Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World Preview

What did the ancient Greeks and Romans think of the peoples they referred to as barbari? Did they share the modern Western conception—popularized in modern fantasy literature and role-playing games—of “barbarians” as brutish, unwashed enemies of civilization? Or our related notion of “the noble savage?” Was the category fixed or fluid? How did it contrast with the Greeks and Romans’ conception of their own cultural identity? Was it based on race?

These are the questions that my first book addresses. Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World will be published in the fall of 2018. The book explores both the realities of interaction among peoples of different cultures in the ancient Mediterranean and the ways in which Greek and Roman thinkers interpreted these interactions to create the idea of the “barbarian.”

Here’s a preview, discussing the experience of the Greeks in their colonial settlements around the Mediterranean Sea:

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The history of Greek settlement in Egypt demonstrates the complexity of colonial interactions. In the late 600s BCE, Egypt was under Assyrian dominion. An Egyptian noble, Psammetichus, had been appointed as governor, but when the Assyrians were distracted by internal conflicts, Psammetichus raised a rebellion, bolstered by mercenaries from Greece and Caria, a region of southwestern Anatolia. When the fighting was done and Psammetichus had become king of a newly independent Egypt, he settled the remaining mercenaries in the Nile delta. These settlements also attracted other foreigners, such as Phoenician crafters who made imitation Egyptian artworks on the site for export.

The mercenaries remained in Egyptian service, and it appears their descendants did as well, since some were deployed to southern Egypt under Psammetichus II decades later. One such band carved graffiti on the temple of Abu Simbel to commemorate their adventures: “When King Psammetichus came to Elephantine, this was carved by the companions of Psammatichus, son of Theocles, who sailed beyond Kerkis as far as the river went.” The mercenary Psammatichus was evidently named after the pharaoh by his Greek father. Some families went beyond names and embraced Egyptian culture, as shown by the burial of Wahibre-em-akhet, whose name and hieroglyph-inscribed sarcophagus are conventionally Egyptian; the only clue to his foreign ancestry are the Greek names of his parents, Alexicles and Zenodote. Other soldiers left graffiti at Abu Simbel in Carian and Phoenician, another testament to the cultural and linguistic diversity of those traveling and trading around the Mediterranean at this time.

Sometime after 570, the pharaoh Amasis reorganized the Nile delta settlement. Land was granted for the construction of a Greek colony, which, unusually, was collectively founded by nine Greek cities from the coast of Anatolia. Representatives from these cities jointly governed the new community now called Naukratis. Greek ships were banned from landing anywhere else in Egypt for trade. The colony thus became the primary site of exchange between Greeks and Egyptians. Trade connections brought people of many different backgrounds to Naukratis and connected its people to a wider world. One visitor was Charaxos, the brother of the poet Sappho, who traded wine from his home city Mytilene to Naukratis. He met a slave courtesan there, a Thracian woman named Rhodopis who had been brought to Egypt by her Samian owner. Charaxos fell in love with Rhodopis, bought her, and freed her, after which she chose to remain in Naukratis to ply her trade. To celebrate the fortune she had amassed in her work, Rhodopis later made a rich dedication at Delphi in Greece. A hieroglyphic inscription on a stele erected by the pharaoh Nectanebo in the fourth century, dedicating revenues from Naukratis to the temple of Neith, shows that the pharaohs kept an active interest in the administration of the colony. Naukratis retained its importance and trading privileges after the Persian Empire conquered Egypt in 525. It continued to welcome not only traders but tourists and other travelers, like Herodotus, who visited Egypt and whose writings record the existence of a local industry of tour guides and interpreters. The Greeks who settled in Egypt did not exist in isolation but had productive relationships with traders, artisans, and the ruling class alike.

The interactions in and around Naukratis are a window into the complexity of the colonial world. There were Greeks trading with Egyptians, but also Phoenicians making knockoffs of Egyptian art, Greeks assimilating into Egyptian culture, Thracians and Carians negotiating the needs of Egyptian and Greek patrons, and Egyptians making a living off showing the wonders of their country to curious foreigners. Interactions like these were happening all around the Mediterranean. There is no simple way to describe Greek relations with non-Greek peoples in the archaic and classical periods because those relations were never simple.

