Meetings of cultures in the Black Sea region, ranging from conflicts to coexistence, was the topic of the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Black Sea Studies’ seventh international conference. Meetings of cultures is an overarching theme which forms an umbrella over most of the Centre’s activities. It is also a theme which arouses strong feelings, because modern identity formation – not just in the Black Sea region – is to a significant extent still tied to this more distant part of the region’s past, as we learnt especially from the contribution by V. Mordvintseva. Thus, it was with great expectation – and also some trepidation – that we in January 2006 embarked upon this venture together with a group of Eastern and Western European colleagues.
Because of the different backgrounds of the participants, and because it was needed to bridge the gap between those scholars for whom Black Sea studies are local history and for those whom it is “just” another part of Antiquity, it is unavoidable not to operate with much elasticity in the very concept of culture. Therefore, in the present context we use it as a pragmatic, analytic category.
As is well known, from the remotest Antiquity the indigenous and nomadic non-Greek populations of the Pontic region were persistently viewed as one of the major “Others” (e.g. Hartog 1980). And because the region geographically was located as a bridge between Europe and Asia it was, and still is, also part of a Europe/Asia discourse of dichotomy (cf. Neumann 1998). The region and its non-Greek inhabitants were thus doubly “othered” foremost by the Mediterranean Greeks.
As far back in time as Antiquity, Western self-understanding and identity formation has been shaped not least through its colonial experiences (Stein 2005, 16, 22). With colonies in India, the Caribbean, and Africa, as well as rule over the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland, even a small country like Denmark has been a colonial “power” for more than 600 years. Until recently, such colonial experience has led to a very static picture in our analysis of colonial encounters. However, as a result of post-colonialism, post-modernism and now globalization our conception of colonization has undergone a rapid and far-reaching conceptual change. Gone are the days when the Black Sea region was seen as a sea of barbarian wilds enlightened by small flicks of Greek civilization along the coast. Accordingly, we prefer using the terms ‘meeting’ or ‘encounter’ whereby we want to emphasize the dynamic nature of the cultural interaction, and by using the term settler rather than colonist, we avoid much heavy semantic baggage of former times. A similar approach has recently been proposed by E.K. Petropoulos in his book from 2005, Hel . . .