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Greeks in Ancient History

In Latin literature, Græci (or Greeks, in English) is the name by which Hellenes are known.

Aristotle and Apollodorus first write about Graikoi, who seem to be the same people as Selloi from Epirus. The name becomes known to Latins with the colonization of Italy from Greek settlers. While Greeks call themselves Hellenes, the Romans begin to call them Græci, the name of the specific Greek colonists.

During the Roman era, and especially after Christianity became the official religion of the empire, the name Hellene came to be associated with the pre-Christian religion, and fell out of use. The Greeks, who were now citizens of the Roman Empire, called themselves Roman, or Rhomaioi.

After the fall of the West Roman Empire in 395 AD and the beginning of the Middle Ages in Western Europe the Latin term for the Greeks is used broadly. In East Roman Empire a change takes place. While in general the citizens of the Byzantine Empire are called Romans, the Greeks assume the name Græco to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Byzantines. After the Schism the name Græco meant orthodox and Latin meant Catholic. After a while the two terms assumed a national character as well.

After the independence of the modern Greek state from the Ottoman Empire the term Græco or Greek was abandoned totally by the Greeks themselves. The new country was officially named "Hellenic republic" (or Hellas) and the people "Hellenes". In many countries the modern Hellenes are called Greeks and their country Greece, while in other countries, especially in Asia, they are called Yunan and their country Yunanistan, from the word "yunan" which in Turkish means "infidel" because greeks are overwhelmingly christians. "Yunan" comes from the word "Ionian" which was a type of Greek people.

Greeks as a modern ethnic group

An ethnic Greek (usually simply called Greek) is someone who is considered by himself or others to be Greek. Characteristics are:

  • Cultural connection with the Greek culture
  • Speaking the Greek language
  • Having ancestors who lived in Greece or an area that at the time was part of Greece or otherwise considered Greek

There are around 10.8 million ethnic Greeks in the Balkans, as they also form an important minority group in several Balkan countries, as well as in modern-day Turkey.

In particular, any persons living in what used to be the Byzantine Empire and/or around the Aegean and Ionian Seas can be identified as ethnic Greek if their origin predates the Seljuk Turk invasions that started around the 1400s.

See also

Last updated: 02-07-2005 09:57:52
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55