Names of the Greeks

This article is part of the series on:

History of Greece

Prehistory of Greece
Cycladic civilization
Minoan civilization
Mycenaean Civilization
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Hellenistic Greece
Roman Greece
Medieval Greece
Byzantine Empire
Ottoman Greece
Modern Greece
Greek War of Independence
Kingdom of Greece
Axis Occupation of Greece
Greek Civil War
Military Junta
The Hellenic Republic
Note: This article contains special characters.

Today the Greeks call themselves Hellenes (Ἕλληνες), though they have been known by a number of different names throughout history. The soldiers that fell at Thermopylae did so as Hellenes.

In Hellenistic Judea, the term had shifted to denote anyone who embraced a Greek lifestyle; the Books of the Maccabees so refer to Jews who had adopted Greek culture. In the scriptures of the New Testament Hellene is used as a term representative of all the non-Jewish peoples (cf. Galatians 3:28). By Late Antiquity, the Greeks referred to themselves as Romaioi, i.e. Romans; after AD 212, virtually all Greeks were Roman citizens. After the conversion of the Roman Empire, "Hellene" came to imply pagan. Western Europeans used the term Greeks and the Persians and the Turks used the term Yunans, i.e. Ionians. An interesting and unique form is used in Georgian: the Greeks are called ბერძენი berdzeni, deriving from the Georgian word for "wise," a name commonly attributed to the notion that philosophy was born in Greece. [1], [2], [3], [4]

Many Greek cities were established after the first wave of colonization in Magna Graecia in the 8th century BC. It is from contact with these settlers, possibly Graecans of Doric descent, that the Greek name became established in the West.

The onset of every historical era was accompanied by a new national name: either entirely new or formerly old and sidelined, extracted from tradition or adopted from foreigners. Each was significant in its own time, and all can be used interchangeably. The Greeks are a polyonymous people.



General names of Greece

In most European languages and languages that have borrowed the name from one of these, the name of Greece has a common "gr" initial. The root of all of these was Graecus in Latin, and was also the ancient name that the Romans used for the Greeks:

  • English: Greece
  • French: Grèce
  • Italian: Grecia
  • German: Griechenland
  • Spanish: Grecia
  • Portuguese: Grécia
  • Dutch: Griekenland
  • Frisian: Grikelân
  • Afrikaans: Griekeland
  • Polish: Grecja
  • Danish: Grækenland
  • Swedish: Grekland
  • Icelandic: Grikkland
  • Finnish: Kreikka
  • Estonian: Kreeka
  • Albanian: Greqia
  • Romanian: Grecia
  • Catalan: Grècia
  • Hungarian: Görögország
  • Slovak: Grécko
  • Slovene: Grčija
  • Latvian: Grieķija
  • Lithuanian: Graikija
  • Cornish: Pow Grek
  • Welsh: Groeg
  • Irish: An Ghréig
  • Russian: Греция (Gretsia)
  • Ukrainian: Греція (Hretsia)
  • Serbian: Грчка / Grčka
  • Czech: Řecko
  • Croatian: Grčka
  • Bulgarian: Гърция (Grtsia)
  • Japanese: ギリシャ (Girisha)

In Middle Eastern and Eastern languages, the common root is "yun" or "ywn". The term probably gained widespread usage in the Semitic languages through the Table of Nations in Genesis 10.1-32; it lists the descendants of Noah and the nations they founded and the Greeks appear under the name "Yavan," who is a son of Yaphet. Yavan is parallel with the Greek word, "Ionia", the Greek region of Asia Minor: [1]

  • Arabic: يونان (Yūnān)
  • Armenian: Հունաստան (Hounastan)
  • Azeri: Yunanıstan
  • Hindi: यूनान (Yūnān)
  • Biblical Hebrew: יָוָן (Yāwān)
    • Modern Hebrew: יוון (Yavan)
    • KJV Bible: Javan
  • Indonesian: Yunani
  • Kurdish: Yewnanistan
  • Persian: یونان (Yūnān)
  • Syriac: ܝܘܢܢ (Yunan)
  • Turkish: Yunanistan

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

  • Greek: Hellas or Hellada
    • Polytonic: Ἑλλάς or Ἑλλάδα
    • Monotonic: Ελλάς or Ελλάδα
  • Norwegian: Hellas
  • Vietnamese: Hy Lạp
  • Chinese: 希臘 (Xīlà)
  • Korean: 희랍 (Huirap)

Achaeans (Αχαιοί)

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).[5]

Argives is a political annotation drawn from the original capital of the Achaeans, Argos. It is derived from the root arg- meaning shining or bright, akin to argyros (άργυρος meaning silver), argos (αργός meaning shining [6]) or Lat. argentum. Danaans is the name attributed to the tribe first dominating the Peloponnese and the area near Argos. Achaeans is the name of the tribe that, reinforced by the Aeolians, first dominated Greek territories, centering itself around its capital in Mycenae.


