Federation South logo

Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

Dance and Music, Nationalism and Ethnicity, Part 2
By Dr. Anthony Shay

Anthony Shay




While dance may appear to be a relatively easy concept to comprehend, the concept of ethnicity is far more difficult to define: theories and viewpoints abound, and have increased exponentially over the past three decades, frequently in contradictory ways. Dance is inextricably bound to ethnicity; like language and clothing, it frequently serves as one of the visual markers of an ethnic group (Desmond 1997). And, yet, historian Patrick Geary issues a caveat: "Clothing and ornamentation certainly varied widely and may have been symbols of group identity. How certain members of a society dressed, what sorts of brooches or belts they wore, how they styled their hair could all have important symbolic meaning. What such meanings were is impossible to discern in retrospect" (2002, 76). In the same way, depictions and illustrations of dancing can tell us nothing about what dance looked like and what meaning it may have had (Shay 1999).

Because of the complexity of the topic of ethnicity, I will divide the discussion into three sections. The first part constitutes introductory observations, the second will consist of a more formal presentation of the elements of ethnicity, what I call the "contours" of ethnicity, and finally I will look into the fascinating topic of ethnogenesis, or how ethnic groups are born and morph over time, sometimes disappearing, followed by a brief case example, the Greeks from Archaic Greece to the present. In the final section of the introduction, under the topic of nationalism, I will look at the Iranian case. I have selected these cases because ethnic groups such as Iranians and Greeks have been with us for millennia, but what the term "Greek" or "Iranian" meant through time has changed greatly; the Greeks and Iranian of today are not those of historical, and even prehistoric times, however much nationalists would like to make those connections.

The topic of ethnogenesis is important because groups like Greeks, Iranians, Chinese, and Japanese, which have undoubtedly long histories, today largely stake the claim that their genetic makeup derives from ancient sources in an unbroken, and by extension, ethnically pure blood and kinship line (Rutherford 2017). I will offer some arguments, concerning the conditions of warfare, slavery, and massive human movements that contributed to altering and shaping current gene pools in major ways, and why I think many claims of ethnic purity are in need of modification. When an individual was taken as a slave, they were ripped out of their former identity, including ethnic identity, and, in most cases had to adopt a new identity just to survive. "The great divide in the Roman world lay between those who were slaves and those who were free" (Geary 2002, 64). In all of these cases slaves, which made up a sizeable portion of the population, were assimilated into those populations.

It is important to remember that ethnicity is fluid and dynamic, not a static phenomenon passed uninterrupted from generation to generation that many think it to be. For example Iranian and Greek histories are frequently presented as if contemporary Iranian or Greek ethnic identities form an unbroken link to a glorious ancient Persian or Classical Greek identity, and everyone assumes that they are directly linked to the past; that they are descendants of the nobility, the philosophers and literati and other great figures who made ancient Iran and Greece glorious, never coming from the peasants that made up the vast majority of the population, and, not insignificantly, kept the elite fed. (See Rutherford 2017, Chapter 4) In contemporary Greece, "Greek identity not only in a political sense but with all the connotations of unbroken continuity with the classical past (and beyond) is an almost universally claimed possession" (Just 1989, 71), and "what had to be proved was that they were the very descendants of Pericles" (Just 1989, 84. Emphasis in the original). "The lure of fame or infamy in your family is strong" (Rutherford 2017, 166).

Historian Walter Pohl notes "It is self-evident that the Croats, Bulgars, and Turks of the early Middle Ages are not identical to the present-day nations with these same names" (2018, 19). In the same way, the Iranians and Greeks of the past are not the Iranians and Greeks of the present, a point that I cannot stress enough, and given the history of human movement and migration, widespread slavery and warfare, many of them may not even come from the same gene pool as those they claim as ancestors.

I also agree with archaeologists Ton Derks and Nico Roymans that "Ethnic identities are always constructed in close association with political systems. It is politics that define ethnicity not vice versa" (2009, 1). I would include, as well, social and economic systems that promoted widespread slavery and warfare. As I noted above, the concept that today's populations are direct descendants of past populations, as I observed about the Iranians and Greeks, defy the reality of history. As part of the fluidity of ancient gene pools, "Despite frequent claims by ethnic groups to the contrary, all ethnic formations are intrinsically unstable and dynamic over time. Much of the dynamism is to be understood in close association with conflict, violence and changing constellations of power" (Derks and Roymans 2009, 1-2). That is the reason that in constructing ethnic histories I believe that insufficient attention has been paid to three of the most important impetuses of ethnic dynamism has been populations movements, war, and slavery, which have dramatically altered gene pools, and, which I will briefly address in this portion of the introduction. In the ancient world incessant warfare, human migration, and the institution of slavery dramatically uprooted millions of individuals that originally began with a small gene pool (Bellwood 2013; Bradley 1994; Cunliffe 2011; Rutherford 2017; Wickham 2005).

What is Ethnicity?

For many individuals, ethnicity is a basic component of identity that constitutes socially constructed differences between groups, and determines insiders from outsiders: us from them. Ethnic identities can be self-ascribed or ascribed by others, and those two ascriptions may not match. For others, ethnicity has no meaning within our personal lives.

In this way Fredrik Barth's concept of the boundaries of ethnicity (1969) constitutes a useful concept, that is the boundaries that mark the differences between two or more ethnic groups, which differ situationally. "The only thing I would add to the theories of Barth, is that the criteria are not chosen at random. Language, religion, physical features, and common history are often recurring boundary marks. The notion of a common descent, though often fictitious, but mostly with a kernel of truth, always plays an important part in the perception of ethnicity. In Antiquity, the situation was not very different" (Van der Spek 2009, 102). Some boundary markers, like language and religion, appear more frequently than others, such as dress or food ways, and as Barth has indicated each case is unique.

While the actual fact of ethnicity, as we understand it today, most likely existed prehistorically, according to John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith (1994), in their study of ethnicity, the word "ethnicity" was first employed in English in the 1950s, and was not widely used until the 1970s. Ethnicity, in short, is about individual and group identity, but as such it is inextricably bound up with class, race, and nationalism, and this point cannot be stressed enough. Frequently, when individuals speak of ethnicity, they are actually discussing race or nationality. These subjects overlap significantly, especially in the United States where many Caucasian individuals can select an ethnicity for purposes of identity, even if that ethnicity has been reduced to reproducing one's Polish or Italian grandmother's recipes, but ethnic minorities are frequently perceived as racial as well as ethnic minorities, and many individuals have a perceived notion that racial identity is fixed (Rutherford 2017, Chapter 5).

In public discourse and official government forms in the United States the categories of race and ethnicity constitute confusing areas. Are Latino or Hispanic, Asian, or Native American racial or ethnic categories? State and federal largesse is frequently dispensed on a racial/ethnic basis, even though the notion of race has been scientifically discredited (Fenton 2009; Steinberg 2001; Waters 1990).

In this part, I want to define what I mean by the term ethnicity, as the second of the three elements in this study of dance and authoritarianism. First, I conceive of both ethnicity and nationalism in the plural: ethnicities and nationalisms because they are not a singular experience, but multiple experiences, and individuals and groups experience them differently. Unfortunately, we often think of and discuss ethnicity and nationalism as solely group phenomena, but groups are composed of individuals. I experience American identity differently than many other Americans, as well as friends that I know who are Iranian, Armenian, Mexican, Croatian, or Greek, and how they experience their feelings of ethnicity and nationality. These, I suggest, are experiences and feelings that are deeply embedded in belonging and identity.

All of this means that I do not want to lose sight of the individual within the theoretical and conceptual congeries of nationalism and ethnicity; each of us experiences the bundles of our identities differently. "Western social science proceeds from the top downwards, from society to the individual, deriving individuals from the social structures to which they belong: class, nationality, state, ethnic group, tribe, kinship group, gender, religion, caste, generation, and so on. We have concentrated on these collective structures and categories and by and large have taken the individual for granted" (Cohen 1994, 6). For this reason, I record some of my own reflexive reactions to the phenomena of ethnicity and nationalism to remind the reader, that each of us, myself included, react to various phenomena, as members of a particular society, family, ethnic group, and nationality, both similarly to others in the group or society, and differently. I do not want to lose sight of the individual in his or her humanity within the social web of cultural meaning in their lives.

As I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, I did not feel that I had an ethnicity. I must not have been alone because I thought that ethnicity was ". . . an attribute of the Other. Ethnicity thus becomes something that characterizes other people rather than my family and I. We need, however, to remind ourselves all the time that each of us participates in an ethnicity – perhaps more than one – just like them, just like the Other, just like 'the minorities'" (Jenkins 1997, 14. Emphasis in the original). Thus, ethnicity is important because we are all implicated; we are all ethnic.

