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 4

The Pre-Gaulish Inhabitants of Galatia

THIS outline enables us to estimate the character of the conquering Phryges. In comparison with the native peoples, they were a race of warriors, fiercer, probably better armed, and certainly more apt in the use of weapons. We may suppose that they brought with them something of the spirit of the later Teutonic and Germanic races, to whom they were probably akin, a love of war and a love of freedom, an energy and pertinacity and self-assertiveness, which always seem to be stronger and more deep-rooted in the north and the west than in the south and the east. Hence the memory that the old Phryges have left in history is that of warriors and rulers, by sea and by land, whereas the character of the later Phrygians in history is that of slaves, effeminate and cowardly.

As the name “Phrygians” may denote equally the European conquering tribe and the mixed race formed from the amalgamation of the conquerors and the conquered, we shall use the term “Phryges” to designate the immigrant tribe, and “Phrygians” for the united people resident in Phrygia.

The impression made by that ancient Phrygian power was strong in the Greek mind in the age when the Iliad was composed. Priam tells how “erewhile fared I to Phrygia, the land of vines, and there saw I that the men of Phrygia, they of the fleet steeds, were very many, even the hosts of Otreus and gallant Mygdon, which were then encamped along the banks of Sangarios. For I, too, being their ally was numbered among them on the day that the Amazons came, the peers of men” (Iliad, III 187; Philost. Her. 20, 41). In return for this, when Priam was in danger, “Phorkys and god-like Askanios led the Phrygians from far Askania, and these were eager to fight in the battle-throng” before Troy’s walls (Iliad, II 862),

Helen, when she recognised the guileful and dangerous goddess Aphrodite, said to her: “Verily thou wilt lead me further on to some one of the well-peopled cities of Phrygia1 or lovely Maionia, if there too thou hast perchance some other darling among mortal men” (Iliad, III 401). Helen knew Aphrodite as the goddess whose haunts are most in Phrygia: this remarkable fact is explained by the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, and especially by the following lines, which the goddess speaks to Anchises, her favourite, concealing her real nature and personality, but telling of her own land: —

“No goddess am I, . . . but a mortal, born of woman. My father is Otreus, of famous name, belike thou hast heard of him, who is king over all Phrygia, land of walled cities”.2

In truth, she who in those passages was expressed in Greek religious forms as Aphrodite was in her essence the Mother-Goddess of the Phrygian land: she was found there by the immigrant Phrygians, and reverenced by them as the great divinity of the country.

We cannot trace the steps in this alteration of the Phrygian type; but analogy shows its general character. The Phryges had settled among a peaceful and unenterprising people. For some centuries they maintained their power by strong fortified cities or citadels on the summits of rocky hills. Such is the situation of Ancyra and of Giaour-Kalessi in Galatia, of the city by the Midas-Tomb, and of the little fort beside the Lion-Tombs.3

When their power was destroyed by the Kimmerioi, there was no longer the stimulus of pride to maintain their national spirit; and they sank to that placid level of character which belonged to the older subject population and is produced by the genius of the land in which they dwelt (see Section 5, p. 35) — the character of “an agricultural and cattle-breeding population of rustics, peaceful and good-humoured”.4  Apart from the Iliad, that is the character of the Phrygian people and their heroes in Greek popular estimation: Gordios is a farmer, Midas a well-to-do rough old “country gentleman”. The warrior stock has melted into the older stock, and disappeared at least from the surface. We must, therefore, beware of attributing to the warrior Phryges every myth and every legendary or religious name that we find in local legend: many of those personages, even if they did originate in the conquering race, have softened into the traits of the conquered rustic people.

It is generally said that Ashkenaz, which seems to denote the mass of Asia Minor (distinguished from the western coasts, Javan, and the eastern parts, Togarma, etc.) in Gen_10:4, is the name of the Phrygian people; but this name certainly belongs, not to the warrior race, but to the older agricultural stock. It is evidently the religious and personal name Ἀσκανὸς or Ασκάνιος, in Phrygia, Lydia, and the Troad. But Gen_10:4 can hardly be younger than the tenth century B.C., and is therefore probably older than the conquest of Phrygia by the Phryges. The family of Anchises, Aeneas, and Askanios, is professedly of a different stock from the family of Tros and Priamos in the Trojan legends; and we take it to represent the pre-Phrygian element in the population, closely connected with the worship and mythology of the native goddess.

