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ETHNONYMS: Ellines, Hellenes



Greeks constitute an ethnic group of great longevity, tracing their origins to the first appearance of complex society in southeastern Europe. A common sense of Culture, language, and religion signified by the term "Greek" (Hellene) developed in antiquity and has endured, with changes, to the present. Greek identity today emphasizes early Greek civilization, the Christian traditions of the Byzantine Empire, and the concerns of the modern Greek nation established in 1831. Throughout Greek history, members of other groups were periodically assimilated as Greeks, while Greeks themselves migrated in a worldwide diaspora. The ethnic Greeks now residing outside the Hellenic republic equal those within. This article, however, is restricted to the latter.

Location. The southernmost extremity of the Balkan Peninsula, Greece is located between 34° and 41° N and 19° and 29° E. It contains 15,000 kilometers of coastline and over 2,000 islands fanning into the Mediterranean Sea. The total land surface is 131,947 square kilometers, of which 80 percent is hilly or mountainous with only scattered valleys and plains. Nine geographical regions are generally recognized. Macedonia, Epirus, and Thrace form Greece's northern border with Albania, Macedonia (that section of what was Yugoslavia that is now seeking recognition as a separate nation), Bulgaria, and Turkey. The southern mainland includes Thessaly, central Greece, and the Peloponnesos. The Ionian Islands to the west of the mainland, the Aegean Islands (Including the Cyclades and Dodecanese) to the east, and Crete to the south constitute the major island regions. The climate varies from Mediterranean to central European with generally hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.

Demography. The 1991 Greek census recorded 10,042,956 citizens, of whom 96 percent were ethnic Greeks. There were also small numbers of Jews, Turks, Slavo-Macedonians, Gypsies, Albanians, Pomaks, Armenians, Lebanese, Filipinos, Pakistanis, North Africans, recent refugees from eastern Europe, and transhumant shepherd groups, Including Koutsovlachs, Aromani, and Sarakatsani. The national population has increased greatly from its 1831 level of 750,000, because of territorial accretion, the immigration of Greeks from outside Greece, and a rate of natural increase annually averaging 1.5 percent prior to 1900 and 1 percent thereafter. This growth was countered, however, by massive emigration to North America, northern Europe, Australia, and other locations throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The once sizable Turkish, Bulgarian, and Serbian populations living within current Greek boundaries also fell to minimal levels after several treaties and population Exchanges around the time of World War I.

Linguistic Affiliation. The primary language of Greece is Greek, an Indo-European language first attested around 1400 b.c. Modern Greek has two major forms: katharevousa, a formal, archaizing style devised by Greek nationalist Adamantis Korais in the early nineteenth century; and dimotiki, the language of ordinary conversation, which has regional variations. Many Greeks mix these forms according to demands of context and meaning, and the choice of one or the other for schooling and public discourse has been a political issue. Hellenic Orthodox church services are conducted in yet another Greek variant, koine, the language of the New Testament. While 97 percent of Greek citizens speak Greek as their primary language, there are small groups who also speak Turkish, Slavo-Macedonian, Albanian, Vlach (a Romanian dialect), Pomak (a Bulgarian dialect), and Romany.

History and Cultural Relations

The ancient origins of the Greek people remain obscure and controversial, particularly as regards the relative importance of conquering invasions, external influence, and indigenous development. Most now agree that by 2000 b.c. Greek speakers inhabited the southern mainland, at the same time that non-Greek Cretans developed Minoan civilization. Mycenean society, arising in the Peloponnesos around 1600 b.c., spread Greek language and culture to the Aegean Islands, Crete, Cyprus, and the Anatolian coast through both Conquest and colonization. By the rise of the classical city-states in the seventh to eighth centuries b.c., Greek identity was firmly in place throughout these regions as well as Greek colonies near the Black Sea, southern Italy, Sicily, and North Africa. The Macedonian kings, Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great, spoke Greek and embraced Greek culture. They conquered and united Greek lands and built an empire stretching to India and Egypt during the fourth century b.c. These Hellenistic kingdoms quickly crumbled, and Greek dominions gradually fell to the Roman Empire during the first and second centuries b.c. Greeks lived as a conquered but valued cultural group under the Romans. After this empire split in AD. 330, the eastern half, centered in Constantinople and unified by the new religion of Christianity, quickly evolved into the Byzantine Empire, in which Greeks controlled much of the eastern Mediterranean world for over one thousand years. The Venetian-led Fourth Crusade seized Constantinople in 1204, reducing the Byzantine Empire to a much smaller territory, established Frankish feudal principalities in much of what is now Greece. Both Byzantine and Frankish holdings eventually fell to the advancing Ottoman Empire, which conquered Constantinople in 1453. The Ottoman Turks treated Greeks as a distinct ethnic group, forcing them to pay taxes and often work on Turkish estates but allowing them to keep both identity and religion. Inspired by nationalistic ideals, and supported by England, France, and Russia, the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829) against the Turks produced the modern nation of Greece in 1831. The original nation contained only the southern mainland and some Aegean islands, but it gradually expanded through successive wars and treaties with the Turks and other neighbors. Nevertheless, attempts to gain the predominantly Greek areas of Constantinople, the western coast of Anatolia, and Cyprus were not successful. Compulsory Population exchanges after World War I removed most Greeks from the first two areas, as well as most Turks and other non-Greeks from Greece.


Greeks have been very mobile throughout their history. Areas of population concentration have shifted, and villages have come and gone with transitions from one period to another. Since establishment of the Greek nation, there has been much movement from upland, interior villages to lowland and coastal ones. Hundreds of new villages have been founded in the process. There has also been increasing migration from all villages to a few large cities. Greece became over 50 percent urbanized in the late 1960s. Metropolitan Athens now houses nearly one-third of the national population. Villages, which now average 500 inhabitants, can be compact clusters around a central square, linear strings along a road, or even sometimes scattered housing dispersed over a region. Market towns, ranging between 1,000 and 10,000 residents, are intermediaries between various regions and such major cities as greater Athens, Thessaloniki, Patras, Iraklion, and Volos.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Under the Ottomans, most Greeks were peasants or craftsmen. At the end of this period, however, a few shippers and merchants rose to power and wealth by mediating between the expanding Capitalist economies of western Europe and the Ottomans. After independence, Greece entered a fully "marketized" economy from a largely dependent position. Feudal estates were replaced by small family-farming operations. While an elite class continued, their wealth did not foster national Economic development. Greece remains at the bottom of European Community economic indicators. Subsistence agriculture of grain, olives, and vines has given way to cash cropping of these and other produce such as cotton, tobacco, and fresh fruits. The difficulties inherent in farming on mountainous terrain have led many to seek urban or foreign employment. By 1990, less than one-third of the Greek population were farmers.

Industrial Arts. Greece is one of the least industrialized European nations. While carpentry, metalworking, and similar shops exist in all Greek towns, other industry is heavily concentrated in Athens, Thessaloniki, and a few other cities. Work is often organized along family lines, and in 1990, 85 percent of Greek manufacturing units had less than ten employees. The most important industries are food, beverage, and tobacco processing, with textile, clothing, metallurgical, chemical, and shipbuilding operations following.

Trade. At independence, Greeks exported currants and other produce to northern Europe, importing metal goods, coffee, sugar, grain, and dried fish in return. While trade has since increased greatly, it remains heavily weighted against Greece and toward its current trading partnersGermany, Italy, France, the United States, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Greece now exports textiles, tobacco, produce, ores, cement, and chemicals while importing food, oil, cars, electronic items, and other consumer goods. Partially offsetting this unfavorable balance are receipts from shipping and tourism and remittances from Greeks abroad. Greece initiated Membership in the European Community in 1962, becoming a full member in 1981.

Division of Labor. Despite the importance of women's productive work in farming, household maintenance, and familial businesses, wage labor outside the family has been male-dominated until recently. At present, many Greek women work for wages only until they marry, and only 30 percent of wage earners are women. Of the total labor force in 1990, less than 29 percent were in agriculture, about 30 percent in manufacturing, and the rest in the service sector. Emigration to find work abroad has generally kept Greek unemployment rates under 5 percent.

Land Tenure. At independence, prime agricultural lands were controlled by Turkish (and a few Greek) overlords and by Hellenic Orthodox monasteries. The new government established a series of land reforms, whereby large estates were distributed to poor and landless peasants during the nineteenth century. The practice of bilateral partible inheritance has since led to considerable farm fragmentation, whereby familial holdings average 3 hectares scattered in several different plots.


Kin Groups and Descent. The relatives who share a household are a basic unit of economic cooperation and collective identity. Extending outward from the household, loose networks of both consanguineal and affinal kin provide social support. This bilateral kindred is often referred to as a soi, although this term has an agnatic bias in certain regions. Marriage connects family lines, as does ritual kinship. Those chosen as wedding sponsors or godparents stand in a special relationship to the entire kindred.

