Ancient Identities/Modern Politics

This is the final of three lectures I gave  between July 9-13, 2019 as the Onassis Lecturer at the CANE Summer Institute held at Brown University. The theme of the institute was "E Pluribus Unum".  The first lecture (on identities in the ancient Greek world) has been posted previously here. The second lecture (on Athenian anti-immigrant policies and ideas) has been posted previously here.

NOTE: there are parts of each lecture where I either did not script the text and refer to slides or simply ad libbed. As a result, in those locations, I will either post the slides or will link to previous posts that explain the point I was making. 

In the wake of the increased violence fueled by white supremacism over the last year alone, understanding the ways it underpins so much of our everyday lives and assumptions is important. And as classicists, we have played our part in popularizing, perpetuating, and embedding racism into the fabric of the US. This talk examines some of the ways we have done this, even when we don't intend to, by pointing out where those who intend it manage to make their own views the 'norm' or 'mainstream' or seemingly 'neutral'.

Over the last few lectures, I have tried to get us to think about what it meant to be ‘Greek’ in the ancient world and both the ways in which ‘Greekness’ allowed for a wide range of diversity in antiquity, but also how protecting those micro-identities led to policies and practices of discrimination based on prejudice. On the one hand, as an ancient historian, I am interested in trying to reconstruct the most accurate understanding of my subject of study. On the other hand, this matters to me--and should matter to all students of the ancient world--because there have been many modern political claims made upon ancient Greece in the name of modern identities. These modern identities frequently misrepresent-- sometimes unintentionally, but often intentionally--who the ancient Greeks were and what their connection to them may be.

What I want to talk about today as my closing lecture is some of those modern claims made on ancient identities.But, instead of focusing on the most extreme voices, my interest is in looking at those misrepresentations done by fellow academics or as part of mainstream culture.

In my first lecture and in other lectures by speakers and in classrooms at the Institute this week, we have looked at the ways in which the ancient world was a true plurality under the heading of thinking through the phrase e pluribus unum, from many one. We have, in most cases, treated this phrase as an ideal to which we as Americans can and should aspire. Remember our melting pot and salad bowl?

My own talks have discussed Greece from e pluribus plures to ex uno unum wondering what happened when ancient Athens rejected the plurality of Greekness and decided to emphasize and engineer its own exceptionalism. What I want to ask today is how these tensions between plures and unum have functioned in our own modern context and how the ancient world has been shaped by and used by those who would see classics as support for an Athenian-style rejection of the plurality that is our country and our world. We academic classicists have enabled and encouraged this in our own practices.


In the shaping of the discipline that is Classics, we have repeatedly attempted to create an unum out of the variety and diversity that is antiquity, but our discipline has never truly embraced that variety and has instead restricted it. Under the heading of ‘classics’, our modern discipline has narrowed the ancient Mediterranean world to ‘Greek’ and ‘Roman’, constrained it in time between roughly 800 BCE-500 CE (but, who are we kidding, really 200 CE), and elevated Greek and Roman cultures to an alleged 'superiority' over Egyptian, Persian, Judaic, Arabian, Kushite, Indian, Chinese, Armenian, Scyth, and many others. Those peoples appear in our discipline but only as curiosities, as exoticisms, and only in so-called‘non-traditional’ courses and scholarship.

The discipline of classics has also traditionally compressed the varieties of identities, peoples, and cultures of the Greek and Roman worlds themselves under these names of 'Greece' and ‘Rome', limiting our teaching to primarily Athens and to the city of Rome or maybe Italy. It has always struck me how on the literature side, we narrow ‘Greece” from the broad representation of the Greek world found in the so-called ‘archaic’ authors to almost exclusively Athenian voices in our so called ‘classical’ canon and then dismiss much of the variety and vibrancy of what we call the 'Hellenistic' period. We also forget that these labels--Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic--come from judgements made by art historians on the development of sculpture and painting from Greece. They are evolutionary and value judgements--archaic is considered un(der)developed (though they tend to excise Homer as his own ‘period’), ‘classical’ is the best, 'hellenistic' derivative and only ‘Greek-like', impure.

When we apply this to time periods in the history of the ‘Greeks’, we pass value judgments on the world they inhabited--the archaic period was a ‘developing world’ where democracy and the polis were beginning their formation, the ‘classical’ was the polis and democracy supposedly in its purest and best form, while the hellenistc world--the most diverse, the most vibrantly mobile, and with the most literary and artistic experimentation--was deemed inferior, corrupt, impure, with democracy destroyed.

Decades after the so called ’canon wars’ of the 1980s and 1990s, those of us who want to teach and study the ancient world in its infinite variety find our scholarship still often labeled ‘fringe’ or not ‘mainstream’ because it values those texts and places and peoples and approaches that some of our colleagues aren’t familiar or comfortable with or consider 'real' classics (Emily Greenwood gave a wonderful talk on the harms of this at FIEC/CA 2019 and it will hopefully be published soon).

'Classics’ is the only academic discipline that contains a value judgment in its name. We study only the ‘best’ things. And we wonder why we struggle to become an inclusive field and why our colleagues outside of classics look at us sometimes with a bit of side eye.

But we shouldn’t wonder. Because along with only studying the ‘best’ things, classics had traditionally been a discipline that also touted that it only attracted the ‘best’ people and in fact that only ‘the best’ people could be classicists--I have heard my own colleagues at numerous institutions use this language and I ave watched them single out for attention only those whom they deemed 'worthy'. Small liberal arts college (SLAC) departments are some of the worst on this front--(my own department's language in the university catalogue is jarring and I can't do anything to change it at this stage)--where 'best' means mostly ‘white people’ (or white adjacent), and really, white upper-middle class people.

Classical Whiteness

It is a known fact that classics was used as a gatekeeper to higher education against black Americans after emancipation. It was stated unequivocally by numerous leaders in academia and politics well into the 20th century that the ‘black’ mind, like the woman’s, was unable to understand and attain mastery of the classics. DuBois’s life’s work as a classicist was intended in many ways to prove this a lie and he worked to promote classical education to his ‘talented 10th’ so that through this classical education they could gain access to university education and create a professional class to serve the black communities as doctors, lawyers, etc as it became clear after Reconstruction stalled that segregation and not integration was going to be the law of the land.

And yet, in this same period, a period known as ‘Redemption’, in which white southerners reclaimed their legislatures and local governments from black Americans who had made advances under Reconstruction, sought to take their segregationist ways nation wide. They used the classics and ‘the classical’ to help do this by forging a a strong visual link between the ‘classical’ and whiteness.

As Dr. Lyra Monteiro discusses in Ch 4 of her 2012 dissertation, the connection between classics and whiteness was forged early in the US. The use of classically inspired architecture on plantations built into the fabric of the land what were 'white' spaces and which weren't.

This technique of creating white built environments was continued and nationalized (more than it had already been before) through the use of classical architecture at the US World's Expos. The Chicago expo of 1893 was the most important of these. Here, the 'White City' (they weren't even subtle) of relentless neo-classical architecture was contrasted to the Midway housing 'exotic' concessions building and displays of imported and imitated 'foreignness'. I've written about this connection in more detail on my blog, but important to mention is not only the architecture, but also the connections forged between technology/industry with whiteness and the classical. And, importantly, the identification of the classical with modernity.

