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The Greeks (Greek: Έλληνες) have been called by several names, both by themselves and by other people. The most common native ethnonym is Hellenes (Έλληνες).

In Homer, "Hellas" (Greek: Eλλάς) and "Hellenes" were names of a tribe in Thessaly, which followed Achilles to the Trojan War. By Late Antiquity, the Greeks referred to themselves as Rhomaioi (Greek: Ῥωμαῖοι) or Romioi (Greek: Ρωμιοί), i.e. "Romans," since after AD 212 virtually all Greeks were Roman citizens. After the establishment of Christianity by Theodosius I, "Hellene" was applied to the followers of the polytheistic ("pagan") religion. Western Europeans used the term Greeks, the Jews used the term Yavanim (Hebrew: יוונים‎) and the Persians and the Turks used the term Yunans (the latter two mean Ionians). A unique form is used in Georgian, where the Greeks are called berdzeni (Georgian: ბერძენი), probably deriving from the Georgian word for "wise."[1][2][3][4]


General names of Greece

Most European languages, and languages that have borrowed the name from one of them, use names for Greece that are ultimately derived from the Latin Graecia and Graecus, the name the Romans used for the Greeks:

In Middle Eastern and Eastern languages, the common root is "yun" or "ywn". It is borrowed from the Greek name "Ionia", the Greek region of Asia Minor:[5]

  • Arabic: يونان (Yūnān)
  • Aramaic: ܝܘܢ or יון (Yawān, Yawon)
  • Armenian: Հունաստան (Hounastan)
  • Azeri: Yunanıstan
  • Hindi: यूनान (Yūnān)

The third root is "hl", used by a few languages around the world, including Greek:

In the Georgian language, the root for "Greek" is "-berdz-" (from the word for "wisdom"),[6] so "Greece" is "Saberdzneti"

In the Chechen language , the name is Джелтимохк (Džieltimohk)

Achaeans (Αχαιοί)

The Greek cultural tradition has been continuous for centuries; it has always been centered on those who were wealthy and literate enough to have produced literature and have it preserved. They have defined the Greeks as those being in some ways similar to themselves, by descent, speech, culture, or religion. In the earliest surviving literary prose, from the fifth century BC, there is a strong distinction marked between the Greeks (who are called Hellenes) and the rest of mankind; exactly who falls within this wall varies, depending on the century, the observer, and the purpose.

The evidence from before this period, such as it is, shows much less trace of any hard distinction between Greeks and the rest of humanity. The surviving samples of Linear B are inventory records, and do not discuss ethnicity; Hesiod's Theogony is one great genealogical tree, including gods, men, and monsters; Persians, Latins, and Etrucscans.

In Homer's Iliad, the Greek allied forces are described under three different names, often used interchangeably: Argives (in Greek: Argeioi, Αργείοι; used 29 times in the Iliad), Danaans (Δαναοί, used 138 times) and Achaeans (Αχαιοί, used 598 times).[7] Argives is an annotation drawn from the original capital of the Achaeans, Argos). Danaans is the name attributed to a Greek mythological character, twin brother of Aegyptus and son of Achiroe and Belus.

Hellenes (Έλληνες)


Etymology and the origin of the term "Hellenes"

During the era of the Trojan War, the Hellenes were a relatively small but vigorous tribe settled in Thessalic Phthia, and centered along the settlements of Alos, Alope, Trachis, and the Pelasgian Argos.[8] This Homeric Hellas is expressly described as "καλλιγύναικος", kalligýnaikos, "of beautiful women", and its warriors, the Hellenes, along with the feared Myrmidons were under the command of Achilles. Various etymologies have been proposed for the word Hellene, with the most researched being the one that deconstructs the word "(H)el-las" (Greek: Ελλάς) to e- or es- (ours or our own) and -laos (Greek: λαός) (people). Homer writes of Achilles praying to Dodonian Zeus as the ancestral god: "King Zeus", he cried, "lord of Dodona, god of the Pelasgi, who dwellest afar, you who hold wintry Dodona in your sway, where your prophets the Selloi dwell around you with their feet unwashed and their couches made upon the ground." (Homer, "Iliad", book 16, 233–235). Aristotle mentions "ancient Hellas, in between Dodona and the Achelous river [...], the land occupied by Seloi and Graeci, who later came to be known as Hellenes".[9] The extension of a particular cult of Zeus in Dodona (a tendency among the Greeks to form ever-larger communities and amphictionies) and the increasing popularity of the Delphic cult caused the name to further extend to the rest of the peninsula.[citation needed]

Spread of the use of the term "Hellenes"

Hellenes in the wider meaning of the word appears in writing for the first time in an inscription by Echembrotus, dedicated to Heracles for his victory in the Amphictyonic Games,[10] and refers to the 48th Olympiad (584 BC). It appears to have been introduced in the 8th century BC with the Olympic Games,[citation needed] and permanently established itself by the 5th century BC. After the Greco-Persian Wars, an inscription was written in Delphi celebrating victory over the Persians and calling Pausanias the leading general of the Hellenes.[11] Awareness of a pan-Hellenic unity was promoted by religious festivals, most significantly in the Eleusinian Mysteries, in which prospective initiates had to speak Greek, and almost as importantly through participation in the four Panhellenic Games—including the Olympic Games—in which participants were recognized by tribal affiliation. Neither women nor non-Greeks were allowed to participate; the occasional exception in later times, such as that made for Emperor Nero, was a sure sign of Roman political hegemony.[citation needed]

The tribal societies of the north

The development of mythological genealogies of descent from eponymous founder-figures, long after the actual southward migration of the four tribal groups recognized by the Greeks, affected how the identity of northern tribes was perceived. According to the most prevailing legend, Hellen, son of Deucalion and Pyrrha, received from the nymph Orseis three sons, Aeolus, Dorus, and Xuthus, each of whom founded a primary tribe of Hellas–the Aeolians, Dorians, Achaeans and Ionians.

