(Chapter V, section 4)

The Greeks


(4) The Greeks The question of the origin of the Greeks has long been an apparently insoluble enigma. For centuries, before the development of archaeology as a scientific discipline, history began with Herodotus, and Homer was a small window permitting tantalizing glimpses into the most distant past. In recent years, however, great advances have been made toward the solution of this problem, by the linguistic and historical researches of Myres,19 and by the publication of skeletal material by Fürst and Koumaris.

The historical reconstruction may be briefly summarized as follows: During the Neolithic, Greece was culturally connected with North Africa and the rest of the Mediterranean basin. The one skull which is known is of normal Mediterranean racial type. In the early Metal Age, immigrants from the Cycladic islands, of Asia Minor origin, introduced copper to Greece, with the mother goddess cult, and settled on either side of the Isthmus of Corinth. In the meanwhile, Painted Pottery people of Danubian cultural origin carne down to Greece from the north, driven by Corded people. Thus, by 2000 B.C., there were, from the cultural standpoint, three elements in the Greek population: (a) local Neolithic Mediterranean; (b) Danubian from the north; (c) Cycladic people of eventual Asia Minor origin.

Between 2000 B.C. and the period of Homer, Greece was invaded three times more: (a) the Corded people (Myres calls them "Kurgan" people), who came from the north about 1900 B.C., and who, Myres thinks,20 may have brought the Indo-European basis of Hellenic speech; (b) by Minoans from Crete, who founded the "long genealogies"; dynasties of rulers at Thebes, Athens, Mycenae, and elsewhere. Most of these entered Greece about 1400 B.C., although some may have dated back to 1700 B.C.; (c) by "divineborn" foreigners, such as Atreus, Pelops, etc., who came from across the Aegean in ships, learned Greek, usurped thrones, and married the daughters of the kings of Minoan ancestry.

These foreigners, whom Myres likens to the Normans in English history, begat the heroes of the Trojan war. The war itself reflects the close relationship between these adventurers and Priam's Troy. In the wars, the Homeric heroes formed the nuclei of small groups of "companions"; these were homeless adventurers, refugees, and poor relatives, who had attached themselves to the heroes in a close personal bond. The bulk of the Greek army was composed of local conscripts from the various kingdoms of Greece, who were of a different ethnic origin and who, like Thersites, had no especial interest in destroying Troy.

The post-Homeric and Iron Age Dorians, long regarded as fresh invaders front the north were, according to Myres's reconstruction, but Greek speakers who had been isolated in the Mt. Olympus region by the warlike activities of the Thebans, and who had obtained iron from Asia Minor.

The Greeks of the great period of Athenian civilization were thus the product of much mixture from diverse ethnic sources, as the study of the origin of the Greek language also reveals.

The skeletal record can, in part, supplement the evidence of reconstructed history. Six skulls from Hagias Kosmas near Athens represent the period of amalgamation of Neolithic Mediterranean, Danubian, and Cycladic elements, between 2500 and 2200 B.C.21 Three are dolichocephalic, one mesocephalic, and two brachyceplialic. The faces of all are narrow, the noses leptorrhine, the orbits high. One may conclude that a Cretan type of Mediterranean and the Cypriote Dinaric form were loth present.

Twenty-five Mid-Helladic crania represent the period after the arrival of the Corded or "Kurgan" folk from the north, and during the seizure of power by the Minoan conquerors from Crete.22 Of these, twenty-three come from Asine, and two from Mycenae. Needless to say, the population of this time was very mixed. Only two skulls are brachycephalic; they are both male, and both associated with very short stature. One is of medium size, high-vaulted, and narrow-nosed and narrow-faced; the other extremely broad-faced and chamaerrhine. They seem to represent two different broad-headed types, both of which can probably be found in Greece today.

The long heads are not of uniform type; some, with large vaults and strong browridges, with deep nasion depressions, remind one of the larger varieties of Neolithic dolichocephals, of both Long Barrow and Corded types; and Fürst feels that a number of them are very similar to the Late Neolithic crania from Scandinavia, of about equal age. Needless to say, both Corded and Megalithic people were present in Denmark and Sweden at about this time.

The rest of the long-headed crania, which are probably more truly representative of the bulk of the Mid-Helladic population, are of the slightbrowed, high-nosed type familiar in Crete and Asia Minor during the same epoch. They, too, are short statured, while the few examples of the larger-headed variety are, as is expected, taller. It is impossible, with present data, to isolate front the main body of these crania a Danubian type, although the latter may well have been present.