Kinship Terminology. Greek terminology follows a cognatic (or Eskimo) pattern. The gender of cousins is denoted by different endings, and in some regions more distant cousins are distinguished from first cousins. There also exist special terms for men married to two sisters and women married to two brothers. The terms for bride and groom broadly refer to people married by various members of one's family.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Greeks exhibit higher marriage and lower Divorce rates than northern Europeans. Marriage is Monogamous, and it is forbidden between first cousins by the Hellenic Orthodox Church. Civil marriage outside the church has only recently been allowed. Divorce is permitted by both law and religion, and, since 1982, it can be granted through common consent. Marriages were commonly arranged by parents until the last few decades. Both families take an active interest in the groom's potential inheritance and the bride's dowry. Men and women generally marry in their mid-to late twenties. Postmarital residence is normally neolocal with respect to the actual house or apartment, although some couples reside temporarily with either the bride's or groom's parents. With respect to the village or neighborhood where a new rural couple resides, however, postmarital residence tends toward virilocality on the mainland and uxorilocality in the islands. The urban pattern is more complex, although much uxorilocality occurs in Athens.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family household is statistically the most common, although stem families and other combinations of close kin also form households, as a result of economic need, recent migration, and variations during the life cycle. Elderly parents often reside with an adult child toward the end of their lives. House or apartment ownership is a major familial goal, and considerable resources are directed toward this. Greece ranks at the top of the European Community in per capita construction of dwellings.

Inheritance. By both custom and law, all children inherit equally from their parents. Daughters generally receive their share as dowry when they marry, and sons receive theirs when the parents retire or die. Dowries consist of land, houses, livestock, money, a trousseau, furnishings, and, more recently, apartments, household appliances, education, and a car. Significant dowry inflation has occurred during the last few decades, a circumstance favoring female inheritance over male. A 1983 law correspondingly limited the use of the dowry. Whether called a wedding gift or dowry, however, the practice of providing daughters with much of their inheritance at Marriage continues.

Socialization. Parents assume primary responsibility for raising children, assisted by many members of the kindred. Godparents also look after a child's material and spiritual welfare. Most children are minimally disciplined during early childhood; later they are actively trained into their proper roles through example, admonition, teasing, and comforting designed to teach such traits as wariness, cleverness, family loyalty, verbal proficiency, and honorable behavior. Nine years of formal education are both free and compulsory. A full 82 percent of Greek children complete twelve years of secondary education, and another 17 percent attend university.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Kinship, ritual kinship, local connections, and patronage shape Greek social relations. People operate through networks of known and trusted others, extending their relationships outward through these. Status accrues from a combination of honorable behavior, material wealth, and education. Social stratification varies between city and countryside. In rural areas, large landowners, professionals, and merchants are at the top; farmers, small shopkeepers, and skilled workers in the middle; and landless farm workers at the bottom. In cities, bankers, merchants, shipowners, industrialists, wealthy professionals, and bureaucrats compose the upper stratum; executives, civil servants, shopkeepers, office workers, and skilled workers the middle; and unskilled workers the bottom. In both cases, the middle class is the majority, and there is considerable opportunity for upward social mobility.

Political Organization. The modern Greek state, initially established as a monarchy guided by northern European nations, has emerged as a republic with a unicameral legislature headed by a prime minister as head of government and a president as ceremonial head of state. Public officials are elected by universal adult suffrage. For the last two decades, two main political parties have alternated control of the government: the conservative Nea Dimokratia party, and the Socialist PASOK party. The political system is highly centralized, with considerable power residing in national ministries and offices. The nation contains approximately 50 nomoi (Districts), each divided into eparchies (provinces), demoi (municipalities), and koinotites (communities). Local officials, elected on the basis of patronage and personality as well as political party, oversee regional affairs.

Social Control. Struggle and competition among different families is a major theme of Greek life. Familial conflicts emerge over land, flocks, political office, and a variety of local affairs. Insults, ridicule, feuds, and even theft sometimes result. The formal legal system is based on codified Roman civil law, with a network of civil, criminal, and administrative courts. Towns have a corps of city police, while rural regions have a gendarmerie modeled on the French system.

Conflict. Greece has a standing army and universal male conscription. Turkey is perceived as the greatest threat to national security, and the Turkish occupation of Cyprus since 1974 has caused considerable regional tension. Greece's relations with its northern neighbors, stable for some time, have recently become more tenuous as the Eastern bloc dissolves into separate ethnically based nationalities and the Boundaries established after World War I are called into question. On a broader level, Greece's strategic location involves it in various international struggles. A member of NATO since 1952, Greece generally has been aligned with the West.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Over 97 percent of Greece's population belongs to the Hellenic Orthodox church, a branch of Eastern Orthodoxy. Since the Byzantine Empire, and particularly after the schism between eastern and western Christianity in 1054, Eastern Orthodoxy has been part of Greek ethnic identity. Proselytization by other religions is legally forbidden. There are only small numbers of Muslims, Roman Catholics, other Christians, and Jews. The formal theology of Eastern Orthodoxy is often mixed with informal beliefs in fate, the devil, and other supernatural forces.

Religious Practitioners. During the last few centuries, various nationally based Eastern Orthodox churches separated from the patriarch of Constantinople, among them the Hellenic Orthodox church, established in 1833. Each of these fifteen autocephalous churches runs its own affairs, while recognizing the historical and spiritual importance of the patriarch. Except for a few regions, the Hellenic Orthodox church is governed by the Holy Synod convened by the bishop of Athens. The church hierarchy includes bishops of the approximately 90 dioceses, as well as monks and nuns. While these clergy are celibate, priests may marry. Most priests have families, and many continue to practice a trade or farm in addition to performing their religious duties. Members of the local community voluntarily maintain the church building and assist with weekly services.

Ceremonies. The Sunday liturgy is the most significant weekly ritual of the Hellenic Orthodox church. There are also twelve annual Great Feasts, of which Easter and the Holy Week preceding it are the most important. Other rituals mark various points in the life cycle, particularly birth, marriage, and death. Baptism and confirmation of infants are performed simultaneously, and infants can then receive communion.

Arts. Displays of ancient and Byzantine art in museums, public archaeological sites, and reproductions permeate the Greek landscape, attracting tourists and symbolizing Greek identity. Contemporary artistic expression draws from folk, religious, and international traditions in varying ways. Weaving, knitting, embroidery, carving, metalworking, and pottery remain active crafts in most regions. Dancing demonstrates individual and group identity and is an integral part of most celebrations. Contemporary composers work with the instruments and motifs of folk music, particularly the more urban bouzouki, as well as the clarinet, santouri (dulcimer), violin, lute, and drums. Contemporary literature, film, and theater echo pan-European styles, and Greece counts two Nobel laureates among its modern authors, George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis. Television and cinema, both foreign and domestic, are prevalent and very popular.

Medicine. Scientific medicine is well developed and accepted. Hospitals and clinics exist in most towns, and the National Health Service sends doctors to more remote areas. Hospital births have largely replaced the use of midwives. Abortions performed by both doctors and lay practitioners are a major means of birth control and may equal live births in number. The belief that illness stems from emotional, moral, and social causes coexists with the formal medical system. Folk healers, generally women, are sometimes called to use divination, spells, and herbal remedies against both sickness and such forces as the evil eye.

Death and Afterlife. Death practices follow Hellenic Orthodox ritual modified by other beliefs, regional traditions, and contemporary circumstances. Upon death, a person's soul is thought to leave the body: at first it remains near the house, but gradually it moves farther away, until finally, after a year's time, it reaches God, who pronounces judgment and consigns the soul to paradise or hell. The body is buried within twenty-four hours of death with ceremonies at both house and local church led by the priest and female mourners who sing ritual laments. Important rituals are performed at the grave both forty days and one year after the death. After several years, the bones generally are exhumed from the ground and placed in a community ossuary.

See also Cretans; Cyclades; Cypriote; Greek-Speaking Jews of Greece; Ionians; Macedonians; Mount Athos; Peloponnesians; Pontic; Sarakatsani; Tsakonians


Campbell, John (1964). Honour, Family, and Patronage: A Study of Institutions and Moral Values of a Greek Mountain Community. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Danforth, Loring M. (1989). Firewalking and Religious Healing: The Anastenaria of Greece and the American Firewalking Movement. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Dimen, Muriel, and Ernestine Friedl, eds. (1976). Regional Variation in Modern Greece and Cyprus: Toward a Perspective on the Ethnography of Greece. New York: Annals of the New York Academy of Science.

Friedl, Ernestine (1962). Vasilika: A Village in Modern Greece. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Herzfeld, Michael (1985). The Poetics of Manhood: Contest and Identity in a Cretan Mountain Village. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hirschon, Renee (1989). Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


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ETHNONYMS: Pontian Greeks, Pontic Greeks


Identification. The Greek population of the former USSR is the result of various waves of immigration: the Greeks of the Crimea, who settled in the Mariupol region in the 1770s; those who originate from Greece, including the few remaining political refugees who fled Greece after the civil war in 1948-1949; and those who came from the historical Pontus (in the Black Sea region of present-day Turkey) and settled along the Black Sea coast in Russia. These Pontian Greeks arrived in Russia during the nineteenth century, but the last and largest influx settled in the Soviet Union between 1916 and 1924. As Pontian Greeks form the overwhelming majority in the Soviet Greek population, it is primarily to them that this article will refer.