Thus we have in Phrygia and Galatia a warrior-race ruling a powerful kingdom for over two centuries5 before 676, and in the course of the centuries that followed melting into the type of the Anatolian peasant class, which both preceded and followed it. Before the end of the fifth century the change was complete. The old warrior Phryges had disappeared under Lydian and Persian domination; and the Greeks had forgotten about them, and thought only of the Phrygian slaves, with whom they were familiar. The Phrygian was the slave par excellence; by nature he possessed only the unheroic qualities.

The most important points in the transformation are these: (1) The degeneration of the conquerors probably did not begin until they had ceased to be a dominant people. (2) The process of amalgamation between the Phryges and the older population seems connected with the adoption by the former of their subjects’ religion. Cybele was indubitably the ancient native goddess: the Phrygian name Askanios was modified from a pre-Phrygian divine and national name.

The conquering race adopted the native religion; but in adopting it they contributed elements which modified it. Zeus Benneus, the god of the car, and Zeus Bronton, the thundering god, whose worship remained in later time characteristic of the cities nearest the old Phrygian metropolis, have all the appearance of gods of the immigrant Phrygians. They represent the male element, which gave strength to the conquerors. In the religion of Cybele the female element is dominant: p. 40 f.

Probably, if the Phrygian power had not been so suddenly destroyed, the warrior race would have affected the amalgamated people rtiuch more than was actually the case. But a warrior race cannot keep its fighting instinct in defeat and subjection; and thus hardly a trace of the earlier Phryges can be discerned in the later record of the race. Even in an Asiatic army the Phrygians ranked, not among the martial races, but along with Ethiopians and Egyptians, in B.C. 480.6 They are rarely mentioned as an element in the armies of later Persian or Greek kings, and only among the unimportant light-armed troops. In the first Mithridatic war, Cassius tried to make a Phrygian army, but abandoned as useless the attempt to train “men unsuited for war”.7

To bear a name that seemed Phrygian was a disgrace.8 “To slave in mid Phrygia” was proverbial for the lowest kind of life.9 Phrygians and Thracians were mentioned together by Greeks as the least honoured of mankind. They were accustomed to sell their own children into foreign slavery,10  which they seemed to accept as their natural lot. They wore ear-rings like women,11 The only Phrygian who attained any celebrity in Greek story was Aesop the slave. They are described as slaves by nature, and of small value as slaves; but this last point probably refers only to their simple character and slowness of wit, for Socrates said that the Phrygians, being industrious, were for that very reason suited for slavery:12 he was, of course, judging from those Phrygians whom he saw slaves in Attica.

But in these qualities we may see rather the effect of their situation than an index of their real character. They were far from the sea and the opportunities of travel and intercourse; they had few products except slaves in their country that would reward and stimulate trade; the opportunity of getting education from contact with other races was denied them, and their religious system, so far from favouring education, tended to keep them on a lower social plane than their Greek neighbours; Greek coast colonies surrounded them on three sides, and the keen, enterprising, quick-witted, highly-trained colonists regarded with extreme contempt the slow, apathetic, contented, and unutterably ignorant Phrygians, incapable of being roused or excited by any cause except their vulgar and degrading superstitious rites.

This contrast between Greek and Phrygian, and the inevitable victory of intellect in the conflict between them, gave form to many legends — Marsyas conquered and tortured by Apollo, Lityerses slain by Herakles.13

Almost the only inventions attributed to the Phrygians were in music: various kinds of cymbals and similar instruments, the flute, the trigonon, perhaps the syrinx, were considered Phrygian: a musical mode, said to be of melancholy yet emotional and exciting character was called the Phrygian: certain tunes, the Lityerses or harvest song, the harmateion or carriage song,14  etc., were of Phrygian origin. There was also a Phrygian dance. These are all creations and accompaniments of the Phrygian religion.

Associations connected with the Phrygian worship, passing under various names in different parts of Asia Minor, such as the Herdsmen, the Korybants, the Hymn-Singers, the Satyroi, survived even in Roman time and have thus become known to us.15 They are still represented by the Mevlevi or dancing dervishes of modern Turkey, with their strange yet most impressive music and dance, which have probably been preserved in essential characteristics from the worship of Cybele.

Further, the art of embroidery was said to be derived from Phrygia; and the Romans gave the name Phrygiones to those that practised the art. The occupation is of a feminine, and therefore Phrygian, type.