The opening line of one of the first major scholarly work on the topic in English states: "Ethnicity seems to be a new term" (Glazer and Moynihan 1975, 1), the authors of famous work Beyond the Melting Pot (1963), which dealt with issues of assimilation in New York City, turn to ethnicity as the Glazer and Moynihan lay out how recently the multitude of dictionaries of the 1960s and 1970s used the term "ethnicity," or more often, did not use it. Ethnicity in the United States has often become conflated with the term "race," a phenomenon with which many Americans still wrestle, and which continues to divide many Americans. In this essay, I argue that Americans have a national identity, but not a specifically American ethnic identity.

Ethnicity is more difficult and slippery to define than nationality or nation; nations with specific flags, anthems, armies, and the right to issue passports, have an "official" existence that ethnic groups do not have. And ethnicity has a deeply emotional component: "The second argument that permeated our volume was that ethnicity was a subjective sense of loyalty based on imagined origins and parentage rather than something to be measured by objectively visible present cultural criteria or historical facts. This argument also remains" (Romanucci-Ross and De Vos 1995, 13).

In the United States, at least, the term "ethnic" frequently served as a negative code word indicating non-white, or not white enough, and therefore was conflated with race, which along with class, is the major divider of identity and privilege in American society, even today. Given the number of new volumes now available on the topic, I would suggest the term ethnicities, in the plural is more apropos to cover the number of variations of this phenomenon. Specifically in the United States to many individuals, ethnicity meant and, for some, continues to means race: African American, Mexican American, Native American, Asian American and other non-white individuals constitute "ethnics." Through the early and middle part of the twentieth century the term "ethnic" held negative connotations in America, and served as a code word to indicate less or lesser than white. In Hollywood or on Broadway, relatively liberal spaces, it meant that if you were Jewish, Latino, Italian, or Middle Eastern or appeared as not quite white, that is, if you did not look like Rock Hudson or Tab Hunter, you were limited in the roles available to you. That meant you were cast in character or villainous roles, if you were even employable. That was one of the more benign aspects of ethnicity in America, like not being able to join an all-white fraternity.

In the field of dance the term "ethnic" also carried negative connotations. The label "ethnic" dance meant reduced funding as not-mainstream ballet or modern dance, and you were not taken seriously. Katherine Dunham, with her Afticanist Caribbean dances, labored under that rubric. I worked in that category for decades, and I have experienced the snobbery, and lack of financial support that category entailed in which dance organizations labeled my work, literally, as "other." (See for example Kaufmann 2004; Rumbaut and Portes 2001; Steinberg 2001; Stern and Cicala 1991)

Anthropologist Richard Jenkins states, "It is now anthropological common sense to consider ethnicity and nationalism in the same analytical breath. . . " (1997, 11). I will depart from Jenkins' conclusion. Ethnicity and nationalism differ, even as they overlap. Ethnicity and nationalism are two different phenomena, interrelated but different. Ethnic and national identities sometimes coincide, as is the case in Japan, Croatia, or Greece in which the vast majority of inhabitants are Japanese, Croatians, or Greeks. And sometimes they do not. Americans do have an American national identity, but they have different ethnic identities: I argue that there does not exist a single American ethnicity; the nation is ethnically too diverse to identify a single American ethnic identity that would cover nearly everyone in the United States. Where these two identities coincide, those who have alternate ethnic identities are frequently excluded from the national identity and participation as well. The case of the Koreans in Japan, being excluded from Japanese citizenship and treated as "the lower Other" (along with Eta [an untouchable caste] and Ainu) is well known to nationalism scholars (De Vos and Wagatsuma 1995); Serbs who were born and lived all of their lives in Croatia will always be Serbs (Gilliland 1995); Greeks who live in Turkey will always be Greeks (Just 1989). And yet, ethnicity is an ongoing social process.

Ethnicity defines a group of people who believe, sometimes passionately and often erroneously, that they have a common history, descent, and other cultural traits such as religion, language, or dress that make them different than others. And they believe that these traits reach into the beginnings of time, which is generally unprovaable, and which is why many governments spend large amounts of funding on archeological sites and studies: to prove that the current population, whom they govern, has deep roots in their current ethnic real estate, and thus, justify the current nation state and the regime that rules it. Sadly, some of the members of these ethnic groups are ready to kill for the details of that history (or pseudo-history) and cultural traits that appear to others of us as unimportant. In the United States, I have experienced Serbs objecting to the playing of a piece of music they understood to be Croatian, and vice versa. For them such ethnic differences matter. For me, except as a matter of academic interest, not so much.

Throughout most of my life, I had no sense of belonging to an ethnic group. After Ancestry.com became fashionable, I discovered that I was, genetically 47% Irish, with significant touches of 10% Scandinavian (Viking perhaps?) and 10% Iberian (whatever that means: Portuguese, Castilian, Catalan, Basque?) in my makeup. A trip to Ireland in 2018 did not impel me to take up Irish step dancing, or read poetry by Yeats, nor did my newly-found genetic makeup make me feel that I was more Irish than I was before I knew that I had Irish ancestry. I did , however purchase a beautiful Irish sweater, that did not read "Kiss me, I'm Irish."

The definition of ethnicity, and I would argue that the definition of ethnicity, like ethnicity itself, is fluid, which I call the "contours of ethnicity" in order to cover many examples and to indicate that scholars through time understand its fluidity and dynamism. My definition of what constitutes ethnicity is crucial to this study because of the way in which ethnicity and nationalism are interconnected, and sometimes, indivisible because they share many of the same elements of kinship, descent, shared living territory, shared language and religion, history, and other characteristics. In this way ethnicity differs from nation and nationalism: the latter has an official imprimatur; national identity is indicated in official documents of citizenship, while ethnic identity is frequently not indicated in those documents.

Ethnic identities historically precede national identities: "Nations, nearly all of which were formed on the basis of a dominant, 'core' ethnic group" constitute the current global landscape of nation states (Kaufmann 2004, 1). So, I was stunned when Liah Greenfeld, whose brilliance I greatly admire, stated: "Thus, there were no ethnic identities before nationalism" (2016, 36. Emphasis in the original). Contra Greenfeld, in this study, I will suggest the notion that ethnicity, in fact, began at least before the period in which empires came into existence; "us and them" identities dominated these empires. We cannot know when ethnicity became a fact of peoples' identities. Jonathan M. Hall points out what both ancient and modern ethnicities have in common: "Recent research into ethnicity in antiquity, drawing on comparative studies from social anthropology and social psychology, would suggest that there is nothing inevitable or primordial about ethnicity" but rather, "ethnic self-identification responds to – and fluctuates with – specific historical circumstances. . . . entire ethnic groups may appear or disappear as a result of processes of social differentiation and assimilation" (2007, 53). Writers like Herodotus and Thucydides provide the contemporary reader with vivid descriptions of ethnic groups of their time, sometimes described as "barbarians," the Other: those who did not speak Greek or Latin.

Walter Pohl provides us with a case of the formation and disappearance of an ethnic group, the Avars (567-822), who for nearly a quarter of a millennium occupied Central Europe (today's Hungary and Croatia), and in doing so covered the development and expansion of another ethnic group, the Slavs, who did not disappear, but rather expanded and prospered into the present, and ultimately the Avars were assimilated by the Slavs (2018). Pohl characterizes the Avars as: "A mixed group of steppe warriors and their families in flight adopts a prestigious name, victoriously moves across thousands of miles and founds an empire, and can thus consolidate itself as a people. When, after a quarter millennium, its identity and institutions lose their motivating force, this people disappears, apparently without leaving a trace. This is the history of the Avars in a nutshell" (2018, 397). Pohl calls them "a political ethnos . . . with a rather opaque ethnos. . . " (ibid.). Throughout his study he contrasts the Avars' existence with that of the Slavs who seemed to slip under the historic radar with few notices: "Slavic life unfolded in local agrarian communities, which often succumbed to foreign rule but in the long term proved more resilient than the politics of their rulers. It was a simple life, with minimal investments in buildings, lasting forms of representation, or the cult of the dead, but without systematic taxation and rents. . . . The resultant lacunae in the archaeological record make it hard to trace the progress of the Slavs" (2018, 398). And, as a result of the disappearance of the Avars as a distinct ethnic and political power; the majority of them did not, in fact, disappear, but rather "were increasingly forced to accommodate themselves to Slavic ways of life" (2018, 400). All of which, briefly describes the ethnogenesis of groups that came into being, not from those speaking a common language or sharing a common gene pool, but through the circumstances of history that decreed the Avars would rise in glory, leave an historical and archaeological record, and "disappear" four centuries later, but survive as part of the dynamic and shifting mass of ethnic groups that eventually formed into the linguistic ethnic groups that today constitute the various Slavic peoples and nations that occupy the vast reaches of Central and Eastern Europe. The Avars ultimately disappeared as an ethnic group, at the same time that the Slavs, with whom they were associated, succeeded by the ways in which they exploited the historical and geographic circumstances in which they found themselves.

