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Greek Ethnic Identity - Essay Example

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With the constant reference to this people in antiquity's historical, literary, philosophical, and architectural involvement, it becomes interesting to know who the Greeks through a deeper look at their ethnic identity. Starting at their first reference to themselves as Greeks which sets them apart to other groups, it should be noted that their ethnic identity has evolved through the different historical events and transitions that they went through. Thus, this paper will look at Greek identity during the antiquity and the modern times.
In the eyes of a Westerner, the term Greek is used to refer to any speaker of the Greek language regardless of their origin. Thus, Greek refer to either Mycenaean, Byzantian, and modern Greek recognizing that all these groups speak the same language amidst their time of existence. However, Greeks are very much particular about their racial purity denying the existence of "ethnological adulteration." This very strong sense of racial purity is important to all the Greeks and is repeatedly communicated to all the non-Greeks. According to Shea (1997), "the Greek insistence on ethnological purity for its people is not unusual among expressions of nationalism." Starting from the ancient Greeks, there has been this awareness and insistence that Greeks are homogenous without the influence or presence of cultural minorities. It goes strongly with the assertion of the Greeks of their lofty heritage and their perception of other ethnicities as being inferior. Thus, ethnic awareness of Greeks is centered on their belief of racial purity. In fact "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" (Shea 1997).
The origin of the Greeks can be traced to the mythology where Hellen received three sons from the nymph Orseis. These became the legendary founders of the four principal tribes of Hellas who are then referred to as the Hellenes. Hellenes then becomes the encompassing term referring to all Greek people. Both ancient and modern Greeks acknowledge their same origin and identify themselves as Hellenes.
The Greek historian Herodotus becomes the first person who formally sets apart and identifies Greek from other nation by setting out the distinct characteristic of a Hellenes. In his writings, Herodotus emphasizes that the sharing of a common language and race becomes the first criteria of being a Greek yet also acknowledged the importance of having the same culture. He states that Greeks are bound by "common language, a common blood, common shrines, statutes, and sacrifices, and common habits and customs" (Greeks 2008). In this statement, the importance of having the same religious belief which makes them followers and servants of the same gods and goddesses also becomes a very significant part of being identified as a Greek.
However, with the rise in Byzantine Empire, there has been a shift in the Greek culture from Hellenic to Eastern Roman. During this time, it should be noted that Hellenes becomes identified with the pagan past with the rise of Christianity as the mode of preserving cohesion in the empire. Thus, ...Show more


Ethnic identity can be loosely defined in reference to which someone identifies himself with a certain group. This includes his sense of belongingness in a group that influences a part of his thinking, feelings, and behavior. However, it should also be emphasized that even though ethnic identity influences an individual, his ethnic identity is separate from his individual identity…
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Greek Ethnic Identity
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