Greeks, Romans and Barbarians: Some Links between Masculinity and Ethnicity in the Ancient Greek and Roman Literature






Historians studying the Later Roman Empire recognize that many of its sources are overrun with tropes and stereo-types. This is particularly true when utilizing classicizing historians like Priscus, Procopius and Agathias. Since these authors modeled there works on Greek writers like Herodotus, Thucydides, and Polybius they often separate civilized Romans from foreign peoples commonly described as barbarians. The strict polarization between “Roman” and “barbarian” in these sources is often purposefully exaggerated to serve these writers’ literary aims. The following is a paper I gave at the University of Queensland in 2007 that discusses some of the ancient reasoning behind some of these tropes. This blog also has some relevance in my continued discussion of Jonathan Arnold’s new book Roman Restoration that argues that the Gothic rex  Theoderic was seen by Italo-Romans as a new Western emperor, and moreover, that his Gothic soldiers, largely because of their martial prowess, were seen by many westerners as “new” Romans who had reinvigorated Roman virtus and Rome’s imperium. I would suggest that while Italo-Romans recognized the Goths’ martial prowess, they may have still viewed it as a “foreign” and indeed, inferior “barbarized” courage and manliness. (Note: This blog is taken from a draft copy of the original talk so I am in the process of cleaning it up a bit. So too did the Greek get screwed up when posting it here).

“Women” represent only one of many groups long marginalised in the historical record. Ethnic minorities, slaves, and members of the lower classes have all at one time or another been treated as the “equivalent to women” because they were seen as subordinated men.[1] While recognizing that these categories seldom make up homogeneous social groups, my thesis followed the conclusions of scholars like the philosopher Judith Butler who argues that in many cultures “the feminine is always the outside and the outside is always feminine.”[2] Several recent studies on ancient Rome have convincingly demonstrated that the relationship between Romans and non-Romans was also regularly laid out along gendered lines.[3] For if in many ways woman represented the biological antithesis of man, then the barbarian often personified the social inversion of Roman. This paper examines some of the Romans’ reasoning for this belief. Yet, a caveat must be given before we proceed. For just as ancient writers commonly created portraits of women as a means to describe men’s character, Roman authors’ commentaries about non-Romans tend to tell us more about their own culture than the foreign societies they purport to describe.[4] This point is particularly relevant for a historian like me who relies so heavily on the Late Roman classicising and ecclesiastical historians for its ideas. These authors tended to conform to a Late Roman style of rhetoric for their portrayals of non-Roman peoples, and therefore they must be used by the modern historian with prudence.[5] Quite often the descriptions of non-Roman found in these sources were not based on reality, but on contemporary or Classical preconceptions of how barbarian peoples should behave.[6] I will argue, however, that even rhetorical constructions can provide one with a more detailed picture of how Late Romans saw both foreigners and themselves. For while this dependence on literary devices might hinder any attempt to uncover a foreign people’s actual mores, these portrayals can provide a scholar with vital material by which to explore Roman notions on socially constructed concepts such as ethnicity and masculinity.

Writers from the Republic to the Later Empire tended to equate the struggle between Romans and non-Romans—particularly Easterners—as a battle between the manly and the unmanly. The Classical scholar Craig Williams associates this binarism with Roman attitudes towards masculinity. He writes:

A common theme in the sources of this period [from the second century BCE to the fourth century CE] is that true Roman men, who possess virtus by birthright, rightfully exercise their dominion or imperium not only over women but also over foreigners, themselves implicitly likened to women. An obvious implication is that non-Roman peoples were destined to submit to Rome’s masculine imperium.[7]