At the time of the Trojan War, the Epirotes (Molossians, Thesprotians and Chaonians) were not considered Hellenes, for the people so named were then limited to a small tribe in Thessaly of which Achilles was a member. After the name was extended to all peoples south of Mount Olympus, however, it still left out those of common origin living in the north. One factor contributing to this was their non-participation in the Persian Wars,[12] which were considered a vital affair for all Hellenes; subsequent to the Persian Wars, representatives of these tribes were accepted in the Olympic Games and competed alongside other Hellenes.[13] The fact that each of these northern peoples at this time continued to live as an ethnos, or collection of tribes, under an archaic monarchial political system – as opposed to the democratic or oligarchic polis (city state) of the south–also contributed to this view of them as "barbaric".[14]

Thucydides calls the Acarnanians, Aetolians,[15] Epirotes[16] and Upper Macedonians[17] barbarians, but does so in a strictly linguistic sense – these peoples were considered barbarophone to the extent that their dialects of Greek were sufficiently different and archaic so as to sound crude and barely understandable to a southern Attic speaker such as Thucydides.[18] Similarly, when the Athenian orator Demosthenes called Philip II of Macedon worse than a barbarian in his Third Philippic, he did so with respect to the culture they demonstrated as foreigners not adhering to proper Hellenic standards, and did not raise the issue of their origin: "not only no Greek, nor related to the Greeks, but not even a barbarian from any place that can be named with honors, but a pestilent knave from Macedonia, whence it was never yet possible to buy a decent slave." Polybius, on the other hand, regards the tribes of western Hellas, Epirus, and Macedonia as Hellenic in every respect.[19]

Hellenes and barbarians

In the following centuries, Hellene typically contrasted with barbarian, representing the uncivilized.

The Greek tribes quickly noticed that they did not speak the same tongue as their neighbors, and used the term "βάρβαρος" ("barbarian") for them, with the meanings "uncultured", "uncivilized" or "speaker of a foreign language". The term βάρβαρος is thought to be onomatopoeic in origin: "bar-bar"—i.e. stammering—may have been how the speech of foreign peoples sounded to Greek speakers.[20] This was also the case for the Egyptians, who, according to Herodotus, "named barbarians all those who spoke a different tongue",[21] and in later years for the Slavs, who gave the Germans the name nemec, which means "mute", while calling themselves slověnski or "people of the word".[22] In his play The Birds, Aristophanes calls the illiterate supervisor a "barbarian" who nevertheless taught the birds how to talk.[23] The term eventually picked up a derogatory use and was extended to indicate the entire lifestyle of foreigners, and finally coming to mean "illiterate" or "uncivilized" in general. Thus "an illiterate man is also a barbarian".[24] According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Hellene differed from a barbarian in four ways: refined language, education, religion, and the rule of law.[25] Greek education became identified with noble upbringing. Paul of Tarsus considered it his obligation to preach the Gospel to all men, "Hellenes and barbarians, both wise and foolish".[26]

Discrimination between Hellenes and barbarians lasted until the 4th century BC. Euripides thought it plausible that Hellenes should rule over barbarians, because the first were destined for freedom and the other for slavery.[27] Aristotle came to the conclusion that "the nature of a barbarian and a slave is one and the same".[28] Racial differentiation faded away through the teachings of Stoics, who distinguished between nature and convention and taught that all men have equal claim before God and thus by nature cannot be unequal to each other. With time, Hellene, to use the words of Isocrates, became a trait of intellect, not race.

Alexander the Great's conquests consolidated Greek influence in the East by exporting Greek culture into Asia and permanently transformed education and society in the region. Isocrates declared in his speech Panegyricus: "So far has Athens left the rest of mankind behind in thought and expression that her pupils have become the teachers of the world, and she has made the name of Hellas distinctive no longer of race but of intellect, and the title of Hellene a badge of education rather than of common descent."[29] With a small reformation, the Hellenistic civilization is the evolution of classical Greek civilization into a civilization with global proportions, this time open to everybody. Similarly, "Hellene" evolved from a national name signifying an ethnic Greek to a cultural term signifying anybody who conducted his life according to Greek mores.

Greeks (Γραικοί)

Soleto is one of the nine Greek-speaking towns in the province of Apulia, Italy. Their inhabitants are descendants of the first wave of Greek settlers in Italy and Sicily in the 8th century BC. The dialect they speak is derived from the Doric Greek[citation needed] of the original settlers, and evolved separately from Hellenistic Greek. The people of these towns call themselves Grekos, from the Latin Graecus, and consider themselves Hellenes.

