Welcome to Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World!

[For Phil’s other websites or courses, please navigate using the main menu at the top.]

*In Progress* (so far over 240 posts)

The purpose of this website is to collect, organize, and make public resources for the reconstruction of ethnic relations and ethnographic culture in the ancient Mediterranean and near eastern worlds. Please use the accordion-style arrows and categories in the right sidebar to navigate the site.

“Ethnographic culture,” as we intend it, moves beyond the idea of “ethnography” (literally “representing peoples” or “writing about peoples”) as a Greek and Roman literary genre describing non-Greek and non-Roman peoples (“barbarians”). Instead, ethnographic culture refers to the ways in which the imagination, classification, and description of “other peoples” actively played out in large-scale and small-scale ways across societies – especially in conquest and colonization, but also in local social interactions, and in connection with diasporic communities of immigrants. Judeans (Jews) and Jesus adherents (Christians) were very much a part of this larger sphere of ethnic encounters, so they have a place here too (see especially categories 1 and 5).

This website then combines literary, epigraphic, and visual data in order to aid students and researchers in a fuller understanding of ethnographic culture. It also facilitates the reconstruction of minoritized ethnic groups spread across time  (from the fifth century BCE to the sixth century CE) and geography (across the Mediterranean and near east).

There are times when the organization of material mimics or uses terms from the ancient material. This is not to naturalize those categories or terms, but rather to more clearly demonstrate the categories with which ancient writers were working.

Highlighted contributors: > Daniel Mitchell > Maia Kotrosits > James Adam Redfield (coming soon)

Who did it?: This website reflects the ongoing work of Maia Kotrosits and Phil Harland (along with voluntary scholarly contributors) supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) under the rubric of “Ethnicity, Diaspora, and Ethnographic Culture in the Greco-Roman World.” Many thanks to the Research Assistants from York University who have helped with inputting or checking translations: Amy House, Victoria Muccilli, Daniel Mitchell, and Rosalie Reis.

Who are those guys shaking hands at the top?: Aglibol and Malakbel. The monument is from Rome and is a dedication to the Palmyrene gods Aglibol (Moon) and Malakbel (Sun) by Iahari son of Haliphi from Palmyra in Syria (IGUR I 119-120; 236 CE). The inscription is bilingual, in both Greek and Palmyrene. That is not a giant asparagus in the middle. (Currently in the basement of the Capitoline museum in Rome; photo by Harland).

What about the people traveling in the wagon? This is a depiction of a family of northern peoples (Sarmatians or Dacians) pictured as nomads by the creators of “Trajan’s trophy” (link to discussion; photo by Cristian Chirita, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).

Northern peoples: Inscriptions on barbarians as bandits (second-third centuries CE)

Barbarians and Greeks: Thucydides theorizes the shift from barbarian banditry to settled civilization (late fifth century BCE)

Pelasgian diasporas: Herodotos on legends of Pelasgian migration, language, and influence (mid-fifth century BCE)

Assyrians, Medes and Persians: Ktesias on Persian Matters via Diodoros and Photios (early fourth century BCE)

Thracians, Getians, Paionians, and others: Herodotos (mid-fifth century BCE)

Babylonian diasporas: Josephos and others on legends of migration from Babel (first-second centuries CE)

Judean diasporas: Josephos on conflicts in Babylonia, ca. 40-66 CE (late first century CE)

Daans, Kadousians, Hyrkanians, and Sakians: Strabo on peoples east of the Caspian Sea (first century CE)

Kimmerians and Kolchians: Herodotos on other Pontic peoples (mid-fifth century BCE)

Babylonians and Assyrians: Herodotos on legendary queens and outstanding customs (mid-fifth century BCE)

Romans: Dionysios on legends of Greek and Pelasgian migrations to Italy (late first century BCE)

Maiotians, Bosporians, Kaukasians, and other Pontic peoples: Strabo on northern Asia (early first century CE)

Judeans, “Asiatics”, and Greeks: Cicero’s ethnic invective aimed at eastern witnesses against Flaccus (mid-first century BCE)

Judeans and Celts: Various authors on Claudius’ actions against foreigners in the 40s CE (second / third centuries CE

