From Asianic Elements in Greek Civilisation, The Gifford Lectures in the University of Edinburgh, 1915-1916, by Sir William M. Ramsay, D.C.L., LL.D., New Haven: Yale University Press, 1928; pp. 1-10.

Asianic Elements in Greek Civilisation.



Chapter I


MORE than twenty years ago, writing to a great European scholar, I said that the chief problem which now lay before us as historical investigators was to answer the question, Who were the sons of Yavan, the Old-Ionians, who represent the Greek race in the early Semitic tradition (Genesis x. 4)? They are named in that tradition Elishah and Tarshish and Kittim and Dodanim (called Rodanim in 1 Chron. i. 7).1 These represent four nations or states, called brothers, either because they were ethnically related, or because they inhabited adjoining regions, were of similar character, and were brought into relations with the Semitic peoples at an early period.2 “Of these were the isles (coasts?) of the nations divided (parcelled out?), every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” It is probable that Kittim is Kition in Cyprus, Tarshish is Tarsus. As to Elishah I venture no opinion; but Sayce identifies it with the Alêian plain, east of Tarsus, originally Alêsion. This level and fertile plain probably belonged to the old great city Mallos or 2 Marlos. Homer mentions the plain as having once been a lonely, hardly traversable region; and indubitably it was at an early time marsh; see Cities of St. Paul, p. 99.

Yavan and Gomer were brothers, sons of Japhet. The eldest son of Gomer was Ashkenaz, whom I have, ever since I began Anatolian study in 1878, regarded as the Anatolian Askania, a geographical name widely spread in Asia Minor, with Men Askaenos and Askanios leading Phrygians and Maeonians to aid Priam. As eponymous hero of land and people, Ashkenaz therefore represents the people of the mass of Asia Minor, so far as that great peninsula was not occupied on its coastlands by Yavan (Greek Ion) and his sons. Jeremiah’s enumeration (li. 27), Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz (i.e. Armenians, people of Kurdistan, and people of Anatolia), confirms this identification.

Later than the fundamental document (Gen. x., 1 Chron. i.) came the invasion of the Phrygians. Askanios is by Homer, who wrote probably about 820 B.C.,3 described as an ally of Priam and the Trojans, and as hostile to the Achaeans or Achivi in the war of Troy.

The importance of early Ionic literature, the “letters” of the sons of Yavan, occurs to every student, but the total amount of it is not always held in the balance when weighing Asiatic Greece against European Greece. In lyric poetry, the names of Alcaeus and Sappho represent almost the world’s highest conception of possible achievement. In elegiac poetry, Mimnermus, Callinus, and Alcman are eminent.

In philosophy and science, Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, and Heraclitus are acknowledged to be among the world’s greatest thinkers. Thales knew the period of solar eclipses 3 and predicted that of 602 B.C. Anaximander conceived the earth to be a cylinder, showing marked improvement on the idea that it is a flat surface. Heraclitus, with his brief yet comprehensive statement of great philosophical and physical truths, is a figure that must always interest every thinking person. Who but he could have expressed by two words* the great principle that the world is always in a state of flux?4

Epic poetry is represented by the great name of Homer, and by several of the Cyclic poets.

Hipponax appears, from a right study of his fragments, to be not merely a master of the art of scurrilous and vulgar lampoon, but also to be endowed with a touch of the true poet, redeeming him from mere vulgarity.

Hecataeus and Herodotus are pre-eminent as historians. Several of the old logographoi, though despised by Thucydides, were Ionians aiming at a co-ordination of legend in the form of history, and their loss is much regretted now, when old Greek legend and tradition is coming into its true value.

Writers who belong to the Cyclades, like Archilochus of Paros, are omitted, though several of the greatest might fairly be reckoned; but the islands of Chios, Cos, and Lesbos, as being so close to and almost embraced in the encircling arms of Anatolia and Asian Greece, must be included.