* * *

If you’ve enjoyed some of my posts about ancient trade connections, the diversity of ancient armies, individuals crossing cultural boundaries, modern peoples’ attempts to claim ancient peoples’ identities for themselves, and the variety of different kinds of “barbarian” you may find something to enjoy in Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World.

Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World comes out in September from Hackett Publishing.

Hardcover: $48 / Paperback: $16

You can pre-order directly from Hackett or on Amazon.

Image: Barbarians paperback cover by Hackett Publishing

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Three Years of Co-Geeking

Three rings for the Elven-kings under the sky…

Third time pays for all…

Once the number three, being the third number be reached…

Dynamic Text- Monty Python: Holy Hand Grenade by Furnace1717 on YouTube

 

…it shall be heretowith known as the third anniversary of Co-Geeking.

Following are a few high points from the past year for us:

Favorite posts

Erik: My favorite post of the past year is What Makes a Fantasy World Feel European?, in which I tried to dig into some of the deeper elements of worldbuilding that keep imagined worlds tied to European models, even when some of the surface details are changed up. There is a great deal more that could be said on this subject, but I think the pattern I explored of cultural and economic integration combined with political fragmentation is useful for us to keep in mind when reading, writing, or thinking about secondary-world fantasy fiction.

Eppu: Like last year, I have a tie again. Firstly, Good Night, Cassini, Good Work, I’ll Most Likely Kill You in the Morning, for I continue to be flabbergasted over the amazing photos sent by the Cassini mission to Saturn. Secondly—and, interestingly, completely at the other end of human history—is the Ancient Clay Cup Animation of a scene laid out on a clay cup at the Bronze Age site of Shahr-e Sūkhté (or Shahr-e Sukhteh) in Sistan, southeastern Iran.

A Trio of Heroes

(a favorite geeky thing that happened this year)

Eppu: Black Panther the movie! It was visually beautiful and skillfully constructed (both storywise and with respect to the effects), but the absolute best thing about it was the humanity in the story. Like Erik said in our random thoughts post, “Black Panther feels like the movie we most need in 2018: a meditation on the temptations of division, resentment, and revenge and the hard choice of embracing a flawed and fractured world with hope.” Plus so. Many. Awesome. Women!

Erik: Superheroes aren’t just for white men any more. Although there have been non-white- and female-led superhero movies in the past, as aficionados will eagerly point out, the past year has felt like a corner being finally turned. Wonder Woman, Thor:Ragnarok, and Black Panther all showed that getting people who aren’t white and male into significant roles in front of and behind the camera can lead to superhero movies that are both artistically awesome and financially successful, and the follow-up to Infinity War looks set to hand the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe over to a cast that is, at the least, a bit less overwhelmingly white and male than we’ve had so far. We haven’t reached anything like parity yet, but this past year was a good step.

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On Unacceptable Behavior on Co-Geeking

On one hand, I cannot believe I need to state this explicitly; on the other, I cannot believe I didn’t think it needed to be stated explicitly. This is, after all, the Internet…

***

With one notable exception (see bigotry rule, below), no-one has or will be excluded from commenting on Co-Geeking for their opinions. Debating views that don’t line up with ours can be stimulating, but we refuse to play pigeon chess. This is because discussion is impossible when one party either hijacks the discussion, refuses to listen, or condescends to or mocks the others. If you ignore a boundary we set, you’re done here. We call this the behavior rule.

Now, everyone can have a bad day, which is why we give people some leeway. Repeatedly ignoring social clues in the first stage and explicit policy statements in the second stage, however, will get you banned. The only acceptable response after being called out on boundary-transgressing behavior is to stop. No means no.

