During the course of my investigations into Nordic racial history, I have gathered together some rather interesting material on the presence of the Nordic race in the Classical World. Of particular value, are the researches of J. L. Angel, who performed an extensive survey of all ancient Greek crania. Angel analysed these skulls from a typological perspective, and because of the position he took on the reality of race, he was subsequently much criticised by his contemporaries.
We may note that Angel (1944), calculated that during the Classical period of Greek history (650—150 BC), 27% of the Greek population had been predominantly Nordic in type. He observed that prior to the Classical period, the Nordic element had been larger, and that after it, the element in question had declined. [Angel (1943; 1944; 1945; 1946a, b, c.] Angel (1971), also noted that the immigrant Indo-Europeans, were of Nordic subrace.
Peterson (1974), studied portrait busts of famous ancient Greek personages, and concluded that the aristocracies of Hellas were a product of closely interbreeding, Eupatrid clans. These clans were mostly Nordic in type, being largely descended from the Indo-European invaders. The demos, or common people however, as well as most slaves, were of Mediterranean, Pelasgian descent.
The study of Greek literature which Sieglin (1935) performed, has demonstrated that many individuals in the elites of ancient Greece, had blond or red hair. For instance, Alcibiades, Alexander the Great, Critias, Demetrius of Phalerum, King Lysimachus, Ptolemy II Philadelphus and King Pyrrhus, were all fair-haired individuals. Dionysius I, the ruler of Syracuse, had blond hair and freckles, whilst the Athenian playwright Euripides, also had a fair and freckled complexion. [Günther (1956).] Some critics have attempted to claim that the Greek word “ksanthos” (xanthos), means “brown-haired”, rather than “blond-haired”. However, a recent article by Moonwomon (1994), on colour-meaning in ancient Greek, reveals that the word did in fact mean blond.
There are also numerous interesting examples from Greek literature which can be cited. For instance, in Homer’s Iliad, and Odyssey, whilst the aristocrats such as Achilles and Menelaus have blond hair, the slaves Eurybates and Thersites are brunet. Indeed, the Greek orator Dio of Prusa noted that the Greek ideal of beauty was a Nordic one. The Greeks, he said, admired the blond Achilles, but thought that the barbarian Trojan Hector, was black-haired. [Günther (1956).] In his Argonautica, the Greek poet Apollonius Rhodius, describes the hero Jason, and all fifty of the Argonauts, as blond-haired. [Sieglin (1935).] When the heroine Electra, in Euripides’ play of that name, finds a lock of her brother Orestes’ hair, on the grave of their father Agamemnon, she can tell that it is his hair, because of its distinctive blond colour. It would appear that the nobility of ancient Greece was distinguished from the dark masses, by its many blond members. [Ridgeway (1909).] The poet Bacchylides said that the women of Sparta were blonde, and Dicaearchus said much the same thing about the women of Thebes. [Günther (1956).] For the Greeks, the most beautiful woman who ever lived, Helen, was a blonde, as were those mythical men such as Adonis, who were famed for their handsomeness. [Sieglin (1935).]
For more literary descriptions of pigmentation in ancient Greek poetry and prose, as well as craniological evidence, I can recommend the following works: De Lapouge (1899), Jax (1933), Myres (1930), Reche (1936) and Ridgeway (1901).
Günther’s works on the subject of Greek racial history (1927; 1928; 1929a, b; 1956; 1961), are particularly valuable. Günther performed a detailed analysis of Greek history, from a biological perspective. Utilising craniological, literary, and pictorial evidence, he reconstructed the racial structure of ancient Greece. He concluded that the Nordic subrace formed something of an ideal for the Greeks, and that the Nordic element was more influential than any other. At the summit of its achievements, Greece possessed a large Nordic element, but as this element declined, so did Greek culture and civilisation.
Finally, we may observe that in the fourth-century AD, the Jewish physician and sophist Adamantios, described the “true Greek” thus:
“Wherever the Hellenic and Ionic race has been kept pure, we see proper tall men of fairly broad and straight build, neatly made, of fairly light skin and blond; the flesh is rather firm, the limbs straight, the extremities well made. The head is of middling size, and moves very easily; the neck is strong, the hair somewhat fair, and soft, and a little curly; the face is rectangular, the lips narrow, the nose straight, and the eyes bright, piercing, and full of light; for of all nations the Greek has the fairest eyes.” [Günther (1927) 157.]
I do not personally believe that the Nordic racial element in
ancient Greece was ever predominant, but I do think that it was concentrated in
the elites, and that it therefore probably had a disproportionately large
influence. It is easiest to study and trace the impact of this particular
element, because of its distinctive pigmentation.
Angel, J. L. (1971) Lerna: A Preclassical Site in the Argolid, Volume II — The People (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press).
De Lapouge, G. V. (1899) L’Aryen: Son Rôle Social (Paris: Albert Fontemoing).
Günther, H. F. K. [G. C. Wheeler, trans.] (1927) The Racial Elements of European History (London: Methuen).
Günther, H. F. K. (1928) Platon als Hüter des Lebens: Platons Zucht- und Erziehungsgedanken und deren Bedeutung für die Gegenwart (Munich: J. F. Lehmanns Verlag).
Günther, H. F. K. (1929a) Rassengeschichte des hellenischen und des römischen Volkes: Mit einem Anhang — Hellenische und römische Köpfe nordischer Rasse (Munich: J. F. Lehmanns Verlag).
Günther, H. F. K. (1929b) Rassenkunde Europas: Mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Rassengeschichte der Hauptvölker indogermanischer Sprache (Munich: J. F. Lehmanns Verlag).
Günther, H. F. K. (1956) Lebensgeschichte des hellenischen Volkes (Pähl: Verlag Hohe Warte).
Jax, K. (1933) Die weibliche Schönheit in der griechischen Dichtung (Innsbruck: Universitäts-Verlag Wagner).
Myres, J. L. (1930) Who Were the Greeks? (Berkeley: University of California Press).
Reche, O. (1936) Rasse und Heimat der Indogermanen (Munich: J. F. Lehmanns Verlag).
Ridgeway, W. (1901) The Early Age of Greece, Volume I (London: Cambridge University Press).
Sieglin, W. (1935) Die blonden Haare der indogermanischen
Völker des Altertums (Munich: J. F. Lehmanns Verlag).
Angel, J. L. (1943) “Ancient Cephallenians: The Population of a Mediterranean Island.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, I, 229—260.
Angel, J. L. (1944) “A Racial Analysis of the Ancient Greeks: An Essay on the Use of Morphological Types.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, II, 329—376.
Angel, J. L. (1945) “Skeletal Material From Attica.” Hesperia, XIV, 279—363.
Angel, J. L. (1946a) “Race, Type, and Ethnic Group in Ancient Greece.” Human Biology, XVIII, 1—32.
Angel, J. L. (1946b) “Skeletal Change in Ancient Greece.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, IV, 69—97.
Angel, J. L. (1946c) “Social Biology of Greek Culture Growth.” American Anthropologist, XLVIII, 493—533.
Günther, H. F. K. (1961) “Like a Greek God.... Translated by Vivian Bird from Professor Hans F. K. Guenther’s Rassenkunde des Hellenischen Volkes.” Northern World, VI (1), 5—16.
Moonwomon, B. (1994) “Color Categorization in Early Greek.” Journal of Indo-European Studies, XXII, 37—65.
Peterson, R. (1974) “The Greek Face.” Journal of Indo-European Studies, II, 385—406.
Ridgeway, W. (1909) “The Relation of Anthropology to Classical Studies.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, XXXIX, 10—25.