Celts: Ephoros (mid-fourth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Celts: Ephoros (mid-fourth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 11, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=7372.

Ancient authors: Ephoros of Kyme = FGrHist 70 F30c, 131a, 132 (link to FGrHist), as cited in various authors indicated further below.

Comments: Ephoros (or: Ephorus) of Kyme (writing ca. 340 BCE), whose works survive only in brief citations by others, evidently had some significant ethnographic and geographic observations and theories about the peoples that a Greek would call the Celts. In the passages below, we see that Ephoros described the Celts as occupying one of the four main portions of the known world. In Greek ethographic material, the Celts are often depicted as a violent, war-like people and the stereotypes are usually quite negative. The surviving material from Ephoros is notable for a lack of the usual negative judgements (e.g. he describes Celts not as dangerous warriors but as friends of the Greeks) and for framing his overall understanding of the world with the Celts in a prominent position. For further passages from Ephoros regarding the four-fold division of the world in terms of Celts (west), Indians (east), Scythians (north) and Ethiopians (south), go to this link. For Ephoros’ notion of barbarians as inventors, go to this link.

To read more on Ephoros and the Celts (in relation to Poseidonios), see Harland’s article: “Revisiting Wise ‘Barbarians’ in the Hellenistic Era” (link forthcoming).


[Celts as one of the main four subdivisions of the known world]

[FGrHist / BNJ 70 F30c = Pseudo-Skymnos, Voyage around the Earth for Nikomedes 167-182; trans. by Brady Kiesling, https://topostext.org/work.php?work_id=130, used with permission and slightly adapted. [Pseudo-Skymnos does not expressly cite Ephoros but seems to depend on Ephoros in a confused manner.]

(167) Next is the land called Celtica, as far as the sea lying off Sardinia, the greatest people (ethnos) in the west. For the Indians occupy almost all the land toward the east, and toward the south the Ethiopians lying near the south wind, and the Celts have from the west wind up to the summer sunset, and the Scythians that to the north. So the Indians live between the summer and winter sunrise; the Celts the opposite, between the equinox and the summer sunset, legend has it. So the peoples are four, equal in the crowd and number of their inhabitants. That of the Ethiopians and Skythians has the most desert land, because of the fiery parts of the one and the watery parts of the other. The Celts use Greek customs, since they are familiar with Greece through receiving travellers. They conduct their assemblies with music, and are eager for it as a taming influence. There is a so-called extreme north pillar which is very tall, rising on a headland of the wave-tossed sea. In the places near the pillar live those who end up as last of the Celts, the Enetians and the last of the Istrians who reach down into the Adriatic. They say the Ister [Danube] receives the source of its flow from here.


[Celtic territory as very large and some Celtic customs]

[FGrHist / BNJ 70 F131a = Strabo, Geography 4.4.6; trans. LCL Jones, adapted]

In his account, Ephoros makes the Celtic region (Keltikē) so excessive in its size that he assigns to it everything as far as the Gadeira [modern Cádiz, Spain] in what we now call Iberia. Furthermore, he declares that these people are fond of the Greeks (philellēnas), and specifies many things about them that do not fit the facts of today. The following, also, is a thing peculiar to them, that they avoid growing fat or pot-bellied, and any young man who exceeds the standard measure around the belly is punished. So much for the Transalpine Celtic region.


[Celts, war, and the tides]

[FGrHist / BNJ 70 F 132 = Strabo, Geography 7.2.1; trans. LCL Jones, adapted]

It is ridiculous to claim that the Kimbrians departed from their homes because they were enraged by a phenomenon that is natural and eternal, occurring twice every day [i.e. the tides]. The assertion that an excessive flood-tide once occurred looks like a fabrication, for when the ocean is affected in this way it is subject to increases and diminutions, but these are regulated and periodical. As well, the man who said that the Kimbrians took up arms against the flood-tides was not right, either. Nor was the statement that the Celts, as a training in the virtue of fearlessness, meekly abide the destruction of their homes by the tides and then rebuild them, and that they suffer a greater loss of life as the result of water than of war, as Ephoros claims.


Source of the translations: Various, indicated with each passage above.

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