FeBo: Federalism and Border Management in Greek Antiquity

ERC 2021 COG PR. Nr. 101043954, P.I. Elena Franchi

7 marzo 2023
31 dicembre 2023
Organizzato da: 
Elena Franchi
Staff di Dipartimento

Within two years after the foundation of the League of Nations in 1919, historians such as Arthur E.R. Boak wondered whether there were ancient predecessors of this interstate institution. The League of Nations was regarded as “a voluntary association of self-governing states for the purpose of promoting international peace and security” (“Greek Interstate Associations and the League of Nations”. American Journal of International Law 15, 375–83: 382, my italics). Boak examined both the federal states of antiquity and supra-state “federal” forms in the broad sense (such as hegemonic symmachies, Hellenic Leagues, amphiktyonies). Were these forms of federation forerunners to the League of Nations? Compared to the ambivalent history of Greek antiquity – characterised by peaceful conflict-resolution strategies as well as secular wars – for Boak the answer “no” was inevitable. The League of Nations had no precedent, and thus a certain optimism in it was permitted.

In a different, yet equally vibrant context, Jakob A.O. Larsen (“Federation for Peace in Ancient Greece”. Classical Philology 39, 145-62) started from the same question and analysed more or less the same ancient Greek cases. Larsen was writing in 1944, as the world was being ravaged by war and searching for a way out. Could federal bodies promote peace? Like Boak, Larsen also looked to the ancient Greeks with hope, but unlike Boak, he allowed himself a degree of optimism even with regard to the ancients.

The “federation for peace” dilemma has dominated studies on federalism in general (not just ancient federalism) and has run through post-World War II Europe, the Cold War, and the nascent European Union. Moreover, federation for peace has been the hope to which many have clung in the face of crumbling nations, the dramas of ethnic conflicts and the challenge of religious conflicts. Something had to exist to keep nations united in peace. That something seemed to be federalism.

Investigations into Greek Federal States have also been guided by this question. Articulate and nuanced answers have been developed, although these have scarcely been conclusive. The evidence does not seem to allow for clear-cut conclusions, but that is not the decisive point. The important aspect is that we are still looking for answers to the same question, namely Boak’s question: did federalism promote peace?

FeBo does not seek an answer to that question because it starts from the assumption that with regard to Ancient Greece the question we should be asking is a different one, and it focuses on borders: how did the Greek federal states deal with the problem of internal (intra-federal) and external borders? Did border management policies aim at peaceful coexistence per se or rather at a balance of power and stability? Did they take into account economic, ethnic, cultural, athletic and religious cross-border networks?

Since intra-federal and external borders must necessarily be approached from different research perspectives and with divergent questions, FeBo organises two series of FeBinars, each with another focus, one on internal (The Management of Internal Borders by Federal States), the other on external borders (Crossing Federal Borders: Ancient and Modern).

  • The inaugural lecture delivered by Hans Beck, “Interpolis cooperation and competition: the case of Southern Boiotia” -  7 March 2023, initiates both series since it focuses on a case study involving both intra-federal and extra-federal borders.

The Management of Internal Borders by Federal States

  • Own and Common. Reflections on the Internal Borders of Greek Federal States - 23 May 2023 
  • Under and/or through the Border: Proxeny across Federal Borders in the Hellenistic Peloponnese - 29 June 2023
  • Internal or external borders? The case of Elis and Ledrinoi - 27 September 2023

Crossing Federal Borders: Ancient and Modern

  • The law and the functions of cross-border cooperation - 9 May 2023
  • Title to be defined - October 2023
  • Title to be defined - November 2023
  • Des dieux pour fédérer, des dieux pour séparer: dynamiques territoriales et onomastique divine grecque - 7 December 2023

ERC, European Research Council       

Eventi futuri

27 settembre 2023
Conferenza / Incontro