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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 18 February 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2017 9 NEWS Billy Cotsis floating in the Dead Sea. Greek Orthodox church in Amman, Jordan. PHOTO: BILLY COTSIS. Ruins of the Hercules Temple in Amman. port for teaching needs to be found to ensure certified Greek teachers come to Jordan to help the children. The Greek women are the key drivers of the culture, and from the affection displayed by their kids, it is their passion and nurturing of the culture which is key to the future. Most of the women who represent the Greek Ladies of Jordan are from Thessaloniki. As anyone who has been to Thessaloniki will tell you, there is a certain friendliness and warmth displayed by the people there, a human trait that is evident in Jordan. Everyone seemed to be friendly to this foreigner, just as they are when I visit Thessaloniki. In fact, Jordan is a tolerant society of other cultures. The Greek Ladies are led by Mrs Flora Varnali, who has been active, along with dozens of other women, in promoting her culture of birth, social gatherings and Greek language. It was through the lobbying efforts of the Greek Ladies that the Greek school emerged and teachers arrived from Greece. It is hard to ascertain when the first Hellenes of what we now call Jordan permanently settled. Hellenes have traditionally stayed close to the confines of the Mediterranean and Black Sea when colonising or migrating. Jordan is of course inland. What we do know is that, just like some of the Greek speakers I met at the clubhouse, Hellenes traded in the area prior to the arrival of Alexander the Great. Alexander championed a fusion of his own Greek culture with that of the east; this was evident for many centuries across Asia. The breakup of Alexander's empire led to the establishment of various Hellenistic kingdoms. The Seleucid Kingdom, which encompassed the eastern part of Alexander's empire, included Syria (312-63BC). The Greek empire of the Seleucids ruled over the area from Syria to parts of Pakistan, the unifying element being the Hellenic culture and administration that ruled over this vast region. The Greek language gained prominence, particularly in the larger cities and towns. Seleucus Niacator (The Victor) was the first ruler. No one can say for certain what it was that attracted him to this area, for it was a long way from Greece with very few Greek settlements in place. Subsequently, the reign of Se- leucus and his successors witnessed an expansion of Greek cities, speakers and merchants. A number of cities were founded, including Philadelphia, which means friends and brothers and sisters. The city is now Amman. Gerasa is now Jerash, Gedara is Umm Qays, Pella, which is taken from the birthplace of Phillip II and Alexander, is Tabaqat Fahl and Arbila became Irbid. When Pompey of Rome conquered Syria and put an end to the Seleucid Empire, the Greek language and culture was still dominant and remained relevant until the Roman Empire was superseded by the Byzantine Empire in the fourth/fifth centuries AD. Byzantine rule meant that the people of the Levant were gradually converted to the Greek Orthodox religion. One of the defining elements of Jordan is the site of Petra. In Greek, it means rock. The area and its distinct architecture were defined by the Nabataean people before the arrival of the ancient Hellenes. There were additions by the Seleucids as well as Byzantine churches. Prior to the arrival of the Arab military machine in the seventh century, control of the Jordan area by Greek-speaking Byzantines was strong, despite the almost constant threat of neighbouring Sassanids (medieval Persia). The area was divided between Palestine Secunda and Arabia Petraea. With the arrival of Arabs, a gradual conversion of local people resulted in a shift from Christianity to Islam. The Greek language too lost its importance, never to be regained. Byzantine Greeks were responsible for at least 20 basilicas being established. I could not locate any on my visit, though I did visit a Greek Orthodox Church not far from my hotel, twice. The first time, it took me a few hours to walk what should have been a short distance. It is not a good idea to get lost walking in Ramadan as the few people about could not speak English or Greek! Eventually, I was able to witness a Greek Orthodox wedding which was filled with hundreds of guests and a Sunday mass. I managed to have a pleasant conversation with the priest in Greek to round out my trip. Thirty-four kilometres from this church in Madaba, the Church of St George has existed since 1884. As divine intervention would have it, during the initial construction phase, the remains of a Byzantine church were discovered, including a mosaic and floor map of Palestine highlighting 157 biblical sites of the region. The mosaic, approximately 25 metres in length and six metres wide, is dated from AD560. A Greek school is located nearby, headed by Father Innokentios, and open to Greek and Muslim students. The church has over a dozen educational institutions across Jordan and is known as a quality provider of learning. As I caught my ride back to the airport with my Palestinian driver, I was in a thoughtful mood. Across Asia, the Greeks had once again achieved. From the founding of cities far from the Greek heartland to a parea of young people who seem destined to carry on the spirit of Alexander and Seleucis. Jordan has not been ‘Greek’ for well over a millennia, yet it still has traits of a Hellenic spirit and past. * Billy Cotsis is the author of From Pyrrhus to Cyprus: Forgotten and Remembered Hellenic Kingdoms, Territories, Entities & a Fiefdom.
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