I always wondered is this crazy legend in some way based on something real. Then I saw this: red wood ant (formica rufa) mound. These ants are native to Europe and Anatolia and make giant mounds which could be truly gigantic...
Now what do ant mounds have to do with anything? Well have a look at this. This is not an ant mound. This is a Bronze Age tumulus.
Ahh. Ants make ant mounds, Ant people make human mounds... Were Myrmidons the tumulus builders?
Tumuli were not universal burial practice in Ancient Greece. So is it possible that the "Ant people" started as a derogatory term for "mound builders" used by Greeks who didn't build burial mounds?
The Tumulus Culture started in north Poland around 1600 BC in the territory of the Unetice culture.
From there it spread throughout Central Europe where it was the dominant culture until about 1200 BC. I would recommend this article "The origins of the Tumulus culture: Proto-Lusatian and potential Proto-Balto-Slavic origins"
This is one of those Bronze Age "human mounds" from Poland.
So is it these Northerners (from the Greek point of view) who were the original "Ant men"? The dates match. The fact that these "human mound" builders were homicidal maniacs obsessed with war and conquest, just like Homeric Myrmidons, also matches...And that their leaders were obsessed with obtaining eternal glory for themselves, just like Achilles, also matches...
But this opens a lot of questions about the identity of (at least some of) Homeric heroes...
Don't get me wrong. Tumulus burials have been built in Greece since 3rd millennium BC. The earliest ones were found on the island of Lefkas.
But this very uncommon as opposed to northern Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe where tumulus burials were the norm. So it is assumed that this is an imported fashion that came to Greece from Albania (arriving there from Montenegro) where many tumuli from this period were found. You can read more about the Early Heladic tumuli in "Burial Mounds and “Ritual Tumuli” of the Aegean Early Bronze Age". You can read about Montenegrin tumuli in the series of articles I wrote a while ago here.
The cist graves covered with tumulus only appear in Greece during Middle Helladic III period, c.1700–c.1550 BC at the earliest. This coincides with the appearance of the tumulus culture in Central Europe. Is this also a cultural import into Greece, possibly brought in by immigrants (invaders, mercenaries?) from Central Europe where tumulus burials were all the rage? You can read more about Greek burial mounds in "Middle Helladic and Early Mycenaean mortuary practices in the southern and western Peloponnese".
We know that there were direct contacts between Mediterranean and South Baltic during the Middle Helladic III period.
Amber goods show connections in the Bronze age also went north to south. North Sea coast of Jutland and Baltic amber was found in Greece - in royal graves at Mycenae and Pylos ca 1600 BC. This is amber jewellery from a grave at Mycenae, Greece. ca 1500-1600 BC.
The main north-south amber trading route, the so called amber road, went straight through the Tumulus culture territory (Unetice culture territory)
And according to genetic evidence from the site, at least some of the people who died in the Tollense valley came from Mediterranean...