Hellenism

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‘Hellenism’ both refers to the situation in the east after the death of Alexander and to the spread of Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean, including Rome. This work package is about anchoring cultural and religious innovations, primarily under the Hellenistic successor kingdoms.

During the 20th century scholarly conceptions of the processes of cultural change and circulation of ideas set in motion by the establishment of the vast empires of Alexander and Rome have changed dramatically, sometimes with surprising results. In studies dealing with the world of Alexander and his successors, the notion of a new ‘Hellenistic’ culture incorporating Greek and ‘oriental’ elements was given up in favor of the radically different view that Greek and ‘oriental’ cultures remained clearly distinct or even completely sealed off from each other, especially in the field of religion. Interestingly, the latter approach also informs those studies which see ‘Greek’ culture as a package of linguistic and cultural skills which could be acquired by upwardly mobile ‘natives’. In striking contrast to these reinterpretations recent publications on the complex series of changes conventionally grouped together under the umbrella term ‘Romanization’ argue that the Roman conquest of North-West Europe, the Iberian peninsula and North-Africa led to the emergence of a new series of regional cultures incorporating Roman and indigenous elements—more or less the position of the earliest publications on the ‘Hellenistic’ cultures of the East. The Anchoring work package 'Hellenism' deals with this odd historiographical situation by studying processes of ‘becoming Greek’ and ‘becoming Roman’ (in itself a huge topic) not in general terms but with two very specific and purposely limited focuses: the role of individual actors and groups of actors in changing religious and philosophical practices, and the role of objects.