Transcript

The history of Gallipoli

Chris Mackie
Email: c.mackie@latrobe.edu.au

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You can also listen to the interview [MP3 13.6MB].

Transcript

Matt Smith:

To many Australians the site of Gallipoli is one of reverence, it's important to our history and it's become part of our mythos. We immediately associate it with the Anzacs and all that is good with Australia and all that really surrounds and sums up a large part of our culture. But one person who's been looking at it with a different context slightly, is Professor Christopher Mackie. He's the head of the School of Historical and European Studies and he's a professor of Greek Studies. Thank you for joining me Chris.

Chris Mackie:

No worries Matt.

Matt Smith:

How have you been looking at Gallipoli and what sort of context does it have for you?

Chris Mackie:

Matt, I first became interested in Gallipoli as a research topic when I heard that a lot of the British, especially the British, a lot of the British soldiers going there in 1915 took copies of The Iliad and other ancient Greek texts with them, both to read along the way on the ships going there, but also to sort of celebrate the fact that the Gallipoli Peninsula is situated across the Dardanelles waterway from Troy, and as somebody who works on Homer's Iliad a lot, I found that quite a fascinating response to where they were going. So people like Rupert Brooke and some of these well-educated British soldiers were writing poetry and letters and so forth, basically in a very romantic mould, stating that they were heading to Troy rather than to Gallipoli. So I found that very interesting and then I became interested in the Gallipoli Peninsula from all sorts of different aspects.

Matt Smith:

So, initially, in the war context, was it a very romanticised destination?

Chris Mackie:

It was indeed, prior to the campaign. Some of the British writings, some of the better known ones, are Rupert Brooke, Patrick Shaw-Stewart, and many others. It was romanticised. Byron had been there in the beginning of the 19th century and of course he was a romantic poet and romanticised much of Greek culture in all sorts of ways. And to my mind, not really that much changed between when Byron was there in 1810 and when the soldiers went there in 1915, in that kind of British, aristocratic kind of world. So, yes, Gallipoli was romanticised, certainly at the beginning, until the horrors of the campaign really started to hit home.

Matt Smith:

So tell me about the site of Gallipoli itself. What is the history of that region? I know it's been a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between the Greeks and the Turks, on that site. So what's the reality of it there?

Chris Mackie:

My particular interest is in the ancient Greek context. The Greeks established a presence on that peninsula from about the beginning of the 7th century BC. That whole region, the west of Turkey was what we might call ancient Greece and the Greek-speaking peoples moved up into the Gallipoli Peninsula from the south from about 650 BC and established a number of cities on the Gallipoli Peninsula. And we know from various sources that there are about twelve Greek settlements, call them cities if you like, on the peninsula in Greek antiquity. And then the Greek population really stayed on the peninsula right through until just before the Gallipoli campaign. Obviously the Turks by that stage had moved into the region and prior to the Gallipoli campaign the Gallipoli Peninsula was shared by Greeks and Turks, who seemed as far as I can tell, to get on pretty well, for the most part. The war changed all that and events that happened after the war, in particular when there was an exchange of minorities and the Greeks left Turkey for ever and then the Turks moved eastward from Greece. So, I'm particularly interested in that long period of Greek inhabitation of the peninsula.

Matt Smith:

Did Homer ever allude to the area when he talked about Troy?

Chris Mackie:

He did, he alludes to the city of Sestos. Sestos is a very famous city in all sorts of ways. It's the place where the story of Hero and Leander is set, written by Christopher Marlowe, among others. Sestos is a very famous Greek city on the Gallipoli Peninsula, and that is mentioned by Homer in Book 2 of The Iliad. So you might want to say that the Gallipoli Peninsula is referred to in the oldest work in European literature. So it's a significant reference. Although presumably Sestos in Homer isn't a Greek city at that point because they were allied to the Trojans in the war against the Greeks.

Matt Smith:

From an archaeological perspective which you do know something about, you said to me in an email that the French did some accidental excavations there.

Chris Mackie:

Yes.

Matt Smith:

During the war?

Chris Mackie:

Yes, during the war.

Matt Smith:

They didn't have enough going on besides …

Chris Mackie:

It's a fantastic story. Basically the Gallipoli campaign has three main sites of fighting. Cape Helles to the south, there's Anzac, and then further to the north is Suvla Bay. They are the three main sites. Cape Helles in the south, you've got mainly the British and the French and then at Anzac you 've got the Australians and the New Zealanders, and then you've got mainly the British up at Suvla. And all three of those locations, the Allies, when they were digging trenches and the like, came upon ancient materials. Probably the biggest find if you like was at Cape Helles where the French in, I think it was early May, were digging trenches and they came upon a necropolis, a city of the dead, where they came upon all sorts of remains. So they decided to conduct an official excavation, during the campaign itself, and there is a report on this excavation, and I've talked about it in something I've written – I've forgotten the figures, I think it's 38 sarcophofogi, about 18 or so amfori, you know, different forms of burial of the dead and so forth, and they wrote up all of the materials found in the sarcophofogi and there are Athenian vases, there are all sorts of things in those tombs. It seems amazing to think that a formal, official, proper excavation was conducted during a campaign, but that's exactly what happened.

Matt Smith:

Was it a Greek burial ground?

Chris Mackie:

It was. It was a city, a very famous city really, called Elaious and it's famous in many ways. One reason for its fame is that Alexander the Great kind of stops there in 334 BC and he then leaves Elaious and goes across the Dardanelles, over to Troy, and then he embarks on the great mission to attack the Persians from then on. So you've got to remember that Gallipoli is the last touch of Europe, so the ancient Greeks saw the Dardanelles as a natural kind of boundary between Europe and Asia. So Gallipoli's in Europe and Troy is in Asia. So you cross the Dardanelles, you move from Europe into Asia. So symbolically it's a really major site and the Greeks often write about it in that context.

