Comparative empires in the Eastern Mediterranean and Eurasia; a survey of cross-cultural interaction from ancient times to the present
Faculty: Gregory Nagy, Nicolas Prevelakis, Sahar Bazzaz, Emma Dench, Michael Puett, Dimiter Angelov, Dimitris Kastritsis, Yota Batsaki, Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, and Anna Stavrakopoulou
“It’s been great, Greece. The most wonderful five weeks I've ever spent and far far better than anything I’d ever imagined before leaving the US. I’ll be back!”
– Olympia Summer School 2013 student
Located at an important Mediterranean crossroad between the East and West, the summer program in Greece (Nafplio, Olympia, Thessaloniki) examines comparatively the historical and cultural phenomenon of empire in the Eastern Mediterranean and Eurasia. For most of history, most people lived in empires—and in today’s world of nation states and multinational corporations, the effects of empire are still with us. Greece is an ideal location from which to contemplate ancient empires and their successors in the region, especially the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, as well as their interactions with both Europe and Asia. Since antiquity, the East in particular has seen the rise and fall of empires that are remarkable for their duration, influence, and the distinctive political and cultural formations that they generated. The program, therefore, innovates by shifting the focus away from the Atlantic to those empires of the Eastern Mediterranean and Eurasia that are both significant within a global historical context and relatively unfamiliar to students. Studying these empires comparatively enables us to address historical and still pressing issues of power, identity, and cross-cultural contact from a stimulating new angle. It also expands and enriches our understanding of the classical legacy and its modes of transmission and reinterpretation through the centuries. The program’s shift in focus away from the Atlantic is likely to become one of the hallmarks of the world of the twenty-first century.
Due to its location and the wealth of the historical, artistic, and archaeological record, Greece enables an exceptionally fruitful study of the different imperial layers and legacies in the region, and their interactions. The program takes place in the symbolic historical sites of Nafplio, the first capital of Greece, Olympia, the ancient center of cult and athletic competition, and cosmopolitan Thessaloniki, the most important city center in Northern Greece. Through focused and interrelated seminars by an interdisciplinary team of scholars who have conducted collaborative research and publication in the region, and a rich program of field trips and museum visits, students are introduced to the comparative study of empires—ancient, medieval, and modern—that dominated Greece for more than two millennia. What can we learn about the ideology, representation, and exercise of power in the Empire in question? What kind of identities were available? What was their political significance? What kinds of interactions marked the cultures of the people? What was the role of territoriality and geography, both imagined and physical? How did the imperial core relate to the periphery? How did the empire in question relate to the outside world? What kinds of literary and cultural productions were characteristic of the period, and what was their significance?
“I believe I echo a unanimous sentiment when I say that each of us took away something from Olympia that was unique and intensely personal and enriching, be it an appreciation for the classics or Greek sculpture and poetry, a better understanding of the Balkans or of the imperial and urban encounter, or just a compendium of Greek swear words, pet rocks, sand, and Mediterranean salt. It was fabulous.”
– Olympia Summer School 2007 student
Watch a video of students enjoying their time abroad in Greece.
Course of study
For this course and its seminars, there are no prerequisites required. All seminars are in English, and students are always surrounded by proficient users of the English language. Students do have the opportunity to pick up some Greek, if they wish, during meetings with the coordinators and through their interactions with Greek students and faculty and the immersion in the towns and experiences of Olympia, Nafplio, and the various other places we visit across Greece.
COMP S-107 Study Abroad in Greece: Cross-Cultural Contact between East and West from Ancient Times to the Present (33279)
Focusing on the eastern Mediterranean, this course undertakes a diachronic examination of models of empire (Athenian, Byzantine, Ottoman), concluding with questions of nineteenth-century European and modern colonialism and postcolonialism. Particular emphasis is paid to legacies of Hellenism, and to the challenges and possibilities of cross-cultural interaction. The aim is to expose students to historical, philosophical, literary, and political models for studying this interaction.
Now in its fourteenth year, the five-week course consists of eight interrelated seminars. Each week-long seminar meets daily (Monday through Thursday), for a total of four two-hour periods. Seminars run in pairs over the first four weeks of the course; students write two short response papers (two pages) per week. The fifth week is devoted to the writing of the final ten-page paper. Students are contacted about book purchases and preparatory reading in late spring; other material is available online and through access to Harvard digital resources. Seminar topics are listed below.
