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. 267-271.

Asianic Elements in Greek Civilisation.



Chapter XVIII


THE Bishop of Gloucester long ago sought to establish examples, cut down in some cases by Professor Calder, of descent through the mother in general Anatolian custom (as it was in Lycian custom according to Herodotus, i. 273). Proof of an allied, but not identical custom may be found in the queen of the Homanadeis, who defeated and killed Amyntas, and in the queen Aba, who was so prominent a figure in the history of Cilicia Tracheiotis.1 That tribes dwelling in the freedom of the mountains should admit a woman to rule them in critical circumstances is clear evidence that great authority was attributed to women in the early custom of the country, and the regions in question are the stronghold of surviving ancient Anatolian habits. The influence exercised by women forms one of the most remarkable features of the land. On the border between fable and history we find the Amazons, against whom Priam tells of his fighting as ally of the Phrygians on the banks of the Sangarios, which implies an old condition of Troy and of Anatolia that we can hardly guess at (Iliad, iii. 189). Under the Roman Empire we hear of women as magistrates, presidents of councils, and loaded with honours. The custom of the country influenced even the Jews, who in at least one case at Smyrna chose a woman to act as archisynagos. In Smyrna, a busy trading town, there would naturally 268 be a large body of Jews. Examples of these women magistrates in Roman time have been collected with much diligence by M. Pierre Paris.2

Universal education for man and women alike has never been more boldly advocated than by Tatian. Now Tatian was a Syrian or Assyrian, and the heretical sect which originated from him was allied to the Encratites and to other sects common in Central Asia Minor, especially in Phrygia, as Professor Calder points out in Anatolian Studies, pp. 68 ff. Those sects of Phrygian heretics were severely treated by the Orthodox Church, and preferred the Turkish rule of that of Constantinople, constituting a permanent danger in the attempts of John Comnenus to break or reduce the Seljuk power.3

In the Montanist “heresy,” which was in some degree a preference for the old against the new, and for ancient Anatolian ways against too complete a revolutionising of them, Montanus had as his chief subordinate leaders the prophetesses Maximilla and Priscilla; and their prominent position was probably a strong force to determine the growing “Catholic” Church against the outstanding position of women. Still we find deaconesses mentioned as eminent persons in the early Christian inscriptions of northern Lycaonia. Moreover, a glance over Calder’s useful paper on “Anatolian Heresies” in Anatolian Studies, p. 71 ff., impresses us with the 269 prominence and special position there assigned to women: they are called Asketriai and other terms indicating strict asceticism.

Further, the whole story of St. Thekla shows a female figure, the spirit of the mountain Takali (Arabic Dakalias), the Balance, originally called Tekla (a form often used in inscriptions of the Roman period),4 in a native Iconian tale, first adopted by the ascetic sects and then taken over from them by the Catholics with the most marked heretical or non-Catholic features toned down. For example, she was pictured as possessing the right to baptize (which is toned down to the fact that she fell into a trench containing water, and declared that she regarded this as her baptism).

In the scene that takes place in the arena at Pisidian Antioch, Thekla speaks as the representative of all women, not merely of Christian women. In the treatment meted out to her, the rights and the standing of all women were outraged. The women, all pagans, who raised an enthusiastic cry in her favour, took the same view that she championed: her cause was theirs;5 they took her to be some devotee, bound by unusual conditions. She was to them a sort of “dervish,” but women in Anatolia had as much right in such a matter as men. An exiled queen, Tryphaena of Pontus, residing in widowhood at Antioch, took her part, and became surety for her, and carried Thekla away in safety to her own house, there to await the day of trial.

