The Myth of Greek Ethnic 'Purity'
Macedonia and Greece, John Shea, 1997 pp.77-96
THE GREAT ETHNIC MIX OF GREECE
Just as Macedonia and other Balkan states were invaded by Slavs and other peoples from the north and from within the Balkans themselves, so were the lands that eventually were to become modern Greece. We need to examine this issue, since the modern Greeks repeatedly argue that they are direct ethnic descendants of the ancient Greeks and Macedonians. The fact is that the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural developments that these invasions created simply built upon similar movements of peoples into and out of the Balkans in the ancient past.
THE MYTH OF GREEK ETHNIC PURITY
Greek writers give a great deal of emphasis to the idea of Greek racial purity. For instance, in speaking of the movements of Germanic tribes in the Balkans before the Slavs, the writer of Macedonia History and Politics says that the Goths were beaten off and the invasions in the fourth century did not lead to "ethnological adulteration." In speaking about more modern times the writer says (p. 43), "Greece became involved in the 'Macedonian disputes,' because of political pressure from the Bulgarians and Yugoslavs, and because of the sensitivity of the Greeks towards the historical continuity of their race." Clearly this view about racial purity amongst the Greeks, presented here in a magazine distributed by the Greek government in English-speaking countries, is important to the Greeks.
Macedonia has been represented as a buffer protecting Hellenism from the waves of the barbarians throughout the centuries. Thus it is argued by modern Greeks that the area of the present-day Republic of Macedonia was affected by these barbarian invasions, but the lands that are now Greece were largely unaffected.'
The Greek insistence on ethnological purity for its people is not unusual among expressions of nationalism. The American political scientist Buck explained that the notion of physical kinship implied in the word "nation" is the most conspicuous element in the popular conception of nationality. However, it is also the least realistic. Buck points out that we have only to think of the extent of invasion and colonization that has occurred in nearly every corner of Europe to realize that this notion could at best be only approximate. More importantly, from the viewpoint of historical analysis, it is not possible to demonstrate national family connections. Recorded descent is at best restricted to a few families that are notable for some reason or another. All that can be shown convincingly is linguistic descent, but this is often taken as evidence of national descent.'
Anthony D. Smith points out, specifically in reference to the modern Greek nation, "Greek demographic continuity was brutally interrupted in the late sixth to eighth centuries A.D. by massive influxes of Avar, Slav and later, Albanian immigrants." He adds that modern Greeks "could hardly count as being of ancient Greek descent, even if this could never be ruled out.”
It seems clear that Greek nationalists do not wish to examine evidence concerning the present state within Greece that may reflect on this question about the reality of ethnic purity. The editor of The Times, long the most prestigious of British newspapers, wrote in August 1993: "Since 1961, no Greek census has carried details of minorities. This is because successive Greek governments, ‘a la mode japonaise,' subscribe to a myth of homogeneity. Today, the historical refusal to acknowledge ethnic or cultural plurality has transmogrified into a refusal to accept political dissent in relation to these ethnic or cultural questions."
Simon Mcllwaine writes, "Modern Greek identity is based on an unshakable conviction that the Greek State is ethnically homogenous. This belief ... has entailed repeated and official denial of the existence of minorities which are not of 'pure' Hellenic origin. The obsession with Greek racial identity involves the distortion of the history of the thousands of years when there was no such thing as a Greek nation state.
Many of the views that follow explain that, whether the Greeks feel comfortable with the idea or not, their peoples are of diverse ethnic background, a great mix of the peoples of the Balkans, and have been for the past several thousand years. If all of the peoples of the Balkans were subjected to mixture of varying degrees with the invaders, as was certainly the case, then the argument might readily be made that modern-day Greeks are no more ethnically related to early Greeks than present-day Macedonians are to ancient Macedonians.
Ancient Greeks. A common assumption is that ancient peoples were ethnically homogenous. As has already been noted with regard to the peoples of Macedonia, the kingdom was undoubtedly a great mix of people, and the diversity increased with the expansion of the Macedonian Empire. There was probably a comparable mix of peoples in various Greek city-states. While the Greeks who came into the Balkan peninsula became the dominant people in that area, strong influences from the earlier inhabitants remained. "For certain areas of the Greek mainland and many of the islands, the names of some fifteen preGreek peoples are preserved in ancient traditions, together with a number of other references.
A widely accepted view is that the Indo-European language moved into Greece from Anatolia with the spread of agriculture around 7000 B.C.6 Thus a dialect of Indo-European would have been the language of the neolithic cultures of Greece and the Balkans in the fifth and fourth millennia. There were also infiltrations or invasions from the north by Indo-European speakers sometime during the fourth or third millennium B.C.
Bernal suggests an explanation of ancient Greek development in terms of what he calls "the ancient model." Classical, Hellenistic, and later, pagan Greeks from the fifth century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. believed their ancestors had been civilized by Egyptian and Phoenician colonization and the later influence of Greek study in Egypt. Up to the eighteenth century A.D., Egypt was seen as the fount of all "Gentile" philosophy and learning, including that of the Greeks, and it was believed that the Greeks had managed to preserve only a part of this wisdom. Bernal suggests that the sense of loss that this created, and the quest to recover the lost wisdom, were major motives in the development of science in the seventeenth century.
Bernal argues that the ancient model was accepted by historians from antiquity till the nineteenth century, and was rejected then only for anti-Semitic and racist reasons. He sees the Egyptian and Phoenician influence on ancient Greeks as beginning in the first half of the second millennium B.C. He concludes that Greek civilization is the result of the cultural mixtures created by these colonizations and later borrowings from across the eastern Mediterranean. These borrowings from Egypt and the Levant occurred in the second millennium B.C. or in the thousand years from 2100 to 1100 B.C., which Bernal suggests is the period during which Greek culture was formed! "The Ancient Greeks, though proud of themselves and their recent accomplishments, did not see their political institutions, science, philosophy or religion as original. Instead they derived them - through the early colonization and later study by Greeks abroad - from the east in general and Egypt in particular."
