Indo-Germanic Influences in Ancient Greece

 Carl Schuchhardt

Professor Carl Schuchhardt

Prussian Academy of Sciences, Berlin

A hundred years ago, when the study of comparative languages was still at an immature stage of development, it was possible to give currency to the idea that central Asia was the original home of the Indo-Germanic Race. This conjecture is no longer tenable. Germanic archaeology has disproved the Asiatic thesis, and has clearly established the influence of currents from middle and northern Europe, especially in Greece. Two streams of immigration flowed towards that land. The first set in about 1,800 B.C., and is called the Achaean stream, because it brought Homer’s Achaeans into Greece, which until that time had been the land of the Pelasgians. The second stream brought the Dorians, about 1,200 B.C., and hence is called the Dorian stream.

The Achaean current must have come from the north, because it brought the megaron house of northern Germany, the influence of which we see in the palaces of Troy, Tiryns, and Mycenae. Illyrians must have been brought along on that stream, for not only the language of old Greece but also the forms of art and the customs show their influence. The spiral decoration so often found on Mycenaean ornaments of gold had already reached a high development in Illyria (Butmir in Bosnia). The deep shafts of the graves and the custom of decking the bodies in golden masks, breastplates, and gauntlets were also Illyrian. These peculiarities remained in the highlands on Lake Ochrida and also near Graz, Styria, as late as the sixth century B.C.

Perhaps the Illyrians who were borne along in the stream of immigration formed a link between the Northerners and the Pelasgians, because soon the Northerners took on in many ways the customs of the Folk near the Mediterranean Sea. The death masks show that they came with beards. But after a hundred, or a hundred and fifty, years the gravestones show them all smooth shaven. Moreover they gave up the simple shaft graves and took to the great domed graves which belong to the Iberian Pelasgian culture. To honour the dead man with so proud a dwelling was a sign of a turning to the Mediterranean faith in The Beyond, a faith which saw the soul as living on and knowing the respect shown to it. At the graves sacrifices were made to the soul, which was supposed to be enthroned on a high stone above the grave.

Thus harmony had been brought about between the ancient Folk in the Mediterranean Sea area and the new lords from the North. But the second stream of immigration broke in upon this. Whence the Dorians came we do not quite know, but the impression which they made was far more purely Nordic than that of the Achaeans in their mingling with the Illyrians. The art of painting with joy in Nature was now no more; the simple technical style of the so called geometrical culture had had its day. The time for belief in the soul had gone by; the departed was a sad shadow in the dark underworld. Homer stands in the midst of the second northern period. As he describes the graves of Patroklus and Hector, they were like the burial mounds in middle and northern Europe at that time. Over a small hole a heavy laver of stones was placed and covered with earth. Homer is also familiar with the custom of building the walls of castles and camps with posts. As he describes the wall of the naval camp before Troy, it was like those we have found in the fortresses of Lausitz. The Trojans had to force out the posts — the Stelai problhtej — in order to make the wall fall down.

Bat as the first northern period had reached a length of 600 years, so the second lasted no longer. By 600 B.C. much of the old Mediterranean culture had again grown up out of the ancient soil, again art had turned to the living forms of plants, animals, and human beings. The mysteries of Eleusis and Samothrace were laid bare and made way for the old belief in the soul. The lofty stone was again erected at the grave, and on it beautiful sculptures showed how those left behind visited the grave of the departed soul to comfort it and bring gifts.

Thus in its turn classical Greece is an equal fusion of the clear northern mind and the imagination of the warm south.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s