The juxtapositions in the World's Expos between the classically designed and referential world of Anglo-Europeans and everyone else (presented in stereotyping, 'exotic' side shows and caricatures) made the point that northern Europeans and the US owned the classical. The Nashville Parthenon replica, made for one such expo, links classicism explicitly with the Lost Cause of the Confederacy and whiteness. If the classical was the peak of ancient civilization, then the modern US was the peak of evolution. Although it is not a certainty, I am not the only person to wonder if the Sambo caricature isn't derived from or referencing the popular janiform representations of Africans from 5th century Athens.

 The forging of this link between classics and whiteness had consequences both within and without the discipline. Within the discipline, it led to the whitewashing of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They became, as our good friend Bernard Knox so proudly put it:

That the Greeks and Romans would not have any notion of 'whiteness' or even want to consider themselves 'white' (only women, people with diseases or those burned by cold were 'white'), this idea persists and has been a central core of classics since its inception as a discipline. It is a whitewashing of the ancient Mediterranean.

And as part of this whitewashing, not only did our ancient Greeks and Romans become themselves avatars of modern white supremacism, but the discipline itself dismissed as lesser than and irrelevant the interconnected cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and created the narrow field we know today, with its almost exclusive focus on the Greek and Latin languages and canon of select, ‘golden age’ texts.

More important than the loss to the discipline--something we can reverse and change by opening our minds and stretching ourselves out of our comfort zones, by committing to changing our teaching and disciplinary lenses--is the situation of classics as a ‘white’ discipline by positing Greece and Rome at the heart of and foundation of this thing we call ‘western civilization’ that is, for better or worse, a term used to mean white, elite, christian, civilization.

I am not going to go into this in detail--I’ve laid out the pre-WW2 data on this on my blog and if you are interested, please read Alastair Bonnet’s The Idea of the West from 2004. For Classics, the real period of development of this concept and its strong ties to classics takes place in the Cold War. At some point in the future, I will be writing my research up, but later this fall, I should have a guest post on the blog from a German scholar who is writing on the Russian engagement with the concept of ‘western civilization’--it will be quite interesting. I will point to now only as a segue into the next section of the talk to uses of this idea by contemporary politicians and, for better or worse, white nationalist terrorists that connect western civilization and the connection to Greece and Rome to a genetic or hereditary type of heritage. The Pharos website keeps a running tally of these uses.

This is a tricky connection--the idea being that there is something in our DNA that makes those of us of European descent the ‘true’ inheritors of Greek (and to a lesser extent Roman) civilizations. This idea has made its way into mainstream genetics publications and is leading is some ways to a re-emergence of scientific racism that we thought had been at least discredited by the scientific horrors of World War II.

One thing that has become clear in recent years is that there is a bit of an obsession with trying to identify 'who are the ancient Greeks' and to lay claim to direct descent from them. This isn't innocent as it was an obsession of the Nazis and other race scientists. When geneticists do it now, they are linking themselves to a long tradition of conflating culture with .1% of the human genome, with specific physical features, and with white supremacism.


Geneticists have an obsession with ancient Greek DNA. Why not Rome? Maybe its because rome has always been viewed as a true cultural mosaic, which some see as a plus, but others see as a detriment, like those who still consider Tenney Frank's idea on 'race mixture' as the cause for the fall of the western Roman empire (which you can read more about here):

Of course, Frank and his theory cold not be tested back when he wrote his article and everyone, now assuming that the Romans are a ‘mongrel’ people, they aren’t really worth studying in order to find ‘pure’ peoples--which seems to be the goal of some (too many) geneticist. They keep searching for a time and place where they can find a ‘pure’ European or ‘pure’ African or ‘pure’ Asian DNA sequence. As even David Reich, perhaps the most well known geneticist working on aDNA, admits, there is no ‘pure’ DNA anywhere. It is all admixture. I’ll explain why this matters and why the Greeks matter here so much.

BACKGROUND: So, the Human Genome Project went from 1990-2003 and had the goal of mapping the entirety of human DNA through what are called nucleotides of which we all have over 3 billion within the haploid reference genome. The project could not sequence any individual because all individuals have unique combinations of genes, but they were able to make a composite map of all human DNA. With all humans having basically 99.9% of their genes in common (though with some variation in how much if any Neanderthal or Denisovian or whatnot might appear and in infinite combinations), scientists who are interested in trying to understand human physiological differences can focus in on trying to extract meaningful differences, but mostly, scientists have decided that what they want to understand is what the differences can help us make a distinction between someone whose ancestors are from Europe vs. those whose ancestors are from Africa, with a specific emphasis on hair texture and skin color And Greek ancient DNA is a key in many of these studies.

In 2017, a series of studies were published on the DNA of ‘Greeks’. One, perhaps the most well known, was led by Iosif Lazaridis, a geneticist at Harvard and focused on the aDNA of 19 skeletons found in mainland Greece, Crete, and Anatolia, and then compared them with DNA of 30 living Greeks. The lead author of the second study, George Stamatoyannopoulos, also participated in the first.

The Lazaridis study was published in Nature (one of the top journals) and written up in Science, an immensely popular science magazine, with the click-bait title “The Greeks really do have near-mythical origins, ancient DNA reveals”. The authors themselves were a bit more circumspect in their publication, but the Science popularization of the article played to the crowds:

The study emphasized continuities between the Mycenaeans, Minoans, and modern Greeks. The study was criticized by many archaeologists for its small sample size, lack of randomization and for its use of a ‘likelihood’ model of reconstruction when they were unable to get certain information from the samples. Importantly for us, they claim in the paper that they were expecting to find more variation in the genes than they did:

The continuity between the Mycenaeans and living people is “particularly striking given that the Aegean has been a crossroads of civilizations for thousands of years,” says co-author George Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington in Seattle. (Science Aug. 2017).

They ‘expected’ to find more genetic variation, but by careful selection of samples and likelihood modeling, they were able to show it wasn’t. Hmmm.

I offered the study to my own students majoring in biology who were able to point out numerous flaws in the data, including the fact that the samples were carefully selected, they pre-determined what they were looking for and how they would classify it, the small sample size, and the fact that they ‘filled in’ according to their own models data that was unable to be extracted. They also could have done additional tests, like stable isotope analysis on the teeth to try to discover if they bodies they sampled were themselves potentially from the regions other than where they were excavated.

My friend and colleague Dimitri Nakassis, a bronze age archaeologist, wrote up on his own blog a response to this study where he questioned the methodology. Responses to his post and also to other posts of the article on the internet elicited something interesting, which gives us an idea of the political dimensions of such a study within a US context, particularly how such a study can be used to support white supremacism. In each of the responses, they honed in on the fact that, while the 11 bodies from Bronze Age Crete and the 4 bodies from Bronze Age Peloponnese shared almost 70% of the genetic markers they examined (not all of them), there was a range from 4-16% of ‘northern European DNA’ in the 4 bodies from the Peloponnese, while it was non-existent in the 11 Cretan bodies.

 To these white supremacists, this was evidence of the truth of the so-called Dorian Invasion and that the ‘Glory that was Greece’ and the Spartan military machine specifically was of ‘Aryan’ extraction.

The study seems to have been intended to show that modern Greeks were indeed descended from ancient Greeks and that Crete was also Greece. There are nationalistic reasons for wanting such data, but this study, at least, was coy about any such motivations.

