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Ghent University – Faculty of Arts & Philosophy (Belgium)

Two research positions in ERC project on communication practices in Antiquity

In September 2017, prof. dr. Klaas Bentein was awarded a Starting Grant by the European Research Council, entitled ‘Everyday Writing in Graeco-Roman and Late Antique Egypt. A socio-semiotic study of communicative variation’ (EVWRIT, 2018 – 2023). He has already filled three research positions on the project, and is now opening up two more research positions, both at the level of PhD candidate (full-time, four years).

The project

Docu­mentary texts from Ancient Egypt such as letters, petitions, and contracts have provided a key witness for our know­ledge of the administration, education, economy, etc. of Ancient Egypt. This project argues that, since the texts represent originals, their external  aspects should also be brought into the interpre­ta­tion: elements such as hand­writing, linguistic register or writing material transmit indirect social messages concerning hier­archy, status, and power relations, and can therefore be con­sidered ‘semiotic resour­ces’. They have, however, never been the object of syste­matic study.

The project’s driving hypothesis is that commu­nicative variation – variation that is functionally insignifi­cant but socially significant (e.g. there are ~ there’s ~ it’s a lot of people) – enables the expression of soci­al meaning. The main aim of this project is to analyze the nature of this communicative variation. The project has three more specific goals: (i) to create an open-access database of annotated documentary texts, (ii) to uncover the ‘semiotic potential’ of the different semiotic resources that play a role in documentary writing, and (iii) to analyze the interrelationship between the different semiotic resources involved. 

PhD fellowships (four years)

Research topics

Applicants are invited to apply for a full-time, four-year fellowship to study communicative variation in one of the following two areas:

1.       Multilingualism: Roman/Late Antique Egypt formed a multi-lingual environment: speakers/writers could choose between four languages (Greek, Latin, Coptic, and at a later stage Arabic), cor­responding to four different scripts. Moreover, speakers/writers could use multiple languages at one and the same time (‘code-switching’), or write one and the same language in multiple scripts (e.g. Greek words/phrases in the Latin alphabet). As a PhD candidate, you will make an inventory of such practices, studying the social motivation that lies behind them.

2.       Material aspects of writing: from a material point of view, too, writing displayed extensive variation. For example, writers had the choice between various writing materials (papyrus, but also potsherd, wood, linen, leather and parchment), and could opt for different types of document format (such as the ‘horizontal’ and the ‘vertical’ format). As a PhD candidate, you will investigate which social role such material aspects of writing had to play.


The successful applicants will be expected to hand in and defend a doctoral thesis after four years of research. They will also be expected to actively contribute to the scholarly activities of the research group (such as annotating the EVWRIT-database, organizing conferences, participating in joint publications, etc.). They should come and live in Belgium, and work closely together with the other team members, contributing to a pleasant and stimulating atmosphere.

Envisaged profile

Applicants are expected to hold a master’s degree in Classics or in a related discipline (e.g. Ancient History or Linguistics). In order to be eligible, applicants must have obtained their degree at the time of application or demonstrate convincingly that they will have that degree in hand by the end of 2018. Applicants should be fluent in English, and have good reading skills of the other languages relevant to the field (German, French, Italian).


The fellowship is for four years, on condition of positive evaluation by the advisory board after the second year. The net salary will be approx. €2000/month; in addition the fellowship provides for social benefits and health insurance. Successful applicants will also be given a substantial allowance for travel and other research purposes.

Ghent University

Ghent is an attractive medieval town, with a strong economic base and lively cultural scene. Just 30 minutes by train from Brussels, two hours from Paris and Amsterdam and two and a half hours from London, it is ideally situated at the heart of European intellectual life.

Ghent University was founded in 1817 and is currently one of the major universities in the Low Countries ( Its Greek section is internationally recognized for its broad literary, linguistic, and philological interests. It houses experts on the entire diachrony of the Greek language, including Homeric, Classical, Post-classical, Medieval and Modern Greek. Three colleagues in particular will be involved in this project (prof. dr. Mark Janse, prof. dr. Giovanbattista Galdi, and dr. Joanne Stolk), but there are several other members of the Greek section who have a lively interest in the project.

How to apply

Applications should include (i) a cover letter outlining your background and motivation, (ii) a detailed CV, (iii) a one-page research proposal (not including references), (iv) two letters of recommendation, and (v) a writing sample (10.000 words maximum).

Applicants are invited to submit these documents (preferably one pdf-file) to Klaas.Bentein@UGent.Be.

The deadline for submission is October 26, 2018. A selected number of applicants will be invited for an interview in Ghent on November 19, 2018.

The starting date is January 7, 2018, or soon after.

For inquiries, please contact prof. dr. Klaas Bentein at the above-mentioned e-mail address.