The modern English adaptation of Greek is derived from the Latin Graecus, which in turn originates from Greek Γραικός (Graikos), the eponym of the Γραικοί (Graikoi) of Euboea, who migrated to Italy in the 8th century BC, and it is by that name the Hellenes were known in the West. Homer, while reciting the Boeotian forces in the Iliad's Catalogue of Ships, provides the first known reference to a region named Graea,[30] and Pausanias mentions that the ancient city of Tanagra was for a time called Graea, adding that "no one knows where this Graia really was; Aristotle thought it was near Oropus, further east on the same coast as Delion."[31] Cumae, a city lying to the west of Neapolis (now Naples) and south of Rome, was founded by Boeotian Cymaeans and Chalcideans as well as Graeans, who by coming into contact with Romans may very well be responsible for their naming all Hellenic-speaking tribes Graeci.

Aristotle, the oldest source mentioning the word, states that a natural cataclysm swept across central Epirus, a land where its inhabitants used to be called γραικοί (Graecoi) and were later named Hellenes (Έλληνες).[32] In Hesiod, Graecus is a Deucalionid, and it has been suggested that the word is related to γηραιός (geraius, anile), which was the title given to the priests of Dodona. They were also named Σελλοί (Selloi)–which shows the relation between the two basic names of the Greeks. The dominant theory on the earliest colonization of Sicily and Italy in the eighth century places Euboean colonists at Ischia and Cumae.[33]

As the Romans strove to dominate all spheres of public life–in their own right, the term 'Greek' took on a derogatory connotation. Horace used it admiringly, Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio ("Greece, defeated, conquered its wild conqueror, and civilised the peasant Latins"). Virgil, on the other hand, coined the expression, Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes (meaning "I fear the Greeks even when bearing gifts") which became known as 'beware of Greeks bearing gifts". Cicero delivered the coup de grace by coining[citation needed] the truly derogatory term, Graeculi, "contemptible little Greeks"; Pliny, however, uses Graeculi as a neutral term for Greek.

Yunani (Ίωνες), and Yavan (יָוָן)

A wholly different term came to establish itself in the East. The ancient people of the Middle East referred to the Hellenes as Yunan, deriving from Persian Yauna, itself a loan of Greek Ιωνία (Ionia), the western coast of Asia Minor. It is by affiliation with the Ionian tribe the Persians conquered in the late 6th century BC that their name extended to all Hellenes. All peoples under Persian influence adopted the term, and it is from this root that Sanskrit Yavana derives, which one encounters in ancient Sanskrit sources, first attested in Panini's grammar, and later referring, together with Pali Yona, Yonaka to the Indo-Greeks. The term Yunan is used in current Persian, Arabic (يوناني), Azeri, Turkish, Hindi (यूनान), Indonesian and Malay.

The related Hebrew name, Yavan or Javan (יָוָן), was used to refer to the Greek nation in the Eastern Mediterranean in early Biblical times. There was an eponymous character Javan mentioned in Genesis 10:2. In later times it was used for all Hellenistic kingdoms (for example, the Maccabeans applied it to their Seleucid foes). "Yavan" is still the name used for modern Greece in contemporary Israel.

Although the contemporary Chinese term for Greece (希臘 Xīlà) is based on Hellas, Chinese previously used what was likely a version of the Yunan or Yona root when referring to the Dàyuān (大宛). The Dàyuān were probably the descendants of the Greek colonies that were established by Alexander the Great and prospered within the Hellenistic realm of the Seleucids and Greco-Bactrians, until they were isolated by the migrations of the Yueh-Chih around 160 BC. It has been suggested that the name Yuan was simply a transliteration of the words Yunan, Yona, or Ionians, so that Dàyuān (literally "Great Yuan") would mean "Great Yunans" or "Great Ionians."

Hellene comes to mean "pagan"

The name Hellene came to mean "pagan" with the institutionalisation of Christianity in the first centuries, during which the early Christian church played an instrumental role in accelerating the transition, and it retained that meaning until the end of the millennium. It is believed that contact with Christian Jews led some Christians to use Hellene as a means of religious differentiation. Jews, like Greeks, distinguished themselves from foreigners, but unlike Greeks, did so according to religious rather than cultural standards.

Roman domination of the Greek world enhanced the prestige of the religious institutions that remained intact. Early Christians adopted the religious differentiation of humankind, and so the meaning of the word Hellene as a cultural attribute became marginalized by its religious element, which eventually supplanted the older meaning entirely. Eventually, Christians came to refer to all pagans as Hellenes.

