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Thread: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

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    Member Member Calypze's Avatar
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    Default How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    I wonder how individual members of various tribes, like Sweboz, Cassae, Arverni etc viewed themselves? Did they see themselves as their tribal identity, or did they have a sense of Celtic or Germanic identity above the tribal one? Which one was the strongest?

    Also, how did the Parni view themselves? Initially, they were simply an Iranian nomad tribe speaking some obscure Iranian languahe, but it seems that later, when they ruled over the former domains of the Achamenid dynasty, they viewed themselvs as their successors and bace wannabe-Persians (though I think they still kept the Parthian language as the official language of their empire).

    Also, how did the Macedonians and the Greeks view themselves? Were they primarily Makedones, Athenai, Epeirotes etc, or was there a Hellenic identity above that? If so, was it stronger or weaker than their local identity?

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    Come to daddy Member Geoffrey S's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    I can't say I really know; I always assumed that one identified most with the immediate surroundings, such as village or area of a city.

    Interestingly I have recently seen it said that one of the (many) lasting legacies of the Germanic settlement of Europe was the concept of a tight nuclear family.
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    death is just the beginning Member marodeur's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    AFAIK germanic and celtic people saw themselves as memberes of their respective tribes, beginning at the family level and united in greater (and sometimes changing) alliances led by a king in times of war. They did not think of themselves as nations or as an entity of germans or celts. Surely they recognized that they spoke the same or at least a closely related language and had some customs and most of their gods in common, but that is not necessary a reason to view themselves as one people (as can be seen in modern times in various instances, for example ex-yugoslavia and in a certain way germany till the beginning of the 19th century).
    The greeks identified themselves primarily with their hometown, but I think there was at least a certain community, exemplified by pan-hellenic games (like olympia) or a feeling of community in times of external dangers (like the persian imnvasion).

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    Wannabe Member The General's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by marodeur
    AFAIK germanic and celtic people saw themselves as memberes of their respective tribes, beginning at the family level and united in greater (and sometimes changing) alliances led by a king in times of war. They did not think of themselves as nations or as an entity of germans or celts. Surely they recognized that they spoke the same or at least a closely related language and had some customs and most of their gods in common, but that is not necessary a reason to view themselves as one people (as can be seen in modern times in various instances, for example ex-yugoslavia and in a certain way germany till the beginning of the 19th century).
    The greeks identified themselves primarily with their hometown, but I think there was at least a certain community, exemplified by pan-hellenic games (like olympia) or a feeling of community in times of external dangers (like the persian imnvasion).
    Bah, I was writing an answer, only to notice that you had already posted with answers pretty identical to what I were writing, bah! ;|
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    Bruadair a'Bruaisan Member cmacq's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    You might not think so at first, but this may help you understand a little?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gangs
    quae res et cibi genere et cotidiana exercitatione et libertate vitae

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    Not your friend Member General Appo's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    That is actually quite accurate, people of that time probably firts thought of their own "gang", their family. Then there were the similar "gangs", that you know and sometime hang out with or help in some way or another, and then there are of course all the "gangs". Between these gangs there are often fights for respect and territory, but every once in a while the "cops" or some other outsiders comes in and everyone either unites or scatters against/before the common enemy. Never quite thought of it that way.
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    Member Member TWFanatic's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    The Scottish and Jewish clan/tribe systems are actually quite similar and make for a fascinating study on this subject. Often, when an outsider (English or Gentiles) invaded, only a few clans would unite to fight off the threat, while the others did virtually nothing. Clan pride was fierce and far more binding (particularly in Scotland) than any national identity, though of course the Jews had their unique religion in common as additional binding factor.

    Also, how did the Macedonians and the Greeks view themselves?
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    Urwendur Ūrībźl Senior Member Mouzafphaerre's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    .
    Ancient Arabian proverb: "My brother and I could fight with our cousin. Against a stranger; my brother, my cousin and I would fight together."

    Sedentary Turkish proverb: "A close neighbour is preferable over a distant relative."

