Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.12.19

Philip Freeman, The Galatian Language. A Comprehensive Survey of the Language of the Ancient Celts in Greco-Roman Asia Minor.   Lewiston, NY:  Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.  Pp. x, 104.  ISBN 0-7734-7480-3.  $59.95.  

Reviewed by Stephen Colvin, Yale University
Word count: 1240 words

In his preface to this book the Celtic linguist Joseph Eska states "Within these pages, students of Continental Celtic will find a guide to the testimony of Galatian which will serve them commendably." The endorsement will assure the reader without a training in Celtic that the book is free from egregious linguistic error; but in fact the modest aim of the work seems to be to furnish a chrestomathy of passages from ancient sources relating to the Galatians and their linguistic identity.

Even linguists are often unsure exactly what Galatian is and how much survives, so this small book will set them straight on that, though in general there is little else of interest to linguists here beyond the collection of sources. Galatian is the Celtic language spoken in Anatolia, and nothing survives except personal names. You don't need many pages to say that. Freeman is right that "names can reveal a great deal about a language when studied closely": in this case, once it has been established (as it was many years ago) that Galatian is a form of Gaulish "transplanted 2000 km to the east" (p. 3), then names can supply little linguistic information beyond this. They might supply some sociolinguistic information (for example, one could analyse changes in naming patterns in communities, or the phenomenon of double naming which is found elsewhere in Anatolia), but this is not attempted here. The standard modern reference for the Galatians is Stephen Mitchell's work on the history and epigraphy of this region, both in Anatolia (vol. 1, Oxford 1993) and elsewhere. These works are cited by Freeman in a comprehensive bibliography that will be useful to researchers in this area.

The book is not divided into numbered chapters, but into curious unnumbered sections, nine altogether, and some of them very short. The first section is a three-page overview of the arrival of the Celtic tribes in Anatolia and scholarship to date on their language; the second section, "Celts and Galatians", discusses the ambiguous use of the terms Keltoi and Galatai in the Classical sources. Freeman tells us that the term Galatai is first recorded in the late fourth century BC by "several Greek historians and dramatists" (though the footnote reference is to Callimachus [Hymn] 4. 184). The book does not purport to give an illustration of Greek attitudes towards Galatians, so none of the early literary references is quoted, though some are rather interesting. Freeman's references to Galatian bilingualism do not do justice to the complexity of this phenomenon and the large amount of work that has been done on the topic in the last two decades. In his third section, "The Survival of Galatian", he quotes an inscription left by Galatian mercenaries in Egypt in 185 BC (OGIS 757) to illustrate his statement that some of the Galatians "could write and presumably speak Greek only a few decades after the Galatian migration into Anatolia". It is hardly surprising, of course, that the soldiers could speak some form of Greek: armies cannot function without a lingua franca, and the linguistic behavior of mercenaries in a Hellenistic army does not give us much insight into what was going on in central Anatolia. That the soldiers could write Greek is striking; their acquisition of the "epigraphic habit" is an indicator of the (military) Sprachbund they were a part of, whereby patterns of linguistic behavior crossed the language boundaries of the Hellenistic world (this type of graffito has an interesting parallel in the Carian inscriptions of Egypt). It is also worth noticing that the soldiers have very respectable Greek names. In general the status of written material as evidence for the fate of a non-Greek language in the Greco-Roman world is a central question which must be tackled in any discussion of the "survival" of the language in question. If we are to assume that communities wrote in Greek while speaking another language, we need to ask what the circumstances are under which a situation of stable bilingualism develops; is there evidence for this elsewhere in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds, and how might the situation of the Galatians differ from others in the region? Freeman (perhaps rightly) assumes centuries of bilingualism and adduces a passage from Lucian to show that the "general use and knowledge" of Celtic speech was undiminished in the second century AD. Most likely it was diminished, however: if Galatian words were invading Greek (p. 11), then one can be sure that there were many contexts of use in which Galatian speakers borrowed extensively from the Greek lexicon or perhaps switched into Greek altogether. The assumption that the whole population was bilingual throughout this period may be wrong: on a different model we could imagine that the use of Greek was a function of sex and social role.

The longest part of the book comprises four lists of names with commentary, under the headings Personal names, Tribal names, Divine names, and Place names. A section called "Elements of Galatian names" serves as a preface to these onomastic lists. Freeman notes that his list of elements comes from Evans' Gaulish Personal Names (Oxford 1967) but leaves some ambiguity about the status of these elements in Galatian. For example, under ambi- he adds a translation "around, about", and adds "or occasionally with an intensive force". It is not clear what the Galatian evidence for the intensive force might be since it does not seem to derive from the following list of names, unless from Ambitoutus (the second element means "people") where the semantics need some elaboration. The meaning of ambi- (and other elements) is presumably posited on the basis of comparative Celtic or Indo-European evidence. He quotes (the hydronym) Tymbris to illustrate the element brog "territory", where an explanation of the surface phonology would be welcome. Later at p. 83 Freeman tells us that "a reasonable case might be made for Greek or native Anatolian origin", and at p. 87 he suggests an original *Tembrogios, but notes at the same time that the name may in any case be Phrygian. A propos of his note on dumno- "world", there is also a curious Lycian name Ermedumnou (gen.: TAM 2. 168. d25, Hippoukome) in which the second element cannot easily be explained in terms of Lycian or Luwian. This would be a relatively early infiltration of Celtic into the onomastics of coastal Asia Minor.

The author notes that the primary purpose of his collection of Galatian names is to furnish a resource for further research and study. This will probably be the section that most readers will wish to consult. It is a sort of prosopography of individuals with names that can with reasonable certainty be identified as Galatian. There are, perhaps inevitably, errors in the Greek and Latin quotations; the passages are not translated and a certain lack of regard to the syntax of the original passages in the excerpting can make them difficult to read. They seem to be comprehensive, though the author is not explicit about this; Deiotarus the Great rejoices in six pages of citation from Greek and Roman sources.

To conclude, I regard the title of the book as slightly misleading since the bulk of the work in the book has gone into assembling a list of onomastic data with full citation. This is valuable in itself, of course, and the book is likely to be useful as a corpus of references to scholars of various academic backgrounds.

Read Latest
Index for 2002
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:28:19, Friday, 03 April 2009