Mediterranean peoples: Artemidoros theorizes foreign elements in dreams (second century CE)

Judeans, Syrians, Celts, Scythians and others: Plutarch on the “barbarian” origins of fearing the gods, or “superstition” (early second century CE)

Judeans, Syrians, and Egyptians: Epiktetos engages with ethnographic discourses for philosophical aims (mid-first century CE)

Judeans, Egyptians, and Magians: Various authors on Tiberius’ actions against foreign practices 17-19 CE (first-third centuries CE)

Judeans, Syrians, Indians, and others: Porphyry of Tyre on abstinence from meat (third century CE)

Parthians, Libyans, Egyptians and others: Acts of the Apostles on legends of Judean migration (early second century CE)

Britons, Armenians, Bessians, and others: Reliefs of subjugated peoples at Aphrodisias (first century CE)

Getians, Dacians, and Scythians: Strabo (early first century CE)

Mediterranean peoples: Sextus Empiricus engages with ethnographic discourses for philosophical aims (second-third centuries CE)

Northern peoples: Antonios Diogenes’ Wonders Beyond Thule and ethnographic fiction (second century CE / ninth century CE)

Scythians, Amazons, and Persians: Isokrates on the superiority of the Athenian people (early fourth century BCE)

Scythians, Amazons, and Hyperboreans: Diodoros on some northerners (mid-first century BCE)

Scythians and other Pontic peoples: Herodotos on the “most ignorant peoples of all” (fifth century BCE)

Egyptians: Diodoros on the origins of civilization and on Egyptian views (mid-first century BCE)

Parthians, Celts and Iberians or Germans: Scenes on the breastplate of the “Augustus of Prima Porta” (early first century CE)

Amazons: Greek artistic depictions of a female warrior people (fourth century BCE to second century CE)

Various peoples: Herodotos on the mixed composition of the Persian army under Xerxes (fifth century BCE)

Libyans: Herodotos on customs and colonization (fifth century BCE)

Judeans, Armenians, Dacians, Egyptians, and other peoples: Defeat, capture, and subjugation on Roman imperial coinage (first-fourth centuries CE)

Celts, Persians, and Amazons: Smaller statues of fighting and dying “barbarians” associated with Attalos of Pergamon (third-second century BCE / second century CE)

Scythians and other northern peoples: Ephoros (mid-fourth century BCE)

Indians, Ethiopians, Celts, and Scythians: Ephoros on a four-fold division of the known world (mid-fourth century BCE)

Barbarian wisdom: Ephoros on inventors (mid-fourth century BCE)

Kretans, Spartans, Carthaginians, and Romans: Polybios on superior and inferior societal organization (second century BCE)

Persians and Medes: Herakleides of Kyme, Klearchos of Soloi, and others on royal banquets (fourth century BCE)

Mediterranean peoples: Claudius Ptolemy on astrological effects on peoples (second century CE)

Judean and Indian wisdom: Philo on the freedom of Essenes and Kalanos (early first century CE)

Ethnic diversity in Egypt: Inscriptional and papyrological evidence

Egyptians: Herodotos on customs and legendary kings (fifth century BCE)

Europeans, Asians, and Greeks: Aristotle on environment, ethnic hierarchies, and slaves (fourth century BCE)

Europeans and Asians: Pseudo-Hippokrates on humoural and environmental theories (fifth century BCE)

Judeans: Mnaseas, Poseidonios, Apollonios Molon, Diodoros, Apion, and Damokritos on the statue of a donkey and on human sacrifice (second century BCE and on)

Scythian and barbarian wisdom: Diogenes of Laertes (early third century CE)

Mediterranean peoples: Polemon theorizes the meaning of physical features (second / fifth centuries CE)

Eastern and northern peoples: Bardaisan of Edessa and Philippos’ Book of the Laws of Countries (second-third centuries CE)

Barbarian wisdom: Various authors and Clement of Alexandria (second century CE)

Judeans: Poseidonios (?) and Strabo on decline after Moses (first century CE)

Barbarian wisdom: Celsus and Origen of Alexandria (second-third centuries CE)

Phoenician, Egyptian and Babylonian wisdom: Porphyry of Tyre and Antonius Diogenes on Pythagoras (third century CE)