Julius Caesar meets the Apostle Paul and the poet Homer through the research of CSULB’s Paul Scotton.
The time machine that introduces conqueror to saint to poet can be found in the ancient Greek cites of Corinth and Mycenae, the subjects of Scotton’s interest in the ancient world.
His forthcoming new book, The Julian Basilica: An Architectural Investigation, traces the history of an overlooked architectural wonder in Corinth that once played judge and jury to the Apostle Paul. In addition, he has been invited this summer to join a new archeological excavation of Corinth’s neighbor city of Mycenae, famed as the starting point for the Greeks as they set out to conquer Troy.
Corinth had its heyday between the 8th century B.C. and its destruction by the Roman general Mummius in 146 B.C. The city was reinhabited in 44 B.C. and gradually developed again becoming the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. In 51-52 A.D., the Apostle Paul visited Corinth.
In the second millennium BC, Mycenae was one of the major centers of Greek civilization, a military stronghold which dominated much of southern Greece. The period of Greek history from about 1600 BC to about 1100 BC is called Mycenaean in reference to the city’s influence.
There is a particular Roman basilica in Corinth built during the time of the emperor Augustus just after Julius Caesar and the Civil War that interests him.
“This particular Roman basilica was the scene of the imperial cult that honored the ruling Roman family,” explained Scotton, who joined the Department of Comparative World Literature and Classics in 2005. “It also served as a law court of the imperial province. It occurred to me that, if this served as a law court, then this place may well have been where the Apostle Paul was brought at his trial.”
The understanding of the building is significantly different than it had been. “The original idea was that Paul stood at a public speaking platform out in the forum 150 yards in the other direction from the tribunal in the basilica,” he explained. “Since that was the only tribunal (or bema) found, it was assumed to be the one where Paul was tried. This is a known event. It’s recorded by Roman historians. But it turns out we’ve all been studying the wrong spot. We needed to move about 150 yards to the east and indoors.”
He has been invited to participate in new excavations this summer, when he will explore a settlement outside Mycenae. “All we knew about Mycenae up to now was based on its citadel, a heavily fortified area on a hilltop,” he said. “But the description in Homer was entirely different. It took Heinrich Schliemann to find the ruins of Troy before critics admitted Homer was writing about a real place. What the new evidence suggests is that Homer’s description of Mycenae was far more accurate than we had thought. ”
Scotton is friends with the field director of the Mycenae excavation who has used remote sensing to reveal a huge settlement outside the walls. “He believes that where once it was believed 6,000 lived was really home to 60,000,” Scotton said. “I’ve joked with a Greek colleague that this excavation is what we will retire doing. My colleague replied that our grandchildren will still be there. There are virtually decades of work ahead.”
Above the Bronze Age settlement is a Hellenistic settlement founded after the death of Alexander. “I’ve been asked to oversee the Hellenistic excavation,” he said. “We will thoroughly document what’s there then we will peel away the Hellenistic era to reach the Bronze Age. It’s a great opportunity. And what will be great for CSULB is that I will have a lot of opportunities for students to participate as well as my colleagues in the faculty.”
Scotton wants to tap into the resources of CSULB’s Institute of Integrated Research on Environments Materials and Societies (IIRMES) with its Perkin Elmer 1600 Dynamic Reaction Cell ICP-MS and the Finnegan Mat Delta XP Stable Isotope Gas-Ratio Mass Spectrometer to allow examination of the site more accurately.
“I hope to bring in my CSULB colleagues to get a better idea above ground of what’s below ground,” he explained. “I want to coordinate with previous work and bring in new remote sensing. When they discover structures, it will be up to me to determine what they are looking at.”
What Scotton finds most exciting about the Mycenae dig is its focus not on palaces but on the two- and three-room homes of everyday Greeks. “This research will give scientists a much better idea of how the typical Mycenaean lived,” he said. “This will be a different look than what we’ve had before. I’m not going in expecting to find fabulous statues or treasure. We want a better understanding of day-to-day life. And that’s significant because 90 percent of us live that way.”
Researchers will look for evidence of everyday life, cooking facilities and artifacts of the occupations of those who lived there. “What we are likely to find are cooking pots or spindle whorls or loom weights or fish hooks or tools,” he said. “There are no grandiose expectations.”
Scotton’s Greek experience includes living there for four years with his wife and two children, where his older daughter attended the village school for four years. This brought Scotton and his family firmly into the village life, an experience that has produced lifelong friends for them all. He took his first master’s in creative writing from the University of Oregon and his second master’s from the University of Illinois. He returned to Oregon and drove trucks or worked in hospitals based on his service training as a medic. Then he got a job writing environmental impact reports for the Departments of the Interior and Energy and wound up owning his own home on a hill in Portland. “But I wanted more than vacations in Hawaii,” he said. So he sold the house, cashed in, and visited Italy, Egypt and Greece. After he returned, he earned his third M.A. from UC Santa Barbara in classical languages and his Ph.D. in 1997 from the University of Pennsylvania, where, after graduation, he was on the faculty for three years. He also served on the faculty of the University of Washington for six years.
Two things keep him coming back to the ancient world. One is that, by having architecture as a skill, he can walk through these great time frames. “Architecture is appropriate to many time periods,” he said. “I can move from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age to Greeks to Romans to an early Christian site in Cyprus. That’s exciting. It’s always different.”
He also keeps digging because it impacts CSULB. “By staying connected to new developments, I can tie those into the classroom,” he said. “I like the exchange with students because I’ve found that, in every course I teach, it’s different every time I teach it. The students get something from it and I get something from it. I find it all fits together very well.”