Socialising with the 'barbarians' of the hinterlands

Ancient West and East
October 22, 2004

Archaeology has long been troubled by a divide between those who study the "glories of classical civilisation" and those with interests in other cultures that coexisted and interacted with the classical world.

Classicists have often failed properly to acknowledge achievements of the so-called peripheral areas or the influences they may have had on the cultures of Greece and Rome. Indeed, traditionally, the study of the people who inhabited areas such as modern-day Italy, Spain, France, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Turkey and Bulgaria (to name but a few) has been dominated by a narrative, culled from modern imperialism, of conquest and assimilation by classical powers. At the same time, many European archaeologists have ceded ground to the classicists, and have concentrated on periods and areas unaffected by classical culture.

Other divides - political, linguistic and disciplinary - have led to a further compartmentalisation of the study of the Mediterranean and Black Sea areas in antiquity. In particular, the divide between East and West during the Cold War (conjured up by this journal's title) led to the development of distinct areas of study that have rarely merged - it is, for example, still as rare to find a Western European who works on Thrace as it is to find an Eastern European who works on Italy.

This journal sets out to break down these divides and to provide a single forum that focuses on the so-called "barbarian" societies and their interactions with the Graeco-Roman world. Its initial impetus has come from the growing interest of Western-based scholars in the Black Sea area, and specifically in the Greek colonisation of the Black Sea coasts, but has spread to an interest in all "peripheral" areas of the Ancient World.

One of the benefits of this project (and indeed a personal achievement of the editor) has been to present Eastern European scholarship to a wider audience. There has been a tendency for Western scholars to simplify and even parody the work done by Eastern European scholars before 1990. On a basic level, the sheer amount of data amassed in areas such as ancient Skythia and Thrace has often been underestimated. But some Western scholars may be surprised to see that many of the issues we have only just begun to focus on, such as the social and economic make-up of Greek colonies and surrounding settlements, have been central interests of Marxist-influenced Eastern European scholarship for decades. The cross-fertilisation of approaches, which has only just begun, must be facilitated by the review section of this journal. This section contains reviews of a variety of books published in many different languages. It also has an invaluable review article by the editor surveying the recent literature and conferences held, and a list of recent publications in key areas, the main focus of which has so far been on Eastern Europe.

While the original focus of the project was Greek colonisation, the journal's geographical and chronological foci are much wider - the time frame covered stretches from the beginning of the second millennium BC until late antiquity. This has the benefit of drawing in a variety of scholars from different areas and periods.

But the wide chronological framework carries with it the danger of more disjointedness than the original aims envisaged and the range of articles in the later issues almost guarantees that scholars will pick out single articles about their specific chronological and geographical interests rather than widen their horizons and compare different areas. One cannot help feeling that a focus - thematic or chronological - for each volume would allow the journal to meet its laudable aims rather better and allow for more comparison and contrast of the different areas. Indeed, the success of the inaugural volume lies in commissioning several short essays by leading scholars, each of which explores the state of the discipline in the areas of their specialisation. Here we gain general insights into ways of looking at relationships between "peripheral" societies and the Graeco-Roman world (mainly relating to Greek colonisation) and are also taken on a whistlestop tour from Ancient Iberia and Italy (in the West) to the Black Sea, Urartu (in the East) and Aithiopia (in the South).

This journal fills an important niche: it provides for the first time a forum for the discussion of all the non-classical lands with which the classical world came into contact. But the designation "peripheral" sits uneasily with the size and importance of the areas discussed. As John Boardman states in his essay in the first volume, "the subject areas for the new periodical are not the periphery to anything, but a chain of focuses, never totally discrete, and sometimes interdependent, on which both the distant and adjacent might work - through trade, and the movement of peoples and ideas". The journal itself demonstrates that these areas are not peripheral but centrally important to the development of what we term the classical world.

Sara Owen is director of studies in classics, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

Ancient West and East

Editor - Gocha R. Tsetskhladze
Publisher - Brill
Pages - Biannual
Price - EUR 99.00 ($134.00) per issue
ISSN - 1570 1921

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