Ethnicity and Ethnikos in the Ancient World: It’s Complicated

On Bitchute, a commenter on my Greeks and Phoenicians video declared confidently that

History is full of lies. The Phoenicians (Hebrews, etc) has nothing to do with Hellenes (Greeks). Who benefits of this lies?

My critic also linked to another Bitchute video, entitled “PSEUDO RESEARCHERS FALSE CLAIMS MADE AGAINST HELLENIC ARCHETYPES.” If you don’t have ten minutes to spare, the description should give you some idea of the extensive research involved.

Pseudo Anglo-zionist researchers who refer themselves as Gematria genius, all stars on their own convoluted minds, who pervert the truth through the dark overlords programs and devices, keeping them within the confines of false duality. They hate Hellenes-(the Greeks- the true white race), yet these twisters of truth try to trick the people of other countries, like Japan for example, to think “they come from the Greeks.” From where the Talpiot Program (relation to Gematria) comes to take control of the internet globally, from one central point somewhere in Tel Aviv, and they are already doing it by fabricating false realities in social media like the Arab Spring, etc. They hate the planet earth and humanity as a whole.

While most of this goes beyond my medical and clinical pay grade, I see a few common misconceptions that are worth addressing.

The Anatolian Goddess Cybele, worshiped in Rome as Magna Mater (Great Mother).
Ostia, 3rd Century

The first mistake is a very common one. “Hellenic” or “Hellenistic” is not synonymous with “Greek” any more than “Francophone” with “Frenchman.” Hellenic culture spoke Greek but included a large number, perhaps a majority, of non-Greek people. And a fair bit of what we consider “Greek” culture actually originated in Anatolia or modern-day Turkey and moved west.

Midas and Gordias were Phrygian, not Greek. Croesus and Mausoleus were Lydians who spoke a dialect of Luwian and were culturally and ethnically closer to the Trojans. While Herodotus, the father of modern-day history, was thoroughly Hellenized, he was also an ethnic Carian. And the founding stories of many Greek cities and dynasties involved a foreign hero. Cadmus of Thebes was a Phoenician prince from Tyre. Pelops, the great-grandfather of Agamemnon and Menelaus, was from Lydia.

At the time of Herodotus, and for several centuries afterward, Greek was the language of trade and commerce. Only after the Roman Empire’s fall did the educated West turn away from Greek in favor of the more plebeian Latin. While Rome welcomed cults from throughout the Empire and beyond, those groups generally did their proselytizing and speaking in Greek.

The Conversion of Saint Paul, by Luca Giordano (1690). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the best example, albeit not one the Romans welcomed, is a Jewish merchant named Saul from the Anatolian city of Tarsus. After a vision on the road to Emmaus, the newly-named Paul turned a crucified Jewish rabbi into a worldwide sensation. But Paul could only do that because he spoke and thought in Koine Greek and because he was thoroughly immersed in the Hellenic culture of Asia Minor and the Hellenic world.

Paul could not only debate and preach in regions unfamiliar with Aramaic. As a prosperous merchant (rich enough that his family purchased Roman citizenship if Acts 22:25-29 is to be believed) Paul was familiar with imperial customs and philosophies. His Hellenic education let him reach new audiences and attracted trained philosophers who developed the doctrines which became Christianity.

In the ancient world people more often identified themselves by their home town or city than by their larger ethnic group. The Phoenicians certainly saw themselves as Tyrians, Sidonians, or Carthaginians first and Canaanites second. Greek city-states spent most of their time squabbling with their neighbors and only banding together in confederation when faced with a foreign attack. (Often not even then!)

Most Phoenicians would be highly offended at being mistaken for Judeans. Judea was a backward place more notable for its strategic location than its resources or armies. Their great temple couldn’t hold a candle to Tyrian or Carthaginian shrines, and the Jewish tribes were uprooted repeatedly during wars that left Phoenician cities relatively unscathed.

Devout Jews would be equally offended if you mistook them for those lecherous Canaanite Ba’al-lovers, though they might be secretly flattered if you thought they were Tyrian or Sidonian. There were real cultural and religious differences between these groups. But they were genetically very similar and spoke very similar languages. An ancient Carthaginian and a modern Israeli could understand a fair bit of each other’s speech if they talked slowly.

Reproduction of Artemis statue colored using ancient pigments

I also note the comment that the Hellenes were “the original white race.” Alas, our modern visions of race don’t map well onto the ancient world. The early Iron Age Mediterranean was not an egalitarian place where everybody was judged on the content of their character. It was a rigidly stratified society where everybody was born into their place. Ancient people told jokes that were old even then.

“Did you hear how gold wire was discovered, my Lydian brother? Two Lydians grabbed the same coin.”

“Nay, my friend. The coin came from your Phoenician uncle and so their gold wire was bronze.”

But despite all this, there was a great deal of social, financial, and sexual commerce between different groups. When times got tough and famine reared its ugly head, groups would move off to new territory and set up colonies. Famine sent Greeks to Asia Minor, Italy, and Sicily. There they intermarried with the locals and plugged the new territory into the Hellenic world’ s trade routes. Before long you had a Greek-speaking town: a bit longer and you had a Greek-speaking region.

You also have the phenomenon of new civilizations linking themselves to old ones. The classical-era Greeks looked back to the Mycenaeans, Phoenicians, and Anatolian peoples. The Romans looked to the Greeks for their philosophy and the Trojans for their national epic. And the European Renaissance started when the medieval world developed a fascination with pre-Christian Greece and Rome.

These connections are frequently tenuous. The Latins who founded the Roman Republic were living in mud huts during the time of the Trojan War. (Though their culture owed more than they would care to admit from Troy’s Etruscan cousins). The classical Greeks were largely the descendants of the Doric peoples who overthrew the Mycenaeans. (Though Britannia also spent several centuries squabbling with Roman occupiers, only to look back fondly on Roman Britain in their Arthurian legends).

But they serve to remind us the ancient world, like the modern, cannot easily be reduced to simple categories. The Hellenic world was neither a paragon of racial purity nor a multicultural paradise of tolerance and diversity. We will do better looking at history for models of how to solve our current problems than by using history to promote our political ends.

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