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Georgios Karaiskakis
Giorgos Seferis
Total population
14–17 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Greece 11,305,180a (2011 census)[2][3]
 United States 1,390,439[4]–3,000,000b (2009 estimate)[5]
 Cyprus 650,000a (2011 estimate)[6]
 United Kingdom 400,000 (estimate)[7]
 Germany 395,000g (2012)[8]
 Australia 378,300 (2011 census)[9]
 Canada 252,960 (2011)[10]
 Albania 200,000[11]
 Russia 97,827 (2002 census)[12][13]
 Ukraine 91,548 (2001 census)[14]
 Chile 90,000–120,000[15]
 Italy 90,000d (estimate)[16][17][18]
 South Africa 55,000 (2008 estimate)[19]
 Brazil 50,000e[20]
 France 35,000 (2009 estimate)[21]
 New Zealand 35,000
 Argentina 30,000 (2008 estimate)[22]
 Peru 16,000[23]
 Belgium 15,742 (2007)[24]
 Georgia 15,166[25]
 Sweden 12,000–15,000[26]
 Kazakhstan 13,000 (estimate)[27]
 Switzerland 11,000 (estimate)[28]
 Uzbekistan 9,500 (estimate)[29]
 Romania 6,500 (2002 census)[30]
 Mexico 5,000–20,000
 Austria 4,000[31]
 Turkey 4,000f[32]
 Hungary 3,916[33]
 Bulgaria 3,408[34]
 Poland 3,400[35]
 Syria 1,500[36]
Greek Orthodox Church
a Citizens of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus. The Greek government does not collect information about ethnic self-determination at the national censuses.
b Higher figure includes those of ancestral descent.
c Those whose stated ethnic origins included "Greek" among others. The number of those whose stated ethnic origin is solely "Greek" is 145,250. An additional 3,395 Cypriots of undeclared ethnicity live in Canada.
dApprox. 60,000 Griko people and 30,000 post WW2 migrants.
e "Including descendants".
fIn Turkey, at least 300,000 speak the Greek language as their mother tongue.[37][38][39]
gIncludes people with "cultural roots".

The Greeks (Greek: Έλληνες , i.e. "Hellenes") are an ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus, Anatolia, Southern Italy and other regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world.[40]

Greek colonies and communities have been historically established in most corners of the Mediterranean, but Greeks have always been centered on the Aegean and Ionian seas, where the Greek language has been spoken since the Bronze Age.[41] Until the early 20th century, Greeks were uniformly distributed between the Greek peninsula, the western coast of Asia Minor, the Pontic Black Sea coast of Asia Minor, Cappadocia in central Anatolia, Egypt, Cyprus, and Constantinople; 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.[42]

In the aftermath of the Caucasus and in diaspora communities in a number of other countries. Today, most Greeks are officially registered as members of the Greek Orthodox Church.[43]

Greeks have greatly influenced and contributed to culture, arts, exploration, literature, philosophy, politics, architecture, music, mathematics, science and technology, business, cuisine, and sports, both historically and contemporary.


  • History 1
    • Origins 1.1
    • Mycenaean 1.2
    • Classical 1.3
    • Hellenistic 1.4
    • Roman Empire 1.5
    • Byzantine 1.6
    • Ottoman 1.7
    • Modern 1.8
  • Identity 2
    • Names 2.1
      • Hellenes 2.1.1
      • Greeks (Γραικοί) 2.1.2
      • Achaeans (Ἀχαιοί) 2.1.3
      • Danaans (Δαναοί) 2.1.4
    • Modern and Ancient 2.2
    • Demographics 2.3
    • Diaspora 2.4
      • Ancient 2.4.1
      • Modern 2.4.2
  • Culture 3
    • Language 3.1
    • Religion 3.2
    • Art 3.3
    • Science 3.4
    • Symbols 3.5
    • Surnames 3.6
    • Sea 3.7
  • Timeline 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • Citations 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


A reconstruction of the 3rd millennium BC "Proto-Greek area", according to Bulgarian linguist Vladimir Georgiev.