The other study, led by Prof. Stamatoyannopoulos, is a bit different and is far more explicit. It’s stated goal is to prove statements by 19th century German historian Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer wrong when he claimed that modern Greeks were NOT descended from the ancient Greeks, but had been replaced by Armenians, Turks, and others in the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. I believe a direct quotation of Fallmeyer is something like “Not the slightest drop of undiluted Hellenic blood flows in the veins of the Christian population of present-day Greece.” Fallmeyer’s sentiment was accompanied by a conviction that northern Europeans were the true inheritors of the ‘Glory that was Greece’, something shared by later people like Madison Grant, author of The Passing of the Great Race, who posited ‘Nordic’ origins for all ancient ‘civilizations’ (Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, etc) which ended, he claimed because of miscegenation with non-Nordics. American eugenicists and the Nazis loved this idea.

So, here is the introduction to the study meant to disprove Falmeyer:

The citations for this introduction come from no scholarship dated after roughly the 1970s and the evidence for the Dorian invasion--yes--the Dorian invasion--is Herodotus. They have not read a single discussion by historians of it. In fact, historians are dismissed as ‘ideological’, while this study, with this framing is ‘objective’ SCIENCE. But look at the language.

As with many a historical myth about the origins of various Greek cultures, this one has a source in Herodotus and was an attempt by mostly German scholars (at first, it seems) to explain the changes in language from non-Hellenic to Hellenic. The mysterious Pelasgians appear as a 'native' substrate of possibly Anatolian origin (except the Athenians, who were indigenous but 'became Greek' by changing languages..maybe..Herodotus is a bit dodgy on this one), while the Dorians--those vigorously masculine Greeks best represented by the Spartans, as you can see from the map above--from a pre-Nazi text--those Dorians came from Germany!

The myth of the Dorian/Aryan/Nordic invasion begins, in many ways, as a failure of methodology, specifically, as a result of historical positivism. Historian Jonathan Hall once described historical positivism as a mode of seeing in "myths of ethnic origins a hazy and refracted recollection of genuine population movements" in the Bronze Age. Variants of these myths were "pathological aberrations from a 'real' historical memory" (Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity, 41). Unfortunately, these "pathological aberrations" became bound to ideological positions that became linked to political parties and movements and race science.

And now, they are being published as facts in top scientific journals by teams of geneticists who are dismissive of social sciences and humanities, who present their work as silver bullets to solve all the great mysteries of antiquity and who neither do their research, nor have large enough sample sizes to make the grand pronouncements they make.

Why does this matter to us as classicists? It matters because, as archaeologist Susanne Hakenbeck writes in a new article on archeogenetics, many of these studies, far from reading the data neutrally, instead use the data to affirm 19th century racist theories of northern migrations (like the Dorian invasion) as true events of population replacement--in other words, aDNA is being used to write histories that return to models anew that erroneously suggest that all Mediterranean civilizations are the products of European, typically northern European aggression. Even when the archaeology does not support this, SCIENCE is claiming to provide ‘objective’ evidence that ‘speaks for itself’ to support these racist narratives.

And this is exactly what is happening with these studies, which are being popularized so quickly and without context or nuance and which are being published by geneticists with their own political agendas and with no input from archaeologists and historians.  As Hakenbeck’s research shows, the far right nationalist groups, including neo-Nazi groups, are using these studies in their political campaigns and to promote hate and violence on their web platforms. Golden Dawn in Greece, while currently on the outs again in terms of political representation in parliament thanks to the recent election July 7 2019, uses these studies to fuel their own nationalist ends.

Perhaps closer to home, however, these studies are being used by scientists like David Reich to demonstrate mass migrations and replacement of populations through war and violence (something that a few dozen DNA samples simply cannot show). This fuels contemporary fears by white supremacist groups that such ‘replacements’ are real and that ‘race genocide’ is real.

Some of us work on college campuses where white nationalist groups have hung posters either to recruit new members or to impact campus climate an intimidate those who speak out against them.

If you recall anything about the reports of the Charlottesville raly from 2 years ago, the chant being uttered was “Jews will not replace us” and, in the above poster from Daily Stormer, the book ‘The Great Replacement’ is in the hands of the New Zealand killer--the book refers to a 1978 novel of the same name by a French nationalist and is a dystopian fiction about mass immigration of north Africans into France that literally overnight replaces the entire population. Now imagine this book being promoted during the current refugee crisis as not a work of fiction but as a prophecy for the disappearance of ‘white Europe’

And if we think that this is just fringe groups, remember our 'friend' Steve King, who has repeatedly retweeted white supremacists and Nazi sympathizers (and he is not the only one in our Congress who thinks this, just the only one who says it openly):

Another person who also adheres to these views is Victor Davis Hansen, who publishes them under a blog and then talks about them on a podcast called ‘The Classicist”. 

When you put all of these things together, you can see that aDNA studies of the Bronze Age that are searching for the ‘origins’ of the Greeks or other ancient groups in the Mediterranean aren’t innocent or objective. They are part of an ongoing political climate promoted by white supremacism and colonialism and are used to promote fear of diversity, fear of decline. And they are part of the long tradition of centering the classics and the Greeks as the foundation of a ‘white’ 'western’ and ‘christian’ civilization. They try to make that cultural heritage a GENETIC inheritance that only certain people are entitled to. They want to say that some people have 'civilization' in their DNA.


Our discipline was built to exclude. It continues to be used to craft and promote exclusions. I look around this room today and I see a sea of whiteness, just like we see at every conference and still too often in our classrooms. If we want to change that, we have to work for it--it won’t just happen on its own. And that means, making ourselves uncomfortable, studying and working to understand and mitigate our biases and prejudices busting open the canon, being creative in our pedagogies, taking chances with new types of evidence and methods, collaborating with our colleagues outside of our departments and programs, seeing our own teaching as continual opportunities for learning, analyzing the institutions we are part of and seeing where we can push back against the status quo, looking around our classrooms and conferences and not trying to figure out who the ‘real’ classicists are or may be, but truly embracing a ‘classics for all’ mentality and way of acting, and understanding that ‘classics’ doesn’t have to be an ex uno unum--it is and should be an e pluribus unum.

Rejecting 'Greekness': Classics Athens’ Anti-Immigrant Policies and Practices

This is the second of three lectures I gave  between July 9-13, 2019 as the Onassis Lecturer at the CANE Summer Institute held at Brown University. The theme of the institute was "E Pluribus Unum".  The first lecture has been posted previously here.

NOTE: there are parts of each lecture where I either did not script the text and refer to slides or simply ad libbed. As a result, in those locations, I will either post the slides or will link to previous posts that explain the point I was making.

In my first lecture, I discussed the fact the “Greeks” were a plurality--they weren’t bothered by being both “Greeks” and Spartan, or Corinthian, or Milesian, or Ephesian, or Samian or Egyptian, Phrygian, Armenian, Thracian, even Persian! It’s just how things were. But not all Greeks thought their fellow Greek were their equals--some ‘Greeks’ were, they thought, better than others. The most well know of these ethno-exceptionalists were the Athenians.

Athens, the place where most of my research has focused in the past, had one of the largest ports--Piraeus, a hub for merchant activity, industrial weaving and pottery production, and a thriving shipping industry-- and it had, as far as we can tell, one of the most ethnically diverse populations among the Greeks of the Classical period--thousands of immigrants between the 5th and 3rd centuries BCE flooded into the polis either looking for work or seeking refuge from the continual wars that plagued the Aegean. This is not to mention the tens of thousands of enslaved persons being imported at the same time--enslaved who were both fellow Greeks and non-Greeks. However, the Athenians also had, as far as we can tell, some of the most restrictive laws for foreigners. the metic system (metoikia), which I want to talk about today. It was, I would argue, one of the few only truly racist systems in Greco-Roman antiquity and seemed to depend upon a certain level of anxiety about foreigners and foreignness. It may have been instituted, after all, as Aristotle said--because of ‘too many citizens’.