St. Paul in his Epistles uses Hellene almost always juxtaposed to Hebrew, and in disregard of all other ethnicities (Romans, Syrians, Egyptians, etc) living in the area at the time. This is probably done with the aim of representing the sums of those two religious communities, the polytheistic and the monotheistic, whose cardinal theological difference was belief to either many or to one god, respectively.[34] Hellene is used in a religious meaning for the first time in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Mark 7:26, a woman arrives before Jesus kneeling before him: "The woman was a Hellene, a Syrophœnician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter."[35] Since the nationality or ethnicity of the woman is stated to be Syrophœnician, "Greek" (translated as such into the English of the King James Version, but as haiþno "heathen" in Ulfilas's Gothic; Wycliffe and Coverdale likewise have heathen) must therefore signify her polytheistic religion. A broadly similar statement is found in John 12:20-23; "And there were certain Hellenes among them that came up to worship at the feast ... Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified". This could have one of two interpretations: either that Jesus meant that the time had come for his religion to spread to the pagans (in which case the term "Hellenes" is religious), or that it will spread by using the Greek language (in which case the term "Hellenes" is meant to be linguistic). The development towards a purely religious meaning was slow, and complete by approximately the 2nd or 3rd century AD: Athenian statesman Aristeides, in his written Apology to the Emperor Hadrian, picked out the Hellenes as one of the representative pagan peoples of the world along with the Egyptians and the Chaldæans.[36] Later, Clement of Alexandria reports an unknown Christian writer who named all of the above Hellenes and spoke of two old nations and one new: the Christian nation.[37]

Several books written at this time demonstrate quite clearly the semantic shift. Perhaps the first was Tatian's Address to the Greeks, completed in 170 AD, where Tatian criticizes pagan beliefs in order to defend Christian ones.[citation needed] Most important of the later works was Athanasius' Against Hellenes, originally titled Against the Gentiles (Greek ethnikoi) according to older manuscripts. It was changed by a future writer at a time when Hellene had lost its ancient meaning entirely.[citation needed]Henceforth, Hellene no longer signified an ethnic Greek or those adhered to Greek culture, but pagans in general, regardless of race. Emperor Julian's attempt to restore paganism to the forefront of society failed, and according to Pope Gregory I, "matters moved in favor of Christianity and the position of the Hellenes was severely aggravated".[38] Half a century later Christians protest against the Eparch of Alexandria, whom they accused of being a Hellene.[39] Theodosius I initiated the first legal steps against paganism, but it was Justinian's legal reforms that triggered pagan persecutions on a massive scale. The Corpus Juris Civilis contained two statutes which decreed the total destruction of Hellenism, even in civic life, and were zealously enforced even of men in high position. The official suppression of paganism made non-Christians a public threat which further derogated the meaning of Hellene. Paradoxically, Tribonian, Justinian's own legal commissioner, according to the Suda dictionary, was a Hellene (pagan).[40]

The name Hellene meaning Pagan has managed to persist into modern times. Many groups advocating a revival or reconstruction of the worship of the Olympian Gods, call themselves Hellenic Polytheists or Hellenists and the religion Hellenismos. Such groups outside of Greece are careful not to imply that, by calling themselves Hellenes, they consider themselves Greek nationals.

Romans (Ρωμαίοι) and Romioi (Ρωμιοί)

Hieronymus Wolf was a 16th-century German historian. After coming into contact with the works of Laonicos Chalcondyles, he also went ahead with identifying Byzantine historiography for the purpose of distinguishing medieval Greek from ancient Roman history.

Rhomaioi ("Romans") is the political name by which the Greeks, or the hellenized populations of the Eastern Roman Empire, were known during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and, in a corrupted form (Ρωμιός, Romios; pl. Ρωμιοί, Romioi) during the Ottoman rule. The name originally signified the inhabitants of the city of Rome in Italy, but with the increasing grants of Roman citizenship to the Greeks and other nations of the Roman Empire, it soon lost its connection with the Latins. This process culminated in 212 AD, when Emperor Caracalla's Constitutio Antoniniana granted the citizenship to all free-born men of the Empire. However, the Greeks transmogrified their newly acquired political title (Romans) and began to refer to themselves solely as Rhomaioi. The new term was created in order to establish a dualistic identity that represented the Greeks' Roman citizenship, as well as their Hellenic ancestry, culture, and language. Moreover, the new term represented the Greeks' religious affiliation toward Orthodox Christendom signifying that the Christianization of the Roman Empire led to only the religious vitiation of the name Hellene. Overall, the word Rhomaios came to represent the hellenized inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire. It is even used today (albeit extremely rarely), being the most popular[citation needed] national name after Hellene.

Overall, the foreign borrowed name (Romans) initially had a more political than national meaning, which went hand in hand with the universalizing ideology of Rome that aspired to encompass all nations of the world under one true God. Up until the early 7th century, when the Empire still extended over large areas and many peoples, the use of the name "Roman" always indicated citizenship and never descent. Various ethnicities could apply their own ethnonyms or toponyms to disambiguate citizenship from genealogy, which is why the historian Procopius prefers to call the Byzantines as Hellenized Romans,[41] while other authors use Romhellenes and Graecoromans,[42] aiming to indicate descent and citizenship simultaneously. The Lombard and Arab invasions in the same century resulted in the loss of most of the provinces including Italy and all of the Middle East, save for Anatolia. The areas that did remain were mostly Greek-speaking, thereby turning the empire into a much more cohesive unit that eventually developed a fairly self-conscious identity. Unlike in the previous centuries, there is a clear sense of nationalism reflected in Byzantine documents towards the end of the 1st millennium.[citation needed]

