Monday, November 10, 2008


Henry Hurst and Sara Owen (edd.), Ancient Colonizations. Analogy, Similarity & Difference. London: Duckworth, 2005. Pp. 165. £16.99 (pb). ISBN 0-7156-3298-1.
Reviewed by Irad Malkin, Department of History, Tel Aviv University (

When Marc Ferro, one of France’s leading historians and editor of the recent Le livre noir du colonialisme (2003), published the English translation of his Colonization: a global history (1997) he probably did not imagine how little he would be read by ancient historians dealing with Greek and Roman colonization, and specifically by those interested in issues of “Analogy, Similarity, and Difference.” Similarly, it is not clear that Marcel Detienne's comparer l'incomparable has been read by anyone participating in this volume.1 Even Jean Bérard, a major historian of ancient colonization, goes unmentioned, although he both warned against the misnomer of colonization and, in his L'expansion et la colonisation grecques (1960)2 against the analogy of French colonization (les français outremer) in north Africa. The books offers seven different perspectives on explicit and implied analogies, three of which concern the British Empire, and the other Roman Colonialism, the Inka Empire, the archeology of Sicily, and a wide-ranging Mediterraneanist overview. The first impression given by the book under review here: the issue it discusses is global, the scope of discussion is limited both in its choice of reading and subjects. Those contributions which are more directly concerned with the use of analogy refer mainly to British examples.

Historians of Greek colonization have never been happy with the term "colonization," yet to this very day, nobody has come up with a viable alternative. To warn against fallacious analogies is always timely. But how many have in fact made them in the past? And, when they did (except for Freeman, discussed in Gillian Shepherd's article), how serious were these lapses, beyond loose metaphors and associations of their time (e.g., ‘trade before the flag')? I found it striking, for example, that the object of a recent and detailed study of colonialist and imperialist analogies by Franco De Angelis was the magnum opus of Thomas Dunbabin The Western Greeks (1948).3 Gillian Shepherd in this volume follows De Angelis, but all either can offer are a handful of quotes from Dunbabin, mostly from pages vi-vii of the preface with a few more from pages 182-192, and this out of some 500 pages.

Yet the issue, as such, is serious, and the editors may be commended for bringing awareness of it to the foreground. Indeed, the book's subtitle reads "analogy, similarity and difference" but, except for Purcell's article, most of it reads as if the latter two words are merely implied in the first. Basically the question that interests the editors is: are analogies helpful or should the attractive ones be considered an enemy? I wonder, however, whether we are anachronistically inclined to treat ancient colonization in terms of modern imperialism and colonialism, or have we been so well trained to be suspicious of anachronism that not only do we avoid analogies but expect their existence in others’ work where it is perhaps unjustified to do so? One would expect the first task of such a book, before its contributors warn against the various dangers of analogy, is to establish whether or not the plague is rampant. Anthony Snodgrass makes a remark, typical of the book, that the examples are simply too numerous to cite, yet directs us to a rather specific article by Gillian Shepherd on marriages among Greeks and non-Greeks. In truth, when reading through its pages, one would be hard-pressed to find more than just a handful of meaningful examples of the 'anachronistic model,' at least for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

We need to remember that analogy and Zeitgeist are not equivalent. The issue of Zeitgeist in historiography has been with us for almost as long as critical modern historical scholarship. Since Croce, it has meant that the historian of the past cannot avoid being a citizen of the present. It is the present that influences perspectives, assumptions, and mostly the choice of historical questions. For example, economic issues in historiography came to the foreground with the rise of Marxist thought, and studies of women in antiquity (beyond books on ‘daily life’) have proliferated following the rise of Feminism. If Zeitgeist is self-aware, there is nothing wrong with it, since history is a constant, dynamic, and reciprocal dialogue with the past. However, when Hurst and Owen discuss "assumptions" it is not always clear when the issue belongs to Zeitgeist and when it is in fact analogy. A clearer theoretical discussion of analogies in history, as a genre, might have served the book better. This could have found its place in Henry Hurst’s Introduction, where we hear of the need to "problematize" the intellectual tool of analogy and to "unpack (our) cultural baggage".

