Classical Studies in Central and Eastern Europe

Chester Natunewicz

My somewhat broad definition of Central and Eastern Europe includes Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and the westernmost lands of the former Soviet Union: parts of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. In all these lands extensive study has been carried on of Greek and Latin literatures in all periods: ancient, Byzantine, Medieval and Humanistic. For hundreds of years there has been a strong tradition of Classical scholarship in that area. Such regions as Illyricum, Dalmatia, Moesia, Thrace, Dacia and Pannonia were in antiquity provinces of the Roman Empire. Throughout the medieval period, the ancient Greek and Roman Classics continued to be studied. Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Slovenia and Croatia developed rich national literatures in Latin during the period of the Renaissance and Baroque. In the twentieth century, even two devastating world wars and between fifty and seventy years of communist control did not succeed in eradicating Classical studies in these parts of Europe.

In Soviet-occupied Eastern and Central Europe, scholars who either could not, or would not, yield to pressures for Marxist orientation in their teachings and writings, as well as who were able to leave for other lands, established successful careers in new countries. The vast majority, however, were denied the privilege to emigrate, and they had to make do in circumstances that surrounded them. Some of them achieved a modus vivendi with the regimes in power. Under very difficult conditions, they rebuilt their shattered universities and academic programs. Though greatly hampered by limited access to Western publications and a lack of basic research materials, they began, almost literally from the ground up, once more to produce significant and solid scholarship. After the atrocities and killings inflicted by the Nazis and the Soviets (hundreds of Classical scholars were imprisoned or perished in concentration camps), whatever concessions were made to Marxist/Leninist ideology seemed a relatively small price to pay for the right to live and continue professional work. The communist regimes subsidized some research projects, publications, professional organizations, archaeological expeditions, initiatives for popularizing the Classics among a larger public, and occasional foreign travel to scholarly meetings. The price to pay was inserting Marxist interpretations into works of scholarship. It should, however, be said that these interpretations and comments on historical events and literary works, except for the writings of a few party zealots, were usually taken with a grain of salt even by their authors. It was a matter of playing the game in order to survive. We should remember, too, that subjects like cruelties of aristocratic landholders or imperialistic excesses in antiquity were topics ripe for Marxist exploitation. Nor would the Marxist cause per se be necessarily promoted by stating in an introduction to a museum catalogue of Greek and Roman antiquities that the founders of communism believed in free access, for all classes of society, to the cultural treasures of world history. In the end, despite pressures and restrictions, thousands of able and undaunted Classical scholars stayed in their native lands in Central and Eastern Europe, and did their jobs remarkably well until the liberalizing political changes of the late eighties. For this they deserve praise and credit from us all, and, as they now become older, retire, and pass from this world, they should be remembered with affection and esteem by their successors.


In spite of flourishing Classical scholarship in Central and Eastern Europe, relatively little is known in the West about what our Classics colleagues in that area of Europe are doing. Their work is seldom listed in Western bibliographies, and hundreds of their journals do not receive international circulation.


In spite of new hardships caused by lack of funds in postcommunist Eastern and Central Europe, impressive archaeological discoveries continue to be made on an almost daily basis, historical investigations are being pursued, older professional organizations are becoming reorganized and revitalized, new journals are coming into existence, associations for promoting Classical studies at all educational levels are springing up, an energetic contemporary generation of teachers and scholars is emerging, and the great museums of Central and East Europe, with their treasures of antiquity, are flourishing both as resources for Classics professionals and as rich and fascinating centers for tourists from all over the globe. The best-known and most important traditional university citadels of Classical scholarship are once more contributing significantly to the store of the world's knowledge of the ancients, and, though slowly, Latin and Greek, especially Latin, are returning to the curricula of secondary schools.

Among the university Classics centers there are, in the Czech Republic, Charles University in Prague, Masaryk University in Brno, and Palacky University in Olomouc; in Poland, the University of Warsaw, the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, the Mickiewicz University in Poznañ, the Copernicus University in Torun, the University of Wroclaw, the Catholic University in Lublin, and the Marie Curie-Sklodowska University, also in Lublin. In Slovakia, there is the Comenius University in Bratislava; in the former Yugoslavia, the Universities of Belgrade and Novi Sad. In Croatia, the University of Zagreb and Zadar; in Slovenia, the University of Ljubljana; in Macedonia, the University of Skopje; and in Bosnia, the University of Sarajevo. In Albania, there is the University of Tirana, in Romania, the University of Bucharest, the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, the A. I. Cuza University in Iasi, and the Universities of Craiova and Timisoara; in Hungary, the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, the József Attila University in Szeged, and the Lajos Kossuth University in Debrecen; in Bulgaria, the St. Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia and the Paisij Hilendarski University in Plovdiv.

In the Russian Federation, Moscow State University and St. Petersburg State University stand out; in Ukraine, the Ivan Franko University in Lviv; in Moldova, the State University in Chisinau; in Georgia, Tbilisi University; in Armenia, the Yerevan State University; in Estonia, the Universities of Tallinn and Tartu; and in Lithuania, Vilnius University and Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. In these universities the Classics departments/programs/institutes are found for the most part in the Schools/Faculties of Philology, Philosophy and History.

