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The Greeks (Greek: Έλληνες, ), also known as Hellenes, are a nation and ethnic group native to Greecemarker, Cyprusmarker and neighbouring regions, who can also be found in diaspora communities around the world.

Greek colonies and communities have been historically established in most corners of the Mediterraneanmarker but Greeks have always been centred around the Aegean Seamarker, where the Greek language has been spoken since antiquity. Until the early 20th century, Greeks were uniformly distributed between the Greek peninsula, the western coast of Asia Minormarker, Pontus, Egyptmarker, Cyprus and Constantinoplemarker; many of these regions coincided to a large extent with the borders of the Byzantine Empire of the late 11th century and the Eastern Mediterranean areas of the ancient Greek colonization.

In the aftermath of the Greco-Turkish War , a large-scale population exchange between Greece and Turkey transferred and confined ethnic Greeks almost entirely into the borders of the modern Greek state and Cyprus. Other ethnic Greek populations can be found from Southern Italy to the Caucasus and in diaspora communities in a number of other countries. Today, the vast majority of Greeks are at least nominally adherents of Greek Orthodoxy.


The Greeks speak an Indo-European language, the Greek language, which forms its own unique branch within the Indo-European language family tree, the Hellenic. They are part of a group of pre-modern ethnicities, described by Anthony D. Smith as an "archetypal diaspora people".

The modern Greek state was created in 1832, when the Greeks liberated a part of their historic homelands from the Ottoman Empire. The large Greek diaspora and merchant class were instrumental in transmitting the ideas of western romantic nationalism and philhellenism, which together with the conception of Hellenism, formulated during the last centuries of the Byzantine Empire, formed the basis of the Diafotismos and the current conception of Hellenism.


The Proto-Greeks probably arrived at the area now referred to as Greece, in the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula, at the end of the 3rd millennium BC. The sequence of migrations into the Greek mainland during the 2nd millennium BC has to be reconstructed on the basis of the ancient Greek dialects, as they presented themselves centuries later and is subject to some uncertainties. There were at least two migrations, the first of the Ionians and Aeolians which resulted in Mycenaean Greece by the 16th century BC, and the second, the Dorian invasion, around the 11th century BC, displacing the Arcadocypriot dialects which descended from the Mycenaean period. Both migrations occur at incisive periods, the Mycenaean at the transition to the Late Bronze Age and the Doric at the Bronze Age collapse.

Across these assumed migrations, however, the transition from pre-Greek to Greek culture appears to have been rather gradual. Some archaeologists have pointed to evidence that there was a significant amount of continuity of prehistoric economic, architectural, and social structures, suggesting that the transition between the Neolithic civilisation of c.5000 BC and the Greek civilisations of later periods may have proceeded without major rifts in social texture.

There were some suggestions of three waves of migration indicating a Proto-Ionian one, either contemporary or even earlier than the Mycenaean. This possibility appears to have been first suggested by Ernst Curtius in the 1880s. In current scholarship, the standard assumption is to group the Ionic together with the Arcadocypriot group as the successors of a single Middle Bronze Age migration in dual opposition to the "western" group of Doric.


The Mycenaeans were ultimately the first Greek-speaking people attested through historical sources, written records in the Linear B script, and through their literary echoes in the works of Homer, a few centuries later.

The Mycenaeans quickly penetrated the Aegean Seamarker and by the 15th century BC had reached Rhodesmarker, Cretemarker, Cyprusmarker, where Teucer is said to have founded the first colony, and the shores of Asia Minormarker. Around 1200 BC the Dorians, another Greek-speaking people, followed from Epirus. The Dorian invasion was followed by a poorly attested period of migrations, appropriately called the Greek Dark Ages, but by 800 BC the landscape of Archaic and Classical Greece was discernible.

In the Homeric epics, the Greeks of prehistory are viewed as the forefathers of the early classical civilization of Homer's own time, while the Mycenaean pantheon included many of the divinities (e.g. Zeus, Poseidon and Hades) attested in later Greek religion.


