School of History, Classics & Archaeology

Federalism in antiquity and today: a continuing story?

HCA Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies

Federalism, defined as a form of government that strives to unite different socio-economic and cultural contexts into one political institutional framework, has a long history. Federalism requires a constant negotiation between local identity and federal integration as well as a new demarcation between the federal identity and the outsider. Since antiquity, this political structure has undergone to a wide range of transformations that have both strengthened and threatened its existence. Recent political events, e.g. Scottish independence referendum in 2014, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump highlight once more the tensions, failures and potential of federal constitutions, both in cases where these exist or could provide a good alternative to present forms of government. The persistence of this precarious balance from the ancient to the modern states shows the potentiality and the risks of federalist structures.

This conference, generously supported by the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, aims to explore possible links between federal states in Antiquity and today. It assumes that, despite the different historical contexts that are responsible for the formation of distinct federal systems, there are recurrent themes, which affect and influence federalism in both time periods. By inviting papers that are connected to three of these recurrent themes, i.e. identity in federal states, their workings, and their ideology, the conference hopes to spark debate and provide new insights into continuities and discontinuities between ancient and modern forms of federalism.

In addition to the keynote speech and academic panels, the conference organisers are delighted to announce that a round table event will take place at the Scottish parliament on the second day of the conference. This round table event, which is open to the wider public, will specifically address the implications of federalism and its potential as a form of government for Scotland and the United Kingdom.

The keynote speaker will be Professor Hans Beck (McGill University) and confirmed speakers include Professor James Roy (University of Nottingham), Professor David Engels (Universite Libre de Buxelles) and Dr Alex McAuly (Cardiff University).

Speakers Federalism Conference:

Eliza Gettel (Harvard University)

Paul Butcher (Karl-Franzens University of Graz)

Michele Bellomo (Univerisity of Milan)

Ruben Post (University of Pennsylvania)

Jacek Rzepka (University of Warsaw)

Alessandro Bambilla (Milan Catholic University/UCL)

Elke Close (University of Edinburgh)

Kasper Swerts (University of Edinburgh)

Hans Beck (McGill University)

James Roy (University of Nottingham)

David Engels (Université Libre de Buxelles)

Alex McAuly (Cardiff University)

David Weidgenannt (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main)

Sanne Van Looy (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie)

The programme can be viewed here: 


Federalism in antiquity and today: a continuing story?

This conference aims to explore possible links between federal states in antiquity and today. (Published 3 July, 2017)

Room 2.13, Geography (Old Infirmary), 1 Drummond Street, Edinburgh EH8 9XP