Thessaly, in northern Greece, remains one of the less-often studied regions of the ancient Greek world. Its name calls to mind cavalry charging over wide, fertile plains; wealth and oligarchy; witches and necromancy. Like all stereotypes, this has kernels of truth but is essentially distorting and limited.
One reason for Thessaly’s relative obscurity is that it continues to issue a special challenge to our understanding of how ancient societies were composed and organised. Our dominant model for this understanding is the polis, and yet a polis-based approach, applied to Thessaly, only yields half the picture. There, individual communities were linked by a regional superstructure of identity and organisation: being Thessalian.
Being Thessalian, and the expression of being Thessalian, are the subject of this book. What situations brought together citizens from the different poleis? In what circumstances did it become important to declare oneself Thessalian instead of, or as well as, Pheraian, Larisaian, Pharsalian, etc.? How was Thessalian identity articulated, and how did this articulation change over centuries and in response to changing conditions? How did regional and local identity interact? Topical questions, at a time when the warring claims of nation-states and federal structures seem to be growing ever more conflictual.
Chapter by chapter, this book moves through the different modes of being Thessalian and its expression, including military and political co-operation, language, myth-making and religion. It considers both Thessalian evidence itself – archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic material – and non-Thessalian literary accounts, and is especially concerned with the dialogue between internal and external perspectives: how other Greeks viewed the Thessalians, how these views coloured their writing, and how the Thessalians themselves responded to their own stereotypes and incorporated them in their collective self-presentation.