In my conceptualization of identity, of which ethnicity is one element, each individual experiences each part of his or her identity differently at different times: for some individuals their religion or their language is their most important identity marker, whereas for others his or her sexuality, or his or her status as a parent, or their identity as a businessman or businesswoman. In other words, identities can be experienced as fluid and each individual has bundles of identity markers. Each of these elements can surface at different times depending on context: one's country is attacked, one's religion is threatened, or one's sexuality is persecuted. These situations can trigger strong feelings within an individual, making him or her feel powerful identity emotions.

Elsewhere, ethnicity was, and is based on other forms of difference other than racial phenotypes, such as religion and language. In instances between those who speak the same or nearly identical languages: Dutch and Flemish, Serbian and Croatian, Hindi and Urdu, religion looms larger as an ethnic marker of identity than other traits (Barber et al 2009). All of these examples indicate that what constitutes ethnicity is historically contingent and scholars of ethnicity and nationalism must be cognizant of this factor in their analyses.

Ethnicity and gene pools are constructed by historic events. Later in this chapter, I wish to address the degree to which historical individuals, forcibly ripped from their original ethnic environments by widespread warfare, folk movements, and slavery, in order to survive, had to adopt new ethnic identities. Many of the slaves in Greek and Roman settlements remained there, had children, and became part of the gene pool. In early modern Spain, to escape death, banishment, and persecution, many Jews and Muslims escaped to the New World in the guise of Spaniards. World War II witnessed a similar situational change of ethnicity as many Jews placed their children into different ethnic environments in order to survive. Some of them, especially if very young, remained in their new identities and married French and Polish individuals among whom they settled. Thus, the idea of common descent and the sharing of genes for many individuals in order to be a member of an ethnic group is patently false. Illustrating this point, many of the advertisements of the genetic analysis companies like 123 and Me and Ancestry.com, is how surprised individuals are when discovering their scientifically analyzed genetic makeup. I was one of them.

What fascinates me as a scholar looking at ethnicity is how durable it is and how ethnic groups come into being (ethnogenesis) and how they can fade and completely disappear, like the Batavians (Derks 2009; Roymans 2009) or the Avars (Bálint 1989; Pohl 2018), or conversely, how they continue, like the Iranians and the Chinese, albeit in new guises. Ethnicity is an us/them-we/they form of identity, and as such has existed since groups of people needed to define themselves in terms of one another. Ethnicity is both self-ascribed and defined by others – in fact, without an Other, ethnicity cannot exist. As scholars, it is our task to identify the cultural boundaries that ethnic groups select for self/other differentiation. Most ancient societies that have left us records, do not fail to describe the others that surround them – and by whom they define themselves as a special and unique people.

How I Encountered Ethnicity

When I entered Los Angeles City College, and later UCLA, I encountered ethnicity and nationalism in new, and often puzzling ways. As an Anglo American, in 1950s America I had no strong feelings of either ethnic or national belonging, in spite of participating in the pledge of allegiance held ritually every morning in my grade school and junior high school as chosen students raised the flag. For me it was a duty, something to be gotten through, not a commitment. My later involvement with Iranian, Serbian, Croatian, Greek, Bulgarian, and Turkish students and their folk dances and music, their sense of nationalism, and awareness of their ethnic identities, brought me into a new environment in which these phenomena and what constituted Greek or Serbian folk music, and definitely not Turkish music, or what constituted Iranian and not Arab art, aroused passionate feelings, and loomed large in the lives of those peoples. I found that ethnicity and ethnic identity and the ethnic boundaries that marked those differences were as much about who one was not as who one was.

Apparently, at that time we did not need a word to express these emotions. Those strong feelings, which were new to me, could often be found near the surface and they could be absolutely explosive, as I found in one or two unpleasant encounters that occurred during my college and university years. As political scientist Azar Gat notes, "The crucial question of what makes ethnicity and nationalism – be they old or new – such potent, indeed, explosive forces has scarcely been asked, let alone answered" (2013, 2). Those early encounters led me ever deeper into a quest to clarify what constitutes ethnicity and nationalism and why they were so important to many people, because they profoundly involved the music and dances that I had grown to love.

Later, when I began my career as a choreographer of folk and traditional dances in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I quickly became enmeshed in issues of ethnicity to understand and describe the ethnic groups whose dances I was creating for the stage. Like nearly everyone, including scholars, I conceived of ethnicity in Fredrik Barth's terms: "Most anthropologists at the time thought, at least implicitly, that the world could be described usefully as a discontinuous array of entities called societies, each with its internally shared culture, and that this framed the issues of ethnicity. They further assumed that each such entity should be analyzed in a structural-functional paradigm to display its systematic order and functional integration" (1998, 5). In other words, the world could be divided, like language-distribution maps, into discrete units in which a distinctive, identifiable ethnicity (perhaps with a few minority groups, expressed on the ethnic distribution map as different colored blobs, also resided). The assumption was that these groups had been there since time immemorial, unchanging and happy with their ethnic identity and the homeland they occupied, reified and unchanging. It was Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth that challenged this long-held static model, and declared that the study of ethnic groups and ethnicity required a dynamic model. As he stated, "We were trying to end social organization as emergent and contested, culture as something characterized by variation and flux, and to think of cases of relative stability in ethnic and other social relations are being as much in need of explanation as cases of change" (1998, 5). From this time on, increasingly scholars began to look at the phenomenon of ethnicity as dynamic, not static, contingent not reified, and as socially constructed. Ethnicity was always in a state of flux, and his study of the Pathans of Afghanistan and Pakistan demonstrated that people left particular ethnic groups and entered others for a variety of reasons; unlike, as most people formally believed that people could not change their ethnic identity, that it was a formal part of their identity. Barth and others demonstrated that people did change their ethnic identity, their language, their ethnic values. I began to look at how that could occur, both currently and historically.

So, in spite of the fact that there was no word for it when I was growing up, I will discuss ethnicity, that new, until unnamed phenomenon, especially in relation to nationality because the two elements are inextricably bound together. As Gat states, "Our point of departure is the following propositions: nationalism and ethnicity are closely associated" (2013, 3). But, I will argue that ethnicity is both modern and ancient. In doing so, I will argue against Werner Sollors' proposition that ethnicity is modern and invented:

By calling ethnicity – that is, belonging and being perceived by others as belonging to an ethnic group – an 'invention,' – one signals an interpretation in a modern and postmodern context. There is a certain previously unrecognized, semantic legitimacy in insisting on this context. . . Ethnicity would thus seem to make a perfect subject for a modern approach that utilizes the decoding techniques familiar from the scholarship of 'invention.' Yet by and large, studies tend less to set out to explore its construction than to take it for granted as a relatively fixed or, at least, a known and self-evident category" (Sollors 1989, xiii).

And, yet I have found that most recent scholarship understands that ethnicity, like many other social dynamics, is fluid and contingent. He states, "Ethnic groups are typically imagined as if they were natural, real, eternal, stable, and static units" (1989, xiii-xiv). I have found that contemporary Iranian and Greek ethnic groups feel that they are linked to the past in much the way that Sollors describes them, but in fact, they are totally different than Greeks and Iranians of the past.

Can We Theorize Ethnicity?

Sociologist Steve Fenton has stated: "that there cannot be a theory of ethnicity, nor can 'ethnicity' be regarded as a theory" (2003, 2). To a large degree I agree with Fenton's assessment, because the salience of ethnicity as an element of identity varies from individual to individual, and even within the life of a single individual, group to group, historical period to historical period. ". . . The ethnicity of a collectivity that manifests itself in the form of an annual gathering of a few of its numbers to perform a dance or a ceremonial is different from . . . situations [in which] it leads to violence and bloodshed" (Cohen 1974, xiv). One reason it is difficult to theorize ethnicity is due to the fact that ethnicity can be lightly held or passionately embraced. Other forms of identity such as sexuality, class, religion, or profession may be more important to some individuals than their ethnic identity. Psychologist Claude M. Steele notes that individuals can experience identity threat that can be directed at one's identity as a gay or Lesbian, an African American, or one's identity as a professor or medical doctor. When that identity is threatened " . . . it allows a given identity to 'invade our whole identity'" (2010, 76). Ethnicity, then, constitutes only one aspect of identity, and perhaps, as in my case, not an important aspect. Therefore, I suggest describing and analyzing the contours, rather than theories of ethnicity.

Another reason that ethnicity cannot constitute a theory is that the cultural markers, the boundaries, that we associate with ethnicity – symbols, language, religion, special clothes, dances, songs, etc. – vary widely. For many ethnic groups language is an important ethnic marker, while for others it is not. The same can be observed for other ethnic markers like religion, music, costume, ritual, or dance. In some cases, no such ethnically specific markers exist. For purposes of this volume I will discuss the issue in terms of "ethnicities," and describe and analyze the contours of the phenomenon of the multiple forms and manifestations of ethnicity in the next section.

