In school we learn about the Mesopotamians, then the Egyptians, then the Greeks, and so on. Unless these groups went to war with one another, we may be left to believe that the great civilizations of the Old World formed and existed in isolation. Their distinctive, readily recognizable artifacts can in fact confirm this misleading impression, but critical scholarship reveals a much more complex, dynamic picture of ancient cultures.
There is probably no better example so sharply contrasting the picture of insular cultures than the Mediterranean basin during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, when different empires, peoples, and cultures participated in a wide range of interaction.
Arts and crafts that survived from this era reflect the dynamics of creative exchange on the one hand and remarkable persistence of cultural traditions on the other. This story of mutual interactions is the subject of a special exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago. Titled Ancient Mediterranean Cultures in Contact, the exhibit showcases nearly 100 objects from the museum’s ancient Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Etruscan collections. Underlining the aspects of migration and assimilation, the show consciously points to the parallels between the ancient world and our present situation.