In medicine Hippocrates is famous throughout all history as the real founder of scientific medicine. Galen, of the Roman period, an Anatolian also, is the only name which vies with his in ancient medical treatment. Their experience was gained among the crowd of sick persons who resorted to the temples of Asklepios at Cos and many other places where curative hot springs exhibited the kindly healing power of the goddess that ruled the earth, whether she was called simply “the goddess” without distinctive personal name, or Cybele or Artemis Anaeitis according to the more recent fashion of 4 the Hellenic world. The patients thought as a rule that they were cured by the divine messages (often sufficiently absurd and appealing to mere popular superstition) as conveyed in revelations and dreams; but these messages were interpreted and applied by prophets and doctors at the various shrines. At Epidaurus the records of cures of the many patients contain little but unscientific superstition; but the note-books of doctors would certainly exhibit a different account. The patients received medical attention (as in Acts of the Apostles xxviii.).

It is not merely the excellence, literary or scientific, of these great men that is surprising. More astonishing by far is their creative character. They are new men making new discoveries and inaugurating new departments of thought. Their pre-eminent character as the creators of Greek literature and science has rarely been valued, largely because, with the exception of Homer, none of them are spared completely by the destroying hand of time, or even fairly represented by sufficient fragments. The schools of modern classical teaching occupy themselves too exclusively with the Drama, which as a real literary department is the creation of Attica, though even its humble origins have to be sought in Asia Minor and in the Ionic element of the Athenian population.

The general tendency in modern estimate of Greek thought is to regard Athens as “the Eye of Greece, Mother of Arts and Eloquence,” whereas the true source of almost every branch of literature and science, and the earliest great names in almost every department, belong to the cities and colonies of the Old-Ionians. We have made an exception in respect of the Drama, which, having its origin probably in Ionian and Anatolian burial custom, was developed to literary form in Athens. We must also except oratory, which is the means of appealing to democracy,5 whether it be the speech of statesman or of demagogue or of “carpet-bagger.”


One remarkable fact strikes every observer: viz. that the personal names in old Greek mythology are rarely Greek, and it is remarkable how many of these occur in later Anatolia either in the exact form that they have in European Greece, or in a very similar form.

We must, of course, take into account the tendency which was very strong in the late Hellenic period to translate Anatolian names into Greek or Latin. When, e.g., we find in Lycaonia a person who is called Longus, and another who is called Dolichos, we may be pretty certain that the original native name was an Anatolian word signifying “the tall man,” which in the affectation of the time was rendered into the two highly civilised languages of the world. The peasantry of the Anatolian plateau are big, powerful men. As Mahaffy used to say, they are, like the Irish, “fed on the milk of a limestone plateau.” And in the first fragment of Hipponax we read that a Maeonian trader comes down to Ephesus along the Royal Road, which is described stage by stage: he is a big man, broad and stoutly built,6 in girth much surpassing the sons of Yavan, who were a slighter-built race (though Polemon describes the later Ionians as strongly built).

As in literature, so in war. From the time that European Greece became more powerful than Asiatic Greece every attempt made by the Greeks of Europe to establish a dominant influence or an Empire on the eastern side of the Aegean Sea on the coasts of Anatolia has been in the long run not merely a failure, but a disaster to both divisions of the Greek people. When the attempt is made 6 to slump up in thought these two divisions a real historical confusion is created. They are not the same people, though they spring from the same stock; the European Greeks are a very mixed race and so are the Anatolian Yavan. The intermixing elements in European Greece come largely from the north, in Anatolia they come in early times mainly from the Asiatic side. Yet a great Ionian immigration into Europe from Asia formed certainly an important element in the making of European Greece; and after Alexander’s conquest many European Greeks settled in Asian cities, and are mentioned on the coins of those cities. The foundation legends of those cities, where they are preserved, are not fictitious, but veil the facts.7

I have spoken of the Asiatic coast Greeks as the Old-Ionians, the sons of Yavan. It may be objected that there were three divisions implying different races, Aeolic, Ionic, and Doric, but, as stated in a footnote on p. 1, it may reasonably be held that these are really local varieties of the Asian (or Eastern) Greeks, and Ionic in its archaic form was probably much nearer Aeolic and Doric than it subsequently became. The most representative and the most influential of Anatolian Greeks were undoubtedly the Ionians. Their cities from Phocaea to Miletus were by far the greatest centres of emigration. From the coast of Spain to the eastern side of the Black Sea it was their influence that proved almost supreme. Miletus on the south preferred the Black Sea; Phocaea on the north preferred the western parts of the Mediterranean; and the idea was held in the busy Ionian markets that these extreme lands were bordering on or even part of the encircling ocean.8 Naturally among Hellenes there were local feelings and feuds. Even in regard to Homer it is apparent that he belonged to the northern part of the west coast, perhaps Smyrna, the old Aeolic city, Ionised 7 at a later time, for he shows a feeling against Miletus, the only Greek city which he mentions as an ally of the Trojans.