Some societies are obsessed with ethnicity, which is frequently conflated with race, to the exclusion of almost all other concerns. As a result of the eight-century-long Reconquest (Reconquista) of Spain from the Muslims, the Christians instituted draconian laws and forcibly converted or expelled all of the Jews and Muslims from Spain. Over the next two centuries following the fall of Granada, the last Muslim kingdom, in 1492, the Spanish government and church disrupted the lives of thousands of individuals through forced conversions and expulsions. But they never fully accepted the forcibly converted, and regarded them as traitors to the Catholic faith and Espanidad (Spanishness). They became increasingly obsessed with what the Spaniards termed "purity of blood," by which they meant one's identity as a pure blooded Catholic Spaniard. Given the ethnic invasions and mixing that occurred in Spain over the two millennia prior to 1492, no pure "race" or "pure blood" actually existed on the Iberian peninsula (Carr 2000; Wickham 2005).

This obsession of "purity of blood" became the dominant theme in colonial Mexico, known as New Spain, during the process of mestizaje, the mixing of races that took place almost immediately after the Spaniards arrived in the New World where there existed few Spanish women. And the Spanish left "the constraints of Europe, sailing westwards to the Americas, taking with them slaughter, disease and Catholicism" (Cunliffe 2011, 476). Due to the joint decision by the Spanish crown and the Catholic Church that the native population were not to be enslaved (at least officially), and the decimation of staggering numbers of the Native New World population due to contact with European-introduced diseases like small pox (Smith 1996), large numbers of African slaves were brought to Mexico to constitute a new labor force to replace the deceased Native Americans.

The resultant mixture of white, African, and Indian populations brought into being the sistema de castas (the system of race mixture), an official classification system that became a dominant feature of life in the Spanish colonies, especially Mexico, one that still resonates into our own period. Anthropologist Kathleen Deagan notes: "This ultimately resulted in the formal institutionalization of race mixture into more than twenty-five categories that were explicitly illustrated in colonial Mexico by nearly 1000 paintings" (2001, 191). These casta paintings, as they were called, demonstrate "how race, as an organizing principle of colonial society, became the subject of a genre of painting that lasted an entire century" (Katzew 2004, 3). These paintings, generally created in sets, show the racial and ethnic permutations that result from miscegenation, depicting a man, woman, and child, and explicitly labeled, for example: A Spaniard and an Indian woman produce a mestizo. In order to show the wide variety of genetic possibilities, "Most sets consist of sixteen scenes depicted on separate canvases or copper plates (Katzew 2004, 5). The system, which attempted to preserve the prestige and power of the Spanish and creole elites through sumptuary laws and other controlling devices, however, was inherently permeable and unstable. Nevertheless, it impacted the lives of the entire population of colonial Mexico, determining social status, occupation, marriage partners, and residence.

The Spanish authorities became obsessed as well with the native dances and clothing, and actively sought to alter them in both movement and meaning in order to conform to Spanish notions of proper dancing in a Christian context. In order to create a definitive rupture with African and Native American religions and cultures, they introduced the morisca, the dance depicting the battles between the Christians and the Moors (hence, morisca) that was "first introduced into New Spain by the conquerors towards the end of the XVI century" (Covarrubias n. d.; Stevenson 1952).

Of course, such preoccupations with race and ethnicity were not just historical, it could be found in the twentieth century as well in Nazi Germany, the American South, and the Republic of South Africa, which examples provide us with particularly egregious examples of the destructive policies of racial and ethnic obsession, codified on both social and legal levels. (See Fredrickson 2002; Rutherford 2017). We turn now to the contours of ethnicity, the constituent elements of ethnicity, a human preoccupation in both historical and contemporary periods.

The Contours of Ethnicity

At this point, I will briefly discuss the ways in which I utilize and describe ethnicity for purposes of this introductory essay and the way the term is deployed throughout the volume. First, ethnicity is about identity, both individual and group – it is a we/they – us/them consciousness au fond. It is about the human desire for belonging, about inclusion and exclusion, and about descent and history.

Second, ethnicity is dynamic, ongoing, and socially and historically contingent. As much as we and many contemporary Greeks would like to think so, modern Greeks are not the same as ancient Greeks as Lord Byron discovered (Crompton 1985; Hall 1997; Shay 2002, 2008c), modern Arabic speaking Egyptians are not the same as ancient Egyptians, modern Iraqis are not the same as ancient Mesopotamians, no matter how often individuals and governments of those modern ethnicities attempt to hark back to the perceived glory of their forbearers. As humans link themselves back into history, they romanticize what and who those Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks were: "These tendencies to project modern norms onto past behaviours have been exacerbated the privileging of the Classical world, and the way in which modern western societies have styled themselves as the successors of Classical civilization" (Revell 2016, 5). How we look at ethnicity often tells us more about the present than the actual past, which classicist Louise Revell notes, "has resulted in a mistaken familiarity with Roman culture. . . ." (2016, 4).

In fact these modern groups, even though they sometimes bear the same ethnonyms as earlier populations, they are in essence different from those historic, in some cases prehistoric, populations in almost every way: religion, language, material culture, and all of the significant ethnic boundary markers that demonstrate perceived ethnic differences between populations. Unlike the Japanese, whose ethnic contours have been shaped through an evolutionary, largely unbroken historical process, other societies have experienced significant, often violent ruptures with their past, which have resulted in the forging of essentially new ethnic identities, replete with new languages, religions, and new modern, national identities (De Vos and Wagamatsu 1995).

In other words, some ethnic groups are older than others, at least in their consciousness of an ethnic identity that separates them from other ethnic groups. That is not to say that what it means to be Japanese in the twenty-first century is the same as in the past. Rather it is to say that the Japanese have evolved from the past in a more continuous historical line, and some cultural markers, such as dance and theater constitute an important link to the past that is generations deep.

By contrast, historian Fikret Adanir notes that, "only at the turn of the twentieth century did a distinct [Slavic] Macedonian consciousness begin to develop" (1992, 170. See also Borza 1990; Kennedy et al 2013). Today, following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, which only after World War II officially recognized a Slavic Macedonian ethnicity, Macedonia constitutes a separate nation state and a distinct ethnic group with its own distinct language. Since Macedonia has gained an independent existence, the Greek government has sought to impede the Macedonians from using the name Macedonia (Just 1989, 80-86; Cowan and Brown 2000; Poulton 1995).

Third, ethnicity can have a powerful emotional component, which can appear in times of stress like war or the group is threatened in some way, as we witnessed in the former Yugoslavia when Slobodan Miločević radicalized elements of the population through poisonous ethnic rhetoric (MagaĄ 1993; Ramet 2006). The degree of emotional feeling toward one's ethnic group varies with the individual and the situation, and individuals like Miločević and Hitler can alter that through wild-eyed, buy slyly planned rhetoric.

Ethnicity almost always contains a historical dimension of genealogical descent; most people conceive of their ethnicity as many generations deep, a shared history and a shared past, even though ethnicity can be permeable, and not historically deep. "Ethnicity is not innate, but individuals are born with it; it is not biologically reproduced, but individuals are linked to it through cultural constructions of biology; it is not simply cultural difference, but ethnicity cannot be sustained without reference to an inventory of cultural traits" (Curta 2001, 15). Many individuals view ethnicity as biologically determined and believe issues of descent and historical depth constitute a basic reason that most people conceive of ethnicity as a basic element of their identity, even though each new generation has to learn from their grandparents and parents what it means to be a Navaho, a Hawaiian, or a Turk. Thus, ethnicity contains elements of social construction since it is learned, not merely inherited (Epstein 1978). Anthropologist J. A. Nagata pinpoints why so many social scientists prefer the socially constructed view of ethnic identity over the primordial: "The primordial viewpoint leaves some social scientists academically uneasy, for they feel poorly equipped to handle such loyalties and sentiments, which seem to slip dangerously out of the world of tangible interests and groups into a half-world of emotion and unreason" (1981, 89).

In discussing the question of descent as an element of ethnicity, anthropologist Richard Tapper notes that among several Iranian tribal groups: "Some tribal groups have no shared genealogy. . . Yet other groups do not even pretend to common origins. . ." but they nevertheless maintain "an ethnic identity of cultural-political separateness" (1989, 237). Clearly, for each of the many contours that scholars maintain must be present to constitute ethnicity, even such elements as basic as descent and genealogy, often fictional, various researchers find exceptions within the ethnic contours of specific groups.


Fourth, the issue of ethnogenesis and, equally important, the disappearance of ethnic groups arises. When do undifferentiated Slavic groups become Serbs, Croats, Russians, and Poles? When did Germanic people become Jutes, Angles, and later Germans, Dutch and English? Conversely, how and when did the Thracians, Visigoths, Burgundians, Lombards and Batavians disappear? (Derk and Roymans 2009). Historians and scholars of ethnicity know that ethnic groups appear, that is, ethno genesis can occur under the onslaught of conquest and the creation of empire and colonization, and in the same circumstances other groups disappear or are destroyed (Pohl 2002, 2018). Anthropologist J. C. Mitchell demonstrated how the kalela dance constituted a major element in the process of ethnogenesis of African workers in the new urban centers that sprung up the Copper Belt of Zambia in the 1950s (Mitchell 1956). Thus, in some cases ethnicity is continuous and ongoing.

