Where was ancient Greece?
Modern Greece is well defined, with the minor difficulty over the sovereignty of Mount Athos. Ancient Greece is a different matter. In the early first millennium BC Greece was arguably not united by land but by the Aegean Sea. Greek cities surrounded the Aegean, lying on its shores. In the ninth century something peculiar happens. Euboea, an island close to Athens starts sending out waves of settlers. The set up a colony on the shores of Syria at a site now known as Al Mina (Boardman 1990). This is followed by the establishment of other far flung colonies. Near what is now modern Naples, the Euboeans settled the colony of Pithekoussai. Other colonies followed on the toe of Italy and on Sicily on the opposite side of the Straits of Messina. Other cities sent out other settler and colonies sprung up along the shores of the Black Sea as far away as Georgia and on the shores of France and Spain. Both modern Marseilles and Ampurias are built on Greek foundations.
These were not ventures into pristine territories. In every case there were already indigenous populations. The nature of relationships between the Greeks and the Natives is a contentious issue. It is agreed that Natives in contact with the Greeks appear to have become more Hellenic. How this occurred and how the change in archaeological finds should be interpreted is contested. Broadly speaking there are two camps.
The traditional approach has been the superiority of Greek intellectual achievement Hellenised the Natives. Natives took on Greek pottery, Greek architecture and Greek culture simply because they were better. Typical of this interpretation would be the works The Western Greeks by Thomas Dunbabin (1948) and The Greeks Overseas by John Boardman (1999). These work from the observable facts that the Greeks arrived in new lands and caused the Natives to become more Hellenic and thus, in some way, must have been superior. This may have been technological superiority or organisational superiority but without resorting to racist ideas of inherent superiority they are able to conclude that the Greek way of life was better in some way, because that was the one that was adopted.
In contrast the other camp, the post-colonialists, considers how acculturation occurred to be central to writing histories of ancient colonisation. They can point to current studies of Americanisation and show that adopting exotic goods and ideas is not necessarily a matter of passive reception, but a matter of natives actively choosing what to use and what to reject. Hellenisation, it has been argued, is not about Natives being Hellenised, but actively competing against each other to show their status. They argue the traditional approaches to Hellenisation have been coloured by the legacy of the British Empire. The traditionalists justify the recent past by arguing that occupation of Native lands can be a good thing. The post-colonialists believe that the traditionalist view is an exercise in politics. De Angelis (1998:541) is scathing referring to Dunbabin’s work as part of an “…imperialist superiority complex in which things Hellenic (mirroring things British) were unhesitatingly regarded as inherently supreme.”
This may be true.
Boardman (1999:268) however has a robust response:
“Most recently a strange kind of political correctness has crept in, thrusting the desired modern standards onto antiquity and making assumptions about prejudices of recent generations of scholars, replacing them with new prejudices which are poorly established on any basic academic principle. To be Greco-centric is no matter of being prejudiced by the quality of evidence and historical observation, but simply a matter of being wrong. Some areas are now awash with babies and their bathwater.”
This may also be true. As Boardman points out neither rebuttal of the other side’s politics moves us any closer to knowing who is right.
De Angelis has disregards Boardman’s refutation, arguing current archaeologists are difficult to political analyse because it can take many years for the political climate of a time to be evident (1998:548 and citing Davies 1996:2). We are too close to the eighties to say if the rise of the archaeology of the individual and the rejection of systemic explanations was reflected by the rise of the politics of the individual and the paradigm shift of Thatcher-Reagan politics which rejected systemic notions of economies and focused on the individual. Similarly we cannot recognise the adoption of Giddens as philosopher of Labour’s Third Way and the popularity of Agency in archaeology as based on Giddens’ Structuration Theory. It is, for De Angelis as it is for Blair (Ashley and MacAskill 2003), for history to judge us.
The problem of what Hellenisation says about human interaction is fascinating because it is timeless. The period I shall look it is far from timeless, being the first millennium B.C. Yet the process of acculturation is something that can relevant to any time in the human past. The reason that there is continuing discussion of the process of Hellenisation is due in part to the underdetermination of theory by evidence (Baggini and Fosl 2002:211–2). As long as no new evidence is brought to bear on the topic data can be interpreted in either theoretical framework.
