Category Archives: Development grant

Creating Connections

I was provided the opportunity to study in Athens for the past month because of the Goekoop scholarship offered by the NIA and friends (VVNIA). The purpose of my stay was to write the proposal for my MA thesis, for which I am planning to look into the political geography of Bronze Age Laconia; a topic which was still largely unfamiliar to me not too long ago. For this reason, and because this was actually the first time I would be abroad on my own for a prolonged period of time, I was fairly nervous when I arrived.

As I write this blog on my last day in Athens, I remember well how quickly it became apparent that this nervosity was completely misplaced. When I walked into the living room of the Dutch Institute on my first day, I met one of the other residents whom I knew already from an earlier visit and she told me I had come at exactly the right time. The weather in Athens had not been very nice in the previous month, she told me, but this had drastically changed now and summer was finally upon us. To top it off, this is the time in Athens when all the International Schools host their annual parties, which is ideal if you want to meet new people. So we went.

First one on the agenda: the annual party of the Australian Institute with drinks afterwards on the roof terrace of the Swedish Institute (fig 1). As I happily followed my acquaintance around I was introduced to the art of introducing new people at parties where everybody is unacquainted and quickly made some new friends. With these newly made friends I went on to a lovely concert somewhere in Athens on the same night and to many other places since then. One of the beautiful things about Athens is that there are so many lovely places to visit during the weekends so close by. With other students I have explored the archaeological sites on lovely Aegina (and also the beach) on one weekend, the sites of ancient Ramnous (the best preserved deme of Athens; fig. 2) and Marathon (and also the beach) on another, and finally also the Island of Euboea (and the beach).

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Fig 1: The views from the roof terraces of the different Institutes are quite enjoyable. This photo was shot from the Italian School.  

The annual parties do not only offer the opportunity for socialising, however. There was also ample room for accounts on the activities undertaken by the institutes in the past year and interesting lectures on funny topics. For example, at the Australian Annual Party, Professor Julia Kindt presented an interesting approach to research on animals in Ancient Greece and introduced me to the concept of the Socratic Gadfly. You know, the concept of a thing that is a bit annoying and constantly stinging your mind, but at the same time supposedly needed and a positive influence on your life. That does make me think of something.. Oh yeah, my thesis.

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Fig 2: Ancient Ramnous is the best preserved deme of Attica. The site is so well preserved it feels like you are walking through a little city. Across the water Euboea can be seen.

Apart from playing the tourist and the exchange student, there was also time dedicated to actual studying. As mentioned before, I was not extremely familiar with research into political geographies before I started working on my thesis. Luckily for me, I had been able to acquire a seat as a backbencher on the workshop ‘Political Geographies of the Bronze Age Aegean’ which was organised by the NIA and the EBSA, and which very conveniently took place during my stay in Athens (fig. 3). To me, these two long days of lectures, on which all the experts of this field presented their latest research, served as a sort of crash course which taught me exactly what I needed to know. I penned as fast as I could to note down all the possibilities and pitfalls of this kind of research. What I found particularly interesting was the notion that when discussing politics in the Bronze Age Aegean, we should perhaps speak a little bit less of territorial domination by palaces, and a little bit more about mutual beneficial connections between different people, factions and settlements in a political landscape that is dynamic and not predetermined. To what extent this notion can be explored in Laconia remains to be seen. But I will fly home tomorrow with a good feeling about my thesis and a lot of fine memories about the connections I made myself.

Youp van den Beld

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Fig. 3: I was very lucky to be able to attend this very informative workshop. 

A Grand Tour of Greece

When thinking about ancient Greek death practices, what first comes to mind are the golden death mask of Agamemnon, the serene scenes on Classical funerary reliefs from the Kerameikos, and perhaps the white ground lekythoi – all prominently on display in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Of course, funerary culture in the Greek world constituted much more. This fall, we travelled the Greek mainland to explore the regional differences in funerary practices of ancient Greece, with grants from the Philologisch Studiefonds and the NIA. We plan to use our newly gained insights for a PhD- and postdoc proposals, respectively. In this post, we will tell you a bit about our travels, and share some of highlights, thoughts and photographs.