New groups are created, both historically and in modern times, such as the Uzbeks in the former Soviet Union, an ethnic group created almost out of whole cloth by the former Soviet state; Uzbek ethnicity became a self-fulfilling prophecy as the old Soviet order crumbled (Bennigsen 169, 175; Kaiser 1994, 232; Rywkin 1994, 36), while the Tolai of New Guinea under European and Australian rule are undergoing a kind of ethnogenesis (Epstein 2009). Other groups disappear through assimilation. "Empires produce and cultivate new ethnic communities, while denying, marginalizing or even destroying existing ones" (Derks and Roymans 2009, 4). Ethnogenesis frequently occurs under the radar of history. As archeologist Csanád Bálint notes "In respect of some large areas of eastern Europe it is not even known exactly what peoples lived there through centuries. . ." (1989, 185), thus the coming and going of Slavs, Avars, and other groups on the Byzantine frontier have no certain history.

The process of ethnogenesis can be very slow, as Eugen Weber (1979) demonstrated for France, where before the First World War, most of the rural population, half of the population, did not speak French nor consider themselves French. The study of the development of Turkish ethnicity and identity under the social engineering of the Ataturk regime makes for a fascinating study in the way ethnicity and ethnic consciousness can be created as a socially constructed element of identity within a generation or two (Keyder 1997; Kramer 2000; Lewis 1968; Öztrkmen). It must be admitted that the Turkish government's efforts were crowned with success: a deeply passionate commitment to Turkish identity was created among the masses of Turks through the efforts of the government, which included the use of folk dance as a vehicle for the creation of Turkish identity (Cefkin 1993, Öztrkmen 1992). We can say, then, that although to a large degree Turkish ethnic identity was socially constructed, there also existed a core of elements, such as language, from which an identity could be constructed, and even in the matter of language, the government actively participated in the creation of a new language, Turkish, from the ashes of Ottoman, through the elimination of Arabic and Persian loanwords, the introduction of the Latin alphabet, and the use of the new language in educational and media settings.

In the ethnogenesis of particular groups, studied in the light of history dance became a vehicle for the expression of ethnicity in the way that the Ataturk regime appropriated dance for use in constructing the Turkish state and Turkish ethnicity (Cefkin 1993; Öztrkmen 1992; Shay 2002). In Greece, the Philippines, and Mexico, specific dances are designated as "national" and they form part of the school curriculum. Examples include the Philippine tinikling and the jarabe tapatio (Mendoza-Garcia 2016; Hernandez 1999). This is in order to create a "national" as opposed to, or in addition to, a local ethnic identity. These decisions to adopt certain dances to represent the nation are frequently made by powerful figures in ministries of education or culture (Shay 2002, 2006). The term "national" differs from its use in ballet, in which the Polish, Hungarian, or Spanish variation is shown through the costume, rather than any authentic dance movements.

Fifth, in any discussion of ethnicity, the important fact exists that ethnicity constitutes only one identity marker among many. One's profession, sexuality, gender, race (not always congruent with ethnicity), status as parent, member of clubs and organizations, religious or political affiliation, profession, class, among many possible others may constitute more salient identity markers in the life of an individual than ethnicity. Gay activist Michael Denneny states: "I find my identity as a gay man as basic as any other identity I can lay claim to. Being gay is a more elemental aspect of who I am than my profession, my class, or my race" (quoted in Weeks 1985, 190). By contrast, in some situations, such as war or interethnic violence, police profiling or residential restrictions, ethnicity may become a salient and contentious marker of identity.

Among some scholars, ethnicity is viewed as a political choice, that ethnic groups band together for political, economic, and material advantage. This is the so-called instrumental view of ethnicity. In other words, ethnicity can constitute an identity that is lightly worn. "It is, however a mistake to believe that ethnic terms and labels are used lightly according to the circumstances and purely for convenience. In many cases they appear to have deep roots indeed" (Yntema. 2009, 146). And while such instances of individuals cleaving to ethnic identity for economic or political gain have been documented (Roosens 1989), for many other individuals and groups, especially smaller ethnic groups such as Armenians, Jews, Koreans, and Kurds, among others, ethnicity is a passionate and primary identity category for many of its members. Although I have not seen any study of smaller ethnic groups in small nations as compared to larger ones in the literature on ethnicity, I firmly believe through my years of observations that there exists a considerable difference between the ethnic and nationalistic behavior of individuals and groups in small nations and ethnic groups than in larger political and territorial units such as France or Great Britain. For many such groups, which view themselves as potentially endangered, ethnically charged symbols such as dance, with its embodiedness, and colorfully costumed performers, have the potential to become primary markers of national and ethnic identity (Maners 2008).

Some scholars consider ethnicity and ethnic groups a social construct, and literary scholar Werner Sollors, for example, states "The forces of modern life embodied by such terms as 'ethnicity,' 'nationalism,' or 'race' can indeed be discussed as 'inventions': collective fictions that are continually reinvented" (1989, xi). However much we may regard ethnicity as an invented tradition or a social construct, in answer Steve Fenton cautions: "But the fashion for imaginings, constructions and inventions may have gone too far (Fenton 2003, 4), people march under banners, form associations, kill one another, dress up and dance and sing. . . " (2003, 3). And, many people participate in these activities precisely because of their ethnic identity, and a need to regularly display their ethnic markers and boundaries of difference.

Ethnic identity cannot exist in isolation; since antiquity, ethnicity forms in relation to other ethnicities. Ethnicity constitutes a we/they-us/them phenomenon, and archeologists have joined anthropologists, sociologists and folklorists in the study of ethnicity, in particular questions of ethnogenesis, or the history of the formation of specific ethnic groups in prehistory and antiquity. In the process of ethnogenesis, myths have been invented and politically deployed to heighten ethnic awareness and solidarity (Gehrke 2009; Gillis 1994; Hall 1997; Smith 2003). Ethnicity and displays of ethnic markers are triggered in relationship to and encounters with the Other. Classics scholar Jonathan Hall shows how the ancient Greek's encounter with the Persians altered the way in which ethnicity was deployed: "By establishing a stereotypical, generalized image of the exotic, slavish and unintelligible barbarian, Greek identity could be defined 'from without'" (1997, 47).

Ethnicity is both self ascription and ascription by others. Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth (1969) made an important breakthrough in ethnic studies by demonstrating that individuals were capable of changing ethnicity under certain circumstances. He conceived the notion of ethnic boundaries. "The critical focus of investigation from this point of view becomes the ethnic boundary that defines the group, not the cultural stuff that it encloses. This entails criteria for determining membership and ways of signaling membership and exclusion (Barth 1969, 15. Emphasis in the original.). Exclusion can include outcaste groups such as the Japanese eta, who are in every way are the same as other Japanese, but have been relegated to outcaste trades, such as handling the dead, leatherwork, and butchering animals (De Vos and Wagatsuma 1995. See also Bond 2016; Stuart 1999).

But of course, it will in fact be "the cultural stuff," specifically dance, that Barth refers to above that will be the focus of attention in this study, and the ways in which dance is both constitutive and reflective of ethnic identity, as well as the contexts in which dance and ethnicity intersect. Authoritarian regimes understand the connection between dance, ethnicity, and nationalism, and for this reason many state-supported folk dance ensembles are either assembled or continued by these regimes. Barth recognizes the diverse ways in which ethnic difference are displayed and notes that: "some cultural features are used by the actors as signals and emblems of differences, others are ignored" (1969, 14).


Among the "cultural stuff" that constitutes ethnicity, I would argue that language is one of, if not the most basic element. Linguistics scholar Nicholas Ostler states that language "links its speakers into a tradition that has survived for thousands of years. . . to stand on the shoulders of so much ancestral thought and feeling. Our language places us in a cultural continuum, linking us to the past" (2005, xix). This a concept that nationalists espouse. Language is almost always listed as one of the vital components of ethnic and national identity. This is why so many nations maintain language policies and institutions to maintain "correct usage," to eliminate foreign words, real or imagined, and to create new ones. One need only follow the linguistic gymnastics being performed in the former Yugoslavia in which the former Serbo-Croatian is now, Bosnian, Croatian, or Serbian. "Sociolinguists of the future will have much to study in Croatia. Language planners in Croatia have put a great deal of effort into creating a linguistic norm which would crystallize and express the specifically Croatian national-ethnic identity and which would explicitly be something other than Serbo-Croatian (which they perceive as essentially Serbian)" (Alexander 2006, 415). I should be happy; I now speak three languages instead of one.