Far above and earlier than all other authorities for the literary character of the sons of Yavan and for their relation to Ashkenaz, the people of the main plateau of Asia Minor, is Homer, the first and the greatest literary figure known to us. He is also the real maker of Hellenism, that fine and delicate product which survives through, and is the teacher of, all subsequent ages, so far as they are capable of learning from it. Hellenism was born on the west seas and islands of Anatolia and was nursed amid the clash of arms in their war dances.

The idea of such inevitable contest between Asia and Europe, an idea that breathes through the Iliad and Herodotus’s history, finds its first expression in the terms Yavan and Ashkenaz of Genesis x.

The earliest stages in the relation between Yavan and Ashkenaz are known mainly from the study of words. Greek is a highly composite language, and a very large number of words connected with agriculture, horticulture, the working of metals, and so on, came into European Greece from Anatolia. Along with the art came the name of the product which was worked. Hence our study must be largely based upon words, and it is useful to give a few examples, first laying down three principles: (1) any word which is either peculiar to Homer, or found in Greek only as learned from Homer and imitated by later writers, is likely to be Anatolian; (2) any word in Greek which is identical with the early native name of an Anatolian town or village, organised according to the Anatolian fashion, is equally likely to be a borrowed Anatolian word; (3) any personal name in Anatolia which was used in Greece in very early times or in mythology is also likely to be Anatolian in origin.

Fick, in his bold pioneering style, has shown that classification, implying preliminary hypothesis, offers the only path of progress. 8 In his Vorgriech. Orstnamen and the supplementary Hattiden und Danubier, hardly ever mentioned now in his own country, he began the work, stated many useful general principles, and made many illuminating suggestions. He was not always right: that is the penalty which the initiator has to pay. The second of these books sometimes differs from the first, and makes “corrections” which are not always improvements. Yet he remains the pillar of fire to show the way. He classified on the principle that Anatolia was a battlefield between East and West. Perhaps he was hardly conscious of this at first, and he nowhere emphasises it, because his method was simply to yield to the sweep and guidance of etymological tides and tendencies; but he must indubitably have had some idea of it, when he used the bold title Hattiden und Danubier; Asian and Balkanic.

It is, however, not yet certain that the Khattiden were Asian. According to Hrozny and those who rally to his standard, Khattiden almost implies something like Proto-Latin; I use a vague term, which Hrozny would doubtless qualify and change; but he makes the Khattiden European or at least non-Asiatic, and rather Western than Oriental.

Personally I start with the hypothesis that the Khattiden, or Hittites, were not the primitive Anatolian population, but a conquering tribe, coming in either from the north-east or from the Balkan peninsula: in my opinion, if I may venture to state it, more probably from the latter direction.

But the question must be asked whether the sons of Yavan are in the true sense beginners and initiators, or had been stirred up by suggestions and ideas coming from farther east? The latter opinion is not merely more probable, but also, I think, practically certain. In every great movement there are two influences required to produce the life-giving spark; and in this case these influences are typified by the two names of Yavan and Ashkenaz, the latter of which represents, as I believe, the people of the Anatolian plateau, and not, as has been maintained by some recent scholars, the Scythians, 9 who belong to the north and north-east side of the Black Sea and lie entirely out of the line of growth of civilisation. The growth of civilisation has its moving power in the intercourse that took place across the great bridge between East and West, viz. the plateau of Asia Minor. There was constant intercourse along this bridge between the coast peoples, who were the sons of Yavan, and the Anatolian population of the plateau, who came down to the port towns to trade, as we know from Hipponax and other sources, bringing with them the products of the inner regions of the land. Our earliest authorities do not speak of the coast peoples as going up into the interior of the country, but of the people of the interior coming down to the coast cities in the prosecution of trade. They brought their products and even their knowledge and their arts to the coast, and in this intercourse arose the stimulus to the extraordinary development of Ionian literature, science, and art. With the articles and the religion that they brought came the Anatolian names for them, and thus Greek came to be largely permeated by Anatolian words (see Ch. XIX.)

