The Migration of Symbols, by Goblet d'Alviella, , at sacred-texts.com
Can we determine the cradle of the gammadion, or, at least, the region whence it sprang, to be transported to the four corners of the Old World? To be sure, it may have been formed spontaneously here and there, in the manner of the equilateral crosses, the circles, the triangles, the
flower-mark, and the other geometric ornaments so common in primitive decoration.
But the specimens which we have been examining are too identical, in their meaning as in their use, for us not to admit the original unity of the sign, or, at the very least, of its symbolical meaning.
A first observation, made long ago, is that the gammadion is almost the exclusive property of the Aryan race. It is found, in fact, among all the peoples of the Indo-European branch, whilst it is completely absent among the Egyptians, the Chaldæans, the Assyrians, and even the Phœnicians, although these latter were not very scrupulous in borrowing the ornaments and symbols of their neighbours. As for the Tibetans, the Chinese, and the Japanese, amongst whom it is neither less frequent nor less venerated, it is not difficult to prove that it must have come to them, with Buddhism, from India.
There was only a step from this to the conclusion that the gammadion is a survival of the symbolism created, or adopted, by the common ancestors of the Aryans, and this step has been easily got over. Had we not the precedents of philology, which cannot come upon the same radical in the principal dialects of the Indo-European nations without tracing its existence to the period when these people spoke the same language? We did not even stop there. Desirous of investing the gammadion with an importance proportioned to the high destiny imputed to it, one has endeavoured to make it the symbol of the supreme God whom the Aryans are said to have adored before their dispersion. Thus we have seen Mr. Greg exhibit the gammadion as the emblem of the god of the sky, or air, who, in the course of the Indo-European migrations, was converted into Indra, Zeus, Jupiter, Thor, and so forth. M. Ludwig Müller, on his side, after having by his
very complete and conscientious work on the gammadion contributed so much to proving it to be a solar symbol, takes care to add that before receiving this signification it might well have been, with the primitive Aryans, "the emblem of the divinity who comprehended all the gods, or, again, of the omnipotent God of the universe."
To this end he draws attention to the fact that the gammadion is associated with divinities of different nature, and that, therefore, it might well have the value of a generic sign for divinity, in the manner of the Star which figures before the divine names in the cuneiform inscriptions of Mesopotamia: "The sign," he concludes, "expressed then figuratively the word θεός, which corresponded with deva, from which it is derived; it is thus the primitive Aryans called the divinity whose symbol this sign probably was." Who knows if it did not imply and retain a still higher signification; if, for example, the Greeks, "following the Pelasgians," did not employ it to symbolize a god elevated above the Olympians, or even the One and Supreme Being of philosophy arid religious tradition, "the unknown God, to whom, according to Saint Paul, an altar was dedicated at Athens"? 1
This is doing great honour to the gammadion. To reduce these theories to their real value it is only necessary to show that they are conjectures with no foundation in history. When the latter begins to raise the veil which conceals the origins of the Greeks, the Romans, the ancient Germans, the Celts, the Slays, the Hindus, and
the Persians, we find these nations adoring the vague numina of which they caught a glimpse behind the principal phenomena of nature, worshipping the multitude of spirits, and indulging in all the practices of inferior religions, with here and there outbursts of poetry and spirituality which were as the promise and the dawn of their future religious development.
It is probable that before historic times they had already fetiches, perhaps even idols, in the manner of those uncouth xoana which are met with in the beginnings of Greek art. But it is unlikely that at the far more distant epoch of their first separation they had already possessed symbols, that is to say, ideographic signs, figures representing the divinity without aspiring to be its image or receptacle. In any case we may here apply the adage affirmantis onus probandi; upon those who wish to make the gammadion a legacy of the "primitive" Aryans, it is incumbent to prove that these Aryans practised symbolism; that amongst their symbols the gammadion had a place, and that this gammadion typified the old Diu pater, the Heavenly Father of subsequent mythologies.
Should the same criticism be extended to the theories which make the gammadion a Pelasgic symbol,—whether by Pelasgians be understood the Western Aryans in general, or merely the ancestors of the Greeks, of the ancient Italians, and of the Aryan populations who, primitively, fixed their residence in the basin of the Danube?