We think and act in a specific language. In the construction of ethnic identity "particular weight is often attributed to language. . . a common and distinct language was the key to the perseverance of the Galatians' self-consciousness as an ethnic group" (Derks and Roymans 2009, 2). I argue that the ease with which contemporary Iranians can read the Shahnameh or Khayyam's quatrains (both composed in the eleventh century), gives them a heightened sense of their history and ethnic identity that links them to their historical past, in a way that modern English speakers, struggling to read Chaucer or even Shakespeare, lack. "Few, if any, other languages have enjoyed a continuous history of two and a half millennia as the primary vehicle for written communication. It is further distinguished from any rivals by its slow rate of change over such a song period and its maintenance of standard vocabulary and syntax over such a vast territory" (Spooner and Hanaway 2012, x). Language, through the telling of stories and histories, links us to our past. And, for many, that past constitutes a precious legacy, linking our ethnic present to our ethnic past.

Language has been a basic identity marker throughout history: for the ancient Greeks and Romans, Barbarians were defined as those who did not speak civilized languages, i.e. Greek and Latin. "Romans loved to juxtapose themselves and their world against that of the barbarians" (Geary 2002, 65). Those slaves and other outsiders became successful only if they adopted and mastered the local language. For example, the singing slave girls of the Baghdad Caliphate were always slaves who had to learn perfect Arabic, because music was a vehicle for language, and it offered these slaves the opportunity to escape their servitude (Shay 2014). "But the use of a language as a marker of ethnic identity is a property of all human groups recorded in ethnography and in our modern world" (Bellwood 2013, 87). Personally, as a scholar and an artist, I early discovered that the knowledge of a language was the key to people embracing an ethnic identiy and wanting to share their culture, the crucial distance between "in" and "out."

More Ethnogenesis

For some scholars a central aspect of ethnicity is the topic of ethnogenesis, the "birth" of a particular ethnic group in Europe, to account for the appearance of various barbarian peoples in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages that are considered to be the founding populations of modern European nations, or the quest for origins that Japanese and Chinese scholars pursue (Bowlus 2002; Derk and Roymans 2009, Gilliet 2002, Roosens 1989). These studies have addressed the ethnic origins of modern states and which ethnic groups are entitled to which territories (Armstrong 1982; Geary 2002). This is a period notably difficult to study because it lacks adequate concrete sources of archeological or textual proof of the first appearances and exact locations of ethnic groups; ethnicity appeared to be fluid (Jones 1997). It is important to note that we cannot know for certain exactly when certain ethnic groups passing from a former ethnicity into a more modern ethnic identity, such as Slav into Russian, Gallo Roman into French occurred. In this essay, I use the term ethnogenesis as the inquiry into the formation of ethnic groups at any period of history, including the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Adanir 1992; Curta 2001; Fine 2006).

We no longer have Vandals and Gauls. Where did they go? Why and how did they disappear? How do we know that the pathetic figure of the sculpture from Ancient Rome known as the "dying Gaul" represents a Gaul? For some of these questions, we may never find the answer, but for other questions answers exist. Certainly, some specific ethnic groups can be located depicted on Trajan's column in Rome, or on the Apadana stairway of Persepolis, the capital city of Ancient Persia, where we find ethnic groups from all corners of the Persian Empire depicted in bas-reliefs bearing gifts (tribute) typical of the areas the specific ethnic group represents, and wearing the distinctive head gear and clothing that marked each of the specific groups, We also find of other ethnic groups in illustrations in Ancient Egypt that recorded the tribute that each ethnic group sent to the Egyptian royal palace, similar to the bas reliefs in Ancient Persia. And all of us are the genetic and ethnic results of past human activities, and currently, we have no way of knowing those historic details (Rutherford 2017). I especially look at three types of historic phenomena that have had an impact on who we are: folk movements and human migration, warfare, and slavery all caused widespread human upheaval, including ethnogenesis and the disappearance of specific ethnic groups through warfare and slaughter.

Folk Movements and Human Migration

Brian Cunliffe states "One of the underlying themes of our story has been mobility. . . It began with the movement of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers filtering gradually northwards as the climate ameliorated at the end of the last Ice Age and continued with the phenomenally rapid spread of farming communities drawn westwards by land and sea across the face of Europe" (2011, 475). Cunliffe tells of the waves of horsemen coming from the steppes of Central Asia in search of new pastures or booty: "The first to be clearly archeologically distinguishable were the Cimmerians, in the ninth-eighth centuries BC. Then there followed in quick succession Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Huns, Avars, Bulgars and Magyars, with the Turks following on later" (2011, 476). And, it is with the ability to distinguish these groups archeologically, supplemented by written records such as those that are provided to us by writers like Herodotus, that our story of ethnicity begins. Other folk movement such as the Celts, a conglomeration of various ethnic groups, moved into western Europe: "The Celts are a people whom we romantically think of as being tough Welsh, Scottish, Breton, or Irish, with a style of art and culture instantly recognizable with often abstract twisted shield, bolts, and crosses. . . . But they're not a cohesive group of people at all" Rutherford 2017, 101). "The other population surge that we have seen is the flow of 'Germans' from the plains of northern Europe to the south" (ibid.). The various Germanic people were on the move from the second century BCE, and "Thereafter the 'Germanic threat' is never out of the news, culminating in the mass migrations of the fifth and sixth centuries" (Cunliffe 201, 476), followed by the Slavs and the Vikings, until about 1000, when Europe takes on the political and ethnic contours with which we are familiar today. All of these movements render the ethnic patterns complex:

Old tribes disappeared from the map and new tribes – confederacies built from existing groups – make their appearance . . . The Franks, who are first heard of around AD 250, emerged from a coalescence of tribes living between the Rhine and the Weser, while to the west the peoples living along the North Sea coast became known as Saxons. In the east the Goths, who were to become the dominant barbarian force, were a confederacy of many different tribes moulded into a 'people' during their migration southwards to the coast of the Black Sea. These multitribal confederacies forged what identity they had from their common purpose and unity of action (Cunliffe 2011, 401).

Thus Cunliffe, describes smaller tribes joining larger, often more powerful tribes, being assimilated by them, he shows us one of the many mechanisms that triggered the ethnogenesis of new peoples and ethnic groups in prehistory. I want to emphasize how such phenomena contributed to the gene pools in which all of today's population on planet Earth participate. We are all ethnically descended from histories we will never know, but that are buried in the mists of time. However, by laying them out, I can suggest some of the ways in which today's population came into being.

Humankind was on the move early. Paleolithic humans were hunters and gatherers, which meant moving about. Even in the beginnings of the Neolithic agricultural revolution, men and women had to move around to find proper land for growing crops, but it was a period of experimentation. (Isager and Skydsgaard 1995). Before the technique of soil fertilization, people had to move to new soils as crop yields diminished. In the beginnings of agriculture, mankind, with only the most primitive and basic tools, and primitive, low-yielding versions of modern plants, could only utilize the most premium of environments, light loamy soils that did not require plows and other yet-to-be-invented aids to break up the soils in order to sow, plant, and harvest.

We can know nothing of the ethnicity of people in the Paleolithic, or even if ethnicity existed at that time. Population scholar Massimo Livi-Bacci tells us "For thousands of years prior to the invention of agriculture the human species must have numbered a thousandth part of what it does today" and people lived from hunting and gathering (1992, xv). When the first agriculturalists moved into Eastern Greece from the near Middle East beginning about 7000 BCE, the population expanded due to agriculture. "The Neolithic transition to stable cultivation of the land and raising of livestock certainly represented a dramatic expansion of productive capacity" (Livi-Bacci 1992-27). And we know that the agriculturalists that came to the Balkans were largely from the areas that today comprise southern Turkey and Lebanon because this is where agriculture began in the tenth millennium and began to decline around 7000 BCE. From the DNA of the current populations used "to model populations flows in prehistory, "while mitochondrial DNA inherited through the female line, show that the inflow females from the east amounted to no more than 20% of the population, Y-chromosome DNA. . . In Greece and south-east Europe up to 85% of the male population bear genetic markers indicating an origin further east" (Cunliffe 2011, 89). This is important to us because "The gene pool of the present European population is substantially that of the Paleolithic pioneers, with a smaller component contributed by incomers from south-western Asia in the Neolithic period" (Cunliffe 2011, 19).


I will not detain the reader for long of the topic of warfare. Aside from the weapons and technology, ancient warfare was not that different from modern war. People killed each other. That having been said, in the West at least, the fourth century marked a point of departure from the past: "In the fourth century. . . it is clear that some cities made war in a very formal and highly organized manner. They fielded large armies led by the political leaders of the city as a whole, and these armies fought formal battles in which soldiers were massed in large and regular formations" (Boatwright et al 2004, 200. For the winners warfare bequeathed several benefits: new territory, booty and wealth, slaves, and a means of providing a useful outlet for young male aggression to obtain these goals. In many ways war connects with both human migrations and slavery, often as a result of stronger groups pushing weaker ones out of their domains in a domino effect. War by Rome driven by a lust for booty caused "Sudden influxes of wealth on this scale had a dramatic effect on the Roman economy" (Cunliffe 2011, 339). "Another outcome of imperialist wars, to effect massive changes to Roman society and its economy was the availability of huge numbers of slaves" (ibid.). We will address the topic of slavery shortly, but I will only mention that in ancient times, it was not uncommon for the victors to kill the male population of a defeated community, and then sell all of the women and children into slavery. When Rome put down a revolt in Sardinia, "the triumphant general boasted that he had killed and captured eighty thousand of the island's inhabitants. Most of the survivors would have been sold into slavery in Italy. Nine years later the suppression of a revolt in Epirus generated 150,000 slaves" (Cunliffe 2011, 339). Slaves came to replace the rural population as the elite bought up their land and used the slaves to work the huge latifundia (large land holdings).

