- For other uses of the name "Greek", see Greek (disambiguation)
Identity of the Greek people
Classical and Roman
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 language1 (the use of one of the dialects of the Greek language)
- Common blood2 (descent from Hellen, son of Deucalion)
- Common shrines, statues and sacrifices (practice of the ancient Greek religion)3 and
- Common habits and customs.
This notion that the Greeks had a common descent was then comparatively recent. As Thucydides observes, 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 Greek-speakers discovered that the world was wider, wealthier, and more cultured than they had hitherto imagined. Homer's Trojan War is, indeed, a conflict among Greeks: the Trojans speak Greek, 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.
Nor did the late and schematic myth of the sons of Hellen ever convince other mythographers to comply with it. Theseus is descended from Erechtheus, son of the Earth; Oedipus from the Phoenician Cadmus; Agamemnon from Phrygian Pelops; Heracles and Perseus from Egyptian Danaus. Whole cities were not descended from Hellen: Athens, Lemnos, and the Cretans were Pelasgian; and 1 Maccabees 12:21 attests that the Spartans are children of Abraham.
The myth of Hellen combined into one group the smaller tribes that participated in the Delphic Amphictyon, such as the Aeolians, the Achaeans, and the Dorians. Traces of the older distinctions remained; Dorians were forbidden in the Parthenon; although the Spartan king Cleomenes I claimed this did not apply to him — as a descendant of Heracles, he was an Achaean. (As in this example, the Greeks almost always reckoned descent only through the male line.)
So the exact nature of Greek identity has been an open question since ancient times. It has not become clearer with time: descent is at best a matter of tradition, and the Greeks have altered their language, religion, and customs since Herodotus. Nevertheless, there has been, in practice, a continuous Greek identity since ancient times, containing at least those who chose to be Greek and who had citizenship in a Greek city, or membership of a Greek community.
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 4th century BC, Greek became the lingua franca of the East Mediterranean region and was widely spoken by educated non-Greeks. After the 4th century AD, Greeks became Christian. (In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Greeks are descended from Javan, son of Japheth).
Byzantine and Ottoman
After the creation of the Eastern Roman Empire, Greek culture shifted from Hellenic (Greek pagan) to Romaic (Greek paganism fused with Christianity), and the word "Hellene" became associated with the pagan past. All Roman citizens, and thus all subjects of the Byzantine Empire, were Romaic. Distinctions between nationalities among the citizens of the Eastern Roman Empire did not become extinct, but became secondary to religious considerations as the renewed Empire used Christianity to maintain its cohesion. It was religion that divided the Empire from the Muslims; and, along different lines, it came to divide the Empire from the Franks, Armenians, Copts, and Syrians.
Greek nationalism was reborn 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 became the defining characteristic of the Greek people.
During the Ottoman rule of Greece, Greek Orthodox Christianity was the only Greek community; the Ottomans considered religion to be the defining characteristic of "national" groups (millet). Greeks who adopted Islam during that period were considered 'Turks'. Following this definition, Alexander Ypsilanti expected the Moldavians and Wallachians, being Greek Orthodox, to rise for Greek independence; but they did not.
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 Greek national identity similar to that of other Western European nations. The Greek Orthodox faith is now only one of a variety of factors that yield Greek identity.
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, each of which founded a primary tribe of Hellas; 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 niece to Hellen. It was the name of a Boeotian tribe that migrated to Italy 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.
- Romans (Ρωμαίοι) - Romans is the name by which the Greeks were known during the Middle Ages. The name originally 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 Latins and instead came to represent the inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire, an Empire of Greeks. It remains still in use today in Greece, being the most popular national name after Hellene.
- Yunani (Ίωνες) - Yunani, 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 the ancient Middle East 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.
- Achaeans, Argives, and Danaans are names used interchangeably by Homer, to signify the Greek allied forces.
History of the Greeks
The history of the Greek people is closely associated with the history of Greece itself. While Greeks have migrated away from Greece for many centuries, historically these colonists or emigrants remained close to their homeland.
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.
During the 20th century, a huge wave of migration to the United States, Australia, Canada,and elsewhere created a Greek diaspora which, in many ways, has developed a cultural identity separate from that of the Greeks who remained home.
