Monastery in the Pontic Mountains
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is to host the UK premiere of In the Footsteps of the Argonauts, a powerful historical documentary that follows the fortunes of the Greeksliving on the Black Sea, with particular emphasis on the City of Trebizond. Trebizond (Trabzon in modern Turkey) was not only the longest surviving of the Byzantine successor states, but also a symbol of the Greek communities which have lived and thrived on the shores of the Black Sea since the 8th century BC.
Trebizond was once the capital city of the Greeks of Eastern Pontus, a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, located in modern-day north-eastern Turkey. Thecity has been the crossroads of civilisations that witnessed the development of Greek culture for almost 3,000 years; a historical trajectory which was indelibly marked by the destruction and expulsion of part of its populations at the dawn of the 20th century.
Guided by renowned Greek actor Kostas Arzoglou, (himself adescendant of the area), as well as with the help of an international team of experts from Greece, Cyprus and the UK, In the Footsteps of the Argonauts is the first systematic effort to audio-visually record the memory, tradition and history of the Eastern Pontus. The University of Birmingham was one such contributor, when back in 2009 Professor Anthony Bryer OBE (Emeritus Professor of Byzantine Studies and Founding Director of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies) and Dr Eurydice Georganteli (Barber Institute of Fine Arts and Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies) were interviewed for the documentary. The Barber Institute’s collection of Trapezuntine coins were also filmed and appear in In the Footsteps of the Argonauts.
The roots of the Greek presence on the Black Sea (known as thePontus) disappear in the mist of myth; the journey of Jason and the Argonauts to Colchis, the Amazons, the exile of Prometheus to Caucasus, the confrontationof Heracles with the Stymphalian Birds in ancient Aretiada and the wandering of Orestes in Tonya. Mythology aside, the Greeks began to spread around the Black Sea and in approximately 302 BC the Kingdom of Pontus was established. In 1204 AD we see the establishment of the Empire of Trebizond and advancements in trade, arts and sciences paved the way for a golden era for the people of Pontus.
The Empire of Trebizond was annexed by the Ottomans in 1461 and the Greeks who remained were relocated outside the city walls. The former inhabitants of Trebizond moved towards Matsuka, where three monasteries harboured them. With his camera, the film’s Director, Alexis Barzos, followed on the inaccessible tracks of the pilgrims towards St. John of Vazelon, built in 270 AD and considered the most ancient monastery in Pontus.
A change of fortunes allowed an emerging Greek middle class to play a prominent role in the economic activities on the Eastern Black Sea in the 19th century. However, the dawn of the 20th century was marked by the great persecution and expulsion of Christian populations in the region. As a result, the Greek population of Pontus was uprooted and, today, the only witness of its centuries-long presence are the remains of the monumental civilisation it created.
Since December 2010, In the Footsteps of the Argonauts has been shown in Greece, Canada, Germany and Italy – to critical acclaim. Now, for the first time, the English version will be launched at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Bruce Clark (The Economist), award-winning author of Twice a Stranger (2006) and An Empire's New Clothes: The End of Russia's Liberal Dream (1995), will be opening the Birmingham event.
Discussing the people of Trebizond, Bruce Clark writes in Twice a Stranger: ‘Because of its location, far from the main centres of Hellenism, the Greek population in the area has always formed a world apart; a world which had to find its own way of co-existing with other peoples, armies and rulers with a stake in this region.’
Prior to the launch (3 – 5 pm) guests will be able to participate in handling sessions of coins of Trebizond and those from its Christian and Muslim neighbours. Postgraduates from the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies (part of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity) will be on-hand to answer questions.
The screening will be followed by drinks and canapés.
Eurydice Georganteli said: ‘At the Barber Institute of Fine Arts we are the fortunate custodians of a magnificent collection of Trapezuntine coins; the very ones that star in In the Footstepsof the Argonauts. Certainly, the story of Trebizondand its fortunes relates to everyone interested in deciphering the past inorder to understand the future. Do join us for what promises to be a great evening.’
In the Footsteps of the Argonauts
Narrated & Presented by Kostas Arzoglou / Directed by: Alexis Barzos / Research& Scientific Editing by Theodosios Kyriakidis / Script: Nicolas Zirganos / Director of Photography: Alexis Barzos / Original Music by Yiannis Paxevanis / Editing: Yiannis Biliris, Anna Prokou / Production Manager: Anastasia Skoubri / A Small Planet Production for the St. George Peristereota Research Centre ©2010