Barbarian peoples: Hellanikos, Nymphodoros, Nikolaos, and others with collections of “barbarian customs” (fifth century BCE on)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Barbarian peoples: Hellanikos, Nymphodoros, Nikolaos, and others with collections of “barbarian customs” (fifth century BCE on),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified October 14, 2023,

Ancient authors: Hellanikos of Lesbos (fifth century BCE), Barbarian Customs, as cited by the Suda lexicon under “Zamolxis” (link) = FGrHist 4 F73 (link to FGrHist); Nymphodoros of Amphipolis (third century BCE), Barbarian Customs as cited in scholia on Apollonios of Rhodes, Voyage of the Argo / Argonautika and in Clement of Alexandria, Exhortations, 5.2, from Müller, FHG 2, pp. 379-380, fragments 14-17 (link); PLondLit 112 (late third century BCE; link to Greek text); Nikolaos of Damaskos (late first century BCE), Collection of Customs, as cited by John of Stobi, a.k.a. Stobaeus (fifth century CE), Anthology, sections of books 3 (link to Greek text) and 4 (link to Greek text up to chapter 27; link to Greek text from chapter 28 on); Aelian (early third century CE), Various Historical Items / Varia Historia 4.1 (link to Greek text); Aelian, Characteristics of Animals 12.34 (link); POxy II 218 (third century CE) (link).

Comments: As the materials gathered here clearly show, there was a tendency among Greek authors from the fifth century on (some but not all associated with Aristotle and the Peripatetics) to gather catalogues or lists of customs of barbarian peoples. Barbarian Customs (νόµιµα βαρβαρικά) was a common title for such works. The focus in such catalogues was less on detailed description of peoples and more on briefly listing the fantastic or paradoxical practices of this or that people, moving from one people to the next quite quickly. In many cases, we merely have reference to the existence of such catalogues of Barbarian Customs without having the text or even fragments intact, as with those associated with Aristotle (died around 322 BCE) and Theodektes of Phaselis (also associated with the Peripatetics, died around 330 BCE). But this type of catalogue was not limited to these circles.

The earliest known work compiling Barbarian Customs and with that title is the one attributed to Hellanikos by both Eusebios and the Suda lexicon (FGrHist 4 F72-73). There is one important citation (by the Suda) below from that work which deals with Zamolxis and the Getians (often considered a subset of Thracians by certain Greek authors).

Recently, Irene Pajón Leyra (2015) has written a helpful article focussing on Nymphodoros of Amphipolis that also delves into early examples on papyri (cited below, with an extensive bibliography on the topic). There are two citations presented from these below, the one by Nymphodoros of Amphipolis (likely first half of the third century BCE) and another anonymous one (sometimes attributed to Aristotle himself without much evidence) on six fragments of papyri found reused as cartonnage in the Fayum region of Egypt (dating to the late third century BCE). In light of overlaps between the fragments of Nymphodoros and these papyrus fragments, Leyra (2015) suggests the possibility that Nymphodoros is the author of the latter as well, which need not occupy us at length in this context since we cannot know for sure. The fragments certainly attributed to Nymphodoros deal with Scythian or Pontic peoples on both the northern and the southern shores of the Black Sea.

Quite impressive in terms of the quantity of citations available are the surviving portions of Nikolaos of Damaskos’ (or: Nicolaus of Damascus’) Collection of Customs (first century BCE), which come to us only via John of Stobi (known as Stobaeus), who extracts them in his Anthology of useful information (in the eye of the beholder) for his son. A ninth century book-reviewer, Photios (Bibliotheka, codex 189), evidently had access to Nikolaos’ work in full, and he states that it was specifically addressed to Herod, client king of the Judeans in the final decades of the first century BCE (and under whom Nikolaos was an important advisor, by the way). What the surviving portions of Nikolaos’ Collection show is just how interested he was in ethnographic matters, and in this connection it is worth noting that Nikolaos was also known for writings about Aristotle. John’s citations of Nikolaos suggest that, beyond the fact that the entire catalogue is about paradoxical things, it seems that Nikolaos rarely expressly critiques the peoples he mentions (though you will find he or John did clearly in at least one case). But the catalogue’s list of customs that a Greek would find strange or upside-down is already a bit of a judgement, I suppose. The judgment is in the selection process and the expected reaction of the audience. We do not know how Nikolaos arranged his catalogue, though there is a good possibility that it was ordered geographically (and I have here presented the citations from west to east). In their present order in John of Stobi, there are times when the items are arranged by topic (e.g. strange burial customs grouped together), but that may be due to John’s ordering.