Location. Greeks are scattered throughout many of the nations that were republics of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Most live in areas near the Black Sea, in eastern Ukraine, and the Transcaucasian regions of southern Russia and Georgia.

Demography. Although the number of Greeks in the USSR was listed in 1989 as 358,000, many believe that the total may be well over 500,000, perhaps 1 million if children of mixed marriages are counted. It appears that there are thousands of Greeks in the Soviet Union who were not officially listed, and, in general, population figures remain approximate, based on local knowledge rather than state statistics. There are still up to 100,000 Greeks living in Central Asia, a legacy of Stalin's persecution in the 1930s and 1940s, when much of the Greek population was sent into exile all over the Soviet Union. The majority of Greeks, however, are scattered throughout three republics bordering the Black Sea. Nongovernmental and diplomatic sources suggest that approximately 120,000 live in eastern Ukraine, about 120,000 in Georgia, and 150,000 in southern Russia.

Like some other ethnic minorities (in particular Jews and Germans) who are eager to leave the former Soviet Union, many Greeks now seek to emigrate to Greece. In 1990, 22,500 Pontian Greeks left the Soviet Union, a dramatic increase from previous years. Figures for 1991 indicate that about 1,800 are leaving every month, primarily from Central Asia and Georgia.

Linguistic Affiliation. Today most Greeks in the former USSR speak Russian, with a significant number speaking their traditional Pontian language. Pontian is a Greek dialect that derives from the ancient Ionic dialect and resembles ancient Greek more than the modern "demotic" Greek language. It has been influenced by many other languages, reflecting the historical contacts that Pontian Greeks had with other cultures including the Romans, Venetians, Persians, Georgians, and above all, the Turks.

Until recently, the ban on teaching Greek in Soviet schools meant that Pontian was spoken only in a domestic context. Consequently, many Greeks, especially those of the younger generation, speak Russian as their first language. In republics such as Georgia, it is normal for Greeks to speak Georgian and Russian as well as Pontian. Linguistically, Greeks are far from being unified. In the Ukraine alone, there are at least five documented Greek linguistic groups, which are broadly categorized as the Mariupol dialect. Other Greeks in the Crimea speak Tatar, and in regions such as Tsalka in Georgia there are numerous Turkophone Greeks. In recent years, the Gorbachev regime permitted Greeks to teach their own language again, and a number of schools are now teaching Greek. Because of their strongly philhellenic sentiments and ambitions to live in Greece, this is normally modern, "demotic" Greek rather than Pontian.

History and Cultural Relations

Relations between Greeks and Russians can be traced back to ancient times, with Greek colonization of the Black Sea beginning in the eighth century b.c. Archaeological evidence suggests that there were also Greek settlements on the northern shores of the Black Sea and in the Caucasus. Contact between Greeks and Russians increased in the era of the Byzantine Empire, and from the ninth century a.d. Greeks had strong religious and cultural influences in Russia and Georgia.

The Greeks were favored by both Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, and the latter specifically encouraged the settlement of Greeks in her empire. As fellow Orthodox Christians who were opposed to the Turks, Greeks were strategically placed in areas of southern Russia. The city of Mariupol, by the Sea of Azov, was founded in 1779 by about 30,000 Greeks. They have lived for centuries in the Crimea, under Tatar domination, but in Mariupol the empress gave them protection and the right to maintain their Greek culture. Odessa's population immediately after its foundation in 1796 was 3,150, about 2,500 of whom were Greeks. Both Mariupolis and Odessa became important centers for Greek culture and trade, and the Philiki Etairia (the movement that played a major role in the Greek fight for liberation from the Turks) was founded in Odessa.

Greek migration from Asia Minor continued throughout the nineteenth century, and, following the three Russo-Turkish wars, large numbers of Greeks arrived in southern Russia. As noted above, most Greeks in the Soviet Union are migrants from what was the Pontus, a region of northeastern Asia Minor bordering the southeastern shores of the Black Sea. Greeks of the Pontus region had lived under Turkish domination since the fifteenth century, and their population had become linguistically and religiously divided. The Ottoman regime had periodically forced the Greek population to choose between their language and their religion: as a result, some were Turkish-speaking Christians, some Greek-speaking Moslems, and others secretly practicing crypto-Christians. The Greeks from Pontus who settled in the Georgian plateau of Tsalka in the mid-nineteenth century were and remain Turkophone.

When the Turks began their persecution of the Asia Minor Greeks in 1914, their census for the Pontus listed nearly 700,000 Orthodox Greeks and about 190,000 Moslem Greeks. In the genocide of various minority nationalities that followed, the Turks massacred over 350,000 Greeks. From 1916 until 1924 about 80,000 to 100,000 Greeks left the Pontus and took refuge in Russia, the Crimea, and Georgia, where about 650,000 Greeks were already living.

During the period following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Greek population of the newly formed Soviet Union began to flourish, especially in the Transcaucasus. Despite communism's negative impact on the previously successful merchant community, Greek schools, newspapers, theaters, and literature continued to flourish. The number of Greek schools in Georgia rose from 33 in 1924 to HO in 1938. The political movement to establish an autonomous Greek territory within the USSR succeeded to some extent, with several autonomous Greek regions being established in 1928.

In the 1930s Stalin began the persecution and deportation of various nationalities. Among the innumerable victims (including the Volga Germans, Tatars, and Koreans) were large numbers of Greeks. Thousands were imprisoned and executed as "enemies of the people" or on charges of spying, and whole communities were suddenly evacuated from their homes and sent into exile to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Siberia. Greek schools were shut down, Greek theaters closed, and Greek newspapers and publications banned. The deportations continued in the 1940s, and in 1949 over one-half of the Greek population of Georgia was exiled to the steppes of Central Asia. Official figures are not available, but, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Greeks who were exiled, about 50,000 died as a result of the appalling conditions in which they were transported or in which they were subsequently forced to live.

Following Stalin's death in 1953, exiled and imprisoned Greeks (and other persecuted minorities) were given some degree of freedom. A number returned from exile to the regions of their former homes, although rights to their confiscated property were never reinstated. Many were unable to leave Central Asian republics such as Kazakhstan, as they were not given the necessary documents. Unlike most ethnic minorities, the Greek community refused en masse to accept Soviet nationality and suffered for its attempts to keep their Greek passports. Many accepted Soviet passports only after their period in exile.

Under both the Khrushchev and Brezhnev regimes, Greeks (with few exceptions) continued to occupy a disadvantaged position in Soviet society and were unable to obtain high positions in political, military, scientific, and academic hierarchies. This was one of many factors that further encouraged Greeks not to declare their nationality on their Soviet passports. It was only in the 1980s that significant changes began under President Gorbachev, and minority nationalities were allowed to express their identity openly. The suppression of Greek culture, religion, and language for so long has meant that, in many cases, younger Greeks in the Soviet Union have lost any obvious markers of their ethnicity.


The style of architecture and type of settlement vary according to the region in which Greeks live. Greeks who lived in Georgia and other mountainous Caucasian areas traditionally built houses similar to those of Georgians and were known for preferring large buildings. A wooden upper floor with a balcony is supported by a stone lower floor, which houses the kitchen and storerooms. In poorer, rural areas of the Caucasus and Georgia, such as Tsalka, dwellings were often built into the hillside, sometimes using mud bricks in addition to stone and wood. In recent years, the style of buildings has been changing; larger houses are more prevalent and the use of traditional materials has decreased. Certain neoclassical details such as columns and pediments are frequently found in the architecture of Greek communities.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In pre-Revolutionary Russia, Greeks were successful in both commercial and agricultural spheres. Greek trading activities were spread throughout the Russian Empire, and it was Greeks who introduced the cultivation of tobacco to Russia. The All-Union census of 1926 records a population of Greeks engaged mainly in agriculture, cattle breeding, and trade. Following Lenin's death, a punitive taxation of private commercial and agricultural enterprises was introduced to bring an end to capitalistic activities. In 1929 the Stalinist regime began to force the peasant population to work in kolkhozy (agricultural collectives) and sovkhozy (state farms). Like many farmers who tried to resist collectivization and the compulsory purchase of their land and livestock, large numbers of Greeks were imprisoned and sent to camps.

Today it is still common for Greeks to work in kolkhozy, but because of vast geographical differences in habitat, generalizations about agriculture are difficult. Members of a kolkhoz are normally allowed a private plot of land, where they can keep animals and cultivate fruit and vegetables. Although a fixed amount of produce must be handed over to the kolkhoz, successful farmers are also able to sell their produce privately in markets.

