A Reassessment of the Ancient Greco-Roman Literary Record’s Portrayal of the Gauls in Light of New Archaeological Evidence
The issue of perspective is intrinsic to historiography. This is evident in the ancient Greco-Roman literary record, specifically the limits placed on its value to modern academics by the ethnographic biases of its authors. However, with the rise of the post-processual approach to archaeology over the past thirty years, modern historians have begun to address this issue. By utilizing the impartial records offered by excavation, these scholars have increasingly managed to circumvent ancient authorial subjectivity and reevaluate the modern preconceptions it created of the world of antiquity. An example of the archaeological record’s value in reassessing the inherent prejudices of the ancient literary record can be seen in the instance of the archaic-era Ionian Greek colony of Massalia.
While the ancient writings on Massalia have provided modern historians with a limited overview of this Greek polis, their potential for offering genuine insight is denigrated by the cultural bias evident in their overly positive portrayal of Massalia and their pejorative treatment of the native Gauls. However, by examining archaeological excavations of Massalia and surrounding Gallic sites, modern historians have begun to sidestep this Hellenic literary bias and its associated cultural stereotypes, and gain valuable insight into the much more complex reality of relations and interactions that existed between the Massaliotes and their Gallic neighbors. Overall, although ancient historians portray Massalia as a powerful bastion of civilizing Hellenism amongst the barbarian tribes of Gaul, the modern archaeological record indicates that this characterization is largely false, and that in reality Massalia’s Gallic trading partners were not Philhellenes who attempted to imitate Greek culture, but selective consumers who incorporated a limited range of Greek goods into their own existing cultural systems.
Constructing the Past, Vol. 13 Iss. 1 (2012)