CORDIS - Forschungsergebnisse der EU

"Empire, classical history and world discoveries. Uses of classical scholarship in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Portuguese expansion."

Final Report Summary - EMPIRECLASICS (Empire, classical history and world discoveries. Uses of classical scholarship in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Portuguese expansion.)

Classical history helped early modern Portuguese and other Europeans to experience and explain the dynamics of overseas expansion. In some instances, the experience of classical geographers, philosophers, military leaders and historians was contested and replaced by new perceptions of an expanded world. However, in this research project I have demonstrated that this did not minimize at all the role of Roman and Greek models. In fact, contradictions between classical narratives and modern interpretations of the world fuelled debate or, more intriguingly, were simply accepted and reproduced as such. Read and processed according to the needs of early modern Europeans, classical history continued to provide them with a useful tool for making sense of the world and for expressing political needs and ideas well into the eighteenth century.
Empireclassics has contributed to a more nuanced approach to early modern uses of classical scholarship by exploring a number of contradictions, paradoxes, simplifications and over-interpretations of classical scholarship in the narrative and visual representations of the soldiers, sailors, and rulers who carried out or oversaw the process of discovery. The sources examined include chronicles, histories and travel accounts from 1500 to 1700, together with the translations, editions and commentaries on classical authors. These sources constitute a key building block with which to interpret one of the most significant periods of European history: the moment when Europeans perceived that they were "discovering" a much broader world. In the past two or three decades historians and other social scientists have struggled to offer a post-colonial, decentred account of the conquest, discovery, and interconnectedness of the world in the early modern era. Empireclassics has enhanced understanding of these processes by examining the role of classical models played in several contexts. As a result, this project now offers a more nuanced view of the uses of the past and of the misunderstandings and shortcomings of European worldviews. Having offered a layered approach to the modes in which Europeans perceived (both correctly and misguidedly) the world that surrounded them, Empireclassics sheds particular light on many of the misconceptions, stereotypes and fallacies which predominate within today's modes of cultural communication.
In the first place, Empireclassics places renewed emphasis on the centrality of military activity in early modern empires. Although military conquest is a key element in contemporary explanations of European discovery, in recent years it has been often neglected within research focusing on the economic, social and cultural transformations which have taken place at a global level since 1500. My research has shown how Roman and Greek examples served to help conceive the processes of colonization and, more importantly, to construct the image of the Portuguese monarchy within Europe. War, military culture, integration of extra-European territories and state development were closely linked together. Comparison with the Spanish monarchy has moreover permitted me to recover the importance of Roman conceptions of military activity and "ancient discipline" to early modern military developments. I have also shown that Roman referents played a key role in making political claims regarding the governance of the army and the navy in colonial contexts. The contradictions between classical models and modern firearms, defensive architecture and other shifts brought about by the use of gunpowder occupy an especially prominent place within this literature. Not surprisingly, debate on ancient and modern armies led Portuguese authors to reflect on the nature of early modern war and to articulate proposals for reforming contemporary arts of war.
A second major field of enquiry of Empireclassics has been ethnographic description. I have analysed early modern uses of Greek and Roman ethnography and its categories —such as "barbarian"—and I have shown how dual models (barbarous vs. civilized) coexisted with more elaborate explanations of the cultural diffusion of the Roman empire. Not only was China constantly depicted as equivalent to far-distant ancient Rome in a far-distant present land, but Portuguese authors also identified many other positive connections between the customs of "discovered" societies and classical examples from the past. Empireclassics has also paid special attention to the impact of ethnographical description on the visions of Portuguese ancient history, in order to trace forms of circularity in the understanding of early stages of human societies. In fact, the Portuguese case offers a particular approach to ancient Lusitanians, whose interpretation differed from French, German or English revalorization of their barbarous ancestors, due aove all to the complex intersection between Portuguese colonial exploits and the period of union with the Spanish monarchy. This project has moreover shown how Portuguese authors were able to denounce what we can term "Roman colonialism" and by doing so they produced a critical reading of Livy, Strabo and other sources even as they drew at the same time on narrative models and categories used in Roman history. Applied to enemies in Europe and foreign societies in Africa or Asia, these "colonial" categories seemed much less problematic when Roman models could be drawn on so profitably.
Finally, I have dealt with specific translations of classical authors in Portuguese and with many of the better known works by Portuguese antiquarians and scholars. I have highlighted how erudite and theoretical approaches to empire and monarchy based on Roman history could be misleading and confusing, and how they proved more useful to local and personal interests than to contributing to a general political understanding of Portuguese global positioning. I have also studied the role of Raphael Bluteau in the reception and transformation of classical notions and his activities as intra-European go-between. Finally, Empireclassics has articulated the notions of expansion which underlay the use of Roman metaphors for the spatial limits of empire. Moreover, I have investigated the uses of classical examples in the conception of Lisbon as a fully developed metropolitan centre, above all as a new Rome. I then went on to study other explicit comparisons between imperial capitals (both past and present) as well as relevant comparisons with Roman urbanism.
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