Friday, 4 October 2019

Myrmidons

Myrmidones (Ant people) were an ancient nation of Greek mythology. In Homer's Iliad, they are the soldiers commanded by Achilles. Their ancestor Myrmidonos was conceived by Eurymedusa of Arcadia when Zeus seduced her in a shape of an ant.



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. 


Now the Tumulus Culture was also a warrior culture. They were ruled by warrior aristocracy and their religion seems to have been based on warrior cult. I think Achilles would have fitted in Tumulus Culture perfectly....

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 right on the northern end of the amber road, in Tollense Valley, archaeologists have discovered the Tollense battlefield, the biggest Bronze Age battlefield discovered so far, where thousands of warriors fought and hundreds died in 1200 BC. Right at the end of the Tumulus culture and right at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age collapse, which saw among others, the end of Mycenaean civilisation... 



And according to genetic evidence from the site, at least some of the people who died in the Tollense valley came from Mediterranean...

I think this is a very interesting subject that needs more research...

10 comments:

  1. A very interesting observation, good job.

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  2. The Antes or Antae (Greek: Áνται) were an early East Slavic tribal polity ...
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antes_(people)

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    1. :) I think this is unrelated. I think Antes has to do with this Irish (Celtic) word

      aontacht, -a, f., unity, agreement, coalition.

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    2. "Według Pawła Józefa Szafarzyka określenie Antowie (Antes, Antae, czy u Pawła Diakona Anthaib) ukuli niemieccy[6] sąsiedzi Słowian, a od nich przeszło do greki i łaciny"
      "According to Paweł Józef Szafarzek, the term Antowie (Antes, Antae, or with Paweł Deacon Anthaib) was coined by German [6] neighbors of the Slavs, and from them they went to Greek and Latin"
      https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antowie#cite_note-6

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  3. Yes, the time interval is significant, but ... there is a certain regularity in your reasoning.
    To build a mound, many ants need to work, just as many people need to build tumulus.
    There is a legend associated with the Krak Mound in Kraków, that it has been erected
    by people wearing soil in sleeves...
    https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C4%99kawka
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krakus_Mound

    so, returning to the Slavic Antes, they were associated with the Sarmatians, who, like the Scythians, built a tumulus...

    Here is the article about one of the many places with Slavic burial mounds from the Middle Ages
    https://krzczonow.eurzad.eu/kurhany-slowianskie/

    so, as you have see, the tumulus tradition among the Slavs was still alive.






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  4. Mound/Tumuli burials expanded from the Pontic-Caspian steppe and Caucasus, and are associated with the Indo-European migrations, which probably began in the 4th millennium BCE. Therefore, nothing special about the rather late Tumulus culture (1600-1200 BCE). It's name is irrelevant to the origin and spread of such burials practices, which is seen throughout Europe.

    Mounds were already a form of burial in Greece from at least the Early Helladic II-III period, namely 2650-2000 BCE, which is when proto-Greeks most probably arrived to Greece and merged with the pre-Greek Neolithic people. This is also evident in the paper aforementioned in your article above, namely "Burial Mounds and “Ritual Tumuli” of the Aegean Early Bronze Age" (https://www.persee.fr/doc/mom_2259-4884_2012_act_58_1_3481).

    Furthermore, nothing special about Myrmidons when compared to their other fellow Achaeans. They were all part of the same culture, and the notion of glory or more precisely "Κλέος" (Kleos) was even present during the Classical and Hellenistic periods of Greek history, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kleos. Mycenaeans (Achaeans) and Indo-Europeans in general, were known for their warrior cultures. Just look at their common mythologies.

    As for the amber, again, nothing really special about it. It has already been established that Mycenaeans, who were seafarers (something which was inherited from their fellow Minoans), had established early trade with Scandinavia. Here are some papers that corroborate this, http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2013/05/links-between-mycenaeans-and-scandinavia.html.

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    1. Yes tumulus burials were present in Greece before Tumulus Culture expansion, but were rare and not at all common cultural trait of all the Greeks, if such people existed at that time...

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    2. That aforementioned paper doesn't make it appear as rare to me. It shows a widespread distribution which is at the same time early, namely Early Bronze Age. During the Mycenaean period proper, we also see the appearance of "tholoi" tombs, which are in all essence evolutions of tumuli, even though they were also present in Minoan Crete beginning from the 3rd millennium BCE. On Mycenaean tumuli, you may also read this following paper to see additional examples from later dates, https://www.persee.fr/doc/mom_2259-4884_2012_act_58_1_3462. Tumuli burials never ceased in Greece, we even find them during the Classical and Hellenistic periods, albeit more rare understandably.

