The terms “Greeks” and “Hellenes”

“Though the words ‘Hellenism’, ‘Hellenic’, ‘Hellenes’, ‘Hellas’ are less familiar than the words ‘Greece’ and ‘Greek’ to the English-speaking public, they have two advantages. They are not misleading; and they are the words which, in the Greek language, the Hellenes themselves used to designate their civilization, their world, and themselves. ‘Hellas’ seems originally to have been the name of the region round the head of the Maliac Gulf, on the border between Central and Northern Greece, which contained the shrine of Earth and Apollo at Delphi and the shrine of Artemis at Anthela near Thermopylae (the narrow passage between sea and mountain that has been the highway from Central Greece to Northern Greece and thence to the great Eurasian Continent into which Northern Greece merges). ‘Hellenes’, signifying ‘inhabitants of Hellas’, presumably acquired its broader meaning, signifying ‘members of the Hellenic society’, through being used as a corporate name for the association of local peoples, the Amphictyones (‘neighbours’), which administered the shrines at Delphi and Thermopylae and organized the Pythian Festival that was connected with them.” [Arnold J. Toynbee: Hellenism, The History of a Civilization; Oxford University Press, 1959]

Scholars agree that the majority of the ancient Greeks found difficult to see beyond the horizon of the city-state or to overcome the limitations that slavery and other facts of their life imposed upon their sight. That is to say, the ancient Greeks did not reach the picture of a world-society in which not only those who enjoy Hellenic culture, not only the wise, but all peoples, or at any rate all civilized peoples, have a place. These research findings explain why many ancient Greeks called the ancient Macedonians uncivilized barbarians .

According Thucydides, Andriotis, Hatzidakis and Wilkes, in the eyes of many ancient Greeks, the Macedonians, the Epirotes, as well as the Boeotians and the Thessalians were barbarian, uncivilized Greek tribes. Thus, Andriotis also argues that the designation barbarian was attributed by ancient writers to other uncivilized Greek tribes, as well, such as the Epirote tribe of Chaones (Thuc. 2.80) . Chatzidakis agrees on this asserting that as was the case with Macedonians, some included Macedonia and Epirus in Greece, while others did not. Thucydides speaks of the barbarian Chaones in B.80, while in 81 it is mentioned that the Thesprotians and the Molossi were also barbarians, according to Thucydides .

Hatzidakis affirms that the term barbarian Macedonian is not used in an ethnological sense, but with a derogatory cultural meaning. Admitting that, for some ancient Greeks, the Macedonians were an uncivilized Greek tribe, Hatzidakis says that for that reason many excluded certain tribes from the national community, for they were considered to be inferior compared with the general national civilization .

Hatzidakis, Andriotis , Hammond also attempted to prove and defend the greekness of the ancient Macedonians. On the contrary, some scholars (Georgiev ,O. Muller) supported that the ancient Macedonians were not Greeksand some others(Borza,Green) that ancient Macedonians hellennized. However, the archaeological findings of the Greek archaeologist Andronikos in Vergina put an end to the scientific disagreement about the origin of the ancient Macedonians. Therefore, now it is certain that the ancient Macedonians were Greeks despite the fact that, in the eyes of many ancient Greeks, the Macedonians were a barbarian, uncivilized Greek tribe.

For nationalists like the Afroeccentrists (Bernal) or FYROMian(Stefou) , the ancient Macedonians were not Greeks, since they were barbarians, a fact which to their view makes the Greek Macedonia theirs.

But what is Greek and what is Hellene.

What is the derivation of the Hellene(Hellinas) ? 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. 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. 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,and refers to the 48th Olympiad (584 BC).

The modern English word Greek is derived from Latin Graecus, which in turn comes 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, and Pausanias mentions that Graea was the name of the ancient city of Tanagra.

There is and the term Hellenistic .Some say that the Hellenistic is not mean Greek or Hellenic!!!. The deriviyion came from the Greek word Έλλην Héllēn and was established by the German historian Johann Gustav Droysen to refer to the spreading of Greek culture over the non-Greek peoples that were conquered by Alexander the Great. According to Droysen, the Hellenistic civilization was a fusion of Greek and Middle-Eastern culture that eventually gave Christianity the opportunity to flourish.

