The American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Meet a Member: Ching-Yuan (Dwight) Wu

Moira Lavelle

Ching-Yuan (Dwight) Wu is a Associate Member at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, working on a PhD in Ancient History at the University of Pennsylvania. He received a BA and MA from the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan.

Q: What is your particular field of interest?
A: I am studying Roman provincial administration. I’m looking into how Government control works, how local communities respond to control, how they negotiate with agents of the emperor, the Roman senate, and the Roman state in general, and how negotiation works, through what media, and what each side gets out of this collaboration or existence. Basically I’m looking at the symbiosis of the empire.

Q: How did you get interested in this topic?
A: I took two seminars— one on ancient economies, the other on provincial perspectives. During the ancient economies course I did a project comparing Han Dynasty iron-working administration with Roman mining administration: how they were operated, what agents there were, how the process of production management and employment and distribution worked. That project led me to think about other aspects of Roman administration and looking at things on a provincial scale.
In my provincial perspectives class I had the chance to look into the orations of the Dio of Prusa. He’s this local Greek guy who had Roman citizenship, but was very active in local politics. There are a lot of speeches of his preserved that help us understand how cities in Bithynia worked. It’s fascinating because you’re looking at this local politician talking about how to deal with Roman governors and Roman proconsuls, and how to deal with competition between cities. It illustrates a very dynamic environment I wasn’t aware of before.
After these two classes I began wondering how this flesh-and-blood rhetorician worked into the cold metallic structure of the Roman Empire. What platforms can we see these people using to navigate the murky waters of the provinces?

Q: So what are you working on now?
A: My dissertation is on Roman provincial administration in northern Anatolia, particularly in coastal Paphlagonia-- a region that had been reorganized along with Bithynia into a double province. At least this is how modern scholars understand it. I’m really interested in seeing how sources from coastal Paphlagonia (both epigraphic and numismatic) relate to Roman administration.
I also want to compare other areas where similar situations seem to appear. One of them is the province of Macedonia. In Macedonia there are small pockets of so called “koina” that operated as leagues of villages or cities, though this organization is very unclear. In the words of the editors of EKM these are groups of villages that do not have a clear urban center. But they seem to have similar sorts of strategies to connect with each other and with the emperor. No matter how small the communities are they try to reach out and worship the Emperor and establish a connection that is not under a provincial structure. These smaller scale communities have their way of negotiating different avenues to resolve situations. And so for the Macedonia project I’m particularly looking at the Haliakmon River as a conduit that connects two or three of the koina and seeing what evidence there is and what pattern of hierarchy I can identify.

Q: What resources are you using to do your research?
A: I depend heavily on the Blegen because of the wonderful epigraphic collections they have. They have site publications and archaeological reports to go along with the epigraphical collections, which helps when after several transmissions some of the contextual information concerning the inscriptions could be lost.

Q: What brought you to the ASCSA?
A: I was a regular member last year. I’d never been to the Mediterranean, the area I study, so I wanted full exposure for a year and to feel what it’s like to live here. I believe in interacting with the landscape, including climbing mountains. Which we did. As a grad student I was doing a seminar on Greek sanctuaries, and I was presenting on Oropos and Rhamnous. I was driving myself crazy with site plans, drawings and photographs. I just felt that if I could actually be there, everything would be that much clearer. It was also the first time when I actually began to care about minute details of archaeological sites. I focused mostly on drainage, wells, cisterns, and why it matters if a tower was round or rectangular. The school trip was even more exhilarating because of the seminar. Being here gives me an opportunity to look at the problems people might have faced, and helps me to ask really basic questions—how to cross a river, how a mudbrick house works. These questions are easier to understand when I am here.

Q: You named your newborn daughter Gennadia, after the Gennadius Library. What made you make that decision?
A: I liked the idea of my daughter being named after a library. I liked how the Gennadion specifically identifies the importance of learning and reaching out to another culture. I like how they value interconnection and mutual respect as part of the consequence of learning. I hope the word Gennadia has packaged within it the idea of a center of learning and the exchange of ideas.

Q: What is your favorite place in Athens?
A: The Kerameikos. I like the flora and fauna there. Also it has a magnificent configuration of funerary and ceremonial sculpture and architecture. It’s a place I reported on during my regular year but also a place Athenians who lived here very long ago had an eye towards, no matter if celebrating the Panathenaea or protecting their city though this magnificent city wall and gate. It’s a central place, it is full of memories, and it has this sense of community. It’s the threshold of the city.

Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Athens?
A: Mesogaion. It’s a souvlaki place just downstairs from were my family and I lived in Koukaki this summer. It’s nothing glamorous but I like the people there. They were really kind and let us watch their TV, especially during the European cup and soccer games.

Q: If you were a Greek god or goddess which one would you be?
A: After having given it some thought I can only say who I don’t want to be: I don’t want to be Zeus because though it seems very cool, he had to experience the hatred towards his father, birth, having to deal with the consequence of extramarital relations. Which to me doesn’t sound all that exciting.

Q: Where else in Greece would you like to visit?
A: Amastris- this is the city I’m looking at. The modern name is Amasra. It’s In northern Turkey. I’ve been dreaming about this place since I’ve been working on my dissertation and it would be very cool to be able to go.

Q: What do you get from your experience at the ASCSA?
A: Looking at how sites can be observed, observing how the professors and fellow members wander sites, talk about sites, and how people visit museums --these are all to me important techniques to learn from other people. I do it one way, other people do it differently. It’s nice to be able to see how people approach materials differently and intelligently.
Also it’s fascinating to me to learn about how the ASCSA is run, to think about all these parts such as lectures, and sites, and libraries, there’s just so many components. The ASCSA is a unique organization in this regard, because it does it all. If there is one day the equivalent of an archaeological school run by an Asian country or establishment I would be very interested to see how these compare.