"Pelasgians" is the name generally given by ancient writers to the peoples before the Hellenes. According to both Herodotus and Thucyclides, Pelasgians formed the largest element of the early population of Greece and the Aegean, and most of them were gradually assimilated by the Hellenes. Herodotus saw this transformation as following the invasion by Danaos (the Egyptian), which he took to be around the middle of the second millennium B.C. Herodotus stated that the Egyptian Danaids taught the Pelasgians (not the Hellenes) the worship of the gods." The idea that the Pelasgians were the native population, converted to something more "Greek" by the invading Egyptians, also occurs in the plays of Aischylos and Euripides, written around the same time as Herodotus' Histories.
The Ionians were one of the two great tribes of Greece, the other being the Dorians. In classical times the Ionians lived in a band across the Aegean from Attica to "Ionia on the Anatolian shore ... Herodotus linked the Pelasgians to the lonians."
Tiberius Claudius wrote about the movements of some Greek tribes into the Balkan peninsula:
“Among these Celts, if the word is to have any significance, (are included) even the Achaen Greeks, who had established themselves for some time in the Upper Danube Valley before pushing southward into Greece. Yes, the Greeks are comparative newcomers to Greece. They displaced the native Pelasgians ... This happened not long before the Trojan War; the Dorian Greeks came still later -eighty years after the Trojan War. Other Celts of the same race invaded France and Italy at about the same time."
With regard to what is now called the Dorian Invasion, Bernal notes that in ancient times this was much more frequently called "the return of the Heraklids." The Dorians came from the northwestern fringes of Greece, which had been less affected by the Middle Eastern culture of the Mycenaean palaces which they destroyed. Their use of the name Heraklids was a claim not only to divine descent from Herakles, but also to Egyptian and Phoenician royal ancestors. This is not simply a modern theory. Ancient sources show that the descendants of these conquerors, the Dorian kings of classical and Hellenistic times, believed themselves to be descended from Egyptians and Phoenicians."
Bernal argues that the explanation of Greek development in terms of Egyptian and Phoenician influences was overthrown for external reasons, not because of major internal deficiencies or weaknesses in the original explanation, but because eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Romantics and racists could not tolerate the idea that the crown jewel of European civilization owed its beginnings to a racial mix of cultures. For such reasons the ancient model had to be discarded and replaced by something more acceptable to the political and academic views of the time.
The Aryan model. The Aryan model, an alternative theory about the development of the ancient Greeks, first appeared in the first half of the nineteenth century. It denied any influence of Egyptian settlements and expressed doubt about a role for the Phoenicians. An extreme version of this model was propounded during the height of anti-Semitism in Europe in the 1890s, and then in the 1920s and 1930s; this particular explanation denied even the Phoenician cultural influence." According to the Aryan model, there had been an invasion from the north, an invasion not described by ancient writers, which had overcome the existing pre-Hellenic culture. Greek civilization was seen as the result of the mixture of the Indo-European speaking Hellenes and the older peoples over whom they ruled.
Bernal argues that four forces explain the overthrow of the ancient model as a description of the beginnings of Greek culture: Christian reaction to the threat of Egyptian ideas, the rise of the concept of "progress," the growth of racism, and Romantic Hellenism .16 In particular, a tidal wave of ethnicity and racialism swept over northern Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. The view was established that humankind was made up of races that were intrinsically unequal in physical and mental endowment. Racial mixing could lead to degradation of the better human qualities. To be creative, a civilization needed to be "racially pure." It became accepted that only people who lived in temperate climates - that is, Europeans - could really think. Thus the idea that "Greece, which was seen not merely as the epitome of Europe but also as its pure childhood, [could be] the result of the mixture of native Europeans and colonizing Africans and Semites" could not be tolerated. 17 By the turn of the eighteenth century, the so-called "European" Greeks were considered to have been more sensitive and artistic than the Egyptians and were seen as the better philosophers, even the founders of philosophy. By the end of the nineteenth century, some popular German writers had come to see the Dorians as pure-blooded Aryans from the north, possibly even from Germany. The Dorians were certainly seen as very close to the Germans in their Aryan blood and character. Significant British historians of the time also were enthusiastic about the supposedly pure northern, and possibly Germanic, blood of the Dorians.
These ideas were developing in Europe in the same period as the Greek War of Independence, which united all Europeans against the traditional Islamic enemies from Asia and Africa. This war and the philhellenic movement throughout Europe and North America, which supported the struggle for independence, helped refine the existing image of Greece as the epitome of Europe. Paradoxically, the more the nineteenth century admired the ancient Greeks, the less it respected their writing of their own history.
Linguistic evidence and the ancient model. Bernal provides evidence in support of his view that Egyptian and Phoenician elements were powerful in the development of ancient Greek culture. He notes that it is generally agreed that the Greek language was formed during the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries B.C. Its Indo-European structure and basic lexicon are combined with a non-Indo-European vocabulary of sophistication. He argues that since the earlier population spoke a related Indo-European language, it left little trace in Greek; thus the presence of that population does not explain the many non-Indo-European elements in the later language. Bernal suggests that it has not been possible for scholars working in the Aryan model over the last 160 years to explain 50 percent of the Greek vocabulary and 80 per cent of proper names in terms of either Indo-European or the Anatolian languages supposedly related to "pre-Hellenic." Since they cannot explain them, they simply call them pre-Hellenic.
