Welcome to Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World!

[For Phil’s other websites or courses, please navigate using the main menu at the top.]

The purpose of this website is to collect, organize, and make public resources for the reconstruction of ethnic relations and ethnographic culture in the ancient Mediterranean and near eastern worlds. (Please use the accordion-style arrows and categories in the right sidebar to navigate the site; on some phones without a sidebar you may need to use search). “Ethnographic culture,” as we intend it, moves beyond the idea of “ethnography” as a Greek and Roman literary genre describing non-Greek and non-Roman peoples (“barbarians”). Instead, ethnographic culture refers to the ways in which the classification and description of “other peoples” was an active imagination that played out in large-scale and small-scale ways across societies, in local social interactions, and in connection with diasporic communities of immigrants. Judeans (Jews) and Jesus adherents (Christians) were very much a part of this larger sphere of ethnographic discourses and culture, so they have a place here too as instances of minorities (see especially categories 1 and 5).

This website then combines literary, epigraphic, and visual data in order to aid students and researchers in a fuller understanding of ethnographic culture. It also facilitates the reconstruction of minoritized ethnic groups spread across time and geography.

There are times when the organization of material mimics or uses terms from the ancient material. This is not to naturalize those categories or terms, but rather to more clearly demonstrate the categories with which ancient writers were working.

Who did it?: This website reflects the ongoing work of Maia Kotrosits and Phil Harland supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) under the rubric of “Ethnicity, Diaspora, and Ethnographic Culture in the Greco-Roman World.” Many thanks to the Research Assistants from York University who have made important contributions: Amy House, Victoria Muccilli, Daniel Mitchell, and Rosalie Reis.

Who are those guys shaking hands at the top?: Aglibol and Malakbel. The monument is from Rome and is a dedication to the Palmyrene gods Aglibol (Moon) and Malakbel (Sun) by Iahari son of Haliphi from Palmyra in Syria (IGUR I 119-120; 236 CE). The inscription is bilingual, in both Greek and Palmyrene. That is not a giant asparagus in the middle. (Currently in the basement of the Capitoline museum in Rome; photo by Harland).

What about the people traveling in the wagon? This is a depiction of a family of northern peoples (Sarmatians or Dacians) pictured as nomads by the creators of “Trajan’s trophy” (link to discussion; photo by Cristian Chirita, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).

Eastern and northern peoples: Bardaisan of Edessa and Philippos’ Book of the Laws of Countries (second-third centuries CE)

Barbarian wisdom: Various authors and Clement of Alexandria (second century CE)