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Thessaly under the Kings: Religion, Society and the Politics of Multiculturalism in Mainland Greece

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - THESUNKIN (Thessaly under the Kings: Religion, Society and the Politics of Multiculturalism in Mainland Greece)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2017-09-30

The project aimed at exploring region-specific aspects on the intersection of religion, society and multiculturalism in the Hellenistic world. THESUNKIN offered a regional perspective on these issues, by focusing on Thessaly from the mid-4th to the mid-2nd century BCE. The project examined the politics of the Hellenistic Kings and their influence over the re-organisation of local cults and sacred landscape, with regards to the newly developed socio-cultural environment, with its multi-ethnic and multicultural communities and their competing claims that grew besides official royal politics.
THESUNKIN is in the forefront of current concerns and societal challenges: contemporary conflicts of religious identities; major migrations; administration of multicultural communities; acculturation processes. Today, in the era of globalisation, when human values are constantly promoted by governments and international organizations, religious freedom is constitutionally acknowledged around the globe as one of the fundamental rights of modern man. However, extreme acts of violence carried out in the name of religious diversity are also frequently attested, and it feels awkward to perceive what a serious and constant challenge they pose to peace and democracy worldwide. Was religion always meant to be controversial? What images can be drawn from the pool of our collective historical memory?
Bringing forward the diachronic values of the historical paradigm, the project transferred this problematic back to the realms of the Hellenistic world. It is widely known that the conquests of Alexander the Great in Asia in the late 4th century BCE resulted in the formation of a single globalized world. In the immense Hellenistic kingdoms, where free movement of goods expanded financial transactions beyond borders and free movement of people was favoured, large metropoleis were also created hosting individuals of varied ethnic and cultural origin and diversified ritual behaviour and religious beliefs.
THESUNKIN broke new ground on how the Hellenistic Kings managed the religious diversity among their subjects. Although Thessaly formed part of the early Hellenistic kingdom of the Antigonid Kings in Mainland Greece, the region had not been part of the vibrant scholarly discussion regarding the attitudes and institutions of the wider Hellenistic World. The aim of the project was twofold. Firstly, it studied the local archaeological, epigraphic, numismatic and literary sources, in order to contextualise Thessalian religious attitudes and their political and socio-cultural agents. Second, the comparison of these regional data with comparative evidence of other well-studied regions of the Hellenistic World resulted in the first comprehensive study of Thessaly as vital unit of the oecumenical Hellenistic culture. Finally, the project’s outreach expanded its potential outside the academic environment, by contributing to the reception of Hellenistic Antiquity, and especially religion and the multicultural societies in Ancient Greece, Asia and Northern Africa- that is in the forefront of current concerns on clashes based on conflicts of religious identities.
The project achieved a study of old neglected and new archaeological and epigraphic evidence in the Thessalian Museums and established longstanding collaborations with current excavators. Archives (notebooks, catalogues of finds and photographic data) of old excavations kept in the local Departments of the Greek Ministry of Culture in Thessaly and others research institutions, as well as the Archives of Thessalian Epigraphy hosted at the University of Lyon, were consulted. Research centres (CSAD, LGPN, Beazley Archive) and research facilities (Bodleian University library, Institute of Archaeology, Digital Humanities) at Oxford facilitated the study and dissemination of research results.
A series of articles has been published and are in print by the Principal Investigator (PI) of the project. One article provided a comprehensive account of cults and rites of passage in Thessaly and demonstrated the concurrent institutional presence of age-classes in local societies. A second article, in collaboration with the project’s supervisor, offered a regional perspective on the issue of Underworld journeys in Antiquity by showing that Thessalian attitudes to death reveal a heightened interest in the safe journey to the Underworld or a blessed afterlife. Two more articles, in collaboration with the curators of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Magnesia, offered the first publication of inscribed funerary stelai from major Hellenistic Thessalian cities – Phthiotic Thebes, Demetrias and the site at Palia-Kastro Volou (presumably ancient Iolkos). They brought new and useful insights into the prosopography and mixed ethnic/cultural origin of the local population, as well as contemporary beliefs related to death and the afterlife. Finally, another article, in collaboration with the the Curator of Antiquities of Tenos in the Cyclades, presented new Hellenistic archaeological and epigraphic material kept in private collections on the island of Tenos.
A monograph on the early Hellenistic cults and sacred space of Thessaly, the first full study of religion and society in Thessaly under the Hellenistic kings, is in the final stage of preparation for publication.
THESUNKIN organised an international conference on ‘Religious Interactions in the Hellenistic World’ in order to discuss how and whether religious interactions helped achieve a successful operation of institutions in Hellenistic societies and whether they contributed to the cohesion of its peoples. The event brought together experts in Archaeology, Ancient History and Epigraphy, Religious Studies/Theology, and Oriental Studies from Oxford and other UK (London, Reading) and European academic institutions (Athens, Turin, Cassino, Lille, Toulouse, Utrecht, Groninger, Copenhagen). The PI discussed a new Thessalian mystery cult combining Greek and Semitic elements and stressed the role of Thessaly as an equal part of the Hellenistic World. The project’s webpage hosts the themes addressed during the event. The results will appear in an edited volume.
Four more papers on early Hellenistic cults and sacred space were presented by the PI in international conferences at the Universities of Oxford, Rome and Thessaly and received useful feedback from international audiences. They are in preparation for publication.
Outreach for schools and the wide public were organized at Oxford and Thessaly.
The results of the project, disseminated through presentations, events and publications, generated an original study of early Hellenistic Thessaly as vital unit of the oecumenic Hellenistic culture. In this light, THESUNKIN confirmed the exchange between Greek and non-Greek traditions of religious thought and the presence in Mainland Greece of flexible/selective religious identities and acculturation processes, similar to those already studied in the Eastern Hellenistic Kingdoms. The project demonstrated that in this first globalised World, religion constituted a fertile field for interactions between ethnically and culturally diverse people and religious traditions, while the Hellenistic rulers played an active role in their development. This instructive conclusion was disseminated via outreach targeting current concerns and challenges involving religious identities within modern societies.