There are considerable similarities – not only in concept but also in peoples and customs listed – between the work of Nymphodoros, Nikolaos and the other examples from Aelian and another papyrus, all presented below. Also notable is the frequency with which authors focus on issues of gender and the supposed reversal of roles of women or men as examples of the paradoxes. It is quite possible that the authors of some of these works were dependent on similar earlier materials that are no longer extant. It is of course also possible that Nikolaos knew about Nymphorodos or the author of the work partially preserved in the third century papyrus fragments. Overall, they all show the ongoing fascination with far-off and little known peoples throughout these centuries. While Nikolaos’ work seems more interested in merely cataloguing without making some grand argument, we do know that others could draw on such catalogues along with other ethnographic materials with the aim of supporting a major argument or philosophical point, on which see Epiktetos (link), Sextus Empiricus (link), Porphyry of Tyre (link), and Bardaisan of Edessa (link), for instance.

Works consulted: I.P. Leyra, “Reconstructing the First Steps of Hellenistic Ethnography. The Nomima Barbarika of P.Lond. Lit. 112 Reconsidered,” Archiv für Papyrusforschung und Verwandte Gebiete 61 (2015): 235–75 (link); Søren Lund Sørensen, “Nikolaos of Damaskos” Brill’s New Jacoby 1660.

Source of translations: Nymphodoros fragments, translation by Harland; PLondLit 112, translation by Harland (with consultation of Leyra 2015, above). Nikolaos of Damaskos / John of Stobi, translation by Harland (with consultation of Sørensen, above); Aelian, translation by Harland (with consultation of N. G. Wilson, Aelian: Historical Miscellany, LCL [Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1997]); A.F. Scholfield, Aelian: On the Characteristics of Animals, 3 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1958), public domain in Canada (passed away in 1969); POxy II 213, translation adapted by Harland from B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, volume 2 (London: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1899), public domain, adapted by Harland.


Hellanikos of Lesbos (fifth century BCE)


Now in Barbarian Customs, Hellanikos says that, having been born a Greek, Zamolxis introduced initiatory rites (teletai) to the Getians who were in Thrace and that Zamolxis said that neither he nor those with him would die, but that they would have every good thing. After saying these things, he built an underground chamber. Disappearing suddenly from among the Thracians, he then lived in this, but the Getians were longing for him. After four years, he appeared again, and the Thracians believed him completely.

Ἑλλάνικος δὲ ἐν τοῖς Βαρβαρικοῖς νόμοις φησίν, ὅτι Ἑλληνικός τε γεγονὼς τελετὰς κατέδειξε Γέταις τοῖς ἐν Θρᾴκῃ καὶ ἔλεγεν, ὅτι οὔτ’ ἂν αὐτὸς ἀποθάνοι οὔθ’ οἱ μετὰ τούτου, ἀλλ’ ἕξουσι πάντα ἀγαθά. ἅμα δὲ ταῦτα λέγων ᾠκοδόμει οἴκημα κατάγαιον. ἔπειτα ἀφανισθεὶς αἰφνίδιον ἐκ Θρᾳκῶν ἐν τούτῳ διῃτᾶτο. οἱ δὲ Γέται ἐπόθουν αὐτόν. τετάρτῳ δὲ ἔτει πάλιν φαίνεται, καὶ οἱ Θρᾷκες αὐτῷ πάντα ἐπίστευσαν.