The classical period of Greek civilization covers a time spanning from the early 5th century BC to the death of Alexander the Great, in 323 BC. It is so named because it set the standards by which Greek civilization would be judged in later eras. The ethnogenesis of the Greek nation is marked by the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, when the idea of a common Hellenism among the Greek-speaking tribes was first translated into a shared cultural experience and Hellenism was primarily a matter of common culture.

While the Greeks of the classical era understood themselves to belong to a common Greek genos their first loyalty was to their city and they saw nothing incongruous about warring, often brutally, with other Greek city-states. The Peloponnesian War, the large scale Greek civil war between Athensmarker and Spartamarker and their allies, is a case in point.

Most of the feuding Greek city-states were, in some scholars' opinions, united under the banner of Philip's and Alexander the Great's pan-Hellenic ideals, though others might generally opt, rather, for an explanation of "Macedonian conquest for the sake of conquest" or at least conquest for the sake of riches, glory and power and view the aforementioned "ideal" as useful propaganda directed towards the city-states.

In any case, Alexander's toppling of the Achaemenid Empire, after his victories at the battles of the Granicus, Issusmarker and Gaugamela, and advance as far as modern day Pakistanmarker and Tajikistanmarker, provided an important outlet for Greek culture, via the creation of colonies and trade routes along the way. While the Alexandrian empire did not survive its creator's death intact, the cultural implications of the spread of Hellenism across much of the Middle East and Asia were to prove long lived as Greek became the lingua franca, a position it retained even in Roman times. Many Greeks migrated to Alexandriamarker, Antiochmarker, Seleuciamarker and many other new Hellenistic cities founded in Alexander's wake. Two thousand years later, there are still communities in Pakistanmarker and Afghanistanmarker, like the Kalash, who claim to be descended from Greek settlers.


The Hellenistic civilization was the next period of Greek civilization, the beginnings of which are usually placed at Alexander's death. This Hellenistic age, so called because it witnessed the partial Hellenization of many non-Greek cultures and a combination of Greek, Middle Eastern and South Asian elements, lasted until the conquest of Egypt by Rome in 30 BC.

This age saw the Greeks move towards larger cities and a reduction in the importance of the city-state. These larger cities were parts of the still larger Kingdoms of the Diadochi. Greeks, however, remained aware of their past, chiefly through the study of the works of Homer and the classical authors. An important factor in maintaining Greek identity was contact with barbarian (non-Greek) peoples which was deepened in the new cosmopolitan environment of the multi-ethnic Hellenistic kingdoms. This led to a strong desire among Greeks to organize the transmission of the Hellenic paideia to the next generation.

In the religious sphere, this was a period of profound change. The spiritual revolution that took place saw a waning of the old Greek religion, whose decline beginning in the 3rd century BC continued with the introduction of new religious movements from the East. The cults of deities like Isis and Mithra were introduced into the Greek world.

In the Indo-Greek and Greco-Bactrian kingdoms, Greco-Buddhism was spreading and Greek missionaries would play an important role in propagating it to Chinamarker. Further east, the Greeks of Alexandria Eschatemarker became known to the Chinese people as the Dayuan.


Of the new eastern religions introduced into the Greek world the most successful was Christianity. While ethnic distinctions still existed in the Roman Empire, they became secondary to religious considerations and the renewed empire used Christianity as a tool to maintain its cohesion and promoted a robust Roman national identity. Concurrently the secular, urban civilization of late antiquity survived in the Eastern Mediterranean along with the Greek educational system, although it was from Christianity that the culture's essential values were drawn.

"At least three quarters of the ancient Greek classics that survived did so through Byzantine manuscripts."
Michael H. Harris/
"Much of what we know of antiquity – especially of Hellenic and Roman literature and of Roman law — would have been lost for ever but for the scholars and scribes and copyists of Constantinople."
J.J. Norwich
The Eastern Roman Empire, which was later misnamed by western historians as the Byzantine Empire, a name that would have meant nothing to Greek speakers of the era, became increasingly influenced by Greek culture following the 7th century when Emperor Heraclius (AD 575 - 641) decided to make Greek the Roman Empire's official language. Certainly from then on, but likely earlier, the Roman and Greek cultures were virtually fused into a single Greco-Roman world. Although the Latin West recognized the Eastern Empire's claim to the Roman legacy for several centuries, after Pope Leo III crowned King of Franks Charlemagne as the "Roman Emperor" on December 25, 800, an act which eventually led to the formation of the Holy Roman Empire, the Latin West started to favour the Catholic Franks and began to refer to the Eastern Roman Empire largely as the Empire of the Greeks (Imperium Graecorum). Greek-speakers at the time, however, referred to themselves as Romaioi (Romans) and were proudly conscious of their Greco-Roman Christian heritages.

