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Kostas Vlassopoulos, Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Crete and Associate Faculty Member of the Institute for Mediterranean Studies (IMS) of the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH), has been selected for funding from the competitive European funding programme ERC Advanced Grant 2022. These European Research Council grants are awarded to established researchers of any nationality who have demonstrated significant scientific achievements over the last decade. It is worth noting that this is the only funding of this kind awarded in Greece.

The project of Kostas Vlassopoulos, titled SLaVEgents: Enslaved persons in the making of societies and cultures in Western Eurasia and North Africa, 1000 BCE – 300 CE, aspires to be a pioneering contribution to the study of antiquity, shifting the focus of research from the elites to the lower classes. The project aims to re-examine the social, economic, political and cultural history of antiquity on the basis of slave agency. Earlier scholarship has mainly focused on what happened to ancient slaves, i.e. the various forms of slave oppression and exploitation that were fundamental for Greco-Roman societies. Building on this vast research legacy, this project aims to study slaves not only as objects of oppression and exploitation, but at the same time as active historical subjects.

The project aims to analyse the role of slaves in the processes of transformation of ancient societies and cultures. In this context, it will study the multiple identities, communities and networks created by slaves based on family, kinship, work, ethnicity and cult and how these shaped their aspirations, expectations and strategies; the changes that slave agency brought about in the economic, legal, political and religious systems of antiquity; and the individual and collective participation of slaves in historical events and contexts such as wars, crises and revolutions. The programme also departs from the usual focus on Greek and Roman slavery and will examine all ancient slaveholding societies across Western Eurasia and North Africa for which sufficient information survives: in addition to the Greek and Roman societies of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the slaveholding societies of Assyria, Babylonia, Judea, Syria and Egypt.

The main objective of the project is to create a prosopography of all ancient slaves, freedpersons and potential slaves/freedpersons about whom evidence survives in ancient sources. The prosopography will take the form of a digital database open to researchers and the general public, and will include the relevant testimonies both in the original ancient text and in a modern English translation, together with photographs of all archaeological data (tombs, votive offerings, utilitarian objects) that can be attributed to slaves. At the same time, the database will include digital maps showing the places where slaves are recorded and their place of origin, and the material will be used to digitally enhance existing digital databases on antiquity. In this way it will be possible to study both the individual biographies of ancient slaves and the collective trends in their lives.

For the creation of the digital prosopography, the project team will study the literary, epigraphic, and papyrological data preserved in a large number of ancient languages (Greek, Latin, Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic), as well as the relevant archaeological data. The project will be carried out by an international research team of 19 people under the supervision of Dr. Vlassopoulos, with the IMS in Rethymnon as its centre and collaborating researchers from Brazil, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and USA. The team will create an open access digital portal including databases, abstracts, multimedia material, bibliographies and links to be used by the international academic community; it will also organise and participate in a series of academic meetings and international conferences, and produce several open-access publications – including three books, and three PhD theses.

ERC Advanced Grants are among the most competitive in Europe. For 2022, 218 researchers have been awarded a total of €544 million in funding to help them explore their most innovative and ambitious ideas, conducting cutting-edge research across all scientific disciplines. These grants are awarded under Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme. The Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas has the largest number of ERC-funded projects in Greece, with an inflow of more than €42.9 million. The Institute of Mediterranean Studies of the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas is the only Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences in Greece with 6 ERC funded projects in the last five years.

Read the European Research Council Press Release