      Not being a cultural trait of all Greeks, doesn't mean it wasn't a cultural trait of Greeks. Which is what matter in the end. People of other ethnic groups also have a number of different burial practices, that doesn't mean they are different people. By the way, i find it surprising that you made an article about Myrmidons and you didn't mention Ovid's myth in relation to the island of Aegina.

      Last, you make a remark at the end, namely "if such people exists at that time...". Can you please elaborate what you mean so i can answer appropriately? What time? Because there seems to be an uninterrupted timeline of tumuli burials during the Bronze Age. The arrival of proto-Greeks in Greece during the second half of the 3rd millennium BCE can be established linguistically as well. What i write is pretty mainstream by the way.

      PostScript: I am not a follower of this blog, this is the first article i read and commented on. Your analogy of ants with tumuli-burial-practitioners is interesting, but it's not really a mystery if you look at the evidence. Mycenaeans were tumuli-burial-practitioners in general.

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    3. If Greeks as people (in today's sense of one culture, one language, one religion, one burial practice) exited during Bronze Age. It is much more likely that they existed as bunch of neighbouring tribal unions which were maybe or maybe not genetically, linguistically, culturally related...Considering that tumulus burials were very rare in Bronze Age Greece, leads me to believe that there was a huge cultural (maybe also linguistic, genetic???) difference between the people who did build tumulus burials and those who didn't...Maybe they were all the same people linguistically and genetically, but the tumulus builders belonged to some religion which demanded tumulus burials, and were mocked by their neighbours because of that...We don't know what Greece during Bronze Age really looked like...

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  5. It is evident that Greeks were divided in different tribal groups even during the early 2nd millennium BCE. There were a number of different Greek tribes, but they all essentially shared the same religion, myths, and language (different dialects). But they originally entered Greece as one proto-Greek group, namely united.

    Mycenaean Greeks can be described as an Aeolic/Achaean people, they were not what we might consider proto-Greeks. One indication of this is their language. Mycenaean Greek which was first documented at approximately 1450 BCE, is already fully recognizable dialectal Greek, so it must have been dialectal for quite a while before. As a side note, it’s also the ancestor of what we later came to know as the “Arcadocypriot” dialect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcadocypriot_Greek). So, its divergence from Proto-Greek must be pushed into the past, probably sometime around 2000 BCE. I personally like to archaeologically corroborate this proto-Aeolic/proto-Achaean (same thing originally) divergence with the appearance of "Minyan ware" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minyan_ware) in central and southern Greece, and it actually ties well with my aforementioned chronology. Therefore, proto-Aeolic/proto-Achaean (same thing originally) Greeks out of which Mycenaeans later sprang, lived approximately between 2000-1600 BCE. Now the question might arise, and when did the proto-Greeks arrive and where were they settled? Per my understanding proto-Greeks arrived sometime around the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE, and seemed to have originally settled in north-western Greece (generally the broader Pindus mountain range – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fd/Proto_Greek_Area_reconstruction.png). I don’t find surprising that this is also from where Dorians later began their LBA/EIA migration to the south, and take note, that Doric Greek is considered as the most conservative dialect of Greek, namely the one with the most archaisms, which is indicative of having evolved close to where proto-Greeks would have originally settled, namely in the north.

    As for Dorian Greeks, they were mostly cremating their dead, but we also see some Dorians groups that continue tumuli burials, such as the Macedonian elites, which by the way, were also close to the Mycenaean political system, not just the burials. Southern Greece changed drastically during the Bronze Age collapse as it happened with much of the Bronze Age major cultures. So it's understandable people would forget and evolve different traits. Especially for a case like Greece, that if it wouldn't change, we wouldn't see so many cultural innovations that followed the Mycenaean collapse, with a number of new political systems, sciences, arts, etc..

    Last, genetically we already know the background of Mycenaean Greeks. Have you studied this paper, "Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans" (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5565772/)? Mycenaean Greeks were of mainly Neolithic stock, namely indigenous. They inherited a very small percentage (4-16%) of steppe ancestry which is indicative of the proto-Greek IE arrival. The fact that even modern southern Italians (which are largely Greek colonists) and modern Greeks are the closest genetic relatives of Bronze Age Mycenaeans (per the study above), it shows that there was no meaningful replacement genetically during the Bronze Age and Iron Age.

    You write again "tumulus burials were very rare in Bronze Age Greece". This is very opposite again. Bronze Age Mycenaean Greece is full of such examples as shown in the previous papers that relate.

    You write, "and were mocked by their neighbours because of that". Who mocked who?

    You write, "We don't know what Greece during Bronze Age really looked like". We know what the Mycenaean civilization looked like, which represented central and southern Greece, therefore we do know a lot. The Greek timeline is one of the most documented when compared to other people's histories throughout the world.

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