These Byzantine Greeks were largely responsible for the preservation of the literature of the classical era. Byzantine grammarians were those principally responsible for carrying, in person and in writing, ancient Greek grammatical and literary studies to early Italian Renaissance to which the influx of Greek scholars gave a major boost. The Aristotelian philosophical tradition was virtually unbroken in the Greek world for almost two thousand years, until the Fall of Constantinople in the 15th century.

To the Slavic world, Roman era Greeks contributed by the dissemination of literacy and Christianity. The most notable example of the later was the work of the two Greek brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius from Thessalonikimarker, who are credited today with formalizing the first Slavic alphabet.

A distinct Greek nationalism re-emerged in the 11th century in educated circles and became more forceful after the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 so that when the empire was revived in 1261, it became in many ways a Greek national state. That new notion of nationhood engendered a deep interest in the classical past culminating in the ideas of the Neoplatonist philosopher Gemistus Pletho, who abandoned Christianity. However, it was the combination of Orthodox Christianity with a specifically Greek identity that shaped the Greeks notion of themselves in the empire's twilight years.


The cover of Hermes o Logios, a Greek literary publication of the early 19th and late 18th century.
Following the Fall of Constantinople in the May 29, 1453, many Greeks sought better employment and education opportunities by leaving for the West, particularly Italymarker, Central Europe, Germanymarker and Russiamarker.

For those that remained under the Ottoman Empire's millet system, religion was the defining characteristic of national groups (milletler), so the exonym "Greeks" (Rumlar from the name Rhomaioi) was applied by the Ottomans to all members of the Orthodox Church, regardless of their language or ethnic origin. The Greek speakers were the only ethnic group to actually call themselves Romioi, (as opposed to being so named by others) and, at least those educated, considered their ethnicity (genos) to be Hellenic.

The roots of Greek success in the Ottoman Empire can be traced to the Greek tradition of education and commerce. It was the wealth of the extensive merchant class that provided the material basis for the intellectual revival that was the prominent feature of Greek life in the half century and more leading to the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Not coincidentally, on the eve of 1821 the three most important centres of Greek learning, were situated in Chiosmarker, Smyrnamarker and Aivali, all three major centres of Greek commerce.


The relationship between ethnic Greek identity and Greek Orthodox religion continued after the creation of the Modern Greek state in 1830. According to the second article of the first Greek constitution of 1822, a Greek was defined as any Christian resident of the Kingdom of Greece, a clause removed by 1840. A century later, when the Treaty of Lausanne was signed between Greecemarker and Turkeymarker in 1923, the two countries agreed to use religion as the determinant for ethnic identity for the purposes of population exchange, while the majority of the Greeks displaced (over a million of the total 1,5 million) had already been driven out by the time the agreement was signed. The Greek genocide, contemporaneous with the failed Greek Asia Minor Campaign, was part of this process of turkification of the Ottoman Empire and the placement of its economy and trade, then largely in Greek hands under ethnic Turkish control.

While most Greeks today are descended from Greek-speaking Romioi there are sizeable groups of ethnic Greeks who trace their descent to Aromanian-speaking Vlachs and Albanian-speaking Arvanites as well as Slavophones and Turkish-speaking Karamanlides. None of the latter groups were ever considered less Greek than the Rhomioi, and they self-identify as Greeks. Today, Greeks are to be found all around the world as and there are many talented Greek scholars, entrepreneurs and artists.


The terms used to define Greekness have varied throughout history but were never limited or completely identified with membership to a Greek state. By Western standards, the term Greeks has traditionally referred to any native speakers of the Greek language, whether Mycenaean, Byzantine or modern Greek. Byzantine Greeks called themselves Romioi and considered themselves the political heirs of Rome, but at least by the 12th century a growing number of those educated, deemed themselves the heirs of ancient Greece as well, although for most of the Greek speakers, "Hellene" still meant pagan. On the eve of the Fall of Constantinople the Last Emperor urged his soldiers to remember that they were the descendants of Greeks and Romans.

