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The Greeks (Greek: Έλληνες—"Hellenes") are a nation and a people, who have populated Greece from the 17th century BC to the present day. Today they are primarily found in the Greek peninsula of southeastern Europe, the Greek islands and Cyprus.
Greek colonies and communities have been historically established in most corners of the Mediterranean but Greek people have have always been centered around the Aegean coasts, where the Greek language has been spoken since anquity. Until the early 20th century Greeks were uniformly distributed between the Greek peninsula, the western coast of Asia Minor, Pontus and Constantinople, regions which coincided to a very large extent with the borders of the Byzantine Empire of the late 11th century and the areas of Greek colonization in the ancient world. In the aftermath of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) in 1923, a large-scale population exchange between Greece and Turkey transferred and confined ethnic Greeks almost entirely into the borders of the modern Greek state, that is, in areas where groups of Greek-speaking Indo-Europeans first established themselves about 1500 BC, as well as in Cyprus. Other ethnic Greek populations can be found from Southern Italy to the Caucasus and diaspora communities in a number of other countries. Today, the vast majority of Greeks are at least nominally adherents of Greek Orthodoxy.
Identity of the Greek people
The Greek language has been spoken in the Greek peninsula (i.e. the southern Balkans) for over 3,500 years (and in western Asia Minor for a little less), and has an unbroken literary history which makes it one of the oldest surviving branches of the Indo-European family of languages. From ancient Greece the Greeks have inherited a sophisticated culture and language documented over almost three millennia. Modern Greek is recognizably the same as the language of Athens under Pericles in the 5th century BC. Few languages can demonstrate such continuity.
The definition of Greekness has varied through history, but by modern standards, the term "Greeks" has traditionally referred to any native speakers of the Greek language (whether Mycenaean, Byzantine or modern Greeks). Byzantine Greeks valued the classical tradition and considered themselves the Orthodox heirs of ancient Greece and Rome. The use of the older self-descriptive ethnic term "Hellenes" revived during the era following the Greco-Latin clashes between the Byzantine Empire and the Western Crusaders in the 12th century. It regained some popularity through its use by late Byzantine Emperors and scholars such Gemistus Pletho and Ciriaco Pizzecolli. It became fairly common with the emergence, in the late 18th century, of the nation-state and its gradual consolidation, but it was not until the early 20th century that its popular use was firmly re-established.
The Greeks today are a nation in the meaning of an ethnos (έθνος in Greek), defined more by a sense of sharing a common Greek culture and having a Greek mother tongue, than by citizenship, religion or by being subjects to any particular country. The word 'Greek' also has a wider meaning – because, especially in the past, it referred to all Eastern Orthodox Christian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire – the millet-i Rum – irrespective of their ethnicity (see also Names of the Greeks).
Greece became the first country in the Balkans to come into being, both as a nation-state and breaking away from the Ottoman Empire. The Greek revolutionary movement formed its own definition of Greekness out of the Byzantine and ancient Greek cultural heritage along with the influences of western nationalism. This attracted foreign support from the Philhellenes.
The Mycenaean proto-Greeks were the first historical people to arrive in the area now referred to as 'Greece' (the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula), and the first that can be considered 'Greek' as an ethnic identity. There are clear elements of cultural continuity through the Greek Dark Ages (1200 BC - 800 BC), until the advent of Classical Greece (800 BC onwards) and the rise of the Polis and in particular Athens. For example, in Homer's epic poems The Illiad and the Odyssey - which describe the epic Battle of Troy, it is quite clear that he views the Greeks of Prehistory as the forefathers of the early Classical Civilization he inhabited, the likes of Achilles and Odysseus were viewed by Athenians as well as others as prime-examples of the ideal citizen of a Polis, in much the same way Aeneas would become the ideal citizen of Rome in Virgil's Aeneid.
These elements of self-identification on its own clearly constitutes cultural continuity, but there are other elements as well that solidify this idea - The First being that Mycenaenean Architecture echoes influence from other civilizations around the basin, as well as the Mycenaeans' own particular style (owing as much as to limitations of the Geography of the area (see: Geography of Greece), that would eventually lead to the formation of Classical Greek Architecture and Hellenistic Architecture, for example, the ruins of the columns at Knossos echoing a very archaic version of the Doric style of Architecture so widely used in the Classical period.