The Greeks speak the Greek language, which forms its own unique branch within the Indo-European family of languages, the Hellenic.[41] They are part of a group of pre-modern ethnicities, described by Anthony D. Smith as an "archetypal diaspora people".[44][45]


The Proto-Greeks probably arrived at the area now called Greece, in the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula, at the end of the 3rd millennium BC,[46][47][a] though a later migration by sea from eastern Anatolia, modern Armenia, has also been suggested.[48] 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 are therefore subject to some uncertainties. There were at least two migrations, the first being the Ionians and Aeolians, which resulted in Mycenaean Greece by the 16th century BC,[41][49] 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.

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.

Eric P. Hamp, in his 2012 Indo-European linguistic family tree, groups the Greek language and Ancient Macedonian ("Helleno-Macedonian") along with Armenian in the Pontic Indo-European (also called Helleno-Armenian) subgroup.[50] In Hamp's view, the homeland of this subgroup is the northeast coast of the Black Sea and its hinterlands.[50] From there, they migrated southeast into the Caucasus with the Armenians remaining near Batumi, while the pre-Greeks proceeded westwards along the southern coast of the Black Sea to enter the Aegean and Peloponnesus from Asia Minor and Cyprus via Pamphylia.[50] In this migration, Troy was a barrier to further migration directly west or to the northwest, so first the pre-Cypriots and then other groups of pre-Hellenics turned south with the pre-Cypriots continuing south to Pamphyllia and ultimately Cyprus, while the other groups crossed the Aegean.[50] The Mycenean Greeks arrived in Thebes and Thessaly before the Aeolians and were the first Greeks on Crete.[50]


The Mycenaeans were ultimately the first Greek-speaking people attested through historical sources, written records in the Linear B script,[51] and through their literary echoes in the works of Homer, a few centuries later.

The Mycenaeans quickly penetrated the Aegean Sea and, by the 15th century BC, had reached Rhodes, Crete, Cyprus, where Teucer is said to have founded the first colony, and the shores of Asia Minor.[41][52] Around 1200 BC the Dorians, another Greek-speaking people, followed from Epirus.[53] Traditionally, historians have believed that the Dorian invasion caused the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, but it is likely the main attack was made by seafaring raiders (sea peoples) who sailed into the eastern Mediterranean around 1180 BC.[54] 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.[41]

In the Homeric epics, the Greeks of prehistory are viewed as the ancestors of the early classical civilization of Homer's own time,[55] while the Mycenaean pantheon included many of the divinities (e.g. Zeus, Poseidon and Hades) attested in later Greek religion.[56][57]


Hoplites fighting. Detail from an Attic black-figure hydria, ca. 560 BC–550 BC. Louvre, Paris.

The ethnogenesis of the Greek nation is marked, according to some scholars, 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.[40] 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 (some authors prefer to split this period into 'Classical', from the end of the Persian wars to the end of the Peloponnesian War, and 'Fourth Century', up to the death of Alexander). It is so named because it set the standards by which Greek civilization would be judged in later eras.[58]

While the Greeks of the classical era understood themselves to belong to a common Greek genos[59] 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 Athens and Sparta and their allies, is a case in point.[60]

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 "ideal" as useful propaganda directed towards the city-states.[61]

In any case, Alexander's toppling of the Achaemenid Empire, after his victories at the battles of the Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela, and his advance as far as modern-day Pakistan and Tajikistan,[62] provided an important outlet for Greek culture, via the creation of colonies and trade routes along the way.[63] 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.[64] Many Greeks settled in Hellenistic cities like Alexandria, Antioch and Seleucia.[65] Two thousand years later, there are still communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, like the Kalash, who claim to be descended from Greek settlers.[66]


The major Hellenistic realms; the Ptolemaic Kingdom (dark blue) and the Seleucid Empire (yellow).

