Despite there being hundreds of years of academia focusing on ancient Greece, it is undeniable that there are still marginalised voices that need to be made heard. It is the goal of many historians now to seek out these forgotten people and ensure their lives are part of the picture we’re painting about ancient Greece. Through our work researching child potters, we are hoping to help answer some of these unanswered questions and inspire you to find out more about marginalised Greece.
What do you think of when imagining ancient Greece? Gods and Temples? Red-figure Pottery? Wars and Warriors? Symposia, decadent Greek dinner parties? The Olympics?
What do these aspects have in common? They belonged to the lives of wealthy Greek men.
A shift in academia is leading historians around the world to begin to unveil a forgotten ancient Greece and represent the people that were previously ignored.
Women. The working class. Immigrants. Children. Slaves. The LGBT community. Disabled people. The poor. Criminals. The list seems endless and we will not have a true understanding of ancient Greece until all of its members are represented.
An example of the bias regarding ancient Greece is given by Acton in Poiesis: Manufacturing in Classical Athens. Acton refers to a book from the 90s that claims to “present a “portrait” of Athens in her glory”, but does not once mention manufacturing (a key source of income in Athens) in its over 500 pages (Acton 2014:2). This is just one example of the bias that spans the whole of academia.
How are we supposed to achieve this monumental task of uncovering hidden voices that have been disregarded for centuries? The answer is reinterpretation, research and a wider framework of inclusivity and diversity both in the topics we study and the researchers themselves.
The academic bias of Greek archaeology and scholarship traces back to the ‘Grand Tour’ in the 17th and 18th centuries, which saw British elites travel to the Mediterranean in pursuit of ancient artefacts, Classical knowledge and basking in the glory of the ancient Greeks and Romans (Darley 2008: 18). This is just one explanation as to why the information we have from the past three centuries is so biased in nature.
The next step in fixing this bias is to make these studies are inclusive of silenced peoples and begin to reinterpret older information, although this does come with obstacles.
The academic disregard for aesthetically unpleasing artefacts, as commented on by Langdon, is too common within archaeology (Langdon 2013: 176). However, new interpretations can be made using the material that survives. An example of this is our project examining the miniature votive figures within our archaeology collection at UoB, some of which could fit the categorisation of Langdon’s analysis of child production in ancient Greece (Langdon 2013: 176-7).
A more in-depth study of these miniature votive materials is to follow in some weeks down the line, so stay tuned for more developments!
There has been a rise in attention concerning how we can gather and present research in a more diverse way. Resources are being put towards uncovering the under-researched aspects of ancient societies (such as this research project), as well as the increasing attention of local archaeologists interacting with their own cultures and heritage. A fantastic example of the latter is the recent excavations of 27 sarcophagi from Saqqara, proudly discovered by a team of Egyptian Archaeologists (BBC News 2020).
To learn more about the developments of inclusivity, equality and diversity within Ancient History, Archaeology and Classics, we are proud to announce that members of academic staff, student and curators from the School of History and Cultures here at UoB are creating a podcast titled ‘Perspectives’, which we highly encourage everybody to listen in to!
Acton, P. 2014. Poiesis: Manufacturing in Classical Athens. (Oxford)
Langdon, S. 2013. ‘Children as learners and producers in early Greece’ in Grubbs, J.E. and T. Parkin (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education in the Classical World (Oxford).
Darley, G. 2008. ‘Wonderful Things: The Experience of the Grand Tour’, in Perspecta, Vol. 41 Grand Tour (Cambridge, MA).
BBC NEWS. 2020. ‘Egypt Tomb: Sarcophagi buried for 2,500 years unearthed in Saqqara’, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-54227282 (accessed 6th November 2020).