Religion is another factor, with the Mycenaeans own pantheon of gods mirroring in many ways the pantheon of that of the Classical Greeks, this influence defined not only culture but part of Classical Greece's value system as well as their Art. There is also clear linguistic continuity between the language of Proto-Greek and the various dialects of Classical Greece. In particular, the Linear B script is clearly an archaic form of the latter Koine Greek script.
These elements combined together do not amount to say, the same cultural output and continuity that Modern Greeks feel with Classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine periods of Greek History, but they nevertheless constitute the beginnings of the Greek identity, and the foundation, albeit in comparison to 5th century Athens a basic one, of Greece's Pagan religion, language, architecture and art.
Classical and Hellenistic
Herodotus states that the Athenians declared, before the battle of Plataea, that they would not go over to Mardonius, because in the first place, they were bound to avenge the burning of the Acropolis; and, secondly, they would not betray their fellow Greeks, to whom they were bound by:
- A common language (ὁμόγλωσσον homoglosson – the use of one of the dialects of the Greek language),
- Common blood (ὅμαιμον homaimon – descent from Hellen, son of Deucalion),
- Common shrines, statues and sacrifices (practice of the ancient Greek religion – compare the Christian Greek and Demotic term ὁμόθρησκον omothriskon), and
- Common habits and customs.
As Thucydides observes that the name of Hellas spread from a valley in Thessaly to the Greek-speaking peoples after the formation of the text of Homer (the Panellenes of Il. 2.530 are the troops of Thessaly, contrasting with the Achaeans), not long before his own time. This places the idea in the Archaic period, when Greeks discovered that the world was wider, wealthier, and more cultured than they had imagined. Homer's Trojan War is, indeed, a conflict among Greeks: the Trojans speak Greek (although most modern historians believe they were more likely an Anatolian people, based mostly on later translations of the story by late writers), bear Greek names, and worship the Greek gods; and Priam is descended from Zeus (see Alaksandus). The Carians are the only people Homer considers barbarophonoi.
As early as the 5th century BC, Isocrates, after speaking of common origin and worship, says: "the name Hellenes suggests no longer a race but an intelligence, and... the title Hellenes is applied rather to those who share our culture than to those who share a common blood". Panegyric 4.50.
After the creation of the Byzantine Empire, Greek culture changed from Hellenic (Greek pagan) to Eastern Roman (Greek Christian culture), and the word "Hellene" became associated with the pagan past. Distinctions of nationality still existed in the empire, but became secondary to religious considerations as the renewed empire used Christianity to maintain its cohesion. However, the Byzantine Empire was dominated by the Greek element to such an extent that Emperor Heraclius (AD 575 - AD 641) decided to make Greek the official language. From then on, the Roman and Greek cultures were virtually fused in the East. By that time, the Latin West had began referring to Byzantium as "Empire of the Greeks" (Imperium Graecorum).
Pure Greek nationalism re-emerged in the 11th century within specific circles and became more forceful after the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and the establishment of a number of Greek kingdoms (such as the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus). When the empire was revived in 1261, it became essentially a Greek national state. Adherence to Greek Orthodox rites and the Greek language, became the defining characteristic of the Greek people.
Greeks in the Ottoman Empire
Under the Ottoman Empire, religion was the defining characteristic of "national" groups (milletler), so "Greeks" (Rumlar) were defined by the Ottomans as members of the Greek Orthodox Church, regardless of their language or ethnic origin. Conversely, those who adopted Islam during that period were considered 'Turks', regardless of their language or origin. Yet, the Greeks themselves upheld the autocephalous concept whereby they maintained their unique ethno-religious identity and consistently distinguished themselves from other non-Greek Orthodox Christian populations. However, some Greeks such as Alexander Ypsilanti, expected non-Greek populations such as the Moldavians and the Wallachians to rise for Greek independence because they were Greek Orthodox Christians. However, both the Moldavians and the Wallachians were cognizant of their non-Greek identities and refused to contribute.
This strong relation between Greek national identity and Greek Orthodox religion continued after the creation of the modern Greek state in 1830, and when the Treaty of Lausanne was signed between Greece and Turkey in 1923, the two countries agreed to use religion as the determinant for ethnic identity. However, in many important respects, the Greek state adhered from its founding to remarkably secular principles. For instance, Jews were granted full citizens rights in 1830, the year Greece's independence was formally recognized, thus making Greece the second state in Europe (after France) with an emancipated Jewish community.