    Arabs identified everybody who were not Arabian with a single word: عجم - ‘ajem. Gypsies identify everybody who are not Gypsie as Baro or Gaje. No need to mention Barbaros/Barbarus I suppose...
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    Ambassador of Bartix Member Tiberius Nero's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Calypze
    Also, how did the Macedonians and the Greeks view themselves? Were they primarily Makedones, Athenai, Epeirotes etc, or was there a Hellenic identity above that? If so, was it stronger or weaker than their local identity?
    Local identity certainly took precedence; there was a concept of "Greekness", but didn't really mean much on the political level; when not faced with a common enemy one Greek city could very well receive financial aid from non-Greeks (Sparta in the Peloponnesian War e.g.).
    Wow, got 3 ballons in one fell swoop

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    Bruadair a'Bruaisan Member cmacq's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by TWFanatic
    Clan pride was fierce and far more binding (particularly in Scotland) than any national identity
    Have you ever heard the story how one clan was nearly wiped-out, as the one that sent them into a trap did nothing but declare this their great fight? I was told this story over and over when I was a kid, and then it was already 400 years old.
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    The Creator of Stories Member Parallel Pain's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    I was wondering how they would identify who was friend and who was foe on the battlefield

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    Bruadair a'Bruaisan Member cmacq's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Parallel Pain
    I was wondering how they would identify who was friend and who was foe on the battlefield
    By their slogan, colours, and mark. Of course, a slogan is the war cry and in Scots Gaelic ours is, 'An t'Arm breac dearg.' In English, 'Our Weapons speckled red,' I think meaning 'speckle Our Weapons red?' Some bloody fool on the net claims it means, ‘the red-tartaned army.’ Not even close, as the only word they got right was 'red' for 'dearg.'



    As you see the colours are red, and the mark, the way one looks, talks, walks, sets, and stands; as well as the weapons, and how they're made to sing by your hands.
    Last edited by cmacq; 02-10-2008 at 05:37.
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Calypze
    Also, how did the Macedonians and the Greeks view themselves? Were they primarily Makedones, Athenai, Epeirotes etc, or was there a Hellenic identity above that? If so, was it stronger or weaker than their local identity?
    Around 130 AD The Roman emperor Hadrian formed the Panhellion (translates as 'all Greek') It covered 5 Roman provinces and extended way beyond mainland Greece, and it included cities in Macedonia, Thrace, Asia Minor, Crete, Rhodes and North Africa. The cities involved all demonstrated some link in their past to 'old Greece'. They all wanted to be part of it, and some cities even fabricated false pasts connecting with Greece in order to join the Panhellion. This seems to prove that at some time at least Greeks, Macedonians and Thracians all believed in this national identity, Not only that but other non-greeks wanted to cash in on their identity too.
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    NOBAΛO AYΣE Member Ayce's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    But the Maks and Thracians aren't Greek. Well the Maks got severely hellenised after Macedon's death (and the subsequent takeover by greeks of his emire), while the Thracians only slightly, instead siding with the Romans later on when it came to culture (actually so did some of the Maks, and their history leads me to believe that Macedonians are Thracian)

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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Belisarius Maximus
    non-greeks wanted to cash in on their identity too.
    I really should have said non-hellenic there, apologies. What I mean here is that while greeks macedonians and thracians all had their own national pride they also considered themselves part of the 'hellenic' group of peoples. Whether they held this in higher regard than that of their own nationality I do not know.
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    Voluntary Suspension Voluntary Suspension Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ayce
    But the Maks and Thracians aren't Greek. Well the Maks got severely hellenised after Macedon's death (and the subsequent takeover by greeks of his emire), while the Thracians only slightly, instead siding with the Romans later on when it came to culture (actually so did some of the Maks, and their history leads me to believe that Macedonians are Thracian)
    No one knows what the Makedonians really were and no one knows if Macedon was a real figure or not. However, Hesiod places him as a first cousin with Hellen the mythical Hellenic ancestor.
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    NOBAΛO AYΣE Member Ayce's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    AFAIK he had to learn Greek when he was 9 years old, so he couldn't be Greek and Greece considered him and Macedonians the enemy. Only after his conquests and subsequent death did he become adopted into Hellenism (for pride and glory purposes), so...