In many Transcaucasian rural communities, Greeks commonly grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits and keep chickens, pigs, sheep, and cows. The profitable cultivation of citrus fruits, tea, and tobacco is also widely practiced in these regions.

The historical Pontian diet consists of many sheep's milk products such as yogurt, kefir (a soured milk drink), cream, and cheese. The basis of the cuisine was not oil but butter. Pontian Greek communities are renowned for the variety and quality of their cheeses. Meat is not a significant part of the everyday diet, although fish is popular among Black Sea communities. Plenty of green vegetables and herbs are consumed, and staples often include macaroni-type products and cereals such as maize and buckwheat as well as bread and potatoes.

Pontian cuisine resembles Greek and Turkish cooking but has also been influenced by surrounding cultures. For example, Greeks in Georgia eat food that has much in common with the Georgian cuisine.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, and in rural communities, women tend to carry out all the basic domestic tasks including crafts such as weaving. They also work on the family's plot of land, although men do heavy work such as digging. The division of labor varies according to the region and according to whether the household has a large or small piece of land. In the Tsalka region of Georgia, the land is very poor, and Greeks there tend to work on the kolkhoz and maintain only a small private garden. In other regions of Georgia, however, plots of land are larger (up to about 2,500 square meters), and agricultural labor and production are carried out at a household, rather than a collective, level.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. The basis of Pontian kinship is formed by exogamous clans, which have a patrilineal system of descent. All members of a clan share the same surname, which typically ends in -idis, for example, Chionidis. The head of the clan is always the oldest member, and he is traditionally called upon to make important decisions, to approve marriages, and to solve conflicts. The oldest man or woman in the village has historically commanded great respect and authority. Some clans establish traditions of intermarriage and hence close social ties. First names are passed down through the generations, with a first son receiving the name of his paternal grandfather. Knowledge of kinship ties is extensive, and many people can remember their ancestors back to about eight generations.

Ritual kinship also plays an important role in Pontian society. When a man gets married, he always has a koumbaros, who acts as best man, pays for the wedding, and maintains close relations thereafter. The koumbaros is the son of the groom's godfather and will become godfather to all of the male children resulting from the marriage. The koumbaros's wife is godmother to the female children, and the bonds between the two families are lifelong and sacred. It is now becoming common for some men to choose their koumbaros rather than inheriting him automatically, but the relationship remains significant.

Marriage. In the traditional Pontian family, women were married when they were very young; perhaps this originated to avoid abduction to Turkish harems, which never accepted married women. Today the age at marriage has risen: it tends to be about 20 for women and 24 for men, whereas in the 1930s it was about 17 and 22 respectively. Marriage remains patrilocal, and the wife nearly always lives with her husband's family. Arranged marriage (and the related phenomenon of elopementklepsion, or "stealing" the bride), formerly prevalent, no longer exists. In spite of these changes, there is a strong preference that marriages should take place within the Greek community.

It is common for men to spot their future brides at local religious celebrations or public events. They may then decide to embark on the four stages of meetings and agreements that lead to a marriage. The prospective groom will send representatives to the parents of the prospective bride, a task which used to be carried out by the proxenitra, a woman whose profession it was to arrange marriages. In areas where a Greek or Russian Orthodox church exists, weddings may include some form of religious ceremony in addition to a civil wedding. The Pontian wedding itself, however, takes place at the bride's house. The bride and groom stand facing each other across a table and exchange presents and rings, after which there is feasting and dancing. A second part of the marriage takes place on a different day at the house of the groom.

Wedding food includes chicken because of its supposed relationship to symbols of fertility. Guests give money or gifts to the couple, and the bride's parents give a dowry, which normally consists of movable goods such as furniture, crockery, and linen. Great emphasis is placed on the virginity of the bride, and it is traditional for the groom's mother to inspect the sheet from the marital bed for blood, as proof of her daughter-in-law's purity.

Domestic Unit. The Pontian Greek family has historically lived in domestic units of three and even four generations. In the past, most or all the sons would remain in the parental home, and their brides would join them there. More recently, only one son tends to stay with the parents. Hierarchy according to age is often strictly observed within the domestic unit: female members are supposedly ranked according to the amount of time they have been married, and younger males should be respectful and accept orders from older ones. A daughter-in-law should show great humility toward her husband's parents: it is traditional for her to avoid speaking directly to them (at least for a year), often using children as go-betweens instead.

Inheritance. In the past, equal inheritance by all male siblings was normal among Pontian Greeks. Today, however, whoever stays with the parents inherits the family house and its contents. This is normally the younger son, and older sons may be helped by parents to build new homes and to set up their independent households. There is no tradition of female inheritance, although daughters are given a premortem inheritance in the form of a dowry. Although private initiative (and therefore private property) is much more prevalent in Transcaucasia than in many other regions of the former USSR, in general terms the Soviet economic and legal system inhibited the accumulation of individual wealth and its inheritance.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The majority of Greeks in the Soviet Union were historically (and remain) rural agriculturalists. Nevertheless, there are also increasing numbers of urban dwellers, who place great emphasis on education and whose occupations span a broad spectrum. The blossoming in the 1930s of Soviet Greek literature, arts, and theater is indicative of an artistic creativity that shows a few signs of reestablishing itself. Nevertheless, the widespread emigration by active and ambitious Greeks is not helping cultural development in the former USSR.

The type of work and consequent standard of living among Greeks varies greatly according to the republic where they reside. For example, Greeks in Ukraine include many coal miners, mining being one of this republic's main industries. On the other hand, most Greeks in Georgia are farmers, including many who became relatively wealthy because the former Soviet regime allowed them to sell their produce privately.

Pontian Greeks have a reputation for being hardworking and enterprising, both of which are reflected in their capacity for reestablishing themselves in new locations. It is not uncommon for Soviet Pontians to have been uprooted several times in a lifetime. For instance, many older people who left Turkey after 1916 to settle in the Black Sea regions of the USSR were later exiled to Central Asia in the 1930s or 1940s, and large numbers returned to the Black Sea and Transcaucasus after the 1950s.

Political Organization. Although Greeks are scattered throughout the republics of the former Soviet Union, they began to form local organizations in the late 1980s. Stimulated by Gorbachev's liberalizations, these societies began with cultural aims such as to encourage the teaching of Greek and the establishing of links with Greece. The formation in 1989 of the All-Union Association of Greeks of the USSR, however, marked a new phase. Its influential president is Gavril Popov, then mayor of Moscow, who is himself of Greek origin. Serious discussions are taking place about the possible formation of an autonomous Greek republic or district within the territory of the former USSR.

Conflict. Pontian Greeks have a history of conflict with other groups and of fighting for survival. For centuries the Turks persecuted them on grounds of their religion and their language; Turkish persecution culminated in the genocide of 1916-1924. This was followed by the Stalinist persecution and the exiles of the 1930s and 1940s. Today interethnic relations are one of the most acute problems in the former Soviet Union, and Greeks are frequently trapped in the middle of other interethnic clashes, in addition to having their own difficulties. In Central Asia there have been violent incidents involving the dominant Muslim population and Greeks, and in Georgia Greeks are caught between Georgians and Abkhazian and Ossetic seperatists. New Georgian laws have restricted the use of local languages and have banned local political parties from running candidates in Georgian elections. This has increased the problems experienced by Greeks and other ethnic minorities in the republic.

Partially as a result of their sufferings during the twentieth century, the Pontian Greeks have idealized Greece as a Utopian motherland that will put an end to all their troubles. Thousands of Soviet Greeks are now emigrating there. In reality, however, Pontian immigrants encounter a series of difficulties (particularly in the economic and linguistic spheres) in Greece, despite increased assistance by the Greek state.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religion. Pontian Greeks retain the Greek Orthodox religion, although political and social conditions in the former Soviet Union frequently made it difficult to practice. The closing of Greek churches and the active disapproval of Communist authorities resulted in adaptable communities of Greeks, which use Russian Orthodox churches or establish their own secret churches. The lack of Greek Orthodox priests in the Soviet Union meant that it was frequently necessary to perform religious rituals (using candles, holy water, and icons) without an officiator. It is more usual to attend church at religious festivals such as the panayir (saints' days) or Easter rather than every Sunday. Certain ancient customs adapted to Christian beliefs are also reported among Pontian Greeks of the Caucasus. For example, in a ritual known as gurpan, animals may be sacrificed to a saint, either in gratitude or to help ensure a favorable outcome in some serious crisis.

Arts. Pontian Greek culture has a strong tradition of music and dancing. Traditional instruments include the Pontian lyre (kamentze ), flute (zourna ), and a large drum (daoul ). There are many songs that express the troubles of the Pontian people (their exiles and persecutions) and their yearning for their historical homeland. In addition to the particular singing and dancing occurring at weddings, funerals, and religious celebrations, songs are used in numerous Pontian customs. For instance, in the klidonas, young people place their possessions (rings, bracelets, etc.) in a vessel of water. The belongings are picked out one by one, and an individual's fate is predicted according to the theme of the song being sung at the time when the object is returned.