Today, the deeper integration of Greece into the Western strategic system and the effects of migration (both emigration from Greece in the 1950s and 1960s, and immigration into Greece in more recent years) have led to a perception of multiculturalism similar to that of Western European nations.
Names used for the Greek people
Main Article: Names of the Greeks.
Throughout the centuries, the Greeks have been known by a number of names, including:
- Hellenes (Έλληνες) - In mythology, Hellen, son of Deucalion and Pyrrha, received from the nymph Orseis three sons, Aeolus, Dorus and Xuthus. Aeolus and Dorus, and two sons of Xuthus, Achaeus and Ion were the legendary founders, respectively, of the four principal tribes of Hellas, the Aeolians, Dorians, Achaeans and Ionians. Originally, only a small tribe in Thessaly were called Hellenes, but the word soon extended to the rest of the peninsula and came to represent all Greek people. In early Christian times it was sometimes used to mean "pagans". It remains in Greece today, the primary national name.
- Greeks (Γραικοί) - In mythology, Graecus was the brother of Latinus and nephew to Hellen. It was the name of a Boeotian tribe that migrated to the Italian peninsula in the 8th century BC and probably through contact with natives there brought the term to represent all Hellenes, which then established itself in Italy and in the West in general. Aristotle and Apollodorus mention that it was the name used by Greeks before adopting the name Hellenes
- Romioi (Ρωμιοί) - Romans is the political name by which the Byzantine Greeks called themselves during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. In parts of mainland Greece and Asia Minor, the use of this name survived well in the 20th century. The name in antiquity signified the inhabitants of the city of Rome in Italy, but with the elevation of the Greeks in the Roman Empire, it soon lost its connection with the Latins and acquired a completely different definition. Roman Emperor Caracalla with his Constitutio Antoniniana (212) granted all free people in the Roman Empire citizenship. The term Roman (Romaios) represented for the Greeks their Roman citizenship and their Hellenic ancestry. The word Romaioi came to represent the Greek inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire. It remains still in use today in Greece, being the most popular national name after Hellene and in Turkey to signify the Greek Orthodox minority. It is found also in the Koran; one Surah is entitled Ar-Rum meaning the eastern Romans, Byzantines, or the Greeks.
- Achaeans, Argives, and Danaans are names used interchangeably by Homer, to signify the Greek allied forces.
- Yavan or 'Javan', traditionally in Hebrew, Javan was the name of the tribe (and then the nation) which migrated from early Biblical times to establish the Balkan peninsula.
- Yunan(Ίωνες), the name used by Indians who encountered Alexander the Great and his successors who ruled areas of Central Asia. Originally from the Persian Yauna, itself a transliteration of the Greek Ionia, is the name by which the Greeks are known in the East today. The term became established in Asia from the Persians, who in contact with the Ionian tribes in western Asia Minor in the 6th century BC, extended the name to all Hellenes.
History of the Greeks
The history of the Greek people is closely associated with the history of Greece, Constantinople, and Asia Minor. During the Ottoman rule of Greece, a number of Greek enclaves around the Mediterranean were cut off from the core, notably in Southern Italy, the Caucasus, Syria and Egypt. By the early 20th century, over half of the overall Greek-speaking population was settled in Asia Minor (now Turkey).
Modern and ancient Greeks
The most obvious link between modern and ancient Greeks is the language, which has enjoyed a continuous and documented tradition from at least the 14th century BC to the present day, some 3400 years. There has been no break such as the one between Latin and the modern Romance languages and the only language with a similar documented history is Chinese.
Many modern scientists and scholars (e.g. anthropologists like C. Coon and geneticists like Antonio Arnaiz-Villena) have supported the notion that there is a dominant racial connection to the ancient Greeks. Other scholars, notably popular in Nazi Germany, have supported the refuted theories of the 19th century historian Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, who claimed that the ancient Greeks genetically disappeared at some point, and as modern Greeks have no genetic or cultural connection to them, Europe owes them nothing. It should be noted that Fallmerayer's theories specifically aimed at the Greeks of Morea (Peloponnese), which at the time constituted less than a sixth of the overall Greek population, a fact which was being constantly ignored by his later supporters. His essays were refuted by numerous scholars of his time and were characterised by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities as biased and unscientific.
