Homeschooling: The Mediterranean's Fluid Borders

One of things that our kids (and their parents) are learning from our travels in the Mediterranean is how fluid borders are. Roman outposts in Morocco, Greek colonies in Italy, Macedonia dynasties in Egypt, Genoese watchtowers in Corsica and Venetian cities in Greece are but a few examples. It can be easy for non-historians to fall into the trap of thinking that a present-day border contains the history of that country. Our kids have learned that this is not true; a great example of this is Turkey.

When planning the Mediterranean portion of this trip, the present–day countries of Egypt, Greece and Italy were high on our collective list, so for the kids’ homeschooling we decided to focus on the respective histories of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, figuring that those cultures comprised the underpinnings of Western Civilization. With those three civilizations as our focus, the present-day country of Turkey was not on the radar screen, despite the fact that my wife and I had been there before and were both surprised and pleased at how diverse and interesting it was. It was only later, a few months into this trip, that we decided to add Turkey because of its proximity to both Egypt and Greece. Now that we’ve completed the Turkey portion of our trip, we’re thankful because not only have we learned much about Turkey, we’ve learned a lot about the Greeks and Romans as a result.

Present-day Turkey’s history dates back to the aftermath of the WWI and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, so there is only 90-odd year’s worth of modern history to consider. While that history is interesting, especially Kemal Attaturk’s founding of the secular Turkish Republic, it is the couple thousand years prior to that which is instructive. The Hittites, Greeks, Persians, Armenians, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Kurds, Ottomans and Turks have lived in or occupied the Turkish peninsula known as Asia Minor. The Romans called this peninsula “Asia” and after the true size of continental Asia was known, it became known as Asia Minor (“Little Asia”).

We learned more about the Romans than the Turks when we visited Efes (Roman name: Ephesus), Bergama (Roman name: Pergamum) and Bodrum (Roman name: Halicarnassus) on the Aegean coast of Turkey. In Istanbul we learned more about the Greek-Byzantine era of the city -- previously known as Byzantium, then Constantinople -- than we did about modern Turkey. In essence, our trip to Turkey was just as much a glimpse into ancient Greece and Rome as it was a view of Turkey. We feel like our kids have an appreciation of this, of how borders can change over time. So do their parents. Who says homeschooling is only for kids?

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