The programme PARABAINO aims to approach massacres and extreme violence through the Greek and Roman experiences, from a comparative and multidisciplinary perspective (Anthropology, Archaeology, History, Art History, Classics, Philosophy). The aim is to study how these practices arose, with a view to inscribing Antiquity into the wider understanding of genocides and mass violence; these findings are not solely intended to enrich our knowledge of ancient societies, but also to produce knowledge which can contribute to wider reflection on this topic. Research into genocides emphasises the a-temporal character of mass violence, but also how difficult it is to probe them by using a word coined by Westerners in the twentieth century; one of the main scientific locks to break is therefore terminological and, more broadly, conceptual.
Moreover, studying them through the lens of transgression can make it possible to avoid the pitfall inherent in any judicial categorisation, thus eschewing any type of hierarchy. By placing genocide within an overall analysis and not making modifiers a prerequisite to understanding wars of extermination and the traumatic acts which they entail, a new perspective on past times is put forward, shedding light on contemporary societies.
Greek and Roman civilisations repeatedly experienced massacres and extreme violence (grievous bodily harm, destructions, mass enslavement, deportation etc.), reflected on them and represented them. They offer many figures and climactic situations, which allow us to reflect on notions of identity and alterity, on processes of dehumanisation as well as the crises resulting from them. Furthermore, Greeks and Romans. offer ‘models’ which make it possible to probe contemporary conceptualisations and interpretations of mass violence, examining their narrative modalities, historical inscription, memorialisation and commemoration.
Beyond an inventory of facts, situations and their representations, the aim is to highlight trigger mechanisms and processes, to identify limits and tolerance thresholds, in order to understand to what extent ‘the intolerables’ are likely to call into question the foundations of the societies faced with them; the aim is also to analyse how these same societies – Greek and Roman in the present instance – eventually assimilate extreme violence and its impacts, redefine societal limits or even reassert values.
In order to answer these questions, the French National Research Agency (ANR) has awarded funding to the research programme Parabainô – massacres, extreme violence and transgression during wartime (Greek and Roman Antiquity), as part of the Call for applications launched in spring 2019 on ‘Genocides and mass violence’. Through its members’ expertise, the PARABAINO programme team is building a corpus of documents which provides the basis for its scientific work but also for its methodological and epistemological framework. Scientific events focused on the questions explored by the programme followed by published proceedings allow for wider dissemination of results among research communities, be they specialists of Antiquity and/ or genocides and mass violence. This research is shared online here, in a simplified form for the benefit of the scientific community as well as students, secondary school teachers and wider audiences.
Thus, by focusing on Antiquity, the PARABAINO programme aspires to be a foundation and a starting point for the wider reflection which has started on genocides and mass violence.
*parabainô : Greek term which means literally ‘stepping aside’, that it to say transgressing the rules or norms set by communities.