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 3

Pre-Galatic History of North Galatia

Pre-Phrygian state (probably subject to Pteria)   before tenth century,
Independent Phrygian chiefs and kings   tenth century-674.
Cimmerians for a short time   after 675.
Phrygian kings under Lydian suzerains   -546.
Persian Empire   -333.
Alexander the Great and his successors   333-232.
The Gauls recognised as owners of Galatia   about 232.

 AT an early date, probably not far from B.C. 900, 1 European race from Macedonia or Thrace, which crossed the Hellespont, had overrun great part of Western Asia Minor, and formed several distinct states. The Trojan city and the dynasty of Priam belonged to this people and the Trojan legend, as it has come down to us in the Iliad, preserved the recollection of the struggles that were waged on the banks of the Sangarios between the invading Phryges and the native population of the inner lands. The native population is described in legend as the Amazons (see Section 5). The Phryges gave their name and their language to the land which they conquered.

The name Phrygia at an early time seems to have included not merely Galatia and the Sangarios valley generally (except in its maritime parts), but also the whole of the lands lying immediately south of the Hellespont and Propontis2 The characteristic Phrygian names and legends, Askanios, Askania, Otreus, Otroia, Mygdon, etc., are found in the extreme south and the extreme north of that vast region: e.g.. Lake Askania is a name on the Pisidian frontier and in Bithynia a few miles south-east from the Propontis (with a town Otroiai beside it, like Otroos far south in the Phrygian Pentapolis). And not Phrygia alone, even in the widest sense, was overrun by that European race, but also part or the whole of Lydia, termed Maionia, and Caria. Hence arises the close association of Maionia and Phrygia in the Iliad,3 hence the application of the name Phrygia to the country and the heroes connected with Mount Sipylos near Smyrna.

In all those lands, doubtless, the conquering race became a military aristocracy, of varying strength in the different countries, while the older inhabitants formed a subject population. It may be assumed that in Phrygia the conquering race was more numerous in proportion to the subject race than in Lydia or Caria, and imposed its language and name on the country, while in Lydia and in Caria there were probably only a certain number of immigrants, who became chiefs and nobles in those lands. But probably, even in Phrygia, the old native population was more numerous than the conquerors; and in course of time the victorious race gradually lost its individuality and original character, and became merged in the native race. The joint race, however, continued to bear the Phrygian name and probably to use the Phrygian language.

The old Phryges were a sea-people as well as land-conquerors. A people who cross from Macedonia to Phrygia must have learned to subdue the sea to their will; and Greek historical tradition mentions a Phrygian Thalassocracy lasting twenty-five years from B.C. 905. 4  No value can be laid on the exact years; but probably they are not remote from the truth as to the period when the Phrygian power was at its height.

At that time there can hardly be any doubt that the Phrygian people and power were continuous from the Hellespont and the coast of the Troad through Mysia (to use a name of later origin), and up to the banks of the Halys. The references to easy intercourse between the Troad and inner Phrygia furnish sufficient proof of this: see below, p. 27.

The Phrygian sea power very soon passed into other hands; and tradition assigns to it a duration of only twenty-five years. The land-power failed also to maintain its continuity. Tribes from Thrace, Mysoi, Thynoi, Bithynoi, crossing the Bosphorus, forced their way south-west, south and east; and the Mysians formed a new population which split the Phrygian people into two fragments. Henceforward we hear of two Phrygian countries — Hellespontine or Little Phrygia, a vague undefined region, which was little more than a name, and in which no distinct political constitution is discernible — and Great Phrygia, Phrygia Magna, a vast region extending from the borders of Lydia and Caria to the Halys on the north-east, and to the Pisidian and Lycaonian frontiers on the south and south-east.

The centre of power in Great Phrygia lay to the north in the Sangarios valley. Scanty tradition is confirmed in this respect by archaeological evidence. Partly this was due to the greater strength of the conquering people in the north: it grew more scanty and more scattered as it penetrated farther from its origin. Partly also the predominant importance of Northern Phrygia was due to the fact that the great line along which civilisation and political development moved led across the Sangarios valley. That line was the “Royal Road,” which connected Pteria the great capital among the White Syrians with Sardis in Lydia — a road which had been older than the Phrygian immigration and belonged to a pre-Phrygian order and unity extending from one to the other of those two great cities. The “Royal Road” ran through the entire length of Galatia (to use the later name), and over the North Phrygian mountains, crossed from the headwaters of the Tembrogios (a tributary of the Sangarios) to the upper reaches of the Maeander basin past the important trading centre, Keramon Agora, and thence passed on to the Hermos valley and Sardis.