Modern ethnologists consider genetics irrelevant, but agree that there is a strong and continuous tradition linking ancient and modern Greeks linguistically and culturally over the millennia, though, of course, there have also been significant contributions to Greek culture from other peoples.
Greeks speak the Greek language, an Indo-European language which forms a branch in itself, although seems to be more closely related to Armenian (see also Graeco-Armenian) and the Indo-Iranian languages. Greek literature has a continuous history of nearly 3,000 years, and has been written in the Greek alphabet since the 9th century BC.
Greek demonstrates several linguistic features that are shared with Romanian, Albanian and Bulgarian (see Balkan sprachbund), and has absorbed numerous foreign words (primarily of western European or Turkish origin). Due to the movement of Philhellenism in the 19th century in the rest of Europe, which emphasized the modern Greeks' ancient heritage, these foreign influences were excluded from official use via the usage of Katharevusa, a somewhat artificial form of Greek purged of all foreign influence and words, as the official language of the Greek state. In 1976, however, the Greek parliament voted to make Dhimotiki, the modern dialect of Athens, the official language, making Katharevusa obsolete.
Some members of the diaspora cannot speak the Greek language, but are still considered Greeks by ethnic origin or descent.
Greek has a wide variety of dialects of varying levels of mutual intelligibility, which in addition to official variety (Standard Modern Greek - Κοινή Νεοελληνική), include the Cypriot, Pontic, Cappadocian, Griko (Calabrian Greek) and Tsakonian (the only surviving representative of ancient Doric Greek) varieties. Yevanic, also known as Romaniote or Judeo-Greek, is the language of the Greek Jews (Romaniotes), and survives in small communities in Greece, New York and Israel.
In addition to Greek, many Greeks in Greece are bilingual in other languages. Such languages include Arvanitic, Aromanian (also known as Vlach), Slavic (also known as Dopia), Russian, Italian and Turkish. In the diaspora, most Greeks also speak the languages of the areas in which they live.
The vast majority of Greeks are Eastern Orthodox Christians, belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church. There are also small groups adhering to other Christian denominations or religions. The main non-Orthodox Christian denomination are Roman Catholics (including Greek Byzantine Catholic Church and some Ukrainian Rite Catholics), and more recently Evangelicals, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Since the days of the Ottoman Empire, there has been a Muslim minority within Greek society, and for much of its history, Greece has had a substantial Jewish community.
The most widely used symbol used by Greeks is the flag of Greece, which features nine equal horizontal stripes of blue alternating with white representing the nine syllables of the Greek national motto "Ελευθερία ή θάνατος" (Eleftheria i thanatos – freedom or death), which was also the motto of the Greek War of Independence. The blue square in the upper hoist-side corner bears a white cross, which represents Greek Orthodox Christianity. The Greek flag is also widely used by the Greek community in Cyprus (which has officially adopted a neutral flag so as to ease ethnic tensions with the Turkish minority – see flag of Cyprus), and by the Greek minority in Albania, which has lead to ethnic clashes with the ethnic Albanian majority.
The pre-1978 (and first) flag of Greece, which features a cross on a blue background, is widely used as an alternative to the official flag, and they are often flown together. The national emblem of Greece features a blue escutcheon with a white cross totally surrounded by two laurel branches. A common design involves the current flag of Greece and the pre-1978 flag of Greece with crossed flagpoles and the national emblem placed in front.
Another highly recognizable and popular Greek symbol is the double-headed eagle, a common symbol in Eastern Europe. It is not currently part of the modern Greek flag or coat of arms, although it is officially used by the Greek Army and by the Church of Greece, and was incorporated in the Greek coat of arms between 1925 and 1926.
- See: Greek surname
Timeline of Greek migrations
Some key historical events have also been included for context, but this timeline is not intended to cover history not related to migrations. There is more information on the historical context of these migrations in History of Greece.
- Pre-20th century BC — Greek tribes migrate into the Balkans.
- 20th century BC — Settlement into Macedonia, establishment of some settlements in peninsular Greece.
