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CHAPTER III GREEK AND ROMAN CONCEPTS OF RACE
During the nineteenth century a peculiar rigidity was given to the conception of race through the application of somewhat hastily formed biological theories. One or another of the current hypotheses on heredity was deemed an adequate or even necessary explanation, and by any of them racial characteristics became determined, fixed: race was an unescapable limiting condition. The Ethiopian could not change his skin. These ideas, when popularized, corresponded crudely to certain other ideas already present in men’s minds—ideas that often had a very different basis. Their lowest manifestation is that form of vicarious braggadocio which is known as jingoism, racial or national, and is expressed in the depreciation of everything that concerns other “races.”

Many historians have been influenced by this modern and unyielding concept of race, and have permitted themselves to make rather large promises about the destinies of existing groups of men on the basis of it.[45] But as late as a hundred years ago it was not yet in existence. The term race then denoted a sum of national and social traits which it might be difficult to acquire in one generation, but which could readily be gained in two. Even such disparate ethnic groups as 49Austrian and Magyar knew of no impassable chasm that good-will on either side could not bridge.

It is the latter racial feeling and not the modern one that classical antiquity knew. Consequently, in the clash of races that took place during the period with which this book deals, “race” must be understood as the centuries before the nineteenth understood it. Racial prejudices, pride of blood, contempt for “slave-nations,” existed and found voice, but the terms are not coextensive with those of to-day.

It is well-known that a primary Greek distinction was that between Hellene and barbarian, and it is equally familiar that the distinction had not been fully formed in the time of Homer. There is no indication that the Trojans were felt to be fundamentally different from the Acheans, although it is likely enough that the allies who attacked the great city of the Troad were of different descent from those that defended it. The one instance found in Homer of the word β?ρβαρο? is in the compound βαρβαρ?φωνο?, “of barbarous speech” (Iliad ii. 867), which makes the original meaning of the word apparent. A Greek was one whose speech was intelligible. All others were barbarians, “jabberers.” And it is not only incidentally that Homer fails to make the racial division clear. When he of set purpose contrasts the two armies, as in Iliad iv. 422-437, it is the contrast between the silent discipline of the Greeks and the loose, noisy marshaling of the Trojans: “For all were not of one speech or of a single language. Mixed were their tongues, since the men came from far-off lands.”

50It is probably in the course of just such expeditions as the Iliad tells of, a joint movement against a common foe, that a sense of national unity arose, and it is likely that it came to include many tribes of different race. We do not know what real basis there is for the traditional divisions of Ionians, Dorians, and Aeolians. These divisions have not proved very valuable means of classification to modern students of Greek dialects. The generic name of Greek to the East was Yavan, obviously the same as Ionian,[46] and that name indicates where the first contact took place. The struggles of Greeks to establish themselves on the coast of Asia Minor probably created the three traditional groups, by forcing them to combine against threatened destruction. But there is nothing to show that any real feeling of common origin and common responsibility existed even here.

On the continent, again, there were large groups of men whom the Greeks found difficulty in classifying. There were some Epirotes and Macedonians whose claim to be Greeks was admitted. On the whole, however, Epirotes and Macedonians were classed as barbarians, though a different sort of barbarians from Scythian and Phrygian. The first realization of national unity came with the first great national danger, the catastrophe that impended from the Persians.

Even then actual invasion did not succeed in combining the Greeks even temporarily. That was due to the inherent difficulty in interesting Thessalians or Boeotians in the quarrels of Ionians.[47] In spite of them, 51the danger was at that time averted, but it did not therefore become less real. The consciousness of this ever-present danger and the bitter experiences of subjection created groups that coalesced more solidly than ever before about certain leaders, Athenians or Spartans. In the fifth and fourth centuries, the concept of a Greek race received a real outline, and the feeling of a common race pride became highly developed.

This race pride showed itself principally in an over-weening confidence in the superiority of Greek arms. It is a false notion that represents the Greek as careless or contemptuously indifferent of the races about him. Never were men more eager for curious tales of out-of-the-way peoples. Their earliest historians won their chief success in this way. But Greeks had beaten back the conquerors of the world, and had maintained themselves aggressively as well. It was very natural that something of this attitude was apparent in dealing with barbarians even on terms of comity. The Greeks had at least colorable ground for believing that in military matters they were masters wherever they chose.

