A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 1

Society and Religion in Central Asia Minor in the Time of St. Paul

Chapter 2


The peninsula of Asia Minor, stretching out like a bridge from Asia to Europe, consists of a great central plateau, from 2000 to 4000 feet above sea level, with a fringe of low-lying coast around it. A rim of mountains, called on the south side Taurus, separates the plateau from the coast-lands.

The country that was called Galatia included a broad zone in the northern part of the central plateau. It was an irregular oblong, which may be roughly estimated as about 200 miles long from east to west, and 60 to 80 miles broad from north to south. If we leave out of notice the extreme northern parts which border on Paphlagonia (as these are historically quite unimportant and practically almost unknown to modern travellers), the country as a whole is of uniform character. It consists of a vast series of bare, bleak up-lands and sloping hill-sides. It is almost devoid of trees, except, perhaps, in some places on the north frontiers; and the want of shade makes the heat of summer more trying, while the climate in winter is severe. The hills often reach a considerable altitude, but have never the character of mountains. They are commonly clad with a slight growth of grass to the summit on at least one side. The scenery is uninteresting. There are hardly any striking features; and one part is singularly like another. The cities are far from one another, separated by long stretches of the same fatiguing country, dusty and hot and arid in summer, covered with snow in winter.

In the description which is given on p. 35 of the geographical character of the plateau as a whole, almost the only trait that is not true of Galatia is the " certain charm ". Galatia is the least interesting, the most devoid of charm of all the Asia Minor lands, the only one that the writer found wearisome. The great plains in the centre of the plateau are far more interesting, because being more absolutely level, they permit a wide view; and the eye sweeps over a vast extent of country to the distant lofty mountains, Taurus, Hassan-Dagh, etc., which rim the plateau or rise like steep volcanic islets from its bosom. But Galatia is just undulating enough to make the view almost everywhere contracted and confined: rarely, if ever, does the traveller get the impression of width, of greatness, of long lines, or of the contrast between level plain and sharp mountain peak, needed to give a standard by which one can realise the immensity of the eye's range.

To show the impression that North Galatia makes on a competent observer, one may quote a description of the central and western parts from Major Law's Report on the Railways of Asiatic Turkey (Blue Book: Turkey, No. 4, May, 1896): "The aspect of the country is exceedingly monotonous — a series of larger or smaller plains, surrounded by bare, desolate-looking hills, with streams or small rivers flowing in the centre, but little cultivation and few villages. The average high elevation is maintained, and the climate is trying both in winter and in summer; there is a terrible absence of trees, and the soil, which is fairly productive under the influence of seasonable rains, is too frequently burnt up by the prolonged droughts which in unfavourable years are the cause of distressing famines. There is extensive pasturage, but the country is exposed and the grass poor, and the cattle look generally in poor condition; sheep, goats and camels are, however, reared with success in large numbers, and the Angora mohair and wool have long been famous. Where there is water and cultivation, cereals grow well, and there is a considerable production of cotton, besides tobacco, opium and hemp. The town of Angora (Ancyra) itself is exceptionally favourably situated in a sheltered, fertile plain."

Owing to difficulty of transport (which the recently opened railway from the Bosphorus to Dorylaion, i.e., Eski-Sheher, and Angora will in time obviate), the only products of Galatia which play any important part in modern commerce are wool and mohair (the product of the fleece of the beautiful Angora goat). In ancient times wool and slaves formed the only important Galatian articles of trade,1 so far as our authorities go; but much more wheat and other cereals were grown then than now.

A country of this character can never have nourished a dense population. In ancient times the aspect of most of the land away from the few great cities was much the same as it is at the present day — bleak stretches of pastoral country, few villages, sparse population, little evidence of civilisation. There would, however, be much larger flocks of sheep in ancient than in modern times. But in the occasional districts where arable land abounds, the scene would be very different then and now: the soil would be thoroughly cultivated, houses and villages numerous, the activity and education of man apparent everywhere. Such districts, however, are not many, and are found chiefly beside the cities which were fostered by them.

