On this page you will find more information about the individual projects of our team members:
Thessaly was a key region in Hellenistic history. Its fertile plains made it extremely wealthy and an agreeable place for horse rearing. It was also a region where many important battles took place for example battles between the Macedonians and the Pheraians, and the Macedonians and the Romans. Ancient Thessaly comprised two broad plains in north-central Greece, which were separated into the four tetrads or districts of Thessaliotis, Hestiaiotis, Phthiotis, and Pelasgiotis. Thessaly was also surrounded by mountainous regions and their inhabitants, or perioikoi, who had a close but complex relationship with the Thessalians. The perioikoi were not considered ethnically Thessalian themselves at the beginning of the Hellenistic period. The four tetrads and the perioikoi all had their own religious calendars and traditions. The Macedonian hegemons of Thessaly and the Romans, who would eventually depose the Macedonians, reorganized the Thessalian landscape by land reforms, creating new settlements (not necessarily just poleis), uprooting existing populations, and creating new political systems throughout the region. A major political watershed that permeated all aspects of society, including religious life in Thessaly, was the creation of a formal Thessalian League in 196 BC by Titus Q. Flamininus. This saw the gradual political and religious assimilation of most perioikoi into a unified Thessaly in the early 2nd century BCE. One of the instrumental policies in coordinating and communicating communal Thessalian values of the new League was the creation of a common religious calendar and the establishment of federal festivals in central places, such as the Eleutheria in Larissa and the Itoneia in Thessaliotis, which became internationally renowned over time.
Festivals of all types, including athletic and religious festivals, contribute to a sense of belonging and identity at a local level and are a way of creating connectivity at a regional level. This project posits that festivals and festival networks played a large part in the creation of a Thessalian regional identity. The mainland Greek region of Thessaly was a landscape of multiple layers of socio-political identities. Thessaly was not ethnically homogenous but was a more complex region whose dominant population began to identify as Thessalians only by the end of the Archaic period, but the identifications of specific communities tended to shift in and out of a Thessalian affiliation throughout Thessaly’s history. The existence of an overarching Thessalian League, which was believed to exist in the Archaic and Classical periods, is in fact something that is difficult to identify in the literary and epigraphic sources prior to the Hellenistic period. Who was and was not Thessalian was at times restricted and sometimes extended and so a “Thessalian” was in fact a fluid identifier during the constant power struggles of the Hellenistic Period. This “Thessalian” identity can be studied by analysing the festivals and how they connected the people. Festivals in Thessaly, during this turbulent Hellenistic Period, are of importance as they represent not only connectivity between peoples in Thessaly, but because of the erratic and uncertain nature of the period in Thessaly (invasions, forced population movements, increased foreign contacts, and political and religious reforms), the festivals are a good chronological indicator of how beliefs and customs were ever changing but could also stay the same. My research seeks to understand the roles of festivals in identity-formation processes during the Hellenistic period in Thessaly. It also attempts to answer the question of how festivals served to connect communities within the region as well as the wider Greek world, and the role of festivals in establishing a cohesive sense of regional identity?
This project primarily uses social network analysis (SNA) to explore these festivals in Thessaly, and how this can be used as a method for examining regional identity. SNA involves people and how these people connect with others to form a network, as well as providing a picture that helps to provide an image of how people were connected in a network. This project involves cities in Thessaly as nodes (actors in the network), with the athletes from the festivals being the ties (the connection between different cities). This network of athletes in Thessaly will help to see how cities within the region were connected, but also how cities from around the Mediterranean were connected with Thessaly.
The festival culture of the Greek world underwent great change in the Hellenistic period, with the establishment and expansion, sometimes to unprecedented size, of hundreds of sporting festivals across the eastern Mediterranean. This “agonistic turn”, marked in particular by the establishment and promotion of the Ptolemaia at Alexandria by Ptolemy II, was intimately connected with the upheavals resulting from the destruction of the Achaemenid empire which, at the end of the fourth century, transformed the political landscape of the eastern Mediterranean and much of the Middle East. Agonistic festivals, as socio-religious institutions, were bound up with local, regional and broader cultural identities, but simultaneously the larger festivals were fundamentally international in scope and outlook, drawing competitors and spectators across hundreds of miles. The festival network of the Hellenistic period thus fostered cooperation and competition between diverse political actors, presenting threats and opportunities which necessarily drew the engagement of the nascent kingdoms, now the most powerful entities in the region.
Royal intervention in what was fundamentally a civic network could take a multitude of forms – direct competition, the sponsoring of both athletes and festivals and the promotion of new or revised agōnes dedicated to kings or other members of royal families. Peaking in the third century, this activity was carried out in close cooperation with civic elites and even federal institutions, but served primarily to further the interests of kingdoms in establishing greater influence over Greek cities and limiting that of their rivals.
