Cultural Transfer and Identities: The Islamic Gravestones of Ottoman Crete


Fri, 04/14/2023 - 3:00pm

Part of the Spring 2023 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series

Antonis Anastasopoulos, Associate Professor of Ottoman History, University of Crete 


Tomlinson headshot



During the sixteenth century, Islamic gravestones acquired a distinctive, standardized form in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman army conquered Crete in the years 1645-1669, and in the centuries that followed, gravestones— an imported cultural tradition— became widely disseminated across the island. As elsewhere in the empire, gravestones served as markers of social prestige and wealth. This talk provides an overview of the main characteristics of the Ottoman Islamic gravestones that have survived in Crete (mid-17th—early 20th c.), and highlights the discrepancy between Greek being the mother tongue of most Cretan Muslims and Ottoman Turkish being the language of the epitaphs on their graves. Gravestones from Crete, as evidence of compliance with a preexisting Ottoman tradition, constitute a case of cultural transfer that shows that forms of claiming and confirming social status do not necessarily have to be legible or comprehensible in the literal sense of the words. It rather suffices that they be culturally acknowledged and visually recognizable as such. Furthermore, a juxtaposition of the Ottoman Turkish epitaphs of the gravestones with death-related folk couplets in Greek nuances the concept of clearly defined cultural identities, and shows the fleibility that human societies may exhibit in their forms of cultural expression.


Antonis Anastasopoulos is an Associate Professor of Ottoman History at the Department of History and Archaeology of the University of Crete, and a member of the Institute for Mediterranean Studies/FORTH, Greece. He has a Bachelor's degree from the University of Athens, Greece, and a Master's degree and Ph.D. from the Unversity of Cambridge. He has taught in France and Turkey. He is Vice-President of CIEPO (Comité International des Etudes Pre-Ottomanes et Ottomanes) and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Turkish Historial Review. He has edited or co-edited five volumes and has published more than 45 articles in academic journals, encyclopaedias, and collective volumes. He specialized in the study of the Ottoman provinces, political relations in the 18th century, Islamic gravestones of the Ottoman period, and the hisotry of water resources management.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Co-sponsored by The Arizona Center for Turkish Studies.
This event will take place in Marshall 490.

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