In literature, only the fable, the least cultured of literary forms, the simple expression of rustic wisdom and wit under the guise of anecdotes about beasts and birds, was attributed to Phrygia. Even this came probably from much further east; but the Greeks heard it from Phrygia and thought it characteristic of that country.

In this picture of Phrygia, as Greeks and Romans have handed it down, the living characteristics of a real people are clear. Scanty and vague as is the picture, it is at least true and convincing in the general effect. The people stands before us in its general type. Every traveller will recognise in it the modern, so-called “Turkish,” peasantry of the same country; and he sees before him every day in the country the same old conflict between the quick-witted, subtle, enterprising Greek, and the slow, dull, contented Turk. The modern peasantry has reverted under the pressure of similar external conditions, and through the influence of the same natural surrounding, to the primeval Phrygian type. Whatever pride of religion and stock was for a time imparted to the landsmen by the Turkish intermixture has now almost disappeared, since the Turks ceased to be a dominant warrior caste.

What we may call the “Phrygian” race, then, is the fundamental stock into which by degrees all immigrant races tend to melt, as soon as circumstances cease to support the favoured and dominant position of the “outlander” aristocracy. It was not without reason that the Phrygians called themselves the autochthonous people, the original and oldest race in the world. But that old stock was not the European immigrant Phryges, it was the older Ashkenaz, the people of the Amazones.

In North Galatia and in South Galatia we meet this ground-stock in two totally different stages. In North Galatia it was mastered and overlaid and ruled by an immigrant aristocracy, which gave tone and colour and variety and power of development to the inert mass, so that the latter, with its plastic nature, took on it for the time the character of the dominant race; and the Galatians were severed by a broad and deep chasm from all the surrounding peoples.

In South Galatia the same stock appears as trained to a certain extent in the cities by some centuries of Greek municipal institutions and law and a smattering of Greek literature and education. With their marked receptivity and plasticity, the Phrygians took on themselves with perfect readiness a certain element of Hellenism: “without any observable resistance and with great facility they adopted Greek myths, fashions, education and language”.16 The result was not true Greek — the Phrygians could never become Greeks even on the surface — but it was at least a new product, which showed something of the qualities of both Phrygian and Greek — Phrygian sincerity and simplicity and readiness to sink their own individuality in what they accepted as a higher training — Greek desire for learning and education.

He that would appreciate rightly the “Galatian Question” must begin by rightly conceiving the historical development of North and South Galatia; and he will not neglect to acquire some conception of the Phrygian ground-stock, as it can best be seen either in actual contact with the modern peasantry or in the picture of them drawn by sympathetic travellers. Equally necessary is it to appreciate the general type of Phrygian religion, on which see next Section.


[1] πόλεις εὖ ναιόμεναι.

[2] Φρυγίης εὐτειχήτοιο, l. 122.

[3] Ancyra is marked as a Phrygian city by its name (also that of a city in the north-west corner of Phrygia), and by tradition associating it with Midas (see Steph. Byz. s.v.).

[4] E. Meyer, Gesch. des Alterthums, I, p. 300.

[5] Prof. A. Krte would extend the period to 900 or 1400 years, see note, p. 19.

[6] Herod. IX 32, cp. VII 73, VIII 113.

[7] ἀνδράσιν ἀπολέμοις, Appian Mithr. 19.

[8] αἰσχρὸν γὰρ ὄνομα Φρυγιακὸν γυναῖκʼ ἔχειν.

[9] Dio Chrys. XXXI 113, cp. 158, X 4.

[10] Philostr. Apoll. VIII.

[11] Dio Chrys. XXXII 3 (so Lydians Xen. Anab. Ill 1, 31).

[12] Aelian Var. Hist. X 18: people who were naturally idle, like the Persians, had a more independent spirit, said Socrates.

[13] Not that this contrast is the only element in those tales. Each is a growth, to which only the final form was given by this idea of contest between Greek and Phrygian. Another form of the Lityerses legend is that he was slain in the field by the sickles of the reapers, evidently the older form (see p. 35).

[14] Many conflicting accounts of the ἁρμάτειον μέλος are given, as war-song, etc.

[15] Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, Part II, pp, 359, 630.

[16] Haase in Ersch und Gruber Realencyc. s.v. Phrygien, p. 292.

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