Hellenes (Έλληνες)

During the era of the Trojan War, the Hellenes were a relatively small but vigorous tribe settled in Thessalic Phthia, centralized along the settlements of Alos, Alope, Trehine, and Pelasgian Argos.[7] Various etymologies have been proposed for the word Hellene, but none are widely accepted. These include sal (to pray), ell (mountainous) and sel (illuminate). A more recent study traces the name to a city named Hellas next to the river Spercheus, still named that today.[8] However, it is known with certainty that the Hellenic race is linked with Selli (Σελλοί), the high priests of Dodona in Epirus. Homer writes of Achilles praying to Dodonian Zeus as the ancestral god: "King Jove, he cried, lord of Dodona, god of the Pelasgi, who dwellest afar, you who hold wintry Dodona in your sway, where your prophets the Selli dwell around you with their feet unwashed and their couches made upon the ground."[9]

Ptolemy calls Epirus "primordial Hellas",[10] and Aristotle reports that an ancient cataclysm was most severe "in ancient Hellas, in between Dodona and the Achelous river […], the land occupied by Seli and Graeci, who later came to be known as Hellenes".[11] The prospect, therefore, that the Hellenes were a tribe from Epirus that later migrated southward to Phthia in Thessaly is a valid one. 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, later cross the Aegean Sea into Asia Minor, and eventually westwards again to Sicily and southern Italy, collectively known as Magna Graecia.

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,[12] and refers to the 48th Olympiad (584 BC). It appears to have been introduced in the 8th century BC with the Olympic Games, 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 praising Pausanias as the leading general of the Hellenes.[13] 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 cultural hegemony.

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 and Macedonians 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 refusal to participate in the Persian Wars, which were considered a vital affair for all Hellenes; prior to the wars, representatives of these tribes had been accepted in the Olympic Games and competed alongside other Hellenes.[14] Thucydides calls the Acarnans, Aetolians,[15] Epirotes[16] and Macedonians[17] barbarians, but does so in a strictly linguistic sense. When the Athenian orator Demosthenes called the Macedonians worse than barbarians in his Third Philippic directed at Philip II of Macedon, 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.[18]


Hellenes and barbarians

In the following centuries, Hellene gained a broader meaning, coming to signify civilized people in general, and typically contrasted with barbarian, representing the uncivilized.

The Greek tribes quickly noticed that they did not speak the same tongue as their neighbours, and used the term "βάρβαρος" ("barbarian") for them, with the meaning "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.[19] This is also true for the Egyptians, who, according to Herodotus "named barbarians all those who spoke a different tongue",[20] 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".[21] In his play The Birds, Aristophanes calls the illiterate supervisor a "barbarian" who nevertheless taught the birds how to talk.[22] 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".[23] According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Hellene differed from a barbarian in four ways: refined language, education, religion, and the rule of law.[24] 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".[25]

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.[26] Aristotle came to the conclusion that "the nature of a barbarian and a slave is one and the same".[27] 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. In 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."[28] 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), Yunani (Ίωνες), and Yavan (יָוָן)

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 of the original settlers, but evolved separately from Hellenistic Greek. The people of these towns call themselves Grekos, from the Latin Graecus, and consider themselves Hellenes.
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 of the original settlers, but 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 name of a Boeotian tribe that 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 Boeotian city named Graea,[29] and Pausanias mentions that Graea was the name of the ancient city of Tanagra.[30] Cumae, a city lying to the west of Neapolis (now Naples) and south of Rome, was founded by Cymaeans and Chalkideans as well as Graeans who by coming into contact with Romans may very well be responsible for naming all Hellenic speaking tribes Graeci. The modern Italian city of Grai was also founded in antiquity by Graeans.

Aristotle, our 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).[31] In mythology, Graecus is a cousin of Latinus, and the word seems to be related with 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 colonization of Italy has it that part of the people living in Epirus crossed Dodona and migrated to Phthia, becoming infamous as Hellenes the tribe Achilles led to Troy. The remaining part merged with other tribes that arrived later, without losing its name. From there they traveled westwards to Italy, before the first wave of colonists in the 8th century BC arrived at Sicily and southern Italy.

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 (The defeated Greece conquered the victor and civilised the peasant Latins). But Virgil coined the expression, Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, which became known as 'fear the Greeks who bring presents'. Cicero gave the coup de grace by coining the truly derogatory term, Graeculi.

