Morphological Types of Greeks
(after J. Lawrence Angel)

J. Lawrence Angel sorted Greek skeletal tendencies into six arbitrary morphological types, including several sub-varieties. These were not “races,” but rather [1]:

“Types are entirely aribitrary creations from sorting of individuals. Genetically determined traits will recombine and re-form in each new generation largely at random so that types cannot express these new individualities adequately, only schematically. At best they give a preliminary overview of change.”

Angel studied skeletal material from the Paleolithic to modern times, and participated in examinations of skeletal material throughout the East Mediterranean. With respect to Greece, he found that the morphological types already established in the third millennium BC, if not before that, persisted in all subsequent ages. Thus, he emphasized the racial continuity of Greeks, stating epigrammatically [2]:

“Racial continuity in Greece is striking.”

Angel, by an examination of ancient Greek burials expressly rejected the hypothesis that a genetically distinct isolated caste was responsible for Hellenic achievement [3]:

“Both evidence and speculation contradict Nilsson's hypothesis that Graeco-Roman decline resulted from production of vacillating individuals by unlimited bastardizing and from elimination of a racially pure upper class by lowered birthrate, after this capable group inbred during the Geometric period had created Classic Greek culture!”

Morphological Types

To illustrate the six morphological types of Ancient Greeks, we reproduce in the following Angel's descriptions of the types, as well as pictures of modern Greeks chosen by Angel to illustrate the appearance of these types on the living. His pictures illustrate the varieties that we would expect to find among the creators of Ancient Greek civilization. The descriptions and pictures in the following are reproduced from [4].

Basic Whites (Type A)

Basic Whites (Type A: Plate XL, u-y) are sturdy. They have large and long heads with somewhat low and receding bony foreheads, massive browridges, and a generally angular and ill-filled appearance emphasized in slight midline gabling of parietals and lamboid flattening just above the projecting occiput. Their almost trapezoid faces lack height, and show rectangular orbits, short, straight, coarse noses, angular profile, and strong chin and teeth. They were probably above medium stature, strong, dark-brown haired, and swarthy. They show noteworthy similarity to Chalcolithic Palestinians, Siculans, Chalcolithic Sardinians, and Neolithic type British, and are obviously also comparable to Atlanto-Mediterraneans in Mesopotamia. They are less homogeneous as a group than the other types, covering the range from a linear and high-skulled “Megalithic” variant with high, thin-nosed hatchet-face (A1 and A2: Cephallenian and Athenian in Plate XL, v, w), to a low-headed and squat-faced extreme with wide nose and low orbits (A4: S.C. Macedonian in Plate XL, u), with a central group (A3 and A5: Corinthian of Argive parentage and Lemnian in Plate XL, x and y) connecting these divergent tendencies.

Classic Mediterraneans (Type B)

Classic Mediterraneans (Type B: Mytilenean, W. Cretan, and Corinthian of Argive parentage in Plate XL, r, s, and t) are light-boned, almost fragile. They have small, barely dolichocrane heads, pentagonoid in outline in both vertical and occipital views, contracted neck muscle area, and low almost vertical rounded foreheads. Their slender, fine-featured faces have square orbits, thin noses smooth and low in the nasion region, and a triangular taper down to pinched jaws with shallow and pointed chin, weak prognathism, and an overbite linked with subnormal degree of teeth wear. They were probably just below medium stature, gracile, slender-necked, brunet, with black or dark hair. They are virtually identical with ancient Libyans and modern Sicilians, and similar to Upper Egyptians of prehistoric and Early Dynastic dates, and to modern Spanish. Type B is the most homogeneous one, with only slight tendencies in longer-headed, linear-faced and smaller, more squat-faced directions.

Throughout the Mediterranean region Type B occurs in various proportions with the Basic White type, and a composite made of Types A and B in equal proportions is very close to Minoan Cretans and somewhat resembles Lower Egyptians of XXVI to XXX Dynasties and Iron Age South Palestinians.

Nordic-Iranians (Type D)

Nordic-Iranians (Type D: Plate XL, m-q) have long and high heads with peculiarly deep occiputs, smooth ovoid-ellipsoid contour, sharply-cut muscle impressions, strong browridges, and tilted and capacious foreheads. Marked facial height and narrowness of cheeks compared to wide forehead and jowls makes a rectangular, horse-faced impression. Large but slightly retreating cheekbones enclose drooping orbits, and big, salient, and aquiline noses, long-arched palates, muscular jaws wide at the angles, and cleft chins lacking prominence all add to the same effect. Nordic-Iranians were tall and muscular, strong-necked, and probably included tawny-haired blue- or green-eyed blonds as well as brunets. Approximate identity, and noteworthy resemblances to North Iranian Bronze Age Proto-Nordics, to Anglo-Saxons, and to medieval Irish Monks show the divided eastern and northern relations of this Greek type. And although Type D has low variability, it includes four slightly different tendencies: a cylindrical-skulled, slab-faced Iron-Age Nordic one (D1: Chalcidian and E. Thracian, in Plate XL, n and o), a high-skulled, ellipsoid, “Corded” tendency (D2: Chalcidian in Plate XL, p slightly “dinaricised”), a long byrsoid, deep-skulled, huge-nosed, convex-profiled Iranian trend (D4: Athenian of Arcadian parentage, in Plate XL, m), and a small-faced Iranian-Mediterranean divergence approaching Coon's Cappadocian and Danubian types (D3: Athenian in Plate XL, q).

