Dr. Gabriel Zuchtriegel

By Sylvia Buiter

Defining colonialism: Classical Greece; A colonist culture?

Even to this day, ancient Greek colonisation remains a difficult concept to define. Can we compare ancient colonialism to modern colonisation, and does it make sense to speak of ancient colonialism at all? These questions and more, were treated by historian Gabriel Zuchtriegel in his lecture on ‘Classical Greece: A colonist culture? Over the course of a small hour, Zuchtriegel tried to define the concept of Greek classical colonialism in a cohesive way where the only things that were missing were some relevant images to help back up his claims and give the viewer something to look at. Nonetheless, the lecture provided an interesting take on Greek colonialism when Zuchtriegel answered his own question in the title of his lecture, namely that classical Greek culture was indeed a colonist culture. By mentioning examples from modern day times, he argued that the classical culture of Greece could be seen as profoundly shaped and conditioned by the experience of colonisation of the Classical period. Zuchtriegel continued with describing the four main factors that are to be considered, when one is defining ancient colonialism of the classical period and the periods preceding the fifth century BC. The first principal factor is chronology. Many works appeared to have overlooked the colonisation process in the classical period of the fifth century, implying that it was not as large-scale as the Archaic period of the seventh and sixth century and this needs to be considered when studying colonialism. The second factor is geography. What was the scale of colonisation, was it local or not and was it predominantly recolonisation of areas that were already occupied by Greek communities or destruction of other colonies? The next factor of importance is demography and economics. This factor tells us something about why the colonies were founded. People were driven by economical stress and the hope of gaining a new social status in a colony. Colonisation appeared to have provided an opportunity to dissolve social tensions and to provide a new market for products. The last factor and the one that was emphasized most thoroughly by Zuchtriegel, is the importance of ideology in colonialism. The focus on the spread of Greek culture as an ideology, was what made Greek colonization into a civilizing mission where the Greek culture was spread amongst the uncivilized and ‘barbarian’ world. 

 These four factors are what defined and shaped colonisation, according to Zuchtriegel. In his lecture he has tried to show us how deeply colonization has structured the Greek culture and political philosophy that we still know today. The lecture raised questions and emphasized the continuous importance of the phenomenon of ancient colonialism and the effect on the colonial experience of the modern period, which in turn shapes our questions about ancient colonialism. The lecture therefore calls upon a dialogue between the past and the present and makes sure that ancient colonialism is still important to this day.