomb's commission, ignoring decades and centuries of subsequent use and users. Furthermore, it belies the fact that the tomb was also a locus of social activity amidst collective mourning and annual festivities like parentalia. To address these shortcomings, this thesis proposes a new approach centered on the agency of the tomb. In so doing, it argues that tombs actively influenced the social activity of its users in ways that changed over time. I employ this approach on two diachronic case studies, Tombs 88-90 at the Isola Sacra Necropolis and Tomb B at the Vatican Necropolis, through an application of space syntax. This analytical framework developed by Hillier and Hanson (1984) permits us to quantify, represent, and interpret the spatial relationships in the built environment that impact the probable movement and encounter patterns of its users. The results of this study reveal that the built environment of the tomb and the material manifestations of its inhabitants structured the social environment of the living as much as it structured their interactions with the dead. Just as relationships amongst the living were not equal, so too were spaces in these chamber tombs. The physical and topological properties of the tomb could reinforce social stratification and create an experiential hierarchy for its users. Consequently, changes to the tomb precipitated not only shifts in its social potential and the lived experience of its users, but also in their experience of social stratification within the space. Finally, this thesis demonstrates that an approach centered on the agency of the tomb can lend new insights into oft-discussed topics and opens the field to new questions, insights, and methodologies that can consider the lifespan of the tomb and the oft-forgotten individuals buried within.

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A methodological approach for interpreting disaster response in antiquity (2021)

Archaeologists have long been interested in identifying earthquakes in the archaeological record, although they have traditionally portrayed seismic disasters as cataclysms over which humans have no control. However, a seismically-induced disaster is not just an event visited upon a human population, but is the result of interactions between human actions and natural processes, meaning that humans have some agency over the occurrence of a disaster and its outcomes. This failure to consider the role of human agency in seismic disasters has limited our ability to understand the material record at sites affected by these events. In order to resolve this issue, I present a new methodological for understanding ancient seismic disasters which investigates the role of human agency in these events by taking people’s responses as its focus. Since people’s responses to modern disasters have been subject to more thorough investigation, this approach draws partly from methods developed for the study of these modern events. As a case study, I apply this method to evidence from Kourion, a city on the island of Cyprus which was affected by an earthquake in the late fourth century CE. The traditional interpretation of the Kourion earthquake, developed by David Soren, is that it struck the city and the nearby Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates in 365 CE, resulting in the abandonment of both sites, with the city being reoccupied in 383. My analysis of the earthquake differs from Soren’s in several respects, as I suggest that the earthquake occurred between 370 and 380, and that the city was not abandoned following the event. Moreover, I argue that changes to the urban landscape at Kourion after the earthquake are not solely attributable to the earthquake, but are also related to broader cultural and religious changes happening in the Mediterranean region during the Late Antique period. I also suggest that the abandonment of the sanctuary was related to these changes, and was not caused by seismic activity.

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Iconography of Persuasion: Re-evaluating Empress Irene in her Numismatic Context (2019)

Empress Irene (r. 780-802 CE) is a contentious figure in Byzantine history. On the one hand, she is well-known for the restoration of icon worship at the Council of Nicaea in 787; on the other hand, she is notorious for blinding her son, Constantine VI at Constantinople in 797. Most importantly, she became the first female emperor of Byzantium. The problem in understanding this figure is that the narratives about her have been built from biased, historical texts, such as that of Theophanes the Confessor writing in the early ninth century. This thesis seeks to shift the discussion from the literary to the material. Coins are an often-neglected form of primary evidence in Byzantine studies. I argue that coins and their iconography have the ability to make important claims about power in the Byzantine world.The data for this thesis comes from the well-established collection at the American Numismatic society and from the Rachel and David Herman Collection of Byzantine Coins at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, whose specimens I am the first to research and analyze since their donation in 2015. Through an in-depth analysis of the iconography employed on Irene’s coinage and the variations which occur across the gold and bronze denominations, I demonstrate clear evidence for imperial tailoring of these numismatic images in order to communicate degrees of authority to the varying audiences of coin users. This underutilized form of evidence offers a closer connection to the imperial perspective regarding a ruler’s authority. As such, the coins enable us to see an official view in which Irene gradually ascended to sole rule and represented as a traditional Byzantine emperor. The numismatic evidence presents an alternative picture of Irene, independent of the historiography.

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Rural religion at rock sanctuaries in Roman Spain: an alternative model (2018)

Rural religion in Roman Spain continues to be misunderstood due to problematic narratives in both ancient and modern sources. In the age of Augustus, the Greek geographer Strabo put forth misrepresentations of the religious beliefs and practices of inhabitants of Hispania as a result of two main problems, the polis-religion model view and idea of acculturation. Strabo and his sources’ shared a lack of familiarity with religious expressions in the rural sphere of Roman Spain due to their narrow view of religious rites. Moreover, writers under the Roman Empire like Strabo tend to emphasize cultural transformations to the “Roman mode of life” as positive and widespread experiences, even if in reality the process was much more gradual and varied. This Strabonian meta-narrative problematizes our understanding of religious change in the region of Hispania. What’s more, this meta-narrative has lived on in modern scholarship as scholars continue to focus their inquiries into religious change largely on the urban centers of society, conceptualize religious and cultural change in terms of acculturation models such as “Romanization,” and treat religious beliefs in isolation from practice by ignoring the spatial context of epigraphic evidence. In response to such problematic frameworks, I propose an alternative model aimed at presenting a more complete picture of religion in Roman Spain. Throughout this framework, I privilege the study of the rural sphere, trace instances of inventing traditions in rural religion, and analyze the epigraphic evidence alongside its spatial context in order to look beyond the narrow range of material covered by past scholars. In the first chapter I apply my alternative model to the sanctuary of Panóias and demonstrate the inability of past approaches to portraying the innovative agency taking place. In the second chapter I test the applicability of interpretations of Panóias to other rock sites in Spain as done by past scholars. I conclude that Panóias is not necessarily applicable as a model to other sites, although interpretations made through the application of an alternative model does drive knowledge forward by helping us understanding individual agency and the invention of tradition in rural religion in Roman Spain.

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