Forty-one Late Helladic skulls, dated between 1500 and 1200 B.C., and coming likewise from Argolis, may include those of some of the "divineborn" invaders. Among these, one-fifth are brachycephalic, and apparently largely of the Cypriote Dinaric type. Of the long-headed skulls, a large number belongs now to the larger, more heavily marked varieties, and fewer to the smaller Mediterranean The similarity to the northern types, and especially to the Corded, is even stronger than before. This increase in a non-Minoan direction may perhaps be attributed to the arrival of the ancestors of Homer's heroes.

This survey carries it,, through the Bronze Age. The racial history of Greece in full classical time is not as well documented as that of the periods just studied. Until the inception of the slave trade23 in Athens and other centers of manufacture and export, there can, however, have been little population change. In Argolis, the Mediterranean racial element is the only one clearly shown in six proto-geometric and "Hellenic" crania.24 According to Koumaris's compilation of cranial indicies,25 mesocephaly reigned everywhere in Greece during the classical period, and into Hellenistic and Roman times. The mean index for Athens in the great period was 75.6, on 30 crania. This mesocephaly probably conceals the presence of a varied racial amalgam, with Mediterranean strains predominant. The Greek colonies in Asia Minor show much the same combination of types which we have seen in Greece itself.26 Mixture with Asiatics must have been masked by the essential racial similarity of the populations on either side of the Aegean.

Greek literature and Greek art furnish an abundance of evidence as to the pigmentation and the characteristic facial features of the ancient inhabitants of Hellas. The Olympian gods, ancestors of the semi-heroes, were for the most part blond, with ivory shins and golden hair. Athene was gray eyed. Poseidon, however, was black haired. These gods were little different if we may believe Homer, from their descendants the heroes, most of whom were white limbed and golden haired.27

Odysseus's herald Eurybates was dark skinned and curly haired; Achilles's son Neoptolemos, perhaps by a brunet mother, was rufous. The Spartans were said to be blond and in fifth-century Athens women bleached their hair with an herb which turned it golden yellow, in pursuance of a blond ideal. Vase painters of the sixth to fourth centuries were able to distinguish blond and brunet color by conventional glazes, and applied this distinction to representations of living models as well as of heroes.

Greek terminology included words for blue and brown eyes, and for green ones, the color of an olive leaf, as well; in skin color it recognized rosy vascularity, a pallid hue resembling cream cheese or the skin of unripe apples, a honey color, and a deep brunet. To Phoenician merchants and tanned sailors of other nationalities, they gave the name "phoinix," comparable to the color of a ripe date, or a bay horse. Thus within the Greek commonwealth as without it, all variations of pigmentation known to modern Europeans were probably to be found.

The Minoan convention of a high-rooted nose and a lithe body passed over into classical Greece as an artistic ideal, but the portrait busts of individuals show that it cannot have been common in life. Villains, comical characters, satyrs, centaurs, giants, and all unpleasant people and those not to be admired, are often shown in sculpture and in vase painting as broad-faced, snub-nosed, and heavily bearded. Socrates, who belonged to this type, was maliciously compared to a satyr. This type may still be found its Greece, and is an ordinary Alpine. In the early skeletal, remains it is represented by some of the brachycephalic crania.

On the whole, one is impressed, after looking at the portrait busts of Athenians, and the clay masks of Spartans, with their resemblance to present-day western Europeans. This resemblance becomes less marked in the art of the Byzantines, however, where modern near Eastern faces are more frequent; but the Byzantines lived mostly outside of Greece. As will be shown later (Chapter XI, section 14), the modern inhabitants of Greece itself differ surprisingly little from their classical predecessors.


18 Our data on which is based the assumption that all Cretans were of short stature are not numerous. The Philistines, presumably Cretan relatives in Palestine, are thought to have been tall, while some of the Mycenaeans in Greece were of large stature.

19 Myres, J. L., op. cit., 1930.

20 In view of evidence to be presented later, it is more likely that the Danubians brought it (Chapter VI).

21 Koumaris, J., RA, vol. 44, 1934, pp. 248-251.

22 Fürst, C. M., LUA, N. F., vol. 26, #8, 1930; VHPA, vol. 4, 1930 pp. 3-14.

23 Zaborowski, S., ARSI for 1912, 1913, pp. 597-608.

24 Fürst, C.M., LUA, vol. 26, #8, 1930, pp. 92-95.

25 Koumaris .J., ACAP, 1931, pp. 218 seq.

26 Schumacher, O., ZFMA, vol. 25, 1926, pp. 435-463.
Zaborowski, S., BSAP ser. 4, vol. 3, 1881, pp. 234-238.

27 Myres has conclusively demonstrated that the much disputed word
ós actually did mean "yellowish" or "sandy". Pp. 192-194.