Matt Smith:

There was a discovery of a Roman site as well, wasn't there? Was it when they were putting up a memorial? What were the Romans doing mixed up there?

Chris Mackie:

Oh well, the Romans occupied the site during the Roman period. It's still mainly – the inscriptions that we have are written in Greek from the Roman period, but it becomes part of the Roman world, because the Romans take over most of the Mediterranean world. But you're probably referring to a document in Melbourne actually, that I've consulted, and basically there is prima facie evidence that when they were building the cenotaph for the Lone Pine Memorial, Colonel Hughes, who was in charge from the Australian end of that at the time, just after the Gallipoli campaign, reported that when they were building the Lone Pine Memorial, they came upon Roman remains and what seems to have been a Roman fort. So, I think, on the best evidence, that under Lone Pine there may well be a Roman settlement. We'll never know for certain I think because no one's going to go and conduct invasive archaeology of Lone Pine for obvious reasons. But I think it's a fair bet on literary evidence admittedly, that there is a Roman fort there.

Matt Smith:

In such an area that's had so much, it seems, warfare activity going on in recent years, how destructive is that sort of thing, or is it now to the point where it's become part of the history and the archaeology itself, that you can go over there and do war archaeology?

Chris Mackie:

I'm involved in a project funded by the Department of Veterans' Affairs which is doing a survey of the Anzac and Turkish area. The place is, particularly the Anzac area, isn't terribly affected. I mean, we've heard about certain road buildings and so forth, but for the most part, the Anzac site is well protected. Compared to Helles in the south, it's unpopulated. If you go down to Cape Helles in the south, there's building developments there, tourism on a massive scale. I'm talking about Turkish tourism on a massive scale. Anzac on the other hand, and Suvla Bay seem to be bearing up pretty well when compared to Helles. So I think the picture – people often reflect on the devastation of Gallipoli and Anzac in particular. That is mainly natural degradation rather than any human buildings and the like.

Matt Smith:

What about destruction that war activity might have done to, say, well, you said they found stuff when they were cutting trenches … they found the necropolis which they actually did an excavation of. But I'm sure that a lot would have been destroyed …

Chris Mackie:

That's right. We may never know what effect 1915 had. You get pictures of the region, the Gallipoli site itself, prior to the campaign, and then you see it afterwards and it's absolutely devastated, denuded of trees and so forth, at the end, and I've seen photographs, down south again, Cape Helles, and it's beautiful and green. You go there today and it's a beautiful spot. Lovely green fields and all sorts of orchards and so forth and then you see photos of it round about October and November 1915 – absolutely devastated by the fighting itself. That's a picture that you get right across the peninsula. I mean, you've got – I don't have the figures at hand of exactly how many people were fighting there at one point, but you've got a death toll of I think 125,000 people, so you've got a whole lot of people and it's a pretty small patch of land really. It's not a vast space at all. So it's a terrible effect on the landscape.

Matt Smith:

When were you last there?

Chris Mackie:

Last October. I was this Department of Veterans' Affairs team. It's a three nation team with historians and archaeologists from Turkey, New Zealand and Australia and what we're doing is, we're trying to survey, particularly I suppose, the trenches and the landscape to see how it's been coping. In the midst of that I suppose we're making certain finds of materials and so forth.

Matt Smith:

Is there a lot still there?

Chris Mackie:

Well, there's a lot of surface material. I mean, we found all sorts of items from the day, tins and glasses and bottles and bullets and bits of human remains and all sorts of things like that. Not a vast amount, but still, quite a bit, and the trenches in some cases are still well formed. In other cases, you can see the effects of time. I mean, because there's such heavy shrub cover, in some ways that protects the landscape from wind and rain and from the usual natural effects.

Matt Smith:

What do you think about Gallipoli's context in history now? Do you still see it as primarily a Greek or a Turkish claim, but to Australia and New Zealand, we feel like we've got quite a claim on it?

Chris Mackie:

I've always been interested in, I suppose like many people, asking what it is about Gallipoli … if you think about the Western front, I think the figure is something in the vicinity of 60,000 Australians died in the Western front and about 8,000 died at Gallipoli, and in many ways the Western front should be the mythic focus, the memorial focus of modern Australia. But it really has always been Gallipoli and historians agonise over this, and I guess my particular interest is, as a classicist, coming in from the direction of Homer, the first thing I'd say is probably the Greek context has played its part in the mythologising process, but I suppose one of my interests is, what are the particular aspects of that landscape that seem to feed into the myth-making, and it's things like the beauty of the landscape, the beautiful sunsets, the presence of water, a somewhat more exotic landscape rather than the mud of France and Belgium and so forth. And so I think they are some of the things I'm quite interested in, the extent to which that more exotic sort of setting of Western Turkey feeds into the myth-making. I'm thinking very much as a Homerist here because Homer's always talking about the landscape, the Trojan War is a heroic battle fought in a beautiful landscape. These young men give up their lives in a very beautiful landscape and in many ways that's kind of a core part of the Gallipoli narrative as well.

Matt Smith:

That's all the time we've got for the La Trobe University podcast for today. If you have any questions, comments of feedback about this podcast or any other, you can send us an email at podcast@latrobe.edu.au. Professor Chris Mackie, thank you for your time today.

Chris Mackie:

Thank you very much Matt.

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