Carians: Strabo on long-term interactions with Greeks and on “Carianizing” (early first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Carians: Strabo on long-term interactions with Greeks and on “Carianizing” (early first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified October 14, 2023,

Ancient author: Strabo (early first century CE), Geography 14.2 (link).

Comments: Strabo continues his survey of western Asia Minor by turning to the southwestern coastal area known as Caria, starting around Kaunos (near Dalyan, Turkey). Although his focus remains on the Greek city-states more so than on indigenous peoples of his present or the past (and discussions of Greeks are largely left out here), there are nonetheless notable comments about Carians as a people. In particular, Strabo’s overall approach here tends to underline the long-standing relations that had existed between Carians and adjacent Greeks. He touches on Carian royalty in the process.  He also briefly outlines his understanding of the origins of Carians as islanders known as “Lelegians” (on which also go to this link). They are pictured migrating to the mainland and taking land away from Pelasgians in the remote past (on Pelasgians, see Strabo’s discussion at this link). Strabo’s emphasis on the Carian reputation as fighters or hired mercenaries reflects common Greek characterizations.

Strabo has an ongoing interest in affirming the ethnographic accuracy of the poet Homer, and so much of the discussion diverts into an attempt to show that, contrary to Thucydides’ claims (link), Homer did know of a clear distinction between “barbarians” and “Greeks,” not just about speakers “of barbarian speech.” In the process, Strabo deals with terms such as “to barbarize” and “to Carianize” (on which see also the discussion of “to Medize” at this link and to Egyptianize at this link [coming soon]). Strabo’s wandering and confusing discussion nonetheless returns to a strong affirmation of the special status of Carians specifically in comparison with other barbarian peoples as Strabo reiterates the long and close contacts that Carians had had with Greeks in various places. In this way, it seems that Carians are placed higher than other “barbarians” in Strabo’s hierarchy of peoples.

Source of translation: H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), public domain (passed away in 1932), adapted by Daniel Mitchell and Harland.


[For Strabo’s preceding discussion of Lydians and Maionians, go to this link].

[Geographical setting of Caria]

(1) . . . The whole of the voyage round the coast [of Caria], following the bends of the gulfs, is four thousand nine hundred stadium-lengths, and merely that around the Peraia of the Rhodians is close to fifteen hundred. (2) Between the two, as one sails towards the west from Daidala in a straight line with the coast of Cilicia, Pamphylia, and Lycia, one comes to a gulf called Glaukos [modern Katranci Bay, Turkey], which has good harbours; then to the Artemision, a promontory and temple; then to the sacred precinct of Leto, above which place and above the sea, at a distance of sixty stadium-lengths, lies Kalynda, a city; and, then to the city of Kaunos and to the Kalbis, a river near Kaunos, which is deep and affords passage for merchant vessels, and between the two lies the city of Pisilis [aka Panormos].

[Kaunians, who speak Carian]

(3) The city [i.e. Kaunos] has dockyards and a harbour that can be closed. Above the city, on a height, lies Imbros, a stronghold. Although the country is fertile, the city is agreed by all to have foul air in the summer, as also in autumn, because of the heat and the abundance of fruits. And indeed little tales of the following kind are repeated over and over, that Stratonikos the citharist [i.e. player of the kithara/cithara (Lat.)], seeing that the Kaunians (Kaunioi) were pitiably [epimelĂ´s] pale, said that this was the thought of the poet in the verse, “even as is the generation of leaves, such is that also of men”; and when people complained that he was making rude remarks against the city as though it were sickly, he replied, “Would I be so bold as to call this city sickly, where even the corpses walk about?” The Kaunians once revolted from the Rhodians, but by a judicial decision of the Romans they were restored to them. And there is extant a speech of Molon [Apollonios Molon of Rhodes; first century BCE] entitled Against the Kaunians. It is said that they speak the same language as the Carians, but that they came from Crete and follow usages of their own. . . [omitted discussion of Knidians, who are not closely connected with the people of the Carians by Strabo].

[Carians and Carian royalty around Halikarnassos]

(16) Then one comes to Halikarnassos, the royal residence of the dynasts of Caria, which was formerly called Zephyra. This is the location of the tomb of Mausolos, one of the Seven Wonders, a monument erected by Artemisia in honour of her husband [i.e. the “Mausoleum of Halikarnassos”, with artefacts now in the British Museum]. This is also the location of the fountain of Salmakis [a nymph]. For some reason I do not know, this fountain has the slanderous reputation of making anyone who drinks from it effeminate. It seems that the effeminacy of man is attributed to the air or the water; yet it is not these, but rather riches and uncontrolled living, that are the cause of effeminacy. Halikarnassos has an acropolis, and off the city lies Arkonnesos. Its colonisers were, among others, Anthes and a number of Troizenians (Troizenioi). Natives of Halikarnassos have been: Herodotos the historian, whom they later called a Thurian, because he took part in the colonisation of the Thourioi [in southern Italy]; and Herakleitos the poet, the comrade of Kallimachos; and, in my time, Dionysios the historian.