Quite simply, many Romans seemed convinced that their numerous victories over foreign forces had occurred, not only because they had better equipment and tactics, but “because they were better men.”[8] In a similar way to their justifications for their “natural” ascendancy over women, Roman writers pointed to biological, environmental, and social factors to support their claims of supremacy over non-Romans. This credo, however, did not mean that foreign men lacked any positive qualities; moreover, unlike the barriers between male and female, the boundaries between Roman and foreigner were surmountable. In contrast to the Greeks, the Romans’ multiracial Empire, along with their tradition of inclusion, had contributed to a somewhat more nuanced notion of foreigners’ “otherness.”[9]  From the era of the Republic, the growth of Rome had depended upon its soldier’s ability to conquer foreign lands and make Romans out of barbarians.[10] Yet, Roman citizens of the Later Empire had become increasingly apathetic towards military service, and by the fourth century CE, barbarians regularly fought for, as well as led the Roman armies.[11]Although non-Roman mercenaries had long played a role in the Roman military, in the fourth and fifth centuries, these men became the Empire’s primary striking force. At times these mercenaries (foederati)[12] constituted a considerable threat to the Imperial government. By the reign of Arcadius (ruled 395-408), the emperor had ceased to lead the army personally, and in the Western Provinces the head of the army—who was often a foreigner—became the “de facto ruler of the Empire.”[13] This reality conflicted with the notion that Roman men’s superiority allowed them to defeat and rule over foreign peoples. We see this inconsistency vividly in fourth and fifth-century Imperial iconography, which anachronisticallydepicts Roman emperors, while surrounded by their Roman soldiers, standing triumphant over grovelling barbarians.[14] While many of the Late Antique Empire’s “demilitarised” citizens may have been perfectly content to relinquish their military roles to foreigners,[15]for some, the increased reliance on “alien” soldiers created a real sense of dismay.At the beginning of the fifth century, for example, the politically involved philosopher and bishop, Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413), recommended the removal of all barbarians from high office and the army.[16]


Of course most “barbarians” in Late Antiquity were far removed from the fur-clad wild marauders portrayed in Late Roman visual representations and in the ancient historiographical tradition. Large numbers of these peoples had adapted themselves to Roman society and become indistinguishable from their civilian Roman neighbours.[17] Barbarian elites dressed in contemporary Roman fashions and possessed magnificent villas decorated with the latest mosaic floors and furnishings.[18] Nevertheless despite these changing realities, for many Romans in the Later Empire, the legacy of the barbarian as an uncivilised contrast to the cultivated Roman continued to hold sway.

Some of this prejudice may stem from the continuing relevance of the Classical theory that geography played an essential role in the development of an individual’s or ethnos’[19]physical and mental characteristics. Indeed, Greek and Roman writers had long argued that—like the mother’s womb—the physical environment that one lived in played a part in the creation of manly and unmanly peoples.[20] According to Classical medical texts, one’s birthplace often correlated with one’s ability to attain essential masculine attributes. Some of the earliest examples of this motif are found in the early fifth-century BCE Hippocratic treatise Airs, Waters, Places.[21] This treatise theorised that Asia’s continual spring-like climate contributed to the emasculation of its population, asserting that:

Manly courage [άnδreion], endurance [talaίpwron], labour [emponon], and high spiritedness [qumoeidες] could not be produced in such an environment in either native [omojύlou] or foreigner [allojύlou]. But it is necessary for pleasure [ηδονήν] to rule there.[22]

In contrast to the temperate conditions of Asia, which created docile and unmanly men, the more varied seasons of Western Europe affected the sperm, which in turn, created the more courageous—albeit unstable—personalties and anatomies of the individuals born there.

Let us consider another example from Airs that sheds additional light on the important relationship between geography and biology in the development of masculine virtues among certain peoples:

The other people of Europe differ from one another, both in stature and in shape, because of the changes of the seasons, which are violent and frequent, while there are severe heat waves, severe winters, and copious rains, and then long droughts, and winds, causing many changes of various kinds. Wherefore it is natural to realise that generation too varies in the coagulation of the seed, and it is not the same seed in summer as in winter nor in rain as in drought. It is for this reason, I think, that the physique of Europeans varies more than that of the Asiatics; and that their stature differs very widely in each city. For there arise more corruptions in the coagulation of the seed when the changes of the seasons are frequent, than when they are similar or alike. The same reasoning applies also to character. In such a climate arise wildness [αγριον], unsociability [αμεικτον] and spirit [θυμοειδες]. For this reason I think the inhabitants of Europe are also more courageous [ευψυχοτέρους] than Asiatics. For uniformity engenders slackness, while variation fosters endurance in both body and soul; rest and slackness are food for cowardice [ραθυμίαι], endurance and exertion for bravery [ανδρειαι].[23]

While most modern scholars would consider traits like “courage” and “indolence” as socially assigned aspects of gender, we can observe in the example above the Classical conviction that these behaviours represented aspects of biology, which in turn could be influenced by environmental conditions.