Nymphodoros of Amphipolis (third century BCE)


Tibarenians [located on the south coast of the Black Sea], a Scythian people (ethnos): They say that these people are most just. They never joined in some battle unless they had first announced the day, place, and hour of the battle. Whenever the women in the land of the Tibarenians gave birth, they were taking care of the men as if the men were mothers who had just given birth. [Scholion on 2.1012. On this people, see also Ephoros at this link].

Τιβαρηνοὶ, ἔθνος Σκυθίας. Οὗτοι δικαιότατοι λέγονται· καὶ οὐδέποτε μάχην τινὶ συνέβαλον, εἰ μὴ πρότερον καταγγείλειαν καὶ ἡμέραν καὶ τόπον καὶ ὥραν τῆς μάχης. Ἐν δὲ τῇ τῶν Τιβαρηνῶν γῇ αἱ γυναῖκες, ὅταν τέκωσι, τημελοῦσι τοὺς ἄνδρας, ὥσπερ λεχούς· (ὡς ἱστορεῖ Νυμφόδωρος ἔν τισι νόμοις.


Ephoros and Nymphodoros report about them [Mossynoikians, on the south coast of the Black Sea, neighbouring the Tibarenians] that if their king makes an unjust judgement, they shut him in and and let him go hungry. [Scholion on 2.1020].

Ἱστορεῖ Ἔφορος καὶ Νυμφόδωρος περὶ τούτων, ὅτι τὸν βασιλέα αὐτῶν ἄδικόν τι κρίναντα ἐγκλείουσι καὶ λιμαγχονοῦσι.


(3.202) “On the highest places”: The Kolchians [on the eastern coast of the Black Sea] did not have the custom of burning or burying the bodies of men. Instead, they wrapped the bodies of men in fresh leather skins and hung them. However, they gave the females to the earth, as Nymphodoros says, whom he [Apollonios] followed. Now they revere most of all Ouranos (Heaven) and Gea (Earth). [Scholion on 3.203.]

Τὰ τῶν ἀρσένων σώματα οὐ θέμις Κόλχοις οὔτε καίειν οὔτε θάπτειν· βύρσαις δὲ νεαραῖς εἱλοῦντες ἐκρέμων τῶν ἀρσένων τὰ σώματα, τὰ δὲ θήλεα τῇ γῇ ἐδίδοσαν, ὥς φησι Νυμφόδωρος, ᾧ ἠκολούθησε (ᾧ δοκεῖ οὗτος ἠκολουθηκέναι cod. Paris.). Σέβονται δὲ μάλιστα οὐρανὸν καὶ γῆν.


Why do I need to cite the Sauromatians [northeast of the Black Sea], whom Nymphodoros in Barbarian Customs reports as worshipping fire. . .? [Clement of Alexandria, Exhortations, 5.2 – link (coming soon)].

Τί μοι Σαυρομάτας καταλέγειν, οὓς Νυμφόδωρος ἐν νομίμοις βαρβαρικοῖς τὸ πῦρ σέβειν ἱστορεῖ.


PLondLit 112 (late third century BCE)

[column 1]


If . . . Dyrbaians (?; [Dyrb]aio[is]) . . . happen to find something they did not put there, they do not take it, not even if it is completely made of gold and silver, not even to touch anything at all that belongs to others. . . . They do not make (?) . . . bread, . . . nor do they eat it (?), . . . but they . . . eat (?) . . . barley . . . considering . . . but not using the . . . diet of the . . . . [cf. Ktesias, Persian Matters – link (coming soon).]


It is a custom for the Kausianians to mourn children when they are born, but to . . .  consider happy (?) . . . people who die, as though they have taken rest from many . . . evil things (?). They are easily convinced to go to . . . war (?), . . . because of their favourable disposition towards death.