The Hellenistic civilization was the next period of Greek civilization, the beginnings of which are usually placed at Alexander's death.[67] This Hellenistic age, so called because it saw the partial Hellenization of many non-Greek cultures,[68] lasted until the conquest of Egypt by Rome in 30 BC.[67]

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 paideia to the next generation.[71] Greek science, technology and mathematics are generally considered to have reached their peak during the Hellenistic period.[72][72]

In the Indo-Greek and Greco-Bactrian kingdoms, Greco-Buddhism was spreading and Greek missionaries would play an important role in propagating it to China.[73] Further east, the Greeks of Alexandria Eschate became known to the Chinese people as the Dayuan.[74]

Roman Empire

Following the time of the conquest of the last of the independent Greek city-states and Hellenistic (post-Alexandrine) kingdoms, almost all of the world's Greek speakers lived as citizens or subjects of the Roman Empire. Despite their military superiority, the Romans admired and became heavily influenced by the achievements of Greek culture, hence Horace's famous statement: Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit ("Greece, although captured, took its wild conqueror captive").[75]

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.[40] The cults of deities like Isis and Mithra were introduced into the Greek world.[70][76] Greek-speaking communities of the Hellenized East were instrumental in the spread of early Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries,[77] and Christianity's early leaders and writers (notably St Paul) were generally Greek-speaking,[78] though none were from Greece. However, Greece itself had a tendency to cling to paganism and was not one of the influential centers of early Christianity: in fact, some ancient Greek religious practices remained in vogue until the end of the 4th century,[79] with some areas such as the southeastern Peloponnese remaining pagan until well into the 10th century AD.[80]


Of the new eastern religions introduced into the Greek world, the most successful was Christianity. From the early centuries of the Common Era, the Greeks identified as Romaioi ("Romans"),[81][82] by that time the name ‘Hellenes’ denoted pagans. 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 support its cohesion and promoted a robust Roman national identity.[83] Concurrently the secular, urban civilization of late antiquity survived in the Eastern Mediterranean along with Greco-Roman educational system, although it was from Christianity that the culture's essential values were drawn.[84]

The Eastern Roman Empire – today conventionally named the Byzantine Empire, a name not in use during its own time[82] – became increasingly influenced by Greek culture after the 7th century, when Emperor Heraclius (AD 575 - 641) decided to make Greek the empire's official language.[85][86] 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 Charlemagne, king of the Franks, as the "Roman Emperor" on 25 December 800, an act which eventually led to the formation of the Holy Roman Empire, the Latin West started to favour the Franks and began to refer to the Eastern Roman Empire largely as the Empire of the Greeks (Imperium Graecorum).[87]

These Byzantine Greeks were largely responsible for the preservation of the literature of the classical era.[84][88][89] Byzantine grammarians were those principally responsible for carrying, in person and in writing, ancient Greek grammatical and literary studies to the West during the 15th century, giving the Italian Renaissance a major boost.[90][91] The Aristotelian philosophical tradition was nearly unbroken in the Greek world for almost two thousand years, until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.[92]

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 Thessaloniki, who are credited today with formalizing the first Slavic alphabet.[93]

A distinct Greek political identity 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.[94] 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.[94] 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.[94]


Engraving of a Greek merchant by Cesare Vecellio (16th century).

Following the Fall of Constantinople on 29 May 1453, many Greeks sought better employment and education opportunities by leaving for the West, particularly Italy, Central Europe, Germany and Russia.[90] Greeks are greatly credited for the European cultural revolution, later called, the Renaissance.

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.[95] The Greek speakers were the only ethnic group to actually call themselves Romioi,[96] (as opposed to being so named by others) and, at least those educated, considered their ethnicity (genos) to be Hellenic.[97]

The roots of Greek success in the Ottoman Empire can be traced to the Greek tradition of education and commerce.[98] 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.[99] Not coincidentally, on the eve of 1821, the three most important centres of Greek learning were situated in Chios, Smyrna and Aivali, all three major centres of Greek commerce.[99]


The cover of Hermes o Logios, a Greek literary publication of the late 18th and early 19th century.

