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Project description

This Major Project seeks to investigate the colonisation of the classical past by a spectrum of political forces, ranging from the conservative Right to neo-Nazi and white-supremacist groups in Europe and the UK. 

Primary participants

Principal Investigators:

Dr Helen Roche, Department of History,

Professor Elisabeth Kirtsoglou, Department of Anthropology, 


Professor Edith Hall, Department of Classics and Ancient History, 


Visiting IAS Fellows:

Professor Denise McCoskey, Miami University

Dr Jorge Dagnino, University of San Sebastian, Chile

Dr Magdalena Zira Fantastico Theatro 


About Abusing Antiquity (Michaelmas Term 2023)

This project will provide fresh understandings of the appropriation of Greco-Roman antiquity from the beginning of the twentieth century onwards, demonstrating how appropriations of the classical world contribute to the past’s potential to polarise us in the present day. Combining approaches and interdisciplinary perspectives across several disciplines, the team will investigate the colonisation of the classical past by a spectrum of political forces in Greece, Germany, and UK.

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Michaelmas Term 2023

Although some scholarship in the fields of Classical Reception, History, Anthropology, and Cultural Studies has touched upon this nexus of ideas, the existing literature is fragmented, and the findings of all of these disparate disciplines are rarely brought into dialogue with each other. To date, there has been no overarching effort to explicate why (as opposed to how) the Greco-Roman past lends itself so easily to extremist appropriation. By combining research on Greece as a colonised space with research on Europe as a whole, and demonstrating that the appropriation of the Greco-Roman world has subsequently formed an ideological kernel underpinning many different extremist groups and ideologies, Dr Roche and Dr Kirtsoglou bring a new, transnational, transchronological, and highly interdisciplinary perspective to the field.


Aims and Objectives:
The aim of the proposed project is to bring together experts from different disciplines to participate in a scoping exercise which will cast new analytical light on how and why the classical past is being used as a source of legitimacy for radicalised political agendas, including promotion and weaponisation of hate speech. 

The objectives are:

  1. [State of the Art]. To review current research on the use of the classical past in the promotion of radical agendas around the world;
  2. [Comparative Work]. To scan existing studies for transnational and trans-historical patterns that may emerge.
  3. [Small scale/pilot original research]. To collect original data from digital sources (significant political extremist web-pages and blogs) from three European countries, Germany, Greece and the UK. The team will systematise the data and compare the emerging narrative patterns to themes identified in existing literature. Drawing directly upon this work, the team will formulate our main research hypothesis as a basis for further research on how and why the classical past lends itself to political abuse. We will also seek to identify further geographical areas, such as Romania, Poland, Hungary, Italy, the Balkans, or Scandinavia, which could usefully be added to the research agenda when further funding is applied for, as well as identifying what kinds of source materials will be most accessible to us, practically and linguistically.

Research Questions:
The main research questions cover four broad areas of concern:

(1) genealogy;
temporality and static concepts of culture;
(3) aesthetics.

Existing literature and material from two websites from each country of concern (Greece, Germany, UK) will be subjected to narrative and thematic analysis in line with our research questions.

The project team will be asked to participate in the website selection process (see section on rigour).

Dissemination and discussion of results with the wider community of researchers who specialise in the polarisation and radicalisation of classical pasts through a major international workshop that will take place in Durham.
2. A position paper on our research findings published in a major journal.
3. Funding application.
4. A project website.
5. An edited volume based on the papers presented at the aforementioned workshop.