[Babylonians (?)]

. . . It is a custom . . . for the Babylonians (?) . . . women . . . the men . . .  [remainder of the column is too fragmentary to translate].

[column 2, too fragmentary to translate].

[column 3]

. . . sending. But if no animal takes it they beat themselves and mourn him as hated by the gods.


The Sarakorians (Sarakoroi) consider only Ares as a god. They bring to him the most beautiful and magnificent donkey as though the god takes pleasure from it. Neither men nor women get married before . . . head . . . battle . . . killed . . . the royal palace . . . slices . . . to eat . . . and such . . . having tasted it . . . they consider this as an oath that binds them. [On Sarakorians, also see Aelian, On Animals passage below. Compare Strabo, Geography 15.2.14 (link coming soon) with a very similar description of the Karmanians.]


Nikolaos of Damaskos (first century BCE)

[Iberians in Spain]

(F1 = John of Stobi, Anthology 4.2.25) From Nikolaos’ On Customs. Among the Tartesians, it is not lawful for a younger man to testify against an older man.

(F28 = 3.5.14) From Nikolaos’ Collection of Customs. Each year, Iberian women display in the community whatever they have woven. Men chosen by a show of hands judge and honour the woman who has completed the best work. Now they also have a belt to use as a measure, which they place around the stomach and, if they are not able [to get it around the stomach], they consider this shameful.

[Celts in Europe]

(F5 = 4.2.25) The Celts conduct everything pertaining to the community armed with weapons. The penalties are greater for killing a foreigner (xenos) than for killing a citizen. The penalty for the former is death and the penalty for the latter is exile. They honour most of all those who acquire territory for the community. They never lock the doors of their houses.

(F32 = 3.7.39) From the same work. Celts who are near the ocean consider it shameful to run away from a collapsing wall or house. When the tide of the outer ocean comes in, they come out with weapons to meet the water and stand their ground until they are flooded so that they do not appear to be afraid of death by running away.

[Italic peoples]

(F2 = 4.2.25) The Lucanians [in southern Italy] pursue cases against one another, so to speak, for any other crime, and so also for wastefulness and not working (or: laziness). If anyone is convicted of having loaned money to someone who is wasteful, he is deprived of it. Among the Athenians there are also cases for not working.

(F3 = 4.2.25) Among the Samnites [in south-central Italy], the unmarried boys and girls are assessed by the People yearly. The one found to be best takes whichever girl he wants, the second next, and so on.

(F31 = 3.7.39) From Nikolaos’ Collection of Customs. The Umbrians [in central Italy] consider it completely shameful to live after having been defeated in wars against enemies. It is essential to be victorious or to die.

(F34 = 3.10.69) When the Umbrians are in disputes with each other they arm themselves and fight as in a war. And those who slay their opponents are considered to speak more rightfully.

[Illyrians and nearby peoples]

(F4 = 4.2.25) The Liburnians [on the northeastern coast of the Adriatic / modern Croatia] share their women and children in common and raise them in common until the age of five. Then in the sixth year they bring together all the children and compare them with the men. They give to each father the child who looks like him. Now from whatever woman someone receives a child, everybody accepts this as his child.

(F30 = 3.5.16) From the same work. The Dardanians, an Illyrian people (ethnos), only wash three times during their lives: When they are born, at their wedding, and when they die.

(F38 = 4.13.39) From Nikolaos’ Collection of Customs. The Autariatians (Autariatai) [in Illyria] never leave alive the soldiers who are unable to march behind. [Linked with Triballians by the theme of military styles].


(F21 = 4.2.25) Some among the Boiotians [in east-central Greece] order those who do not pay back a debt to be led into the market-place and be seated. Then they throw a basket on him. Now whoever has a basket over him becomes dishonoured. Now this seems to have happened to Euripides’ father, being a Boiotian by descent.

