In July 2014, I had the great pleasure of presenting at an international conference entitled “Political Religions in the Ancient Mediterranean,” co-organized by the Ancient History Bulletin and the University of Ioannina, held in Ioannina, Greece. Ioannina is located in Epirus, in the northwestern region of Greece. Once considered a backwater on the periphery of the Greek world, the region only came to prominence in the fourth century BC when the Epirote princess Olympias married Philip II of Macedon and became the mother of Alexander the Great. In the third century, King Pyrrhus established Epirus as a major power in the struggles of the Successors of Alexander the Great and even intervened against the Romans in Italy, where he bequeathed his name to a military victory which is achieved with tremendous losses. The modern inhabitants of Ioannina, the chief modern city in the region, are justly proud of their heroic ancestor and have erected a statue in honour of Pyrrhus near the Archaeological Museum.
The conference was held in the 18th century Monastery of Agios Georgios of Douroti, situated on a hill high above the modern University of Ioannina. While the panoramic views overlooking the city of Ioannina and its lake were stunning, access to the monastery proved somewhat of a challenge. Every day was an adventure. The morning began at 8 a.m. with a quick but delicious breakfast (the wonderful array of sweet and savoury offerings that one only finds in Greece—the yogourt really is without parallel anywhere else) and lively conversation at the refectory-style tables and benches (all seven of the rooms at our beautiful guesthouse were occupied by conference participants), there was a mad rush in order to arrive at the city centre, a fifteen-minute walk along the charming narrow streets, by 8:30, at which time our bus was to pick us up to take us to the University, just outside the town. Once we arrived at the University, a minibus then ferried us to the monastery in shifts, for the road up the hill was too narrow to accommodate a full-sized bus. The same process was then repeated in reverse to go back down the hill for lunch, and again at the end of the day to return to town, when there was again a mad rush of the guesthouse occupants to change and meet for dinner each evening (most memorably, the last night, at a restaurant on the waterfront from which we watched the sun setting dramatically over the lake).
The papers, presented by a truly international array of scholars, were stimulating (many truly groundbreaking). I cannot wait until the revised and fully annotated versions are published. And I cannot help but applaud our European colleagues, who did all of us Anglophones a major service by presenting their papers in English. The conference was capped by a group visit to the oracular sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona, where we were given a personal guided tour of the site by two of the archaeologists who excavate there. What better way to end a conference on political religions than by listening for the voice of Zeus in the trees as we prepared to return to our various homelands?