The modern relevance of the ancient Greeks | Canberra weather


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Even around Christmas, interesting cultural events can still be organized in Canberra. One example is the National Museum of Australia’s latest successful exhibition, showcasing ancient Greek artefacts and works of art normally kept in the British Museum in London. This exhibition, which opened on December 17, presents objects – weapons, heroic statues, armor, shields – that illustrate a competitive and manly ethic. These ancient Greeks are portrayed as fierce warriors, heroes and athletes. The current author definitely does not fall into any of the above three categories, and yet the exhibit still spoke strongly to him. Here’s why. In high school, after studying ancient history, I understood the importance of applying a historical perspective to world events. The study of the two great historians of ancient Greece Herodotus and Thucydides, if only in translation, has revealed something interesting. In their day, it was clear that the Greek domain extended far beyond the narrow confines of the modern Greek state. Something major had happened to cause this huge disparity. This change in shape involved an epic process of colonization, which flowed and then ebbed. Greek colonization was covered in the standard textbooks of the time. Importantly, however, these textbooks were written by distinguished types of Oxbridge, meaning that they referred to the expansion of ancient Greece in an eminently respectful manner. And yet, what we can witness in this exhibit featuring the ancient Greeks and their cultural artifacts is clearly a case, to use the current academic expression, of settler colonialism – a term which is fraught with sorrow these days. and regret. The ancient Greeks featured in the exhibit knew all about expansion abroad. Cursed by the poor land at home and being good sailors, they turned out to be powerful colonizers. Trade – including the slave trade – turned into colonization as they forcibly settled in areas where there was better access to fertile land, natural resources, and good ports. From around 734 BCE, as the exhibit tells us, Greek colonies spread across the Mediterranean from Spain to the shores of the Black Sea. Hundreds of colonies were established in the fifth century BCE. Eventually, almost half of the Greek population in classical times lived in a former settlement. But this expansion did not happen in a vacuum. Terra nullius does not exist. The first Greek settlers had no qualms about subduing the native population in the places where they settled. They worked their way through a mixture of war, compromise and diplomacy. For a while the dispossession was not controlled. Most of the Greek colonies became independent entities. They in turn established their own settlements, on locations also stolen from native inhabitants. These indigenous people, because they did not speak Greek or worship the Greek gods, were treated as inferior beings and were silenced. Greek settlers built magnificent temples that still last today to show who was in charge. READ MORE: The colonies became and remained almost as Hellenistic as the towns and small kingdoms back home. The expressions of vitality that animate the exhibition – goblets, sports paraphernalia, ornate pottery, religious objects, statuettes, etc. – are part of a dominant shared culture. The two great historians of ancient Greece illustrate the diaspora in bloom. Herodotus was a free colonial from Halicarnassus, a place now in Turkey. Thucydides was a toff from Athens. Thucydides lived at the height of Athenian glory. There was such a feeling of superiority around. Foreigners were looked down upon as barbarians. This complacency led to bad behavior. Sports competitions sought to absorb violence through rituals, but there was still a lot of aggression. Taking their neighbors for granted, the Greek states engaged in frequent wars and quarrels with each other without considering the destructive consequences. Such a hybris led over time to the fact that the ancient Greeks, now weakened by their internal divisions, were supplanted by Macedonia and then by Rome. The dispossession of local communities along the Mediterranean and in Asia continued, but this time it was carried out by other bands of colonizers – and the Greeks were the victims, not the perpetrators. The Greeks collapsed more and more as their rivals prospered. The nadir arrived in the 15th century AD, when the holy city of Constantinople – originally just another Greek colony – was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The modern Greek state, when it was created as a byproduct of great power politics in the early 19th century, was only a fraction of the much larger Hellenic world that had been created by an extremely abrasive some 2,500 years ago. The exhibition at the National Museum allows us to see how this older and breathtaking colonial world of settlers functioned and indeed flourished mightily.



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