Death and Afterlife. The body of the dead person remains in the house for up to three days, and female relatives and friends sing mourning songs (miroloyia ). If a priest is available, he will be asked to officiate at the funeral, but this is frequently not the case. At funerals, mourners distribute koliva or hokiya, a mixture of boiled wheat, sugar, and pomegranate seeds, decorated with sugar and nuts.

Close relatives of the deceased refrain from eating meat for up to a year, and women wear black clothes for a year (or for life if widowed), whereas men wear black and do not shave for forty days. Memorials are held three, nine, and forty days after death and after six months and one year. Thereafter, there are special days in the year (tafiya ) when the dead are honored.


Agtzidis, Vlassis (1990). Pontiakos Ellinismos: Apo Ti Yenoktonia kai to Stalinismo stin Perastroika. Salonika: Kiriakidi.

Aklaev, A. P. (1990). "Yazik v Sisteme Natsionalnich Tsennostei i Interesov" (Language in the system of national value and interest). In Dukhovnaya Koultoura i Etnicheskoe Samosoznanie (Spiritual culture and ethnic self-consciousness), edited by L. M. Drobizheva. Moscow.

Conquest, Robert (1970). The Nation Killers: The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities. London: Macmillan.

Fotiadis, Kostas (1987). Pontoi-Dikaioma Sti Mnimi. Athens: Irodotos.

Fotiadis, Kostas (1990). O Ellinismos Tis Krimaias: Marioupoli, dikaioma sti Mnimi (Greeks of the Crimea: Legal rights and issues). Athens: Irodotos.

Ivanova, Yiu V. (1988). "Gracheskie Etnicheskie Groupy v SSSR" (The Greek ethnic group in the USSR). In Racy i narody (Races and peoples). Moscow: Akademiia Nauk.

The Odyssey of Pontic Greeks (in press). Results from the conference in November 1990, given by the Refugees Studies Programme. Oxford University Press.

Rostovtzeff, M. (1922). Iranians and Greeks in South Russia. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Samouilidi, Christou (1985). Istoria Tou Pontiakou Ellinismou, Athens: Alkion.

Zapantis, Andrew L. (1982). Greek-Soviet Relations, 1917-1941. Boulder, Colo.: East European Monographs, distributed by Columbia University Press.


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POPULATION: 10 million


RELIGION: Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ


There were two early societies in the area of present-day Greece. The Minoan civilization (c.26001200 bc) on the island of Crete was named after the legendary King Minos. The Mycenean civilization on the mainland (c.16001150 bc) was founded by people called the Hellenes. By the eighth century bc, the Greek city-state, or polis, had taken shape. By the sixth century bc, the city-states of Athens and Sparta were rivals for political control of Greece. The Classical "golden age" of Athens in the fifth century was marked by great achievements in government, philosophy, drama, sculpture, and architecture. The influence of Greek civilization expanded throughout much of Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia through the conquests of Alexander the Great. Greece was conquered by the Romans in 146 bc.

Greece fell under Turkish rule in ad 1453. After a long struggle for Greek independence, the Turks accepted Greek self-rule in 1831. This marked the beginning of modern Greece. Greece has been a parliamentary democracy since 1975. It is a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Community (EC).


Located at the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula, Greece includes over 1,500 islands in the Ionian and Aegean Seas. About 170 of these islands have people living on them. About 80 percent of the country is covered by mountains, which form part of the Alps. Mount Olympus, in east-central Greece, the legendary home of the gods, is the highest peak, rising to 9,573 feet. The nation's coastlineover 8,750 miles (14,000 kilometers) in lengthis one of the longest in the world.

About 98 percent of Greece's ten million people are of ethnic Greek descent. Minority groups include Turks, Macedonian Slavs, Albanians, Armenians, and Vlachsa group of semi-nomads (people who move from place to place, usually while herding livestock) who live in the mountains of the north.

The rapid population growth of the past century has been balanced by the large numbers of Greeks who have moved away to North America, northern Europe, Australia, and other places. In addition, many Greek men live abroad temporarily as guest workers in other countries.


About 98 percent of Greece's people speak Greek as their first language. There are two forms of modern Greek. The demotic form (dimotiki ) is used in everyday conversation, and varies by region. It includes words from Slavic languages, Turkish, and Italian. The more formal version, Katharevousa, is used by the government and the press. It originated in the early nineteenth century in an attempt to revive ancient Greek, which is still really a dead language.

English Greek
one éna
two dío
three tría
four téssera
five pénde
six éxi
seven eptá
eight októ
nine enéa
ten déka
English Greek
Sunday Kyriakí
Monday Deftéra
Tuesday Tríti
Wednesday Tetárti
Thursday Pémpti
Friday Paraskeví
Saturday Sávato


The ancient Greeks believed that gods and goddesses ruled their fate and could tell the future. Different gods and goddesses were considered responsible for the different aspects of life. They were believed to communicate with priests and priestesses at shrines called oracles. The most important oracle was at Delphi. People honored the gods publicly at great festivals (including the Olympics) and privately at altars in their homes, with offerings of food and wine.


The Eastern Orthodox Church plays a central role in Greek life. During the 400 years of Ottoman Turkish rule, the Orthodox Church was the main force uniting the Greek people. Greek history, art, literature, and music were preserved and passed down through the church. Over 97 percent of Greeks today belong to the Orthodox Church. Although freedom of religion is guaranteed to all Greeks, the Orthodox Church enjoys a special relationship with the government. It was recognized in the 1975 constitution as the "established religion" of Greece. The president of Greece must be a member and is sworn into office with church rites. Major religious holidays are also civil holidays. It is an unwritten rule that high-ranking military officers and judges are chosen from the Orthodox Church members.

Religion plays a more important role in the lives of village residents than those of city dwellers. In the city, only about 20 percent of the people regularly attend church services. Country life revolves around the local church and religious observances. It is common for rural Greeks to have religious statues and images in their homes, together with holy oil, holy water, and a special kind of lamp. Many Greeks pray to a particular saint or saints in times of trouble, and they make pilgrimages to shrines that are considered especially holy. Religious customs in some rural areas still contain elements from beliefs and superstitions of earlier times.


Many of the major Greek holidays are those of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The most important are Easter and the Holy Week before it, which occur on dates different from those of the Western calendar.

The New Year, which in Greece is a more joyous occasion than Christmas, is dedicated to St. Basil. It is celebrated with gift giving and parties. Children carry red and blue paper ships to symbolize the ship that brought St. Basil to Greece. One New Year's tradition is to hide a silver coin in the dough of a special bread spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel. Wealth is believed to come to whoever finds the coin.

Greeks celebrate their birthday on the day dedicated to the saint for whom they are named, rather than on the day of their birth.


Greece is a modern, industrialized Christian country. Many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals, such as baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, many families mark a student's progress through the education system with graduation parties.


The Greeks are known for their lively, outgoing nature. Much of their leisure time is spent in pareas, or groups of friends. Gathering in coffee shops, waterfront taverns, and village squares, they drink, sing, dance, and discuss the events of the day. They generally gesture energetically while talking. It is acceptable for women or men to walk in public holding hands or arm in arm as a sign of companionship.


Rural Greeksabout half the populationlive in flat-roofed houses of stone or brick, often without running water or with only wood stoves for heat. City dwellers live in government-subsidized housing or in small houses in suburban areas.

The sea has traditionally linked Greek cities and towns. Greece's transportation system has been greatly expanded since World War II (which ended in 1945). Most roads linking Athens to the main provincial centers are paved, and Athens itself has a subway system.

Health care is provided by the state-run National Health Service, which includes some private facilities. In spite of efforts to provide doctors to the most distant areas, medical care is still uneven. Care is much better and easier to obtain in the large cities. However, most towns do have hospitals or clinics.

Abortion is a major method of birth control. The number of abortions performed by both doctors and nondoctors may equal the number of live births. The Greek government legalized abortion on demand at state expense in 1986, and within three years the number of legal abortions per year had risen from 180 to 7,338.

Some members of the population, especially in rural areas, still use the services of folk healers, whose methods include spells and herbal remedies.


On the average, both men and women in Greece marry in their mid-to late twenties. Greece has a higher marriage rate and lower divorce rate than the countries of northern Europe. The basic family unit is the nuclear familya husband, a wife, and their unmarried children. Among rural villagers, couples live with the husband's parents for a brief time. It is not unusual, in fact, for city couples to live with one spouse's family until they are ready to buy their own house. Aging parents often join a grown child's household when it becomes difficult for them to care for themselves.

In January 1983, the Greek parliament legislated changes in the family laws that made divorce easier, abolished the dowry as a legal requirement for marriage, and guaranteed legal equality between spouses.


In everyday life, Western clothing is the norm. The traditional costumetunic, vest, and tight pants bound at the knee for menis seen only during festivals and in rural areas.