Before the establishment of the Modern Greek state, the link between ancient and modern Greeks was emphasized by the scholars of Greek Enlightenment especially by Rigas Feraios. In his "Political Constitution", he addresses to the nation as "the people descendant of the Greeks".

The Greeks today are a nation in the meaning of an ethnos, defined by possessing Greek culture and having a Greek mother tongue, rather than by citizenship, race, religion or by being subjects of any particular state. In ancient and medieval times and to a lesser extent today the Greek term was genos, which also indicates a common ancestry.


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

Modern and ancient

The most obvious link between modern and ancient Greeks is their language, which has a documented tradition from at least the 14th century BC to the present day, albeit with a break during the Greek Dark Ages. Scholars compare its continuity of tradition to Chinese alone. Since its inception, Hellenism was primarily a matter of common culture and the national continuity of the Greek world is a lot more certain than its demographic. Yet, Hellenism also embodied an ancestral dimension through aspects of Athenian literature that developed and influenced ideas of descent based on autochthony. During the later years of the Eastern Roman Empire, areas such as Ionia and Constantinoplemarker experienced a Hellenic revival in language, philosophy and literature and on classical models of thought and scholarship. Such revivals would manifest again in the 10th and 14th century providing a powerful impetus to the sense of cultural affinity with ancient Greece and its classical heritage. The cultural changes undergone by the Greeks are, despite a surviving common sense of ethnicity, undeniable. At the same time, the Greeks have retained their language and alphabet, certain values, a sense of religious and cultural difference and exclusion, (the word barbarian was used by 12th century historian Anna Komnene to describe non-Greek speakers), a sense of Greek identity and common sense of ethnicity despite the global political and social changes of the past two millennia.


Scenes of marriage and family life in Constantinople.

Today, Greeks are the majority ethnic group in the Hellenic Republicmarker, where they constitute 93% of the country's population, and the Republic of Cyprusmarker where they comprise 78% of the island's population (excluding Turkish settlers in the occupied part of the country). Greek populations have not traditionally exhibited high rates of growth; nonetheless the population of Greece has shown regular increase since the country's first census in 1828. A large percentage of the population growth since the state's foundation has resulted from annexation of new territories and the influx of 1.5 million Greek refugees following the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey. About 80% of the population of Greece is urban, with 28% concentrated in the city of Athens

Greeks from Cyprus have a similar history of emigration, usually to the English speaking world as a result of the island's colonization by the British Empire. Waves of emigration followed the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, while the population decreased between mid-1974 and 1977 as a result of emigration, war losses and a temporary decline in fertility. After the ethnic cleansing of a third of the Greek population of the island in 1974, there was also an increase in the number of Greek Cypriots leaving, especially for the Middle East, which contributed to a decrease in population which tapered off in the 1990s. Today more than two thirds of the Greek population in Cyprus is urban.

There is a sizeable Greek minority of about 105,000 people, in Albania. The Greek minority of Turkey which numbered upwards of 200,000 people after the 1923 exchange has now dwindled to a few thousand, following the 1955 Constantinople Pogrom and other state sponsored violence and discrimination. This effectively ended, though not entirely, the three-thousand year old presence of Hellenism in Asia Minor. There are smaller Greek minorities in the rest of the Balkan countries, the Levant and the Black Sea states, remnants of the Old Greek Diaspora (pre-19th century).


The total number of Greeks living outside Greece and Cyprus today is a contentious issue. Where Census figures are available it shows around 3 million Greeks outside of Greecemarker and Cyprusmarker. Estimates provided by the SAE - World Council of Hellenes Abroad put the figure at around 7 million worldwide. According to George Prevelakis of Sorbonne Universitymarker, the number is closer to just below 5 million. Integration, intermarriage and loss of the Greek language influence the self-identification of the Omogeneia. Important centres of the New Greek Diaspora today are London, New York, Melbourne and Toronto. Recently, a law was passed by the Hellenic Parliament that enables Diaspora Greeks to vote in the elections of the Greek state.