Is Athens exceptional in this regard? Or is it the case that whenever a population feels they are being pushed out by ‘others’ we should expect this reaction? Does it have to be this way? It’s a question we need to consider more broadly if we want to understand the world we ourselves live in, where debates surrounding immigration, refugees, and national boundaries are ever looming. Understanding Athens is particularly important given how often Athens is used as a model for democracy, its high period of empire and anti-immigration sentiment a ‘golden age’ in our textbooks, popular journalism, and entertainment. For example:

In truth, for about four centuries, Athens rejected the plurality of Greekness and insisted not only on its own supremacy, but sought to engineer Athenian ethnic homogeneity. That thing--racial homogeneity--that I argued the other day did not apply to the Greeks generally was, in fact, an ongoing wish for the Athenians--ex uno unum.

My goal for today is to break this wish down, show its ebbs and flows, its final decline, and the contexts in which it functioned. My hope is that it will give us some food for thought as we enter the second decade of an international refugee crisis in which over 10 million people have been forced by war, violence, corporate exploitation, and interventionists policies of superpowers to leave their homes and seek safety in our own and other ‘democratic’ countries, some of whom (like Hungary, Italy, the UK, and the US) have shut their borders and enacted policies that encourage at the least negligence and at the worst human rights violations and cruelty. 


I will start with orienting us with a chronology and explanation of the policies:

Cleisthenes and the Synoecism, 508/7 BCE:
καὶ δημότας ἐποίησεν ἀλλήλων τοὺς οἰκοῦντας ἐν ἑκάστῳ τῶν δήμων, ἵνα μὴ πατρόθεν προσαγορεύοντες ἐξελέγχωσιν τοὺς νεοπολίτας, ἀλλὰ τῶν δήμων ἀναγορεύωσιν. ὅθεν καὶ καλοῦσιν Ἀθηναῖοι σφᾶς αὐτοὺς τῶν δήμων.
And he made those dwelling in each deme of the same deme as one another, in order that they not ascertain who were the new citizens (νεοπολίτας) when addressing them by patronymic, but would publicly announce them as belonging to the deme. Thus, Athenians name themselves by their demes (Aristotle Ath Pol 21.4).
Cleisthenes' reforms, if we believe Aristotle, involved making citizens out of those who would be in later times called metics. In 508/7 BCE, however, they were incorporated into the new Athens as citizens. Of course, what Aristotle means precisely by νεοπολίτας here is not certain. It could refer to indigenous inhabitants of Attica in places that had not yet been fully synoecized. Or, it could refer to any residents, whether born in Attica or not. Either way, this is a move that creates the idea of a united Attic Athens and everyone no so incorporated is 'Athenian' and will get to be part of the myths and institutions that held it together under the claims of a pure, 'Athenian' descent.

After the Persian Wars (490 BCE and 480-79 BCE) we see an uptick in anti-Persian rhetoric, but also anti-Ionian Greek rhetoric; policy of subjugating Ionians to Athenian control under the Delian League may stem from animosity over the Ionians generally fighting on the side of Persian in the war.

Institution of metoikia--laws (470-460 BCE)

Periklean Citizenship Law (451 BCE): Both parents must be citizens; law was not retroactive, though some scholars (like D. Ogden) have argued [unconvincingly] that this law reflects practice in Athens towards children of a foreign mother prior to the law's passage.

Relaxations (429 BCE, after 415 BCE): There is evidence that the law was relaxed in the face of first the plague and then the disaster in Sicily that allowed citizen men who had a child by a foreign women to request they be granted citizenship. Carawan (see biblio below) argues that the 429 BCE exception was for those whose legitimate citizen heirs had died. After the Sicilian disaster, we have evidence from the 4th c. BCE that it was--Demosthenes and many others speak in orations of their own parents being born "at the time when" it was required to only have one citizen parent. Chronologically, this falls into the period of the Peloponnesian War. There was a stigma attached to this, but it didn't prevent them from being prominent citizens.

After 403 BCE: After the reign of Thirty Tyrants and restoration of the democracy, one of the first things the restored Athenian assembly did was re-establish the restrictions on foreigners--women immigrants could no longer bear citizen children to citizens. Those children also were additionally banned from being heirs to citizens.

A ban on marriage followed a bit later and enforcement seems to have ramped up--penalties for failure to register and pay tax or for pretending to be a citizen: sale into slavery and the person who reported received a portion of the sale. A man name Aristogeiton, is one of the most well known for this. According to Demosthenes 25, he sold his own sister and attempted to have Zobia, an independent metic woman sold as well. 

Around 322 BCE, Athens attempted to put in place a new metic tax, but the city was soon to lose its independence. In 317 BCE, Cassander, an heir to Alexander, imposed Demetrius of Phalerum on the city as its governor on behalf of the Macedonians. He seems to have removed the ban on foreign ownership of property. He may have ended the taxes on metics. Regardless, even with its loss of independent status, the Ahtenians continued to maintain citizenship as the prerogative of only those with two citizens parents and the marriage ban seems to have remained in effect.

Between 200-100 BCE, outside of Athens, we see Athenians in Athenian settlements (like Delos) intermarrying with non-Athenians; Maybe a sign the chauvinism was diminishing? Regardless, after 200 BCE within Athens itself, we see evidence of the ban on intermarriage with non-citizens being lifted--over 40 tombs for Milesian women married to Athenian citizens have been noted and there are likely many more.

This is quite a trajectory and the most restricted times for immigrants in Athens were during the periods when democracy was supposedly at its height. The equality of the citizens could only be achieved, it seems, through exclusions. Otherwise, what was citizenship other than a burden or series of obligations? To make it desirable, it had to have privileges. And instead of making everyone truly equal (economic inequality was rather high), the elites pushed legislation that targeted foreigners (especially foreign women) and promoted national myths that all Athenians were equal in their purity of descent.

 What reasons? Why would they do this? What is the underlying logic?

RACISM, that weed Knox and many others have convinced themselves could never grow in Greece, especially in Athens, which recall, he calls the polis in its advanced form.

But, as discussed in the last lecture, this homogeneity was a myth as was the idea that our concept of race can be applied to antiquity--race in antiquity is different. Instead, we should consider race as a structuring mechanism. Here is Falguni Sheth:

In other words: Race is more a technology that structures human interactions and embeds prejudices against racialized peoples into systems of oppression-- there are three things: human difference, prejudice, and race: race is the institutionalization of prejudice based on moving signifiers for human difference. Sometimes this involves the biological, sometimes not. If we understand, as Sheth does, race not as a ‘descriptive modifier’, but as “a mode or vehicle of division, separation, hierarchy, exploitation’, we can see better how institutions that seem to be, as she calls it ‘race neutral’ are actually how race itself functions.

And this is how the metic system operates. We miss the implications of the system and its nature if we mistake ‘race’ for a something as banal as skin color--a difference of a few hundred alleles in our genes out of about 3 billion.