We can here no longer be so affirmative in our negations. It is, indeed, an undeniable fact that the gammadion figures amongst the geometric ornaments on certain pottery styled Pelasgic, because, in the bronze period, or the first iron age, it is found amongst all the Aryan peoples, from Asia Minor to the shores of the Atlantic. 1 But, to
begin with, the very term Pelasgian does not seem to me a happy one, and it may be noted that there is now a tendency amongst archæologists to drop it. This term either refers to the pre-Hellenic, and the pre-Etruscan phase of civilization in the South of Europe, when it is only a word designed to hide our ignorance, or else it claims to apply to a determinate people, and then it confounds under the same denomination very different populations, of whom nothing authorizes us to make an ethnic group. Moreover, in so far as the first appearances of the gammadion are concerned, it is possible, and even necessary, to limit still further our geographical field of research.
Without going into the question whether geometric decoration may not have originated in an independent manner amongst different nations, it must be observed that this style of ornamentation embraces two periods, that of painted and that of incised decoration. Now, in this latter period, which is everywhere the most ancient, the gammadion is only found on the "whorls" of Hissarlik and the pottery of the terramares. We have here, therefore, two early homes of our symbol, one on the shores of the Hellespont, the other in the north of Italy.
Was it propagated from one country to another by the usual medium of commerce? It must be admitted that at this period the relations between the Troad and the basin of the Po were very doubtful. Etruria certainly underwent Asiatic influences; but whether the legendary migration of Tyrrhenius and of his Lydians be admitted or not, this influence was only felt at a period subsequent to the "palafittes" of Emilia, if not to the necropolis of Villanova.
There remains, therefore, the supposition that the gammadion might have been introduced into the two countries by the same nation.
We know that the Trojans came originally from Thrace. There is, again, a very plausible tradition to the effect that the ancestors, or predecessors, of the Etruscans, and, in general, the earliest known inhabitants of northern Italy, entered the peninsula from the north or north-east, after leaving the valley of the Danube. It is, therefore, in this latter region that we must look for the first home of the gammadion. It must be remarked that when, later on, the coinage reproduces the types and symbols of the local religions, the countries nearest the Danube, such as Macedon and Thrace, are amongst those whose coins frequently exhibit the gammadion, the tétrascèle, and the triscèle. 1 Besides, it is especially at Athens that it is found on the pottery of Greece proper, and we know that Attica is supposed to have been primitively colonized by the Thracians.
In any case, to judge from the discoveries of M. Schliemann, it was especially amongst the Trojans that the gammadion played an important part from a symbolical and religious point of view; which may be attributed to the belief that it was there closer to its cradle and even nearer to its original signification. "The nations who had invaded the Balkan peninsula and colonized Thrace," writes M. Maspero, "crossed, at a very early period, the two arms of the sea which separated them from Asia, and transported there most of the names which they had already introduced into their European home. There were Dardanians in Macedon, on the borders of the Axios, as in the Troad, on the borders of the Ida, Kebrenes at the foot of the Balkans, and a town, Kebrene, near Ilium." 2 Who will be astonished that these, emigrants
had taken with them, to the opposite shore of the Hellespont, the symbols as well as the rites and traditions which formed the basis of their creed in the basin of the Danube? Doubtlessly they borrowed a great deal from the creeds of the nations amongst whom they settled. But where has the gammadion been discovered amongst the vestiges of the far more ancient civilization whose religious and artistic influence they were not long before feeling?
Mr. Sayce, it is true, having met with it in Lycaonia, on the bas-relief of Ibriz, maintains the impossibility of deciding if it is a symbol imported from the Trojans amongst the Hittites, or if, on the contrary, it is to be attributed to the latter. 1 Yet, whilst the oldest "whorls" of Hissarlik go back at least to the fourteenth or fifteenth century B.C., the bas-relief of Ibriz reveals an influence of Phrygian, and even Assyrian art, which is, perhaps, contemporaneous with King Midas, and which, in any case, cannot have risen long before the accession of the Sargonidæ; that is to say, in order to determine the age of the monument we must come down to the ninth or eighth century before our era. 2
It is therefore not difficult, here, as everywhere else, to connect the origins of the gammadion with the early centres which we have assigned to it. Even when it occurs in the north and west of Europe, with objects of the bronze period, it is generally on pottery recalling the vases with geometric decorations of Greece and Etruria, and later, on coins reproducing, more or less roughly,
the monetary types of Greece. It seems to have been introduced into Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, in the same manner as that in which the runic writing was brought from the Danube valley to the shores of the Baltic and the ocean. It may have penetrated into Gaul, and from there into England and Ireland, either through Savoy, from the time of the "palafittes," or with the pottery and jewelry imported by sea and by land from the East, or, lastly, with the Macedonian coins which represent the origin of Gallic coinage.
