Modern Historians about Macedonia – Irad Malkin

 

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Herodotos’ fascination with ethnicity permeates his Histories, which is regarded as the world’s earliest extant anthropological study as much as its earliest extant history. Rosalind Thomas, in “Ethnicity, Genealogy, and Hellenism in Herodotus” (213-233), chooses four cases — the Macedonians, the Spartans, the Athenians, and the Ionians – and finds in each a polemic. Different criteria for defining Greekness emerge: genealogy plays a role, but is undercut by overlayering of genealogies linking east and west; language plays a role, as does religious practise; self-perception also appears. Herodotos’ own ethnic liminality (from a mixed Carian-Dorian Greek city, writing in the Ionic dialect), as well as that of what we might call his temporal/social space (in the interculturation zone between the Persian Empire and the Greek world), poised between the traditional aristocratic stress on genealogy and the culturally-focused shifts of the fifth century, explains his preoccupation and his articulations. He should provide the benchmark for “oppositional” ethnicity but refuses to do so, with his mixing of family trees and constant discussion of cultural traits exchanged across the east/west divide.

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Irad Malkin examines the role of the outsider’s view on Epirus in his “Greek Ambiguities: Between ‘Ancient Hellas’ and ‘Barbarian Epirus'” (187-212). Epirus provides an interesting parallel to Macedon in that the ancient sources reflect the full spectrum of attitudes about its ethnicity: it is Greek (having good genealogical links through the Nostoi), it is primitive Greek (how “we” used to be); it is barbaros (customs alien to those of the Corcyran and Corinthian colonists on the coast

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” In the Later Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods, a definition focussed more on education and lifestyle suited the increased scope of the Greek world. Readily acquired features such as speaking Greek or knowing Greek history were the basis of what is called the “cultural” basis of ethnic definition. A parallel global shift from high to low value attached to (mythical) descent also occurs: a sense of hereditary kinship through a common ancestor is fundamental to early ethnic expression but is essentially gone by the Roman Imperial period, when the Roman projections of Greek ethnicity were based largely on a kind of nostalgia for the “glories of Greece” that is, for the distant, itself almost heroic, past

Irad Malkin (ed.), Ancient Perceptions of Greek Ethnicity. Center for Hellenic Studies Colloquia, 5. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. Pp. 418

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