    Anyway, Thracians avoided association with Greeks, they were just culturally influenced (oh and the fascination of geometry and geometrical structure was handed down to the Greeks by the ancestors of the Thracians (due to some aspects of belief in the gods Gebelesis and Bendis I think)), so they didn't consider affiliation to Hellenism more important than ethnic affiliation. However tribal affiliation may be the dominant one in their case (it was certainly for Dacians until the very late period).

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    Voluntary Suspension Voluntary Suspension Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ayce
    AFAIK he had to learn Greek when he was 9 years old, so he couldn't be Greek and Greece considered him and Macedonians the enemy. Only after his conquests and subsequent death did he become adopted into Hellenism (for pride and glory purposes), so...

    Anyway, Thracians avoided association with Greeks, they were just culturally influenced (oh and the fascination of geometry and geometrical structure was handed down to the Greeks by the ancestors of the Thracians (due to some aspects of belief in the gods Gebelesis and Bendis I think)), so they didn't consider affiliation to Hellenism more important than ethnic affiliation. However tribal affiliation may be the dominant one in their case (it was certainly for Dacians until the very late period).
    What on Earth are you talking about? Hesiod the 7th/8th Century poet is the first to mention Macedon, as the cousin of Hellen, in his Theogony.

    What you are talking about sounds like a later Hellenistic rationalising of Myth.
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    Symbasileus ton Rhomaioktonon Member Maion Maroneios's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ayce
    AFAIK he had to learn Greek when he was 9 years old, so he couldn't be Greek and Greece considered him and Macedonians the enemy. Only after his conquests and subsequent death did he become adopted into Hellenism (for pride and glory purposes), so...
    I'm sorry to tell you this my friend, but you speak nonsense. Just because southern Greeks saw the Macedonians as enemies doesn't mean they where non-Greeks. Sparta saw Athens as an enemy and vice versa during the Peloponnesian War, when they slew each other brutally. Was it because they where different? OK, the Spartans where Dorians and the Athenians where Ionians but they both where GREEKS.

    As for Macedonia; Southern Greeks called them ''barbaroi'' very frequently. You know why? A ''barbaros'' wasn't necessarily a demeaning word, it meant non-greek or someone who had different beliefs, dresed differently, ate differently, drank differently and/or spoke differently than them. The Macedonians where engaged with Thracians, Celts and Illyrians in such an extensive rate, that many Hellenes believed they became like them (the Macedonians). And they where, in a certain degree, influanced by their neighbours. If you face endless hordes of enemies all the time, you adapt to survive. Anyway, we can talk all we want about this but everyone has his own oppinion. I will support mine, as it suits me best. Any other, will do differently, again to his own liking (FYROM, Albania for example).

    When Hesiod or I don't remember who called the Pelasgians barbaroi, he was just stating the difference between his people and them. The latter is for every albanian out there with their ourageaous bombardment of ''historical facts'' about their roots in such a short period of time.
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  20. #20

    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Ooh, I love this topic - actually did a course on it at UNI

    Having said that, not sure we ever really covered the Celtic/Germanic peoples especially. But I think the general consensus was something like people more or less defined themselves then as they do today. And along the lines people have already expressed here. People tended to group themselves in ever expanding circles. Family, village, tribe etc. A Celt from what is now Northern Italy would certainly have appreciated the difference between ie another Celt and a Roman and felt kinship with the one even if that other Celt lived in England. What they would then have done about it in a conflict situation is another matter...

    The most interesting thing I think is that peoples seemed to define themselves by their differences to other peoples rather than any similarities. Something we still do today...

    For example the Classical Hellenes would look at the fancy hairstyles of the Persians and think they were all tough and manly in comparison to these effeminate fools. Only to have the Romans think the same of them a couple of hundred years later...

    The "did the Macedons think they were Greek/Hellenic" question seems almost unanswerable today as the ancient sources seem quite confused about it themselves.

