The terms “Autochthonous,” “Indigenous” and “Native” have been used and are still used in literature and in the academic discourse to designate Hellenic culture, ancient and contemporary. Furthermore they are used to address single components of Hellenic culture such as religion (“polytheism”), music, language or architectural style. They are also self-chosen terms by ethnic Hellenes. However, some individuals outside the scientific community, especially on the internet, are questioning the validity of these terms when it comes to Hellenes. In this context, the term “ethnic” or “ethnic Hellenic” is also seen as problematic by people who are unaware of its history and etymology.
The objections raised can only be explained by an unfamiliarity with the meanings of the terms used for describing those ethno-cultural groups whose members maintain the original language, cults and customs of their countries or countries of origin.
This article is intended to set things right and explode erroneous assertions, both regarding the aforementioned terms as well as Hellenic culture itself. To this end, quotations from academic sources concerning various periods and aspects of Hellenic culture were selected to demonstrate the legitimate use of these terms in regards to Hellenism. The focus is on the legitimate use of terms only.
As a result of this selection, it becomes apparent that the misgivings in this respect are empirically unfounded. All the following citations are from books written and edited by non-Greek authors. Citations from Greek authors have been omitted only to avoid anything which could arouse the suspicion of a biased attitude. This decision is in no way intended to depreciate the academic work and contribution of Greek scholars.
All terms are treated individually and in alphabetical order. The quotations are listed in chronological order. Emphasis was added by me.
“The autochthonous Greek religion had been successful for centuries and had repeatedly been able to adapt to different conditions.”
Ina Wunn, Davina Grojnowski: Religious Speciation: How Religions Evolve, Berlin: Springer, 2019, p. 155.
“Autochthonous Greek, Aramaic (Targum), and Arabic translations of the Samaritan Torah have been produced over the centuries.”
Monika Schreiber: The Comfort of Kin: Samaritan Community, Kinship, and Marriage, Boston/Leiden: Brill, 2014, p. 22.
“Medusa, the only Gorgon sister who was mortal. Strategically located in the myth out beyond Ocean, in the space of the external and the elsewhere, far more repugnant, with her bristling, serpentine locks, than any other monster, she freezes and paralyzes. According to the legend of Perseus—a real autochthonous Greek hero, he—her deadly weapon is her gaze.”
Adriana Cavarero: Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009, p. 7-8.
“The Podocataro family, one member of which is explicitly mentioned in the 26 October 1452 document, is a distinguished example of the autochthonous Greek element.”
Laura Balleto: Ethnic Groups, Cross-Social and Cross-Cultural Contacts of Fifteenth Century Cyprus, in: Benjamin Arbel (ed.): Intercultural Contacts in the Medieval Mediterranean, London/Portland: Frank Cass, 1996, p. 41.
“The autochthonous Greek population on the two Turkish islands in the Aegean was not to be subjected to compulsory exchange. Similarly, the compact Turkish settlement in Greek western Thrace was exempted from this exchange.”
Ferenc A. Váli: Bridge across the Bosporus: The Foreign Policy of Turkey, Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971, p. 260.
“Herodotus emphasized the last three factors – ancestry myth, history, and culture – in his Histories as the definition of ethnicity, creating the foundations for Hellenic ethnic self-determination for all Hellenes overseas or in Aegean poleis.”
Rachel J. Mittelman: Macedonian, Greek, or Egyptian? Navigating the royal additive identities of Ptolemy I Soter and Ptolemy II Philadelphus, in: Aaron W. Irvin (ed.): Community and Identity at the Edges of the Classical World, New York: Wiley Blackwell, 2021, p. 120.
“The fourfold typology of Greek, sub-Hellenic ethnic, regional, and polis identities, developed in the introduction, has proved a productive way to approach the complexities of identity in the Greek world. Hellenic and polis identities were not the same thing, nor were regional or ethnic identities, since each of these produced qualitatively different experiences for the communities involved.”
Mark R. Thatcher: The Politics of Identity in Greek Sicily and Southern Italy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021, p. 249.