Sara Owen (“Analogy, Archaeology and the Archaic Greek Colonization”) states "... the analogy with modern European colonialism ... exists as a set of assumptions of what colonialism is." She is troubled by a more specific assumption of [colonialist] asymmetrical power relations, and rightly aims to show that archaeological evidence may point to a whole spectrum of relations. She is correct in saying that archaeologists work on time-scales which make it difficult to identify the work of individual historical agents. On the other hand, this approach may lead to an overemphasis on 'processes' and disregard of 'events' (that perennial tension in history, between 'change and continuity'). In recent years I find the pendulum to have been swinging too sharply against 'events,' or, in the case of colonization, against the notion of 'foundation.' Yet just looking at the map and seeing the enormous numbers of new settlements, ‘created' within relatively short periods over vast horizons, and structured along similar patterns, would be a good starting point to refute this approach. The recent publication of volume five of the excavation of Megara Hyblaia in Sicily, confirming the overall existence of a planned, apparently egalitarian, settlement around the last quarter of the eighth century, is itself refutation enough.4 'Foundation,' claims Owen, has clouded the issue of long-term processes and local conditions. There is a big difference between drawing one's attention to something and 'clouding the issue'. True, one may see the processes leading up to colonization as fragmented and processual, but should this cancel the end-result as event? After all, aside from destruction, archeology in general has difficulties in identifying any historical events.

Owen is rightly worried about the notion of asymmetrical power relations between colonists and native populations and in her own work has brilliantly demonstrated a sophisticated approach to movements not only of Greeks but of others as well, as an integral part of settlement movements during the Archaic period. However, to what extent the assumption of such asymmetrical issues rests on analogy is another matter. She cites in particular the short, popular book by A.G. Woodhead (1962) and some remarks by Carol Dougherty in a book on the Poetics of colonization.5 This is meager evidence for a general mindset of scholarship.

Gillian Shepherd's article ("The Advance of the Greek: Greece, Great Britain and Archaeological Empires") is explicitly concerned with British analogies. She makes merry with the abundant and explicit racism and anti-Semitism of Freeman's History of Sicily (1891-1894), better understood in the context of Great Britain's High Empire (1880-1914). Shepherd puts into sharper focus Freeman's use of Aryans (Greeks) vs. Semites (Phoenicians), and his Crusader analogy ("striking a blow for Apollo"), thus foreshadowing Christianity and Europeanism. Freeman, she claims (but does not quite demonstrate) expressed two basic notions that have had a lasting influence: the superiority of Greeks over others and the superiority of Greece over "colonial" Greeks.

It is on the latter topic of ranking (the motherland as inherently superior and a source for all that is significant in colonies) that Shepherd's article is particularly good, especially when it comes to material evidence and temple architecture. She notes Dinsmoor's surprise at the wealth and quality of the western temples (bigger, differently oriented, multiply grouped, placed within urban context, generally more similar to each other than copying a 'home' style). "At Syracuse ... (says Dinsmoor) we see the highest point to which the Greek colony could rise. The greatness of Syracuse is essentially of the colonial kind. It was a greatness which could for a while outstrip the cities of Old Greece in prosperity and splendor, but which was still a greatness essentially inferior in kind and less lasting in duration." Shepherd also rightly criticizes assumptions of "cultural fidelity" (colonials constantly viewing the motherland as the superior fountain of traditions and styles), and she is particularly good when discussing the material evidence: "the common thread in all these interpretations is that the western Greeks did not really know what they were doing and floundered about producing structures based on mainland models which were at best behind the times and at worst the bungled attempts of parvenus to ape their betters."

Shepherd makes the most of what followed after Freeman, but the results are meager in terms of the book's goals. There was, in fact, little interest in Anglophone scholarship in colonial Greeks and when Gwynn (1918) and Blakeway (1933) had their say they did it with few and minor analogies. The fact that "signs of late imperial thought creep into his text" (re Gwynn) is not tantamount to an explicit use of analogy. As for Thomas Dunbabin he is mainly criticized for his Hellenocentrist interpretations, but these have to do more with what he had to work with, and Zeitgeist rather than with analogy. Shepherd's article oscillates between unmasking attitudes and pointing out analogies, and the difference is not always made clear.

