CULTURE

Focusing on the Peloponnese

The history of Sparta, once a prominent ancient city that played a key role in major developments in antiquity, is sometimes overlooked, or worse, misinterpreted. Nottingham University’s newly founded Center for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies – inaugurated in the city of Sparta on Saturday following an official opening in Nottingham – hopes to give the wider region the attention it deserves. Founded at the initiative of Stephen Hodkinson, professor of ancient history, and William Cavanagh, an archaeology professor, the center aims at bringing together international experts on Sparta and the Peloponnese (academics and research students), and at establishing contacts with researchers and institutions abroad and especially in Greece. The center is particularly keen to develop relations with Greek national and regional authorities and so far the local community has been very welcoming and has even provided a base for the center in Sparta. «We suddenly realized there was quite a concentration of colleagues working on the Peloponnese and Sparta at the University of Nottingham, which inspired us to work towards forming the center,» said Cavanagh to Kathimerini English Edition. «We want to bring work on the area together and connect with all sorts of groups. There have been many important studies and explanations but somehow it hasn’t been brought together. Each Peloponnesian city tends to be seen in a separate way.» «We think it important to see the history of Sparta within its wider regional context. The Peloponnese has played an important role in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean from prehistory to the modern day,» added Hodkinson. «Its importance is often neglected in wider perceptions of Greece, which tend inevitably to focus upon Athens because of its democracy.» Both Cavanagh and Hodkinson pointed out that the center’s focus is not limited to antiquity but extends to modern times and that it will hopefully appeal to disciplines other than ancient history, classics and archaeology. «One can’t study the Sparta of the past without understanding the role it has played in modern thought and culture,» said Hodkinson, explaining how the Spartan system is always a point of reference, something he also elaborated on in his lecture at Saturday’s opening. «We are also keen to develop contact with any discipline, those working on the landscape of the Peloponnese or in natural sciences. We are still in the early stages and there are many avenues we could pursue, we can go in whatever direction our members want to take it.» The University of Nottingham has provided a workspace fully equipped with IT facilities, archives, maps and other materials and which, as Cavanagh explained, can be used by visiting researchers to the UK. A website, currently under construction, will be ready over the summer. The center’s activities, as announced at Saturday’s opening, will include the organization of seminars, some public lectures aimed at a wider audience, but also international conferences; the first of which «Being Peloponnesian: Cohesion and Diversity from Prehistory to Modern Times,» has been scheduled to take place in March and April 2007. The center also hopes to encourage and facilitate students wishing to pursue postgraduate studies in related fields. Local authorities took the initiative and provided a base for the center in the city. Sparta Mayor Sarandos Antonakos, who handed over the key on Saturday, said he is willing to help researchers with whatever they may need – even lodging and traveling expenses – because he wants Spartan history to receive a fresh angle. He highlighted the city’s archaeological value, reminding that it is full of finds, which makes the construction of a new museum absolutely necessary – the city has been struggling for years toward that, since many important pieces, including a number of mosaics, are just sitting in storage at the small museum operating today. «It is very important, especially for students visiting Sparta for the first time, at the beginning of their PhD, to have a research base and a welcome space at the local library,» said Hodkinson, who, along with his colleague, delivered lectures in impeccable Greek on Saturday.