“For that reason ethnic Hellenes living in the region could also be identified as Syrians. So there are Syrian Greeks and Greek Syrians. What they were not, however, were Jews.”
Guy MacLean Rogers: For the Freedom of Zion: The Great Revolt of Jews Against Romans, 66-74 CE, New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2021, p. 583.
“The Ionians, on the other hand, are more manifestly subordinated to Athens as hegemonic power: the traditional idea of the relationship between Athens as metropolis and independent Ionian colonies of heterogeneous ethnic (Hellenic) composition (ch. 3C) is replaced by one of direct descent and divine sanctions (cf. Smarczyk (1990) 616, J. Hall (1997) 56, (2002) 204); this gives extra strength to moral claims that the colonies owe loyalty and obedience (on which cf. Thuc. 1.25.3-26.3, Miller (1997) 272-5, Graham (1983) 213-15).”
Gunther Martin: Euripides – ‚Ion‘: Edition and commentary, Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, 2018, p. 534.
“Florin Curta notes that Julian’s ethnic Hellenism derives from his Neoplatonist interpretation of ethnic diversity, the theory that each ethnos is assigned an ethnic god by the Demiurge.”
Ari Finkelstein: The Specter of the Jews. Emperor Julian and the Rhetoric of Ethnicity in Syrian Antioch, Oakland: University of California Press, 2018, p. 19.
“This may mean, of course, that the mints were being staffed in this period by workers whose Greek-language skills were marginal—either ethnic Hellenes who were losing their language or Central Asians not altogether fluent in Greek.”
Frank L. Holt: Lost World of the Golden King: In Search of Ancient Afghanistan, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012, p. 181.
“Like the traditions of the rape of the Sabine women and Romulus’s asylum, Dionysius’s Rome was also open to outsiders; the difference, however, lies in the fact that Dionysius’s ‘outsiders’ were all ethnic Hellenes who managed to establish a truly panhellenic community in Italy—a community that later Greek generations would try and fail to recreate.”
Daniel S. Richter: Cosmopolis: Imagining Community in Late Classical Athens and the Early Roman Empire, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 114.
“On the other hand, to maintain that it was in the act of such ‘switching’ that a speaker became conscious of his or her linguistic (and hence ethnic) Hellenic heritage, it would need to be shown that there was an awareness of a common Hellenic language, spoken from one end of the Mediterranean to the other.”
Jonathan M. Hall: Hellenicity: Between Ethnicity and Culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002, p. 115.
“Greek philosophy, like its main rival, rhetorical education, sought to provide a cultural common ground supportive of pan-Hellenic ethnic identity.”
Thomas Bridges: The Culture of Citizenship: Inventing Postmodern Civic Culture, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994, p. 132.
“It compares Cassandra’s prophetic function with that of the indigenous Greek Pythia – in the process invoking another shady domain of Apollo.”
Emily Pillinger: Cassandra and the Poetics of Prophecy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019, p. 65.
“Aeschylus was seen to extend his call for patriotism of a concrete political or military nature and, through the Persians, for more tangible connections with current events, such as the continuing movement for the liberation of indigenous Greek territories that remained under Ottoman Turkish occupation.”
Gonda Van Steen: Greece: A History of Turns, Traditions and Transformations, in: Betine van Zyl Smit (ed.): A Handbook to the Reception of Greek Drama, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016, p. 206-7.
“The most important origins of rupture that the Byzantine intelligentsia also noted were the impact of Roman culture on indigenous Hellenic traditions in the remote past and, especially, the impact of the fall of Constantinople in their own time.”
Han Lamers: Greece Reinvented: Transformations of Byzantine Hellenism in Renaissance Italy, Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2015, p. 271.
“It is an indigenous Greek conception that forms the central theme in Juliet du Boulay’s studies of the cyclical symbolism in relation to marriage and death, for the ‘dance’ (choros) to which the villagers refer is the traditional round dance, which takes the form of an open-ended circle or ring and is always led ‘counterclockwise’ in an auspicious, right-handed, circular movement, as people define ‘towards the right’ (dexia); that is, the path of life, in keeping with the importance of the circle imagery within Greek culture in general.”