One phrase of which some Greek writers were fond need not be taken too seriously. Barbarians, we are told, are by nature slaves.[48] It would be an error to attach much importance to the statement. Greeks did not really believe that Darius or Datames or Hamilcar was servile in character or in disposition. The expression was merely the facile chauvinism that military prestige readily stirs up in any nation. So at certain times some Englishmen were ready to call the French 52cowards, or Frenchmen to call Prussians so. Among the Greeks the principal basis for the statement was the fact that the activity of Greek merchants and pirates filled every city with slaves of all foreign nations. Indeed the phrase is no more than a generalized assertion of that state of things.

We shall have to qualify similarly the statement now and then encountered of a natural and permanent hostility between Greeks and barbarians. It is a commonplace of Athenian orators, but it practically always concerns the real hereditary enemy of Greeks, and particularly of Athens—the Persians. It is in calling the Greeks against their ancient foe that Isocrates uses the phrase,[49] and in Demosthenes[50] it is especially based upon the hostilities so long maintained between Athens and Persia and the ancient grudge Athenians bore for the sack of their city in 480 B.C.E.

The first achievement of united Hellas was the invasion of Persia, although it was under Macedonian leadership that this was done, but soldiers of Alexander appeared as Greeks to the East, and Alexander is ??? ???, melek Yavan, “king of Greece,” in the Book of Daniel.[51]

Just at this culminating point in the development of Greek nationality, the process of blurring began. Greek and non-Greek were no sooner sharply contrasted than by the conscious assimilation policy of Alexander’s successors the lines tended to obliterate themselves. At first Greek culture was dominant, but beneath it Syrian, Egyptian, and Cappadocian obstinately survived, and ultimately, under Christian and Mohammedan influences, 53regained their place. It is with one phase of this specific problem—the threatened submergence of an Asiatic people by Greek culture—that we are particularly concerned.

The attitude of Romans toward other nations was, as might be expected, even more arrogantly that of masters and conquerors. But where we find among Greeks a certain theoretical importance attached to purity of Hellenic descent[52] (which, by the by, was largely ignored in practice), the Romans scarcely understood what the term meant. A system in which emancipated slaves were citizens, who in the second generation were eligible to high civic honors,[53] and not infrequently attained them—such a system did not tend to encourage claims to purity of blood. That does not mean that foreign origin, real or suspected, could not at any time become a handle for abuse. Cicero fastens on the Celtic strain in Piso’s lineage with savage delight, just as Demosthenes’ enemies rarely forgot to remind him of his Scythian grandfather.[54] But these are not matters of real significance. The significant fact was that they who were Liby-Phoenicians in one generation were descendants of Romulus in the next.[55]

Sumus Romani qui fuimus ante Rudini, “We are Romans, we who formerly were Rudinians,” says Ennius,[56] and the metamorphosis was as complete and as easy if, instead of Italians, they were wholly barbarous elements that were absorbed. In religious matters the Romans more than the Greeks felt the efficacy of form. So in political matters the formula of emancipation and 54the decree of citizenship were deemed operative of a real change in the persons affected.

The Roman nobility, it is true, often made pretensions to a purity of descent that felt every foreign admixture as a stain.[57] But such claims were absurdly groundless, and cannot really have deceived even those who maintained them. The great majority of Romans had no quarrel with any who desired and tried to be Roman. Even Juvenal’s venom is vented only on the avowed foreigners, who as Greeks, Egyptians, and Syrians lolled at their ease, while the ragged Cethegi and Cornucanii munched, standing, the bread of affliction and charity. The leveling tendencies of the autocracy removed a great many of the reasons of this friction, and in part succeeded in giving even the Greek-speaking East and the Latin-speaking West a common culture to maintain. But by that time new movements of population made such race-concepts as were based on blood-kinship too plainly out of accord with the facts to be seriously asserted. At the close of the period we are discussing, every man was either a Roman citizen, with a pressingly heavy share of the burden of maintaining the Roman system, or he was not. Who his ancestors were was wholly forgotten. It had even ceased to be of moment whether he spoke Greek or Latin or Syriac, Punic, or even Gallic,[58] which had never completely died out in their ancient homes.

At no time did a feeling of racial kinship make a strong sentimental appeal. That the whole human race was an extended family was taken as axiomatic. Striking 55physical differences did not prevent similarity of names from proving kinship between Egyptian and Greek and Persian and Ethiopian. All through Greek history factions in Greek cities called upon outsiders against their countrymen. The Phoenicians of Utica preferred the foreign Romans to their Carthaginian kinsmen. Similarly the Campanians of Capua chose to fraternize with the Libyans and Phoenicians of Hannibal’s army rather than the closely related Latins.[59] In these circumstances nothing will lend itself more easily to distorting our view of the times than the importation into them of the modern view of race—of that view, at least, in which the historians of the nineteenth century found so easy and adequate an explanation of everything they desired to debase or extol.


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