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Naomi Campa lectures on the Plataian citizens of ancient Athens

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Published Date

September 29, 2023


For our second talk of the year, we were delighted to welcome Prof. Naomi Campa, who delivered the lecture “The Plataian Community at Athens: An Enclave?” A scholar of Greek intellectual history and ancient political theory teaching at the University of Texas at Austin, Prof. Campa also serves as co-chair of the Lambda Classical Caucus and on the Mountaintop Coalition steering committee.

Prof. Campa’s lecture made use of an innovative methodology applying the techniques of modern migration studies to interpret ancient data. Currently at work on a monograph examining the role of metics (foreign residents) in ancient Athens, in this talk Campa focused on the Plataians as a particularly fruitful example, illustrating the similarities ancient migrants had to modern refugees through direct comparison with the modern Cuban population of Miami. 

Originally from the city of Plataia on the border of Boeotia and Attica, the Plataians resided for much of the classical period as a distinct community within Athens, to whom they were historically allied. During the Persian Wars, the Plataians were the Athenians’ sole ally at the Battle of Marathon, and the decisive victory at the Battle of Plataea was made possible through the sacrifice of their namesake town. In gratitude, when the city of Plataia was again attacked at the outset of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians invited their Plataian allies to relocate to Athens, where they were granted mass citizenship. 

Scholars have long debated the exact status of these “Athenian Boeotians,” who appeared to be both enfranchised and distinct within Athenian society, remaining loyal to their own nation and traditions. Campa, however, argued that modern debate has been biased by modern assimilationist viewpoints that presume assimilation as a prerequisite of full citizenship. With particular reference to the ethnic enclave model forwarded by Alejandro Portes, Campa laid out a new understanding of Athens’ Plataian community. 

According to Campa’s interpretation, not unlike the Cuban population of present-day Miami who likewise descend from a large number of political refugees settling in a small geographic region during a short period of time, the Plataians’ adaptive success in their host country came not from blending in but through maintaining their ethnic ties and institutions, which continued alongside traditional Athenian customs separately but equally recognized. Despite modern assumptions that inclusion requires cultural integration, the high respect with which the Athenians treated their Plataian neighbors seems to indicate that they in fact did enjoy the full rights of Athenian citizenship—challenging modern notions of citizenship, both historical and in the present. 

We are honored to have heard Prof. Campa’s enlightening discussion and look forward to reading more about this topic in her upcoming book!