Although Greece is part of Europe, the Greek diet has been influenced more by the countries of the Middle East. Lamb is the basic meat, and olive oil is used in many recipes. Other staples include rice, yogurt, figs, shish kebab, feta cheese (made from goat's or sheep's milk), and whole-grain bread.

A typical Greek dish consists of ground meat with spices, rice, and herbs, often wrapped in leaves or stuffed into vegetables. Greek pastries are eaten not as desserts but as afternoon or late-night snacks. Many of them are extremely sweet and made from paper-thin dough called filo.


(Greek Lemon Soup)


  • 1 can of chicken with rice soup (condensed)
  • 1 soup can filled with water
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 fresh lemon
  • Parsley for garnish (optional)


  1. Combine condensed soup and water in a double boiler. (A double boiler has one pot that nests inside another. The lower pot is filled with water.) Bring the water in the lower pot to a boil, and heat soup.
  2. Beat egg well. Add lemon juice to the egg gradually, continuing to beat the mixture.
  3. Gradually add one cup of the hot soup broth to the egg mixture.
  4. Gradually add egg mixture to soup in double boiler. Keep the heat low so that the soup does not begin to boil.
  5. Cook over low heat until egg, stirring until egg mixture is completely blended into soup.
  6. Be careful not to overheat the soup, because it will curdle. Garnish with thin slices of lemon and parsley, if desired, and serve.

Adapted from The International Cook, Camden, N.J.: Campbell Soup Company, 1980.

A popular Greek drink is ouzo, a strong alcoholic drink flavored with anise. Another popular beverage, retsina, is a white wine. The toast "Yiassas" (To your health) can often be heard, together with the clinking of glasses, wherever Greeks gather to enjoy food and drink. To the left is a simple recipe for Greek lemon soup, avgolemono.


Greeks place great value on learning, and over 90 percent of the population can read and write. The literacy rate fell to less that 30 percent during and after World War II (193945).

Education is free and compulsory (required) for nine years until the age of fifteen. Three more years of free education, in college-preparatory or technical programs, are optional. At age eighteen, students may enter the government-run university system or other technical and vocational schools.


Even before the great flowering of culture in Athens in the fifth century bc, Greece had already produced the Iliad and Odyssey, two epic poems by Homer. With the golden age of Athens came the philosophical teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; the great tragedies of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles; and the comedies of Aristophanes. Greek sculptors perfected the art of natural representation of the human body. Greek architecture, which had already introduced the town plan based on a grid and organized around the temple, produced the Parthenon, the beautiful temple on the Acropolis, a hill in Athens.

In the twentieth century, there has been a renaissance of Greek literature that includes the writings of novelist Nikos Kazantzakis (author of The Last Temptation of Christ and Zorba the Greek ) and the poetry of C. P. Cavafy, Nikos Gatsos, and the Nobel Prize winners George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis. Well-known composers include Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis, who wrote the film score for Never on Sunday. Modern composers often use the instruments and melodies of Greek folk music, especially the bouzouki, a mandolin-like string instrument, as well as the santouri (dulcimer), clarinet, lute, and drums.


The raising of cash crops, including grain, olives, cotton, tobacco, and fresh fruits, has replaced much of the farming of earlier times. Rural farms are mostly run without machines. Many of them are less than ten acres in size. Horse-drawn or donkey-drawn plows are used for tilling, and harvesting is done by hand and wagon.

Aside from farming, the other major occupations of Greek villagers are fishing and shepherding or goat-herding. Greece is one of the least industrialized nations of Europe. Most industries are concentrated in Athens and Thessaloniki. Many Greeks work in family-owned businesses. In 1990, 85 percent of Greek manufacturing companies had fewer than ten employees. Food, beverage, and tobacco processing are the main industries. Next in importance are textiles and clothing, metals, chemical manufacturing, and shipbuilding.


The first Olympic Games were held in Greece in ancient times. Today, football (the game called soccer in the United States) is the most popular sport. Other favorites include basketball, volleyball, tennis, swimming and waterskiing at the nation's many beaches, sailing, fishing, golf, and mountain climbing. Cricket is popular on the island of Corfu.


In the country, coffee shopsusually in the village squareare popular gathering places. Men gather there after work to talk, drink dark coffee, and smoke cigarettes or hookahs (water pipes).

In cities and towns, Greeks enjoy television, movies, theater, and concerts. Forms of traditional entertainment include folk dances performed by dance troupes wearing colorful costumes, with accompaniment led by the bouzouki. Also popular is the karagiozi, a shadow-puppet show that is performed live. Karagiozi can be seen every week on television. Operas, concerts, ballets, and ancient Greek dramas are presented at the Athens Festival each summer. Greek drama is also performed in the open-air theater at Epidaurus.


Craftspeople throughout Greece practice weaving, knitting, embroidery, carving, metalworking, and pottery making. Village women are known for their colorful fabrics and carpets and elaborate wall hangings.


The proportion of drug users doubled in the 1980s, with the largest increase among women and poor people. Marijuana is the most frequently used drug. In the early 1990s, drug-related deaths numbered between sixty-six and seventy-nine per year. Aside from drug control, the other major problem in Greek society is illegal immigration of people from the Balkans and the Middle East.


Bennett, A. Linda, ed. Encyclopedia of World Cultures (Europe ). Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.

Curtis, Glenn E., ed. Greece: A Country Study. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994. Fodor's Greece.

Fodor's Travel Publications, 1995.

Gage, Nicholas. Hellas: A Portrait of Greece. New York: Villard Books, 1987.

Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, ed. Junior World-mark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit: UXL, 1996.

The International Cook. Camden, N.J.: Campbell Soup Company, 1980.

Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. Peoples of the World: Western Europeans. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Pettifer, James. The Greeks: The Land and People Since the War. New York: Viking, 1993.

Steinberg, Rolf, ed. Continental Europe. Insight Guides. Singapore: APA Publications, 1989.

Woodhouse, C. M. Modern Greece: A Short History. 4th ed. London: Faber & Faber, 1986.


Embassy of Greece, Washington, DC. [Online] Available, 1998.

Greek Tourism. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Greece. [Online] Available, 1998.

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POPULATION: 11 million
RELIGION: Eastern Orthodox Christian Church


Of the earliest Greek societies, the most important was the Minoan civilization, which flourished in the Bronze Age on the island of Crete (c.2700–1450 bc). It reached its peak around 1600 bc, and was notable for its magnificent cities, extensive trade, and its use of writing. Second, the mainland Mycenaean civilization, which flourished between 1600 and 1100, imported from the Minoans the first Greek writing and is reflected in the Homeric epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Between the 8th and the 6th centuries bc, the Greek city-state, or polis, took shape, and the concepts of the rule of law and participatory democracy were conceived. By the 6th century the city-states of Athens and Sparta were rivals for dominance. The classical "golden age" of Athens in the 5th century encompassed great achievements in government, philosophy, drama, sculpture, and architecture. The influence of Greek civilization was expanded through the conquests of Alexander the Great (356–323 bc) before Greece was conquered by the Romans in 146 bc.

After more than 1,000 years as part of the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire, Greece came under Turkish rule after Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, fell to the Ottomans in 1453. After a 10-year struggle for independence, Greek sovereignty was established in 1831, marking the beginning of modern Greece. Over the next century, the nation's boundaries expanded as it gradually acquired islands and mainland territories. The first half of the 20th century was marked by the two world wars as well as hostilities with Turkey, and a civil war between 1944 and 1949. Greece became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952, and a full member of the European Community in 1981.

After seven years of totalitarian military rule from 1967 to 1974, Greece became democratically governed. Its international concerns since World War II have been dominated by the Cold War and its rivalry with Turkey over the status of Cyprus. Since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has vigorously opposed the use of the name "Republic of Macedonia" by the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), fearing an expansionist threat to the Greek part of Macedonia—a geographical territory divided among Greece, Bulgaria, and FYROM.


Located in the southernmost part of the Balkan peninsula, Greece includes over 6,000 islands in the Ionian and Aegean Seas, of which about 227 are inhabited. About 80% of the country is covered by mountains, which form part of the Alpine system. Mt. Olympus, the legendary home of the Greek gods, is the highest peak, rising to 9,573 feet in east central Greece. The nation's coastline—over 14,000 km in length—is one of the longest in the world.

The majority of Greece's 11 million people are of Greek ethnic descent. Minorities include Th race Muslims, Slavs, Albanians, Armenians, and Vlachs, a people who lived semi-nomadically in the northern mountains in the 19th century. The massive emigration to North America, northern Europe, Australia, and other destinations in the first half of the 20th century has been offset by incoming immigration from the Balkans and Near Eastern countries at the end of the century. The Greeks travel extensively, and many live and work abroad.


The language is Modern Greek. Until 1976 a formal, if artificial, version called katharevousa, "pure," was used in official business. Originating in Byzantine scholarship, katharevousa attempted to imitate classical Greek, against the living language of the people ( demotiki, "demotic"). Katharevousa received momentum in the 19th century, and the heated debate about which version should be used came down as "The Language Question."