We cannot forget the large numbers of participants in some of these ancient wars, because the number of participants in the wars in the Middle Ages that followed tended to be much smaller. When groups like the Avars and the Huns were migrating, they had large numbers because they moved as a group, engulfing anyone in their path. The numbers of Roman military were even greater: "The actual number of men put in the field during the first years of the Hannibalic war (217-215 BC) – roughly 225,0000 – is staggering not only by the standards of any ancient state, but also as a proportion of total available manpower" (Potter 2011, 522). At the end of the Third Punic War (146 BC), the Roman army razed the city of Carthage, with thousands killed and thousands more enslaved.


Milton Metzler states the definition of "a slave [is] a person held in bondage to another" (1993, 3). In other words, he or she was a thing—chattel – like a cow or goat. Further the root of the English word comes from the ethnonym Slav, which comes from the time "when the Germans supplied the slave markets of Europe with captured Slavs" (ibid.).

I briefly address slavery because I argue that more than any other factor in ancient life, I believe that slavery affected ethnicity and the ethnic gene pool, if for no other reason than the ubiquity of slavery in the ancient world and this factor is named in all of our sources: "Another commodity of increasing importance was slaves" (Cunliffe 2011, 326). Slaves were big business. Slaves became one of the most important economic commodities of the ancient world. In those societies for which we have figures such as ancient Athens, Sparta, and Rome, demonstrate that the numbers of slave compared to the free population could be considerable – a third to a half of the free population. "For Rome the fact that the servile proportion of the population of Italy in the time of Augustus can fairly be estimated at 35%, a figure comparable to that for Brazil in 1800 and for the United States in 1820, is the crucial factor" (Bradley 1994, 12). The numbers of slaves needed to replenish the work force was mind-boggling: 'From about 50 BC to AD 150 more than 500,000 new slaves were needed every year for the empire as a whole" (Bradley 1994, 32). The main ways in which slaves entered the ancient world were: captives in war, the enormous and lucrative slave trade, and slaves that were purposely bred of slave mothers (known as vernae), which in Rome "had a certain cachet" (ibid.)

And how did slavery affect ethnicity? Imagine, due to war and human migration, and slave trading, millions of individuals were violently ripped out of their known environment and placed into one in which they did not know the language or the customs, and in order to survive they had to learn a new language and new customs, in other words, adopt a new ethnic identity. "The opening up of the slave market in the sixth and fifth centuries BC saw large numbers of slaves from Scythia, Thrace and Illyria drawn into the major Greek cities; in some, the slave population may have equaled that of adult citizens" (Cunliffe 2011, 328). Most of these slaves did not return to their original homes, but remained and contributed to the local gene pool, raising their children in a new ethnic environment. "With no prospect of ever returning – and along the route they should probably have been sold several times from dealer to dealer. They would also have become increasingly isolated from a linguistic point of view; newly imported slaves were expected to pick up the rudiments of Latin in the slave market" (Bradley 1994, 47). As in the Americas during the colonial period, efforts were made to separate individual slaves from others who shared their language and ethnicity to avoid revolts.

Slaves were various in their functions, from field hand to administrator for the emperor. "Graeco-Roman antiquity was a slave-keeping society, and owners were able, in principle, to deploy their slaves in any and all fields of life" (Schumacher 2011, 589). There were also state-owned slaves. When the Laurion silver mines were opened near Athens, they were worked by slave labor in the thousands that, through their backbreaking work, were insured a premature death and quickly replaced. Others were drafted into agricultural labor: historian Leonhard Schumacher states that in Rome "The bulk of them, including women worked in agriculture and shepherding" (2011, 594). The more fortunate were placed in households, performing housekeeping tasks, where, if fortunate, they became like members of the family and could hope for manumission, especially in old age. Many, especially women, were engaged in textile production. Even more fortunate individuals, especially Greeks, became tutors for rich Romans. A few qualified individuals managed to become highly placed in managerial positions: "Conversely, slave status is attested for numerous functionaries within the imperial administration. . . " (Schumacher 2011, 590). Male slaves, with the permission of their master, to have sexual relations with female slaves "with the objective of increasing the number of slaves" (Schumacher 2011, 594). Slaves could also earn extra money and purchase their freedom, and even own their own slaves. This occurred if they were, for example famous actors, pantomimes, or gladiators. But, even the highest placed individuals could be put to torture to extract judicial evidence, because a slave could only testify if they were first tortured (Schumacher 2011, 600).

"Prostitution in ancient Rome was widespread and constituted an important part of the economy in terms of upper-class investment, state revenue, and female employment" (McGinn 2011, 644). "The professional pimp (leno) who bought girls and boys and trained them for prostitution was socially ostracized" Because the sex trade was lucrative but dishonorable, "The organization of prostitution, above all the actual running of brothels, was without exception the responsibility of slaves. . . .who were usually former prostitutes themselves" (Schumacher 2011, 586). Many slaves, especially beautiful young boys and girls were sent into the sex trade, the former sometimes castrated to maintain their beauty. In Athens and other Greek cities some of the most beautiful girls and boys became hetairai, courtesans who received formal training in singing and dancing, and thus bringing the highest fees for their services (Shay 2016).

It is beyond the scope of this study to examine the treatment meted out to slaves, but beatings were routine. (See Schumacher 2011; Cunliffe 2011) Because I am interested in conveying how those individuals who were slaves had to change their ethnicity as a matter of life or death, and how this contributed to the overall gene pool in Europe, the Middle East and other regions of the world, their new identities became important: "True, some slaves were recent imports from sub-Saharan Africa or the forests of Germany, and both were prized and distinguished by their skin color, size, and exotic appearance. Most, however, were indistinguishable from the mass of the population, except, perhaps, by brands or tattoos marking their slave status, or else scars from beatings by their masters" (Geary 2002, 65). This meant that, through time, most of the slave population assimilated into the general European population because, . . . "[N]o clear-cut racial, ethnic, or religious boundary separated master from slave" (ibid.). People from all over the Mediterranean world and beyond blended into the ethnic and linguistic pool of the Roman and Byzantine Empires.

Greek Ethnicity over Time – A Case of Ethnogenesis

The process of Greek ethnogenesis is useful to illustrate many of the points that I want to make about the fluid and contingent nature of ethnicity. Many scholars such as Edith Hall (2014), Jonathan M Hall (2000, 2002), Jan Paul Crielaard (2009), Carla Antonaccio (2007), Hans-Joachim Gehrke (2007), and others have followed the trajectory of Greek identity and ethnicity of over two millennia. Scholars can identify the emergence of Greek identity through both archaeology and the written record. The Ancient Greeks in the beginning did not think of themselves as "Greeks," except in a limited sense, until after the Persian Wars, after which, Athens promoted a Greek identity. Before the Classical period the people we know as ancient Greeks had regional/tribal identities that were more salient – Ionian, Dorian, Aiolians, and Akhaians.

Historian Jonathan M. Hall notes "The four principal ethnic subcategories of the Greeks – the Akhaians, the Ionians, the Aiolians and the Dorians – argues that each of these ethnic affiliations, far from being primordial or essential survivals from a premigratory period, emerged in precise historical circumstances during the course of the eighth and seventh centuries" (2002, 6). "The literary sources of the Archaic period provide testimony of a certain interest in ethnic identity" (Crielaard 2009, 46). Classics scholar Edith Hall adds "there was almost certainly a time when the Greeks did not describe themselves as 'Hellenes'; that a Greek would identify himself as an Ionian, Dorian, or Aeolian. Only in special circumstances – Panhellenic festivals in particular – did Greekness supersede the other criteria of self-description" (1989, 7). Thus, in the beginning of a consciousness of being Greek, local identities were more important identities than an overall Hellene identity.

But once a Greek identity was established, "The Iliad, however, provided the charter myth for Greek ethnicity for at least twelve centuries" (Hall 2014, 55). And, it was the case that with the birth of a Greek ethnicity, the barbarian, those who did not speak a Greek dialect, was also born and that "Greek writing about barbarians is usually an exercise in self-definition, for the barbarian is often portrayed as the opposite of the ideal Greek. It suggests that the polarization of Hellene, and barbarian was invented in a specific historical circumstances during the early years of the fifth century BC" (Hall 1989, 1). Thus, we can historically trace the development of Greek identity, and how it was shaped.