The right of refraining from marriage, even after being betrothed, is a marked incident in the tale of Thekla,6 and the feature of virginity and asceticism generally is properly regarded by Professor W. M. Calder as characteristic of most of the heretic sects. A 270 curious example of the emphasising of this female right anew in the last struggle between paganism allied with the Roman Empire against the new religion, occurs in an inscription of Appa in Isaurika, “Ma, daughter of Pappas, virgin, and by family right priestess of the goddess and the hagioi (saints), restored and roofed with tiles the temple at her own expense.”7 The terms “virgin” and “saints” are taken over in that inscription from the Christian Church by the lady Ma, who bears the name of the Great Goddess. The title “virgin” was used in the Anatolian religion to designate the female slaves of the sanctuary; but it was practically never used by pagans in this simple unexplained fashion almost like a hieratic rank. The verb “to act and live for a time as an unwedded slave of the sanctuary” is more characteristic of paganism than the simple term “virgin,” which was applied in the early Church to widows that did not marry again, as well as to maidens; the condition imposed being that they should devote their life to charitable work.

The temple had fallen into decay and was renovated by Ma, which implies that the temple had been deserted. It was now lawful for her to come forward as priestess by hereditary right, and to restore the temple and the priestly service; a fact which points to the time of Julian, 361-363, when the attempt was made by the Emperor to galvanise the old cults into new life. It was the time to which Swinburne’s words apply:

Not as thine, not as thine, was our mother, a blossom of flowering seas,

Clothed round with the world’s desire as with raiment, and as fair as the foam,

And fleeter than kindled fire, and a goddess, and mother of Rome.

For thine came pale and a maiden and sister to sorrow; but ours

Her deep hair heavily laden with odour and colour of flowers,

White rose of the rose-white water, a silver splendour, a flame,

Bent down unto us that besought her, and earth grew sweet with her name.*

Yet this pagan revival lasted only for a moment, and Julian, 271 slain in his last battle against the Parthians, could only say as he died, “Galilean, thou hast conquered.” He alone maintained the struggle; and with him it ceased. A few nobles and senators in Rome and the great cities remained pagan, and were not disturbed by the Emperors, though occasionally a popular riot was excited by Christian fanatics.

A case occurred as late as the time of Basil of Caesarea, and is known to us from his letters, in which a certain Glycerius, a deacon, excited to devotional ecstasy, quite in the old pagan style, a band of women, chiefly young and all emotional, to leave their homes, and go away with him to practise religious rites. We know only from Basil what occurred, and he states his own side. It was obviously a very dangerous practice, and might lead to much evil; but Basil interfered sternly. The only penalty, however, that he imposed was that Glycerius and his virgins should return to their homes peacefully, and that nothing of the same kind should be done again.

When we take this in connexion with the stern laws which Basil announced against illicit marriages in his diocese, and in general with the counter-feeling which his rigour roused, it becomes apparent that the old Anatolian custom of women acting very freely and vindicating their right to do so, had by no means ceased about A.D. 371.



 1  The Queen of the Homanadeis, Strabo, xii. 7. 6, p. 569; Aba, Strabo, xiv. 5. 10, p. 672.

 2  See his treatise Quatenus feminae in Asia Minore res publicas attigerint; but his inferences seem to me not to show sufficient familiarity with Anatolian custom. The question is also touched on in my St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, pp. 67, 161, 345, 360. The prominence assigned to women was pagan rather than Christian, and heretical rather than Catholic. It was contrary to both Hellenic and Roman influence, and was strongest where that influence was weakest; but where that influence was strong, the position of women in law and public power, though nominally little affected, was reduced to a mere honorary and titular standing. In Greek and Roman law a woman required a κύριος or tutor.

 3  See Historical Geography of Asia Minor, p. 389.

 4  See Chapter V. p. 56.

 5  See The Church in the Roman Empire, pp. 99. 407, 412 f., etc.

 6  At the present day we have been shown from a little distance the exact place above Sille or Tsille (Professor Dawkins uses the former name, I always seemed to hear the latter; but he is a better authority than I, and the analogy of Sillyon tells in his favour), where the mountain opened to receive Thekla and to save her from the pursuit of her betrothed or of robbers (according to different versions).

 7  παρθενεύειν.


 *  Elf.Ed.  The Hymn To Proserpine (After the Proclamation in Rome of the Christian Faith), by Algernon Charles Swinburne, lines 78-84.