Bernal suggests to the contrary: that much of the non-Indo-European element can be plausibly derived from Egyptian and West Semitic and that this would fit very well with a long period of domination by Egypto-Semitic conquerors. He claims that up to a quarter of the Greek vocabulary can be traced to Semitic origins (which for the most part means the Phoenicians), 40 to 50 percent seems to have been Indo-European, and a further 20 to 25 percent comes from Egyptian, as well as the names for most Greek gods and many place names. Thus 80 to 90 percent of the vocabulary is accounted for, as high a proportion as one can hope for in any language.
Bernal argues that the Indo-European component of the Greek lexicon is relatively small. There is a low proportion of word roots with cognates in any other Indo-European language. Further, the semantic range in which the IndoEuropean roots appear in Greek is very much the same as that of Anglo-Saxon roots in English, another culture strongly influenced by invaders (in this case, the French-speaking Normans). These roots provide most pronouns and prepositions, most of the basic nouns and verbs of family, and many terms of subsistence agriculture. By contrast, the vocabulary of urban life, luxury, religion, administration, political life, commercial agriculture and abstraction is non-Indo-European. Bernal points out that such a pattern usually reflects a long-term situation in which speakers of the language which provides the words of higher culture control the users of the basic lexicon. For example, he claims that in Greek the words for chariot, sword, bow, march, armor, and battle are non-Indo-European. Bernal explains that river and mountain names are the toponyrns that tend to be the most persistent in any country. In England, for instance, most of these are Celtic, and some even seem to be pre-Indo-European. The presence of Egyptian or Semitic mountain names in ancient Greek would therefore indicate a very profound cultural penetration. Bernal presents many examples of these and notes that the insignificant number of Indo-European city names in Greece, and the fact that plausible Egyptian and Semitic derivations can be found for most city names, suggest an intensity of contact that cannot be explained in terms of trade.
Bernal maintains that when all sources, such as legends, place names, religious cults, language and the distribution of linguistic and script dialects, are taken into account alongside archaeology, the ancient model, with some slight variations, is plausible today. He discusses equations between specific Greek and Egyptian divinities and rituals, and the general ancient belief that the Egyptian forms preceded the others, that the Egyptian religion was the original one. He says that this explains the revival of the purer Egyptian forms in the fifth century B.C." The classical and Hellenistic Greeks themselves maintained that their religion came from Egypt, and Herodotus even specified that the names of the gods were almost all Egyptian.
Using linguistic, cultural, and written references, Bernal presents interesting evidence connecting the first foundation of Thebes directly or indirectly to eleventh-dynasty Egypt. He argues that both the city name Athenai and the divine name Athene or Atena derive from Egyptian, and offers evidence to substantiate this claim. He traces the name of Sparta to Egyptian sources, as well as detailing relationships between Spartan and Egyptian mythology. He says that much of the uniquely Spartan political vocabulary can be plausibly derived from late Egyptian and that early Spartan art has a strikingly Egyptian appearance. For Bernal, all these ideas link up with the Spartan kings' belief in their Heraklid - hence Egyptian or Hyksos - ancestry, and would therefore account for observations such as the building of a pyramid at Menelaion, the Spartan shrine, and the letter one of the last Spartan kings wrote to the high priest in Jerusalem, claiming kingship with him.
Bernal claims that there has been a movement, led mainly by Jewish scholars, to eliminate anti-Semitism in the writing of ancient history, and to give the Phoenicians due credit for their central role in the formation of Greek culture. A return to the ancient model is less clear with regard to Egyptian influence. However, Bernal proposes that the weight of the Aryan model's own tradition and the effect of academic inertia have been weakened by startling evidence showing that the Bronze Age civilizations were much more advanced and cosmopolitan than was once thought, and that in general the ancient records are more reliable than more recent reconstructions. He believes the ancient model will be restored at some point in the early twenty-first century. For our purposes it is sufficient to note that even the current acknowledgment of the significance of Phoenician influence in the formation of ancient Greek culture indicates some of the ethnic mix that made up ancient Greece.
INFLUENCES IN THE GREEK ETHNIC MIX
Slavery in the ancient world. While it is difficult to gauge the intermixture that took place between the older established inhabitants and the infiltrating Greeks wherever they may have come from, the tradition of slavery in the ancient Mediterranean may have had an even greater impact on the physical nature of the people. It has been estimated that in classical times the number of slaves in Attica was roughly equal to the number of free inhabitants, or around 100,000." In Sparta there was an even greater proportion of slaves, and most of them, the helots, were Messenians. While the slaves of Athens were a wide racial mix and therefore less likely to unite on the basis of a common language, these Messenian helots of Sparta all spoke Greek, and had a kind of group self-consciousness. Thus they presented "special problems of security for their Spartan masters, whose numbers were constantly on the decline."
Changes in the ethnic composition of Greek city-states are illustrated by the comments about the case of Piso. Piso, who had been the recipient of an unhelpful decision by a vote of the Athenian city assembly,
"made a violent speech in which he said that the latter-day Athenians had no right to identify themselves with the great Athenians of the days of Pericles, Demosthenes, Aeschylus, and Plato. The ancient Athenians had been extirpated by repeated wars and massacres and these were mere mongrels, degenerates, and the descendants of slaves. He said that any Roman who flattered them as if they were the legitimate heirs of those ancient heroes was lowering the dignity of the Roman name."
Such historical ideas make it clear that even two thousand years ago the notion of ethnic purity amongst the Greeks was difficult to sustain. The ethnic mix continued over the next two thousand years. As Nicol has observed, "The ancient Greeks were, after all, of very mixed ancestry; and there can be no doubt that the Byzantine Greeks, both before and after the Slav occupation, were even more heterogenous.”