Greeks around the world
Outside Greece and Cyprus, large Greek communities can be found in a number of countries:
- United States: 1,153,295 (self-reported heritage); 365,435 speak Greek at home. (2000 Census). See Greek-Americans.
- Germany: 363,000 (1995, based on citizenship)
- Canada: 203,354 born in Greece4 (1996 Census); total approx. 320,000 Canadians of Greek heritage (2003 community estimates)
- Australia: 260,000 speak Greek at home (1996 Census); 336,782 self-reported Greek origin (1986 Census)
- Albania: 36,000-300,000 by different estimates: 36,000 (Albanian Institute of Statistics, reported by US Dept. of State, 2005); 62,500 (Albanian census, ibid., 1989); 100,000 (CIA World Factbook, 1989); 150,000 (Greek Helsinki Monitor estimate, 1994); 280,000 (Greek estimate reported by Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, 2004).
- Former Soviet Union: Approx. 200,000 remain; 300,000 have migrated to Greece (2003, figures not reliable).
Timeline of Greek migrations
Stop! Practically every event in this timeline is disputed by one theory or another. This timeline attempts to represent the mainstream views of modern Greek historians. Some key historical events have also been included for context, but this timeline is not intended to cover history not related to migrations. For more information on the historical context of these migrations, please see History of Greece.
- 20th century BC — Greek tribes migrate into Macedonia (most likely from the Caucasus region), and establish some settlements in peninsular Greece.
- 17th century BC — Decline of Minoan civilization, possibly due to the eruption of Thera. Greek tribes (Achaeans, Ionians) enter southern Greece, establishing the Mycenaean civilization. Greek history begins.
- 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 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; colonies established in Egypt and the Middle East.
- 2nd century BC — Conquest of Greece by the Roman Empire.
- 4th century — Establishment of Eastern Roman Empire. Migrations of Greeks throughout the Empire, and of non-Greeks into Greece over the next 6 centuries.
- 13th century — Dissolution of Eastern Roman Empire. Re-emergence of Greek nationalism.
- 14th century — Eastern Roman Empire recreated and refashioned as a Greek state.
- 15th century — Conquest of Greece by the Ottoman Empire . Greek diaspora into Europe begins. Turkish settlements in Greece.
- 1830s — Creation of the Modern Greek State. Immigration to the New World begins.
- 1913 — Macedonia partitioned; Population exchange with Bulgaria; Greek presence in Bulgaria and presence of Slavic peoples in Greece practically end.
- 1910s — Genocide of Pontian Greeks; approximately 350,000 killed.
- 1923 — Treaty of Lausanne. 1.3 million Greeks removed from the newly created Republic of Turkey; 500,000 Turks and other Muslims removed from Greece. Muslim Greeks remain in Turkey. 50,000 Christian Greeks in Constantinople and a number of Muslims in Greek (Western) Thrace excluded from the exchange.
- 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. Large Greek community in Alexandria flees Nasser's regime in Egypt.
- 1955 — Istanbul Pogrom against Greeks. Exodus of Greeks from the city accelerates; less than 2000 remain today.
- 1960s — Republic of Cyprus created, as a joint Greek–Turkish state. Economic emigration continues.
- 1974 — Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus. Almost all Greeks living in northern Cyprus flee to the south; many flee to the United Kingdom.
- 1980s — Civil war refugees allowed to remigrate to Greece. Reverse migration of Greeks from Germany also begins.
- 1990s — Collapse of Soviet Union. Approx. 300,000 ethnic Greeks migrate from Georgia, Armenia and southern Russia to Greece. Approx 35,000 ethnic Greeks migrate from Albania to Greece.
- 2000s — Schengen Treaty increases population mobility within the European Union. Numbers indicate a trend of reverse migration of Greeks from the United States and Australia beginning.
1In Greek: homoglosson (Template:Polytonic) +
2In Greek: homaimon (Template:Polytonic)
3Compare the Christian Greek and Demotic term omothriskon (Template:Polytonic).
4Includes non-Greeks born in Greece; excludes Greeks not born in Greece; excludes second-generation Greek-Canadians.
- Greeks on Greekness: The Construction and Uses of the Greek Past among Greeks under the Roman Empire, a conference on how Greeks imagined Greekness in relation to the past during the first two centuries of the Roman Empire.