Our ‘Grand Tour’ began and ended with a short stay at the NIA, in between which we travelled through mainland Greece for four weeks. We started our journey in the northern Peloponnese, travelling along the west coast, going inland from Igoumenitsa to Ioannina, and then driving all the way up to Florina. From there, we explored Macedonia, Chalkidiki and Thrace, and via the coastal regions of eastern Greece and the island of Euboea we eventually found our way back to Athens. In total, we drove over 4500 km, visited more than 80 sites and museums, took 8815 photographs, and replaced one flat tyre.

Most of the sites we visited were chosen because of their funerary character: necropoleis, tombs, or museums with themed displays about mortuary behaviour and/or extensive collections of tombstones and grave goods (fig. 1). Other sites were added to the list because of their relevance for the ongoing work on the Hellenistic houses of New Halos, while others were simply too beautiful or famous to pass by. Among the latter category are Orraon (fig. 2), where stone-built houses are preserved up to a height of over three meters, Kylindri near Karystos, where over a dozen of huge monolithic columns were left behind after this Imperial marble quarry was abandoned (fig. 3), and of course Dodona and Delphi (figs. 4 and 5).

As far as the funerary material was concerned, we saw an enormous variation in burial customs across Greece, among regions, sites, but also among different individuals within one and the same community. We noted significant differentiation in the space of the dead (the locations of the cemeteries vis-à-vis the town), in tomb types used, in the types and decorations of burial markers, the content of epitaphs, and the grave goods provided to the dead. To give a few examples: in Thessaly we hiked to a burial site near the modern village of Vrynaina, where the necropolis of a Hellenistic fortified settlement was located on narrow plateaus below the steep hill on which the acropolis and town were located (fig. 6). In Arta, the Archaic-Hellenistic cemetery had developed along a so-called Gräberstrasse (fig. 7), similar to what can be seen in the Kerameikos, while near Hellenistic Abdera burial took place in tumuli, which were spread around the chora inland of the town. In Chaironeia we pondered the Theban war dead while admiring the enormous stone lion (over 5 m in height) that marked the site of their demise and final resting place (fig. 8). Nearby lay the tumulus covering the cremated remains of the Macedonians fallen in the same battle. At Kassopi we entered a Macedonian-type burial chamber that was located within the city walls (a rarity!, fig. 9); the tumulus-museum of Aigai displayed the jaw-dropping remnants of the funeral of Philip II, and the recently hyped tomb at Amphipolis we only saw from a distance.

Amidst all the fantastic experiences, there were also some disappointments. Several sites were fenced off or ill maintained, some museums were unexpectedly closed, some were desperately in need of renovations, and one museum was open but completely empty (leaving us flabbergasted as to the reason why a guard followed us closely while we scoured the building looking for the stuff that was advertised as being here on a big sign near the entrance). Particularly disappointing was our visit to the Underworld at the Nekromanteion of Acheron. According to Homer and Herodotus there was a place somewhere near the Acheron where people could enter the world of the dead. But alas, the building identified as this Nekromanteion turned out to be a farmhouse of the Hellenistic period, and the ‘crypt’ was a large vaulted cellar where the owners of the farmhouse stored their foodstuffs (fig. 10). Our hopes of descending into the dark recesses of the earth into the realm of Hades and Persephone were thus shattered.

All in all our Grand Tour was an amazing experience. By visiting so many of the archaeological sites and museums along the way, we gained a good understanding of the variety of burial practices in Greece. The more distant museums proved very useful to get an impression of local finds and excavations. Additionally, we were able to experience the Greek landscapes, and the cultural variety and delicious cuisine of modern Greece.

We would like to thank the Philologisch Studiefonds and the NIA for their financial support, our fellow-travellers for their enthusiasm and their hospitality, and we wholeheartedly recommend our colleagues to undertake a similar trip.

