The Macksey Journal


This paper seeks to analyze how modern colonialist readings of the relationship between ancient Greek settlers and indigenous populations have influenced scholarly understanding of identity in ancient Cyrenaica (modern-day Libya). I show that Cyrenaic identity has thus far been externally defined in terms of its otherness by both ancient Greek writers as well as modern scholars. The reasons for this, I argue, are that Libya's modern history and its relationship with modern colonial powers have influenced how scholars perceive ancient sources on Libya, both material and textual. Thus, interpretations of local hybrid Greek/Libyan statues discount the possibility of Libyan agency in cultural exchange, and the language used in translations of ancient texts discussing Libya has been shaped by colonialist perspectives which frame Libyans as inherently violent, exotic, and uncivilized.

Such problematic readings of the evidence can be eliminated if we adopt a postcolonial perspective which does not assume Greek superiority. In doing so, one finds evidence for much more complex identities and exchanges in which Libyans had a greater amount of agency than they are typically assigned. Interactions between these two groups resulted in the construction of hybrid identities, which may be seen in the production of such materials as the Libyan carved ostrich eggshells decorated with images employing Greek aesthetics. In sum, this paper argues that the perceived "otherness" assigned to hybridizing primary evidence springs from circumstances created by modern colonialism rather than actual ancient conditions.