This seminar will introduce the main themes of the course by discussing some fundamental theories and concepts. In particular, we will be asking the following questions: What is an empire? How does it differ from a nation-state? What is the relationship between nationalism and modernity? How do nation-states appropriate the past? We will be covering mostly theoretical approaches to these questions, as well as insights from different disciplines.
This seminar will connect the theoretical discussion of the first seminar to the Greek and broadly Mediterranean context. We will discuss the relevance of the Mediterranean as an analytical category; the main continuities and ruptures in the eastern Mediterranean geographical space; and the ways in which the Greek past has been appropriated in art, literature, and politics. We will also discuss how these themes have been instrumental in the creation of the modern Greek nation-state.
3. Athenian empire, in the light of earlier empires (Samian, Persian, “Mycenaean,” “Minoan”) (Gregory Nagy)
The focus of my seminar is on the Athenian empire, as analyzed in two books of mine, Homer the Classic and Homer the Preclassic, the publication dates for which are respectively 2008/2009 (online version via chs.harvard.edu/printed version via Harvard University Press) and 2009/2010 (online version via chs.harvard.edu/printed version via University of California Press). The ideologies of this empire, I will argue, were derived from earlier models of imperial power, such as (1) the Samian thalassocracy of Polycrates, (2) the multi-ethnic rule of the Persian Achaemenid Dynasty, and, going much further back in time, (3) the so-called Mycenaean and Minoan empires. A unifying theme in the seminar is represented by the mythologized figure of Homer, thought to be the “author” of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, who was once viewed as a poetic spokesman for the Athenian empire, much as Virgil was viewed later as a poetic spokesman for the Roman empire. The relevant readings in this seminar will focus on about twenty paragraph-size texts in Greek and Latin (all translated into English) that are extracted from larger continuous texts and that are assigned for the purpose of practicing how to do “close reading.” Also assigned will be a few continuous (but not overly lengthy) stretches of primary text: (a) the verses about the Shield of Achilles in Iliad XVIII, (b) the verses about the Shield of Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid 8, (c) the speeches of Pericles as dramatized by Thucydides, (d) the pseudo-Herodotean Life of Homer, (e) the anonymous Contest of Homer and Hesiod. We will also do a close “reading” of the “flotilla scene,” which is a vital part of the pictorial narrative of the Theran Frescoes, dating from the mid-second millennium BCE.
The Roman and Han empires were almost exact contemporaries, but were connected only via intermediaries and had very little knowledge of one another. Each empire constructed a narrative of its own history, relationship with past regimes, and position within the world, without reference to the other. The Roman and Han empires, as paradigms of respectively ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ empire, have been scrutinized with growing intensity as the balance of power in the modern world shifts and there is a big question mark over its future. Bringing the Roman and Han empires into dialogue with each other provides an extraordinary opportunity to explore some of the hypotheses about empire that you will consider over the course of the seminar as a whole. In our first session, we focus on real, historical connections (such as they were) between the Han and Roman empires as well as evidence of the ways in which each perceived the other. We use evidence of these connections and mutual perceptions to compare the character of interactions, the understanding and management of space, and the articulation of identity in each empire. In our subsequent three sessions, we focus on comparing the ideology, representation and exercise of power across the two empires, exploring in particular the self-image of the emperor, relations between elite and emperor, and the relative places of force and diplomacy in imperial actions.
5. “Byzantium as an empire: theory and practice” (Dimiter Angelov)
The mini-seminar focuses on the imperial identity of the Byzantine Empire, the direct and millennial successor to ancient Rome in the Eastern Mediterranean. We will investigate the characteristics of Byzantine imperialism through fascinating texts, such as kingship literature, descriptions of ceremonies, a manual on diplomacy, and the vita of a Byzantine missionary. How did the Byzantines understand the historical role of their polity? How did ideas of empire change over time? What was the role of religion and Greek learning in the construction of Byzantium’s imperial identity? Monuments and churches in Thessaloniki will serve to show us the strong influence of the imperial metropolis Constantinople as well as the unique features and local pride of Byzantium’s second city.