Greek and Roman historians applied some of these principles to their own ethnographies. Writing at about the same time as Air, Waters, and Places’ composition,[24] Herodotus (ca. 484 BCE–ca.425 BCE) concludes Histories by suggesting that peoples who wanted to maintain their masculine edge should avoid “unmanly’ lands. The historian—who earlier in his history attributed the martial virtues of the “native” Persians under the Emperor Cyrus to the “roughness” of their native lands—had a warning to all warrior peoples who might consider abandoning their own austere territories for more temperate and luxurious lands.[25] After their conquest of the Medes, a group of Persians attempt to coaxthe Emperor Cyrus to leave this “barren country of ours and take possession of a better.” In response, Cyrus chides his colleagues to abandon their thoughts of further conquest in Asia, warning: “Soft countries …breed soft men” (twn malakwn cώrwn malakoυς andraς gίnesqai). It is not the property of any one soil to produce fine fruits and good soldiers too.” The Persians relented, and Herodotus reckoned that their wise decision “to live in a rugged land” and not “to cultivate rich plains” allowed them (the Persians) to rule and not be subjugated by others.[26] Though likely apocryphal, this anecdote reveals Herodotus’ conviction that geography played a role in shaping one’s character and manliness.[27]
Nevertheless, we should not take the influence of environmental factors over the social as the primary dynamic in the creation of ideal men too far. Most ancient writers did not have the same qualms as modern academics in seemingly contradicting themselves. This paradox is readily apparent in Airs where the treatise seemingly undermines its earlier assertions by suggesting that “law” (nomoς) could create “manliness” (άnδreion) in those who do not possess this quality by nature (jύsις) (Airs, 24).”[28] Herodotus likewise extolled the vital role that nomos played in the formation of manly peoples. Herodotus, and other ancient sources, frequently stressed the importance of free-will for men striving to display acts of martial courage.  Consequently in these sources attacks on masculinity are closely tied to servility. Manly courage is depicted as a “choice” that can only be made by the man who has the freedom to master his own unruly nature.[29]In Histories, the Greeks’ subservience—not to any human master—but to nomos sets them apart from their Persian counterparts. The contrast between the Persian forces, that are compelled to battle by their master Xerses’ insatiable appetite for conquest, versus the Greeks, fighting for their political and personal freedom, represented a primary topos for Herodotus. Nomos, therefore, served as a set of abstract common values that a man could submit to without falling into the realm of effeminacy.

Later Roman writers propagated these theories to the point of cliché.[30] One sees in the sources of Late Antiquity the opinion that certain variations between Western and Eastern barbarians could be explained by a combination of geographic and social factors.[31] These beliefs were more than just mere rhetorical flourish, and we know that Late Roman military commanders adopted these prejudicial beliefs in their training manuals. The late fourth or fifth-century military handbook,  De Re Militari by Vegetius, for instance, relied upon the traditional notion that preached “that climate exerts an enormous influence on the strength of minds and bodies.” In the following passage, Vegetius, explains how climatic factors should influence Late Roman military recruitment:

They tell us [Classical intellectuals] that all peoples that are near the sun, being parched by the great heat, are more intelligent but have less blood, and therefore, lack the steadiness and confidence to fight at close quarters, because those who are conscious of having less blood are afraid of wounds. On the other hand, the peoples of the north, remote from the sun’s heat, are less intelligent, but having a superabundance of blood are readiest for wars. Recruits should therefore be raised from more temperate climes. The plenteousness of their blood supplies a contempt for wounds and death, and intelligence cannot be lacking either, which preserves discipline in camp and is of no little assistance in battle.[32]

Despite the predominantly negative representations of non-Roman peoples found in these texts, we can see from the example above that barbarians from the East and the West could be admired for displaying masculine qualities like courage and intelligence. It must be emphasised, however, that even in these “positive” depictions, the rhetoric of racial exclusion usually took precedence, and when represented by Late Roman writers, individuals or groups of barbarian men seldom possessed the proper combination of intellectual and phyasical virtues.

We are frequently told that an ideal Late Roman man often needed to be both a Philόlogoς (lover of reason) and a philopόlemoς (lover of war).[33] We may observe this selectivity when the fourth-century Emperor Julian (ruled, 361-363) praised the Germanic and Celtic peoples for their “fierceness” (qraseiς) and their “love of freedom,” (jileύqerός), but criticized them for their “unruliness” (αnupόtaktoς) and lack of wisdom.[34] Similarly, while he admitted that some of the Eastern barbarian peoples equalled the intellectual prowess of the Romans, he made it clear that their intrinsically “effeminate” (trujhlός),  “docile” (tiqasoόν), and “submissive” (χειρόθης) natures limited their ability to cultivate martial virtues, which contributed to their propensity to be ruled over by despots, or even worse, women.[35] He made it clear that only the ancient Greeks[36] and Romans were able to combine an “unyielding” (στερεός) “warlike” nature (polemikός) with the “inclination for political life” (politikός).[37]