(F25 = 4.2.25) For the Lakedaimonians [Spartans], it is shameful to learn skills other than those fitting for war. They all feast in common. They feel shame before the elders no less than before their fathers. Just as there are gymnasia for men, there are also gymnasia for unmarried women. It is not permitted for foreigners (xenoi) to live in Sparta, nor for Spartans to live in a foreign land. They encourage their own women to become pregnant with the most beautiful men, whether citizens or foreigners (xenoi). It is shameful for a Spartan to engage in financial transactions (or: business). They use leather coins. If anyone is found carrying gold or silver, he is punished by death. Everyone is proud to exhibit their humility and obedience towards leaders. Those who die in a noble manner are considered happier among them than those who lead a successful life. The boys are customarily whipped as they walk around an altar until the few who remain are crowned with a wreath. It is a disgrace to share a tent or play sport with cowards. Election for life to the Council of Elders is carried out on the basis of whether they lived a good or wicked life. Whenever they engage in a campaign outside their territory, a flame from the altar of Zeus Agetor is lit by the so-called torch-bearer, who is with the king to make sure that it is not extinguished. Diviners, physicians, and flute-players are sent out with the king, with the flute-players always being used in war rather than trumpets. They fight wearing crowns. Everyone except for those in the role of overseers (ephoroi) stands for the king. Before assuming the leadership, the king swears to rule by the laws of the city.

(F26 = 4.2.25) The Cretans (or: Cretans) were the first among the Greeks to have laws, as Minos instituted them. He was also the first to rule over the seas. He claimed that he had learned these from Zeus himself by going back and forth for nine years to a certain mountain in which Zeus was said to have a cave, from where he repeatedly brought the Cretans laws. Homer also mentions this, when he says: “One among these is Knossos, a great city, / where king Minos ruled for nine years, the friend of the great Zeus.” [Odyssey 19.178-179]. The Cretan children are sociable with one another in the community and are brought up to be tough, engaging in hunting and uphill running without shoes. They also practice the Pyrrhic war dance, which Pyrrichos from Kydonia invented. The men dine together, all sharing the same diet in common. For them, weapons are the most prized gifts.

(F37 = 3.38.52) From Nikolaos’ Collection of Customs. The people called Telchinians (Telchines) were originally Cretans who settled on Cyprus and migrated to Rhodes. They were the first to take possession of the island, and they were very malicious and envious. Being artisans and having criticized previous works, they set up the first statue of Telchinian Athena, just as though one was saying “Athena the Slanderer.”

[Anatolians in Turkey]

(F9 = 4.2.25) The Phrygians [in central Anatolia] do not take oaths, swear, or administer oaths. If anyone among them kills an ox used for farming or steals a tool for farming he is punished with death.

(F45 = 4.55.16) From the same work. The Phrygians do not bury their dead priests but place them on upright stones ten cubits high. [Linked to other peoples by the theme of burial.]

(F10 = 4.2.25) The Lycians [in southern Anatolia] honour women more than men and take their names from their mothers, as well as leaving behind their inheritance to their daughters, not their sons. Any free man who is convicted of stealing becomes a slave. The witnesses in legal cases are not presented immediately but after a month.

(F11 = 4.2.25) Pisidians [in southern Anatolia] when dining make an offering to their parents, just as we make drink-offerings for the gods. The most serious case pertains to entrusting money to someone, and they kill the person who has refused to return it. If an adulterer is convicted, he is led around the city on a donkey together with the woman on particular days.

[Thracians, Getians, and nearby peoples]

(F36 = 3.37.37) The Thynians (Thynoi) [in southeastern Thrace] receive those who suffer shipwreck in a humane manner and make them their friends. They greatly honour foreigners (xenoi) who come to them by accident but reprove those who come deliberately. [Linked with the Prausians in India in connection with the theme of positive neighbour-relations.]