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.[100] A century later, when the Treaty of Lausanne was signed between Greece and Turkey in 1923, the two countries agreed to use religion as the determinant for ethnic identity for the purposes of population exchange, although most 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.[N 1][101][102][103][104] The Greek genocide, in particular the harsh removal of Pontian Greeks from the southern shore area of the Black Sea, contemporaneous with and following 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.[105]

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, Albanian-speaking Arvanites, Slavophones and Turkish-speaking Karamanlides.[106][107] Today, Greeks are to be found all around the world.[108]


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History of Greece

The terms used to define Greekness have varied throughout history but were never limited or completely identified with membership to a Greek state.[109] By Western standards, the term Greeks has traditionally referred to any native speakers of the Greek language, whether Mycenaean, Byzantine or modern Greek.[95][110] 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.[111] 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.[112]

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".[113] The modern Greek state was created in 1829, when the Greeks liberated a part of their historic homelands, Peloponnese, from the Ottoman Empire.[114] The large Greek diaspora and merchant class were instrumental in transmitting the ideas of western romantic nationalism and philhellenism,[99] 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.[94][95][115]

The Greeks today are a nation in the meaning of an ethnos, defined by possessing Greek culture and having a Greek mother tongue, not by citizenship, race, and religion or by being subjects of any particular state.[116] In ancient and medieval times and to a lesser extent today the Greek term was genos, which also indicates a common ancestry.[117][118]


Map showing the major regions of mainland ancient Greece, and adjacent "barbarian" lands.

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


Apollo in Delphi (Phocis) and of Demeter near Thermopylae (Locris).[126] According to the legend it was founded after the Trojan War by the eponymous Amphictyon, brother of Hellen.

Greeks (Γραικοί)

In the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women, Graecus is presented as the son of Zeus and Pandora II, sister of Hellen the patriarch of Hellenes.[127] Hellen was the son of Deucalion who ruled around Phthia in central Greece. The Parian Chronicle mentions that when Deucalion became king of Phthia, the previously called Graikoi were named Hellenes. Aristotle notes that the Hellenes were related with Grai/Greeks (Meteorologica I.xiv) a native name of a Dorian tribe in Epirus which was used by the Illyrians. He also claims that the great deluge must have occurred in the region around Dodona, where the Selloi dwelt. However according to the Greek tradition it is more possible that the homeland of the Greeks was originally in central Greece. A modern theory derives the name Greek (Lt. Graeci) from Graecos inhabitant of Graia -or Graea-(Γραία), a town on the coast of Boeotia. Greek colonists from Graia helped to found Cumae (900 BC) in Italy, where they were called Graeces. When the Romans encountered them they used this name for the colonists and then for all Greeks.(Graeci)[128] In Greek, graia (γραία) means "old woman" and is derived from the PIE root *gere: "to grow old"[129][130] in Proto-Greek guraj, "old age" and later "gift of honour" (Mycenean:"kera, geras"), and grau-j, "old lady".[131] The Germanic languages borrowed the word Greeks with an initial "k" sound which probably was their initial sound closest to the Latin "g" at the time (Goth. Kreks). The area out of ancient Attica including Boeotia was called Graïke and is connected with the older deluge of Ogyges, the mythological ruler of Boeotia. The region was originally occupied by the Minyans who were autochthonous or Proto-Greek speaking people.[132] In ancient Greek the name Ogygios came to mean "from earliest days".[133]

Achaeans (Ἀχαιοί)

Homer uses the terms Achaeans and Danaans (Δαναοί) as a generic term for Greeks in Iliad,[134] and they were probably a part of the Mycenean civilization. The names Achaioi and Danaoi seem to be pre-Dorian belonging to the people who were overthrown. They were forced to the region that later bore the name Achaea after the Dorian invasion.[135] In the 5th century BC, they were redefined as contemporary speakers of Aeolic Greek which was spoken mainly in Thessaly, Boeotia and Lesbos. There are many controversial theories on the origin of the Achaeans. According to one view, the Achaeans were one of the fair-headed tribes of upper Europe, who pressed down over the Alps during the early Iron age (1300 BC) to southern Europe.[136] Another theory suggests that the Peloponnesian Dorians were the Achaeans.[137] These theories are rejected by other scholars who, based on linguistic criteria, suggest that the Achaeans were mainland pre-Dorian Greeks.[138] There is also the theory that there was an Achaean ethnos that migrated from Asia minor to lower Thessaly prior to 2000 BC.[139] Some Hittite texts mention a nation lying to the west called Ahhiyava or Ahhiya.[140] Egyptian documents refer to Ekwesh, one of the groups of sea peoples who attached Egypt during the reign of Merneptah (1213-1203 BCE), who may have been Achaeans.[141]