A wholly different term came to establish itself in the East. The ancient peoples 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 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.


"Hellene" comes to mean "pagan"

The name Hellene came to mean "pagan" with the institutionalisation of Christianity in the first centuries and it retained that meaning until the end of the millennium, during which the early Christian church played an instrumental role in accelerating the transition. 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.

Rome's domination of the Greeks 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.

Saint Paul in his Epistles uses Hellene, almost always in association with Hebrew, possibly with the aim of representing the sum of those two religious communities.[32] 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 Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter."[33] Since the nationality or ethnicity of the woman was Syrophenician, "Greek" (translated as such into the English of the King James Version, but as haiþno "heathen" in Ulfilas' Gothic; Wycliffe and Coverdale likewise have heathen) must therefore signify her religion. The development towards a purely religious meaning was slow and completed at approximately the 2nd or 3rd century AD. Athenian statesman Aristeides picked out the Hellenes as one of the representative pagan peoples of the world along with the Egyptians and the Chaldaeans.[34] 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.[35]

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. Most important of the later works was Athanasius' Against Hellenes, originally titled Against Pagans according to older manuscripts. It was changed by a future writer at a time when Hellene had lost its ancient meaning entirely. 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".[36] Half a century later Christians protest against the Eparch of Alexandria, whom they accused of being a Hellene.[37] 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).[38]


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.
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.

Romans is the political name by which the Greeks were known during Late Antiquity and 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 the Latins. In 212 AD, Emperor Caracalla's Constitutio Antoniniana granted all free people in all Roman provinces citizenship. However, the Greeks transmogrified their newly acquired political title (Romans) and began to refer to themselves as Romioi (Romios/Ρωμιός for singular). 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 Romios came to represent the Greek inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire. It is even used today (albeit extremely rarely), being the most popular national name after Hellene.

The foreign borrowed name 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 Hellenized Romans,[39] while other authors use Romhellenes and Graecoromans,[40] 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 Asia, save for Anatolia. The areas that did remain were mostly Greek, 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.

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".[41] 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. Pope Nicholas I wrote to Emperor Michael III, "You ceased to be called 'Emperor of the Romans', since the Romans whom you claim to be Emperor of, are in fact according to you barbarians."[42]

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.[43] 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 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,[44] while Anna Comnena claimed that she had "carried the study of Hellenic to the highest pitch".[45] 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".[46] 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 Constantintople 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.[47]

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.[48] Nicephorus Blemmydes referred to the Byzantine emperors as Hellenes,[49] 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".[50] 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.[51] 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?"[52]

The evolution of the name was slow and never did replace the "Roman" name completely. Nicephorus Gregoras named his historical work Roman History.[53] Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus, a big supporter of Greek education, in his own memoirs always refers to the Byzantines as "Romans",[54] 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".[55] 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",[56] while Laonicus Chalcondyles was a proponent of completely substituting "Roman" terminology for "Greek" terminology.[57] Constantine Palaeologus himself in the end proclaimed Constantinople the "refuge for Christians, hope and delight of all Hellenes".[58]. 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 contemporary rendering of Byzantine.[59]

The term "Byzantine Empire" was introduced in 1557 (or is it 1562?), 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 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.[60] 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.[61]


Hellenic continuity and Byzantine consciousness

The first printed Charter of the Greek Community of Trieste, Italy 1787 - Archives of the Community of Trieste.
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 Romioi 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 Romios was the term Graekos (Γραικός). This term was used often by the "Byzantines" (along with Romios) for ethnic self-identification.

Evidence of the use of the term "Graekos" 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 [Graekoi] 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 Peloponnesos. 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.


Contest between 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.[62] General Makrygiannis recalled a friend asking him: "What say you, is the Roman far away from coming? Are we to sleep with the Turks and awaken with the Romans?"[63]

Greek (Γραικός) was the least popular of the three terms, but interestingly enough received by scholars disproportionately larger attention 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 Hellene. 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."[64] 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".[65] 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".[66] 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".[67] 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.[68] 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..."[69]

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."[70]