6. “The making of the Ottoman Empire in Europe” (Dimitris Kastritsis)
This course offers four case studies representing major periods in the history of the Byzantine Empire, which encompassed and extended beyond the Eastern Mediterranean, and survived for over a thousand years (more or less from 330 to 1453 CE). Class sessions explore the complex means by which an empire of this magnitude was able to negotiate its survival over the course of a millennium that saw massive changes in society, culture, religion, and the geography and ideology of empire. Accordingly, we focus on how the Byzantine élite—imperial, ecclesiastical, and intellectual—promulgated and maintained a unique ideology of empire that was paradoxically able to project an image of timelessness and unchanging order, while at the same time accomplishing transformation and innovation that allowed Byzantium to compete with and relate to its neighbors to the East and West at key moments in its long history. Our course therefore explores the following topics: first, the dynasty of Constantine the Great (306-363), which oversaw the creation of a Christian Roman Empire; second, the Byzantine Empire as it struggled to maintain its cultural and geographical integrity during the Arab invasions in the seventh and eighth centuries; third, Byzantium both as an ally and as a prize of conquest for the Latin kingdoms during the Crusades; and finally, Byzantium during the Ottoman conquest, culminating in the Fall of Constantinople in May, 1453. Class sessions combine lectures on each topic with in-depth discussion of primary texts, to be prepared in advance, and focus on visual and literary material in order to provide a holistic introduction to Eastern Mediterranean history and culture in the Byzantine period.
7. “Landscapes of modern Greek literature: nation, exile, cosmopolitanism” (Yota Batsaki)
Located in a third space between east and west, Greece is an ideal starting point for exploring cross-cultural interactions with Europe, the eastern Mediterranean, and beyond. The landscapes of Modern Greek literature, themselves poised on the shifting border between sea and land, are fertile soils for the themes of travel, exile, marginality, and homecoming. The seminar will revolve around two themes that are recurrent in Modern Greek literature as a result of its cultural and geographical particularity. The first is a reflection on the survival of antiquity through its remnants above and below ground. The second is a record of the overlapping and shifting geographies of empire, nation-state, and diaspora in the space of the eastern Mediterranean. Seminar content will include visual material as well as selections from genres spanning folk song and poetry to the contemporary historical novel. Through them, we will also investigate the significance of the spatial turn in the humanities, or the growing attention to the geographical imagination and its shaping of cultural forms.
8. “The Last Generation of Ottomans: Between Empire and Nation-States, 1870-1925” (Ilham Khuri-Makdisi)
This course examines the various and polyvalent meanings of Ottoman citizenship and identity in the late decades of the Ottoman Empire, and their subsequent transformation after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War One. Using a combination of primary and secondary sources, we will begin by focusing on the Ottoman state’s construction of Ottomanism (or Ottoman patriotism) and its projection of Imperial power through policies and cultural patronage. We will pay particular attention to the civilizational discourse emanating from Istanbul, as well as to what certain historians have qualified of Ottoman Orientalism. The course will then examine the view from the provinces, with special attention paid one of the most important port-cities of the empire: Salonica. What did elites and commoners in the provinces and the periphery understand by Ottoman citizenship and how did they view the Ottoman reforms of the nineteenth century, as well as watershed moments, such as the Young Turk Revolution and the Balkan Wars? What kinds of pasts and what kinds of future did they imagine for their empire? More so, what was the meaning of coexistence between members of different religious and ethnic communities, and what were its limitations, especially in a context of emerging nationalisms and continuous European encroachments? In a third session, we will analyze how World War One was experienced by two Ottoman individuals: Halidé Edib, a woman intellectual from Istanbul who became a Turkish nationalist, and Ihsan Turjman, a soldier from Ottoman Palestine who was conscripted during WW1. Finally, we will examine what the end of the empire meant for its citizens, by focusing on the case of Salonica. The last generation of Ottomans witnessed mass violence, displacement and dispossession at a hitherto unprecedented scale, and a very high number became refugees. How were they integrated into the existing polity, and how did their presence shape emerging national identities?