Celtic Influence. In 282-280 B.C., a Celtic army of about 170,000 led by Brennos and Achicorius entered Macedonia and, with Bolgios, overwhelmed the country. The Celtic army swept into Greece, defeating the Greeks at Thermopylae, and went on to sack the temple of Delphi, the most sacred site of the Hellenic world, before withdrawing. The Celtic army eventually withdrew in an orderly manner, taking their loot with them. No Greek army was strong enough to attack them. The Celtic invasions had a lasting effect on Greek consciousness, being commemorated in Greek literature.
Though some remained as mercenaries, the bulk of the Celtic armies moved north again, having found little room to settle in populated Greece and Macedonia. The Celts remained in Thrace, though they were Hellenized. The Scordisci had established a prosperous and strong kingdom around modern Belgrade, and one Celtic tribe settled on the slopes of Haemos. However, most went further north and east, some even settling in Asia Minor, in Galatia.
Greeks as Slavs. In recent historical time other Europeans have held the view that the people of modern Greece have little ethnic connection with the ancient Greeks. Robert Browning, 32 a writer who is sympathetic to the Greeks, discusses the writings of the Bavarian Johann Philipp Fallmerayer, who in 1830 proposed that the Slav invasions and settlements of the late sixth and seventh centuries resulted in the "expulsion or extirpation of the original population of peninsula Greece. Consequently the medieval and modern Greeks ... are not the descendants of the Greeks of antiquity, and their Hellenism is artificial." Fallmerayer's view that not a drop of pure Greek blood is to be found in the modern Greek is often held to be extreme. A more moderate version of essentially the same idea was presented more recently by R.H. Jenkins.
Browning concedes that the Slavic impact was considerable in the Balkan peninsula, and that there was great intermixture of races in Balkan Greek lands. He says Fallnierayer wits right in drawing attention to the extensive Slav invasion and settlement in continental Greece. Despite the great attention given by the Greek government to renaming towns, villages, rivers and other geographic locations, there remain large numbers of place names of Slavonic origin. Even so, Browning suggests, the majority of the Greek-speaking people lived in Constantinople and Asia Minor, and in these more distant locations were not so strongly affected by the Slavs. He says also that the original population was not extirpated or expelled, since many remained in coastal regions, cities, and inaccessible areas.
Nicholas Cheetham is uncompromising in the language he uses to describe the Slav influence. He says that between the fifth and seventh centuries "a sharp and brutal revolution altered the whole character of Hellas... It also involved a steep decline of civilized life and an almost total rejection of former values... The most striking change affected the ethnic composition of the people and resulted from the mass migration of Slavs into the Balkans which began in the sixth Century.”
Cheetham explains that the eastern emperor held back the Slavs for decades. For instance, the emperor Constans Il (642-68) successfully forced back the "Macedonian Slavs" (as Cheetham calls them) who were threatening Thessalonika. Later Constans' grandson, Justinian II, undertook a major campaign against the Slavs and settled many in Asia. But in the end there was a continuous infiltration followed by settlement. It seems that earthquakes and the bubonic plague had thinned the population on the eve of the Slav invasion. After the great plague of 744-747, Constantinople was repopulated with Greeks from the Balkan peninsula and the islands, and this may have made even more room for the newcomers. The land was repeopled, Cheetham says. The Slavs occupied the fertile plains and river valleys, while the original peoples were forced into the numerous mountain ranges. The Slavs remained rural dwellers, so the cities may have suffered less from their arrival. The Slav settlements extended the length and breadth of the Balkan peninsula. They overran the "whole of Greece," and more, Cheetham says. Their influence extended across the Balkans from the Danube to Cape Tainaron. In the process, Roman authority was submerged, and the remnants of classical culture and the Christian religion were extinguished. There were few areas remaining where the Greeks predominated, though at least in those early times Thessalonika was one of them. In the eighth century Strabonos Epithomatus wrote, "And now, in that way almost all of Epirus, Hellada, the Peloponnese and Macedonia have also been settled by the Skiti-Slavs." In general, the lands that had been Greek in ancient times were commonly regarded by foreigners as a Slav preserve.
In 805 the Slavs came under imperial control. They learned the ways of Roman citizens and were probably being attracted to Christianity. Eventually, peasant farmers from Asia minor were brought in to recolonize coastal plains and river valleys of "Hellas." Those Slavs who did not assimilate were gradually pushed back into the more rugged and inhospitable regions of the interior.
The distinction between Romans and assimilated Slavs became blurred. As early as 766 Niketas, a (Macedonian) Slav, became patriarch of the Constantinople patriarchate.
Nicholas Cheetham claims that the Orthodox church made intense efforts to convert the Slavs in Greece, and that this took effect more or less in the period from A.D. 800 to 1000, only when the Greek language had ousted Slavonic. Again, this effect was stronger in the southern part of the peninsula than further to the north, since the Christianization of the Slavs as a whole was made possible only when some Slav monks from Thessalonika created a suitable script in their own language as the vehicle for this task. Yet the central point, that the ethnic mix was profound, is quite clear.
Another historian, Tom Winnifrith, says that the Slav conquest of the Balkans was rapid, eliminating the Latin heritage. He says the Slavs "spread throughout Greece." However, it was not just the Slavs who created ethnic change at this time. Winnifrith says there were many Latin-speaking refugees from cities in the thickly populated areas of the Danube frontier and Illyricum who are likely to have gravitated to Salonika and Constantinople and exchanged their Latin for Greek. These refugees added another element to the constantly changing ethnic equation in the Balkans.
The extent of the Slavic inroad is evident on maps showing mediaeval population distribution. The map titled "Slavs in the Balkans" shows that by about the eighth century A.D., Slavs were settled along the whole length of the Balkan peninsula right to the tip of the Peloponnese and were especially strong along the western coast. Pockets of Greek inhabitants remained along the east coast.
The Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrgenitus openly says that the whole of Hellas had been Slavicized. The Slavonic tribes of the Ezerites and the Milingi were independent in the Peloponnese in the seventh and eighth centuries and did not pay tribute to Byzantium. Even today in the Peloponnese, one cannot go three miles in any direction without encountering a Slavonic place-name."
Arnold Toynbee compares the Slavic invasion with the early Greek invasions, noting that "on the mainland itself, the Slav occupation was more nearly complete than the North-West-Greek occupation had been." He explains that Attica was not occupied in either historical invasion, but in the Peloponnese, "Arcadia, which had escaped occupation in the twelfth century B.C. was now overrun." For more than two hundred years, till the reconquest of the Peloponnese by the East Roman government around A.D. 850, the Slavs controlled almost all of it. "As late as the year A.D. 1204, the French invaders of the Peloponnese found that, after more than three centuries of East Roman rule, there were still two independent Slav peoples, the Ezeritai and the Melingoi, in the fastness of Mount Taygetos."
There is much agreement among historians about the dramatic and overpowering influx of Slavic peoples to Greece. These people often intermarried and were assimilated in the "Roman" culture. Some writers tend to downplay the importance of the racial intermixture for Hellenization, suggesting that being a Hellene does not require particular racial antecedents. This is a point that modern Greeks appear unwilling to believe. Their preference seems to be simply to deny that "ethnological adulteration" ever took place. For example, in Macedonia, History and Politics (a publication sponsored by the Greek government and distributed throughout the English-speaking world) it is acknowledged (p. 10) that after Basil 11 there was a "solid Slav element" in Yugoslav and Bulgarian Macedonia, but it claims there was no impact at all in Greek Macedonia, or in Greece itself. The analyses from other sources lead us inevitably to a rejection of these claims. The Slavic influence in what is now Greece is clear. However, there were other important influences also.
Greeks as Albanians. Slavs were not the only groups to move into the southern part of the Balkan peninsula. Many Albanians came in also. Albanians settled in Athens, Corinth, Mani, Thessaly and even in the Aegean islands. In the early nineteenth century, the population of Athens was 24 percent Albanian, 32 percent Turkish, and only 44 percent Greek. The village of Marathon, scene of the great victory in 490 B.C., was, early in the nineteenth century, almost entirely Albanian."
Nicholas Hammond a historian who is sympathetic to the Greek view that the ancient Macedonians were a Greek tribe and who has had several works published in Athens, is unable to support the Greek view on this matter. He says that by the middle of the fourteenth and early fifteenth century the majority of people in the Peloponnese were Albanian speakers. The fascinating point is that the people with whom they were competing for land were overwhelmingly not the original Greek-speaking Roman citizens, but the new breed of Greek-speaking Slavs. As Hammond says, many Greek-speaking people at that point in time were probably ethnic Slavs.
The continuing impact of this new ethnic and cultural force is indicated in Hammond's comments that the Albanian incursions into Greece continued under the Turkish system and went on right into the eighteenth century, and that the descendants of these Albanian people were still speaking Albanian when he was in Greece in the 1930s. This is not a reflection on the national consciousness of these Greek citizens, for as Hammond explains, they thought of themselves as Greek. Indeed Hammond points out that the Albanian role in the resistance to the Turks, and in the formation of the Greek nation, was significant. Like the Slavs, the Albanians became attached to their new lands, learned the new language, and began to think of themselves as one with the other peoples living there.
Greeks as Vlachs. Also quite numerous during the eighteenth century in Greek lands and in territories that were to become Greek were the Vlachs. Hammond says that the Vlachs came in with the Albanians and provided leadership. He suggests that the Vlach peoples probably originated in Dacia, an area that is now part of Romania. Hammond says that the Vlachs managed to acquire possession of the great Pindus area. In general, they stayed in northern Greece and were never assimilated in terms of language the way that other ethnic groups were, though some groups ended the nomadic life and settled in Macedonia and in Thessaly.
According to Tom Winnifrith, some Greek writers have claimed the Vlachs as ethnic Greeks. He is skeptical about this idea, claiming that these Greek historians have "been at unfair pains to eliminate almost completely the Latin element in Vlach language and history." Winnifrith comments that one of these Greek writers, M. Chrysochoos, the first to suggest that the Vlachs living in the passes crossing the Pindus mountains were the linear descendants of Roman soldiers, is inspired by misplaced patriotism to insist that these Romans were really some kind of Greeks.
The Vlachs seem to have left Dacia as part of a wave of migration that spread throughout the Balkans from Greece, where they are known as Kutzo Vlachs, Tzintzars, or Aromani, through Bulgaria and Yugoslavia to the Trieste region . Many of them are still in these areas today. They all speak varieties of Romanian, but represent the remnants of originally Dacian-, Illyrian-, Thracian- and even Scythian- speaking tribes. Vlachs settled in Thessaly, Rourneli, the Ionian islands and the Aegean islands.
The Romanian Balkan history professor Motiu has said that the Vlachs comprised 7 to 8 percent of the population of Greece, numbering seven to eight hundred thousand. There have been no population statistics regarding the Vlach minority since the Greek census of 1951. The census of 1935 and 1951 recorded 19,703 and 39,855 Vlachs respectively. Greece does not recognize the presence of a Vlach minority.
Greeks as Turks. A recent issue that has engaged the vigorous attention of Greek politicians is the position and status of Cyprus. It is an area of conflict with Turkey, and one in which Greece has attempted to influence world opinion in its direction by fostering the theory of Greek ethnic purity. In 1964 German archaeologist Franz Maier argued that the Turkish Cypriots were a "people" and not a minority, and that Greek Cypriots and Greeks were not really racially Greek but a mixture. Similarly the Cypriot sociologist Andreas Panayiotou has been quoted as saying that Cypriots were not Greek, but were a synthesis of Greek, Turkish and other elements. He advocated that the Cypriot dialect should become the island's official language.