This thesis puts forward two ideas.
The first is that action and behaviour is a product of identity. For ancient Sicily this means that merely finding Hellenic material culture at a site does not necessarily make a site Hellenised. Hellenic pottery could, for example, be used to hold native foodstuffs. Identity is learned and constructed. A Greek is someone who behaves in a Greek way. The attitude of the Greeks to the Macedonians would suggest that merely using Hellenic materials was not enough to be truly Greek because they were not done in a Greek way. This thesis attempts to access information on how materials were used. Specifically it questions how ritual behaviours were performed. If people used materials to act in a Greek manner then it would suggest they were Greek. Contrary to that it could be possible that Natives were spicing up their ceremonies with the use of Greek “bling” to confer status.
The second idea is that if we are to understand acculturation then the concept of Hellenisation is a distraction. If anything it bolsters the traditional interpretation of Greek colonisation because it confirms the transition from Native to Greek. We are merely discussing the route rather than questioning the destination. Yet the Greeks were in contact with their neighbours for hundreds of years. Surely there should be an exchange of ideas rather than an outflow? The inflow of concepts from the East is accepted by Classicists yet the view of the cities of the west is that they were Greek. This would appear to be the description given to us by the ancient texts but the Greeks were not trained ethnographers, would they have recognised, or even cared about, native influence on their society.
I intend to examine the ritual behaviour around temples, movement through space and burial traditions. There is an unconfirmed belief that Greek temples point east (Dinsmoor 1939) for ritual reasons. If I can find consistent patterns of orientation associated with ethnicities then there is new data that can be employed with existing archaeological reports and textual analysis. For example if Greek temples face east and a Native temple of Hellenic-style architecture faces north, then it would suggest that this was used by and for the Natives and that they were selecting what elements of Greek culture to adopt without taking the whole package. Similarly if Native patterns of orientation in road layout become adopted by the Greeks, then this would provide a way of showing the integration of Native ideals which do not contradict Greek thought and thus are not recognised as un-Hellenic.
There are uncounted numbers of Greek sites and so an inventory of the behaviour of the Greek world is not a feasible area to study within the confines of a thesis, or even a lifetime. This study concentrates on one area, Sicily. Sicily is a clearly defined geographical area, being an island. It features prominently in the ancient texts, and also boasts some the finest examples of Greek architecture in the Mediterranean. There appear to be comparatively few indigenous groups, being classified as the Sicels, Sicans and the Elymians. The presence in the west of the island of the Phoenicians poses a problem, but perhaps causes less trouble than the Etruscan influence would by examining Italy.
One problem with my approach is that it is problem-orientated. I am in interested in what I can find out about changes in culture. I am not interesting in what specifically archaeology or ancient history can tell me about changes in culture. This means I am happy to use archaeology and ancient history but also anthropology, evolutionary theory, philosophy and whatever seems useful to try and tackle the problem. No one, me included, is an expert in all these fields so in many places the analysis will be as deep as is necessary, but no deeper. This is not the last word on acculturation, but the opening of a collection of interrelated research programmes into what it is that makes us us.
Ashley, J and MacAskill, E. 2003. ‘History will be my judge’. Guardian Unlimited. >
Baggini, J. and Fosl, P. 2002. The Philosopher’s Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods. Blackwell Publishing.
Boardman, J. 1990. ‘Al Mina and History’. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 9. pp 169–90.
Boardman, J. 1999. The Greeks Overseas. Thames and Hudson. London.
Davies, N. 1996. Europe: a history. OUP.
De Angelis, F. 1998. ‘Ancient past imperial present: the British Empire in T.J. Dunbabin’s The western Greeks’. Antiquity 72. 539–49
Dinsmoor, W. B. 1939. “Archaeology and Astronomy.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 80: 95–173.
Dunbabin, T.J. 1940. The Western Greeks : the history of Sicily and South Italy from the foundation of the Greek colonies to 480 B.C. Clarendon Press. London.
Check also Plut. Vit. Num. 14.4, Lucian De domo 6 from here.
Klee 1999 Scientific Inquiry
Merriee Salmon 1982 Philosophy and Archaeology