As a person who has already been on the ANU trips to Turkey and Greece, I had resigned myself to the unfortunate truth that I was not going to experience anymore ‘firsts’ with this years’ trip to southern Italy and Sicily. However, on our third day I was not expecting to have such a surprising and thought provoking time at the ancient, albeit chilly, site of Tyndaris. Tyndaris had two ‘firsts’ for the ANU tour group, one being that this was the first site to have a presentation done in the snow and during a snow storm. Dom and Hezan, the students presenting, did an excellent job attempting to amplify their voices in the ancient theatre, as we the audience huddled together – a congregation of cold people. The second of these ‘firsts’ was the appearance of a man who was a journalist, his excitement was evident and he commented on how far we had come to visit what was essentially his favourite place in Sicily. It was his comments that made me realise why this site was important to the concerns of the modern world.
The ancient site of Tyndaris is located within the Sicilian territory of Messina and about an hour’s drive from the capital of Palermo. It is the history of the site that exemplifies many struggles facing our modern world as the creation of Tyndaris itself was in the midst of an ancient refugee crisis. The city was created by the tyrant and leader of Syracuse Dionysios I in response to mounting pressure from the Spartans to house those they had displaced during the Peloponnesian War. According to Diodoros it was Dionysios who suggested the Greek city of Messene to house these refugees, and it was the Spartans who took umbrage at this suggestion (Diod. 14.78) Thus a city on the Sicilian coastline was chosen to house these refugees instead. In effect this would have led to a large scale movement of people, involving much logistics and the need of ships and supplies. It must be noted that Dionysios I was not completely altruistic in his endeavour, as he campaigned tirelessly to subdue many areas of Sicily and having a city that was ‘purely Greek’ was advantageous to his campaigning.
As we made a small goodbye video for the journalist, shouting ‘amore tindarii’, I could not help but think about those who had lived in the city thousands of years ago. This story of the plight of those displaced due to warfare is relevant, as the world debates on whether we as global citizens should take in those who seek refuge due to the destruction of their homelands. As Tyndaris demonstrates, when those who are displaced are given their own home they are able to cultivate communities for themselves. Furthermore, these communities often thrive as Tyndaris was active with trading, warfare, religious events and theatre. The story of Tyndaris should be a lesson for us as we navigate some of the largest crises the world has seen. Giving us in the modern world a complicated glimpse into the state of refugees in the ancient Greek world, one in which refugee’s often encompassed many different positions such as metics or Athenian citizens or even slaves. In fact, a declaration noted in various Athenian law court speeches gives an example that Plataian’s, whose homeland was destroyed, were given quasi-Athenian citizenship ([Demosthenes] 59.104; Isokrates 14.51). As shown the ancient world often created strategies to deal with refugees on the fly, and that these strategies were more nuanced and varied than we give them credit for. Modern society should learn from the ancient world when dealing with large scale refugee crises. Understanding that while there is no ultimate solution – I, for one, would not be suggesting slavery – but rather that solutions are best attained when thought is given behind the issue.