The course of the “Royal Road” was marked by a series of great Phrygian cities, Ancyra of Galatia, Gordium of Galatia, Pessinus of Galatia, and the Phrygian metropolis, whose very name is now unknown,5 but whose remains are so imposing. Not far from its course lay other cities, whose names attest their old Phrygian connection, Gordou-kome in Bithynia, Midaion, Kotyaion, Aizanoi, Kadoi, in Phrygia, Gordos in north-eastern Lydia — associated with heroes of Phrygian mythological history, Gordios, Midas, Kadys or Kotys. But the only Phrygian town of the south that plays any important part in early history and semi-historical myth — Kelainai — owed its importance to quite different conditions, viz., to trade with the Greeks at the mouth of the Mćander.6

The powerful kingdom of Great Phrygia (with Galatia) fell before a new swarm of invaders from the north. These were the Kimmerioi, a people from the Crimea and the South-Russian coasts, who swept in devastating hordes (like the Huns and Mongols of later days) over the fairer lands of the south: their conquest of Sardis (all but the citadel), Antandros, and Magnesia on the Maeander was remembered in Greek history, and their unsuccessful attack on Ephesos (when the temple of Artemis outside the city was burned) is mentioned by the contemporary poets Callinus and Archilochus.7 With approximate exactitude, the year when the Cimmerians captured the Phrygian metropolis, and the Phrygian king Midas killed himself in despair, has been fixed as B.C. 674 by Assyriologists (whose sphere of study begins to touch central and western Asia Minor about that time, and thus imparts much greater exactitude to it).

The Lydian kings, Ardys 652-615, Sadyattes 615-610, and Alyattes 610-561, 8 resisted and finally drove back the Cimmerian hordes; and in doing so extended their empire over Great Phrygia. There still continued to rule in Phrygia Phrygian kings, for Adrastus, son of the Phrygian king, lived as a refugee (for the crime of homicide) at the court of Croesus (561-546) in Sardis. But these Phrygian kings were no longer independent sovereigns, but were subject to some kind of Lydian suzerainty, for the treaty concluded in 585 between Alyattes and the Median king Kyaxares fixed the Halys as the boundary between the Lydian and Median Empires.

About 546 Galatia with the rest of Great Phrygia passed under Persian rule, and remained so until Alexander the Great marched to Gordium and the Galatic Ancyra in B.C. 333. After his death in 320 his successors struggled and fought with one another with varying success during great part of a century.

The fate of Galatia during this disturbed period is far from certain. When the pretensions of Antigonus and his son Demetrius to succeed to the realm of Alexander were shattered at the battle of Ipsos in 301, Lysimachus was recognised as lord of Phrygia and the north-western countries, and of course Phrygia is to be taken as including Galatia. When Lysimachus fell at Korupedion in 281, the victorious Seleucus of Syria, who had previously ruled the southeastern regions, became master of all Asia Minor. But Mithradates of Pontus (B.C. 302-266) allied himself with some Greek cities on the north coast against him, and in 281 Seleucus was murdered, and his son Antiochus I found himself surrounded by enemies. The opinion of E. Meyer is that Galatia passed under Pontic power at this time; but he makes the curious mistake of distinguishing Galatia from Phrygia, whereas, of course, any statement made by historians about Phrygia at that time must be taken as true of Western Galatia, while Eastern Galatia belonged either to the Pontic or the Cappadocian kings. It seems more probable that Antiochus remained nominal king of Great Phrygia (including Galatia); but in his difficult position his authority would hardly have any real power in the remote north-eastern parts of Phrygia (the future Galatia). During these wars the Gauls entered Asia Minor, B.C. 278-277; and a new period begins. They found in Galatia the people whose history we have been describing. This non-Gaulish people formed the substructure on which the Galatian aristocracy rested.

We must therefore try to gain some conception of the non-Gaulish people of North Galatia — the mass, it must be remembered, of the population.


[1] Professor A. Körte, a distinguished explorer of Phrygia, would assign B.C. 1500 or 2000 as the date (Athen. Mittheilungen Inst., 1897), but his reason seems inadequate. He has proved, not that the conquering Phryges were so old, but that they adopted some arts from the older race whom they conquered.

[2] καὶ Φρυγίη καθύπερθε καὶ Ἑλλήσποντος ἀπείρων, Iliad, xxiv, 545.

[3] Iliad, III 401, X 431, XVIII 291.

[4] Diodorus, VII ii.

[5] I think, however, that it was known to the Greeks as Metropolis (as will be shown in Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, Part III). Perhaps the name may be only a Grecised form of the original Phrygian; but more probably it is a Greek epithet that took the place of the native name. The city lies over the “Tomb of Midas”.

[6] (See Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, Ch. XI, p. 412 ff.

[7] The destruction of the Ephesian temple and of Magnesia is often attributed in Greek accounts to the Amazons, a confusion of the primitive native population with the later invaders. What remained in memory was that a people of barbarous, non-Greek type had attacked the Ionian cities.

[8] I follow the dates preferred by Gelzer das Zeitalter des Gyges in Rhein. Museum, 1875, vol. xxx, not as certain, but as best attested. The ancient authorities vary considerably, and the moderns still more. The careful and accurate historical investigators of recent years vary as regards the date of the conquest of Lydia by Cyrus between 554 and 534.)

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