- 17th century BC — Decline of Minoan civilization, possibly due to the eruption of Thera. Settlement of Achaeans and Ionians in the Greek peninsula (Mycenaean civilization).
- 13th century BC — First colonies established in Asia Minor.
- 11th century BC — Doric tribes move into peninsular Greece.
- 9th century BC — Major colonization of Asia Minor.
- 8th century BC — First major colonies established in Sicily and Southern Italy.
- 6th century BC — Colonies established across the Mediterranean and the Black Sea
- 4th century BC — Campaign of Alexander the Great; Greek colonies established in newly founded cities of Ptolemaic Egypt and Asia.
- 2nd century BC — Conquest of Greece by the Roman Republic. Migrations of Greeks to Rome.
- 4th century — Establishment of Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. Migrations of Greeks throughout the Empire, mainly towards Constantinople.
- 7th century Slavic conquest of several parts of Greece, Greek migrations to Southern Italy take place. Byzantine Emperors capture main Slavic bodies and transfer them to Cappadocia. Bosphorus re-populated by Macedonian and Cypriot Greeks.
- 8th century Byzantine dissolution of surviving Sclaviniai and full recovery of the Greek peninsula.
- 9th century Retromigrations of Greeks from all parts of the Empire (mainly from Southern Italy and Sicily) into parts of Greece that were depopulated by the Sklaviniai (mainly western Peloponnese and Thessaly).
- 13th century — Byzantine Empire dissolves, Constantinople taken by the Fourth Crusade; becoming the capital of the Latin Empire. Reconquered after a long struggle by the Empire of Nicaea, but fragments remain separated. Migrations between Asia Minor, Constantinople and mainland Greece take place.
- 15th century — Conquest of Byzantium by the Ottoman Empire. Greek diaspora into Europe begins. Ottoman settlements in Greece. Phanariot Greeks occupy high posts in Eastern European millets.
- 1830s — Creation of the Modern Greek State. Immigration to the New World begins. Large-scale migrations from Constantinople and Asia Minor to Greece take place.
- 1913 — Macedonia partitioned; Unorganized migrations of Greeks, Bulgarians and Turks towards their respective states.
- 1910s — approximately 353,000 Pontian Greeks killed .
- 1919 — Treaty of Neuilly; Greece and Bulgaria exchange populations, with some exceptions.
- 1923 — Treaty of Lausanne; Greece and Turkey agree to exchange populations with limited exceptions of the Greeks in Constantinople, Imbros, Tenedos and the Muslim minority (mainly Greeks, Pomaks, Roms and Turks) of Eastern Thrace. 1,5 million of Asia Minor and Pontic Greeks settle in Greece, and some 450 thousands of Muslims settle in Turkey.
- 1947 — Communist regime in Romania begins evictions of the Greek community, approx. 75,000 migrate.
- 1948 — Greek Civil War. Tens of thousands of Greek communists and their families flee into Eastern Bloc nations. Thousands settle in Tashkent.
- 1950s — Massive emigration of Greeks to West Germany, the United States, Australia, Canada, and other countries.
- 1955 — Istanbul Pogrom against Greeks. Exodus of Greeks from the city accelerates; less than 2000 remain today.
- 1958 — Large Greek community in Alexandria flees Nasser's regime in Egypt.
- 1960s — Republic of Cyprus created, as an independent Greek state, under Greek, Turkish and British protection. Economic emigration continues.
- 1974 — Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Almost all Greeks living in Northern Cyprus flee to the south and the United Kingdom.
- 1980s — Many civil war refugees were allowed to re-emigrate to Greece. Reverse migration of Greeks from Germany also begins.
- 1990s — Collapse of Soviet Union. Approx. 100,000 ethnic Greeks migrate from Georgia, Armenia, southern Russia and Albania to Greece.
- 2000 — Greece fully implements the Schengen Treaty.
- 2000s — Some statistics indicate the beginning of a trend of reverse migration of Greeks from the United States and Australia.
- Demographics of Greece
- Byzantine Empire
- Greek American
- Greek Australian
- Greek Canadians
- Greek Cypriots
- Greek mythology
- Greeks in Great Britain
- Greeks in Romania
- Greeks in Turkey
- Hellenistic civilization
- List of Ancient Greeks
- List of Greek Americans
- List of Greeks