Additionally, while one reads frequently on the pages of the classicising historians about the authors’ admiration of the Western barbarians for their “fine physiques,” and their “natural and fierce fighting ability,” just as often, these writers lampooned the barbarians for their dull intellects and inborn recklessness that tended to limit their effectiveness in combat.[38] Echoing ancient physiognomists who had long declared it as unmanly to adorn oneself with cosmetics, jewellery or “delicate” clothing,[39] these writers also compared barbarians to women because of their love of jewellery and other “excessive” ornamentation.”[40] Some Late Romans even perceived the barbarians’ “migratory lifeway” as a telltale sign of their overall unstable nature, and part of the reason why these barbarians made ideal slaves and engaged in unmanly social practices.[41]

Besides the rhetorical prejudice, one can observe in these examples above, both the variety of terms in ancient Greek for “courage,” as well as the danger of misinterpretation for the modern reader who ignores the subtleties of the ancient Greek by lumping all of these assorted terms under the umbrella of the vaguer and less diverse English notion of “courage” or “bravery.” The Romans of the Later Empire had inherited from Classical Greek a more nuanced sense of a concept that we often translate imprecisely into the equivalent English notions of “courage” or “bravery.” Despite their general admiration of the Western barbarians’ innate courage, the classicising historians from the fifth to the seventh centuries CE, followed the Classical notion that there remained a fine line between rashness and courage. Indeed in ancient Greek, a term like thrasos describes either recklessness or courage. Even when used in a positive sense, thrasos often depicts a more visceral type of courage (perhaps best represented in English as boldness) than the more aner or male-specific andreia.[42] As Karen Bassi puts it, “the andreios man neither fears too much or too little.” Aristotle considered andreia as “the attributes of a man whose actions demonstrate a moderate negotiation between ‘boldness’ [θάρσος] and ‘fear’ [φόβος].”[43]  A man’s capacity to maintain this precarious balance depended largely upon his ability to suppress his natural urges to either launch a rash attack or turn tail in a cowardly retreat. It was these types of distinctions that regularly distinguished the manly from the unmanly.

The knack of ruling oneself by repressing one’s emotions and urges had long made up an essential component of Greek and Roman masculine identity.[44]  So it is not surprising that Later Roman writers expressed the view that Roman men had a greater potential than either women or barbarians to overcome humanity’s natural instinct to avoid danger.[45] In contrast to the controlled courage best exemplified by Roman men, in these sources, barbarians frequently display a more primeval, undisciplined, and therefore more unreliable type of bravery.[46]As we will see in the next chapter there is abundant evidence of this view in the writings of the classicising historians.

Rhetorical traditions had long argued that, like slaves, barbarians stood much nearer than the civilized Greeks and Romans to the margins that separated humans from the other lesser animals.[47]This bigotry helps us understand why the Greeks and the Romans traditionally depicted the barbarian peoples as “wild beasts” (tό qhrίon, bestiae). Roman writers of the Later Empire regularly employed animal metaphors to describe foreign peoples from the East and the West.[48] I would suggest that these depictions allowed Late Roman writers to reassure their audience. By revealing to their readers that much of the barbarians’ boldness in battle was brought on by wild desperation, and an animalistic lack of self mastery, they could comfort their audience by suggesting that much of these foreigners’ martial prowess was based on more instinctive and therefore inferior types of courage.Similar to the youthful passion and self-indulgent exhibitions of courage displayed by flawed and unmanly emperors like Commodus, the irascible behavior of the barbarians represented the polar opposite of Roman models of masculinity based on a man’s ability to control his natural impulses. Impulsive courage therefore differs from the controlled courage of the man who used his reason (λόγος) to exercise control over all of his passions.[49] These convictions help to explain the conventional Late Roman attitude that non-Romans could be intimidated by manly Roman soldiers and driven from Roman soil.[50] This is not to say that rational courage represented an endemic Roman virtue.  Andreia, like virtus,served as a universal value, available to both genders and to all peoples—Roman or non-Roman. Nonetheless, in the Roman sources, barbarian peoples who possessed virtus or andreia often lost it, as well as their freedom, when they faced the manlier Romans in battle.[51]