(17) This city also met a reverse when it was forcibly seized by Alexander [of Macedon]. For Hekatomnos, the king of the Carians, had three sons, Mausolos, Hidrieus and Pixodaros, and two daughters [i.e. Artemisia and Ada]. Mausolos, the eldest of the brothers, married Artemisia, the elder of the daughters, and Hidrieus, the second son, married Ada, the other sister. Mausolos became king and at last, childless, he left the empire to his wife, by whom the above-mentioned tomb was erected. But she pined away and died through grief for her husband, and Hidrieus then became ruler. He died from a disease and was succeeded by his wife Ada; but she was banished by Pixodaros, the remaining son of Hekatomnos. Having taken sides with the Persians, he sent for a satrap to share the empire with him. When he also died, the Persian satrap took possession of Halikarnassos. And when Alexander came over, the satrap sustained a siege. His wife was Ada, who was the daughter of Pixodaros by Aphenis, a Cappadocian woman. But Ada, the daughter of Hekatomnos, whom Pixodaros had banished, entreated Alexander and persuaded him to restore her to the kingdom of which she had been deprived, having promised to co-operate with him against the parts of the country which were in revolt, for those who held these parts, she said, were her own relations; and she also gave over to him Alinda, where she herself was residing. He assented and appointed her queen; and when the city, except the acropolis (it was a double city), had been captured, he assigned to her the siege of the acropolis. This also was captured a little later, the siege having now become a matter of anger and personal enmity.

[Greeks and Carians around Mylasa and Stratonikeia]

(22) After Iasos one comes to the Poseidion of the Milesians (Milesioi). In the interior are three noteworthy cities: Mylasa, Stratonikeia, and Alabanda. The others are dependencies of these or else of the cities on the coast, among which are Amyzon, Herakleia, Euromos, and Chalketor. As for these, there is less to be said.

But as for Mylasa: it is situated in an exceedingly fertile plain; and above the plain, towering into a peak, rises a mountain, which has a most excellent quarry of white marble. Now this quarry is of no small advantage, since it has stone in abundance and close at hand, for building purposes and in particular for the building of temples and other public works; accordingly this city, as much as any other, is in every way beautifully adorned with porticoes and temples. But one may well be amazed at those who so absurdly founded the city at the foot of a steep and commanding crag. Accordingly, one of the commanders, amazed at the fact, is said to have said, “If the man who founded this city was not afraid, was he not even ashamed?” The Mylasians (Mylaseis) have two temples of Zeus, Zeus Osogo, as he is called, and Zeus Labrandenos. The former is in the city, whereas Labranda is a village far from the city, being situated on the mountain near the pass that leads over from Alabanda to Mylasa. At Labranda there is an ancient shrine and statue of Zeus Stratios [i.e. Warlike Zeus]. It is honoured by the people all about and by the Mylasians; and there is a paved road of almost sixty stadium-lengths from the shrine to Mylasa, called the Sacred Way, on which their sacred processions are conducted. The priestly offices are held by the most distinguished of the citizens, always for life. Now these temples belong peculiarly to the city; but there is a third temple, that of the Carian Zeus, which is a common possession of all Carians, and in which, as brothers, both Lydians and Mysians have a share. It is related that Mylasa was a mere village in ancient times, but that it was the native land and royal residence of the Carians of the house of Hekatomnos. The city is nearest to the sea at Physcos; and this is their seaport. . . [omitted lengthy discussion of famous people from Mylasa].

(25) Stratonikeia is a settlement of Macedonians. And this too was adorned with costly improvements by the kings. There are two temples in the country of the Stratonikeians (Stratonikeis), of which the most famous, that of Hekate, is at Lagina; and it draws great festal assemblies every year. And near the city is the temple of Zeus Chrysaoreus, the common possession of all Carians, where they gather both to offer sacrifice and to deliberate on their common interests. Their league, which consists of villages, is called the Chrysaorian league. Those with the most villages have a preference in the vote, like, for example, the people of Keramos. The Stratonikeians also participate in the league, although they are not of Carian descent (genos), but because they have villages belonging to the Chrysaorian league. . . [omitted discussion of famous men and of Alabanda, with no references to Carians].

[Carian origins and relation to Lelegians]

(27) Of the numerous accounts of the Carians, the one that is generally agreed upon is the following: Carians were subject to the rule of Minos [legendary king of Crete], being called “Lelegians” at that time, and lived in the islands. Then, after migrating to the mainland, they took possession of much of the coast and of the interior, taking it away from its previous possessors, who for the most part were Lelegians and Pelasgians. Subsequently, these populations were further deprived of a part of their country by the Greeks, I mean Ionians and Dorians. As evidences of the Carians’ zeal for military affairs, writers adduce shield-holders, shield-emblems, and crests, for all these are called “Carian.” At least Anakreon says, “Come, put your arm through the shield-holder, work of the Carians.” And Alkaios says, “shaking the Carian crest.”