Greek colonization in antiquity

In ancient times, the trading and colonising activities of the Greek tribes and city states spread the Greek culture, religion and language around the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins, especially in Sicily and southern Italy, Spain, the south of France and the Black sea coasts. Under Alexander the Great's empire and successor states, Greek and Hellenizing ruling classes were established in the Middle East, India and in Egypt. The Hellenistic period is characterized by a new wave of Greek colonization which established Greek cities and kingdoms in Asia and Africamarker. Under the Roman Empire, easier movement of people spread Greeks across the Empire and in the eastern territories Greek became the lingua franca rather than Latin.


Greek Diaspora (20th century).

During and after the Greek War of Independence, Greeks of the Diaspora were important in establishing the fledgling state, raising funds and awareness abroad. Greek merchant families already had contacts in other countries and during the disturbances many set up home around the Mediterranean (notably Marseilles in France, Livorno in Italy, Alexandria in Egypt), Russia (Odessamarker and Saint Petersburgmarker), and Britain (London and Liverpool) from where they traded, typically in textiles and grain. Businesses frequently comprised the whole extended family, and with them they brought schools teaching Greek and the Greek Orthodox church.

As markets changed and they became more established, some families grew their operations to become shippers, financed through the local Greek community, notably with the aid of the Ralli or Vagliano Brothers. With economic success the Diaspora expanded further across the Levant, North Africa, India and the USA.

In the twentieth century, many Greeks left their traditional homelands for economic reasons resulting in large migrations from Greece and Cyprus to the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Germany, and South Africa, especially after the Second World War (1939–45), the Greek Civil War (1946–49), and the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus in 1974.


Greek culture has evolved over thousands of years, with its beginning in the Mycenaean civilization, continuing through the Classical period, the Roman and Eastern Roman periods and was profoundly affected by Christianity, which it in turn influenced and shaped. Ottoman Greeks had to endure through several centuries of adversity which culminated in a genocide in the 20th century but which nevertheless included cultural exchanges and enriched both cultures. The Diafotismos is credited with revitalizing Greek culture and giving birth to the synthesis of ancient and medieval elements that characterize it today.


Most Greeks speak the Greek language, an Indo-European language which forms a branch itself, with its closest relations being Armenian (see Graeco-Armenian) and the Indo-Iranian languages (see Graeco-Aryan). It has one of the longest documented histories of any language and Greek literature has a continuous history of over 2,500 years. Several notable literary works, including the Homeric epics, Euclid's Elements and the New Testament, were originally written in Greek.

Greek demonstrates several linguistic features that are shared with other Balkan languages, such as Albanian, Bulgarian and Eastern Romance languages (see Balkan sprachbund), and has absorbed numerous foreign words, primarily of Western European and Turkish origin. Because of the movements of Philhellenism and the Diafotismos in the 19th century, which emphasized the modern Greeks' ancient heritage, these foreign influences were excluded from official use via the creation of Katharevousa, a somewhat artificial form of Greek purged of all foreign influence and words, as the official language of the Greek state. In 1976, however, the Hellenic Parliament voted to make the spoken Dimotiki the official language, making Katharevousa obsolete.

Modern Greek has, in addition to Standard Modern Greek or Dimotiki, a wide variety of dialects of varying levels of mutual intelligibility, including Cypriot, Pontic, Cappadocian, Griko and Tsakonian (the only surviving representative of ancient Doric Greek). Yevanic is the language of the Romaniotes, and survives in small communities in Greece, New York and Israel. In addition to Greek, many Greeks in Greece and the Diaspora are bilingual in other languages or dialects such as English, Arvanitika, Aromanian, Macedonian Slavic, Russian and Turkish.


Uncial script, from a 4th-century Bible manuscript.