My working thesis is that the agonistic festival network, built around civic socio-religious institutions, was not a natural arena for state-building. In connecting poleis and koina across wide distances and territorial boundaries, it in fact offered many opportunities for cooperation against central royal authority. Nonetheless, festivals provided an effective platform from which to promote the normative and political claims of rulers, and the dense network of agōnes allowed for the rapid diffusion of these ideas. Hellenistic dynasties thus employed various strategies to position themselves as integral parts of the festival network and to align it with their interests, either as a whole or by attempting to partition off some sub-network which they could dominate ideologically. I suggest that these efforts were largely unsuccessful, due to the ability of the cities involved to play off rulers against each other and to compel their interventions to reproduce norms of decentralised rule and civic autonomy. Nonetheless, they are crucial to an improved understanding of Hellenistic royal objectives and relationships with regard to Greek cities, and laid the foundations for the far more comprehensive program of the Romans in later centuries.
Theory and Methodology
As will be apparent from the liberal use of “network” above, I will be approaching royal interactions with festivals in part through the lens of network theory. Agonistic festivals were not hierarchically structured, nor were they performed or perceived independently of each other – rather, the social, religious and political connections between them tied them into a web of constant interaction and traffic. More specifically, I intend to apply the mathematical methods of Social Network Analysis (SNA) to determine as far as possible the structural features of the festival network, the impact of diachronic change on that structure and its significance for the position and influence of individual festival nodes. This will naturally require a reworking of some of the approaches most commonly employed in SNA, which are more suitable for networks of individuals than of competitions. It should, however, provide greater insight into the motivations behind both civic and royal interventions in the network, allowing us to trace the real impact of efforts to reshape this key medium of communication for political gain.
Robin van Vliet:
Anchoring Roman rule: Rome-oriented cults and festivals in the Greek world
“Anchoring Roman rule: Rome-oriented cults and festivals in the Greek world” (working title) is the individual PhD project by Robin van Vliet, funded by the OIKOS Anchoring Innovation initiative and conducted in connection with the NWO-funded project Connecting the Greeks: multi-scalar festivals in the Hellenistic world. It runs from February 2019 to 2023 and is conducted at the University of Groningen under supervision of Prof. Onno van Nijf (Chair of Ancient History) and Dr. Christina Williamson.
At the end of the third century BCE Rome turned her head eastwards. With Carthage no longer a threat, the Romans now declared war on Macedon, claiming to intervene in protection of the freedom of the Greeks. Rome appeared as a major new player in the Eastern Mediterranean, and eventually would manifest herself as the dominant power. A complex and continuous process of cultural communication and status negotiation between the Greek communities and the new hegemonic power – Rome – came about, as both parties had to adapt themselves to the novel situation of Roman rule. It was against this background of rapid change and sudden entanglement that Rome found herself embroiled in the web of cultural and religious traditions that already connected the Hellenic East, and had to develop new ways to adjust and anchor herself to this. At the same time, Greek cities, caught in this context, faced new situations also and had to develop innovative strategies to cope with this conquering power.
Focussing on one of such areas, this PhD project posits that from the very moment that Rome set foot on Greek soil onwards, its hegemony found anchor in the Greek cult and festival traditions that already existed. Exploring ways to respond to Roman power, Greek communities used the familiar language of cult and festivals as a prime venue to draw Rome into their own cultural and religious structures. At the same time, the Roman conquerors – starting with the general Titus Flamininus who famously used the Isthmian games to declare Greek freedom – had to explore various ways to respond to this novel entanglement. What followed was that by the Roman period, the traditional Greek cults and festivals – regularly featuring processions, sacrifices, and athletic and musical performances or contests (agōnes) – became popular as never before. Throughout the Greek world and Roman Asia Minor in particular, old cults and festivals were revived or reorganised, and new ones were founded in large numbers. However, an important innovation occurred, since they were now also oriented on Rome and expressed the newly developed entanglements. By investigating these newly developed cults and festivals as a driving force playing a crucial and active role in the anchoring of Roman rule, the central question this project seeks to answer then, is: how did Rome-oriented cults and festivals become anchored in the existing network of Greek cults and festivals, and how did this contribute to the spread of Roman influence and the integration of the Greek world into the Roman Empire?
Theory and Methodology
In this project, the concept of “anchoring innovation” is used as a heuristic tool to investigate the various situations of adopted change (i.e. the different ways that Rome got involved in the existing network of Greek cults and festivals). “Anchoring” provides a tool for understanding the dynamic process of the emergence of a shared cult and festival culture: foregrounding the ‘anchors’ in this process helps to consider in which ways the Greeks accommodated what they perceived as new (innovation i.e. Roman presence) by connecting it to what they already perceived as ‘theirs’ (anchors i.e. the cults and festivals). Moreover, it is expected that anchoring helps not only to focus on the outcome of the innovation (i.e. the successful integration of the Greek world into the Roman Empire), but especially on the building blocks (i.e. the anchors) that enabled this. In addition, this project aims to contribute to a better understanding of how anchoring processes work and hence, a stronger theory of anchoring innovation itself.To research this anchoring process this project also applies tools, theories and methods derived from social sciences and digital humanities, primarily including network analysis. Do you want to know more about my thoughts on the application of this? See our blog.