Let me explain: How was the Athenian system a race system built on racism? I am going to put up a slide at the end with a select bibliography where you can see where these issues have been discussed before. Susan Lape and I are probably closest in our understanding of race in Athens, though she argues from race as embedded within the idea of descent instead of looking at the structures that support the idea of descent based citizenship. My interest is really in understanding race as a system within institutions, even institutions that can purport to be 'race neutral', as Sheth discusses.

5th century (after 450 BCE): Autochthony and the search of purity--eugenics? Ion--lots of discussion also in Herodotus, Thucydides, the funeral orations. There is a large scholarship on this (see biblio below for a selection). Here are some samples from Athenian tragedy that reflect these ideas.

Foreign women in tragedies are points of contamination, danger (Phaedra in Euripides' Hippolytus, Medea, Andromache in the plays named after them by Euripides)--the language around Phaedra, especially, is the language of nosos, disease. The best metic is the one that sacrifices itself for the state (Euripides' Herakleidae) or can offer divine protection (Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus). I discuss this in Ch 2 of the Immigrant Women in Athens book, if anyone wants to take a look at the detailed discussion.

The fact that naturalized citizens in no period could hold the archonship or certain priesthoods--only their grandchildren (so long as their naturalized children married born-citizens) could--points to the fear of reproducing foreignness.

In the 4th century, metics appear in oratory as inherently untrustworthy--Geoff Bakewell has written on this issue in Lysias--another sign of fear of contamination.

380s BCE: Isocrates attempts repeatedly in his speeches to recruit the Athenians to unite the Greeks in a war with Persia. The Athenians weren’t interested--maybe they didn’t see much difference between their fellow Greeks and the ‘barbarians’? He eventually decides Philip of Macedon is a better choice. At least one Athenian wasn't opposed to foreigners...

There was, then, a LOT of anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner sentiment in Athens from the 1st quarter of the 5th century to the last part of the 4th. This rhetoric was accompanied by very strict policies that were very harmful to the metics who lived in the city. But it may have also have been not just prejudice against foreigners--certain foreigners were welcome to the city and over the course of the 5th and 4th centuries, we see various periods when wealthy men are invited to Athens to set up factories (Lysias’ father Kephalos, for example) or are made citizens though having been enslaved (Pasion and Phormio the bankers; Apollodoros, the son of Pasion).

We also see evidence of proxenia for metics, a typically honorary status, that also grants them the right to own land in Athens, if not citizenship. We even see a couple of block grants of status (maybe not actual full citizenship) to refugees from Plataea (427); Samos (403/2); and Olynthus (348).

Its also wrong  o say that Athenians were all hateful to the foreign residents living in the city--#notallathenians. There is tomb evidence that some of the immigrant or slave women living within the city were loved by citizens--despite their status as foreign--nurse tombs:

So, we see evidence of acts of kindness to individuals and even certain groups who were ‘other’. But the policies can overwhelm those individual kindnesses. Those individual acts of gentleness are great, but they are only necessary because there are policies that create incentives to cruelty. And these acts of kindness can be hallmarks of systems of oppression--examples trotted out to show it 'wasn't that bad'.

What do we make of all of this? Why do I think it matters here to think about this through the idea of race?

Let’s go back to the ideas I mentioned earlier from political scientist Falguni Sheth: If we understand that race is NOT a content signifier--it isn’t skin color of hair type or any sort of physiological, visible difference (most of the resident foreigners in Athens were other Greeks, after all)--but the mechanisms used to enforce discrimination, inequality, and oppression through those or other shifting markers, then we can understand better how systems of oppression are formed and how they act. We can see what is happening in Athens as a process that isn’t built into ‘nature’ but is constructed willfully, one law, one lawsuit at a time. It gives us a much more accurate picture of what was happening in Athens and gives us the tools we need to see how their imperialism, ethno-centrism, exceptionalism, misogyny, and militarism intersected and fed each other.

It also gives of better tools with which to see beyond and through the elites of many of our literary sources like Thucydides and the orators and get a better picture of those members of Athenian society who lived at the margins. In other words, it gives us a much more accurate picture of what it was like to live in Athens in antiquity, of what it was like to be the person upon whose labor the amazing architecture was built (many (most?) of the craftsmen were foreigners or enslaved). In other words, the “Glory that was Greece” had an underbelly that we, as Americans would do well to pay heed to because our own history shows that the Glory that is America is built on equally if not worse racism and structures of oppression. By ignoring this aspect of one of the models for our democracy in our teaching and discussions of classics, we allow ourselves to ignore it in our own history and daily lives as well.


But, I don’t want to leave us on a down note--as Robin reminded us yesterday, IT’S SUMMER! AND SUNNY!. But also because there are alternatives to this exclusionary model presented by Athens in the 5th-2nd centuries. Miletos. From Miletos, we have a series of decrees that span from around 250 BCE to 100 BCE. Some of them are extremely fragmentary, but they attest to 100s of people from all over Greece, the Black Sea region, Italy and Sicily, Asia, the Levant, and North Africa being granted citizenship in the city over the period. Most of them were granted citizenship as whole families--husband (frequently the husband and wife had the same ethnic identifier, but not always), fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons. Some were individual women, some individual men.

Of particular note are the inscriptions from 228/7 BCE and 223/2 BCE which include large block grants of citizenship to Cretans. These Cretans came to Miletos as mercenaries. We would expect them to have come alone because that is how we imagine mercenaries from Xenophon’s Anabasis. But, no. These Cretans brought their families. And they settled. And then they became Milesians.

We don’t have a lot of records like this from antiquity, and we don't know everything about these decrees that we would like to know about them. And we know that something was going on that caused Miletos to relax its own citizenship restriction, but this is a significant concession.  I imagine that if we did, we would find that many Greek poleis were far more open to foreigners that we often assume because our most well attested example, Athens, twas so restrictive. This evidence suggests--as does the lack of foreign burials in Miletos--that maybe these foreigners weren’t segregated and derided when they arrived, whether as refugees, as freed slaves, or as free immigrants, but were welcomed in as part of the city.


E Pluribus Plures: Identities in a Multiethnic Ancient Mediterranean

Over then next few weeks, I will be posting up the text and images from a series of lectured I gave between July 9-13, 2019 at the CANE Summer Institute held at Brown University. The theme of the institute was "E Pluribus Unum". I was invited as the Onassis Lecturer to give a three lecture series on the theme. The lectures focus on ancient Greece and move from a general overview of identity in the Greek world (e pluribus plures), then to a deep dive looking at Athenian rejection of broader ideal of 'Greekness' (ex uno unum), and ends with a look at modern political uses of classics that inhibit the field from realizing its own ideal of e pluribus unum. I will post them in order. This is the first: "E Pluribus Plures: Identities in a Multiethnic Ancient Mediterranean". 

NOTE: there are parts of each lecture where I either did not script the text and refer to slides or simply ad libbed. As a result, in those locations, I will either post the slides or will link to previous posts that explain the point I was making.

E Pluribus Unum: From many, one. This phrase is often invoked in contemporary discourse as the ideal of a unified identity for Americans made from a diverse and continually diversifying population. The idea was once symbolized by the ‘melting pot’ myth--from a 'country of immigrants', diverse peoples would assimilate into a homogeneous nation.

 From many, one. In recent decades, the melting pot metaphor (a false story that erases indigenous peoples) has given way to the ‘salad bowl’ or ‘cultural mosaic’, wherein diverse “ingredients” (peoples/cultures) come together, but each maintain their individual integrity, complementing each other. It is an idea that tries to take into consideration the diversity of our population and to make a space for multiculturalism. The melting pot requires assimilation and a giving up of ones previous identities in order to meld into something different--the melting pot requires homogeneity, while the salad allows an olive to stay an olive but still be part of the salad.