Danaans (Δαναοί)

In Homer's Iliad, the names Danaans (or Danaoi: Δαναοί) and Argives (Argives: Αργείοι) are used to designate the Greek forces opposed to the Trojans. The myth of Danaus, whose origin is Egypt, is a foundation legend of Argos. His daughters Danaides, were forced in Tartarus to carry a jug to fill a bathtub without a bottom. This myth is connected with a task that can never be fulfilled (Sisyphos) and the name can be derived from the PIE root *danu: "river".[142][143] There is not any satisfactory theory on their origin. Some scholars connect Danaans with the Denyen, one of the groups of the sea peoples who attacked Egypt during the reign of Ramesses III (1187-1156 BCE).[144] The same inscription mentions the Weshesh who might have been the Achaeans. The Denyen seem to have been inhabitants of the city Adana in Cilicia. Pottery similar to that of Mycenae itself has been found in Tarsus of Cilicia and it seems that some refugees from the Aegean went there after the collapse of the Mycenean civilization. These Cilicians seem to have been called Dananiyim, the same word as Danaoi who attacked Egypt in 1191 BC along with the Quaouash (or Weshesh) who may be Achaeans.[145] They were also called Danuna according to a Hittite inscription and the same name is mentioned in the Amarna letters.[146] Julius Pokorny reconstructs the name from the PIE root da:-: "flow, river", da:-nu: "any moving liquid, drops", da: navo "people living by the river, Skyth. nomadic people (in Rigveda water-demons, fem.Da:nu primordial goddess), in Greek Danaoi, Egypt. Danuna".[147] It is also possible that the name Danaans is pre-Greek. A country Danaja with a city Mukana (propaply: Mycenea) is mentioned in inscriptions from Egypt from Amenophis III (1390-1352 BC), Thutmosis III (1437 BC).[148]

Modern and Ancient

Family group on a funerary stele from Athens, National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

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 (lasting from the 11th to the 8th century BC).[149] Scholars compare its continuity of tradition to Chinese alone.[149][150] Since its inception, Hellenism was primarily a matter of common culture[40] and the national continuity of the Greek world is a lot more certain than its demographic.[151] Yet, Hellenism also embodied an ancestral dimension through aspects of Athenian literature that developed and influenced ideas of descent based on autochthony.[152] During the later years of the Eastern Roman Empire, areas such as Ionia and Constantinople experienced a Hellenic revival in language, philosophy, and literature and on classical models of thought and scholarship.[151] This revival provided a powerful impetus to the sense of cultural affinity with ancient Greece and its classical heritage.[151] The cultural changes undergone by the Greeks are, despite a surviving common sense of ethnicity, undeniable.[151] At the same time, the Greeks have retained their language and alphabet, certain values and cultural traditions, customs, 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),[153] a sense of Greek identity and common sense of ethnicity despite the global political and social changes of the past two millennia.[151]


Today, Greeks are the majority ethnic group in the Hellenic Republic,[154] where they constitute 93% of the country's population,[155] and the Republic of Cyprus where they make up 78% of the island's population (excluding Turkish settlers in the occupied part of the country).[156] 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.[157] 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 after the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey.[157] About 80% of the population of Greece is urban, with 28% concentrated in the city of Athens[158]