The Byzantines' failure to protect the Pope from the Lombards forced the Pope to search for help elsewhere. The man who answered his call was Pepin II of Aquitaine, whom he had named "Patrician", a title that caused a serious conflict. In 772, Rome ceased commemorating the emperor that first ruled from Constantinople, and in 800 Charlemagne was crowned Roman Emperor by the Pope himself, officially rejecting the Eastern Roman Empire as true Romans. According to the Frankish interpretation of events, the papacy appropriately "transferred Roman imperial authority from the Greeks to the Germans, in the name of His Greatness, Charles".[43] From then on, a war of names about the New Rome revolved around Roman imperial rights. Unable to deny that an emperor did exist in Constantinople, they sufficed in renouncing him as a successor of Roman heritage on the grounds that Greeks have nothing to do with the Roman legacy. In 865, Pope Nicholas I wrote to the Emperor Michael III: "You ceased to be called 'Emperor of the Romans' since the Romans, of whom you claim to be Emperor, are in fact according to you barbarians."[44]

Henceforth, the emperor in the East was known and referred to in the West as Emperor of the Greeks and their land as Greek Empire, reserving both "Roman" titles for the Frankish king. The interests of both sides were nominal rather than actual. No land areas were ever claimed, but the insult the Byzantines took on the accusation demonstrates how close at heart the Roman name (Ρωμαίος) had become to them. In fact, Bishop Liutprand of Cremona, a delegate of the Frankish court, was briefly imprisoned in Constantinople for not referring to the Roman emperor by his appropriate title,[45] and in reprisal for his king, Otto I, claiming the "Roman" title by styling himself as Holy Roman Emperor.

See Rüm and Rumeli for Arabic and Islamic changes of meaning.

Revival in the meaning of "Hellene"

The Entry of the Crusaders into Constantinople, by Eugène Delacroix, 1840. The sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the Crusaders acerbated Greek nationalism and created disdain for the Latins which is well illustrated in the documents of the era. Nicetas Choniates portrays an especially lively account of the sack and its aftermath.

The secular use of Hellene revived in the 9th century, after paganism had been eclipsed and was no longer a threat to Christianity's dominance. The revival followed the same track as its disappearance. The name had originally declined from a national term in antiquity, to a cultural term in the Hellenistic years, to a religious term in the early Christian years. With the demise of paganism and the revival of learning in the Byzantine Empire it had regained its cultural meaning, and finally, by the 11th century it had returned to its ancient national form of an "ethnic Greek", synonymous at the time to "Roman".

Accounts from the 11th century onward (from Anna Komnena, Michael Psellos, John III Vatatzes, George Pletho Gemistos and several others) prove that the revival of the term Hellene (as a potential replacement for ethnic terms like Graekos and Romios) did occur. For example, Anna Komnena writes of her contemporaries as Hellenes, but does not use the word as a synonym for a pagan worshipper. Moreover, Anna boasts about her Hellenic classical education, and she speaks as a native Greek and not as an outsider/foreigner who learned Greek.

The refounding of the University of Constantinople in the palaces of Magnaura promoted an interest in learning, particularly in Greek studies. Patriarch Photius was irritated because "Hellenic studies are preferred over spiritual works". Michael Psellus thought it a compliment when Emperor Romanus III praised him for being raised "in the Hellenic way" and a weakness for Emperor Michael IV for being completely devoid of a Hellenic education,[46] while Anna Comnena claimed that she had "carried the study of Hellenic to the highest pitch".[47] Also, commenting on the orphanage her father founded, she stated that "there could be seen a Latin being trained, and a Scythian studying Hellenic, and a Roman handling Hellenic texts and an illiterate Hellene speaking Hellenic correctly".[48] In this case we reach a point where the Byzantines are Romans on the political level but Hellenic by descent. Eustathius of Thessalonike disambiguates the distinction in his account of the fall of Constantinople in 1204 by referring to the invaders with the generic term "Latins", encompassing all adherents to the Roman Catholic Church, and the "Hellenes" as the dominant population of the empire.[49]

After the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders, Greek nationalism accentuated. Nicetas Choniates insisted on using the name "Hellenes", stressing the outrages of the "Latins" against the "Hellenes" in the Peloponessus and how the Alfeios River might carry the news to the barbarians in Sicily, the Normans.[50] Nicephorus Blemmydes referred to the Byzantine emperors as Hellenes,[51] and Theodore Alanias wrote in a letter to his brother that "the homeland may have been captured, but Hellas still exists within every wise man".[52] The second Emperor of Nicaea, John III Ducas Vatatzes, wrote in a letter to Pope Gregory IX about the wisdom that "rains upon the Hellenic nation". He maintained that the transfer of the imperial authority from Rome to Constantinople was national and not geographic, and therefore did not belong to the Latins occupying Constantinople: Constantine's heritage was passed on to the Hellenes, so he argued, and they alone were its inheritors and successors.[53] His son, Theodore II Lascaris, was eager to project the name of the Greeks with true nationalistic zeal. He made it a point that "the Hellenic race looms over all other languages" and that "every kind of philosophy and form of knowledge is a discovery of Hellenes... What do you, O Italian, have to display?"[54]

