Classicists receive 18.8 million euros for research on succesful innovation

The results will lead to a better understanding of innovation processes


The ancient Greeks and Romans were great innovators. New ideas abounded, not just in science and technology, but also in literature and arts, politics, the economy and many other domains of life. How did those innovations come about? How do inventions and new ideas turn into actual (accepted) innovation? This is the research question of the Gravitation proposal by a team of Dutch classicists collaborating in the national research school in Classical Studies, OIKOS. For this ten-year research agenda, the team of 12 applicants has been awarded a Gravitation grant of 18.8 million Euros. This is a unique achievement for the Humanities.

The hypothesis of this research agenda is that tradition and innovation are not simply juxtaposed or even opposed. In successful innovations, people perceive a meaningful coherence between the new and the familiar. For this phenomenon OIKOS uses the concept of ‘anchoring’. Developing this concept in an investigation of Greco-Roman antiquity results in a new and better understanding of innovation processes of all times.

A microcosm of the Humanities

Studying innovation in all societal domains presupposes a group of highly diverse specialists who collaborate closely. The  Dutch classicists are a good match: not only because they study the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans from very diverse points of view, but also because the current generation of researchers has been working together for over 15 years in OIKOS. Some are linguists, some are literary scholars; some are historians of the ancient economy, ancient religion, ancient philosophy and science, or ancient politics; archaeologists study the material culture of classical Antiquity. Together, they investigate ancient society as a whole, and they do so in constant interaction with each other. Classics in the Netherlands, classicists say, is a “microcosm of the Humanities”. A perspective on innovation that goes beyond technology, the sciences and medicine to include all facets of human society requires a research team with such broad expertise.

The research team

The Gravitation proposal was developed by a large team of Dutch classicists, led by Prof Ineke Sluiter (Leiden University, main applicant) and Prof André Lardinois (Radboud University). The team consists of researchers from Leiden University, University of Utrecht, Radboud University, University of Groningen and University of Amsterdam. Radboud University submitted the proposal to NWO. Utrecht University is represented by ancient historian Prof Josine Blok and ancient philosopher Prof Teun Tieleman.  

Prof. dr. Josine Blok
Prof. dr. Josine Blok

Josine Blok

Prof Josine Blok is professor of Ancient History and specialises in the history of archaic and classical Greece. Special areas of interest are political, religious and social history of ancient Greece in the widest sense. Her present research revolves around theory and practice of citizenship in the ancient Greek world, especially in classical Athens, also from a comparative perspective with citizenship in present-day democracies.  Since 2001, she is the monitor of the European Network for the Study of Ancient Greek History. She is also a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and member of the board of OIKOS. She is linked to the strategic theme Institutions at Utrecht University. 

Prof. dr. Teun Tieleman
Prof. dr. Teun Tieleman

Teun Tieleman

Prof Teun Tieleman is professor of Ancient Philosophy and Medicine at Utrecht University. His research focuses on the interactions between philosophy and science, in particular medicine, in antiquity, Galen of Pergamum and his influence, Stoicism, theories of emotion as well as the ways in which philosophy was taught and transmitted in the Graeco-Roman world. He directs the research project ‘Human Nature: Medical and Philosophical Perspectives in the Work of Galen of Pergamum,’ which is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) as part of the Free Competition Humanities Programme. He is linked to the focus area of History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities and the strategic theme Institutions at Utrecht University.


OIKOS is the National Research School in Classical Studies in the Netherlands. It is a collaborative institution of six Dutch universities and one Belgian university: Radboud University Nijmegen (RU), University of Groningen (RUG), Leiden University (UL), University of Amsterdam (UvA), Utrecht University (UU ), VU University Amsterdam (VU), and Ghent University (GU; Belgium). OIKOS organizes courses for PhD-students and Research Master students in the area of Graeco-Roman Antiquity and its reception. It stimulates and coordinates research efforts in the same area, and promotes the formation of an international network of researchers.

NWO Gravitation

With Gravitation, the government encourages excellent research in the Netherlands. The programme is for scientific consortia that have the potential to rank among the world's best in their field. The programme is a form of direct government research funding. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has asked NWO to realise a selection procedure for Gravitation.