Online Lecture: ‘Byzantine Pieces of an Umayyad Puzzle: A Basalt Platform in the Azraq Oasis’, Dr Alexander Brey, 1 October 2020, 4:00–5:00pm (ET)

We are pleased to announce that “Byzantine Pieces of an Umayyad Puzzle: A Basalt Platform in the Azraq Oasis” has been rescheduled. In this lecture, Dr. Alexander Brey, Wellesley College, will discuss an Umayyad-era basalt reservoir platform built within the Azraq oasis in eastern Jordan and places its carved interlocking stones in conservation with early Byzantine zodiac and celestial diagrams.

A basalt reservoir platform built within the Azraq oasis in eastern Jordan features carved stones that fit together like the interlocking pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. Combining Sasanian and Byzantine motifs, the bucolic and mythological imagery that once decorated the platform is typical of the courtly architectural decoration produced for the ruling families of the Umayyad caliphate (661–750 CE).

In this talk I argue that, although the platform does not contain a depiction of the zodiac as such, the logic of its design can be better understood through comparison with a group of Early Byzantine zodiac and celestial diagrams. Situating the platform in the context of the post-Byzantine visual and material culture of Greater Syria during the Umayyad era not only clarifies the composition of the platform, but also the different relationships between image-part and image-whole that were implicit in a variety of late antique media and artistic techniques.

October 1, 2020 | Zoom | 4:00–5:00 pm (Eastern time)

This lecture will take place live on ZOOM, followed by a question and answer period. Please register to receive the ZOOM link. An email with the relevant ZOOM information will be sent 1–2 hours ahead of the lecture. Registration closes at 11:00 AM on October 1, 2020.


Sponsored by the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture and Harvard University Standing Committee on Medieval Studies.

Alexander Brey, Wellesley College

Alexander Brey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art at Wellesley College. He received his PhD and MA in the History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. His research interests include the cross-cultural reception of visual cultures in the Umayyad caliphate and the medieval Mediterranean more generally, ranging from studies of the built environment to the trade and reuse of luxury goods. He is currently working on his book project, “The Caliph’s Prey: Hunting in the Visual Cultures of the Umayyad Empire.” His work has been supported by fellowships at the Social Science Research Council and the Garden and Landscape Studies program at Dumbarton Oaks.


Published by Roisin Astell

Roisin Astell received a First Class Honours in History of Art at the University of York (2014), under the supervision of Dr Emanuele Lugli. After spending a year learning French in Paris, Roisin then completed an MSt. in Medieval Studies at the University of Oxford (2016), where she was supervised by Professor Gervase Rosser and Professor Martin Kauffmann. In 2017, Roisin was awarded a CHASE AHRC studentship as a doctoral candidate at the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, under the supervision of Dr Emily Guerry.

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