Both of the metaphors and the phrase e pluribus unum are attempts to explain the nation that is the United States (from 13 colonies to a single nation; from sea to shining sea, from immigrants to Americans). But at times, unity is mistaken for homogeneity. And so, left out of the unum frequently are the thousands upon thousands of Africans who were brought here as enslaved persons and their descendants and the original, indigenous inhabitants of the land that became the United States, both those continuing to reside here in restricted territories and those forced south of the current border or the descendants of the millions killed in repeated acts of genocide. Increasingly as well, those who aren’t Christian find that they aren’t welcome in either a melting pot or the salad bowl. White supremacism, the power upon which ours and other settler nations were built, continues to hold sway. Non-white, non-Christian ‘plures’ still don’t get to be part of the ‘unum’.

It is an unfortunate truth that classics as a discipline and the ancient Greeks in particular have served as an exemplum for those who would mistake homogeneity for unity. They hold up 5th century Athens in particular, with its strict immigration policies, misogyny, slavery, and imperialism, as a model for an ideal nation, but do so while ignoring the inequalities (or liking them and wanting to bring them back). They look to Sparta as the perfect military ethnostate. They often ignore the rest of the Greek world chronologically and geographically and pretend that Athens and Sparta are the sum total of its parts.

Over my three lectures, I examine the tension between the terms plures and unum, first, by looking at how unum, under the mistaken rhetoric of homogeneity can sometimes be used to cover over wide ranging plurality in antiquity to the detriment of our understanding of ancient history. Second, I will explore how unum can function as an exclusionary mechanism under the heading of ‘purity’ and exceptionalism using the case study of Athens. And finally, I will look in my final talk at how versions of a homogeneous Greco-Roman antiquity have been leveraged, exploited or misunderstood in contemporary contexts and how more accurate understanding of the dynamics of identities, their plurality, in antiquity can help us see current problems with new eyes.

Importantly for these discussions I want us to re-conceptualize the ancient world away from a singular, static ‘Greekness’ and instead as see it as dynamic--what it meant to be Greek was a moving target. ’Greek’ is an imaginary grouping, an imagined community, that people in antiquity could move in and out of, construct and deconstruct; it was an identity they could put on when it suited them, or could leave off. It was a political, social, or cultural identity that sat alongside many other political, social, and cultural identities. And its meaning changed all the time. Today, I want us to deconstruct the ‘Greeks’, ex uno plures, to help us to stop applying our own identity politics to them and instead understand their own.


Here is a quotation from Bernard Knox’s The Oldest Dead White European Males (1993):
“The critics seem, at first sight, to have a case. The characteristic political unit of classical Greek society--the polis, or city-state--was very much a man’s club; even in its most advanced form, Athenian democracy, it relegated its women to silence and anonymity. Racism in our sense was not a problem of the Greeks; their homogeneous population afforded no soil on which that weed could easily grow.” (12)
We are going to come back to this quotation a few times over the next few days, because there are a lot of assumptions baked into it. This was written in the context of the Black Athena debates and racism here is viewed as a black-white problem that specifically refers to skin color. And so, by ‘homogeneous’ Knox likely means ‘all looked alike’ or, as he says elsewhere in the essay ‘white, or rather a Mediterranean olive’. This for Knox was enough to make the Greeks ‘homogeneous’. But, we will see over the next few days that this is not really accurate—they were not really a ‘homogeneous population’, even if they shared in a ‘unified’ identity as Greeks.

This is how we often talk about the Greeks--this map takes a single color and washes it over the Mediterranean and calls it 'Greeks'.

 But, the map below is actually closer to what the Greeks themselves considered their reality. This is not a map of all Greeks--notice the mainland is entirely unmarked--these are just cities established by people hailing from other cities that spoke the Greek language. Each of those dots, and the hundreds more that aren’t shown represented the primary identity for most of the people we lump under the name ‘Greeks’. And, of course, this is just getting started.

Once Alexander comes along, being Greek becomes even less of a clear cut identity. We refer to the ‘Hellenistic’ world frequently as a ‘Greek world’, and then, of course, we speak of the “Greek East” under the Romans, but we need to be cautious.

The Greeks, as these dots suggest, identified themselves in hundreds of different ways. On tombstones throughout the Mediterranean, we see Greeks marking themselves when they die away from home not as ‘Hellenes’, but with what are known as their ‘ethnics’--their polis, village, or regional identity. ‘Hellene’, the Greek word most frequently used for ‘Greeks’ (a Roman word) was an overarching term that contained a multiplicity of different peoples whose languages were mostly mutually intelligible, who sometimes worshiped the same gods in the same ways, and who shared some, but not all customs. One custom they didn’t share, of course, was their political system--each had their own.

Thus, when we talk about Greeks in the ancient Mediterranean, we need to start by recognizing that most Greeks viewed their fellow Greeks on some level as ‘foreign’. And not like Californians think Ohioans are ‘foreign’. But more like Americans think that Canadians are. Foreignness in Greco-Roman antiquity, doesn’t just mean Greeks and barbarians (one popular approach), but also Athenians, Spartans, Corinthians, Milesians, Epeirotes, Macedonians, Rhodians, Thebans, Epidamnians, Thracians, Halicarnassians, Ephesians, etc. x 100. 

So, what makes a ‘Greek’ a‘Greek’? How do we identify if someone, some place, some group was ‘Greek’ in the historical record? And what do we imagine they looked like?

Most lists that anyone makes on this looks a lot like the one Herodotus had his Athenians give the Spartans at 8.144:
Athenians: “It was quite natural for the Spartans to fear we would come to an agreement with the barbarian. Nevertheless, we think it disgraceful that you became so frightened, since you are well aware of the Athenians’ disposition, namely, that there is no amount of gold anywhere on earth so great, nor any country that surpasses others so much in beauty and fertility, that we would accept it as a reward for medizing and enslaving Hellas. [2] It would not be fitting for the Athenians to prove traitors to the Greeks with whom we are united in sharing the same kinship and language, together with whom we have established shrines and conduct sacrifices to the gods, and with whom we also share the same mode of life.”
Each of these things we have identified as what makes a ‘Greek’ can be broken down. What I want to do for the rest of this talk is to break them down, to help us see how ancient identity politics functioned in its own terms, without the false mark fo ‘homogeneity’.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: race. Knox inserts it here where and in a way it doesn’t really belong, in part because he mistakes skin color for identity in antiquity and also because of the long tradition of claiming the ‘classical’ Greeks as both the cultural and genetic foundation of a ‘white, western civilization’. The ‘Greeks’, he is asserting in this essay belong to ‘white’ history, not to ‘black history’. This is modern identity politics.

Importantly--and here I will be ungenerous in my reading--it was that very homogeneity--the uniform 'whiteness'--of the Greeks that held racism at bay. Thus, for Knox ‘RACE’ as skin color existed, but without racism, not because they didn’t have anti-blackness; but because, supposedly there was no ‘blackness’ among the Greeks. The view is that a society that is [rightly, fortunately?] racially singular is magically peaceful and prejudice free since they have no one to be prejudiced against!