Dinaric-Mediterraneans (Type F)

Dinaric-Mediterraneans (Type F: Chalcidian, Corinthian, and E. Thessalian in Plate XL, j, k, and l) are the least Alpine of two intermediate, hybrid, Alpinoid forms. Their short (high mesocrane) and relatively high byrsoid heads have pinched and flatly sloping foreheads and non-projecting occiputs. They have big and drooping, hound-like, faces with an elongated hexagonal outline, stemming from striking (though variable) flare of the cheek region. Face height is emphasized in their long and thin noses pulled down almost parallel with their foreheads, in high palates, and in long deep jaws. Dinaric-Mediterraneans are medium tall, long-necked, and presumably mainly brunet. They resemble both dinaricised Mediterraneans from Lower Egypt in the third and second millennia BC and dinaricised Alpines including inhabitants of the Roman Troad, modern Greeks from Anatolia and European Turkey, Serbs and Croats, and Slovenes. Type F is homogeneous but shows divergences toward linearity on the one hand and toward true brachycrane Dinaric makeup on the other.

Mixed Alpines (Type E)

Mixed-Alpines (Type E: Plate XL, f-h) are closer to Alpines morphologically than in their proportions. Their large mesocrane heads are well-filled, with peculiarly large and wide foreheads with little slope and smooth parietals with a long flat plane in the obellion-lambda region. The massive foreheads dwarf their low faces which have an inverted trapezoid outline and a retreating profile, high-rooted but insignificant noses, and shallow and relatively delicate jaws despite respectable size. They were not especially short but probably heavy-bodied, probably with some mixed blonds among a brunet majority. Their approximations to Etrusco-Roman Tarquinians and Merovingian Franks are both good, and they resemble adequately Bessarabian Scythians, Carniola Illyrians, Basques and Teneriffe Guanche. This parallelism stresses their hybrid origin. Type E is homogeneous, but with some inner divergences including Nordic Alpine (E2: W. Macedonian and E. Arcadian in Plate XL, g and h) as opposed to Mediterranean-Alpine (E1, E3: N.W. Macedonian in Plate XL, f) tendencies.

Alpines (Type C)

Alpines (Type C: Plate XL, a-e, and i) have shortened and laterally bulging heads, with weakly curved occiputs equipped with strong torus for neck muscles, broad and full foreheads (narrow relative to bulging parietals) and a short ovoid to sphenoid or spheroid outline in norma verticalis. Their heads as a whole range from “square” to globular. The Alpine face is low and orthognathous with square to hexagonal outline rounded at the angles. Non-retreating cheekbones, and dominantly short, low-rooted, non-salient and concave nose combine to give the face a certain flatness, emphasized further by alveolar retraction with short and low palate, and by a prominent chin linked with an edge bite and much worn and somewhat poor teeth. Alpines were notably short and probably stocky, and dominantly brunet. They resemble significantly both recent Carinthian villagers and medieval citizens of Hythe in Kent, with good approximations to Foothill Bavarians and to Bronze Age Eastern Cypriotes. This suggestion of divided resemblance is confirmed fully by Type C's slightly elevated variability. And various divergent tendencies are appreciable: C1, C2, and C3 (Maniote, E. Thracian, and Athenian in Plate XL, a, b, and c) tend respectively toward the globular Central European Alpine, its paedomorphic extreme, and a rugged slab-faced Borreby-like type; an Eastern Alpine trend (C4: Ithacan and Athenian in Plate XL, d and e) toward a high, sphenoid vault with flat occiput and high-nosed, square-jowled face, and a squate Eastern Alpine tendency (C5: S.E. Messenian in Plate XL, i) toward sphenoid-byrsoid and broad-based vault with short face and puffy nose both have obvious Near Eastern rather than European appearances.

  1. Angel, J. Lawrence, in Mylonas, George E., 1972-1973, Ο ταφικός κύκλος V των Μυκηνών, Εθνική Αρχαιολογική Εταιρεία, Athens
  2. Angel, J. Lawrence, 1944, A racial analysis of the ancient Greeks: An essay on the use of morphological types, American Journal of Physical Anthropology
  3. Angel, J. Lawrence, 1946, Social Biology of Greek Culture Growth, American Anthropologist
  4. Angel J. Lawrence, 1945, Skeletal Material from Attica, Hesperia