Some of the readers of this blog would be wondering why Katerina, in one of the previous topic, “Different opinions”, wants to be known as Hellene and not Greek. Here is a brief explanation:
The name of our state is officially Ελληνική Δημοκρατία, Elliniki Dimokratia or Hellenic Republic.
In the ancient times the area that today is Greece consisted of a number of city states and kingdoms so the name Hellas was not in use to describe it but appears initially to refer to some people living in an area of the eastern part of Greece. It is only from the 7th century BCE and later that the term Hellene and Panhellenic appears more often to describe the people of the peninsula and their activities. The term Graeci (from where Greek and Greece comes from) was used by the Romans to refer to the people of north western Greece but we also see a reference in ancient Greek writings about the same people as “Γραικοί (Graeci), an older name of people that they now call themselves Hellenes”. With the establishment of Greek colonies in southern Italy, the term Graeci became more widespread amongst the population of today’s Italy to refer to all people of the Greek peninsula. With the advent of the Eastern Roman Empire (later Byzantine Empire) and of Christianity, the use of the term Hellenism was related by then to idolatry and paganism and was restricted for use only amongst scholars. The Byzantines, although were using the Greek language in the Empire’s later years, they referred to themselves as Ανατολική Ρωμαϊκή Αυτοκρατορία – Eastern Roman Empire and themselves still as Romans. The broader population used the term Ρωμαίος or Ρωμιός – Roman or Romios (a shorter version for Roman), when not referring to themselves simply as Χριστιανός – Christian. But many westerners continued with the Roman term Graeci that became quite widespread in many of the languages of the west as Greeks, Grecs, Griechen, Grec and Griegos. With the deprivations of the 400 years of Turkish occupation, western visitors to Greece during that period, seeing the misery of the people of the area started using the term Greek to mean more than just an inhabitant of Greece but also someone that was illiterate, uncivilised, often a villain.
With the 1821 uprising a new era emerged. The more farsighted and educated amongst the leaders of the new nation realised that a new image was required to unite the people of the land who all they knew at the time was that they were Romioi, Christians and occasionally they were referred to by others as Graeci. The image of the long lost greatness of ancient Hellas was known only amongst the few educated who decided that the new state was to aspire to the greatness of its ancestors, the ancient Hellenes. So the name of the new state was to be Hellas.
The first government of the new state issued its first provisional constitution as Προσωρινό Πολίτευμα της Ελλάδος – Provisional Regime of Hellas in 1822 and its first constitution issued in 1832 upon the appointment of the first king of the state, King Otto, was the Πολιτικόν Σύνταγμα της Ελλάδος – Political Constitution of Hellas. Since then Hellas is the official name of the state and Hellenes is what we like to call ourselves. The term Greeks, although tolerated because of its widespread use by most foreigners, is not one that we like.
And that’s what Katerina’s call was for; don’t call us Greeks, we are Hellenes.