Some external observers (perhaps with their own case to make) have come to similar conclusions: "Greece, while denying the presence of ethnic and religious minorities within its borders, tries to convince the world that the Orthodox people living in its neighboring countries are ethnic Greeks. But this is not true. In Cyprus, the Southern Cypriot Orthodox whom Greece presents to the world as Greek Cypriots, are not ethnic Greeks.”
This material demonstrates that the Greek attitude towards ethnic purity in Greece, and all that follows from it, can be seen in various spheres of political interest, not only in the case of the ethnic Macedonians of Aegean Macedonia and in behaviors towards the new Republic of Macedonia. It is a mainstay of the Greek nationalist position.
The Cyprus position is something of a special case; nevertheless, it reminds us of the 400-year occupation of Greek lands by the Turks and the inevitable ethnic impact. It has already been noted that in the early part of the nineteenth century the population of Athens was about one-third Turk. "Auberon Waugh ... wrote in The Daily Telegraph that the Greeks of today, with hairy popos, flat noses and bushy eyebrows, are clearly a race of Turkish descent and have nothing to do with the Greeks of antiquity sculpted on the Elgin marbles."
The Greek independence movement. just as interesting as the ethnic diversity of Greece is the idea that the new peoples in the southern Balkan peninsula learned Greek, became good Roman citizens, and identified a community of interest with other peoples living in their land. Writing nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, just a few years after the success of the Greek revolution, George Finlay49 noted that the local energies and local patriotism of all the Christian municipalities in the Ottoman empire were able to readily unite in opposition to "Othoman oppressions" whenever some kind of communication or administrative structure to centralize their efforts could be created. In these local institutions, Finlay suggested, a foundation was laid for a union of all the Christian Orthodox races in European Turkey. This comment was made, of course, a generation before Bulgaria achieved its autonomy from the Turks, and long before a Macedonian state became possible. Greece was then still a very small state at the bottom of the Balkan peninsula. Finlay recognized " the vigorous Albanians of Hydra, the warlike Albanians of Suli, the persevering Bulgarians of Macedonia, and the laborious Vallachians on the banks of the Aspropotamos" who embarked together on a struggle for Greek independence, "as heartily as the posterity of the ancient inhabitants of the soil of Hellas. Nicholas Hammond tells us that in the Greek War of Independence the Albanians, above all, drove the Turks out.
The heroism and determination of the Greek revolutionaries alone probably would not have been enough to overcome the Turks and their allies. The armed intervention of the European powers made a difference at crucial times. With the beginning of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, the Turkish sultan gave Mohammed Ali (an Albanian general of the Turkish forces in Egypt who had seized power in 1808) the provincial governorships of Crete and the Peloponnese with a commission to exterminate the Greek rebels. The Greek fleet kept them out till 1825, when the fleet mutinied over a lack of pay. A battle at Missolonghi, where Greek patriots were being besieged by the Turks, was swayed in Turkish favor by the arrival of the Egyptians. The heroic defense and the appearance of an Egyptian threat moved the governments of Europe to support the Greek cause. In 1827 squadrons of British, French and Russian navies destroyed the Turkish and Egyptian fleets at Navarin, and Greek independence was made certain.
According to anthropologist Roger Just, most of the nineteenth-century "Greeks," who had so recently won their independence from the Turks, not only did not call themselves Hellenes (they learned this label later from the intellectual nationalists); they did not even speak Greek by preference, but rather Albanian, Slavonic, or Vlach dialects." He held that their culture was similarly remote from the culture of the ancient Greeks. Their "customs and habits might seem to bear as much if not more relation to those of the other peoples of the Balkans and indeed of Anatolian as they did to what were fondly imagined to be those of Pericline Athens."
Maintaining the myth. Other Europeans have become irritated with the Greek myth of ethnic purity. For instance, in an editorial in The Sunday Telegraph, London, March 27,1994, the Greek attitude is taken to task:
What is the word for this obsessive Greek pseudo-relationship with their country's past (they even have a magazine, Ellenismos, devoted to the subject)? It is not quite pretentiousness. There is too much passion for that. No, the Greeks, the ancient ones, had a word for the modern Greek condition: paranoia. We must accept that Mr Andreas Papandreou (Greek prime minister) and the current EC presidency are the sole legitimate heirs of Pericles, Demosthenes and Aristide the Just. The world must nod dumbly at the proposition that in the veins of the modern Greek ... there courses the blood of Achilles. And their paranoid nationalism is heightened by the tenuousness of that claim.
The Editor of The Sunday Telegraph argues that Greece has been ruthless in erasing traces of ethnic diversity, and suggests that the desperation of its actions, including the Greek claim to a monopoly of the classical past (in which all peoples of European origins have a share) can be explained by the fact that the Greeks today are a mixture of Slavs, Turks, Greeks, Bulgars, Albanians, Vlachs, Jews and Gypsies.
One modern Greek intellectual who now lives outside of that country has reflected on the forces within Greece that foster and sustain the theory of Greek ethnic purity:
In retrospect it is clear to me that my 12 years of Greek schooling, mainly in the 1970s, conspired to instill in me precisely one attitude: an almost unshakable belief in the purity and unity of the Greek people, language and culture ... Belief in the continuity of Greece against all odds was enabled also by the method of withholding information and sealing off interpretive paths. We had, as children, neither the capacity nor the inclination to explore disunities and "impurities.”