The evolution of the name was slow and did never replace the "Roman" name completely. Nicephorus Gregoras named his historical work Roman History.[55] Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus, a big supporter of Greek education, in his own memoirs always refers to the Byzantines as "Romans",[56] yet, in a letter sent by the sultan of Egypt, Nasser Hassan Ben Mohamed, referred to him as "Emperor of the Hellenes, Bulgars, Sassanians, Vlachs, Russians, Alanians" but not of the "Romans".[57] Over the next century, George Gemistus Plethon pointed out to Constantine Palaeologus that the people he leads are "Hellenes, as their race and language and education testifies",[58] while Laonicus Chalcondyles was a proponent of completely substituting "Roman" terminology for "Greek" terminology.[59] Constantine Palaeologus himself in the end proclaimed Constantinople the "refuge for Christians, hope and delight of all Hellenes".[60] On the other hand, the same Emperor in his final speech before the Empire's demise called upon his audience to rally to the defenses by characteristically referring to them as "descendants of Hellenes and Romans", most possibly as an attempt to combine Greek national sentiment with the Roman tradition of the Byzantine crown and Empire, both highly respected elements in his subjects' psyche at that moment.

Byzantines (Βυζαντινοί)

By the time of the Fall of Rome most easterners had come to think of themselves as Christians, and, more than ever before, had some idea that they were Romans. Although they may not have liked their government any more than they had previously, the Greeks among them could no longer consider it foreign, run by Latins from Italy. The word Hellene itself had already began to mean a pagan rather than a person of Greek race or culture. Instead the usual word for an eastern Greek had begun to be Roman, with the modern rendering of Byzantine.[61]

The term "Byzantine Empire" was introduced in 1557, about a century after the Fall of Constantinople by German historian Hieronymus Wolf, who introduced a system of Byzantine historiography in his work Corpus Historiae Byzantinae in order to distinguish ancient Roman from medieval Greek history without drawing attention to their ancient predecessors. Several authors adopted his terminology thereafter but it still remained relatively unknown. When interest did arise, English historians preferred to use Roman terminology (Edward Gibbon used it in a particularly belittling manner); while French historians preferred to call it Greek.[62] The term reappeared in the mid-19th century and has since dominated completely in historiography, even in Greece despite objections by Constantine Paparregopoulos (Gibbon's influential Greek counterpart) that the empire should be called Greek. Few Greek scholars did adopt the terminology at that time, but only became popular in the second half of the 20th century.[63]

Hellenic continuity and Byzantine consciousness

The first printed Charter of the Greek Community of Trieste, Italy 1787 – Archives of the Community of Trieste.

The "Byzantines" did not only refer to themselves as Rhomaioi in order to retain both their Roman citizenship and their ancient Hellenic heritage. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the "Byzantines" themselves were very conscious of their uninterrupted continuity with the ancient Greeks. Even though the ancient Greeks were not Christians, the "Byzantines" still regarded them as their ancestors. A common substitute for the term Hellene other than Rhomaios was the term Graikos (Γραικός). This term was used often by the "Byzantines" (along with Rhomaios) for ethnic self-identification. Evidence of the use of the term Graikos can be found in the works of Priscus, a historian of the 5th century AD. The historian stated in one of his accounts that while unofficially on an embassy to Attila the Hun, he had met at Attila's court someone who dressed like a Scythian yet spoke Greek. When Priskos asked the person where he had learned the language, the man smiled and said that he was a Graekos by birth. Many other "Byzantine" authors speak of the Empire's natives as Greeks [Graikoi] or Hellenes such as Constantine Porphyrogennitos of the 10th century. His accounts discuss about the revolt of a Slavic tribe in the district of Patras in the Peloponnese. Constantine states that the Slavs who revolted first proceeded to sack the dwellings of their neighbors, the Greeks (ton Graikon), and next they moved against the inhabitants of the city of Patras. Overall, ancient Hellenic continuity was evident all throughout the history of the Eastern Roman Empire. The "Byzantines" were not merely a general Orthodox Christian populace that referred to themselves as merely "Romans." Though they used the term for legal and administrative purposes, other terms were in fact used to ethnically distinguish themselves. In short, the Greek inhabitants of the Eastern Roman Empire were very conscious of their ancient Hellenic heritage and were able to preserve their identity while adapting to the changes the world was undergoing at the time.[64]

Contest between the names Hellene, Roman, and Greek

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire and during the Ottoman occupation a fierce ideological battle ensued regarding the three rival national names of the Greeks. This struggle may have settled down after the Greek War of Independence but was permanently resolved only recently in the 20th century after the loss of Asia Minor to the Turks.

The struggle reflected the diverging view of history between classicists and medievalists (katharevousa and demotic) in their attempt to define Greek nationality at a time without a Byzantine state to foster the movement. The concept of Hellene for a person of Greek origin was already well established since the late Middle Ages. However, for the majority of the population, especially those in rural areas away from urban centers, the dominant perception was still that of a Roman/Romios, a descendant of the Byzantine Empire. Scholar Rigas Feraios called "Bulgars and Arvanites, Armenians and Romans" to rise in arms against the Ottomans.[65] General Makrygiannis recalled a friend asking him: "What say you, is the Roman State far away from coming? Are we to sleep with the Turks and awaken with the Romans?"[66]

Greek (Γραικός) was the least popular of the three terms, but received disproportionately larger attention by scholars compared to its popular use. Adamantios Korais, a renowned Greek classicist, justified his preference in A Dialogue between Two Greeks: "Our ancestors used to call themselves Greeks but adopted afterwards the name Hellenes by a Greek who called himself Hellen. One of the above two, therefore, is our true name. I approved 'Greece' because that is what all the enlightened nations of Europe call us."[67] Hellenes for Korais are the pre-Christian inhabitants of Greece.