But skin color was not a meaningful measure of difference according to our ancient sources--skin color was used in art in antiquity from ancient Egypt to Bronze Age Crete to Severan Rome to denote gender and age more than anything, except in the case of Aithiopians, which too many scholars conflate with the modern category ‘black’. ‘Race’ as Knox uses it here, was not a functional type of identity in antiquity--it functioned differently.  To gauge Greekness by it is to miss the mark. Skin color, in fact, also has nothing to do with ‘ethnicity’ either, really, but gender and, at other times, simply aesthetics.

What I want to suggest, then, is that there was no expectation of any physical or even practical homogeneity among the Greeks for them to consider someone ‘Greek’ when needed--this is especially true in the Hellenistic period. It was a ‘flexible’ category that could encompass pluralities of practices, physical appearances, languages/dialects, and even foreign descents. The identities of the Greeks were situational and so it was always explicitly NOT homogeneous. Knox among many others, is simply wrong.

Now that we have that anachronism out of the room, let’s take Herodotus’ four categories starting with kinship.

Kinship: Kinship was closely related to genealogies of the type we see Pindar rattling off in his athletic victory odes--Kimon son of Miltiades son of blah blah blah, back to some mythical hero. Cities and peoples could also have kinship and they often had kinship myths to connect them, something Lee Patterson, Iradi Malkin, Naoise MacSweeney among many others have written about extensively. These myths were operational in all sorts of contexts and we see them become important public institutions at varying times in a wide range of poleis.

One of the most well-known stories forged ties between the city of Thebes and Phoenicia through their founder Cadmus, brother of Europa. We see numerous claims of kinship in Herodotus, Pausanius, Diodorus Siculus, Pindar, Hesiod, etc. between Greeks and non-Greeks. For example, Xerxes’ attempts in Bk 7.150 of Herodotus to persuade the Argives to remain neutral by recounting their shared kinship through Perses and Andromeda:
This is how the Argives tell the story, but there is another story told throughout Greece that Xerxes sent a herald into Argos before he set his army in motion against Greece. When the herald arrived, it is said that he told the Argives, “Argives, King Xerxes says this to you: We believe that Perses, our ancestor, was the child of Perseus son of Danae and Andromeda daughter of Cepheus. Thus we Persians are your descendants. We think it inappropriate to send an army against our progenitors, and that you give aid to others and become our enemy. Rather, it is fitting that you keep to yourselves. If everything goes as intended, I will esteem no one higher than you."
The Macedonian King Perdicaas is granted ‘Greekness’ by showing descent from Argos at 5.22:
That those descendants of Perdiccas are Greek, according to what they say, I happen to know for certain and will show later in my history. Additionally, the Hellenodicai, who govern the Olympic games, judged them so. [2] For, when Alexander elected to compete in the games and entered the lists to do so, the Greeks who ran against him prevented him from competing, saying that the games were not for barbarian contestants, but Greeks only. Alexander then demonstrated his Argive descent, was deemed a Greek by the judges, and, competing in the foot race, finished in first place. The Macedonian King and ancestor of Philip and Alexander.
There are also claims of kinship between Royal Scythians and Herakles at 4.8 (here is just the end of the story--I recommend reading the whole thing):
And from Scythes son of Heracles all the kings of Scythia have descended, and because of his bowl the Scythians still carry bowls hanging from their belts. His mother arranged this result for Scythes alone (4.8.13).
I could go on like this forever from Herodotus.

We see it in Hellenistic and Roman period texts, for example Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities 12.225-227 recounts a letter sent by the Judeans to the Spartans declaring that they were kin through Abraham:
After Simon died and his son Onias succeeded him to the high priesthood, the Spartan King Areus sent an ambassador to him with a letter, a copy of which states, [226] “Areus, King of the Lacedaemonians sends his greetings to Onias. We have happened upon a document that says that Judeans and Lacedaemonians are of the same race and related through Abraham. It is just, then, since you are our brothers, that you let us know if there is anything you are in want of. [227] We will do the same with you and will consider your affairs equal to our own. Demoteles, who bears this letter, will transmit your response. This letter has four sides and bears the seal of a dragon clutching an eagle.”
These kinship ties would not have led the Judeans to say they were also Greeks. Nor would the Persians call themselves Hellenes. Nor the Thebans Phoenician. And no one in our sources would call a Scythian ‘Greek’. But they all share kinship nonetheless.

What about ‘ethnicity’? This is probably a better term to understand the dynamics of Greekness that ‘kinship’. Jonathan Hall is still, 20 years later, the best discussion available on ‘Greek’ ethnicity or self-identities. Hall argues that ethnicity is a discourse that allows groups to form identities based on belief in a shared descent or on political contingency or other interactive processes that lead to shared identification--often rooted in this real or imagined shared descent. But this descent (ethnicity) was never considered by the Greeks generally speaking to be, in Jeremy McInerney’s words “a fixed biological entity based on primordial ties of kinship” (Intro Companion to Ethnicity 3).

So, when the Athenians appeal to kinship in their assuaging of the Spartans, along with their claims of rituals, language, and customs, they aren’t necessarily appealing to a set of things that are inherently binding or fixed and they certainly aren’t claiming a strong ‘biological’ connection--they would not allow Spartans and Thebans or any other Greeks to intermarry with an Athenian for almost five centuries and for almost a century before that, wouldn’t allow children of such marriages to be citizens (with exception, which we will discuss in the next lecture). What makes them binding into an ‘ethnicity’ is that the Athenians and Spartans agree that certain specifics of those things makes then Hellenes and not others. It is an imaginary relationship.

What about Language? We know there are people who spoke and wrote in Greek who were Egyptian or Phrygian or Judean or Syrian or Roman, etc. It doesn’t mean they weren’t also ‘Greek’; it means that language can’t necessary be the only indicator of ‘Greekness’. It was used as a measure of something, and we see mockery of other languages: barbarian, of course, on our Herodotean etymology is derived supposedly from the sound foreign languages make and Persian speech is made fun of in Aristophanes’ Acharnians. But, other dialects of Greek other than Attic are also made fun of by the comic poets of Athens, particularly Doric. Language chauvinism does serve as one mark of Greekness, but it can’t do so alone because it also serves to differentiate Greeks from each other.

Religious shrines and sacrifices? Well, we all know that not only did numerous of our ancient authors assume that non-Greeks worship the same gods, just under different names, but we also know of Egyptians, and Lydians, and Persians, and many other non-Greeks offering sacrifices and offerings at Greek shrines to Greek gods. Greeks also adopted foreign cults and worshipped at them—Isis, Magna Mater, Bendis, a Jew named Jesus. Sacrifices at non-Greek sites, like the temple in Jerusalem were also conducted in similar fashion even though to a different god. Roman and Etruscan sacrifice were also similar to Greek practice.

But even between Greek poleis, there are dozens of different variations on the gods, some poleis had gods no others had (like Aphaia at Aegina), not all festivals translated out of their particular poleis and they often didn’t even allow other Greeks to participate. There were of course, panhellenic cults, like Eleusis, panhellenic religions shrines like Delos and Delphi. But again, we can’t say that religion defines Greeks anymore than it defines any other group on its own. Gods, like languages, are mutable, flexible, adaptable, adoptable. And Greek liked having a lot of options.