Tamara & Caroline

Fig. 1 Reconstructed burial in the museum of Pella

Fig. 2 Court of a house in Orraon (Epirus) with other rooms in the background. The walls have been preserved up to the second floor

Fig. 3 View on Karystos from the 12 m monolithic columns in the Imperial marble quarry ‘Kylindri’ on Mt Ochi

Fig. 4 The theatre at Dodona

Fig. 5 Wall behind the Stoa of the Athenians/the terrace wall of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, on which numerous inscriptions have been inscribed (you can recognise the outline of the texts as flattened rectangles on the wall)

Fig. 6 The steep slope near modern Vrynaina where (looted) burials can be seen

Fig. 7 View of the Gräberstrasse in Arta, with burials from the Archaic to Hellenistic period. On the right was a polyandrion

Fig. 8 The restored lion at Chaironeia, guarding the fallen Thebans and fiercely looking towards the tumulus below which the Macedonians were buried

Fig. 9 The vaulted tomb in Kassopi, the only ‘Macedonian’ type tomb in Epirus

Fig. 10 The vaulted cellar, better known as the ‘Nekromanteion’ near Acheron

The worker must have bread, but she must have roses too.

img_2929Mural in Panagi Tsaldari Street, by street artist INO. 

While writing my name on Grigoris’ arm, I am aware that I will never be able to visit all the addresses he has just given me; let alone to interview all the people involved in these collectives. After all, at this moment, I only have two full days left. Grigoris works at a collective restaurant called Bread and Roses, referring to the successful 1912 Massachusetts textile riots. The words “bread and roses” are Rosa Schneiderman’s. She wrote a speech in which she proclaimed: “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too”. Of course, Schneiderman led a women’s movement in a specific moment of time. However, I think that her speech touches upon much larger issues that are at the centre of the resistance in Greece today.

Capitalism did not only transform labour into a commodity by presenting it on the market as any other good[1], but also brought along a strong belief in Homo Economicus. Or perhaps, rather than capitalism as such, it was the Austrian school that professed and promoted the idea that egotism and competitiveness are part of human nature. Without entering into a debate about the distinctive nature of Neoliberalism and how different it is from the era that Marx and the Austrian School were writing in and reflecting upon, I think that what I see here in Greece can be directly linked to the liberal spirit of free market idolatry, the atomization of the individual, but also, and simply, cruel dehumanizing, or as Marx would call it, alienating labour due to exploitive conditions. I am aware that I am referring to a lot of theories in one go, and it seems quite all encompassing.

However, it could also be put more straightforwardly: the people I have met here in Greece are resisting. And they are not only resisting low payrolls. What they seem to express is a desire to live differently, more ethically, for their own sake, but also for that of the community. There’s a powerful discontent vis-à-vis working conditions, but not criticizing the hard work and the unpaid overtime per se. What makes the working conditions unbearable is the insignificance it has; coming in at work in the morning and leaving late at night, giving up your time for something you do not really believe in, for an unknown cause you have little say in. The only use for it being: getting a pay. Because “all economic connections between individuals run through the market, each is isolated as an economic entity”[2]. Being reduced to this state of a floating island trying to accumulate figures, you are unable to realize something else, you do not have the power to do so.

The collectives, and other groups seeking to function autonomously, are the very expression of resisting that atomized individual. Every collective seeks to find its own goals, very often political, but almost exclusively ethical. By having everyone stand on an equal footing, everyone can engage as much as they want with the projects at hand. In this manner, working is not only about adding numbers to your bank account, about forgetting what you do to get on with life, it becomes a question of creation. The work belongs entirely to the workers. The workers are no longer workers, but they are the people we know, all trying to build something for a sustainable community, which needs festivals, art, music as much as a roof above everyone’s head and three meals a day.

Bread and Roses, and the other collectives I visited are very much aware of it. They perhaps don’t even think about its necessity, it seems self-evident. During the last weekend of my stay, there were two concerts organized at Bread and Roses, a party in the social center[3]Nosotros and a Mojito evening in the shop Lacandona. So yes, “what the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too”.