Hellene identity seemed to have been mostly a linguistic one, in contrast to the barbaroi, non-Greek speakers. "The Greeks called themselves 'Hellenes' and those who did not speak their language barbaroi. That is to say, the Greeks defined their very nationhood in terms of linguistic identity. . . In short, for at least two early IE [Indo European] branches [Greek and Slavic] of Europe a complex native theory of ethnicity and a strong sense of ethnic identity can be reconstructed, and both the theory and the identity were based on language" (Nichols 1998, 240).

Jonathan Hall further adds "'Hellas' originally denoted a small area south of Thessaly, and then central Greece more generally; by the end of the seventh century it was employed to describe the whole of mainland Greece, while by the mid-sixth century it designated the whole of the Greek World" (2002, 7). However, unlike Rome, Greece never formed a nation state. It remained a collection of city states (polis) that never united. "During a large part of the 1st millennium BC the polis was the most important form of socio-political organization on both sides of the Aegean. The polis' three main constituent parts were the city, its territory and its resident community. Authority and landownership were, at least formally, located in the citizen community as a whole" (Crielaard 2009, 63). However, Hall contests the degree to which the polis formed the most important form of settlement in the Greek world: "In reality, this emphasis on the polis has tended to obscure the fact that in numerous regions of Greece, especially in the north and west, it was not the exclusive or even dominant form of sociopolitical organization until fairly late in the Classical period. On the other hand, there is no denying that much of the literature that survives from the Archaic period betrays the perspective of poets for whom the polis constituted an important point of reference" (Hall 2007, 40).

"Herodotos suggests that the Ionians of the Dodekapolis possessed some kind of collective identity, which was expressed in religion and cult, and enhanced solidarity in military matters. . . Such categories as Ionians and Dorians and their subdivisions – phylai or 'tribes' in English translation – were considered as primordial ethnic entities that were part of a primitive social substructure that had managed to live on to historical times" (Crielaard 2009m 37-38). Thus, Herodotus clearly sets out the boundary markers of Ionian ethnicity. Crielaard reminds us that "As ethnic identities change, so too do boundaries between ethnic groups" (2009, 39), ethnic groups were mobile and one can chart (2008).

Such large-scale human movement in ancient Greece occurred due to overpopulation and the poor quality of the agricultural land on Mainland Greece and many of the islands, as the Greeks early on began to colonize land throughout the Mediterranean world and the Black Sea (Isager and Skydsgaard 1995). "Thus establishing a colony was an official activity of an established state, or city state (polis). In encounters between Hellenes and indigenes, moreover, Greek colonization could be seen to prefigure the classic trope of Greek and Other, which was fully expressed in the struggles with the Persians that unfolded in the late Archaic period. Indeed, the definition and redefinition of Hellenic identity, of Greekness or 'Hellenicity,' was ongoing and continued right through the end of Greek hegemony and on into the ascendancy of Rome" (Antonaccio 2007, 201), thus illustrating the fluid character of Greek identities, and by extension, other ethnic identities through time.

In the process of ethnogenesis of "collective identities in Greek and roman [sic] history, we discovered that this special way of dealing with the past did not confine itself to tribes, to ethne in the narrower sense, but was equally true of different and much larger types of communities to which we do not normally apply the term ethnicity: for example, the Greek polis, the world of the Hellenes, and the Roman Empire" (Gehrke 2009, 86).

A Greek identity did become more solidified during the Hellenistic period, in which we find Greek ethnic enclaves in towns and cities throughout the Middle East and in Egypt. After the rapid conquest of Alexander, the Great, "the result of his conquest was the immigration of large groups of Greeks and Macedonians. This resulted in the foundation of new cities" (Van der Spek 2009, 103), but also Greek ghettos within old established cities like Babylon where "The Greek citizens not only had their own political institutions, but also their own cultural life" (Van der Spek 2009, 110) and it is important to add similar to the relations between Greeks and Egyptians, "The relations between the Greek and Babylonian communities were not always friendly" (Van der Spek 2009, 111).

As Greek migration and colonization continued, the Hellenistic Greeks, as colonists, took on some of the least attractive attributes of nineteenth-century English colonists. Like the British in Africa and India, the Greeks who settled in Hellenistic period Egypt kept to themselves. "The Greeks learned the Egyptian vernacular only rarely and with difficulty" (Chauveau 2000, 76). The comparison with British colonial behavior in Egypt and India becomes inescapable:

With its sophisticated town-planning, its numerous palaces and necropolises, its famous lighthouse, its museum, and its no less admired library, the city of the Ptolemies drew a cosmopolitan crowd of shipbuilders, merchants, philosophers, scholars, poets and even prostitutes, attracted by the vision of a centre where the language of Athens resounded loud and clear. The Alexandrians modeled their lifestyle on that of the mother city; they organized competitions and prestigious celebrations, and withdrew in private to luxurious dwellings where the walls were painted with mythological scenes (Geoffroy-Schneiter 2004, 10).

By contrast, the Egyptians, in their own historic country, were, "Oppressed by taxes and the demands of statute labour, they remained in their villages, on the lowest rung of a highly uneven social ladder" (ibid.). And yet, Greeks remained in Alexandria from the Hellenistic period, through the Islamic period, and into the twentieth-century.

Within Anatolia, ultimately, as Ottoman power increasingly took over Anatolia from the Byzantines, and large numbers of the Greek population began to embrace Islam, the Greeks that remained Christian took on the identity of a millet, a religious-linguistic community, within the Ottoman polity. "Throughout the Ottoman period it was precisely Orthodox Christianity that had given the Greeks their sense of ethnic identity, their self-definition" (Just 1989, 81). Anthropologist Anna Collard found that for Greek villages of today, "The way in which this period is discussed suggests that it is part of a continuous present that was personally witnessed. It is common for villagers to describe in graphic detail the actual appearance of Ottoman Turks" (1989, 95).

In mainland Greece, Greek identity continued through the late Roman period into the Byzantine period. During the Byzantine period (330-1453) more folk movements occurred and large numbers of Slavic, Albanian, and Vlach-speakers flooded into mainland Greece. A millennium later, as the first sense of creating a Greek national state began, this ethnic diversity created a problem, "and this remarkably diverse population whose villages were as likely to speak Albanian or Vlach as they were to speak demotic Greek. What now was on every nationalists' lips was not only the liberation of Greece but also the 'regeneration' of the Greeks" (Just 1989, 84), by which was meant a return to the glory of Classical Greece, an impossible goal.

The westerners who came to Greece to fight for Greek liberation, like Lord Byron, where shocked that they did not find the descendants of classical Greeks, but, in their eyes, a rag-tag people who had no knowledge of ancient Greek glory or the ancient Greek language – "a glory that was frankly unknown and of no concern to the inhabitants of mainland Greece itself whose ambitions were both more pragmatic and more limited: to kill their muslim masters and take their property" (Just 1989, 83). These impoverished nineteenth-century Greeks were unable to accept an ethnicity that included "the prestige of classical Greece" (ibid.). of which they had no memory." . . . Ideologically it was the views of the externally educated Greeks – the Greeks of the Diaspora and the aristocratic Greeks of Constantinople – that prevailed, for the Liberation of Greece became the cause célèbre of liberal Europe, and popular support was based almost on a single notion: the resuscitation Ancient Greece" (Just 1989, 83). This prestige accorded classical Greece can be seen in today's Athens in the faux architectural Classical Greek motifs found on modern structures, the many prominently displayed excavated archeological sites, and the layout of the many museums in Athens devoted to the archaeology of classical Greece, compared to the one somewhat neglected museum devoted to the Byzantine period.

Westerners have been interfering in Greek affairs for the past two centuries, if we do not count the sacking of Constantinople during the Crusades. Anthropologist Michael Herzfeld, who has brilliantly analyzed Greek feelings of ethnicity and nationalism, states: "Archaeological and ethnographic evidence for a connection between ancient and modern cultures is understood to signify an essential sameness, which is why claims about the antiquity of fragile new states like Greece – especially when they originated from the Western European countries on which Greece's survival depended – appeared to be so threatening to Greek national interests. . . " (1997, 65), and that continuing attitude toward Greece threatened Greece's very existence during the economic collapse of the world economy in 2008.

Today, after the catastrophic 1922-1923 population exchange that cost the Greek people both economically and psychologically, which ethnically transformed both Turkey and Greece, we can view the current state of affairs in Greece: "With the exception of the Turkish-speaking muslims of Thrace, some Gypsies, and that clearly recognizable band of aliens – expatriates and foreign spouses – the population of Greece considers itself uniformly Greek. Indeed, Greek identity not only in a political sense but with all the connotations of unbroken continuity with the classical past (and beyond) is an almost universally claimed possession" (Just 1989, 71). Thus, we can see that the current political state of affairs echoes all of the elements that I just briefly rehearsed. The Greeks of today feel that they stand in a direct line to the heroes of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

Thus, through this brief survey of one ethnic group's experience of ethnicity and national identity through time, the reader can see the ways in which the contours of ethnicity, and its boundary markers, fluctuate through time, resonating with how many people view themselves in today's political world.

(To be continued in Part 3)

Used with permission of the author.