Customs or way of life? Herodotus himself provides a running chronicle of how many aspects of life the people called Greeks shared with so many others who were not Greeks (even when we often emphasize where he discusses the differences). The archaeological record adds more--burial practices, diet, construction, technology, artistic styles and motifs, alphabets, laws. Often, where we look for and see differences are the places where either our Greek language sources don’t differentiate or where the differentiation is ideologically driven, as we find in texts like Aristotle's Politics, the speeches of Isocrates.

Once you start looking for similarities, you see them everywhere (including clothing styles--unlike the toga, which was a somewhat distinctive outfit, general Greek clothing styles hardly differed--if at all--from those of most other groups in the Near East and North Africa, they even were at various times all the fashionable rage, the Athenian markets were awash with Persian knock off goods—sort of like being able to get ‘Gucchi’ on the corners of Exarchia in Athens now; Margaret Miller has written an excellent book on this).

What about things like architectural styles and pottery and art? These are things that, of course, archaeologists, anthropologists, and art historians have tried for the better part of three centuries to use to define civilizations and peoples. But, of course, it doesn’t quite work that way. While there are definitely specific styles of architecture that develop in particular geographic locations and then spread in those areas, they aren’t necessarily restricted to single ‘peoples’. We identify the column with pediment, etc. with Greek architecture, but similar styles developed in north and central Italy independently; the most famous frieze from Athens was modeled off of Persian architectural sculpture (Margaret Cool Root has analyzed this in detail):

The details, of course, developed distinctively, but these can move and jump and skip to all sorts of places and can be built by people who, of course, aren’t of a place--many of the craftsmen working on the Persian Apadana were Greek. Many of the craftsmen working on the Parthenon were not Greek.

And pottery either looks fairly universal in the ancient Mediterranean in terms of pot shapes or, in the case of painting techniques, confined to specific locations--Attic red-figure pottery was produced only in Athens. Corinthian-ware takes its name from being a style specific to Corinth. Like their ‘ethnic’ identities, what we call Greek pottery can always be diversified and recognized for its great range and variation:

 Of course, one can point to athletics as one of the key places where the Greeks acted ‘as Greeks’ and differently from all those around them. Except that, of the 4 majors (Delphi, Isthmia, Delos, and Olympia) only Olympia required Greek ‘descent’. For the others, you only had to be able to speak Greek to participate and we already know that people who weren’t ‘Greek’ could speak Greek.

The example of Aeschylus’ play Suppliants will help us make our points clear--both that we can’t take modern identity categories for granted in antiquity and that identities were situational and functions--and I want to emphasize that this is not a unique text, but we don’t have 6 hours to go through all the ones that make the point.

The Danaids, the 50 daughters of Danaus who are fleeing to Argos in Greece to escape marriage to their cousins the sons of Aegyptus, explain In the opening chorus, where they come from [[SLIDE]]:
May Zeus the Suppliant look with favor upon our company that has voyaged by ship; it put to sea from the fine-sanded mouths of the Nile. Leaving, we have fled the land of Zeus  bordering upon Syria, not because we were convicted and banished by a vote of the polis for bloodshed, but self-motivated by our aversion for marriage, loathing an impious marriage and to the sons of Aegyptus (1-9).
They then refer to their ‘foreign speech’ twice (καρβᾶνα δ᾿ αὐδὰν; 119, 130) and then point out their being of a sun-darkened, black genos (μελανθὲς ἡλιόκτυπον γένος τὸν γάιον; 154-5).

The king they are supplicating for protection, Pelagos, doesn’t even seem to notice either speech or skin color:
This group that we address is unhellenic, luxuriating in barbarian finery and delicate cloth. What country do they come from? The women of Argos, indeed of all Greek lands, do not wear such clothes. It is astonishing that you dare to travel to this land, fearlessly, without heralds, without sponsors, without guides. And yet here are the branches of suppliants, laid out according to custom next to you in front of the assembled gods. This alone would assert your Greekness, but would cause confusion if your voice was not here to explain it.
What he notices are cultural practices--their clothes are weird, but they understand supplication. They are therefore, recognized as ‘Greek’. Skin color is so unimportant, what when he does compare them to anything other than Greeks, he lists a bunch of peoples we would consider to be of varied skin color:
Strangers, what you say is hard to believe, that you are of Argive descent. It is hard to believe because you look rather more like Libyan women and not at all like women from our lands. The Nile might breed such fruit as you. [Your Cypriot appearance resembles the image made by men marking impresses onto women].  I hear that there are nomadic women of India, dwelling beside the Ethiopians, who ride horse-like camels through the land. If you held bows, I would have compared your appearance rather to the unwed, carnivorous Amazons. But I would better understand this situation if I were instructed how your descent and seed are Argive.
Notice also that the Danaids are pointing to shared descent as part of their appeal--but not ‘Greek’ descent. Greek they already have demonstrated by the act of supplication (and don’t ask how they ‘foreign speech’ seems to disappear as an issue in a time without translators, but it is a play and everyone needs to be able to speak to each other). But now they have to prove ‘Argiveness’ and this one is by descent, but their descent is not ‘pure’ Argive or even ‘Greek’. They are descended from Io and Zeus, and then Epaphus and an Egyptian woman, and then Danaos their father with, also most likely, an Egyptian woman. They are Egyptian when they need to be in Egypt, but as they seek to flee to Argos, they have to also be Greek and then Argive. And it would not have mattered anyway because all that matters is that both the Danaids and the Argives believe they share this identity even if they don’t in practical terms. This is what we mean by ‘imaginary’.


So, in no sense of the word here is there an assumption of homogeneity--not in languages, not in customs, and not in descent. But there is some connection able to be made at some on each of these points--in this case in the ritual of supplication-- and that is good enough to be ‘Greek’ but not good enough to be Argive or Spartan or Theban or Rhodian or Samian or Athenian, etc. Thus we might say that when Herodotus has his Athenians present this list to the Spartans as to why they would NEVER betray them to the Persians, listing ALL of them is something of an overkill. And this may be the point.

At the time of Herodotus’ writing, the Spartans and the Athenians were in the beginning of a new war that we refer to as the Peloponnesian War and which ended up lasting, with fits and starts, for 27 years. Because the Greeks were NOT an unum but plures, they had this habit of fighting wars against each other. Herodotus may be trying to appeal to these specific elements: language, rituals, customs, and kinship--to try to remind them of the bigger picture, to invoke a sort of e pluribus unum of his own. It didn’t work, of course. It rarely worked. Not in the 5th century, or the 4th, or the 3rd, or the 2nd. It really only ‘worked’ when the Romans came along and took all their armies away. ‘Greekness’ was frequently invoked, but didn’t have force enough or, I would argue, wasn’t politically grounded enough, to create such a unity.

And the question we want to ask is WHY didn’t it work? Is it impossible for many to ever truly become one? Both the melting pot and the salad bowl we started with were attempts to offer models of how it might work, but both had the same problem the Greeks had--prejudice. Far from being free from the weed of racism, as Knox suggests, it was present; we are often just looking for it in the wrong places if we try to map our own prejudices and categories dividing humans up onto a world that divided itself differently.

The ancient Greeks were diverse in as many ways as the modern US is and probably more. They were a truly plural plurality that we make the mistake of lumping under the single term ‘Greeks’ for our own political and cultural purposes. In this way, we attempt to erase the tension between unum and plures by pretending that this multiethnic stew in the Aegean was something that it never was. But that tension is real and not every polis in antiquity dealt with it in a way all of us might like. For the most part, e pluribus unum was never its reality, but rather the Greeks were e pluribus plures and they preferred it that way.