The vast majority of Greeks are Eastern Orthodox Christians, belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church. During the first centuries after Jesus Christ, the New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek, which is mutually intelligible with modern Greek to a large extent, as most of the early Christians and Church Fathers were Greek-speaking. While the Orthodox Church was always intensely hostile to the ancient Greek religion, it did help Greeks retain their sense of identity during the Ottoman rule through its use of Greek in the liturgy and its modest educational efforts. There are small groups of ethnic Greeks adhering to other Christian denominations like Greek Catholics, Greek Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and groups adhering to other religions including Romaniot and Sephardic Jews and Greek Muslims. In particular there are Greek Muslim communities in Tripoli, Lebanon, (7,000 strong) and Al Hamidiyah in Syria, while there is a large community of indeterminate size in the Pontus region, who were spared of the population exchange because of their faith. About 2,000 Greeks are members of Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism congregations.


Greek art has a long and varied history. Greeks have made several contributions to the visual, literary and performing arts. In the West, ancient Greek art was influential in shaping the Roman and later the modern Western artistic heritage. Following the Renaissance in Europe, the humanist aesthetic and the high technical standards of Greek art inspired generations of European artists. Well into the 19th century, the classical tradition derived from Greece played an important part the art of the Western World. In the East, Alexander the Great's conquests initiated several centuries of exchange between Greek, Central Asian and Indian cultures, resulting in Greco-Buddhist art, whose influence reached as far as Japanmarker.

Byzantine Greek art, which grew from classical art and adapted the pagan motifs in the service of Christianity, provided a stimulus to the art of many nations. Its influences can be traced from Venicemarker in the West to Kazakhstanmarker in the East.

In turn, Greek art was influenced by eastern civilizations in Classical Antiquity and the new religion of Orthodox Christianity during Roman times while modern Greek art is heavily influenced by Western art. Notable Greek artists include Renaissance painter El Greco, soprano Maria Callas, and composers Iannis Xenakis and Vangelis. Greek Alexandrianmarker Constantine P. Cavafy and Nobel laureate George Seferis and Odysseas Elitis are among the most important poets of the twentieth century.


The Greeks of the Classical era made several notable contributions to science and helped lay the foundations of several western scientific traditions, like philosophy, historiography and mathematics. The scholarly tradition of the Greek academies was maintained during Roman times with several academic institutions in Constantinoplemarker, Antiochmarker, Alexandriamarker and other centres of Greek learning while Eastern Roman science was essentially a continuation of classical science. Greeks have a long tradition of valuing and investing in paideia (education). Paideia was one of the highest societal values in the Greek and Hellenistic world while the first European institution described as a university was founded in 5th century Constantinople and operated in various incarnations until the city's fall to the Ottomans in 1453. The University of Constantinople was Christian Europe's first secular institution of higher learning since no theological subjects were taught, and considering the original meaning of the world university as a corporation of students, the world’s first university as well.

As of 2007, Greece had the eighth highest percentage of tertiary enrollment in the world (with the percentages for female students being higher than for male) while Greeks of the Diaspora are equally active in the field of education. Hundreds of thousands of Greek students attend Western universities every year while the faculty lists of leading Western universities contain a striking number of Greek names. Notable Greek scientists of modern times include Georgios Papanikolaou (inventor of the Pap test), Nicholas Negroponte, Constantin Carathéodory, Michael Dertouzos, John Argyris and Dimitri Nanopoulos.


Flag of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The most widely used symbol is the flag of Greece, which features nine equal horizontal stripes of blue alternating with white representing the nine syllables of the Greek national motto Eleftheria i thanatos (freedom or death), which was the motto of the Greek War of Independence. The blue square in the upper hoist-side corner bears a white cross, which represents Greek Orthodoxy. The Greek flag is widely used by the Greek Cypriots, although Cyprusmarker has officially adopted a neutral flag so as to ease ethnic tensions with the Turkish Cypriot minority – see flag of Cyprus).

The pre-1978 (and first) flag of Greece, which features a Greek cross (crux immissa quadrata) on a blue background, is widely used as an alternative to the official flag, and they are often flown together. The national emblem of Greece features a blue escutcheon with a white cross totally surrounded by two laurel branches. A common design involves the current flag of Greece and the pre-1978 flag of Greece with crossed flagpoles and the national emblem placed in front.

