The Legacy of Greek Political Thought

Legacies can be problematic. Some are welcome and productive of great good; others are rejected or disputed. People fall out over the will, reinvent themselves as heirs, usurp the inheritance. In the transmission of Greek political thought to subsequent societies, we cannot reconstruct an untroubled line of descent, but to posit only a series of contests may be equally invalid.

The point of departure for this international network is to examine the connections that may be assumed, constructed, or rejected, between ancient Greek political thought and postclassical invocations of it. The timeliness of our questions is indicated by the agitation for constitutional change in several North African and Middle Eastern countries; and even before the 'Arab Spring', some Western countries were themselves struggling with the definition of democracy. Debates about the balance between freedom and security have become more acute, and the very concept of the nation state is interrogated by globalisation. The notion of ancient Greece as a society which invented certain liberties, and of a tradition descending from it which guarantees them, has been repeatedly mobilized in the debates about the role of Western countries in a changing geopolitical context. But from other perspectives 'ancient Greece' offers a complex spectrum of different politics, and the 'tradition' that links it to the modern world is fraught with tensions. Our network seeks to foster interdisciplinary dialogue on these and related issues by bringing together scholars from several different fields of enquiry.

Among the questions that interest individual researchers in the network are:

  • Did the ancient Greeks have a concept of human rights comparable to that which determines much modern legislation?
  • Were Greek anti-democratic ideas more important than democratic ideas in shaping early modern republicanism?
  • How have practising politicians mobilised their classical education?
  • How have subsequent societies responded to Greek notions of equality and inequality?
  • How have the Marxist and socialist traditions reused Greek political thought?
  • How has Western political thinking been conditioned by the adoption of Greek categories?

We launched the network in 2010 with a series of seminars held in the Department of Classics at the University of Reading, under the auspices both of the Department and of the Centre for Political Theory. . Speakers in this series have included Neville Morley, Vasileios Syros, Lynette Mitchell, Helen Roche, and Mirko Canevaro; we look forward to welcoming Naoise Mac Sweeney. We have also held several workshops in different UK institutions and sponsored panels at the Classical Association conference.

The Classical Reception Studies Network, founded in 2004, offers a series of resources and links for all those interested in classical reception. It welcomes students and researchers in all disciplines.

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See also



Papers from the workshop 'Revolutions and Classics' (2016) will be published by Routledge

The Network will bring out the Brill Companion to the Legacy of Greek Poloitical Thought, under the joint editorship of David Carter, Rachel Foxley and Elizabeth Sawyer.

Recently published:

Special Issue of Classical Receptions Journal on the Legacy of Greek Political Thought.  Please access the table of contents at


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