Could non-Romans be taught the intellectual self-control that was required for men to consistently display sophrasune and the other “external” learned virtues that made up essential components of Roman manliness in the Later Empire? The answer given by most Late Roman writers was no. Romans, like the emperor Julian believed in the set “differences in characters and laws among nations.” In his writings he assumed that Western barbarians were simply incapable of overcoming their naturally unstable temperament and utter disregard for intellectual pursuits.[52] Once again we see the conviction that Roman men had an inherent advantage in attaining the proper balance of martial and intellectual virtues that increasingly served to identify one as a “real man” in the Late Roman world. This is a line of argument that recurs regularly in the Roman literary record. Certainly, however, we see individual exceptions to these negative racial stereotypes. The second-century satirist Lucian, for example, made it clear that he knew Celts and Scythians who despite their barbarian birth (genos) “could become indistinguishable from Athenians” through their paideia (Lucian, The Skythian, or the Proxenos 1, 3).[53] Indeed, Julian’s childhood tutor, Mardonius, to whom the emperor credited with both his early love of Greek classics as well as his development of a “proper” manly deportment—was described somewhat ironically by the apostate as both a eunuch and a barbarian (he was most likely a Goth).[54] More often than not, however― like the courageous women found in Thucydides or the manly eunuchs found in Ammianus and Procopius[55]―the “wise barbarian,” represented an oxymoron by which an author could either point out the shortcomings of Roman society and its men, or be used anecdotally to show the audience that sooner or later the “temperate” foreigner would return to “his native barbarian madness.”[56] As Maud Gleason puts it, from the second to the fifth century CE “displays of paideia in public served to distinguish authentic members of the elite from other members of society, the gap between the educated and the uneducated came to be seen as no way arbitrary but the result of a nearly biological superiority.”[57]Indeed, the prevailing attitude we see in the Late Roman sources is the idea that Roman men had an inherent advantage in attaining the proper balance of martial and intellectual virtues that served to identify one as a “real man” in the Late Roman world.

Barbarians often played the same role in the Late Roman sources as women and boys. In many ways these depictions of foreigners were similar to the uneducated Roman youths and women in that they lacked the physical and the emotional control that were seen as fundamental qualities of romanitas.  Just as the sperm in the womb might become tainted by drifting into the feminine realm, a man separated from the regulation of Roman masculine ideology could easily wander into the temptation of an undisciplined, and therefore an effeminate existence. Somewhat ironically, only by submitting to Rome’s masculine imperium could barbarian men then begin to break down some of the barriers that had prevented them from attaining both civilisation and a “true” masculine identity.






[1] Mathew Kuefler, The Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity, and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001),3. Gender scholars use the term “subordinate masculinities” to describe the alternative masculinities usually present in societies, but which are often marginalised by the dominant or the “hegemonic masculinity” of the political elites. R. W. Connell, Masculinities (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 76-86.


[2]Judith Butler, “Bodies That Matter,” in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (New York: Routledge, 1993), 48.


[3] See for instance, Eckstein, Moral Visions, 119-125; Williams, Roman Homosexuality, 132-137; Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 47-49, 285-286; McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 159-161.

[4] For example, Rebecca Langlands has shown persuasively that the Imperial author Tacitus’ description of the pudicitia of the Germanic tribes did not to describe reality, but served to point out the Roman’s impudicitia. Rebecca Langlands, Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 319-363.


[5] It is important to note that this propensity to rely upon rhetorical models was not, however, universal, and one sees in the fifth and sixth-century histories of Priscus, Procopius and Menander more accurate ethnographies. These historians usually refrain from conforming to Roman styles of rhetoric, but rely more upon archival, oral sources, and their own personal experience when describing foreign individuals or peoples. I therefore take the middle ground in the contemporary debate, following Liebeschuetz’s conviction, that historians like Ammianus, Priscus and Procopius’ close associations with barbarian peoples allowed them to report genuine information about non-Roman peoples. Wolf Liebeschuetz, “The Debate about the Ethnogenesis of the Germanic Tribes,” in From Rome to Constantinople: Studies in Honour of Averil Cameron, ed. Hagit Amirav and Bas ter Haar Romney (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 345-49.


[6] A recent summation of the debates surrounding the contentious concepts of ethnogenesis and Traditionskern (core-traditions) may be found in, Andrew Gillett, ed. On Barbarian identity: Approaches to Ethnicity in the Middle Ages (Turnhout: Brepols), 2002.

[7] Williams, Roman Homosexuality, 135.


[8] McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 3.


[9] For a  selection of essays on Greek attitudes towards barbarians, from the Classical period to the later Middle Ages, Thomas Harrison, ed. Greeks and Barbarians (New York: Routledge, 2002).