Evy Johanne Haland: Greek Festivals, Modern and Ancient: A Comparison of Female and Male Values, Vol. II, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014, p. 90.
“The style and the motifs overall are determinedly late antique and Hellenistic: a fully indigenous Hellenism.”
Aziz al-Azmeh: The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity: Allah and His People, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014, p. 507.
“Indigenous Greek classifications of divine beings into gods, daimones, heroes, and the dead claim archaic pedigrees. According to one tradition, it was Thales who first established the tripartite division between gods, daimones and heroes.”
Irene Polinskaya: A Local History of Greek Polytheism: Gods, People and the Land of Aigina, 800-400 BCE, Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2013, p. 75.
“What is not clear, however, is whether Aphrodite developed as an indigenous Hellenic goddess on Greek soil (and, if so, when), or whether, she emigrated to Greece from outside the Greek-speaking world sometime before or during the eighth century BC.”
Monica S. Cyrino: Aphrodite, New York: Routledge, 2010, p. 18.
“The sacrifice connects the Near Eastern tradition of the Flood with the indigenous Greek tradition of anthropogony, since Zeus sent Hermes to ask Deukalion what he would like to have.”
Jan Bremmer: Greek Religion and Culture, the Bible and the Ancient Near East, Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2008, p. 114.
“What we see at ‘Amra’ is an indigenous Hellenism that is local, not alien. The Dionysus that appears on the walls of Amra is the Arab Dionysus of the Nabataeans, the Dionysus whom Nonnos brought to Arabia, and the Dionysus of the Sepphoris mosaic.”
G. W. Bowersock: Hellenism and Islam, in: Eva Hoffmann (ed.): Late Antique and Medieval Art of the Mediterranean World, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007, p. 93.
“The Phrygian mother goddess Cybele probably came to Greece via Ionia. She was assimilated with the indigenous Greek ‘Great Mother’, also known as ‘The Mother of the Gods’ or simply the ‘Mother’, and while Cybele’s iconography – particularly her lion – became well established, the name ‘Cybele’ itself never appears to have gained widespread use.”
Matthew Dillon: Girls and Women in Classical Greek Religion, London: Routledge, 2002, p. 154.
“The Greek, and more particularly Athenian, custom of pronouncing epitaphioi for the war dead collectively had by Roman times lapsed into a purely literary and archaizing genre, but the development of the individual, or idios, funerary discourse during the Second Sophistic may nevertheless have drawn chiefly on indigenous Greek models.”
David Konstan: How to Praise a Friend: St. Gregory of Nazianzus’s Funeral Oration for St. Basil the Great, in: Thomas Hägg and Philip Rousseau (eds.): Greek Biography and Panegyric in Late Antiquity, Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000, p. 166.
“Of course, the prevailing view regarding the birth of Mycenaean culture is that it developed from the previous Middle Helladic civilization, and grew out of indigenous Hellenic elements. The Middle Helladic tradition is clear in the tomb types, as well as in the life style, the settlement patterns, domestic objects, but also in a few of the weapons and precious vessels.”
Richard Hubbard Howland (ed.): Mycenaean Treasures of the Aegean Bronze Age Repatriated (Proceedings from a Seminar Sponsored by the Society for the Preservation of the Greek Heritage and Held at the Ripley Center, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. on January 27, 1996.) Washington, D.C.: Society for the Preservation of the Greek Heritage, 1997, p. 22.
“The expected Greek victory did not come, however, as resurgent Turkish forces under Kemal Ataturk pushed the Greek forces out of Asia Minor in September 1921 and, along with them, the indigenous Greek populations.”
Keith R. Legg, John M. Roberts: Modern Greece: A Civilization on the Periphery, London: Westview Press, 1997, p. 36.
