When we take a closer look at the Greek or Hellenic people, we see a vibrant culture that manifests itself in a variety of different ways at the individual, local, and state levels. There are different dances, musical styles, ceremonies, superstitions, fairy tales, cultures of memory, family structures and unique traditions forged by historical experiences. All these emanations of Greek culture are interconnected and thus interact with each other. This interaction is possible because it is rooted on a common ground for all Hellenic tribes. Our pan-Hellenic identity is structured on the basis of this shared common ground. This common ground is our Common Hellenism.
Sometimes Greeks seem to forget their belonging to the same ethnicity. We tend to place tribal interests above those of all Greeks, sometimes even above everything else, which led to the popular saying: “The worst enemy of a Greek is another Greek.” It is for this reason that we need to remind ourselves of our Common Hellenism. Considered from the historical point of view, it was always an outside threat that forced us to pull ourselves together, though that did not last long.
We should always bear in mind that we are an ethnos, a word which is, unfortunately, often misunderstood in the non-Greek world or, even worse, confused with the Western European originated concept of “race.” The word “ethnos” derives from the ancient Greek éthos which means “character, idiom, behavior.” An “ethnos” is a group of people sharing a common ethos or culture, as we call it today. A Hellene is someone of Hellenic ancestry who participates in Hellenic ethos (language, religion, way of life), and hence a bearer of a specific ethnic identity based on a specific ethos, language and religion (“kinship of all Greeks in blood and speech, and the shrines of gods and the sacrifices that we have in common, and the likeness of our way of life,” Herodotos, 8.144).
Nevertheless, as an ethnos, we are, just like any other ethnicity, inhomogeneous. As explained above, our historically grown diversity expresses itself in a variety of customs, dialects and tribal cults. All this variety, however, flows to our Common Hellenism like a mighty river to the sea.
The loyalty towards the pan-Hellenic cults, our language and way of life are the basic characteristics that all ethnic Hellenes have in common, regardless of which school of philosophy (Platonic, Stoic or Epicurean) and tribe we belong to, regardless of the dialect we use at home or how we bury our dead. Common Hellenism contains all of that, and in addition offers the strength to face threats we could not face alone. The selected quotes below accentuate the interconnected natural diversity, and furthermore, the strength that lies inherent in our Common Hellenism.
It is only when we work together (or at least towards the same goal) that we experience the underlying certainty of Common Hellenism: Even though we come from different tribes, we are one. It does not matter if the main god of your tribe is Zeus Stratios or Pallas Athena, if you belong to an Ionian or another tribe, if you speak this or that dialect, if you live in Thessaloniki, Athens or in the diaspora, if you are able to speak Greek fluently or if you struggle to not forget your native language: You are a member of the Hellenic family. That is the message of Common Hellenism. Wherever you are, whatever you experience, do not ever forget that.
“He [Jonathan M. Hall] concludes, however, that regional identities were always a weak concept compared to the state identities of individual poleis, descent-based identities as Dorians or Ionians, and to an over-arching sense of common Hellenism … It is clear, however, that there were many sub-divisions and competing identities within this common Hellenism.”
Kathryn Lomas, “Introduction,” in: Kathryn Lomas (ed.), Greek Identity in the Western Mediterranean. Mnemosyne Supplementum 246. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2004, pp. 3 and 7.
“Internally, however, along with individual constitutions and laws, each polis had its own cults, and each was a community of its citizens and could forge its separate culture … The shared and common Hellenism expressed itself through regional and polis variations on the theme.”
Rosalind Thomas, “The classic city,” in: Robin Osborne (ed.), Classical Greece: 500-323 BC, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 71.
“The enemy was distinctly recognizable, as was the cost of submission: economic servitude and loss of autonomy. In the face of such a clear and present danger, many of the Greeks acknowledged their common Hellenism and agreed to work together to defend it.”
James Romm, Herodotus, New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1998, p. 197.
“There are to be found no innovations in constitutional theory, no extension of the criteria of citizenship, no mergers of autonomy within a common Hellenism, no binding alliances, and no ideology of subordination beyond recognition of de facto sovereignty and the obvious need to preserve the safety of koinonia.”
W. G. Runciman, “Doomed to extinction. The polis as an evolutionary dead-end,” in: Oswyn Murray and Simon Price (eds.), The Greek City from Homer to Alexander, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 354.
“The narrow escape from Persian domination brought the Greeks a new sense of pride in their common Hellenism. Together with this came a sober and realistic assessment of man’s place in the universe.”
Jane Sweeney, Tam Curry and Iannis Tzedakis (eds.), The Human Figure in Early Greek Art, Athens: Greek Ministry of Culture, 1988, p. 54.
“The forms of the letters in Greek inscriptions and the spelling vary according to locality, for there was diversity of alphabet and dialect in the various Greek states; that is, there were minor differences within the larger groups of Doric, Ionic, and Western. Moreover, the letters changed from period to period, and often help to place an object chronologically. In fact, in epigraphy, as in other branches of Greek art, the independence of individual states, as well as their common Hellenism, is apparent.”
Gisela M. Richter, A Handbook of Greek Art: A survey of the visual Arts of Ancient Greece, New York: Phaidon, 1969, 6th edition, p. 389.