The absence of a Byzantine state gradually led to the marginalization of the Roman name and allowed Hellene (Έλλην) to resurface as the primary national name. Dionysius Pyrrus requests the exclusive use of Hellene in his Cheiragogy: "Never desire to call yourselves Romans, but Hellenes, for the Romans from ancient Rome enslaved and destroyed Hellas".[68] The anonymous author of The Hellenic Realm of Law, published in 1806 in Pavia, Italy, speaks of Hellenes: "The time has come, O Hellenes, to liberate our home".[69] The leader of the Greek War of Independence began his Declaration with a phrase similar to the above: "The time has come, O men, Hellenes".[70] After the name was accepted by the spiritual and political leadership of the land, it rapidly spread to the population, especially with the onset of the Greek War of Independence where many naïve leaders and war figures distinguished between idle Romans and rebellious Hellenes.[71] General Theodoros Kolokotronis in particular made a point of always addressing his revolutionary troops as Hellenes and invariably wore a helmet of ancient Greek style.

General Makrygiannis tells of a priest who performed his duty in front of the "Romans" (civilians) but secretly spied on the "Hellenes" (fighters). "Roman" almost came to be associated with passiveness and enslavement, and "Hellene" brought back the memory of ancient glories and the fight for freedom. Eyewitness historian Ambrosius Phrantzes writes that while the Turkish authorities and colonists in Xylokastro had surrendered to the advancing Greek army, reportedly, shouts of defiance were made that led to their massacre by the mob: "They spoke to the petty and small Hellenes as 'Romans'. It was as if they called them 'slaves'! The Hellenes not bearing to hear the word, for it reminded of their situation and the outcome of tyranny..."[72]

The citizens of the newly independent state were called "Hellenes" making the connection with ancient Greece all the more clear. That in turn also fostered a fixation on antiquity and negligence for the other periods of history, especially the Byzantine Empire, for an age that bore different names and was a devisor to different, and in many ways more important legacies. The classicist trend was soon balanced by the Greek Great Idea that sought to recover Constantinople and reestablish the Byzantine Empire for all Greeks. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs proclaimed in front of Parliament in 1844, "The Kingdom of Greece is not Greece; it is only part of it, a small and poor part of Greece... There are two great centers of Hellenism. Athens is the capital of the Kingdom. Constantinople is the great capital, the City, dream and hope of all Greeks."[73]