“All this was due not only to its economic strength and State organisation, but to a strong, indigenous Hellenic tradition of loyalty to the State and its divine rulers, and a long acceptance of State bureaucracy and management.”
Stephen Williams: Diocletian and the Roman Recovery, New York: Routledge, 1996, p. 215.
“Despite this elaborate demonology, there existed no indigenous Greek category corresponding to ‘the Devil.’ There was no prince of evil.”
Charles Stewart: Demons and the Devil: Moral Imagination in Modern Greek Culture, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991, p. 149.
“This period of Greek history is known as the Hellenistic Age (from the spread of indigenous Hellenic culture over a large part of the ancient world) and it was during this age that the philosophies called Cynicism, Stoicism and Epicureanism arose.”
R. J. Hollingdale: Western Philosophy: An Introduction, New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1979, p. 90.
“Yet it is such elements which formed the religious substrate that left its mark not only on the indigenous Greek inhabitants but also on the people of Crete, and which was to a large extent assimilated in Mycenaean religious practice.”
Bernard C. Dietrich: The Origins of Greek Religion, Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1974, p. 8.
“Christianity, for example, derived its inspiration not from indigenous Hellenic sources but from a proletariat which had been forcibly conscripted into the Hellenic society from the remnants of the Syriac society; its inspiration is therefore Syriac and alien to the Hellenic society.”
Edward DeLos Myers: Education in the Perspective of History, New York: Harper, 1960, p. 26.
“By the mid-second century b.c.e. the island was under the control of Athens, and many of Delos‘ native Greek cults were maintained.”
Jon D. Mikalson: Ancient Greek Religion, 3rd ed., Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2022, p. 194.
“There are no known examples in which a native Greek speaker learned Syriac. Thus, there is no example of imposition by native Greek speakers. With native Syriac speakers, there was a continuum of knowledge of Greek.”
Aaron M. Butts: Language Change in the Wake of Empire: Syriac in Its Greco-Roman Context, Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016, p. 39.
“Jay Fisher clarifies the ways in which the Excerptiones de arte grammatica Anglice of the Anglo-Saxon scholar Aelfric sought to bridge the pedagogical gap between the world of the sixth-century grammarian Priscian (a pagan whose pedagogy was designed for native Greek speakers) and his own world of Christian Anglo-Saxons.”
Elizabeth P. Archibald, William Brockliss, Jonathan Gnoza: Introduction: “Learning me your language”, in: Elizabeth P. Archibald, William Brockliss, Jonathan Gnoza (eds.): Learning Latin and Greek from Antiquity to the Present, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 5-6.
“The vocabulary of modern Greek is similarly intricate: the largest part consists of native Greek words derived from the ancient lexicon, mostly via the Hellenistic koine and the modern dialects of the Peloponnese, on which the modern standard language is based.”
Stephen Colvin: A Brief History of Ancient Greek, Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2014, p. ix.
“Friedrich Hölderlin was, along with Goethe, Germany’s greatest poet; but it was his epistolary novel Hyperion, whose protagonist is a romantic idealist devoted to the regeneration of his native Hellenic culture, that most fascinated the young Nietzsche.”
Graham Parker: Introduction, in: Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Graham Parker, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, p. xii.
“Posidon a native Greek god—though not originally of the sea—is more prominent at Pylos even than Zeus; in the epic poems he escaped most indignities.”
Michael Grant: The Myths of the Greeks and Romans, New York: Penguin Books, 1995, p. 57.
“If within the Greek world the study of the architecture of the Roman age is complicated by an essential duality of direction between the native Hellenic tradition and Roman, when we turn to the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean world and to the lands that lay beyond it the duet becomes a trio, if not indeed a chorus of mixed voices.”
John Bryan Ward–Perkins: Roman Imperial Architecture, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981, p. 307.
“The term Hellenistic, therefore, properly refers to an amalgam of Greek and oriental customs and motifs which contrasts with the earlier native Hellenism of the fifth century.”
Finley Hooper: Greek Realities: Life and Thought in Ancient Greece, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967, p. 422.