Interview at Historically Thinking Podcast

Al Zambone interviewed Erik for the October 31, 2018, episode of the Historically Thinking podcast.

Here is Zambone’s introduction to the podcast:

“Civilizations’s greatest monster–the terrible specter that haunts comfortable and prosperous societies–has always been the barbarian. That’s the creature that arrives and destroys all that comfort and prosperity, that leaves ruins behind; that forces people to question whether all that comfort and prosperity was worth it, and whether they should have been barbarians themselves.

“Today I discuss the concept of the barbarian in Greek and Roman societies with Erik Jensen, author of (helpfully enough) Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World. To define barbarians as ‘those not like us’ is to also define ‘what we are.’ So Erik and I spend a lot of time talking about what it meant to be Greek, and what it meant to be Roman. We also discuss how the impoverished and backward Greeks could view the dazzlingly rich and talented Persians as barbarians; what the Romans ever did for us; why barbarians are just so damn attractive; and why the worst barbarians are always seen as those born within civilization.”

Visit Historically Thinking to listen to or download the podcast (duration 53:59).

Preview of Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World

The publication date for Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World is approaching fast – only a few days to go!

Hackett Barbarians Jensen_fc Sm

The book explores both the realities of interaction among peoples of different cultures in the ancient Mediterranean and the ways in which Greek and Roman thinkers interpreted these interactions to create the idea of the “barbarian.”

Here’s a preview, discussing the experience of the Greeks in their colonial settlements around the Mediterranean Sea:

* * *

The history of Greek settlement in Egypt demonstrates the complexity of colonial interactions. In the late 600s BCE, Egypt was under Assyrian dominion. An Egyptian noble, Psammetichus, had been appointed as governor, but when the Assyrians were distracted by internal conflicts, Psammetichus raised a rebellion, bolstered by mercenaries from Greece and Caria, a region of southwestern Anatolia. When the fighting was done and Psammetichus had become king of a newly independent Egypt, he settled the remaining mercenaries in the Nile delta. These settlements also attracted other foreigners, such as Phoenician crafters who made imitation Egyptian artworks on the site for export.

The mercenaries remained in Egyptian service, and it appears their descendants did as well, since some were deployed to southern Egypt under Psammetichus II decades later. One such band carved graffiti on the temple of Abu Simbel to commemorate their adventures: “When King Psammetichus came to Elephantine, this was carved by the companions of Psammatichus, son of Theocles, who sailed beyond Kerkis as far as the river went.” The mercenary Psammatichus was evidently named after the pharaoh by his Greek father. Some families went beyond names and embraced Egyptian culture, as shown by the burial of Wahibre-em-akhet, whose name and hieroglyph-inscribed sarcophagus are conventionally Egyptian; the only clue to his foreign ancestry are the Greek names of his parents, Alexicles and Zenodote. Other soldiers left graffiti at Abu Simbel in Carian and Phoenician, another testament to the cultural and linguistic diversity of those traveling and trading around the Mediterranean at this time.

Sometime after 570, the pharaoh Amasis reorganized the Nile delta settlement. Land was granted for the construction of a Greek colony, which, unusually, was collectively founded by nine Greek cities from the coast of Anatolia. Representatives from these cities jointly governed the new community now called Naukratis. Greek ships were banned from landing anywhere else in Egypt for trade. The colony thus became the primary site of exchange between Greeks and Egyptians. Trade connections brought people of many different backgrounds to Naukratis and connected its people to a wider world. One visitor was Charaxos, the brother of the poet Sappho, who traded wine from his home city Mytilene to Naukratis. He met a slave courtesan there, a Thracian woman named Rhodopis who had been brought to Egypt by her Samian owner. Charaxos fell in love with Rhodopis, bought her, and freed her, after which she chose to remain in Naukratis to ply her trade. To celebrate the fortune she had amassed in her work, Rhodopis later made a rich dedication at Delphi in Greece. A hieroglyphic inscription on a stele erected by the pharaoh Nectanebo in the fourth century, dedicating revenues from Naukratis to the temple of Neith, shows that the pharaohs kept an active interest in the administration of the colony. Naukratis retained its importance and trading privileges after the Persian Empire conquered Egypt in 525. It continued to welcome not only traders but tourists and other travelers, like Herodotus, who visited Egypt and whose writings record the existence of a local industry of tour guides and interpreters. The Greeks who settled in Egypt did not exist in isolation but had productive relationships with traders, artisans, and the ruling class alike.

The interactions in and around Naukratis are a window into the complexity of the colonial world. There were Greeks trading with Egyptians, but also Phoenicians making knockoffs of Egyptian art, Greeks assimilating into Egyptian culture, Thracians and Carians negotiating the needs of Egyptian and Greek patrons, and Egyptians making a living off showing the wonders of their country to curious foreigners. Interactions like these were happening all around the Mediterranean. There is no simple way to describe Greek relations with non-Greek peoples in the archaic and classical periods because those relations were never simple.

* * *

Preorder Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World via Hackett | via Amazon | via B&N (Hardcover: $48 / Paperback: $16)

For review copies, please contact Hackett directly.

A Barbarous Podcast Interview at New Books Network

Mark Klobas interviewed Erik for a New Books Network podcast in May, 2018, about his upcoming book Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World.

Here is Klobas’s introduction to the podcast:

“Today the word ‘barbarian’ has a derogatory connotation for most people. Yet in the classical world it was one that was often used not as a pejorative but as a means of denoting people of different cultural backgrounds, which was regularly done in an era in which interactions with them were commonplace. Erik Jensen’s book Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World (Hackett Publishing Company, 2018) examines the concept of barbarians as understood by the Hellenic. Hellenistic, and Roman civilizations, showing how their ever-evolving use of the phrase offers us an understanding of their concepts of identity. Noting the origin of the word as a descriptor of how the Greeks interpreted foreign languages, Jensen explains how it was an early example of how the politically fractious people of the region identified the shared factors that distinguished them from others. Such distinctions were frequently relevant given the Greek presence in the Mediterranean world, which manifested itself in trade, colonization, and later in the conquests that established the Hellenistic world. By contrast the Roman interaction with others was defined by conquest from the start, which led to the development of a different criteria of which peoples were and were not regarded as outsiders. As Jensen reveals, it was the crises of the late imperial period which hardened the concept of barbarians into the negative one which we use today, one which has skewed our understanding of the ancient world as a consequence.

Visit New Books Network to listen to or download the podcast (duration 48:45).

Preorder Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World via Hackett | via Amazon | via B&N.

For review copies, please contact Hackett directly.