Interview with Josho Brouwers

UNRV Hello Josho, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got interested in ancient history?
Josho Brouwers:Actually, I started with an interest in palaeontology, back when I was a child. We moved around a bit, and one of the houses we lived in (back in France), in the early 80s, had a driveway with loads of pebbles and other small stones, including fossils. I spent hours looking for fossils there and that probably started me down the path of exploring the past. My interest in invertebrates switched to dinosaurs and reptiles. At some point, though, I decided that humans were perhaps more interesting, and I actually arrived at the ancient world via medieval history and an interest during my earlier teenage years in Arthurian legend (with a heavy focus on medieval Dutch, French, and English literature). It wasn’t until late in high school that I really decided that I wanted to become an archaeologist and study the ancient past, and my first year at university was important in narrowing down my interest to ancient Greece in particular.

UNRV: What aspect of the Greek period do you like best/worst?
Josho: That’s a difficult question, not in the least because of the qualifiers best/worst. It’s easy to frown upon slavery in the ancient world, but those were completely different times and a different mind-set. Even Aristotle considered slavery to be natural and something that could only be abolished through mechanization (and he was actually not that far off!). There’s lots of stuff to like about ancient Greece, not in the least their rich mythology, their beautiful art and architecture, and wonderfully gifted poets and writers, such as Homer and Xenophon.

UNRV: Who is the most underrated person from Antiquity and why?
Josho: There are a few figures from Antiquity that are underrated nowadays. Hesiod was considered in ancient times to be on par with Homer, but rarely anybody today actually reads him, I think, which is a pity. As far as Greek historians go, Xenophon usually gets very short shrift, despite the fact that we have all of the books that he wrote and that he wrote in a pleasant and engaging style on a variety of different topics.

UNRV: If you could meet one person of the Roman Empire, who would it be and what would you ask?
Josho: That’s another difficult question! Back in the day, I had an interest in the comedies by the playwright Terence (ca. 195/185–159 BC), who was brought to Rome as a slave and later freed. He wrote one of my most favourite lines in Latin, ‘Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto’ (‘I am human, therefore nothing human is alien to me’). Not sure what I’d ask him, specifically, but I guess his life was interesting enough that we’d find something to talk about, perhaps how it was to be a slave, or how he liked moving to the Eternal City. He certainly always struck me like a good-humoured sort of fellow.

UNRV: If you had to live in Antiquity where and when would you like it to have been?
Josho: Most probably somewhere in Greece. I lived in Volos for two years to conduct postdoctoral research and, despite not being able to live like a king, exactly, it was thoroughly enjoyable. The climate is ideal, I think. In Antiquity, it would have been slightly cooler and wetter, but not much different from today. As regards a specific place, I guess I’d gravitate towards a large city. Perhaps not Athens, but Corinth, maybe around the time of the tyranny of Periander or slightly before, when there was lots going on in the city and Corinth was, at least culturally, one of the leading cities in Greece. One of the big cities on the west coast of Anatolia would also be an option, like Miletus, for example, with its rich tradition of pre-Socratic philosophers.

UNRV: What lost Classical work would you like to have survived and why?
Josho: I just finished a book, in Dutch, on Greek mythology, so there’s a few works that have been lost that I really wish I could have read. The work by the Corinthian poet Eumelus, for example. I also would like to be able to read a complete version of the Ehoiai, rather than just the fragments – numerous though they are – that we currently have. There’s also a lot of lost epic poems that must have been interesting, including a Thebaid perhaps even composed by Homer. Too much to list, really!

UNRV: What aspect of Roman history would you like to flush out with the Cloaca Maxima (i.e. get rid of)?
Josho: Not really a particular aspect of Roman history as such, but rather a particular interpretation of it, namely that aspects of ancient Rome (or Greece, for that matter) are considered the direct precursors of modern phenomena. It’s disingenuous, for example, to claim that Augustus laid the groundwork for the modern European Union, or to suggest that Greco-Roman warfare is the reason for the way that modern Western countries wage their wars. A direct link from the ancient past to the modern age is something that has to be proven, not simply assumed.

UNRV: What do you think is the most important aspect of Antiquity that has survived?
Josho: The fact that anything is survived at all is amazing, really. What we have are just scraps of information. The data is frustratingly incomplete. If that’s not exactly what you mean, then I will add that no traditions that we currently possess or aspects of our modern lives can be believably traced back to ancient times, I think.

UNRV: What are your plans for the future?
Josho: For the foreseeable future, I will continue my work as editor of Ancient Warfare magazine. We produce six issues per year and I usually work on three of them at the same time, since they are all in different stages of readiness, and that takes up quite some time. I also try to post on the Ancient Warfare editor’s blog regularly. Right now, for example, I am nearing the end of my ‘Summer of Hercules’-series of blog posts on various movies, comic books, etc. on the ancient hero Heracles/Hercules.

Other than that, I am proud to say that my Dutch book on Greek mythology should be appearing soon and that I am working on a new book, for publication next year, on fortifications in ancient Greece. I have ideas for a few more books kicking around and I’d be happy if I can continue to write books at the rate of one per year. Not sure how long I’ll be able to keep that up, but so far it seems to be going well.

Finally, I also co-own and operate a company (with my girlfriend), called Netjer VOF. Via Netjer I mostly teach courses aimed at general audiences and occasionally give some lectures. I also build websites for third parties; the biggest project I’ve had so far, which is actually still ongoing, is Jona Lendering’s website on ancient history, Livius.Org. I also really need to rework my personal website to make some of my research available, but I hope to be able to do that soon.

UNRV: When you open your fridge we would be surprised to see...?
Josho: I guess you’d be surprised in how little there is in the fridge.

UNRV: The title of your biography would be....?
Josho: My biography? Gosh, I have no idea.

UNRV: We have a section on our forum called Quintus Libri..., where we list 5 key books on certain topics. What would your top 5 books be to understand Ancient Greek Warfare?
Josho: See my post on the forum!

UNRV:: Thank you so much for your time!

Josho Brouwers is editor of the Ancient Warfare Magazine, Mediterranean archaeologist and published author. (Henchmen of Ares: Warriors and Warfare in Early Greece)

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