The description given of one of these fertile spots, given by Mr. J. G. C. Anderson in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1899, p. 91, may be quoted here: " The little village at the foot of the mound is pleasantly situated near the head of a plain which runs down to the railway and contains some fairly fertile arable land — a rare thing in this neighbourhood. The country through which the road passes between the Sangarios and Angora is, as Hamilton says, ' perfectly uncultivated; no traces of vegetation were visible except in the dried-up stems of a few thorny plants and flowers, which cover the ground instead of grass'. The description may be extended to the whole Hamane-country: ' there are no gardens here, it is all desert,' as a Turk of Balikkoyundji wearily said to us."

Bithynia and Paphlagonia bordered on Galatia to the north, Pontus to the east, Cappadocia and Lycaonia to the south, Phrygia in the narrower and later sense to the west. The exact bounds are best studied on the map.

The country afterwards called Galatia was in primitive time divided ethnographically and politically into two parts, eastern and western: the division was made by the river Halys, which in this part of its course runs in a northerly direction towards the Black Sea. Galatia east of the Halys seems to have been originally reckoned to Cappadocia, though part of it was probably sometimes described as included in Paphlagonia; but the bounds of those countries were so indeterminate, and the ancient writers themselves were so ignorant of the geography of those lands, that it is quite impossible to say anything positive and certain on the subject.

The enigmatic race called White-Syrians (Λευκόσυροι) certainly inhabited part at least of Eastern Galatia. But it is useless to speculate whether the population of Eastern Galatia, at the time when the Galatae first entered the country, was mainly Cappadocian, or White-Syrian, or of any other race.

Eastern Galatia lies mostly in the basin of the Halys (Kizil-Irmak, the "Red River"). The Halys itself has very few and quite insignificant tributaries. In Eastern Galatia the Delije-Irmak (whose ancient name is unknown) is the only tributary of any consequence; and most of the country lies in its basin; but the river, though it looks large on the map, carries very little water except in flood, when it becomes a broad and raging torrent, exactly as its name indicates, the " Mad River ".

The eastern frontier-lands of Galatia lay in the valley of the Iris (Yeshil-Irmak, the " Green River"). Tavium, the Galatian and Roman capital of the district, and Pteria, the pre-Galatian capital, once the imperial city of Asia Minor, were situated on affluents of the Iris.

The Halys at the crossing of the road between the capitals Tavium and Ancyra is 2350 feet above sea level. The altitude of Eastern Galatia averages between 2300 and 3000 feet.

Galatia west of the Halys, which was much larger than the eastern country, was the most important and the most typical part of the country; most of our scanty information relates to it; and in general, when any statement is made about North Galatia, the writer has the western part of it in his mind. This western region was originally part of the vast land called Phrygia; and, clearly, the population of the country in the early part of the fourth century were known to the Greeks as Phrygians (Φρύγες).

This Phrygian population of Western Galatia was not a homogeneous, but a mixed race. On its character see Section 3.

Almost the whole of Western Galatia is included in the basin of the Sangarios, the great river of Phrygia, still called Sakari'a (implying an ancient form Sagaris, of which Sangarios is a Grecised variety). The Halys, as was stated above, drains a very narrow basin, and about twelve miles west of that river, on the direct road from Tavium to Ancyra, one finds oneself on the watershed of the Sangarios, 4000 feet above sea level. Thus the Sangarios, though it has a very much shorter course than the Halys, drains a far greater area than that river,

Ancyra, still called Angora (Enguri in Turkish), the capital of Western Galatia, is situated on a tributary of the Sangarios in a picturesque and very strong position, commanding a fertile district, about 3100 feet above sea level. The rest of the country varies in altitude from the banks of the Sangarios, 1600-2200 feet, to parts of the Hamane (the hilly country south and south-west from Angora), 3600 feet: the hills near Ancyra are still higher.

In this country, with its already existing population, were settled large numbers of Gaulish immigrants about B.C. 232. The settlement was not brought about simply by Gaulish conquest. It was caused by agreement of the Greek kings, who made an arrangement by which this country was recognised as the property of the Gauls, on the condition that they confined themselves to it.

The changes that were produced thereby, and the character of the resulting people, must be studied in more detail. The method usual among New Testament scholars, treating Galatia as if it were simply a country peopled by the Gaulish tribes, is an erroneous one and leads to much misapprehension.

Note. — Descriptions of the fertile and beautiful plain of Ancyra are quoted by some writers as if they gave a true picture of Galatia generally. 


[1] Also perhaps mohair, Impressions of Turkey, p. 273.

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