Modern Greek citizens who try to assert their ethnic identity are not treated tolerantly in Greece even today. One of these recently said, "There are a million Macedonian speakers [in Greece]. We are entitled to rights, to associations, schools, churches, traditions ... I have a Macedonian ethnic consciousness ... I belong to an ethnic minority which isn't recognized by my State." As a consequence of this statement and others like it, Christos Sideropoulos and another Greek Macedonian, Anastasios (or Tasos) Boulis, repeatedly faced the Greek courts. They were charged with spreading false rumors about the non-Greekness of Macedonia and the existence of a Macedonian minority on Greek territory which is not officially recognized, and with instigating conflict among Greek citizens by differentiating between the speakers of a Slavic language and Greeks. If convicted they faced possible terms of several years' imprisonment and heavy fines .14 More will be said about charges of human rights abuses against Greece in a later chapter. At this point it is enough to recognize the continuing vigor with which Greece asserts an ethnic purity that cannot be substantiated by historical analysis.
Of particular interest are the population changes that have occurred in Aegean Macedonia during the twentieth century. The Greek position is that the Greek citizens of Aegean Macedonia have a genuine claim to historic connection with Macedonia and that the Slavs do not. It is implied that they have this connection since they are Greek and the ancient Macedonians are claimed to have been Greek. However, it is not commonly known, even among Greeks, that a majority of the "Greek" population of Aegean Macedonia can trace its immediate ancestors not to Macedonia, but to Anatolia, western Turkey, since they came from Turkey as refugees in the 1920s during one of the Greek-Turkish wars. The population of western Turkey at the time had been subject to many of the same forces that affected the populations of the southern Balkans, though for various reasons, including the tendency of the Byzantine Empire to move troublesome peoples to this area and the strong presence of peoples of Turkic origin, the mix was even more complex. If the connection of Balkan Greek speakers to the ancient Greeks and thence to the ancient Macedonians is tenuous, the links with the Turkish Greek speakers who came into Aegean Macedonia are even more dubious. This issue will be explained further in another chapter.
Nineteenth-century European attitudes toward Greece. In 1821, after the Greek War of Independence broke out, western Europe was swept by Philhellenism." The Germans were the nationality most quickly and deeply involved. Over 300 Germans went to fight in Greece, but throughout Europe tens of thousands of students and academics were involved in support movements. Many Britons, French, and Italians went to Greece to fight, and there was a strong support movement in the U.S. Though only sixteen North Americans reached Greece, the widespread philhellenic feelings arising from the war provided a big boost for the "Hellenic"- Greek letter -fraternities in the US. Shelley wrote:
We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts all have their roots in Greece. But for Greece ... we might still have been savages and idolaters ... The human form and the human mind attained to a perfection in Greece which has impressed its images on those faultless productions whose very fragments are the despair of modern art, and has propagated impulses which can never cease, through a thousand channels of manifest or imperceptible operation, to enable and delight mankind until the extinction of the race.
Throughout western Europe, the Greek War of Independence was seen as a struggle between European youthful vigor and Asiatic and African decadence, corruption and cruelty.
The Greek fight for independence had attracted European sympathy because of European distrust of the Moslem Turks, sympathy with the Christian Greeks, a great respect for classical Greek scholarship, and views developing in Europe that the ancient Greeks were "northern Europeans" and the originators of philosophy and science. Despite this favorable view of the ancients, closer inspection of modern Greeks had left many western Europeans disappointed with their heroic, but superstitious, Christian and dirty, "descendants," whom some regarded as "Byzantinized Slavs.” These views were not isolated. Mark Twain, for instance, "had thought modern Greeks a libel on the ancients."" The English poet Byron was shocked when he came to Greece expecting to find the tall, blond, blue-eyed heroes of antiquity.
Cheetham10 says that the new Greeks were regarded with vague suspicion in academic circles, since their association with ancient Greece was not considered to be genuine. They were, in Robert Byron’s words, "discounted as the unmoral refuse of medieval Slav migrations, sullying the land of their birth with the fury of their politics and the malformation of their small brown bodies." Cheetham says that the classical master at his school commiserated with him on the prospect of his having to consort on his holidays with what he called "those nasty little Slavs."
It may be that European racist contempt for the Greek revolutionaries of the nineteenth century goes some way toward explaining the persisting determination of the Greeks to create an alternative racial model for themselves. If we juxtapose the nineteenth-century view of the ancient Greeks as Aryans with attitudes towards the ethnic characteristics of the Greek revolutionaries, we can see the enormous burden that the Greeks carried in their dealings with Europe. While it has been a characteristic of new nation-states during the last century and a half to manufacture a suitable cultural, linguistic and ethnic pedigree for themselves, the Greeks have carried this process through to an extent that is unparalleled in Europe. Even today, Greece clings to a European connection via its rather tumultuous relationship with the European community. It is ironic that a part of the continuing European mistrust of the Greeks, as is evident from influential editorial comments such as those cited above, has developed because of the very myths that the Greeks propagate in order to purify their image. Greek myth-making today can be seen as inspired by the wider European racism of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and even a continuation of that racism. The United States State Department and international human rights organizations have claimed that Greek suppression of ethnic minorities has come out of such policies. These claims will be elaborated in a later chapter.
THE CONTINUATION OF GREEK CULTURE?
Arnold Toynbee discusses the evolution of the meaning of the word "Hellene" in Greek literary usage, noting that it was originally given to a very specific group of northwest Greek-speaking people who lived in the interior of Epirus, but later came to be used to describe the association of twelve peoples in central and northeastern continental Greece that formed the Delphi-Anthela amphictyony. This was primarily a religious communality. Other Greek citystates joined this association and the name Hellene was applied to all who participated in this civilization. Toynbee points out that the principal distinctive feature of this new Hellenic civilization, a characteristic that distinguished it from the earlier Mycenaean civilization, was the city-state. This feature was more important even than language, as is evidenced by the admission of the Luvian-speaking city-states of Lycia and Caria.