 

Solange Manche, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales & École Normale Supérieure de Paris, Literary Theory. University of Utrecht graduate. 

 

[1] This refers to Marx’s Capital. To understand commodification and commodification of labour, see chapters 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 of Capital, volume 1.

[2] Gareth Dale. Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010.

[3] The way they describe their activity in the neighbourhood of Exarcheia

Op weg naar Athene

img_2785Rosa Nera. Chania. 

Hopende op een lift vanuit de buitenwijk van Rethymno naar het centrum steken we onze duimen op. Na niet al te lang wachten krijgen we een lift van een jonger stel dan wij zelf. Ik schat dat ze nog geen twintig jaar oud waren. Twee economiestudenten uit Zwitserland. Onze manier van reizen werd goedgekeurd, ze vonden het erg avontuurlijk, “bohemian” zelfs, maar ook gewoon gezellig. Ze vroegen ons natuurlijk wat we in Griekenland deden en ik vertelde ze dat ik onderzoek ging doen naar alternatieve economievorming in Athene.

“Wat is dat dan precies alternatieve economie?” vroeg het meisje.

“Nou, ik wil kijken hoe mensen een parallelle economie proberen op te zetten, bijvoorbeeld door hun eigen groenten te verbouwen of gratis taallessen of muzieklessen aan te bieden.”

“Maar is dat niet juist een stap achteruit?”

Ik vertel haar dat men met de huidige omstandigheden in Griekenland, en met name in Athene, waarschijnlijk niet heel veel keus heeft, maar ook dat het misschien een goed perspectief kan bieden; nieuwe mogelijkheden.

De reactie van de economiestudente is waarom ik precies naar Griekenland gekomen ben en doet me sterk denken aan mijn scriptieonderzoek die voort was gekomen uit mijn verbazing dat na de crisis iedereen het huidige economische systeem toch nog blijft aanhangen. In mijn scriptie probeer ik te laten zien hoe, volgens mij, dit sterke geloof in de vrije markt deels te danken is aan Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Hoewel de neoliberale hegemonie voort blijft kabbelen, lijkt men zich in Griekenland te hervormen.

Op Kreta, waar ik voordat ik mijn onderzoek begon in Athene naartoe ben gegaan, heb ik dit kunnen ervaren. Met zware tassen op onze rug, nadat we door een F16 piloot van Rethymno naar Chania zijn gebracht, gaan we op een terrasje zitten met wifi-verbinding om een hostel te reserveren. Ik moet ook even naar de WC en zie daar op de deur drie Antifa-stickers hangen. Aangezien ik weet dat er een kraakpand in Chania is waar ze veel culturele activiteiten organiseren, Rosa Nera, vraag ik aan een jongen die daar werkt of hij iets van Rosa Nera afweet.

Na een levendig gesprek weet ik al heel veel over Chania. De jongen, Billy genaamd, blijkt namelijk onderdeel te zijn van een collectief die de groenten verbouwt die in het café/bistro geserveerd worden. Ze zijn pas geopend, hebben geen hiërarchische structuur, en hebben het pand gekocht wat ze gezamenlijk geheel hebben opgeknapt. De keuken ziet er prachtig uit.

Op weg naar de WC wordt mijn mening gevraagd, en draag ik bij aan een vergadering. Aangezien ze het café net hebben gekocht, werkt iedereen voor 20 euro per dag om de schuld af te kunnen betalen. Ze willen alleen een muzikant uitnodigen om bij hun te komen spelen. De vraag is dan ook: is het wel eerlijk als de muzikant 50 euro verdient terwijl iedereen in het café voor minder werkt? Is dat echt gelijkheid? Of moeten we ons salaris opnieuw gelijk verdelen?

Ik heb misschien de oplossing. Ik stel voor dat ze kunnen kijken hoeveel ze over het algemeen verdienen op de dag dat ze de muzikant uit willen nodigen. Aangezien ze hoogstwaarschijnlijk meer zullen verdienen als ze live muziek hebben, kunnen ze de muzikant aanbieden om de meerwaarde aan hem te betalen. Ze vonden het een goed idee.