Another highly recognizable and popular Greek symbol is the double-headed eagle, the imperial emblem of the Byzantine Empire and a common symbol in Eastern Europe. It is not currently part of the modern Greek flag or coat of arms, although it is officially the insignia of the Greek Army and the flag of the Church of Greece. It had been incorporated in the Greek coat of arms between 1925 and 1926.


The Greeks were one of the first people in Europe to use surnames and these were widely in use by the 9th century supplanting the ancient tradition of using the father’s name, however Greek surnames are most commonly patronymics. Commonly, Greek male surnames end in -s, which is the common ending for Greek masculine proper nouns in the nominative case. Exceptionally, some end in -ou, indicating the genitive case of this proper noun for patronymic reasons. Although surnames in mainland Greece are static today, dynamic and changing patronymic usage survives in middle names where the genitive of father's first name is commonly the middle name. In Cyprus by contrast surnames follow the ancient tradition of being given according to the father’s name (e.g. Ioannis Demetriou is Ioannis the son of Demetrios). Finally, in addition to Greek-derived surnames many have Turkish, Albanian or Slavic origin.

With respect to personal names, the two main influences are early Christianity and antiquity. The ancient names were never forgotten but have become more widely bestowed from the eighteenth century onwards.


The traditional Greek homelands have been the Greek peninsula and the Aegean, the Black Sea and Ionian coasts of Asia Minor, the islands of Cyprus and Sicily and the south of the Italian peninsula. In Plato's Phaidon, Socrates remarks that "we (Greeks) live like ants or frogs around a pond". This image is attested by the map of the Old Greek Diaspora, which corresponded to the Greek world until the creation of the Greek statemarker in 1832. The sea and trade were natural outlets for Greeks since the Greek peninsula is rocky and does not offer good prospects for agriculture.

Notable Greek seafarers include people such as Pytheas of Marseilles, Scylax of Caryanda who sailed to Iberia and beyond, Nearchus, the 6th century merchant and later monk Cosmas Indicopleustes (Cosmas who sailed to India) and the explorer of the Northwestern passage Juan de Fuca. In later times, the Romioi plied the sea-lanes of the Mediterranean and controlled trade until an embargo imposed by the Roman Emperor on trade with the Caliphate opened the door for the later Italian pre-eminence in trade.

The Greek shipping tradition recovered during Ottoman rule when a substantial merchant middle class developed, which played an important part in the Greek War of Independence. Today, Greek shipping continues to prosper to the extent that Greece has the largest merchant fleet in the world, while many more ships under Greek ownership fly flags of convenience. The most notable shipping magnate of the 20th century was Aristotle Onassis, others being Yiannis Latsis, George Livanos, and Stavros Niarchos. A famous Greek poet of the 20th century was the Chinese-born seaman Nikos Kavvadias.


The history of the Greek people is closely associated with the history of Greece, Cyprus, Constantinople, Asia Minor and the Black Sea. During the Ottoman rule of Greece, a number of Greek enclaves around the Mediterranean were cut off from the core, notably in Southern Italy, the Caucasus, Syria and Egypt. By the early 20th century, over half of the overall Greek-speaking population was settled in Asia Minor (now Turkey), while later that century a huge wave of migration to the United States, Australia, Canada and elsewhere created the modern Greek diaspora.

Some key historical events have also been included for context, but this timeline is not intended to cover history not related to migrations. There is more information on the historical context of these migrations in History of Greece.