Gregory Nagy, Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature in the Department of the Classics and Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard University; Director, Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC
Dimiter Angelov (Byzantine History), Visiting Professor of History, Harvard University; Professor of Byzantine History, University of Birmingham
Yota Batsaki, Executive Director of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Associate of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University
Sahar Bazzaz (History, Middle East and North Africa), Associate Professor of History, College of the Holy Cross
Emma Dench, Professor of the Classics and of History, Harvard University
Dimitris Kastritsis, Lecturer, School of History, University of St Andrews
Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, (Middle East and World History), Associate Professor, Northeastern University)
Nicolas Prevelakis, Lecturer on Social Studies, Harvard University; Assistant Director of Curricular Development, Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies
Michael Puett, Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History and Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University
Anna Stavrakopoulou (Theater Studies and Modern Greek Literature), Assistant Professor of Theater Studies, Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece
The application period has now closed.
All students, wherever they study—in the United States or abroad—can apply. In the past, participants have been undergraduates, graduate students, or independent scholars. Please note: Students must be at least 18 years old, have completed at least one year of college or be a first-year student, and be in good standing to apply.
The application materials, outlined below, are due January 29, 2015:
- A completed online application that includes:
- A $50 nonrefundable application fee
- A statement of interest in the program, including information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not a prerequisite)
- Letter(s) of recommendation from a current or most recent teacher or advisor, mailed to the Study Abroad Office (Study Abroad Office, Room 525, 51 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138) or e-mailed as a PDF directly from the recommender to firstname.lastname@example.org:
- Harvard College applicants: submit one recommendation
- Non-Harvard applicants: submit two letters of recommendation so program staff can learn about the applicant’s academic background and preparation for this program
- Transcripts (student record accepted for Harvard students)
Interviews may be requested.
Students will be notified of admission decisions by mid-February.
There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee. The cost of the program is $7,000 and includes the following:
- Room, breakfast, and dinner
- All scheduled excursions and extracurricular activities
In addition to the program fee, students are responsible for:
- A health insurance fee (waived if students have US insurance that provides coverage outside the United States)
- International airfare and transportation to and from Nafplio (if not joining the courtesy bus trips, Athens – Nafplio – Athens, offered by the program)
- The cost of passports and visas (if the latter is needed)
- Any immunizations
See a sample budget for estimated expenses.
How to pay and funding options
See Payment and Funding for payment deadlines, deposit amounts, and more information, including funding options for Harvard College students.
Students always share double-occupancy rooms. Buffet breakfast is offered in all hotels, while dinner is provided either in the hotel or in local restaurants and tavernas. Participants make their own arrangements for lunch.
In Nafplio, we stay at Park Hotel. Classes take place at the state-of-the-art facilities of the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies (greece.chs.harvard.edu), located on the Nafplion waterfront, whose Greek branch was recently inaugurated in 2008.
In Olympia, accommodations are provided at Hotel EuropaHotel Europa. Classes take place in a fully equipped seminar room—including video projector, printer, computer, and Internet access— within the hotel. Students share double-occupancy rooms and eat buffet breakfasts and dinners at the hotel; they make their own arrangements for lunch. Students usually have dinner outside in the olive garden. The hotel provides a free wireless Internet connection in every room and a swimming pool.
In Thessaloniki, the group stays in City Hotel. The hotel is centrally located, offering the chance to explore and get engaged with the city.
Students are expected to be present in Nafplion on the morning of Monday, June 29, for the beginning of the program. Courtesy pick-up from Athens airport will be scheduled on the June 28 and 29. Students can depart from Nafplion, after the end of the program, on August 2, in the morning.
“This summer in Greece was an amazing, truly enriching experience for all of us! In me, it inspired a whole new horizon of thoughts on my own subject, the classics, but also on a huge range of other issues, such as the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, modern imperialism, and Mediterranean mentality. Most of all, though, I learned about this wonderful, richly historical country, Greece, and built up a really personal connection to it. The many wonderful individuals I got to meet and know really well in the course of the program—such as my fantastic Greek roommate—left a lasting impression on me too, and I will certainly keep cherishing the many memories we share. I know I will look back to this summer in Greece countless times with joy and infinite gratitude. Thank you so much to the faculty and organizers for allowing me to take part in this wonderful program!”
– Olympia Summer School 2008 student
Below is a video of students enjoying their time abroad and reveling in the culture.
Students with disabilities
Students should contact the disability services coordinator as soon as possible. See Students with Disabilities for more information.