[10] Romans, like the Augustan geographer, Strabo (63/64 BC – ca. AD 24), stressed that barbarism was an escapable condition., in his writings he showed that by bringing good government and civilisation to barbarian peoples, Roman imperialism could overcome  some of the environmental and social factors that had contributed to these non-Roman peoples’ “savage” personalities. For the views of Strabo, see Michael Maas, “Strabo and Procopius,” in From Rome to Constantinople: Studies in Honour of Averil Cameron, ed. Hagit Amirav and Bas ter Haar Romney (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 71-75.


[11] For the reluctance of Roman citizens in the fourth and fifth centuries to serve in the military, and the subsequent increased reliance of non-Roman as both soldiers and officers in the Later Roman army:  Pat Southern and Karen Ramsey Dixon, The Late Roman Army (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 48-50, 67-73; Wolf Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops: Army, Church, and State in the Age of Arcadius and Chrysostom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 20-21. However, it is important to remember that perhaps two thirds of these soldier were Roman citizens. We do see, however, in the first half of the sixth century a shift back to an army made up of predominantly citizen soldiers. For this development, see A.H.M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire 282-602, 2 vols. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1964), 670; John Teale, “The Barbarians in Justinian’s Armies.” Speculum 40 (1965): 294-322.


[12] On both the use of foederati and the changing nature of the term during the Later Empire, see Southern and Dixon, Late Roman Army, 71-72.


[13] Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops, 245. On this development, see J. M. O’ Flynn, Generalissimos of the Western Roman Army (Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 1983).


[14] For the increased use of this type of imagery in Late Antiquity, see Michael McCormick, Eternal Victory: Triumphal Rulership in Late Antiquity, Byzantium and the Early Medieval West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 20.


[15] John Moorhead, The Roman Empire Divided, 400-700 (London: Longman, 2001), 19.


[16]Synesius, De regno 14-15.


[17] Patrick Amory, People and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy, 489-554 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 338-347.


[18] For the continued production of “Roman” palaces and mosaics in Vandal Africa, see J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz, The Decline and fall of the Roman City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003),  97-98. For the merging of  Roman and “barbarian” customs during the Later Empire:  John Moorhead, The Roman Empire Divided, 21-24; Mary Harlow, “Clothes Maketh the Man: Power Dressing and Elite Masculinity in the Later Roman World,” in Gender in the Early Medieval World: East and West, 300-900, ed. Leslie Brubaker and Julia Smith. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 44-69.


[19]As Anthony Kaldellis points out, the terminology used by the Romans and the Byzantines to describe ethnicity:  ethnos, genos, and phylon had more nuanced, flexible and frequently contradictory meanings than the modern concepts of “nations,” “races,” or “peoples”. In its most common usage, ethnos could signify the “Romans” themselves or any barbarian group no matter how it was constituted, but it could also be used to describe groups, such as women, philosophers and Christians. On the other hand genos usually denoteda“biological relation, and was often used to designated one’s family, phylonis a term that best represents the modern concept of “race”. However, genos, phylon, and ethnos could also be used interchangeably “to designate any category of things regardless how they were constituted.” Anthony Kaldellis, Hellenism in Byzantium: the Transformation of Greek Identity and the reception of the Classical Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 87-89.


[20] Sarah E. Harrell, “Marvellous Andreia: Politics, Geography, and Ethnicity in Herodotus’ Histories,” in Andreia: Studies in Manliness and Courage in Classical Antiquity (Boston: Brill, 2003), 86.

[21] The extent of Hippocrates’ (ca. 460 BCE – ca. 370 BCE) contribution and exact date of Airs, Waters, Places composition is problematic,though most scholars attribute it to Hippocrates or one of his followers, and therefore date it to the late fifth century BCE. G.E.R. Lloyd argues that it difficult to prove Hippocrates contribution, not only to Air, Waters, Places but to any “Hippocratic” treatise. G. E. R. Lloyd, “The Hippocratic Question,” Classical Quarterly 25 (1975): 171-192.


[22] Hippocrates, Airs, Waters, Places 12. Quoted in Harrell, 87. This type of reasoning also helps to explain why some ancient writers feared that the Greeks’ colonization Asia Minor had led them to fall prey to its “effeminising” effects of its climate.

[23] Hippocrates, Airs, Waters, Places (trans. W. H. S. Jones, Loeb Classical Library, 8 vols.[Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1923, reprint 1972]) 23.


[24] Harrell suggests that Herodotus’ Histories and the treatise did not have “a direct relationship” but both utilised “earlier ethnographic works linking climate and character.” Harrell, n. 36.


[25] Herodotus, Histories (trans. Betty Radice, [London: Penguin Classics, 1972]) 1.71.


