Ancient History

Language Selection

Breadcrumb Navigation


Colour and World Organisation in Antiquity

Habilitation project Dr. Denise Reitzenstein

Colour terms in ancient texts pose a particular hermeneutic and epistemological challenge. The ways in which the colours of both concrete and abstract objects are named and determined are by no means universal but in fact culturally contingent. Even the distinction between object and colour is not always a given fact, but varies by culture and over time. Finally, the conventions and ideas held by communities also influence how colours are distinguished and related to one another. The colour terms of the Graeco-Roman world are hence embedded into symbolic systems and semantic contexts that cannot be simply transposed into modern categories of world organisation, given that they too are culturally contingent.

My ongoing habilitation project aims to study such ancient classifications and their roots. The study seeks to understand ancient normative and phenomenological ideas of colour, their descriptive use, the taxonomical organisation, for instance of pigments and skin tones, and their semantic connotation. I will further aim to investigate the reception of Greek orders of colour in Roman culture and vice versa. The results will provide a new approach to the taxonomies and communicative functions of colour terms in Antiquity.


Dr. Denise Reitzenstein