Barbara Kowalzig

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2016/2017
discipline History
Associate Professor of Classics and History, New York University

Research project

Gods around the Pond: Religion, Society, and the Sea in the Early Mediterranean Economy


"Gods around the Pond" explores the interaction of religious practices and economic patterns in archaic, classical and early Hellenistic Mediterranean cultures (ca. 1000-300 BCE). This is a period of radical social transformation, in the eyes of many Greeks prompted not least by increased maritime travel and exchange in an economic space shared with Phoenicians, Etruscans, Egyptians, the peoples on the Black Sea, and many other local populations. Taking a distinct long-term Mediterranean perspective, the book will propose a new interpretation of above all Greek religion as arising from the broad and transcultural context of maritime economic mobility rather than the landed city-state, the traditional setting for the study of Greek religion. The development of polytheism and economic transformation in the Mediterranean will emerge as interdependent and inextricably intertwined.


The project’s objective is to pinpoint a conceptual link between religious and economic systems: that is to say between myth, ritual and cult on the one hand, and the representation and practice of economic processes and strategies on the other, conveyed in literature, epigraphic documents, art and the material traces of exchange. The key to this nexus lies in identifying religious practice and cognition as the context for the enactment of principles of economic theory, economic sociology and moral economics.


Through close analysis of the religious and economic connectivity of local contexts—from the far Mediterranean West via the Adriatic to the Aegean islands, Cyprus and the Levantine Coast, the Hellespont and Black Sea—I investigate how Mediterranean landscape and the mobility it necessitates embed religious practices in economic activity. I thus develop a picture of Greek as Mediterranean polytheism, emerging from cross-cultural exchange on the one hand, a developing political economy of interacting states on the other. While the primary evidence chiefly belongs to the world of Mediterranean-wide mobility of goods and people, the religious dynamic uncovered reveals a constant dialogue with the city-state’s concerns for self-sufficiency, wealth, and the control of its resources and provisions, basic to community stability and cohesion. "Gods around the Pond" therefore addresses the core of Greek, even Mediterranean history, which charts a culture of the integrated city-state against the fluidity of Mediterranean movement.




Barbara Kowalzig is Associate Professor of Classics & History and Director of Graduate Studies at New York University. She is a religious and cultural historian of ancient Greece in its broader, transcultural Mediterranean context with interests ranging from the sociology of music and performance to the role of religion in the social and economic transformation of the ancient world. She holds a DPhil in Classical Languages and Literature from the University of Oxford.


Selected publications


'Transcultural Chorality: Iphigenia in Tauris and Athenian Imperial Interest in a Polytheistic World', in R. Gagné & M. Hopmann (eds), Choral Mediations in Greek Drama, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2013, pp. 178-210.


'Broken Rhythms in Plato’s Laws: Materialising Social Time in the khoros', in N. Peponi (ed.), Performance and Culture in Plato’s Laws, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2013, pp. 171-211.


'Dancing Dolphins on the Wine-Dark Sea: Dithyramb and Social Change in the Archaic Mediterranean', in B. Kowalzig & P. Wilson (eds), Dithyramb in Context, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013, pp. 31-58.


'Musical Merchandise 'on Every Vessel': Religion and Trade on the Island of Aigina', in D. Fearn (ed.), Aigina: Contexts for Choral Lyric Poetry. Myth, History, and Identity in the Fifth Century BC, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010, pp. 129-171. 



'Nothing to Do With Demeter? Theatre and Society in the Greek West', in O. Revermann & P. Wilson (eds), Performance, Iconography, Reception. Studies in Honour of Oliver Taplin, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008, pp. 128-157.


Singing for the Gods: Performances of Myth and Ritual in Archaic and Classical Greece, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007; paperback 2011.



junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Social Anthropology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Biology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Linguistics
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline History of Science and Technology