And then the exception: If you think a person or a whole group of people are inferior solely due to their perceived race or ethnicity, sex or gender, orientation, religion, or the like, and proceed to flaunt your prejudice within our social media presence, we will ban your biased ass to the moon and back. This is because beliefs which cause harm to others need not be tolerated and we as the individuals running this blog are not obligated to give a platform to anybody. We call this the bigotry rule.

Comments are closed.

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You Belong Here

Co-Geeking is about the things we love: history, art, science fiction, fantasy, language, and so on. It is not about contemporary politics. We would rather just tend our geeky garden than get involved in the affairs of the big world outside.

But sometimes contemporary politics comes blundering through your garden gate and plomps itself down right on top of your petunia bed. And sometimes it proceeds to crap all over your tomatoes and puke on your antique roses. Then you gotta say something, so we’re saying it.

If you’re feeling threatened, worried, angry, or sad about the upsurge of hatred we’re seeing in current events, we’re with you. If you’re someone who loves the things we love but your history classes, SFF conventions, or geeky blogs made you feel like you didn’t belong, you belong here. If you’ve ever felt left out because of your race, religion, gender, orientation, or any other part of your identity, or if you’ve seen that kind of exclusion happen to someone you care about, we’re with you. If you don’t see yourself in the books, movies, tv shows you love, know that we want to see you there, too. If anyone has ever told you are wrong, bad, or dangerous just because of who you are, where you come from, or how you live your life, we stand with you.

Screw the fascists, racists, xenophobes, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, homophobes, sexists, transphobes, and all other flavors of bigot. Screw the people who believe that they are better than other people because of arbitrary details like race, religion, ancestry, sexuality, or gender. Screw the people are afraid of others just because of who they are. And double screw the ones who think that history supports their brand of hatred, or that they can drag it into the kind of stories we love, with a side of get stuffed.

We are in this together. Those who want to divide us will fail. Hatred and fear will fail. As we co-geeks carry on with our usual business of posting about interesting facets of history and squeeing over the latest movie trailers, know that we are here for you.

Babylon 5 s1 ep5 The Parliament of Dreams Selected Screencaps.
Selected screencaps from the Babylon 5 season 1 episode 5, “The Parliament of Dreams”, showcasing Earth’s dominant belief system: pluralism. (Delenn: What sort of demonstration does he have planned? Ivanova: He just said it’d showcase Earth’s dominant belief system. Sinclair: This is Mr. Harris. He’s an atheist. Mr Rosenthal, an Orthodox Jew. Sawa of the Jivaro tribe. Ms. Yamamoto, a Shinto. Ms. Naljo, a Maori…)

If want to get away from the problems of the big world for a little while, our garden is open. If you want to talk about what’s going on these days and how that relates to the art, stories, and history we love, we’re here for that, too. You belong here.

Image: Selected screencaps from the Babylon 5 season 1 episode 5, “The Parliament of Dreams”.

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Two Years of Co-Geeking

The Two Towers

Epsiode II: Attack of the Clones

Our two chief weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…

… and two years of Co-Geeking.

We’ve been at this now for two years since we started on June 1 of 2015 and we’re still having fun. After our first year of figuring out what we want this blog to be about and how we want to do it, in our second year we’ve used our site to do what we can to promote some projects that are important to us, like the publication of Hidden Youth and the upcoming Worldcon 75 in Helsinki.

Here’s a look at what’s been important to us in the past year:

Favorite posts

Eppu: Appropriately, I have a twofer: 20 Fantasy Worlds to Visit and Down with Dull Dystopias. The former lists historical and fantasy novels I’ve liked or would like to try; the latter is a rant-ish opinion on the lack of humanity and empathy in my (then) recent reading.

Erik: Why Hidden Youth Matters to Me. I’m very proud to have a story included in Hidden Youth, but I’m also proud to have been a part of making that collection happen, regardless of my participation in it. In this post I talk about why, and why inclusiveness is important to me as a historian and a professor.