(F39 = 4.13.40) From the same work. The Triballians (Triballoi) [north of Thrace] employ four lines when in battle: the first consisting of the weak, the second of the strong, the third of the cavalry and the final of the women, who scold and hinder the men from taking to flight. [Linked with Autariatians by the theme of military styles].

(F40 = 4.52.44) From Nikolaos’ Collection of Customs. The Kausianians (Kausianoi) mourn those who are born but praise as lucky those who have died. [Nikolaos’ Kausianians may be identified with Herodotos’ “Trausians” in Thrace in Inquiries 5.4, where a similar practice is mentioned – link].

[Scythians and other Black Sea area peoples]

(F6 = 4.2.25) The Sarmatians [northeast of the Black Sea] eat for three days until they are full. They obey their women in every way as if they were were queens. But they do not give away a young girl to be married before she has killed an enemy man.

(F7 = 4.2.25) The Kerketians [east of the Black Sea in the area of the Caucasus mountains] keep those who have done something wrong away from sacred matters. If somebody fails utterly as the captain of a boat, each of them approach him and spit on him one after the other.

(F8 = 4.2.25) The Mosynians [on the southern shore of the Black Sea; alternatively: Mosynoikians, as in Strabo – link] take care of their king, who is shut up in a tower. But if someone thinks that a person has at any time wished to behave wickedly, they starve him to death. They divide the food equally and together choose a portion for the king. They are most hostile to foreigners (xenoi) who come to them.

(F27 = 3.1.200) From Nikolaos’ Collection of Customs (Ethōn synagōgēs). The Galaktophagians (Milk-eaters), a Skythian people (ethnos), live without homes as do most Skythians. They nourish themselves only with horse milk, from which they make cheese which they eat and drink. Because of this they cannot be conquered, since they carry their food with them everywhere. These people also made Darius [king of the Persians, reigning ca. 522-486 BCE] to retreat. They are also most just, having possessions and women in common. So they consider those who are older to be their fathers, those younger their children, and those of the same age their siblings. Anacharsis, who is considered to be one of the Seven Sages, was among these people. He came to Greece to investigate customs of the other peoples. Homer also mentions these when he says: “Mysians fighting hand to hand and the noble Hippemolgians (Mare-milkers), / feeding on milk, nomads and the most just people” [Iliad 13.5-6]. Homer says that they are nomads either because they do not farm or because they have no houses or because they only use bows, for he calls the bow bios. Among these, as they say, none is reported who envies, hates or fears, because of their communal way of life and justice. The women are no less warriors than the men, and they go to war with them when necessary. In this connection, Amazons are most excellent because they once came to Athens and Cilicia even though they live in the vicinity of the Galaktophagians near Maiotis lake [Sea of Azov, north of the Black Sea].

(F42 = 4.55.13) From the same work. The Taurians [on the north shore of the Black Sea], a Skythian people, bury together with their kings the king’s best friends. When a friend has died the king cuts off a part or the entire ear according to the merit of the deceased. [Linked to other peoples by the theme of burial.]

(F43 = 4.55.14). From the same work. The Sindians (Sindoi) [northeast of the Black Sea] throw onto graves as many fish as the number of enemies killed by the one buried. [Linked to other peoples by the theme of burial.]

(F44 = 4.55.15) From the same work. The Kolchians [east of the Black Sea] do not bury the dead but hang them from trees. [Linked to other peoples by the theme of burial. See also Nymphodoros of Amphipolis (link coming soon) and Apollonios of Rhodes, Voyage of the Argo 3.200-209.]


(F13 = 4.2.25) Among the Libyan Byaians a man rules men, and a woman rules women.

(F14) Whenever the Libyan Basoulians engage in war, they fight at night and keep the peace during the day.

(F15 = 4.2.25) Whenever the Dapsolibyans come together, everyone gets married at the same time on one day after the setting of the Pleiades [seven stars corresponding to the seven sister-nymphs]. After feasting, the men – apart from the women who lie by themselves – extinguish the lamp and enter, and each takes whatever woman he comes across by chance.

