For other uses of the name "Greek", see Greek (disambiguation)

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Modern Greeks in bar in Skopelos

The Greeks are the people who have populated Greece from the 17th century BCE until the present day.


Identity of the Greek people

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Kouros of the Archaic period, Thebes Archaeological Museum

Classical and Roman

Herodotus says 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

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, not long before his own time. (Homer's Trojans, indeed, speak Greek, use Greek names, and worship the Greek gods; and Priam is descended from Zeus.) 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.

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 BCE, 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 BCE, Greek became the lingua franca of the East Mediterranean region and was widely spoken by educated non-Greeks. After the 4th century CE, 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 Emperor, 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.

Modern independence

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 diminishing role of the Orthodox church in modern Greece, 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 old notion that "Greek equals Greek Orthodox" is only held to be true by a very conservative minority of the population.

Family group on a grave marker from Athens, National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Family group on a grave marker from Athens, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Modern vs ancient Greeks

Many Greek nationalists insist that the modern Greeks are pure descendants of the ancient Greeks; at the other extreme are those that believe that the ancient Greeks genetically disappeared at some point (for example, see Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer). Modern ethnologists consider genetics irrelevant, but agree that there is a strong and continuous tradition linking ancient and modern Greeks linguistically and culturally over the millenia, though, of course, there have also been significant contributions to Greek language and culture from other peoples.

Names used for the Greek people

Main Article: Greek (name).

Throughout the centuries, the Greeks have been known by a number of names, including:

  • Hellene (pl. Hellenes) (Template:Polytonic) was the word used by Greeks themselves during the classical period. The Demotic Greek form is pronounced Ellinas (Template:Polytonic) (pl. Ellines). In English, the word has archaic or romantic overtones, though it is used by some Greeks in preference to Greek.
  • Grekos (pl Greki) from the Latin Græcus, in turn from the Greek Template:Polytonic is often used colloqually. Most European languages similarly terms derived from the latin Græcus, including the English word Greek.
  • Romios (pl. Romi) Template:Polytonic, literally 'Roman', referring to the Eastern Roman Empire, is often used in a familiar or fraternal way. The derivative term Rum is used in Turkish to refer to Greeks living in Turkey.
  • Yaunan is an ancient Persian word that derives from the geographical term Ionia. Derivative words are still used in Turkish (Yunan), Hebrew (Yavan), Persian, Arabic, and other Middle Eastern languages.
  • Achaean, Argive, and Danaan are names used in Homer, and sometimes used poetically.

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 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[1] (
  • Albania: Approx. 200,000 remain in Albania; another 150,000 have migrated to Greece (2004, figures not reliable).
  • Former Soviet Union: Approx. 200,000 remain; 300,000 have migrated to Greece (2003, figures not reliable).

Significant Greek communities can also be found in the United Kingdom (mostly Greek Cypriots), Argentina, Sweden and South Africa.

Timeline of Greek migrations

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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 intented to cover history not related to migrations. For more information on the historical context of these migrations, please see History of Greece.


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.

External links

el:Έλληνες ka:ბერძნები la:Graeci nl:Grieken pl:Grecy sl:Grki


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