See also


  1. ^ "Websters thesaurus". Greece. Retrieved 14 October 2006. 
  2. ^ Eastmond, A. (2004). Art and Identity in Thirteenth-Century Byzantium: Hagia Sophia and the Empire of Trebizond. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. p. 137. ISBN 0754635759. 
  3. ^ Rapp SH, J. (Oct. - Dec., 2000). Sumbat Davitis-dze and the Vocabulary of Political Authority in the Era of Georgian Unification. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 120, No. 4. pp. 570–576. 
  4. ^ Medieval Georgians customarily applied these names to Byzantium and Byzantines (ibid)
  5. ^ "Hebrew History: Yavan in the House of Shem: Greeks and Jews, 332-63 BC". 
  6. ^ Art and Identity in Thirteenth-century Byzantium By Antony Eastmond
  7. ^ Excluding his Catalogue of Ships
  8. ^ Homer, "Iliad", book 2, 681–685
  9. ^ Aristotle, "Meteorologica, I, 352b"
  10. ^ Pausanias, "Description of Greece", 10, 7, 3
  11. ^ Thucydides, "Histories", I, 132
  12. ^ The Macedonians were Persian subjects at this time but their King, Alexander I, secretly pursued a pro-Hellenic policy — see Herodotus, "The Histories", Book IX, 45.
  13. ^ In respect to the kingdom of Macedon, participation was originally limited to the Argead kings such as Alexander I, Archelaus I and Philip II. From the age of Alexander I and onwards, participation of ordinary Macedonians in the Olympic Games became common.
  14. ^ NGL Hammond, "A History of Greece to 322BC", Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 1986
  15. ^ Thucydides, "History", II, 68, 5 and III, 97, 5
  16. ^ Thucydides, "History", II, 68, 9 and II, 80, 5 and I, 47, 3
  17. ^ Thucydides, "History", II, 80, 5
  18. ^ See discussion in Chapter 5 of Jonathan Hall, "Hellenicity: Between Ethnicity and Culture", University of Chicago Press, 2002
  19. ^ J. Juthner, "Hellenen and Barbaren", Leipzig, 1928, pp.4
  20. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1989, "barbarous" (entry)
  21. ^ Polybius, "History", 9, 38, 5; see also Strabo, "Geographica", 7, 7, 4; see also Herodotus, "Histories", book I, 56 and book VI, 127 and book VIII, 43
  22. ^ Herodotus, "Histories", book II, 158
  23. ^ Aristophanes, "The Birds", 199
  24. ^ Aristophanes, "The Clouds", 492
  25. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Roman Archaeology", 1, 89, 4
  26. ^ Saint Paul, "Epistle to the Romans", 1, 14
  27. ^ Euripides, "Iphigeneia at Aulis", 1400
  28. ^ Aristotle, "Republic", I, 5
  29. ^ Isocrates, "Panegyricus", 50
  30. ^ Homer, "Iliad", II, 498
  31. ^ Pausanias, Periegesis book 5, pp. 136
  32. ^ Aristotle, Meteorologica, I, 352a.
  33. ^ Overview in Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer, 2008.
  34. ^ Saint Paul, Acts of the Apostles, 13:48, 15:3 and 7:12, Galatians 3:28
  35. ^ New Testament, Gospel of Mark, 7, 26
  36. ^ Aristides, Apology
  37. ^ Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, 6, 5, 41
  38. ^ Pope Gregory, Against Julian, 1, 88
  39. ^ Suda dictionary, entry τ (t)
  40. ^ Socrates, "Ecclesiastical History", 7, 14
  41. ^ Procopius, Gothic war III.1 & Vandal war, I.21
  42. ^ Lambru, Palaeologeia and Peloponnesiaka, 3, 152
  43. ^ Pope Innocent, Decretalium, Romanourm imperium in persona magnifici Caroli a Grecis transtuli in Germanos.
  44. ^ Epistola 86, of year 865, PL 119, 926
  45. ^ Liutprand, Antapodosis
  46. ^ Romanus III, "Towards the son of Romanus himself", p.49
  47. ^ Anna Comnena, "Alexiad", prologue 1
  48. ^ Anna Comnena, "Alexiad", 15, 7
  49. ^ Espugnazione di Thessalonica, pp.32, Palermo 1961
  50. ^ Nicetas Choniates, "The Sack of Constantinople", 9 ’¦Å, Bonn, pp.806
  51. ^ Nicephorus Blemmydes, "Pertial narration", 1, 4
  52. ^ Theodore Alanias, "PG 140, 414"
  53. ^ John Vatatzes, "Unpublished Letters of Emperor John Vatatzes", Athens I, pp.369–378, (1872)
  54. ^ Theodore Lascaris, "Christian Theology", 7,7 & 8
  55. ^ Nicephorus Gregoras, "Roman History"
  56. ^ John Catacuzenus, "History", 4, 14
  57. ^ Similar texts were composited by the scribes of the Kings in the north, e.g. of Russia, Poland, Lithuania...
  58. ^ George Gemistus Plethon, "Paleologeia and Peloponessiaka", pp.247
  59. ^ Laonicus Chalcondyles, "History I", 6 ’¦Å’¦Å
  60. ^ George Phrantzes, "History", 3,6
  61. ^ Warren Treadgold, "History of the Byzantine State and Society", pp.136, 1997, Stanford
  62. ^ Edward Gibbon "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", Alexandre Rambeau, "L'empire Grecque au Xe siecle"
  63. ^ Ρωμαίος (Roman) remained a massively popular name for a Greek in Greece even after the foundation of the modern Greek state in 1829. Argyris Eftaliotis, published his history of Greece series in 1901 under the title "History of Romanity", reflecting how well rooted Roman heritage was in Greeks, as late as the 20th century.
  64. ^ Constantelos, Demetrios J. (12 September 2004). "Christian Hellenism and How the Byzantines Saw Themselves". Orthodox News (The National Herald). Archived from the original on 26 May 2006. Retrieved 19 September 2008. 
  65. ^ Rigas Feraios, "Thurius", line 45
  66. ^ Strategus Makrygiannis, "Memoirs", book 1, pp.117, Athens, 1849
  67. ^ Adamantios Korais, "Dialogue between two Greeks", pp.37, Venice, 1805
  68. ^ Dionysius Pyrrhus, "Cheiragogy", Venice, 1810
  69. ^ Hellenic Prefecture, pp. 191, Athens, 1948
  70. ^ Ioannou Philemonus, "Essay", book 2, pp.79
  71. ^ Ioannis Kakrides, "Ancient Greeks and Greeks of 1821", Thessalonike, 1956
  72. ^ Ambrosius Phrantzes, "Abridged history of a revived Greece", pp.398, Athens, 1839
  73. ^ Markezines, "Political History of Modern Greece", book A, pp.208, Athens


In English

  • John Romanides, "Romanity, Romania, Rum", Thessalonike, 1974
  • Steven Runciman, "Byzantine and Hellene in the 14th century"

In other languages

  • Panagiotis Christou, "The Adventures of the National Names of the Greeks", Thessalonike, 1964
  • Antonios Hatzis, "Elle, Hellas, Hellene", Athens, 1935–1936
  • J. Juthner, "Hellenen und Barbaren", Leipzig, 1923
  • Basso Mustakidou, "The words Hellene, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Turk", Tybigge, 1920
  • Ioannis Kakrides, "Ancient Greeks and Greeks of 1821", Athens, 1956
  • A. Rambeau, "L'empire Grecque au X' siecle"

External links


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