Anthony Snodgrass ("'Lesser Breeds': The History of a False Analogy") is wisely sensitive to the pitfalls of analogies. He argues for the use of analogy as a historical tool but also for making the right choices. The wrong one is that of the later period of British imperialism, with its assumptions of cultural superiority, as contrasted with the proper analogy of the earlier period (starting around 1600), which held no such assumptions, as articulated so well in the works of William Dalrymple with regard to the early British presence in India.6 Snodgrass is also aware of how hard it is to find explicit evidence for the use of such analogies in modern scholarship: "scholars were seldom so naïve as to use it [the influence of Kipling's Imperialist era] for direct analogy," he says. But this is also a weakness of the argument: if it is true that "[i]t may seem remarkable to us now that the 'imperial analogy' found such acceptance", then why is the evidence (both explicit and implied) so scant? On the other hand, when dealing directly with the texts, and not with generalized impressions and assumption about what is 'implicit,' he is right on the mark when claiming (with regard to Dunbabin) that "there is an overwhelming sense of anachronism, but little of imperialism" (p. 57).

Like the others, Nicola Terrenato ("A Deceptive Archetype: Roman Colonialism in Italy and Postcolonial Thought") is much better when providing sophisticated and perceptive warnings against analogies than when demonstrating them. The 'postcolonial' in the title appears superfluous, since his well-written criticism addresses no postcolonial issues.7 On the other hand he is clearer about correcting the angle of vision that was directed "to the center" by nationalism and colonialism (to which may be added Sara Owen's criticism of E. Wallerstein's core-periphery models of World Systems): it is wrong, for example, that Roman imperialism was happening 'in Rome.' He perceptively observes that with the spread of European colonialism scholarly interest in the Romans shifted away from Rome as a nation state to Rome as a colonial empire, one with some very modern characteristics. The assumption that Roman imperialism implied the notion of the irresistible advance of a higher culture demonstrates yet again a misguided approach: "all take for granted that a straightforward and unquestioned similarity between Classical antiquity and western modernity exists and it is a key element in the definition of both terms of the equation." He provides what seems to me a convincing assessment of the empire as a re-arrangement of, on the one hand, the networks of Mediterranean societies and, on the other, the integration of elites (a kind of analogy now comes in useful: imagine, he says, an Indian Rajah serving in the House of Lords). On the other hand he may be too quick to dismiss conflicting ethnic elements as too modern; both Romans (e.g., Tacitus's Agricola) and non-Romans (e.g., Josephus's contra Apionem) seem to indicate that perceptions implying conflicts with nationes could have a strong ethnic element.8

One wonders at the editorial decision to include Elizabeth DeMarrais's paper on "A View from the Americas: 'Internal Colonization, Material Culture and Power in the Inca Empire." It is a solid piece, providing apt descriptions of the elements of power of the Inca, but with hardly any discussion of comparisons or analogies. The author follows the habit of citing authorities for the definition of concepts, then applying those concepts (with little analysis of their suitability) to particular issues. When comparisons do occur they are generalized and not newsworthy, e.g., that both Rome and Cuzco used monumental architecture to enhance their image of power.

The purpose of Carla Antonaccio's paper ("Excavating Colonization", based on a chapter of her forthcoming book) is "a contribution to the broader framework within which archeology is working to understand the intricate interplay between material culture and identity, specifically in the colonial context of Italy." This is a very good paper concerning the complex relationship of archaeology and history, discourse and praxis. We find excellent discussions on Morgantina, on "hybridity" (a disagreeable biological metaphor current in post-colonial studies), and a particularly good analysis of the relation of ceramics and ethnicity. It is highly recommended chapter, although it is not clear why it found a home in this book.