[26] Herodotus, Histories 9.122. Quoted in Harrell, 87.


[27] Harrell, 86.


[28] Harrell, n. 37.


[29] See for example Herodotus, Histories 7.107; Plato, Republic 579a.


[30] Later Roman and Byzantine medical practitioners continued to consult the Hippocratic treatises. Galen wrote a commentary on Airs, Waters, Places, but the original Greek version of commentary is lost to us. However, Hunayn ibn Ishaq (809-873) in ninth century Baghdad translated it into Syriac for the court physician, Salmawayh ibn Bunan, of the caliph al-Mu’tasim bi-llah (reigned 833-842). Gotthard Strohmaier, “Galen’s Commentary on Airs, Places and Waters,”


[31] The Greek historian Arrian in the second century CE, for example, utilised this familiar formula in his description of the fourth-century BCE conquests of Alexander, to contrast the physical superiority of the “vigorous” barbarians of Europe with “lazy” and “soft” barbarians of Asia. Before battle Alexander roused his troops to battle by declaring: “As for our barbarian troops, Thracians, Paeonians, Illyrians, Agrianians, the most robust (ευρωστοτάτους) warlike races of Europe, will be arranged against the most indolent (aponώtata) and softest (malakώtata) tribes (gέnh) of Asia.” Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander (trans. P.A. Brunt. Loeb Classical Library. 2 vols. [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1929]) 2.7.5.


[32] Vegitius, Epitome of Military Science, trans.  N.P. Milner (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993), 1.2.


[33] For these two traits as essential qualities for a model Late Roman emperor to display, see, Themistius. Or. 4.54a. This belief appears linked to Plato’s depiction in the Republic of the idealised philosopher-king: Plato, Republic 521d, 525b, 543a. For the influence of the Republic on Late Roman and Byzantine intellectuals, see Anthony Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History, and Philosophy at the End of Antiquity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 106-117. For intellectual or hellenistic virtues as essential components of Roman masculine self-fashioning in the Early Empire, see McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 384-389; Maud Gleason, Making Men Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 2-21.


[34] Julian, Against the Galileans (trans. Wilmer C. Wright, Loeb Classical Library, 3 vols.[Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1923, reprint 2003]) 116 A. On the Celts’ fierceness in comparison to the Romans, see Julian, Misopogon 359 B.


[35]Julian amalgamated both environmental and social reasoning for the Eastern and Southern barbarians’ propensity to have effeminate and unwarlike natures. In 138 B He maintained that all nations “who possess and are contented with despotic governments” tended to be by nature “mild” (tiqasός) and “submissive” (ceiroήqhς).


[36] Julian here used the rather imprecise term Ελληνας.  As Anthony Kaldellis shows, “Hellenes” is a problematic word, in that by the fourth-century CE it could be used to describe a variety of things: firstly, it could used to describe “pagans” or all non-Christian peoples including barbarian peoples as well as the ancient Greeks. Secondly, it might suggest any contemporary Romans who lived in the province of Hellas. Thirdly, it was utilised as a term for anyone who spoke Greek regardless of ethnicity. Fourthly, it could depict anyone, regardless of ethnicity, who had mastered the Classical paideia.  Finally, it could be used in the same way that Julian does in the passage above to describe the ancient Greeks, a “national” identity that by Julian’s time no longer existed. Kaldellis, Hellenism in Byzantium, 184-187.


[37] Julian, Against the Galileans 138 B.


[38] Herodian, Basileia historia (trans. C.R. Whittaker, Loeb Classical Library, 2 vols. [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969-70]) 2.9.11.


[39] Maud Gleason, “The Semiotics of Gender: Physiognomy of Self-Fashioning in the Second Century C.E.,” in Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World, ed. David Halperin, John Winkler, and Froma Zeitlin (Princeton:Princeton University Press, 1990), 399-402.


[40] Herodian, for example, likened the Western barbarians to women for their shared love of “brooches and belts extravagantly decked out with gold and precious stones. Herodian, Basileia historia 5.2.4.


[41] Herodotus [1.105]  told an anecdote whereby the Scythians who captured Ascalon in Palestine “were punished by the goddess with the infliction of what is called the “female disease”, and their decedents still suffer from it . . .The Scythians call those who suffer from it the Enaree ( men who dressed like women and performed the duties associated with women).” The acceptance of transgender groups like the Enaree continued to be seen as a tradition of barbarians like the Goths well into Late Antiquity. Men like Synesius [De regno 15] used their somewhat skewed interpratation of Herodotus’ passage for their own gendered diatribes. He wrote: “As to these Scythians [Goths], Herodotus says that they are all tainted with a feminine malady, and we ourselves see this. These are the men from whose ranks slave are recruited everywhere, and who have never owned any land. Hence the proverb “the Scythian wilderness”, for they are always fleeing their own country.”