The term Hellenistic mentioned first in the book of Droysen Geschichte Alexanders des Grossen that published at 1833.Modern historians see the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC as the beginning of the Hellenistic period.

The Hellenistic period of the Greek history was the period between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the annexation of the Greek peninsula and islands by Rome at 146 BC. Although the establishment of Roman rule did not break the continuity of Hellenistic society and culture, which remained essentially unchanged until the advent of Christianity, it did mark the end of Greek political independence.

During the Hellenistic period the importance of “Hellenic proper” (that is, the territory of modern Hellas) within the Greek-speaking world declined sharply. The great centres of Hellenistic culture were Alexandria and Antioch, capitals of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria respectively

So any other explainations such that the term Hellenistic is not mean Hellenic is un-accurate and of course propagandistic.The founder of this term was clear.

But Back in the definition of the modern Nation.
According to the current international thinking as Mr Michael Vakaoukas said there are two main models of nation:

(a) the territorial and civic model and
(b) the ethnic-genealogical model.

The theory of Renan belongs to the western civic model, as per which a historic territory, legal-political community, legal-political equality, and common civic culture and ideology are required for the formation of a nation. According to the alternative ethnic model, which is supported by one of the most prominent modern theorists of nationalism, Anthony Smith, nation as a community is based on the common predecessors, the common descent of the different ethnic groups and their native culture.

The question now is which model is the most appropriate for the Greek historical reality: the civic model of Renan, Gellner and Anderson or the ethnic model of Smith. In other words, which of the two types of nationalism (emanating from the two models) applies to the Greek nation: the civic model or the ethnic model?

The nations with an ethnic or genealogical basis seek to expand so as to include the ethnically kin populations that are beyond the current borders of the ethnic nation, along with the territories where they live, or aim for the creation of a much larger ethic-national state, merging into other culturally and ethnically kin states. This is the case of the pan-nationalism of the unredeemed and all other kinds of pan-nationalisms .The characteristics of the genealogical nationalism of the unredeemed fit the Greek nation almost perfectly. Greeks will still talk about the “The Great Idea” and the unredeemed Hellenism (e.g. that of northern Epirus), even though these ideas have fortunately faded after the Asia Minor Catastrophe. However, what is happening today and what happened in the 19th cent, when the Greek nation was built on the basis of the unredeemed-ethnic-genealogical nationalism and much less on the vision of Renan , are two completely different things.A nation is defined by its ethno-culturalism, not by its geographical borders. Common Language and Heritage are what unite a people

In other words, the example of the Greek nation substantiates Smith’s theory. That is to say, the modern Hellenic nation is not an entirely modern formation, for it is based on much older cultural groups (ethnies). Greek ethnies (like Arvanites, Vlachs, Slavophones etc.) present “permanent cultural attributes” such as memory, value, myths and symbolisms.

Hellenic ethnies present a common cultural origin descending from ancient Greece and Byzantium. For example, all Greek cultural groups believe in the myth of “Gorgona” who seeks to find Alexander the Great. That is to say, the modern Hellenic nation (in the beginning) was not “a community of citizens” but a “cultural” group. Thus, as Smith points out, “the challenge for scholars is to represent more accurately and convincingly the relationship of ethnic, cultural (Greek) past to modern Hellenic nation.

When the Greeks, in answer to the apparently plausible but entirely misleading ethnographical statistics of their rivals, contended that educational figures were a better indication of `nationality’ within Macedonia, their contention was not at all ridiculous: far from it. The position of Greek education corresponded exactly to both the strength and the weakness of Hellenism in Macedonia.

Many in Western Europe doubted whether Hellenism existed at all in Macedonia, and regarded it solely as the invention of the Greek press. Such people were proved to be wrong. Hellenism, although nearly defeated by force and revolutionary upheaval, managed to survive as Dakin mentioned.

Greeks or Hellenes ? Ancient Or Moderns ? The answer is one Hellenism

1-N. Andriotis, On the language and the Greekness of the ancient Macedonians
2-Wilkes, The Illyrians, Odysseus, trs. in Greek
3-Hatzidakis, Macedonians
4-Michael Vakaoulas,Modern Greek Identity
5-Douglas Dakin,The Greek Struggle in Macedonia


By Akritas