History sheds light on clashes between the Ancient Near East and the West

8 May, 2013

A diverse team of humanities scholars at the University of Helsinki exploring the historical roots of the relations and dichotomy between the Ancient Near East and the western world have concluded that western impressions of the East are still largely based on classical Greek historiography. The result, the researchers argue, is a lopsided overall picture of the historical events in and relations between the two regions.

Armed with a fresh research angle, Professor Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila and FiDiPro Professor Robert Rollinger are keen to look into the relationships between the Ancient Near East and the West, especially ancient Greece. Their aim is to investigate cultural, linguistic and literary relations with the help of source material in Akkadian, Greek and Arabic. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland.

“We analyse how cultural identities are formed in a multicultural setting and explore the causes of and historical reasons for how clashes and conflicts between the different cultures have emerged,” explains Professor Hämeen-Anttila. The research project targets the interaction and relations between the cultures of Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and Islam over a thousand-year time span. “By analysing these cultures from the perspective of religion, power, literature, philosophy and historical documentation, we aim to develop a model to depict intercultural exchange and identity formation,” Hämeen-Anttila adds.

The project has studied the intermediary role of Greek historiography and ethnology in the connections between the East and the West. Greek historical texts, especially the Homeric Epics and texts depicting Alexander the Great, still heavily influence how the East is perceived by the western world. “Our research suggests that these sources have mainly conveyed historical perceptions and assumptions rather than presented historical facts. That is why we must study the texts in a broader context, painstakingly analysing every little detail. In particular, we’re interested in why and how perceptions and perspectives have been communicated across cultures,” says FiDiPro Professor Rollinger.

For example, the research team has concluded that the concept of an empire, ever since ancient Mesopotamia through to the British Empire, has been defined largely based on the same characteristics, agendas and functions. Even technological inventions have endured through the centuries: a number of construction techniques developed in the Ancient Near East, such as bridge building methods, were widely used in the western world all through to the early 20th century.

The research project, which is carried out under the FiDiPro funding programme, also studies cultural interactions between Antiquity, ancient Persia and the Islamic Middle Ages. Here, the main focus of research is on works of fiction as well as historical and philosophical texts. The research shows that texts and ideas in the classical era were widely distributed across different cultures.

More information:

Professor Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, University of Helsinki, tel. +358 9 191 22 092, jaakko.hameen-anttila(at)

Professor Robert Rollinger, University of Helsinki and University of Innsbruck, robert.rollinger(at) or robert.rollinger(at)

Finland Distinguished Professor Programme:


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