[42] For a recent study on the Greek concept of “courage,” see Etienne Smoes, “Le courage chez les Grecs d’Homère à Aristote,” in Cahiers de Philosophie Ancienne (Brussels, 1995).


[43] Quoted in, Bassi, “Semantics of Manliness,” 52-53.


[44] Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure: The History of Sexuality Volume 2, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), 63-65.


[45] Joseph Roisman, “The Rhetoric of Courage in the Athenian Orators,” in Andreia: Studies in Manliness and Courage in Classical Antiquity. (Boston: Brill, 2003), 127.


[46] For instance, while the Greek historian Polybius (c. 203–120 BC) proclaimed that the tenacity of the barbarian Gauls in battle proved that they were the equal to the Romans in courage, he later qualifies this statement by maintaining that the barbarians’ ardour tended to wane if their first frenzied onslaughts failed to overwhelm their enemies. Polybius advised his readers that civilized peoples could defeat these terrifying hordes by depending on “the resolution and the ability of men who faced the danger with intelligence and cool calculation.” Polybius, The Histories (trans. Mortimer Chambers [New York: Twayne, 1966]) 2.30-35.


[47] Some of the Late Romans’ convictions concerning the inferiority of barbarian peoples may hark back to Aristotle’s perception of different levels of humanity, based on his theory that—just like other animals— men from different cultures and social backgrounds exhibited differing degrees of completeness or perfectiveness. For this concept in the writings of Aristotle see, Marguerite Deslauriers, “Aristotle on Andreia, Divine and Sub-Human Virtues,” in Andreia: Studies in Manliness and Courage in Classical Antiquity. (Boston: Brill, 2003), 192-196.


[48]Blockley, Classicising Historians, 92.Ammianus Marcellinus, for example, described the Huns as “ugly beasts” and barely human.Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum (trans. John C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library, 3 vols.[Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935, reprint 2005]) 16.5.17.


[49] This state of “passionlessness” (άπάθεια) represented one of Stoic philosophy’s paramount goals. As Hagit Amirav points out, the Stoics believed that passions like anger (ira) differed in rational and irrational men. A passion like “anger” (ira), had several nuanced meanings, he argues that, “bestial anger is not anger, but only an impulse, since animals do not have reason and therefore their apparent anger cannot be the result of temporarily defective λόγος.”Hagit Amirav, Ammianus Stoicus, in From Rome to Constantinople: Studies in Honour of Averil Cameron, ed. Hagit Amirav and Bas ter Haar Romney (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 98. For a discussion in detail about Stoic beliefs and practices, see R.W. Sharples, Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics: An Introduction to Hellenistic Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1996).


[50] Robert Blockley argues that the military defeats of the fourth and fifth centuries brought about a shift in attitude in the classicising historians who came after Ammianus and Eunapius. Writers like the fifth-century historians Olympiodorus and Malchus presented the barbarians as “humans with the potential for civilization. They were on Roman lands for good and consequently needed to be accepted and dealt with on equal terms.” Robert Blockley, The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire: Eunapius, Olympiodorus, Priscus and Malchus (Liverpool: Francis Cairns, 1981), 92-94; J. A. S. Evans, Procopius (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972),  92-93.


[51] McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 161.


[52] Julian, Against the Galileans 131C.


[53] Quoted in Kaldellis, Hellenism in Byzantium, 31.


[54] Julian, Mispogon 351A-351C. Julian wrote: “So are you eager that I should tell you the name of my tutor, of what race was the man who used to say these things? By the gods and goddesses, he was a barbarian, a Scythian by race . . . he was a eunuch, a term which twenty months ago was oft-mentioned and revered, but now is an insult and a reproach.”


[55] For example, when praising the virtues of the eunuch Eutherius (16.7.2-8), Ammianus gave the back-handed compliment that, “among brambles roses spring up, and among savage beasts some are tamed.”  For the idea that both Procopius and Agathias saw the successful sixth-century eunuch general Narses as “an anomalous example for his gender,” Kathryn Ringrose, The Perfect Servant: Eunuchs and the Social Construction of Gender in Byzantium (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 132-133.


[56] Eunapius, frag. 58.


[57]Gleason, Making Men, 23.



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