In "Colonization and Mediterranean History," the most condensed and thoughtful of the papers in the volume, Nicholas Purcell starts by bypassing "analogies" in favor of "comparisons," in the tradition of the great Mediterraneanist historians Fernand Braudel and Shlomo Dov Goitein. He aptly quotes Ettore Lepore’s assertion that "des modèles de comparaison historique sont presque aussi nécessaires que les témoignages mêmes."9 Taking his cue from certain traits of Mediterranean economics, Purcell discusses the Mediterranean habit of avoidance of risk through diversification and, in contrast, the development of more risky -- yet more profitable -- specialized crops by Greek settlements, re-distributed, for example, by means of emporia. This leads him to emphasize the role of elites and to claim an aggressive aspect to Greek colonization that would encourage risky and profitable crops. Comparisons with Roman, Medieval, and Venetian colonization illustrate the viability of the argument for other periods, when allotment (lands sectioned and allotted to colonists, such as the Greek kleros) covered enormous areas. However, the comparison is problematic, since in contrast to some of the later examples, the territorial size of early, coastal Greek colonies was meager in relation to vast hinterlands. For example, Massalia's chora in southern France remained narrow (up to 20km) for about 600 years. Also, in the settlements, the concept of 'elite' also needs qualifying, since the relatively egalitarian kleros system poses a question mark over what may have been considered elite. The elites that developed were complicated in another respect, since first-generation colonists sometimes became the elite in relation to later immigration. Within the wider perspectives of pan-Mediterranean commerce what constituted commercial elites is not a simple question since ships, at least since the days of Hesiod and down to the developed age of Athenian merchants in the fourth century, could carry 'sub-cargoes' which sometimes belonged to several non-elite 'investors.'

Purcell is interested in human mobility and sees families sending their sons to colonize overseas as another strategy of risk-avoidance through extending the family. In spite of the common emphasis in foundation lore on land hunger as a pushing factor, in fact, the 'pulling' aspect of the frontiers for richer kleroi was more significant. (One could note that the motif of land hunger is actually not so predominant among foundation stories; when Plato speaks of "narrowness of place" (stenochoria, Laws 708b) he may be referring equally to a narrowness of political space.) Purcell proceeds to discuss "Aristocratic diasporas", though with Crusader examples, not Greek ones (these exist: e.g., the exiled Bakchiads who found refuge at Corcyra, a colony originally founded by one of their own family; Dorieus, the frustrated Spartan who went to first to Africa and then to Sicily; Demaratos who came to Italy in insert himself among the local elites; and Miltiades the Athenian who went to the Thracian Chersonesos). Purcell brilliantly observes that "the object of colonization can be the web of connectivity itself rather than the productive terrains."

Analogy comes in with "frontier history," and the debates following the famous thesis of Frederic Jackson Turner on the influence of the open-ended American frontier on the society and culture of the United States.10 Purcell follows Ettore Lepore, who modified the one-sided thesis to include the shifting migrations and settlements of Greeks and non-Greek alike. Purcell follows these points with detailed examples from southern Italy that are somewhat loosely connected with the earlier parts of the article, except for the recurring theme that "colonization is a category in crisis." In truth, when was it not? But now we get more sophisticated reasons. Basically, he concentrates on examples (e.g., Incoronata) where we find a fluid and 'recursive' version of colonization, with subtle movements of Greeks and "natives" across colonial frontiers, and "interactions, gateway-functions, points of cultural transition." He is particularly illuminating when commenting on the unstable relations of hinterlands and the sea.

Although Mediterraneanist historians like Purcell may be more flexible when applying a wide-angle lens to geographical areas and to history 'in the long term' (la longue durée), this also creates problems of assessment and interpretation, since events and phenomena may change their historical significance over time. Greek settlements appear to Purcell as disruptive and domination-oriented, and eventually end in failure. Yet this vision depends on a chronological foreshortening of the 'history of events.' After all, centuries would pass before certain Greek colonies became 'Lucanian' or 'Oscan,' and even then not always through direct conflict. Moreover, I find it difficult to square aggressiveness with the another aspect of land possession, well-illustrated by Purcell: this time it is not the foundational kleros, but the spread of individual, unprotected farmsteads, for example both at Metapontion in Italy and in Rumanian Istria.11

