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Wanderings and eddies: migration, diaspora and mobility in Messenia

Sue Alcock

One of the more recent shifts in the study of the ancient world has been the increasing acceptance, not only of how much people in the past moved around, but of the multiple meanings and implications of such coming and going, and — equally — of staying still. Contemporary concerns regarding human mobility, the significance of place, migration and identity loss and the forces of globalization can easily be identified as one driver behind this trend, but rich testimony (textual, epigraphic, archaeological) for such wanderings has always been there. As the panel as a whole highlights processes of migration and diaspora in antiquity — and the nostalgia for places inherent in these concepts — it seems fitting that this paper will revert to considering such evidence for a part of Greece which my research has abandoned for quite some time now: Messenia in the Greek Peloponnese.

The wanderings of the Messenians ‘for nearly three hundred years’, as Pausanias put it, offers one strong narrative, not only of mobility and loss but of return and restoration. The arc of their story runs from revolt and exile following defeats by the Spartans to a triumphant homecoming after Epaminondas’ victory at Leuctra in the first quarter of the fourth century BCE. Those who returned were said to hasten home from Italy, Sicily and North Africa, yearning ‘for the lands of their father’ (4.26.5). The textual evidence for this diasporic community together with its material correlates — both pre- and post-liberation — are here explored in tandem, not least to determine the extent to which such a designation is truly appropriate, and to what degree helpful.

Underneath that singularly epic story, however, what should not be forgotten is that Messenian places anchored other patterns of movement and other social and geographical relationships over time. Three additional case studies work to expand the spectrum of human mobility in this landscape, each operating at different territorial scales and with different types of data. First is the island of Proti, just off the Messenian coast, where sailors hoping for safe voyage and return left numerous dedicatory inscriptions. Second are the settlements at Asine and Methone, places whose inhabitants identified themselves as refugees from the north resettled by the Spartans and who actively remembered and hearkened back to their alien origins. And finally, the rituals and ceremonies involved in the Mysteries of Andania, including processions and pilgrimages of varying duration, will be considered.

These three additional case studies are intended briefly to illustrate just some of the variety of movements that took place in Messenia, at varying scales and for varying purposes. The concern here is simply to point up that, beneath the broad rubrics of migration and diaspora, are myriad shifting eddies of human mobility and their linkage to place and landscape. Keeping these in mind might in the end help us better identify and debate those larger, and contested, processes.

Session/Panel Title

Diaspora and Migration

Session/Paper Number

23.3

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