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    Ambassador of Bartix Member Tiberius Nero's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ayce
    AFAIK he had to learn Greek when he was 9 years old
    When you say "Greek" you probably mean "Attic Greek" that is the dialect of the Athenians; we don't know much about the Macedonian language to be sure whether it was another Greek dialect or just a language very closely related to Greek; the 200 or so words of Macedonian we have from lexicographers are very similar to Greek ones and one could say Macedonian is a Greek dialect, but then again with a language we pretty much know nothing about, it is a moot point.

    The only reason I would find to say that Macedonian was probably a Greek dialect, is the personal names like "Philippos", "Alexandros', "Krateros" etc which are of Greek etymology, that is they mean something in Greek, and furthermore they are not loan names from other (?) Greeks, they are regional names, just as there are names only the Athenians or only the Spartans would use, and so on.

    The "did the Macedons think they were Greek/Hellenic" question seems almost unanswerable today as the ancient sources seem quite confused about it themselves.
    It is more like, the ancient sources are not definitive; we have probably no way of knowing what "working class" Macedonians thought of themselves regarding their national (?) identity (or indeed if such a question would even be meaningful to them), but we have enough evidence that their ruling caste at least thought of themselves as Greeks from long before Alexander the Great, for whatever reason that might have been. The one example I can remember of now is Alexander (the first, I think), at the time of the (first?) Persian invasion, warning the Greeks about the Persian's movements, because, though he was a vassal of the King of Kings, he felt he had a duty to his Greek brethren.
    Wow, got 3 ballons in one fell swoop

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    NOBAΛO AYΣE Member Ayce's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Correct, we can't tell yet what they thought of themselfs. Though I could bring a possible Thracian etymology for Alexandros (dros=deer).

    Now back to the subject, most people in the classical period would primarily associate with their „tribe”.

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    Ambassador of Bartix Member Tiberius Nero's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ayce
    Correct, we can't tell yet what they thought of themselfs. Though I could bring a possible Thracian etymology for Alexandros (dros=deer).

    Now back to the subject, most people in the classical period would primarily associate with their „tribe”.
    Back to the subject indeed (I thought it was part of the subject though), but "Alexandros" is quite clearly from the Greek verb "alexo" (=repel) and "aner"(=man, stem: andr-), so "one who repels men(=enemies)", that is "invincible". Not much dispute about this etymology really.
    Wow, got 3 ballons in one fell swoop

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    Voluntary Suspension Voluntary Suspension Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quite, particually as it appears in the Iliad as the alternate name of Paris.
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    Member Member Cyclops's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    I thought they had coloured flags hovering above each group of them and thats how they identified themselves?

    I think the kinship group is the basis of human identity everywhere. "Son of" is I think the most common epithet

    However there are alternate identities available to pretty much everyone. In Australian Aboriginal society theres kinship systems (son-of, brother-of etc) but also a complex system of totems or animal-identities which mesh with kin-identites. These identites extend beyond family bounds and even to other clans, tribes and (IIRC) language groups.

    Likewise in Athens a person could be an Athenian (probably his number 1 identity) but also an Ionian, a hellene, a pentacosiomedimnoi, an Eleusinian initiate, a Roman citizen, depending on who he wanted to fight or appease.
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclops
    I thought they had coloured flags hovering above each group of them and thats how they identified themselves?

    I think the kinship group is the basis of human identity everywhere. "Son of" is I think the most common epithet

    However there are alternate identities available to pretty much everyone. In Australian Aboriginal society theres kinship systems (son-of, brother-of etc) but also a complex system of totems or animal-identities which mesh with kin-identites. These identites extend beyond family bounds and even to other clans, tribes and (IIRC) language groups.

    Likewise in Athens a person could be an Athenian (probably his number 1 identity) but also an Ionian, a hellene, a pentacosiomedimnoi, an Eleusinian initiate, a Roman citizen, depending on who he wanted to fight or appease.

    I think he flags were introduced later. In medieval times they sure had, but except from Romans I haven't seen depictions of armies holding flags.

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    Member Member Cyclops's Avatar
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    Default Re: How did ancient peoples identify themselves?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vorian
    I think he flags were introduced later. In medieval times they sure had, but except from Romans I haven't seen depictions of armies holding flags.
    No no no I'm sure they had great big banners and some gifted individuals even had stars floating over them.
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