Dr. Nicholas Hudson to Lead Roman Pottery Studies at Greece’s Athenian Agora

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

In a career-defining moment for archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Hudson, UNCW associate professor of art history, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens has named him the Roman pottery lead of excavations of the Agora of Athens in Greece.  

Hudson, an expert in eastern Mediterranean archaeology, studies ancient pottery to learn more about the everyday lives of people. Since 1998, he has worked on archaeological projects in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece to discover ways in which pottery was used during the Roman Empire. 

“Pottery is the most common archaeological artifact at ancient sites in the Mediterranean, which makes it a valuable tool for archaeological interpretation,” Hudson explained. 

By examining relics like large transport jars that would have contained wine and olive oil to smaller table vessels used for eating and serving, specialists like Hudson can draw conclusions about trading, the economy, and cultural trends in social drinking and eating. 

“My research has always explored innovative ways with which to approach archaeological ceramics to improve our understanding of past behaviors at an intimate, interpersonal level,” he said.  

Much of Hudson’s work has focused on foodways—how people procured, cooked and ate food—in the Roman Empire. His work in the Athenian Agora, which will begin this summer, will continue this trajectory.  

“The Athenian Agora, perceived as the cradle of western civilization, is an absolute bedrock institution for all archaeology related to the Greek and Roman world in the Mediterranean,” Hudson said. 

In ancient times, the Agora grew from being a marketplace for trading and socializing to a vibrant hub for city government and politics. Nearly 100 years of systematic excavations have produced unparalleled data sets of artifacts to study this transformation. 

The American School of Classic Studies at Athens—a consortium of nearly 200 North American colleges and universities—oversees the research at the Agora, after being given the exclusive rights by the Greek government in 1931 to excavate the site. Scholars like Hudson have been digging there non-stop ever since.  

Hudson’s new role as Roman pottery lead will include examining a small section of the site that is still untouched, however, he is most excited about having access to the existing artifacts and data. 

“My primary interest is to stand on the shoulders of the influential figures who have studied Roman pottery in the Agora before me—especially Henry Robinson and John Hayes—to move studies of the same material in new directions.”  

In a first-of-its-kind study, Hudson will use the vast body of work at the Athenian Agora to examine changing patterns of culinary traditions and social dining practices over the 600-year course of the Roman Empire. 

“My ambition is to better understand how the people of the Roman Empire expressed their social identities and worldviews through meal preparation and consumption,” Hudson said. “My intention is to use archaeology to provide a voice to the voiceless populations of imperial Roman history.” 

In addition to his research, Hudson will advise graduate students from other academic institutions around the world interested in studying Roman pottery in the Athenian Agora. He is also the author of the forthcoming book Communion. Dining at the End of Antiquity, which examines private dining experiences of the wealthy and poor and how they changed over time in relation to political and social changes. 

-- Krissy Vick