Greeks from Cyprus have a similar history of emigration, usually to the English-speaking world because 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.[159] After the ethnic cleansing of a third of the Greek population of the island in 1974,[160][161][162][163][164] there was also an increase in the number of Greek Cypriots leaving, especially for the Middle East, which contributed to a decrease in population that tapered off in the 1990s.[159] Today more than two-thirds of the Greek population in Cyprus is urban.[159]

There is a sizeable Greek minority of about 105,000 people, in Black Sea states, remnants of the Old Greek Diaspora (pre-19th century).[169]


Zach Galifianakis, American stand-up comedian and actor of Greek ancestry

The total number of Greeks living outside Greece and Cyprus today is a contentious issue. Where Census figures are available, they show around 3 million Greeks outside Sorbonne University, the number is closer to just below 5 million.[171] 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.[169] Recently, the Hellenic Parliament introduced a law that enables Diaspora Greeks in Greece to vote in the elections of the Greek state.[172]


Greek colonization in antiquity.

In ancient times, the trading and colonizing activities of the Greek tribes and city states spread the Greek culture, religion and language around the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins, especially in [16][17] may represent a living remnant of the ancient Greek populations of Italy.


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.[175] 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 (Odessa and Saint Petersburg), and Britain (London and Liverpool) from where they traded, typically in textiles and grain.[176] Businesses frequently comprised the extended family, and with them they brought schools teaching Greek and the Greek Orthodox Church.[176]

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.[177] With economic success, the Diaspora expanded further across the Levant, North Africa, India and the USA.[177][178]

In the 20th 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.[179]

While official figures remain scarce, polls and anecdotal evidence point to renewed Greek emigration as a result of the Greek financial crisis.[180] According to data published by the Federal Statistical Office of Germany in 2011, 23,800 Greeks emigrated to Germany, a significant increase over the previous year. By comparison, about 9,000 Greeks emigrated to Germany in 2009 and 12,000 in 2010.[181][182]


Scenes of marriage and family life in Constantinople.

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.[183][184] Ottoman Greeks had to endure through several centuries of adversity that culminated in genocide in the 20th century but nevertheless included cultural exchanges and enriched both cultures.[185][186][187][188][189] The Diafotismos is credited with revitalizing Greek culture and giving birth to the synthesis of ancient and medieval elements that characterize it today.[94][95]


Ancient Greek Ostracon bearing the name of Cimon. Museum of the Ancient Agora, Athens.

Most Greeks speak the Greek language, an Indo-European language that forms a branch itself, with its closest relations being Armenian (see Graeco-Armenian) and the Indo-Iranian languages (see Graeco-Aryan).[149] It has one of the longest documented histories of any language and Greek literature has a continuous history of over 2,500 years.[190] 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 many foreign words, primarily of Western European and Turkish origin.[191] 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.[192]

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).[193] 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.[149][194]


Papyrus 46 is one of the oldest extant New Testament manuscripts in Greek, written on papyrus, with its 'most probable date' between 175-225.

Most Greeks are Christians, belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church. During the first centuries after Jesus Christ, the New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek, which remains the liturgical language of the Greek Orthodox Church, and most of the early Christians and Church Fathers were Greek-speaking.[183][184] 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. About 2,000 Greeks are members of Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism congregations.[195][196][197]

Greek-speaking Muslims live mainly outside Greece in the contemporary era. There are both Christian and Muslim Greek-speaking communities in Lebanon and Syria, while in the Pontus region of Turkey there is a large community of indeterminate size who were spared from the population exchange because of their religious affiliation.[198]


El Greco's Assumption of the Virgin (1577–1579).

Greek art has a long and varied history. Greeks have contributed to the visual, literary and performing arts.[199] 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.[199] Well into the 19th century, the classical tradition derived from Greece played an important role in the art of the western world.[200] 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 Japan.[201]

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.[202] Its influences can be traced from Venice in the West to Kazakhstan in the East.[202][203] 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.[204]

Notable modern Greek artists include Odysseas Elytis are among the most important poets of the 20th century. Novel is also represented by Alexandros Papadiamantis and Nikos Kazantzakis.

