Putin, Phanagoria, and the Politics of Archaeology in Russia

We mentioned Vladimir Putin’s little aquatic adventure at Phanagora t’other day, and it (the ‘adventure’, not our mention) garnered quite a bit of media attention. Rosemary Joyce has a nice oped on the whole spectacle, which concludes with some interesting views on archaeology in Russia nowadays:

[…] Nationalist politics puts a special spin on the sheer desire for tourist income. The director of Volnoe Delo said its support for Phanagoria reflects “Deripaska’s belief that Russia’s heritage should be better known”. This same sentiment is evident in Putin’s quote: “we have such riches”.

Who’s the “we” here? In what way is an ancient Greek colony on the Black Sea “Russia’s heritage”?

An emphasis on Greek sites as Russian heritage is an old theme. The earliest sites recognized as Russian cultural heritage were identified in 1805, and included Greek archaeological sites on what was then newly conquered Russian territory on the Black Sea. Physical appropriation of the landscape was followed by appropriation of history, figured as heritage that rooted Russia in a Classic past. Irina Tunkina writes that “it became possible for the educated class of Russian society to familiarize itself with ancient sites not only in the Mediterranean but also in Southern Russia”.

During the Soviet period, the same Classical Greek sites were, Gotcha R. Tsetskhladhze has argued, subject to reinterpretation as temporary and without enduring influence on Russian history: “a denial of significant Greek influences” in favor of in situ development of Russian culture.

So what has changed since 1995, when Tsetshladzhe’s study was published, to make post-Soviet Russia, like early 19th century Russia, want to claim a Classical Greek past?

Archaeological sites recognized as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, or simply included in lists by publications like Archaeology (which included Phanagoria in its top 10 new finds list in 2009) can serve as a kind of mark of distinction in the international arena.

Such sites can be used to give relatively modern nations an aura of long term stability. Their promotion as “heritage” implies the idea of inheritance. Sites to be promoted as heritage are selected to emphasize certain parts of history, and obscure others.

One of the motivations in the 1800s for marking these early Greek trading sites as specifically Russian cultural heritage was clearly the desire to affiliate Russia with Europe, and all that implied at the time in terms of cultural development and progress. Are we seeing a renewal of this strand of Russian nationalism today?

Interesting spin on ‘Heritage Status’, no?

Roman Sculptures Found at Tlos

From Hurriyet (with some egregious typos in regards to names):

New excavation work in the ancient city of Tlos in Muğla’s Fethiye district has unearthed several ancient sculptures of Roman emperors.

The archaeological team found sculptures of Roman emperors Hadrian; Antonius Pius and his daughter Faistinaminor; Mareus Aurellus as well as the Goddess Issis, according to Taner Korkut, who is leading the dig.

The excavation, which is being conducted with a 40-person team and 36 workers, has unearthed traces of sculptures and archaeological artifacts dating back 10,500 years.

Noting that the team made carbon tests on the newly found remains, Korkut said: “A few years before, we discovered archaeological discoveries which dated back 2,700 years. However, the last discoveries are from 10,500 years ago. Those remains also give information about the people’s lives in the ancient era.”

Tlos was formerly a center of Lycian civilization, Korkut said.

“In September and October, the team will also make excavations in the center of the ancient city,” said Korkut.

The remains will be included in Muğla’s geographical information system, allowing everyone to access information about the ancient city, the excavation leader said.

During the excavations, the team focused on Girmeler Cave, Tavabaşı Cave, the center of Tlos, the Acropolis rock tombs, the stadium area, the Kronos Shrine, the city basilica and the theater tower.

Because of the typos, I think we’ll include the photo from the article … not quite sure who the guy in the middle is, and is it just me or do all these statues seem ‘short’?



This Day in Ancient History: ante diem xiv kalendas septembres

Augustus of Prima Porta, statue of the emperor...
Image via Wikipedia

ante diem xiv kalendas septembres

  • Vinalia — the second major wine festival of this name celebrated by the Romans
  • 43 B.C. — the future emperor Octavian enters his first consulship; Octavian’s adoption by Julius Caesar formally recognized
  • 14 A.D. — Augustus dies at Nola
  • 232 A.D. — birth of the future emperor Probus
  • 304 A.D. — martyrdom of Thecla at Caesarea
  • c. 306 A.D. — martyrdom of Agapius at Caesarea