[Wandering and inconclusive digression on debates about Homer’s use or nonuse of the “barbarians” / “Greeks” distinction, with Carians as a special case]

(28) When the poet says, “Masthles [Nastes] in turn led the Carians, of barbarian speech” [Homer, Iliad 2.867; link], we have no reason to ask how it is that, although he knew so many barbarian peoples (ethnÄ“), he speaks of the Carians alone as being “of barbarian speech,” but nowhere speaks of “barbarians.” Thucydides [1.3; link], therefore, is not correct, because he says that Homer “did not use the term ‘barbarians’ either, because the Greeks on their part had not yet been distinguished under one name as opposed to them.” The poet himself refutes the statement that the Greeks had not yet been so distinguished when he says, “My husband, whose fame is wide through Greece (Hellas) and mid-Argos.” And again, “And if you wanted to journey through Greece and mid-Argos.” Further, if they were not called “barbarians,” how could they properly be called a people “of barbarian speech”?

So neither Thucydides nor Apollodoros the grammarian is correct. Apollodoros says that the general term [“barbarians”] was used by the Greeks in a peculiar and abusive sense against the Carians, and in particular by the Ionians [i.e. Ionian Greeks], who hated them because of their enmity and the continuous military campaigns. For it was right to name them barbarians in this sense. But I raise a question: Why does Homer call them people “of barbarian speech,” but not even once calls them “barbarians”? Apollodoros replies, “because the plural does not match with the metre; this is why Homer does not call them ‘barbarians’.” But though this case [i.e. genitive plural, “barbarĹŤn”] does not fall in with metre, the nominative case [i.e. plural, “barbaroi”] does not differ metrically from that of “Dardanians” (Dardanoi): “Trojans, Lycians and Dardanians.” So, also, the word “Trojan,” in “of what kind the Trojan horses are” [cf. Homer, Iliad. 5.222; link].

Neither is Apollodoros correct when he says that the language of the Carians is very harsh. It is not, but even has very many Greek words mixed in with it, according to the Philippos [of Theangela], who wrote Carian Matters [FGrHist 741; third century BCE]. I suppose that the word “barbarian” was at first uttered onomatopoetically in reference to people who enunciated words only with difficulty and talked harshly and raucously, like our words battarizein [“to stutter”], traulizein [“to lisp”], and psellizein [“to speak in a faltering manner”]. For we are by nature very much inclined to denote sounds by words that sound like them, on account of their sameness. Therefore onomatopoetic words abound in our language.  So, for example, we have kelaryzein [“to babble”], as well as klangĂŞ [“clang”], psophos [“inarticulate sound”], boĂŞ [“shout”], and krotos [“rattling/clapping noise”], most of which are by now used in their proper sense. Accordingly, when all who pronounced words thickly were being called “barbarians” onomatopoetically, it appeared that the pronunciations of other peoples were likewise thick (I mean those peoples that were not Greek). Those, therefore, they called “barbarians” in the special sense of the term, at first derisively, meaning that they pronounced words thickly or harshly. Subsequently, we misused the word as a general term for peoples, thus making a logical distinction between the Greeks and all other peoples. The fact is, however, that through our long acquaintance and intercourse with the barbarians this effect was at last seen to be the result, not of a thick pronunciation or any natural defect in the vocal organs, but of the peculiarities of their several languages.

[Application to the Carian situation and explanation of widespread Greek encounters with Carians]

There also appeared another faulty and barbarian-like pronunciation in our language, whenever any person speaking Greek did not pronounce it correctly, but pronounced the words like barbarians who are only beginning to learn Greek and are unable to speak it accurately (as is also the case with us in speaking their languages). This was particularly the case with the Carians. The reason is that other peoples were not yet having very much interaction with Greeks, nor even trying to live in a Greek way or to learn our language (with the exception, perhaps, of rare persons, who by chance and on an individual basis rubbed shoulders with a few of the Greeks). Yet the Carians travelled throughout the whole of Greece, serving on military expeditions for pay. Already, therefore, the barbarous element in their Greek was strong, as a result of their expeditions in Greece; and after this it spread much more, from the time they took up their abode with the Greeks in the islands; and when they were driven from there into Asia, even here they were unable to live apart from the Greeks, I mean when the Ionians and Dorians later crossed over to Asia.

The term “to barbarize” (barbarizein), also, has the same origin. We are also inclined to use this term in reference to those who speak Greek poorly, not to those who speak Carian. So, therefore, we must interpret the terms “to speak barbarously” (barbarophĹŤnein) and “those who speak barbarously” (barbarophĹŤnoi) as applying to those who speak Greek poorly. And it was from the term “to Carianize” (karizein) [i.e. to speak Carian] that the term “barbarize” was used in a different sense in literary works on the art of speaking Greek. So was the term “to Solicize” (soloikizein) whether derived from Soli [a city in Cilicia or on Cypros], or made up in some other way.

[For Strabo’s subsequent discussion of ????, go to this link].

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