Rape of the Sabine Women, by Pietro da Cortona

Xenophobia – The Great Danger?

In recent years xenophobia has been a frequently used word in the media and political debates. In 2016 dictionary.com even made it ”word of the year”, with the added comment that we should not feel happy about that. Xenophobia literally means ”fear of strangers”, although Merriam-Webster defines it as ”fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”.

The word is often used against those that support Brexit or oppose the open border migration policies of the EU.

Yet, is that a fair use of the word? Does that make sense? What did the ancient Greeks mean when speaking about the ‘xenos’?

Greek Hospitality

The ancient Greeks believed hospitality was important, because the Gods could travel among the strangers. Showing hospitality to a God could get you rewards, while rudely turning them away could make them seek vengeance. Zeus was often seen as the God protecting strangers and travelers. Strangers are generally other Greeks, from other Greek cities.

When it comes to hospitality, the Greeks observed the rule of mutual respect. The host would provide food and shelter, while the guest would be grateful and ensure they are not a burden. Ideally, the guest would provide a gift to show their gratitude. Keep in mind that hospitality to guests also implies that there are few, and that they will only stay a brief period of time, before continuing their travels.

The Barbarians

All those not speaking Greek were considered barbarians. Greek hospitality did not necessarily extend to them.

Phillip of Macedon had the following to say. ”There is, and always will be, eternal war between the barbarians and all the Greeks. They are enemies because of their unchanging nature” (Roman History 32.29.15). Nonetheless, Phillip was known for his lavish hospitality among the Athenians.

How did they view other cultures?

When it comes to culture, the Greeks and Romans alike were focused on spreading their culture to the barbarians. They demanded the abandonment of the original culture of conquered peoples. In the case of the Romans, this came to be known as Romanization.

The Abuse of Hospitality

Hospitality had its limits in ancient times as well. When the Trojan Prince Paris was invited to a dinner, he decided to abduct the host’s wife. Helen was taken back to Troy and a ten-year war followed. Clearly, guests could push the limits of hospitality. At some point, mistreatment of the host could easily result in war.

A similar situation happened with the Romans. Early Rome was founded by outcasts and criminals, a group of mostly men. They were shunned by neighboring cities, who did not trust the Romans enough to invite them. The Romans decided to invite the neighboring peoples to a feast instead, to show their hospitality.

However, the Romans only used it as a trick to abduct all the Sabine women. This event became known as the ‘Rape of the Sabines’. The Romans took the newly taken women as their wives. The Sabines and their allies declared war on Rome. When they eventually made peace, it was under Roman rule. The Sabines and their culture lost forever.

Xenophobia Today

Xenophobia, the fear of strangers, is used as a tool to silence debate. A phobia is generally an irrational fear. The same way children are afraid of spiders, while most spiders are perfectly harmless to people. Moreover, it is used to claim that xenophobes hold a hatred for strangers. That definition quickly moves them into the same corner as racists.

Yet, at what point can we say that the guest is becoming too much of a burden? When can we say the guest has overstayed their welcome? The rules of hospitality of the ancient Greeks apply to both sides. The host is never expected to sacrifice himself for the stranger.

Modern Day Rape of the Sabines

In Rotherham, Muslim gangs raped thousands of young English girls. Afterwards similar rape gangs, consisting almost exclusively of Asian Muslims, were discovered in cities all over Britain. The comparison to the Rape of the Sabines is not difficult to make. Perhaps we should admit that xenophobia is not an irrational fear, but a very rational response coming from those that wish to preserve their culture.

After the Sabines had their women abducted and taken from them, the next phase led to them being conquered and their culture disappearing.


The opposite of xenophobia is xenomania. It is the excessive fondness of all things foreign. Europe does not have a problem of xenophobia. Europe has a problem of xenomania. If we do not stop the xenomania, Europe will lose her culture and civilization. The ancient Greeks, with all their hospitality, would never allow the barbarians to conquer them.