Toynbee notes that Herodotus, writing in 479 B.C., put common race and language first in his definition of Hellenism, but acknowledged a role for a common culture. However, Isocrates, nearly 100 years later (380 B.C.), made the point that the Athenians "have given the name 'Hellenes' a spiritual connotation instead of its former racial one. People who share in our Athenian culture are now felt to have a stronger title to the name 'Hellenes' than people who share with us merely a common physical make-up.
Robert Browning dismisses the significance of the Slavic influence in Greece by taking up this idea, arguing that being Hellene was not a matter of genetics or tribal membership, but of education. Thus Browning suggests that if you speak Greek and live like a Greek, you are Greek. Cheetharn takes a similar tack, claiming that the "original" citizens of the Balkan peninsula were intensely proud of their Hellenic culture but adding that questions about racial origins would have appeared pointless to educated persons of the high Byzantine age, since they tended to indifference towards such matters. They had become quite accustomed to the enormous ethnic mixture that had characterized the empire since late Roman times. Both of these explanations, though intended to be sympathetic to the Greeks, are diametrically opposed to the present Greek government position.
Like Robert Browning, Cheetharn makes the point that there was at least some continuity of culture in early medieval times, since the mixture of peoples was held together by the combined power of "Greek civilization, Roman law and the Christian religion." Cheetham argues that the Slav immigrants were progressively intermingled with the Greeks so that an eventual fusion took place.
Browning also notes that over time the Slavs were acculturated and were often converted to Christianity. A process of "re-hellenization" took place, led by the Greek Orthodox Church, using the vehicle of the Greek language. To use the words of Nicholas Cheetham, (in the south) "religion and Hellenization marched hand in hand." The Slavs and Albanians, in particular, converted to Christianity and learned to speak Greek.
The nature of this re-hellenization must be questioned, since even its advocates recognize that Roman law and the Christian religion were in no sense contiguous with classical culture yet made up a large part of the character of this "new hellenic culture." If we strip away the religion of classical Greece and the unifying force of common shrines and rituals of the Delphi-Anthela arnphictyony; eliminate the political structure of the city-state; and replace Greek law and administrative procedures with those of Rome, it seems unreasonable to assert that the remaining elements constitute a culture essentially the same as classical Greece. It is simply not plausible to suggest that the bulk of Greekspeaking Roman citizens in the Middle Ages, let alone the former Turkish subjects of nineteenth-century Greece, "lived like" ancient Greeks.
Making a case about the difficulty classical writers faced in distinguishing between dialects of Greek, Arnold Toynbee 61 offers an analogy. He suggests that a speaker of High German from Frankfurt am Main, or a speaker of Low German from Flanders or Holland, might find it difficult to believe that the language spoken by people in some rural district in Luxembourg, Alsace, or one of the forest cantons of Switzerland is a dialect of his own language. Perhaps the most interesting point about this example is how it demonstrates that although people may speak dialects of the same language, they can enjoy very different lifestyles and cultures. If we compare the Dutch seaman of the sixteenth century and a Swiss-German farmer of the same period, we might wonder whether the two would see any affinities between themselves except for a remote language similarity. We might also contemplate the absurdity of the idea of a Swiss-German of the present day saying to himself, "My (Dutch) ancestors were among the greatest of sea navigators." It would be an anachronism.
Eric Hobsbawn reminds us:
The most usual ideological abuse of history is based on anachronism rather than lies. Greek nationalism refused Macedonia even the right to its name on the grounds that all Macedonia is essentially Greek and part of a Greek nation-State, presumably ever since the father of Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, became ruler of the Greek lands on the Balkan peninsula ... it takes a lot of courage for a Greek intellectual to say that, historically speaking, it is nonsense. There was no Greek nation-State or any other single political entity for the Greeks in the fourth century B.C.; the Macedonian empire was nothing like the Greek or any other modern nation-state, and in any case it is highly probable that the ancient Greeks regarded the Macedonian rulers, as they did their later Roman rulers, as barbarians and not as Greeks, though they were doubtless too polite or cautious to say so.
In the same way that it would be questionable for a modern Swiss-German to claim descendence from sixteenth century Dutch seafarers, it is questionable for modern Greeks to claim family affinity with the ancient Macedonians, even if the ethnological purity which such a claim requires could be established.
An appeal to continuity of Hellenism through the Greek language is similarly dubious. We have already seen Roger Just's comment that by the nineteenth-century most of the newly independent "Greeks" did not call themselves Hellenes, and did not even speak Greek by preference. Furthermore, the use of a form of the Slavic language was still widespread, perhaps dominant, in the territories that were not taken into the Greek nation until later in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
It has been claimed that the Greek language of the nineteenth century was a corrupted ecclesiastical version of classical Greek that the ancients might have had some trouble comprehending. George Finlay was extremely critical of this language and the role of the church hierarchy based in Constantinople in reducing it to the level apparent in the mid-nineteenth century.
If we consider the standard applied by Herodotus that ancestry, language and culture were the basis for Greek community, or even if we prefer the evolved definition of Isocrates that gives primary emphasis to culture, it is not an unreasonable conclusion that nineteenth-century Greeks failed to meet these criteria. After the establishment of independence, Greek intellectuals made a great effort to return their country to its Hellenic past. Classical place names were revived, and Turkish, Venetian and even Byzantine buildings were removed to reveal ancient ruins. The language was standardized in the nineteenth century as part of a concerted effort to create a new Greece. This brought some stability to the culture of the diverse "new Hellenic" peoples who could be recognized at that time. Since 1988 and the renaming of northern Greece as Macedonia, a whole new focus has been given to the Greek effort to identify with the classical and Hellenic past.