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Birmingham Egyptology

Iconoclasm in Egypt and beyond

The report for last week’s Forum (28th March) is now available on the ‘Last session’ tab of the Forum page. We would like to thank Dr Richard Clay from History of Art for agreeing to co-chair this topic, which resulted in a discussion involving ancient Egypt, Imperial Rome and revolutionary France, incorporating broader theories of semiotics. Rather surprisingly there was little mention of the time period for which iconoclasm is arguably best known – the Byzantine era – but perhaps this was deliberate. Ritner wrote that the ‘Byzantine baggage’ of the term was relevant to Egypt, but it is of course dangerous to use the term as it applies to one period for another, especially when they have such widely different cultural contexts as Egypt and the Byzantine Empire.

What was clear from the discussion was that many scholars become fixated on their personal idea of iconoclasm and assume that others share the same understanding. Often there is believed only to be a religious motive but this is arguably never the case, as was agreed by the Forum participants. As such, it seemed that there was a unstated agreement amongst Forum participants not to delve too deeply into Byzantine iconoclasm (which has such a strong religious element even though it too has both religious and political motives), but instead discuss the nature and context of signs and ‘sign transformation’ (see the report)  as they appear in such variety in other cultures and periods.
Any other ideas on the subject would be welcome, including from Byzantinists!

The next Forum session will be on Friday 2nd May. The programme is being prepared, but there are sessions available if you would like to act as chairperson.

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