We have already seen how it was brought among the islands of the Mediterranean, and into Greece proper, then from Greece to Sicily and Southern Italy. It must be observed that even at Rome it seems to have always been connected with the traditions of the East. The only tombstone in the open air on which it has, so far, been noticed in the vicinity of the Eternal City is that of a Syrian. 1 We must not forget that the Christianity of the Catacombs was likewise a religion of Oriental origin.
In the extreme East, the origins of the gammadion can be traced without difficulty to the swastika of India. It remains to be investigated if the latter, in its turn, may be connected with the gammadion of the West. M. Ludwig Müller, desirous of proving that this symbol was prior to the dispersion of the Indo-Europeans, maintains that the swastika cannot have passed from the Hindus to the Greeks, or vice versâ, because the religions of these two races differed too much for an exchange of symbols to be possible. My whole book tends to prove that this is no obstacle. I will have occasion, in particular, to show how India borrowed several of its principal symbols
from Mesopotamia, from Persia, and even from Greece. Why should the swastika form an exception?
Here, however, occurs a difficulty, which we must not conceal. The swastika does not appear on the coins struck in Bactriana, or in India, by Alexander and his Indo-Greek successors. Even amongst the Indo-Scythians, whose coinage copies the Greek types, it is only visible on barbarous imitations of the coins of Basu Deva. 1 On the other hand, as we have shown, it adorns the coins of Krananda, and the most ancient monetary ingots of India. Moreover, Panini, who already makes mention of the swastika, is sometimes considered to have lived in the middle of the fourth century B.C. 2 It might therefore be possible that the Hindus had known the swastika before feeling in their arts, and even in their symbolism, the influence of the Greek invasion. Yet, for the best of reasons, it is neither the Chaldæans, the Assyrians, the Phœnicians, nor even the Egyptians, who can have imparted the gammadion to Hindustan. There only remain, then, the Persians, whose influence on the nascent arts of India was certainly felt before Alexander. But in Persia itself the gammadion only appears as an exception, on a few rare coins approaching our era. 3—Perhaps we would do well to look towards the Caucasus, where the antique ornaments with gammadions, collected by M. Chantre, lead us
Click to enlarge
Plate III.—Table Illustrating the Migrations of the Gammadion
back to a civilization closely enough allied, by its industrial and decorative types, to that of Mycenæ.
Until new discoveries permit us to decide the question, this gap in the genealogy of the swastika will be equally embarrassing for those who would like to make the gammadion the common property of the Aryan race, for it remains to be explained why it is wanting amongst the ancient Persians.—It is right, too, to call attention to its absence on the most ancient pottery of Greece and the Archipelago, where it only appears with geometric decoration.—In reality, the problem is less a question of ethnography than of archæology, or rather of comparative art. 1
If the gammadion is found amongst none of the nations composing the Egypto-Semitic group, if, amongst the Aryans of Persia, it never played but a secondary and obliterated part, might it not be because the art and symbolism of these different nations possess other figures which discharge a similar function, whether as a phylactery, or else as an astronomical, or a divine symbol? The real talismanic cross of the countries stretching from Persia to Libya is the crux ansata, the Key of Life
of the Egyptian monuments. As for their principal symbol of the sun in motion, is it not the Winged Circle, whose migrations I trace in another chapter? There would seem to be between these figures and the gammadion, I will not say a natural antipathy, but a repetition of the same idea. Where the gammadion predominates—that is to say, in the whole Aryan world, except Persia—the Winged Circle and the crux ansata have never succeeded in establishing themselves in good earnest. Even in India, granting that these two last figures really crossed the Indus with the Greek, or the Iranian symbolism, they are only met with in an altered form, and with a new meaning. 1
In brief, the ancient world might be divided into two zones, characterized, one by the presence of the gammadion, the other by that of the Winged Globe as well as of the crux ansata; and these two provinces barely penetrate one another at a few points of their frontier, in Cyprus, at Rhodes, in Asia Minor, and in Libya. The former belongs to Greek civilization, the latter to Egypto-Babylonian culture.