In addition to these university centers there are smaller universities, as well as pedagogical schools/institutes, with less extensive Classics programs. In several countries the respective Academies of Sciences have institutes devoted to ancient studies. The classics are also taught in a number of both public and private secondary schools. In each of the Central and East European countries there are formal and informal associations and research groups that bestow much of their attention on the ancient Classics and publish scholarly materials. Other cultural institutions, like museums and libraries, help to disseminate knowledge about the ancient world through lectures, printed materials and exhibits.

However, as far as we here in the West are concerned, relatively little is known concerning what our Classics colleagues in Central and East Europe are doing. The major international Classics bibliography lists the contents of just a modest number of publications from this region, be they journal articles, festschriften, editions or monographs. A few limited descriptions of Classical studies in these countries have been sporadically published in the U.S. and Western Europe. Occasionally, survey articles appear in French, German, or English by scholars from Central and Eastern Europe themselves, in their own or Western publications. But there are literally hundreds of Classics serials, journals and periodicals that have been in existence prior to and/or since World War II, and there are many thousands of Classicists from these countries in every specialty, from philology to history, archaeology, linguistics, epigraphy, philosophy, art history, the history of science and numismatics--who are doing splendid work that should be recognized beyond their own geographical boundaries. Hundreds of the journals in which they publish do not receive international circulation and come out in fairly limited printings under such titles as Sprawozdania, Biuletyny, Cercetari, Acta, Materialy, Lucrari, Ertesitö, Analele Stiintifice, Sbornitsi, Revista, Arhivy, Evkönyve, Spisaniya, Közleményei, Izvestiya, Soobshcheniya, and Uchenye zapiski. Yet the contents of these periodicals, however modestly published, are valuable and worthy of dissemination and perusal by scholars in richer countries.


I remain convinced that a far greater effort than heretofore should be made to give publicity to the accomplishments of our colleagues in Central and Eastern Europe.


Years ago, when I was doing postdoctoral research as a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, I had the opportunity to serve as a facilitator for the visiting scholars from Central and Eastern Europe at the International Congress of Classical Archaeology being held in Rome and Naples. During the ten days of the Congress I met and established contacts with many distinguished Classicists from the Soviet-occupied countries. Thus began a scholarly activity of which I remain very proud to this day: maintaining ties with non-Western European Classics professionals. I came to know many of them personally, I have corresponded and exchanged scholarly materials with others, and on occasion have visited them in their own countries, attended congresses and meetings of their Classics associations, and toured their universities. At times I have published articles on Central and Eastern European Classics in American periodicals along with reviews of Classics-related books produced in these lands. And today I remain more than ever convinced that a far greater effort than heretofore should be made to give broader and more detailed publicity to the accomplishments of our colleagues in these regions.

With this in mind, I have embarked on a database project for which I hope eventually to set up an Internet website, and to which I have assigned a provisional acronymic name of CHOCEECS (Clearing House for Central and Eastern European Classical Scholarship). To start with, I intend to assemble a directory of the thousands of scholars on whom I already have some information, and a listing of the hundreds of journals, serials, and festschriften that contain significant amounts of materials dealing with Classical antiquity that, at one time or another, have been in existence since 1945. I also plan to complete bibliographical files for the leading Classical scholars; brief, regularly updated descriptions of university Classics departments and programs; and, as available, directories of pedagogical institutes, secondary schools and other establishments where subjects relating to Classical antiquity are taught. Furthermore, I wish to assemble and provide an index to the main Greek and Roman archaeological sites in these countries, to compile a simple guide to the libraries and museums with rich holdings in Greek and Roman materials, as well as to bring together data on the major Classics-related associations, including schedules and reports of their meetings. Finally, it is my hope to make available a summary of the past and present work and scholarly interests of as many Central and Eastern European Classicists as I can, beginning with the years immediately after World War II. I welcome communications on that subject (

The task is obviously an enormous one and, I shall readily admit, will require good will and assistance from colleagues both in this country and in the lands with which I am dealing. I shall welcome all correspondence and appropriate materials (bibliographies, publications, surveys, biographies) sent to me either by surface or e-mail, and, as my proposed website comes into being, communication through that medium as well.

In some ways, during the communist era, it was simpler to keep track of Classical studies in Central and Eastern Europe. Totalitarian countries enjoy an "order" which makes it convenient for foreigners to comb through local resources in some areas. By way of illustration, there used to be an association called Eirene (the Greek word for "Peace") for Classicists in the Soviet-occupied countries. Eirene had biennial scholarly meetings and published a journal of the same name with useful scholarly papers. Or: the East German Academy of Sciences in DDR, under the leadership of a Byzantinologist, Professor Johannes Irmscher, published the Bibliotheca Classica Orientalis, a periodical which, for several years, reported, in brief form, on important Classical scholarship in all of Soviet-occupied Eastern and Central Europe. Also, the East German periodical, Das Altertum, which began publication after World War II, regularly featured surveys of Classics research being conducted in individual Soviet-bloc countries. In the Soviet Union itself, there was an annual detailed ancient studies bibliography published in the Vestnik drevnei istorii for all the regions of that huge conglomerate of nations. As noted earlier, throughout the communist era the state was relatively generous in subsidizing scholarly associations and publications.