Billy is erg enthousiast over mijn interesse en heeft me verder op weg geholpen voor mijn onderzoek in Athene. Ik heb veel van hem geleerd. Zo weet ik nu dat ik altijd de mensen die ik interview moet vragen of ze anoniem willen blijven. Er zijn veel confrontaties tussen extreem links en rechts. Billy wilde bijvoorbeeld dat de naam van het café niet genoemd zou worden. Zijn roepnaam mocht ik wel gebruiken.

Vandaag ga ik naar de wijk Exarcheia, opzoek naar een imaginaire alternatieve urban planning.

 

Solange Manche, Engelse Taal en Cultuur, Universiteit Utrecht

Alline Sinke reports on her development grant (in Dutch)

In februari 2016 heb ik de mogelijkheid gehad om met een ontwikkelingsbeurs in het NIA in Athene te verblijven. Athene is een stad waar de mogelijkheden om je onderzoek uit te werken en data ervoor te verzamelen ook letterlijk op straat liggen. Het is de moeite waard om na een ochtend in de bibliotheek, de middag in deze stad rond te lopen. De Acropolis ligt op een steenworp afstand van het NIA en op een zondagmiddag zijn ook de Atheners er rond en op te vinden. Niet alleen de bibliotheken van het NIA en van de verschillende instituten die er gevestigd zijn zoals de meest bekende Britse, en de Amerikaanse, maar ook de vele lezingen, de musea  en de uitstapjes naar verschillende archeologische sites hebben substantieel bijgedragen aan mijn verkennend onderzoek.

De eerste dagen van mijn verblijf heb ik in de bibliotheek van het NIA gezocht naar opgravingsverslagen van Egeïsche sites en naar boeken over de achtergrond van mijn onderzoek. Daarna werd het tijd om lid te worden van de bibliotheken van de Britse en Amerikaanse scholen. Vrijwel elke dag liep ik met een studiegenoot van het NIA de heuvel op naar deze bibliotheken. Daar heb ik de bibliotheken uitgekamd om data te verzamelen en te evalueren.  Ook ben ik er mensen tegen gekomen die ik bij vorige opgravingscampagnes heb leren kennen. s ’Avonds op de terugweg kregen we in de eerste weken nog enkele demonstraties te zien, zoals die van de boeren uit Kreta, die op de tractor met flink geraas en getoeter naar het parlementsgebouw op het Syntagma plein reden. Zeker drie tot vier avonden in de week waren er presentaties en lezingen gepland.  Vaak aten we snel ons avondeten (zoals Nederlanders dat vroeg plachten te doen) om daarna naar een lezing te gaan. Deze worden op de verschillende instituten aangeboden en het is leuk om veel verschillende bij te wonen. Op de woensdagen en in het weekend ben ik naar archeologische sites en musea zowel binnen als buiten Athene gegaan, zoals Brauron, Delphi en Aegina, maar ook naar het Nationaal Archeologisch Museum, het Acropolis museum, en de Kerameikos begraafplaats. In de wintermaanden kun je er rustig rondlopen zonder te smelten van de hitte en zonder omver gelopen te worden door hordes mensen. De sites en musea sluiten echter wel vroeg, ca. 15.00 u.

In tegenstelling tot de Atheners zelf, die alles wat verder weg is dan 50 meter, met het openbaar vervoer afleggen, heb ik veel gelopen. Het is de moeite waard om alle facetten, zoals de schoonheid, maar ook de lelijkheid en de armoede van Athene mee te krijgen. Ik heb naast een vruchtbare studieperiode ook indrukwekkende ervaringen gehad. Ik heb tijdens mijn verblijf in het NIA een goed idee gekregen wat de mogelijkheden maar ook wat de beperkingen voor mijn onderzoek zijn.

Alline Sinke,  02-2016

ReMa Classics and Ancient Civilizations, VU-Amsterdam.