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

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 35

Greek Law in Galatian Cities

We observe that in many places1 Paul assumes among his Galatian readers familiarity with a certain system and state of legal procedure. They are expected to catch the force of allusions to various legal facts; and accordingly laws of that type must have existed in their cities. Further, those legal facts are not Roman, but are either distinctly Greek in character or slightly modified from the Greek type to suit the Graecised parts of Asia.

In the first place, those allusions presuppose a considerable amount of education among the Galatians. Paul does not address them as a mere set of ignorant and untutored rustics: he addresses them as persons living amid the organised administration of cities. That must be clear to every thinking man; but especially clear is it to those who take the pains to familiarise themselves with the state of inner Asia Minor in the century after Christ, when the cities were to a certain extent civilised and Graecised, but the country districts were still purely Anatolian in customs, inhabited by a population almost wholly ignorant of Greek. 

Yet Dr. Zöckler seriously maintains that the Epistle was addressed to the people in the districts round Pessinus. Apart from Pessinus itself, those districts were among the most sparsely populated and the rudest in the whole of Asia Minor. As regards districts of that kind, only the most resolute ignoring of all knowledge can blind men to the fact that Western manners and ideas can hardly have even begun to penetrate there so early. Even in southwestern Phrygia, separated only by twenty miles of hill country from the highly civilised and Hellenised Laodiceia, but off the main route of trade, there were districts where Greek was known only in the rudest and slightest way to the mass of the population even in the second century.2 Yet these districts were far more open to Greek influence than the remote parts round Pessinus; and Pessinus was still little affected by Greek manners,3 whereas Laodiceia and the other cities of the Lycus valley were probably entirely Hellenised long before the time of Christ.

Secondly, among the people whom Paul addressed Roman manners had not been superimposed directly on native ways. They were familiar with Greek rather than with Roman procedure; and Paul’s illustration is drawn from Greek legal expression. It is therefore obvious that, as Greek law would not be introduced after the Romans had occupied the country, there must have been a period before the Roman conquest when Greek law ruled in the Galatic territory.

Such would be the case with the country ruled by the Seleucid or the Pergamenian, or the Bithynian kings. All of them, including even the Bithynian princes, had, beyond a doubt, established the Greek principles of society and law in their dominions: these principles, of course, were pretty much confined to the cities, and did not affect the rural population. But in those countries it is clear from the inscriptions that, before the time of Christ, the cities possessed an organised municipal government of the Greek type, cultivated Greek manners and education and used the Greek language.

The Pontic and Cappadocian kings are more doubtful; but, in all probability, Greek civilisation was spread very little by their influence in their dominions. It is true that Greek was spoken at their courts to a certain (or uncertain) extent, and their coins bore Greek legends; but hardly the slightest trace of Greek city organisation, except in the Greek colonies of the coast, can be detected dating from their time. Amasia is called a city by Strabo (about A.D. 19), and a polis must be understood to have enjoyed something of a Greek organisation; but this was probably due rather to the natural expansion of Greek manners and trade than to the intention of any king Mithridates. Similarly, in Cappadocia, Mazaka and Tyana are called cities by Strabo.

But as to Galatia Proper, the country of the Gauls, the case is practically free from doubt. The sketch of Galatian history given in our Introduction is conclusive that, after a brief attempt to introduce Greek ways about the beginning of the second century B.C. was quenched in blood, the loose Celtic organisation and ways continued supreme in the country, and there was the strongest opposition to Greek manners and influence. The opinion of the best historical and legal investigators has been quoted4 that North Galatia continued for centuries to be an Occidental island amid the sea of Graeco-Asiatic peoples. Especially as regards the law of family and the rights of children, we have seen that, even in the second century after Christ, Galatian custom was strongly antipathetic to Greek ideas.5

Further, there is strong probability — though only scanty direct evidence exists — that, as North Galatia grew in civilisation, it was not Greek, but Roman manners and organisation that were introduced. During the century B.C. the guiding spirits in the country had been first Deiotaros and then Amyntas. Deiotaros was repeatedly praised for his Roman spirit by Roman officials and the Roman Senate: he drilled and armed his troops as Roman legions: he spent much of his life fighting against Greeks and in association with Romans. Amyntas was a creature of Rome, raised from a humble position for the special purpose of fitting the country to become a Roman Province.6 Roman amusements and Roman devices for government were far more thoroughly naturalised in North Galatia than in the Greek cities of Asia.7

All the evidence is that in North Galatia Roman ways had been superimposed directly on barbarian and specially Celtic manners. The religion of Galatia was indeed hardly at all Celtic; but neither was it Greek; it was mainly old Phrygian.8 The language was the only Greek factor that exercised any strong influence on North Galatia; and it did so to a great extent under Roman patronage The Romans made little or no attempt to naturalise the Latin language in the East; they acquiesced in the fact that Greek had the advantage there, and they accepted it officially. But even the language is exceedingly unlikely to have been much known outside of the cities in the time of Paul, Sec. 14.

It is simply irrational to maintain that Paul would have attempted to make religious conceptions plain and clear to North Galatian Christians by means of Greek ideas and legal devices: he was careful to adapt his words and illustrations to the needs and capacities of his congregations. His power over his Churches lay in his sympathy with them. The intense wish to be among them, Gal 4:20, enabled him to write as if he were beside them, seeing what they saw around them.

But the South Galatian lands had been ruled by Greek officers and kings from 334 onwards. For more than a century they had been part of the Seleucid Empire, and had been on the main route between the Seleucid capital, Syrian Antioch, and the Lydian and Phrygian parts of that Empire. Then in B.C. 189 they had been transferred to the Pergamenian kings; and, though Pergamenian rule seems “never to have become a reality there, and part of the country seems to have been annexed to Galatia and part to Cappadocia during the second century B.C., yet the position of its cities on or near one of the main thoroughfares of Greek trade and of Jewish travel would maintain Greek ways and civilisation among them. See Sec. 17-22.

Only in regard to the two Roman Coloniae, Antioch and Lystra, it might be maintained that their new foundation implied a Romanisation of society. To a certain extent it did so; actual Italian settlers would not abandon their Occidental ideas of family and of inheritance. But it by no means follows that the Greek population of the two Coloniae abandoned Greek ways: on the contrary the probability will be admitted by every historical investigator that in many respects Greek customs persisted. The surrounding sea of Greek manners would maintain the Greek element in the Coloniae, as is shown in Sections 17 ff. Finally, it is evident that Greek civilisation was established strongly in the South Galatian cities in the fourth century B.C., and that the form of government in the country was not Greek after B.C. 189. So far as it goes, this establishes a probability that the civilisation of those cities had more of the older Seleucid type, and was not open to the same continuous and rapid development as among the Greek mercenaries in Egypt. An older type of Greek Will is likely to have existed in Iconium and the neighbouring cities; and we see that Paul’s references to the law “after the manner of men” imply a law on the whole of rather early type.


[1] See above, §§ XXXI, XXXIII: below, §§ XXXIX, XLI.

[2] Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, I, p. 131.

[3] See p. 139 f.

[4] See p. 131.

[5] See p. 131.

[6] See p. 121 f.

[7] See p. 132 f.

[8] See p. 144.

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