To that effect, I have embarked on an Internet database project to which I have assigned a provisional name of CHOCEECS--Clearing House for Central and Eastern European Classical Scholarship.


In recent years, all this has changed. The newly obtained political freedoms for scholars came along with major disruptions in the flow, through traditional channels, of Classical scholarship. There is no longer an Eirene or a Bibliotheca Classica Orientalis, and the Vestnik drevnei istorii's last annual ancient studies bibliography was for the year 1986. Das Altertum, though still in existence, appears to be devoting fewer of its pages to antiquity in Central and East Europe. The former Yugoslavia's internal problems have victimized Classical studies together with other scholarly activity, and Romania, in the political turmoil associated with liberation from Soviet domination, has experienced severe destruction of academic facilities and libraries. Furthermore, in the rush to become capitalist states, political leaders of several countries have tried to expand their economies, while funds for traditional academic disciplines became scarce. The relatively abundant state subsidies for humanistic scholarship are a thing of the past, and learned associations, as in our own country, are increasingly scrambling for support from private individuals and foundations. Publication delays of important bibliographical data and reductions in numbers of articles and pages of the time-honored journals are obstructing long-established means of scholarly communication. Some of the major periodicals which formerly could be acquired in the West at either little cost or, through exchange agreements, at no cost, now have become prohibitively expensive. Some American university libraries have terminated their subscriptions to Eastern and Central European scholarly materials, and their holdings have thus gone down at just the time when more and more high-quality research is emanating from the new generation of researchers/investigators.

But many American university libraries still have good collections of Central/Eastern European Classics periodicals. Among the very best is Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose awesome holdings have been kept up-to-date by a very dedicated serials staff. The Center for Research Libraries in Chicago carries numerous materials that cannot be found in other institutions. On the shelves of each major research library there are found the regularly published general Central/Eastern European bibliographical materials, from which important Classics data can be extracted with a little effort and patience.

In the secondary sector as well there are great changes taking place. The traditional Classical gymnasium or lyceum, with its strong emphasis on ancient studies, has, much like its American counterparts that devote increased resources to vocational and sports programs, become what one of my colleagues calls a "Realgymnasium," whose main mission appears to be teaching young people the fundamentals of making money.

But the recent political changes have produced many positive results as well. Periodicals in the former Soviet-bloc countries are now publishing more materials written by, and printing tributes to, scholars from the West, just as Classicists in Central and East Europe are increasingly publishing monographs, reports, surveys and articles in Western publishing houses. Marxist interpretation of the past in journals such as Vestnik drevnei istorii has yielded to studies of the Christian Church Fathers and previously rare praises of renowned historians like the late Professor Michael Rostovtsev. For the promotion of Classical studies at all levels, especially in secondary schools, there exists a new international organization, called Euroclassica, set up in the early nineties and based in the Czech Republic.

For general higher education data about that area, Europa Publications' The World of Learning is a fine starting point. However, the best source by far is the Internet. Such servers as Braintrack or the Ancient World Web provide extensive data on university structures and departments (including departmental histories), lists of faculty members (with addresses, academic ranks and specialties), museums and archaeological research. Or, by clicking the name of an individual scholar, one can often obtain a brief biography of the scholar, be referred to his/her publications (often listed in a very useful general table of contents for a particular journal); or obtain detailed information about the entire department/institution with which the scholar is affiliated. There are Internet sites for Academies of Sciences (many of which have institutes dealing with Classical studies) and professional philological, archaeological and historical associations, like the 200-year old Morgenstern Classical Society at the University of Tartu in Estonia. Not the least benefit is the possibility of direct, speedy and inexpensive e-mail correspondence with colleagues. In recent months I have made many electronic contacts with Classicists and librarians from Moscow to Ceské Budejovice, from Wroclaw to Yaroslavl, from Cracow to Prague to Olomouc, and numerous other localities with which, in earlier times, staying in touch, if not actually impossible, was both discouragingly time-consuming and costly.

Some readers may ask, "If so much information is so readily available, why are you limiting your data-base project to the Classics in just Central and Eastern Europe? Does not a similar need exist for other countries?" My answer would be yes, and I would hope that colleagues familiar with such studies might pursue projects parallel to my own. For my own current task the motivation has come from my particularly deep admiration and affection for our associates in Central and Eastern Europe, and as a modest and far-from-perfect recognition of their monumental efforts during the post-World War II period in keeping the ancient Greek and Roman Classics alive. I would also hope that at some time in the future an increasing number of our universities would offer joint Classics and Central/Eastern European Studies majors and minors, so that our young people could have a greater appreciation both of what the ancient Classics have contributed to the culture of these lands and what the lovers of Classical antiquity in Central and Eastern Europe have themselves accomplished in fostering the Classical tradition and its vital role in Western civilization.

This paper was read at the meeting of the Central Europe Study Group at Rice University on 9 December 1999.


Back to the April 2000 issue
The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 7/15/00