Time Events
3rd millennium BC Proto-Greek tribes form in Central Europe.
20th century BC Greek settlements established on the Balkans. Ionians and Aeolians spread over Greece.
17th century BC Decline of the Minoan civilization, possibly because of the eruption of Theramarker. Emergence of the Achaeans and formation of the Mycenaean civilization.
13th century BC First colonies established in Asia Minormarker.
11th century BC Dorians move into peninsular Greecemarker. Achaeans flee to Aegean Islands, Asia Minor and Cyprusmarker.
9th century BC Major colonization of Asia Minor and Cyprus by the Greek tribes.
8th century BC First major colonies established in Sicily and Southern Italy.
6th century BC Colonies established across the Mediterranean Seamarker and the Black Seamarker.
5th century BC Defeat of the Persians and emergence of the Delian League in Ionia, the Black Seamarker and Aegean perimeter culminates in Athenian Empire and the Classical Age of Greece; ends with Athens defeat by Sparta at the close of the Peloponesian War
4th century BC Rise of Thebanmarker power and defeat of the Spartans; Campaign of Alexander the Great; Greek colonies established in newly founded cities of Ptolemaic Egypt and Asia.
2nd century BC Conquest of Greece by the Roman Empire. Migrations of Greeks to Romemarker.
4th century AD Eastern Roman Empire. Migrations of Greeks throughout the Empire, mainly towards Constantinoplemarker.
7th century Slavic conquest of several parts of Greecemarker, Greek migrations to Southern Italy, Roman Emperors capture main Slavic bodies and transfer them to Cappadociamarker, Bosphorusmarker re-populated by Macedonian and Cypriot Greeks.
8th century Roman dissolution of surviving Slavic settlements in Greece and full recovery of the Greek peninsula.
9th century Retro-migrations of Greeks from all parts of the Empire (mainly from Southern Italy and Sicily) into parts of Greece that were depopulated by the Slavic Invasions (mainly western Peloponnesus and Thessaly).
13th century Roman Empire dissolves, Constantinople taken by the Fourth Crusade; becoming the capital of the Latin Empire. Liberated after a long struggle by the Empire of Nicaea, but fragments remain separated. Migrations between Asia Minor, Constantinople and mainland Greece take place.
15th century


19th century
Conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire. Greek diaspora into Europe begins. Ottoman settlements in Greece. Phanariot Greeks occupy high posts in Eastern European millets.

Time Events
1830s Creation of the Modern Greek State. Immigration to the New World begins. Large-scale migrations from Constantinople and Asia Minor to Greece take place.
1913 European Ottoman lands partitioned; Unorganized migrations of Greeks, Bulgarians and Turks towards their respective states.
1914–1923 Greek genocide; hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Greeks are estimated to have died during this period.
1919 Treaty of Neuilly; Greece and Bulgaria exchange populations, with some exceptions.
1922 The Destruction of Smyrna (modern day Izmir) more than 40 thousand Greeks killed, End of significant Greek presence in Asia Minor.
1923 Treaty of Lausanne; Greece and Turkey agree to exchange populations with limited exceptions of the Greeks in Constantinoplemarker, Imbrosmarker, Tenedosmarker and the Muslim minority of Western Thrace. 1.5 million of Asia Minor and Pontic Greeks settle in Greece, and some 450 thousands of Muslims settle in Turkey.
1940s Hundred of thousands Greeks died from starvation during the Axis Occupation of Greece
1947 Communist regime in Romania begins evictions of the Greek community, approx. 75,000 migrate.
1948 Greek Civil War. Tens of thousands of Greek communists and their families flee into Eastern Bloc nations. Thousands settle in Tashkentmarker.
1950s Massive emigration of Greeks to West Germany, the United States, Australia, Canada, and other countries.
1955 Istanbul Pogrom against Greeks. Exodus of Greeks from the city accelerates; less than 2,000 remain today.
1958 Large Greek community in Alexandria flees Nasser's regime in Egypt.
1960s Republic of Cyprusmarker created as an independent state under Greek, Turkish and British protection. Economic emigration continues.
1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Almost all Greeks living in Northern Cyprus flee to the south and the United Kingdom.
1980s Many civil war refugees were allowed to re-emigrate to Greece. Retro-migration of Greeks from Germany begins.
1990s Collapse of Soviet Unionmarker. Approx. 100,000 ethnic Greeks migrate from Georgia, Armenia, southern Russia, and Albania to Greece.
2000s Some statistics indicate the beginning of a trend of reverse migration of Greeks from the United States and Australia.

See also


a. Though there is a wide range of interpretations; Carl Blegen dates the arrival of the Greeks around 1900 BC, John Caskey believes that there were two waves of immigrants and Robert Drews places the event as late as 1600 BC. A variety of more theories has also been supported, but there is a general consensus that the coming of the Greek tribes occurred around 2100 BC.



Further reading

Mycenaean Greeks

Classical Greeks

Hellenistic Greeks

Roman Greeks

Ottoman Greeks

Modern Greeks

External links




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