Our two chief weapons

(a favorite geeky thing that happened this year)

Erik: I’ll admit, I’m going to be predictably selfish on this one and say the publication of Hidden Youth. Not only is it a wonderful collection with a tremendous scope in style and setting, it’s my first professionally published fiction. How can I not be excited about that?

Eppu: The release of Arrival. It was doubly welcome because it’s a thoughtful adaptation of a nuanced story (the 1998 “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang) and because it’s regrettably rare to see science fiction movies with actual, full-time female leads who are not defined by motherhood, full-blown badassery (and nothing else), or their relationships with men.

Image: Monty Python’s “Spanish Inquisition” via Giphy

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Happy New Year 2017!

Happy New Year, everyone!

New Year 2017

May 2017 both delight and challenge you.

Ours definitely holds promise: Apart from some significant personal events, 2017 is also the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence. Hooray! I’m so thrilled to be alive when a big anniversary like this rolls around. And, coincidentally, Worldcon 75 will be in Helsinki August 9-13, 2017. Not yet sure what kind of a trip we could manage, but it sure would be fantastic to go. Might we see you there?

Image by Eppu Jensen

Celebrating Hidden Youth With Rhodopis

161121bendisHidden Youth comes out today! Among the many short stories in this collection about young people from marginalized groups in history is my story, “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters,” about the adventures of two flute girls, one Egyptian and one Thracian, on one strange and terrifying night in ancient Athens. I hope you’ll consider picking up the collection, not just for my story but for all the other amazing work in it.

My story was inspired in part by the Egyptian and Thracian immigrant communities we know existed in Classical Athens. There were temples in the city to both the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Thracian goddess Bendis. But Athens wasn’t the only place Egyptians and Thracians crossed paths.

A famous Thracian courtesan named Rhodopis worked in Naucratis, the Greek trading city in Egypt in the 6th century BCE. She seems to have been a larger-than-life character whom people liked to tell stories about. It was apparently widely believed in antiquity that one of the three great pyramids at Giza was built for her by her lovers. Another fanciful story about her is the closest ancient equivalent to the story of Cinderella:

They say that one day, when Rhodopis was bathing, an eagle snatched her sandal from her serving maid and carried it away to Memphis. There the king was administering justice in the open air and the eagle, flying over his head, dropped the sandal in his lap. The king, moved by the beauty of the sandal and the extraordinary nature of the event, sent all through the country to find out whose it was. She was found in Naucratis and conducted to the king, who made her his wife.

– Strabo, Geography 17.1.33

(My own translation)

While this is obviously just a bit of a fairy tale, Rhodopis was a real person. One of her lovers was Charaxus, the brother of the lyric poet Sappho. Sappho evidently didn’t think much of the relationship. A fragment of one of Sappho’s poems throws a little shade the courtesan’s way (referring to Rhodopis as Doricha—it was not unusual for courtesans to use several different names):

O, Aphrodite, may she find you too bitter for her taste,

and don’t let her go boasting:

“What a sweet thing Doricha has got herself into

this time around!”

– Sappho, fragment from Oxyrhynchus papyrus 1231.1.1.(a)

(My own translation)

Herodotus reports that the rich offering Rhodopis made at Delphi at the end of her life to celebrate her good fortune—an enormous pile of iron roasting spits—was still to be seen there in his day. (Herodotus, Histories 2.135)

Rhodopis sounds like she would have been an interesting person to hang around with, and Hidden Youth is one more reminder that interesting people were everywhere in history, not just in the places we expect.

Image: Greek statue of Bendis, photograph by Marie-Lan Nguyen via Wikimedia (Cyprus, currently Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; 3rd c. BCE; limestone)

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Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates

Woot! We made it! Hidden Youth has gotten funded! Thank you so much to everyone who contributed, spread the word, or expressed support over the past few weeks. I am so thrilled to be part of this anthology.

And now, as promised, I give you: The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates

5. #CRUSHINGSOHARDYOUCANTEVEN (Sappho, frag. 31)

He’s lucky as the gods,

any man who sits by you,

listening close to your

sweet voice

and lovely laugh. It just

makes my heart tremble in my chest.