(F16 = 4.2.25) Whenever many of the Libyan Machlyians want to marry a particular woman, they dine by the father of the woman, who is also present. They make many jokes, and the one who makes the woman laugh is the one she marries.

(F17 = 4.2.25) The Sardolibyans have no equipment except a cup and a dagger.

(F18 = 4.2.25) The Libyan Alitemnians choose the fastest among them as kings, and among the others they honour the most just person.

(F19 = 4.2.25) The Libyan nomads do not measure time among them by days but by nights.

(F20 = 4.2.25) The Libyan Atarantians do not have names. They rebuke the sun because it reveals many wicked things. They consider those who have remained virgins for the longest time as the most excellent among their daughters.

(F46 = 4.55.17) From the same work. When a king among the Libyan Panebians (Paneboi) dies, they bury his corpse but with the head cut off, covered in gold, and dedicated in a temple. [Linked to other peoples by the theme of burial.]


(F12 = 4.2.25) Ethiopians honour their sisters most, and the kings leave their sisters as successors rather than their own sons. When there is no one to succeed, they choose as king the most beautiful and warlike among them. They practice piety and justice. Their houses do not have doors and, although many lie on the roads, not one of them steals.

[Eastern peoples]

(F22 = 4.2.25) The Assyrians sell unmarried women in the marketplace to those wanting to marry them, first the most well-born and beautiful, then the rest one after another. When they come to the ugliest ones, they announce how much it would cost if he marries them, and the amount collected from the price of the good-looking ones they give for these. They especially practice insightfullness and freedom of anger.

(F23 = 4.2.25) Among the Persians they do not talk about what one is not allowed to do. If anyone kills his father, they believe that he is not really that person’s child. If the king gives orders to whip somebody, that person is grateful as if he had obtained something good, since the king had thought of him. They receive rewards from the king for bearing many children. The children among them are taught as a lesson to speak the truth.

[East Indian peoples]

(F24 = 4.2.25) Among the Indians if anyone is deprived of a loan or a deposit there is no legal case, but the one who entrusted it to the other person blames himself. Anyone who harms the hand or eye of a craftsman is punished by death. The king orders that the one who has committed the greatest crime has his hair cut off because this is considered the worst dishonour.

(F29 = 3.5.15) From Nikolaos’ Collection of Customs. The Aritonians [in India] do not kill any living being. They store potsherds used for oracular responses in golden cases.

(F33 = 3.9.49) From Nikolaos’ Collection of Customs. Among the Padaians, an Indian people (ethnos), it is not the one sacrificing but the most wise of those who are present who starts the sacred rites. Now he asks for nothing from the gods except justice.

(F35 = 3.37.37) From Nikolaos’ Collection of Customs. The Prausians (Prausioi) [in India] provide food for their neighbours if they are struggling with hunger.

(F47 = 4.55.18) From the same work. Whenever the Indians have died, they cremate with them their most loved wives. Among the wives a great contest takes place where the friends of each enthusiastically help them to win. In the sixth book of the Inquiries, Herodotos [actually 5.5 – link] also says that the same thing takes places among the Scythians who live above the Krestoniaians. [Linked to other peoples by the theme of burial.]

[Peoples in uncertain locations]

(F41 = 4.55.12) From Nikolaos’ Collection of Customs. When the Kians (Kioi) have cremated the dead, they gather their bones, place them in a stone bowl and grind them. Then they board a ship with a sieve and sail out to the ocean and scatter the ashes against the wind until everything is blown away and no longer visible. [Linked to other peoples by the theme of burial. Here I assume these are not people from the Greek city of Kios.]


Aelian, Various Historical Items / Varia Historia (early third century CE)

Book 4


(1) A law among Lucanians [in southern Italy] says if a foreigner (xenos) arrives after sunset and wants to enter someone’s home but the person does not receive him, there is a punishment and the man pays the penalty for his poor treatment of foreigners. I presume this is paid both to the traveller and to Zeus Xenios (Friend of Foreigners).