FridayParaskev í


The ancient Greeks believed that each person's fate was predetermined. People's lives were a sum of their individual actions and their destiny, from which not even gods could escape. Unlike monotheistic deities, Greek gods were not above human passions and fallibilities. There were priests and priestesses at shrines called oracles, of which the most important was Delphi in the south. The gods were honored publicly at great festivals (including the Olympics) and privately at altars in people's homes with offerings of food and wine. Greek mythology was a way to explain the world, with each god and goddess responsible for a specific aspect of life. It has been tremendously influential in the ways the Western word has configured key ideas, like religion and national identity.


The Eastern Orthodox Christian Church has played a central role in Greek life. During the 400 years of Ottoman rule, the Church was the main unifying force of the Greek people. Greek history, art, literature, and music were preserved and transmitted partly through the church. Over 98% of today's Greeks belong to the Orthodox Church, which is described in the 1975 constitution as the "established religion" of Greece. Although freedom of religion is guaranteed to all Greeks, the Orthodox Church enjoys a special relationship with the government. The president of Greece must be a member and is sworn into office with church rites. Major religious holidays are also considered civil holidays.

It is common for religious Greeks to keep icons in an area of their homes, together with holy oil, holy water, and a special lamp. Many pray to a particular saint or saints in times of trouble, and pilgrimages are made to shrines considered especially holy. Religious customs have incorporated earlier elements of pagan beliefs.


Many of the major Greek holidays are those of the Orthodox Church. The most important are Easter and the Holy Week preceding it, which occur at a slightly different time from the Western calendar, and the Greeks emphasize the Resurrection rather than the Crucifixion. The New Year is dedicated to St. Basil and celebrated with gift giving and parties. Although Christmas trees have now dominated as the world's commonest festive decoration, the peculiar Greek equivalent was a ship to symbolize the ship that brought St. Basil to Greece. One New Year's tradition consists of hiding a coin in the dough of a special cake spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel. The person in whose piece the coin is found is thought to be blessed with prosperity and health for the year to come. Greeks celebrate both their birthdays and their name-days, the latter on the day dedicated to the saint for whom they are named.


Greece is a modern, industrialized country with a Christian tradition. Many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals, such as baptism, first Communion, and marriage. Unlike Roman Catholics, the first communion is not especially celebrated, and there is no confirmation.


The Greeks are known for their lively, outgoing nature. Spending time in parëes, or groups of friends, is a common form of entertainment in private houses and coffee shops, waterfront taverns, and village squares, with people gesturing energetically in conversation. It is acceptable for two heterosexual women, less so of men, to walk in public arm-in-arm as a sign of camaraderie.


The bigger the city the more people live in apartment blocks. This widespread European building arrangement is a compound of apartments in a single building. Usually floors vary from two to six. City dwellers comprise more than half the population, with Athens, the capital, approaching 5 million. In smaller towns and villages, the majority of the people live in family-owned one- and two-storey homes. Many Greeks have summer houses.

The sea has traditionally linked Greek cities and towns. As in all of Europe, Greeks rely heavily on public transportation. Athens has an efficient subway. Another one in Thessaloniki, the second largest city, is scheduled to operate in 2013. Nonetheless, the per capita ownership of cars ranks among the highest in Europe.

Health care is provided primarily by the state-run National Health Service. Private facilities are available. The number of doctors is very large (1 for every 450–500 residents), but the bulk of practitioners is concentrated in the bigger cities. However, most towns do have hospitals and/or clinics. Abortion is legal.


The average age at which Greek men normally marry is 28, and the average age for women is 26. Greece has a higher marriage rate and lower divorce rate than the countries of northern Europe. The basic family unit is the nuclear family—a husband, wife, and their children. The bond remains intact even after children marry. It is not considered improper for couples to live with one spouse's family until they are ready to buy their own house. Grown sons and daughters traditionally live with their parents until they marry, and aging parents often join the household when it becomes difficult for them to care for themselves. In January 1983 the Greek parliament legislated changes in the family laws that made divorce easier, abolished the dowry as a legal requirement for marriage, and guaranteed legal equality between marriage partners.

Nowadays rivalries between families and honor-related crimes survive only in a handful of specific rural areas. Westernization, urbanization, and industrialization have modified the traditional ideal of "honorable behavior." Adultery ceased being a penal crime in 1983. Women gained the right to vote in the early 1950s and have dramatically increased their role in the Greek labor force. In the late 1980s women accounted for one-fifth of all industrial jobs and one-third of all jobs in the service sector.


It goes without saying that the traditional 19th-century costume of tunic, vest, and pleated kilt-like skirt is worn only by folk dancers at festivals in the 21st century.


Greek cooking exemplifies the Mediterranean cuisine, where olive oil predominates. Staples include tomatoes, rice, yogurt, shish kebab, and feta cheese (made from goat's or sheep's milk). Bread is served with every meal. Lamb is used extensively, and so are seasonal vegetables, fruit, and an abundance of native herbs, such as thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, rue, and sage. An example of a traditional dish is minced meat with spices, rice, and herbs, wrapped in grape leaves or stuffed into vegetables. Greek pastries—many of them extremely sweet and made from a paper-thin dough called filo— are eaten not as desserts but as afternoon or late-night snacks. Two typically Greek drinks are ouzo, the aniseed residue of winemaking, and retsina, a resinated white wine. A toast of "Yiassas" ("your health") can often be heard, together with the clinking of glasses, wherever Greeks gather to enjoy food and drink.


Approximately 20.6% of Greeks are high school graduates. One is considered to be illiterate if one has not finished the six-years of primary school (not simply if one cannot read and write). By this (more rigorous) standard, illiteracy is 7%. Education is compulsory for nine years until the age of 15. Students can choose between three more optional years in either high school or technical programs. There is a highly competitive university system, as well as postsecondary technical and vocational schools. The system is state-run and free of charge at all stages, although there exist private schools for those who wish to opt out of the state system.


Even before the great flowering of culture in Athens in the 5th century bc, Greece had already given the world the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer. With the classical golden age of Athens came the philosophical teachings of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the great tragedies of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, and the comedies of Aristophanes. Greek sculpture progressed from stylization to naturalism, while Greek architecture, which had already introduced the grid town plan and the temple, produced the Parthenon and gave the world the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian styles.

In the 20th century there was a renaissance of Greek literature that includes the writings of novelist Nikos Kazantzakis and the poetry of C. P. Cavafy, Nikos Gatsos, and Nobel laureates George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis. Modern Greek literature was strongly influenced by such political events as the Greco-Italian war of 1940–41, the German occupation, the civil war of 1944–49, and the military regime of 1967–75. Well-known composers include Mikis Theodorakis, who set Elytis's major work, To Axion Esti, to music, and Manos Hadjidakis, who wrote the film score for Never on Sunday. Contemporary composers often use the instruments and melodies of Greek folk music, especially the bouzouki, a mandolin-like stringed instrument, as well as the santouri (dulcimer), clarinet, lute, and drums.


Economic development has increased in services, international trade, shipping and tourism. Greece is among the least industrialized nations of Europe. Food, beverage, and tobacco processing are the foremost industries, followed by textiles and clothing, metallurgy, chemical manufacturing and shipbuilding. An important part of the economy has been family-owned small businesses; in 1990, 85% of Greek manufacturing concerns had fewer than 10 employees. The proportion of Greeks engaged in farming had declined to one-third by 1990. Important farm products include grain, olives, cotton, tobacco, fruits, and wheat. Aside from farming, the other major occupations of Greek villagers are fishing and sheep- or goat-herding.


In sports, Greece's Olympic tradition dates back to ancient times. Today, soccer and basketball are the most popular sports. Other favorite sports include volleyball, tennis, swimming and water skiing at the nation's many beaches, sailing, fishing, and mountain climbing.


In the country, coffee shops—generally in the village square— are popular gathering places where people congregate after work to socialize. In urban areas, Greeks enjoy television, movies, theater, and concerts. Forms of traditional entertainment include folk dances performed by dance troupes wearing colorful costumes, with accompaniment led by the bouzouki, and karagiozi, a shadow puppet show that is performed live and can also be seen weekly on television. Operas, concerts, ballets and ancient Greek dramas are presented at the Athens Festival each summer. Classical drama is also performed in open-air theaters, the most famous of which is in Epidaurus.


Craftspeople throughout Greece practice weaving, knitting, embroidery, carving, metalworking, and pottery. Village women are known for their colorful fabrics and carpets and elaborate wall-hangings.


HIV/AIDS and drug abuse are major problems. The proportion of drug users doubled in the 1980s, with the largest increase among women and the poor. Marijuana is the most frequently used drug. A major domestic problem in Greek society is illegal immigration from the Balkans and the Middle East. Homelessness is exceptionally low, due to strong family ties.