Notable Greek actors include Marika Kotopouli, Melina Mercouri, Ellie Lambeti, Academy Award winner Katina Paxinou, Dimitris Horn, Manos Katrakis and Irene Papas. Alekos Sakellarios, Michael Cacoyannis and Theo Angelopoulos are among the most important directors.


Aristarchus of Samos was the first known individual to propose a heliocentric system, in the 3rd century BC

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 Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and other centres of Greek learning while Eastern Roman science was essentially a continuation of classical science.[205] Greeks have a long tradition of valuing and investing in paideia (education).[71] 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.[206] The University of Constantinople was Christian Europe's first secular institution of higher learning since no theological subjects were taught,[207] and considering the original meaning of the world university as a corporation of students, the world’s first university as well.[206]

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.[158] 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.[208] Notable modern Greek scientists of modern times include Pap test), Nicholas Negroponte, Constantin Carathéodory, Manolis Andronikos, Michael Dertouzos, John Argyris, Panagiotis Kondylis, John Iliopoulos (2007 Dirac Prize for his contributions on the physics of the charm quark, a major contribution to the birth of the Standard Model, the modern theory of Elementary Particles), Joseph Sifakis (2007 Turing Award, the "Nobel Prize" of Computer Science), Christos Papadimitriou (2002 Knuth Prize, 2012 Gödel Prize), Mihalis Yannakakis (2005 Knuth Prize) and Dimitri Nanopoulos.


The flag of the Greek Orthodox Church is based on the coat of arms of the Palaiologoi, the last dynasty of the Byzantine Empire.
Traditional Greek flag.

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.[209] 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 Cyprus has officially adopted a neutral flag to ease ethnic tensions with the Turkish Cypriot minority – see flag of Cyprus).[210]

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 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.[211]

Another highly recognizable and popular Greek symbol is the double-headed eagle, the imperial emblem of the last dynasty of the Roman Empire and a common symbol in Asia Minor and, later, Eastern Europe.[212] It is not 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.[213]


Greek surnames 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.[214] 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.[215] 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 (this usage having been passed on to the Russians). In Cyprus, by contrast, surnames follow the ancient tradition of being given according to the father’s name.[216][217][218] Finally, in addition to Greek-derived surnames many have Latin, Turkish and Italian origin.[219]

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 18th century onwards.[220]


The traditional Greek homelands have been the Greek peninsula and the Aegean Sea, the Southern Italy (Magna Graecia), the Black Sea, the Ionian coasts of Asia Minor and the islands of Cyprus and Sicily. In Plato's Phaidon, Socrates remarks, "we (Greeks) live around a sea like frogs around a pond" when describing to his friends the Greek cities of the Aegean.[221][222] This image is attested by the map of the Old Greek Diaspora, which corresponded to the Greek world until the creation of the Greek state 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.[40]

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.[223][224][225][226] 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.[227][228]

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.[94] 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 Stavros Niarchos.[229][230]


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.

See also


a.^ Though there is a 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.[236][237] A variety of more theories has also been supported,[238] but there is a general consensus that the coming of the Greek tribes occurred around 2100 BC.
  1. ^ While Greek authorities signed the agreement legalizing the population exchange this was done on the insistence of  


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Further reading

External links

  • World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), Umbrella Diaspora Organization
  • Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
  • Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria
  • Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch
  • Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem
  • Church of Cyprus
  • Church of Greece
  • Transnational Communities Programme at the University of Oxford, includes papers on the Greek Diaspora
  • Greeks on Greekness: The Construction and Uses of the Greek Past among Greeks under the Roman Empire.
  • The North America, which publishes the Journal of Modern Greek Studies.
  • The Got Greek? Next Generation National Research Study is an academic study of young diaspora Greeks sponsored by The Next Generation Initiative
  • Waterloo Institute for Hellenistic Studies
Trade organizations
  • Hellenic Canadian Board of Trade
  • Hellenic Canadian Lawyers Association
  • Hellenic Canadian Congress of British Columbia
  • Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce
  • Hellenic-Argentine Chamber of Industry and Commerce (C.I.C.H.A.)
Charitable organizations
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