When I glance at you, words

won’t come,

my tongue shatters, a thin

flame runs under my skin,

I can’t see,

my ears ring.

Sweat pours, I break out

trembling, I’m paler than a

flower. I could almost die.

But I can take it all…

 

4. #THATONEGUY (Horace, Satires 1.3.1-3)

The trouble with all these musical types is when you’re out with friends

and you beg them to sing, nothing will open their lips,

but when you don’t want them to sing they won’t shut up.

 

3. #DTMFA (Catullus, Poems 85)

I hate and I love. Maybe you wonder why I do this?

I don’t know, but I feel it happening and it’s torture.

 

2. #YOLO (Archilochus. Elegies frag. 232.8)

Aisimides, no one who listens to other people’s

criticisms ever gets to have a good time.

 

1. #BESTFRENEMIES (Martial, Epigrams 1.32)

I don’t like you, Sabidius, and I don’t know why.

All I know is: I don’t like you.

 

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Why Hidden Youth Matters to Me

There are just five days to go in the Kickstarter for Hidden Youth, the anthology of speculative fiction about marginalized young people in history. As I posted before, my story, “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters,” is one of the stories in this awesome collection. I wanted to post again to thank everyone who has contributed to making Hidden Youth happen and also to say something about why this collection is so important to me, and would be even if I didn’t have a story in it.

160701frescoI teach ancient Mediterranean history at a state university. Ancient Mediterranean history is the dead-white-guy-est of all dead-white-guy history. It’s filled with the sorts of dead white guys that people make white marble statues of and that living white guys like to point to as the pinnacles of western literary, artistic, and philosophical achievement. We’ve basically had two thousand years of white guys burnishing their white-guy cred by laying exclusive claim to the legacy of the great dead white guys of the ancient Mediterranean. So successfully have they done this that a lot of people have a hard time imagining an ancient Mediterranean world that isn’t all white guys.

Now, I’m a white guy. I’ve always had the comfort of seeing myself in history. Even as a professional historian, doing my best to be objective and fully conscious of how complicated, contingent, and constructed such identities are, I can never really know what it is like to look at history and not see people who look like me. That’s a barrier I can’t cross, but I have a lot of friends who live on the other side, especially my students.

Half my students are women and a lot of them are black, Hispanic, and southeast Asian kids from working-class towns. They’ve lived their lives in the shadow of other people’s histories. They have been shown the dead-white-guy-marble-statue version of history and told—sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly—“This is ours. You don’t belong here.” I consider it my job to say: “Yes, you do. You were always part of this history.”

160701kantharosThe ancient Mediterranean world was multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual, and full of connections both within itself and to the larger world beyond. Like in my story, there were Egyptians in late classical Athens with their own Isis temple. A Sri Lankan king sent ambassadors to open diplomatic relations with Rome. And it wasn’t all a bunch of men, either. The queen of Halicarnassus was a military adviser to the Persian king. A wealthy woman of African ancestry was buried in style in late Roman York. The evidence is everywhere once you start to look for it.

The power of dead-white-guy-marble-statue history is strong and it needs to be challenged. I confront it in the classroom and my scholarly work, but we also need books like Hidden Youth out there to send the message: history is for everyone, not just people who look like me.

If you’ve already supported Hidden Youth, thank you so much. If you haven’t, please consider it. You can give as little as a dollar, and if you can’t do that, please spread the word.

On a less serious note, let me offer an added incentive to give: if Hidden Youth meets its funding goal, in honor of the collection’s theme I promise to translate and post my picks for The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates.

UPDATE: Hidden Youth got funded! Hooray! So, as promised, here you go: The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates.

Images: Bull leaping fresco (restored), photograph by Nikater, via Wikimedia (Knossos; 1550-1450 BCE; fresco). Janifrom kantharos, via People of Color in European Art History (Etruria, currently Villa Giulia; 6th c. BCE; ceramic)

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