ICS Varia

"The Jews of South Italy" (full text here)
Text of 1979 lecture by Prof. Cesare Colafemmina, University of Bari, at Hebrew College, Brookline, MA.
Abstract: The most consistent and chronologically extensive evidence of the history of the Jews in the Italian peninsula can be found in Puglia, in Southern Italy. It is possible that the first Jewish community in the area, although limited in size, had its origin even earlier than supposed by the Sefer Yosippon, i.e. before the destruction of the Hebrew state. Brindisi also has the honor of being mentioned in the Mishnah as being the port of embarkation of Akiba and other colleagues who were returning to Erez Israel. The first official information about the Apulian Jews can be found in a constitution issued by Honorius, Emperor of the West, in 398 CE. From the 4th to the 9th century, there is no further information to be found in the literary sources. There exists, however, good archaeological documentation, especially inscriptions. This documentation is going to be the subject of my speech.


“Master of Classical Greek Sculpture: Scopas and Boston” Full text here (link).
Text of 2002 Estelle Shohet Brettman Memorial Lecture by Dr. Olga Palagia, Professor of Classical Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Art History, Athens University
Abstract: Scopas, once of the great Greek sculptors and architects of the 4th century BCE, gained fame for his work on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and eventually recognition as an important influence on the High Classical style and development of European Art. Professor Olga Palagia reviews his career and points out the stylistic links between his work and sculptures in the MFA's collection, including a masterful bronze head of a goddess.


“New Light on Women's Roles in the Ancient Synagogues of the Roman Empire”  Full text here (link) or pdf (text) ConticelloDeSpagnolis1990Text of 1990 ICS Founders' Lecture by Dr. Marisa de Spagnolis, Director of the Office of Excavations of Nocera and Sarno, Italy and ICS Honorary Director. 
Abstract: "In this talk, archaeological evidence of a hitherto unknown ancient Jewish congregation at Nocera in Campania, Italy, is presented, in which a prominent role could well have been played by a woman. In September 1988, during work undertaken to construct a second track of the Naples-Salerno railroad in Upper Nocera, an ancient structure was discovered. Tomb n. 17 of this necropolis (a chest type, "a cassa"), presented a new feature, the presence of two marble slabs inserted into the walls of the tomb, evidently transferred from another site. Each slab bears and incised menorah along with a Greek inscription. The first inscription makes reference to a woman named Myrina, designated as a presbytera. The other mentions a man, named Pedoneius, designated as a grammateus. Described, without a doubt, are a husband and wife, one a grammateus and the other a presbytera. De' Spagnolis Conticello's impressive find offers strong evidence for women holding offices in the Jewish congregations of the Late Roman Empire and is of major importance also because it provides evidence for one or more synagogues in the well-organized and rather complex community of Nocera Superiore. The presence of Jews in Antiquity was not previously known in this site."


"Exploring Estelle: AIA Advocate, Jewish Site Preservation Pioneer" Full text here (link)
Text of 2018 lecture at the Archaeological Institute of America Annual Meeting in Boston, MA (Session 1J: "New Approaches to the Catacombs of Rome") by Jessica Dello Russo, ICS Executive Director.

Abstract: Attendees at the American Institute for Archaeology's Centennial Meeting in Boston in December of 1979 had an exceptional opportunity to learn about new research on Jews in the Roman Diaspora, including Jewish tombs in the underground cemeteries or "catacombs' of Rome and Venosa. With the financial backing of AIA Deputy Coordinator Estelle Shohet Brettman, an international panel of experts on Ancient Judaism convened at the AIA meeting to share their work on archaeological evidence of Jewish communities within the larger context of Greco-Roman civilization. 

The meeting of like minds at the 1979 meeting was timely, and not just for the centenary of the AIA. While none of the panelists spoke primarily about Rome's Jewish catacombs, these were the archaeological remains most in the public eye at the time, as Italy and the Vatican moved forward to ratify a new treaty which would remove these ancient Jewish burial grounds from Vatican control, a deal at long last made in 1984. Talking about Ancient Jews in Rome was the same as talking about the tombs of Jews in Rome, since virtually all the evidence was from mortuary remains. It was too big an elephant in the room to be ignored.

And it wasn't. The other big Boston event that coincided with the AIA panel was an exhibit of photographs of the Jewish and Christian Catacombs of Rome taken by Brettman herself. This exhibit, however, was not held in a conference hall, or limited to a scholarly audience. It was free and open to all in the foyer of the Boston Public Library from the December holiday season through early February of 1980. According to BPL Acting Director Liam Kelly, Brettman's display was one of the most successful programs ever held at the site.

Right at the time of the BPL show's inauguration, the International Catacomb Society was born. This presentation contextualizes the significance of the AIA and BPL events for the society's founding and outlines the rich public legacy Brettman left behind at her death in 1991.


"The Catacombs of Venosa: A Site Study (2 August 2016)." Full text here (link).
In late July of 2016, Prof. Giacomo Saban, former President of the Jewish Community in Rome, met with ICS Executive Director Jessica Dello Russo in Rome and requested that she undertake an independent evaluation of the actual condition of the catacombs of Venosa and report back to him on what she had found. Saban had become increasingly concerned about the catacombs' apparent inaccessibility to the public and lack of published information about the recent restoration campaign of 2000-2005. In her site visit of 2 August 2016, Dello Russo was carefully monitored by a staff member of the Basilicata region archaeological inspectorate and unable to photograph or study at length the inscriptions and tomb designs. Her description of the visit nonetheless provided to Saban the necessary insights into the site's appearance and reasons for its extended closure. Dello Russo went on to incorporate part of this material into the 2020 publication, Le catacombe ebraiche di Venosa: Recenti interventi, studi e ricerche (link).