Header Classical Roots Of (early) Modern Colonisation

Classical Roots of (Early) Modern Colonization (Caput Mundi network)

The Classical roots of (early) modern colonization research cluster is a collaborative initiative between the University of Groningen (UG) and the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR). It aims to intensify the connections between UG and KNIR and its strong international network. Focusing on interdisciplinary research, the Caput Mundi network broadens the research community that profits from the KNIR and at the same time advances UG ambition to intensify connections between faculties and departments.


The key objectives are:

  • To connect scholars working in different departments and faculties at UG with each other. The KNIR campus facility offers an excellent academic context to forge strong professional and personal connections, to create lasting and successful research ties.
  • To connect these groups of UG scholars with the international academic community in Rome, with its vast resources of both research institutes and data archives, libraries, museums, international organisations etc.
  • To organize these new connections around a clear interdisciplinary research theme that fit with the KNIR research profile and the intellectual resources available in Rome.


Research theme:  Classical roots of (early) modern colonization

Colonization has been a crucial phenomenon in the making of the modern globalized world. In modern society this imperial heritage and its connected colonial ideologies are considered problematical and the object of critique and resistance. The Black Lives matters movement and the NIOD Independence, Decolonization, Violence and War in Indonesia, 1945-1950 research programme, are only two examples of the strong social and political determination to deconstruct the Western colonial past. On the other hand, a seemingly growing group of people is concerned that this deconstruction of the colonial past undermines national identity, traditions and ultimately the core values upon which western society is based.

Although the impact of colonization on the modern world order is well known, the deep historical roots of colonial ideologies and practices that date back to Classical Antiquity have remained underexplored. Also the formative role that classical thought has had on the formation of the “Western World” and the contemporary geopolitical order deserves close academic scrutiny. Starting from the Renaissance period onwards, humanists such as Lipsius and Hugo the Groot started to study the classical past in an attempt to reform contemporary society, as such laying the ideological foundations for modern Western society. In the early modern world, European colonial expansion offered ideal contexts to test different forms of societal, political, and legal organization: the colony was not only an imperial tool, it increasingly became an experimental space for innovations that were difficult to realize in the metropolis. These social experiments abroad, have ultimately informed and structured Western liberal and social ideology including core values such as the rule of law, democracy, the right to freedom and social emancipation. At the same time, however, these colonial projects fueled racist theory and connected ideas of western superiority and right to rule. Understanding how our world view has developed in a strongly colonial context, which in turn was rooted strongly in classical societal philosophy, is key to deal with the contemporary moral dilemmas our society is struggling with.

The influence of this classical-colonial body of thought is not limited to imperial projects, but is also very much present in our legal system, political philosophy and social order. Uncovering and analyzing these deeply rooted ideas requires an interdisciplinary approach in which not only the various disciplines focusing on Antiquity but also researchers from (pre)modern imperialism, international law, international relations, political philosophy and social sciences participate.

The impetus for this idea stems from a series of EU, NWO and NIAS projects on Roman colonisation and the subsequent comparative study of imperialism (e.g. in The archaeology of imperial landscapes. A Comparative Study of Empires in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean World (CUP 2018) and the historiographical exploration The Renaissance of Roman Colonization. Carlo Sigonio and the Making of Legal Colonial Discourse (OUP 2020) and subsequent discussions with colleagues from adjacent disciplines.

UG and KNIR share a strong research tradition in the field of colonization studies that focuses on the impact and organization of colonial rule and on the mentalities that have shaped these practices. Of crucial importance is that these studies show the long history and resilience of colonial paradigms, often going back to the classical world, that continue to shape the organization of the modern world. The UG-KNIR research network brings different scholars together that are currently working in different departments and research centers and connect them to international leading research institutes.


The kick-off of the fresh project is in the beginning of November 2023, with a workshop and a dedicated course on Classical roots of (early) modern colonization. The project builds on various ongoing research projects at KNIR, such as the Landscapes of early Roman colonization project and The impact of Roman imperialism in the West project and other research projects.



Tesse Stek
Jeremia Pelgrom
Arthur Weststeijn
Dinah Wouterse
Maria Urban
Susanna de Beer
Matthijs Jonker


Connection to existing KNIR projects