As for India, everything, so far, tends to show that the swastika was introduced into that country from Greece, the Caucasus, or Asia Minor, by ways which we do not yet know. However that may be, it is owing to its adoption by the Bhuddhists of India that the gammadion still prevails amongst a great part of the Mongolian races, whilst, with the exception of a few isolated and insignificant cases which still survive amongst the actual populations of Hindustan, and, perhaps, of Iceland, it has completely disappeared from Aryan symbolism and even folk-lore. 2
72:1 Greg. Archæologia, 1885, p. 304.
74:1 Lud. Müller. Op. cit., p. 107.—M. Alexandre Bertrand, for whose long-promised study on the gammadion we are waiting with justifiable impatience, makes it, with the Gauls at least, the symbol of a nameless divinity. (La Gaule avant les Gaulois. Paris, 1884, p. 12.)—If, by this expression, the eminent archæologist means a divinity whose name we are ignorant of, no one will gainsay the fact. But if he alludes to a divinity who had no name, this is quite another matter.
75:1 Max Collignon. Archéologie grecque, p. 276.
77:1 Percy Gardner. Solar Symbols on the Coins of Macedon and Thrace, in the Numismatic Chronicle, vol. xx. (N. S.), p. 49 et seq.
77:2 G. Maspero. Histoire ancienne des peuples de l’Orient. Paris, 1886, p. 241.
78:1 A. H. Sayce. The Hittites, the Story of a forgotten Empire. London, 1888, p. 142.
78:2 Perrot et Chipiez. Histoire de l’art dans l’antiquitié, vol. iv., pp. 728 and 794, note 1.—With the exception of the bas-relief of Ibriz, the gammadion has only been remarked on a single Hittite monument; it is a cylinder, probably of uncertain date. (Schliemann. Troja, p. 125.)
79:1 Lud. Müller. Op. Cit., p. 62.
80:1 Percy Gardner. Coins of Greek and Scythic Kings of India and Bactria. London, 1886, p. 160.
80:2 Monier Williams. Indian Wisdom. London, 1876, p. 173.
80:3 M. Ludw. Müller draws attention to a coin of the Achæmenidæ in the British Museum, which would seem to bear the gammadion; but it is there a countermark which must belong to a much later period.—In the coinage prior to Alexander, the western gammadion does not seem to have advanced towards the east further than Asia Minor.
81:1 See the table on plate iii., where I have endeavoured to trace, in a manner, the genealogy of the gammadion in the Ancient World. Supposing it be necessary to change certain approximate dates, those, for example, of the centuries in which the civilizations of Mycenæ and Villanova flourished, the succession of the terms is none the less the same in each series, as is also the connection between the series themselves. It will be seen by this table that there has been, over the whole of Europe, two successive importations of the gammadion; one, prehistorical, almost everywhere following the diffusion of pottery and of ornaments with geometric decorations; and the other contemporary with the imitation of Greek coins. Perhaps we must attribute to the existence of these two successive currents the cause of the variations which M. Lud. Müller points out, amongst the Germanic nations, between the forms of the gammadion in the bronze period and in the iron age.
82:1 See chap. vi.
82:2 Some mention might be made of the gammadions which have been discovered in other parts of the world. In what mysterious way did this combination of lines come to be p. 83 stranded amongst the Ashantees? There is, however, nothing against its having been conceived there, and spontaneously executed, like so many other geometric designs which are found even in the centre of the dark continent.—The same phenomena may have occurred in the two Americas. Yet, when we see it specially employed as a religious symbol amongst the Pueblo Indians, we are led to inquire if we have not here some vestige of a communication with the Old World. There can be no question of an influence subsequent to the advent of the Spaniards, for if these latter had brought the Pueblos the emblem of the Cross, it certainly would not have been under the form of the gammadion. There remain two ways by which the transmission of the symbol might have been effected; to the east, by the expeditions of the still pagan inhabitants of Iceland; to the west, by an influence coming from China or Japan. I would incline rather to the second theory. Mr. R. P. Greg has proved that another sign, similar to the swastika, the ornament known as the fret or meander, is frequently met with on the ancient pottery of the New World; this, too, in conditions recalling its employment amongst the nations of our extreme East. (R.-P. Greg. The Fret or Key ornamentation in Mexico, in Archæologia, vol. xlvii., pp. 157–160.)