Note that the Dardanians (Dardaneis) who are from Illyria, as I hear, are washed only three times throughout their lives: after birth, on marriage, and at death.


The Indians do not lend money, nor do they know about accepting a loan. But nor is it an established custom for an Indian to act unjustly or to be the victim of an unjust act. So they make no written contracts or deposits.


It is a law in Sardinia [island off the west coast of Italy] that the children of aged parents beat them [the parents] to death with clubs and buried them, considering it was shameful for the very old to continue living as many failings happen to the body which has suffered pains because of old age. It is also a law in the same community that there were cases for not working (or: laziness), and a person who lived without a regular routine had to be judged and submit to an examination to demonstrate the source of his making a living.


Assyrians gather together in a city all the unmarried girls and advertise their sale. Each man takes away as his bride the one he has bought.


A man from Byblos [in Phoenicia] who finds an object on the road which he did not put there will not pick it up. For he does not consider this something found, but rather an unjust action.


Derbikians kill those who are over seventy years of age, sacrificing the men and strangling the women.


Kolchians put the dead in leather skins and, sewing them up, hang them from trees. [Compare Nymphodoros of Amphipolis (link coming soon); Apollonios of Rhodes, Voyage of the Argo 3.200-209.]


Among Lydians it was a custom for the women, before getting married to their husbands, to prostitute themselves. Now once they have been united, they practice moderation. The woman who had committed a wrong with another man was unable to be forgiven.


Aelian, On Animals (early third century CE)

Book 12

34 It would not be out of place to mention these further facts related to animals:

Due to a shortage of wood, the Scythians cook with the bones of any animal that they sacrifice.

Among the Phrygians any man who kills a ploughing ox is punished by death.

The Sagaraians every year hold camel races in honour of the goddess Athena, and their camels are good at racing and very swift.

The Sarakorians [cf. PLondLit 112 above] keep donkeys, not to carry burdens nor to grind corn but to ride in war. Mounted on them, they brave the dangers of battle, just as the Greeks do on horseback. And any ass of theirs that appears to be more given to braying than others they offer as a sacrifice to the god of war [i.e. Ares in Roman translation].

Klearchos, the peripatetic philosopher, states that the inhabitants of Argos are the only people in the Peloponnesos who refuse to kill a snake. And if a dog comes near the market-place on the days which they call “Arneid” these same people kill it.

In Thessaly a man about to marry, when offering the wedding sacrifice, brings in a war-horse bitted and even fully equipped with all its gear. When he has completed the sacrifice and poured the libation, he then leads the horse by the reins and hands it to his bride. The Thessalians must be the ones to explain the significance of this.

The people of Tenedos keep a cow that is in calf for the man-slaying Dionysos and, as soon as it has calved, they tend it as though it was a woman in bed with a newborn child. But they put boots on the newly born calf and then sacrifice it. But the man who dealt it the blow with the axe is pelted with stones by the populace and flees until he reaches the sea.

The people of Eretria sacrifice maimed animals to Artemis at Amarynthos.


POxy II 218 (third century CE)

[column 2, the only well-preserved portion]

. . . so long as the natural form remains, if he does not intrigue with another woman. If, however, he is caught transgressing . . . these ordinances (?) . . . , he is mutilated, and the members are burned at her tomb. Such is the account of Zopyros and Kleitarchos [fourth century BCE].

If a priest of Ares [likely a foreign deity identified with Ares] dies he is decently laid out by the natives and carried after the third day to a public place. While the corpse is being burned by the relatives, the temple-attendant who has been elected by the people places beneath it the sword of the god. A deep silence is maintained. If it is done correctly, he receives the customary privileges. But if he has any crime upon his conscience, on the steel being held under the body . . . and he . . . is liable to (?) . . . accusations for his offence against the god . . .

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