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Greek apoikismos, migration and diaspora

Carla M. Antonaccio

A focus on diaspora and migration offers possibilities for considering Greek colonization (apoikismos) in a different frame from that of comparative colonialism. Greek colonization has been a subject of intense investigation in recent years, both on the ground (fieldwork) and within a number of scholarly frameworks. The term colonization, of course, is derived from the Latin word colonia, and also carries connotations of modern colonialism and imperialism. But while Greek colonization is often considered in terms of Roman and modern comparisons, it constitutes a fundamentally different phenomenon. The Greek word is apoikia, ‘home away from home’, conveying the foundation of new Greek communities outside the home territories of those setting out to new places (though not necessarily ‘overseas’, as in the case of Sparta and Thera). Recent studies have used comparative work to redefine colonization as a process rather than an event; reframed the debate through the application of network theory; engaged with discourses on colonialism and postcolonialism; and sought to apply concepts, such as hybridity, from modern postcolonial studies to Greek antiquity. But the Greek case does not map that neatly onto contemporary analytical schemes.

What we may call apoikismos -  Greek permanent settlement abroad in independent communities (and distinguished from two other categories that the Greeks deployed, i.e the emporion and cleruchy) will be situated within the theoretical frame of migration and diaspora, in contrast to the more usual framework of comparative colonization, colonialism, and imperialism. These modes have been constructed in the present, and conditioned by the past 500 years of European history. They distinguish prehistory (of the colonized region) from the historical period that begins with the arrival of literate Greeks; Greeks from ‘barbarians’ (though that distinction has been interrogated thoroughly of late); and a host of other oppositions that are founded not only on a Greek intellectual substratum, but on a more modern colonial one. Such binaries are themselves, then, a condition of coloniality (which is a condition of modernity, along with postcolonialism, postmodernism, etc.). The Greeks, although entangled with actual empires (Persia, Carthage, Rome), could not themselves enact a colonial regime in the modern sense until Alexander; and apoikismos did not involve them with groups much differentiated from themselves. Yet some Greek forms of coloniality could emerge, as when Attic politicians denounced the hybrid populations of Sicily as inferior to autochthonous Athenians, or when Sicilian Greek tyrants adopted the methods of forced displacement to serve quasi-imperial aims. These emerged more in the period after the first waves of apoikismos.

This paper will attempt to consider early Greek apoikismos through the lens of border thinking but without the modern postcolonial politics that accompany this turn. Border thinking, as practiced by Walter Mignolo and others, may illuminate the early period of encounter by moving away from strong dichotomies of homeland and overseas, Greek and non-Greek, etc. The paper will also examine how territories, bounded groups and other artefacts are ultimately produced, and subverted, in the colonial space of the Western Mediterranean.

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Diaspora and Migration

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