The knowledge of metals and the method of working metals undoubtedly had its origin either on the plateau, or possibly farther east and crossing the land-bridge towards the west. The movement of civilisation is almost always west. The German Drang nach Osten forms an apparent exception, but it was evanescent and productive of little real advantage to either side. The Russian movement towards the east can hardly be called a movement of civilisation. It has done little or nothing in the way of making even an attempt to civilise. The sun of light and life moves from East to West.

The adoption of words from Anatolian into Greek is most marked in the sphere of religious and social institutions. These institutions were sometimes religious in aspect, sometimes social; but in the ancient Anatolian theocracies religion dictated and guided social forms, for all social organisation proceeded from the goddess, 10 who through the god as priest taught her children the rules of right living, good agriculture, the care of domestic animals, and even the amenities of life, and who punished her servants when they transgressed any of her laws.9 The punishment took the form of plague or pestilence, or of malaria, that fire which is hidden within the body.

The laws of the goddess, being framed for the protection of society as a whole, were designed to preserve the health of the community; an individual when affected by a disease looked into his conscience to find what law of the goddess he had violated; but above all other forms of penalty the wasting form of fever, which as it were lies in the bones and destroys the body without any specific affection of one part or organ, was regarded as peculiarly the weapon used by the goddess. In the Iliad, i. 49 ff., the god and the goddess kill the Greeks with their arrows; whereas the pestilence was the natural result of congregating large numbers in a camp; but the Greeks saw the cause in their own sin in violating the household of the god’s priest, which had roused the divine wrath. The terrible pestilence of 430 B.C. was the inevitable result of bringing the whole people of Attica within the Long Walls, and the total disregard of sanitation.10



 1  Probably Rodanim is right. Rhodes was naturally one of the earliest seats where the sons of Yavan would come into relations with the Semites: hence Rodanim is in the first generation from Yavan.

 2  I assume that the Aeolians, Ionians, and Dorians of Asia Minor are brothers in the sense mentioned. The dialects varied in a remarkable way. Herodotus and Hippokrates, both Dorians, wrote in Ionic. The distinction of the three peoples needs much closer investigation. Smyrna, originally Aeolic, became Ionian, owing to pressure from outside.

 3  There was, as is well known, a long interval between the fall of Troy, 1194 B.C., and the period when Homer composed the Iliad. As to that, Greek tradition is unanimous. Professor Sayce would shorten this interval, and place Homer about 1000 B.C.

 4  πάντα  ῥεῖ.*

 5  The connexion of oratory and democracy has been strongly emphasised by Grote in his History of Greece.

 6  When Hipponax describes him as “turning” (not his face, but) “his belly towards the setting sun,” the poet need not be understood as alluding to the trader’s “pot-belly” simply, but to the girth of a big, broad-built, stout man, whom the slighter and more delicate Ionians ridiculed. Hipponax was vulgar. In 1886 I had a servant from the Konia district, who had been the strongest porter in Smyrna. I was told that he could carry a weight of four tons on his back (balanced on a saddle). It seems hardly credible, but this was the account given me. He was hard on a horse, and the horse was hard on him.

 7  See the writer’s article in Strena Buliciana, on “Epigrams and Coins of Phrygian Cities,” p. 663.

 8  It was even held that a bold sailor could make his way into the circumambient ocean at one point of those far-away lands, and emerge at some other point into the known sea, i.e. Mediterranean.

 9  The Art. “Phrygians” in Hastings’ Encycl. of Ethics and Religion is really and mainly a sketch of the early society of Anatolia.

10  Those who lived in Athens about 1881, 1882, and even, as I am told, much later, know how horrible that disregard was.


 *  Elf.Ed.  Panta rhei = everything flows. Did Heraclitus say this? See a discussion in the entry Heraclitus in Wikipedia.