The issue of historical angle is also found in the final section of Purcell’s article, "Conclusion: Problems of Focus." As a Mediterraneanist historian, Purcell sees matters in the long term, hence his ocular metaphors: "The master-narrative of 'colonialism' in antiquity is a classic instance of a problem of historical focus; it derives from a myopic reading of ancient literature, a long-sighted failure to discern the patterns which archeology revealed, and an astigmatic preoccupation with colonial locations outside the frame of discussion." Yet historical significance often depends precisely on the definition of the ocular angle, the space it covers and its time-frame. These days, what may seem like a victory during the first moments after a successful war might appear to be an appalling defeat of purpose in a longer perspective. Thus the misguided ocular perspectives that Purcell warns us against (and he is perfectly correct for long-term history) may be turned precisely against his overall argument on the nature of Greek colonization. We cannot content ourselves with a long-term perspective, and its implied risk of teleological thinking: true, most Greek cities in southern Italy 'eventually' ceased being Greek. What does this say of their first generations? Whenever the late David Asheri spoke of Greek de-colonization in Israeli universities, he would end, dead-pan, by reminding the audience that the Ionian colonization of Asia Minor 'eventually' ended in 1922.12 We need to be careful with our assessment of the 'Archaic period,' unless we wish to give up on that category as well.


1. Marc Ferro (1997). Colonization: A Global History. London: Routledge); Marcel Detienne (2000). Comparer l'incomparable. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

2. Jean Bérard (1960). L'expansion et la colonisation grecques jusqu'aux guerres médiques. Paris: Aubier.

3. De Angelis, Franco (1998). "Ancient Past, Imperialist Present: The British Empire in T.J. Dunbabin's The Western Greeks”. Antiquity 72, 539-49.

4. Michel Gras, Henri Tréziny and Henri Broise (2004). Mégara Hyblaea. Vol. 5: La ville archaïque. Paris: École française de Rome, with Irad Malkin, "Exploring the Validity of the Concept of 'Foundation': A Visit to Megara Hyblaia", in V.B. Gorman and E.W. Robinson (eds.) (2002). Oikistes: Studies in Constitutions, Colonies, and Military Power in the Ancient World. Offered in Honor of A.J. Graham (Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill), pp. 195-224; Irad Malkin, “Foundations” in Kurt Raaflaub and Hans van Wees (eds.), Blackwell's Companion to Archaic Greece, in press.

5. A.G. Woodhead (1962). The Greeks in the West. London: Thames and Hudson. Carol Dougherty (1993). The Poetics of Colonization: From Text to City in Archaic Greece. New York: Oxford University Press.

6. William Dalrymple (2002). White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India. London: Harper Collins. 7. Irad Malkin (2004). “Postcolonial Concepts and Ancient Greek Colonization.” Colonialism and the Past, in Barbara Fuchs and David J. Baker (eds.), special issue of the Modern Language Quarterly 65, 341-364.

8. Doron Mendels (1997). The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

9. Ettore Lepore (2000). La grande Grèce: aspects et problèmes d'une colonization ancienne. Naples: Centre Jean Bérard, p. 68.

10. Frederick Jackson Turner ([1921] 1962). The Frontier in American History. New York: Henry Holt.

11. See (cited by Purcell) Krebs, S.A. (1997). "Greek Colonization and Agriculture in Dobrudja", in John M. Fossey and P. J. Smith (eds.) (1997). Antiquitates Proponticae, Circumponticae et Caucasicae II. Proceedings of the First International Conference on the Archaeology and History of the Black Sea (McGill University, 22-24 Nov. 1994). Amsterdam: Giesen. 47-65. See also J.C. Carter, "The Greek identity at Metaponto", in Kathryn Lomas (ed.) (2004). Greek Identity in the Western Mediterranean: Papers in Honor of Brian Shefton. Leiden: Brill, pp. 363-90.

12. David Asheri (1999). "Processi di 'decolonizzazione' in Magna Grecia: il caso di Poseidonia Lucana," in La colonization grecque en Méditerranée occidentale: Actes de la rencontre scientifique en homage à Georges Vallet organizée par le Centre Jean Bérard, l'École Française de Rome, l'Istituto Universitario Orientale et l'Università degli Studi di Napoli 'Federico II' (Rome-Naples, 15-18 novembre 1995). Rome: École Française de Rome, pp. 361-70.

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