The Greek traveller Pausanias wrote his Description of Greece in the Roman Empire of the second half of the 2nd century AD. The books is an account of his discoveries about the distant past while visiting the ruins and remains of ancient Greece in the landscape of the Greek countryside. The past is remembered not chronologically but geographically. Pausanias was very impressed by the monuments he came across: while nostalgically recalling past events and myths, he appreciated their aura. These remains had become sites of memory and timemarks referring him—as well as his readers—back to an idealised Greek past (Goldmann 1991; Elsner 1994: 244f.; Alcock 1996: 258f.).

Later, the same descriptions were used by archaeologists to identify the remains of ancient sites they came across. During this process occasional mistakes were found in Pausanias' descriptions (e.g. Wace 1949: 32; Beard and Henderson 1995: 40f.). Even so,

"Pausanias' narration of what is memorable in Greek history and topography has helped prescribe what subsequently has been considered 'worth knowing' and worth exploring further; the events and places he emphasizes are those which we, as historians and archaeologists, are still primarily engaged today." (Alcock 1996: 266)

But there is more to Pausanias than just a descriptive ethnography of the Greek past. In writing about the glorious Greek past, Pausanias also explores and represents the identity of a united and free Greece during the time of Roman occupation. His narrative has got strong political implications (Elsner 1994: 245–252; Beard and Henderson 1995: 36f.; Alcock 1996). In Pausanias' description of Greece, ancient monuments

"are symbols which encapsulate the text's ideology of a free and total Greece. It is this myth, a myth of a free whole which is at once a topography, a history and an ideology, that Pausanias believes in, creates, locates and constantly finds as he journeys looking at the monumental remains of the hellenika" (Elsner 1994: 252; link added).

Yet Pausanias too is a prisoner of the cultural memory of his times (Elsner 1994: 248):

"The complexity of Pausanian 'Greek' identity lies in the fact that it bases its self-image and dignity on the monumental past as opposed to the present, but can only do so because of the way the Roman present has framed what it is to be Greek."

The monuments of the past which Pausanias saw and described are meaningful to him as ruins which have become 'denk-mals', reminding on-lookers of the decline of Greece (Elsner 1994: 248f.). Could this have been the role of megaliths in later prehistoric Mecklenburg-Vorpommern too?


Alcock, Susan E. (1996) Landscapes of Memory and the Authority of Pausanias (with discussion). In: J.Bingen and O.Reverdin (eds) Pausanias historien: huit exposbes suivis de discussions, pp. 241–276. Entretiens sur l'Antiquité classique, vol. 41. Vandoeuvres-Genève: Fondation Hardt.

Beard, Mary and John Henderson (1995) Classics. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Elsner, John (1994) From the pyramids to Pausanias and Piglet: monuments, travel and writing. In: S.Goldhill and R.Osborne (eds) Art and text in ancient Greek culture, pp. 224–254. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Goldmann, Stefan (1991) Topoi des Gedenkens. Pausanias' Reise durch die griechische Gedächtnislandschaft. In: A.Haverkamp and R.Lachmann (eds) Gedächtniskunst. Raum—Bild—Schrift, pp. 145–164. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp.

Pausanias, Description of Greece.

Wace, A.J.B. (1949) The Greeks and Romans as Archaeologists. Bulletin de la Société Royale d'Archéologie d'Alexandrie 38, 21–35.

© Cornelius Holtorf