See also



  1. Websters thesaurus. Greece. Retrieved on October 14, 2006.
  2. Eastmond, A. (2004). Art and Identity in Thirteenth-Century Byzantium: Hagia Sophia and the Empire of Trebizond. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., p.137.
  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. Excluding his Catalogue of Ships
  6. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, 1940, A Greek-English Lexicon, ISBN 0-19-864226-1, online version at the Perseus Project
  7. Homer, "Iliad", book 2, 681-685
  8. Antonis Hatzis, "Helle, Hellas, Hellene", pg.128-161, Athens, 1935
  9. Homer, "Iliad", book 16, 233-235
  10. Claudius Ptolemy, "Geographica", 3, 15
  11. Aristotle, "Meteorologica, I, 352b"
  12. Pausanias, "Description of Greece", 10, 7, 3
  13. Thucydides, "Histories", I, 132
  14. For example, King Alcon and King Tharypas of Mollosus, Alexander I and Archelaus of Macedonia
  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. J. Juthner, "Hellenen and Barbaren", Leipzig, 1928, pp.4
  19. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1989, "barbarous" (entry)
  20. 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
  21. Herodotus, "Histories", book II, 158
  22. Aristophanes, "The Birds", 199
  23. Aristophanes, "The Clouds", 492
  24. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Roman Archaeology", 1, 89, 4
  25. Saint Paul, "Epistle to the Romans", 1, 14
  26. Euripides, "Iphigeneia at Aulis", 1400
  27. Aristotle, "Republic", I, 5
  28. Isocrates, "Panegyricus", 50
  29. Homer, "Iliad", II, 498
  30. Pausanias, "Boeotics and Phocaeic, book 5, pp. 136
  31. Aristotle, "Meteorologica, I, 352a"
  32. Saint Paul, Acts of the Apostles, 13, 48 & 15, 3 & 7, 12
  33. New Testament, Gospel of Mark, 7, 26
  34. Aristides, Apology
  35. Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, 6, 5, 41
  36. Pope Gregory, Against Julian, 1, 88
  37. Suda dictionary, entry τ (t)
  38. Socrates, "Ecclesiastical History", 7, 14
  39. Procopius, Gothic war, 3, 1 & Vandal war, 1, 21
  40. Lambru, Palaeologeia and Peloponnesiaka, 3, 152
  41. Pope Innocent, Decretalium, Romanourm imperium in persona magnifici Caroli a Grecis transtuli in Germanos.
  42. Epistola 86, of year 865, PL 119, 926
  43. Liutprand, Antapodosis
  44. Romanus III, "Towards the son of Romanus himself", p.49
  45. Anna Comnena, "Alexiad", prologue 1
  46. Anna Comnena, "Alexiad", 15, 7
  47. Espugnazione di Thessalonica, pp.32, Palermo 1961
  48. Nicetas Choniates, "The Sack of Constantinople", 9 ’¦Å, Bonn, pp.806
  49. Nicephorus Blemmydes, "Pertial narration", 1, 4
  50. Theodore Alanias, "PG 140, 414"
  51. John Vatatzes, "Unpublished Letters of Emperor John Vatatzes", Athens I, pp.369 - 378, (1872)
  52. Theodore Lascaris, "Christian Theology", 7,7 & 8
  53. Nicephorus Gregoras, "Roman History"
  54. John Catacuzenus, "History", 4, 14
  55. Similar texts were composited by the scribes of the Kings in the north, e.g. of Russia, Poland, Lithuania...
  56. George Gemistus Plethon, "Paleologeia and Peloponessiaka", pp.247
  57. Laonicus Chalcondyles, "History I", 6 ’¦Å’¦Å
  58. George Phrantzes, "History", 3,6
  59. Warren Treadgold, "History of the Byzantine State and Society", pp.136, 1997, Stanford
  60. Edward Gibbon "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", Alexandre Rambeau, "L'empire Grecque au X'siecle"
  61. 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.
  62. Rigas Feraios, "Thurius", line 45
  63. Strategus Makrygiannis, "Memoirs", book 1, pp.117, Athens, 1849
  64. Adamantios Korais, "Dialogue between two Greeks", pp.37, Venice, 1805
  65. Dionysius Pyrrhus, "Cheiragogy", Venice, 1810
  66. Hellenic Prefecture, pp. 191, Athens, 1948
  67. Ioannou Philemonus, "Essay", book 2, pp.79
  68. Ioannis Kakrides, "Ancient Greeks and Greeks of 1821", Thessalonike, 1956
  69. Ambrosius Phrantzes, "Abridged history of a revived Greece", pp.398, Athens, 1839
  70. Markezines, "Political History of Modern Greece", book A, pp.208, Athens



In English


In other languages


External links


Non-English external links

Retrieved from "http://localhost../../../art/a/l/4.html"

This text comes from Wikipedia the free encyclopedia. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. For a complete list of contributors for a given article, visit the corresponding entry on the English Wikipedia and click on "History" . For more details about the license of an image, visit the corresponding entry on the English Wikipedia and click on the picture.