Equality of the sexes has been established by a 1983 law. As everywhere else in the Western world, discrimination on the base of one's sex is something of a thing of the past, although there is always room for improvement. One out of six Greek members of parliament is a woman. Around 60% of each year's college graduates are women. As of the late 2000s, there has been some debate about same-sex marriage, but this remains illegal.


Bennett, A. Linda, ed. Encyclopedia of World Cultures ( Europe ). Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.

Cogg, Richard. A Short History of Modern Greece. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Fodor's Greek Islands. New York: Fodor's Travel, 2008.

Gage, Nicholas. Hellas: A Portrait of Greece. New York: Villard Books, 1987.

Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, ed. Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit: UXL, 1996.

Hubbard, Monica M., and Beverly Baer, ed. Cities of the World: Europe and the Middle East. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mankind. London: Marshall Cavendish, 1978.

Leontis, Artemis. Culture and Customs of Greece. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group Inc., 2008.

Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. Peoples of the World: Western Europeans. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

Ratto, Stefania. Greece. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 2008.

Steinberg, Rolf, ed. Continental Europe. Insight Guides. Singapore: APA Publications, 1989

—revised by K. Yiavis

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Greeks In ancient Greek culture, the body was the object of display and the subject of debate. For example, athletic competition was a central part of the life of the Greek city, and young men were expected to train in the public space of the gymnasium: but, while poets praised victorious athletes, medical writers warned of the dangers of body-building, claiming that excessive development of the body was unnatural. The ideal of a glorious death (the kalos thanatos) was for a young man in his prime to die for his city in another form of competitive display of the body, namely war.

From the sixth century bc onwards, medical and philosophical writers debated the constituents of the body, often drawing parallels with the wider cosmos. Some saw the body as dominated by one element, such as air or fire, but the need to explain different illnesses, combined with observation of body fluids meant that, by the fourth century, most people thought that the body was composed of several different substances needing to be kept in balance in order to ensure health. These could be bile and phlegm; bile, phlegm, water, and blood; or, in the version which was to become Galen's theory of the ‘four humours’, yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. All of these alternative versions of the interior of the body meant that one was expected to take responsibility for one's own health through individual control of regimen: diet, exercise, environment, and appetites. As for bodily organs: the heart, the liver, or the brain were seen as dominant. The female body was seen as inherently unstable; the womb was thought to be able to move around the body, while homologies existed between the top and the bottom of the body so that lips, a mouth, and a neck were present at both ends. This is reflected in our Latinate medical terminology, since ‘cervix’ means ‘neck’ and labia are ‘lips’, but was taken rather further in the ancient world; for example, it was thought that one could detect from a deepening of her voice whether a girl had lost her virginity.

The body was seen as something which needed to be controlled: just as posture and gestures were used consciously to convey meaning, particularly in the public context of the oratory so important to Athenian democracy, so one's body needed to avoid revealing unintentional messages which could be read by hostile others. Physiognomy was a recognized science, claiming to interpret all human activity.

The images of the body which are found in Greek art include open display of human sexuality; costumes worn in Greek plays included exaggerated sexual organs, enormous models of the penis were carried in religious processions, and vase paintings include sexually explicit scenes of intercourse with multiple partners. The images which have had most impact on our perception of ‘Greek art’ are, however, the statues. In constructions of the classical Greek past, in particular in the Victorian period, people have chosen to see these images as pure, white, and serene, part of ‘the glory that was Greece’ — but all stone statues would originally have been painted in bright colours, the eyes inlaid with glass or coloured stone, and metal hair, jewellery, and weapons added. Only faint traces of paint and the holes for the attachment of metal pieces now remain, but even these are sufficient to sully the vision of purity. In the mid fifth century bc, statues start to indicate more emotion, but it is not until the Hellenistic period that sculptors depict pain and grief in their subjects. This was also the period when old age, drunkenness, and deformity were shown, and sculpted bodies were represented with swelling muscles and with attempts to capture violent motion. We are far from the idealized serenity of the classical body, and it is significant that Hellenistic art has subsequently been labelled by art historians as ‘debased’.

Although the male body is usually shown naked in Greek art, to demonstrate musculature and strength, the female body is usually clothed, although the diaphanous drapery may reveal as much as it conceals. Exceptions, such as statues of the goddess Aphrodite, often involve the creation of some sort of narrative to account for their nudity; hence Aphrodite is often shown preparing for, or completing, her bath. Nudity usually indicated vulnerability, but could be used in initiation rituals to represent the removal of one social identity before the assumption of a new one.

In its reception of the classical tradition, Western civilization has chosen to identify two competing attitudes to the body in ancient Greece, identifying each of these with a different Greek god and labelling them the ‘Dionysiac’ and the ‘Apollonian’ approach.

Dionysos was the son of the mortal Semele and Zeus, the main god of the Greek pantheon. Twice-born, he was taken from his dying mother and placed in Zeus' thigh as an incubator. Although he appears to have been a thoroughly Greek god, known in ancient Mycenae, the Greeks told stories of his ‘foreign’ origin as part of their perception of him as representing the ‘Other’. He transgressed many boundaries designated as being socially important: at his festivals, for example, men and boys dressed in women's clothes, while he himself could be represented as an effeminate youth. His violent behaviour was associated with his discovery of the process of making wine, while myths told how his followers — in particular the women, known as maenads — engaged in ritual murder and cannibalism. Dionyosis is also associated with the theatre, where masks covering the identity of the person not only permitted individuals to take on another persona, but also allowed men to act the roles of women. Myths of Dionysos stress his fluidity and powers of transformation.

Nietzsche, widely followed by nineteenth-century scholars, opposed ‘Dionysianism’ to ‘Apollonianism’, claiming that Greek tragedy was the result of Apollo controlling Dionysos. To reach this binary opposition, he stressed the otherness and irrationality of Dionysos, contrasting these with the apparently rational characteristics associated with the god Apollo. Apollo, another son of Zeus, but with a different mortal mother, Leto, has been seen as the most Greek of Greek gods, because of his connection with qualities which scholars have preferred to associate with the Greeks in their role as our cultural ancestors. Apollo is associated with healing — although he also fires the arrows which bring plague — purification, prophetic knowledge, poetry and the music of the lyre, education, and the sun. He is represented with a bow, and is linked to the laurel tree, the leaves of which were used by his priestess at the oracle of Delphi. The calm, orderly image of Apollo has historically been opposed to the rampant disorder of Dionysos. However, the opposition is our own construct, buttressed by the Greeks' own deliberately erroneous insistence that Dionysos was a foreign import. In fact both deities are equally ‘Greek’, Dionysos representing an attempt to control the darker side of Greek culture.

Helen King


Cartledge, P. (1995). The Greeks. Oxford University Press.

See also art and the body; sculpture; Venus.
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As early as 1000 b.c.e., pre-Hellenic Greeks, in search of iron and gold, explored the southeast shores of the Black Sea. Beginning in the fifth and sixth centuries b.c.e., Greeks established fishing villages at the mouths of the Danube, Dnieper, Dniester, and Bug Rivers. They founded the colony of Olbia between the eighth and sixth centuries b.c.e. near the South Bug River and carried on trade in metals, slaves, furs, and later grain. Greek jewelry, coins, and wall paintings attest to the presence of Greek colonies during the Scythian, Sarmatian, and Roman domination of the area.

During the late tenth century c.e., Prince Vladimir of Kievan Rus accepted the Orthodox Christian religion after marrying Anna, sister of Greek Byzantine Emperor Basil II. With the conversion came the influence of Greek Byzantine culture including the alphabet, Greek religious literature, architecture, icon painting, music, and crafts. The East Slavs carried on a vigorous trade with Byzantium following the famous route "from the Varangians to the Greeks"from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, many Greeks, fleeing onerous taxes, emigrated to Russia. Ivan III (14621505) married Sophia, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, giving rise to the Muscovite claim that Moscow was the "Third Rome." Ivan, like many future Russian rulers, employed Greeks as architects, painters, diplomats, and administrators.

The opening of the Black Sea grain trade with Western Europe and the Near East during the early nineteenth century gave impetus to a large Greek immigration to the Black Sea coast. Greek merchant families prospered in Odessa, which was the headquarters of the Philiki Etaireia Society, advocating the liberation of Greece from Turkey (18211829).

In 1924 some 70,000 Greeks left the Soviet Union for Greece. Of the estimated 450,000 Greeks at the time of Stalin, 50,000 Greeks perished during the collectivization drive and Purges of the 1930s. Greeks, especially from the Krasnodar Region, were sent to the Solovki Gulag and to Siberia. In 1938 all Greek schools, theaters, newspapers, magazines, and churches were closed down. In 1944 Crimean and Kuban Greeks were exiled to Kazakhstan. Between 1954 and 1956 Greek exiles were released, but they could not return to the Crimea until 1989. The last major immigration of Greeks to the Soviet Union began in 1950 with the arrival of about 10,000 communist supporters of the Greek Civil War of 1949. The Soviet census for 1970 showed 57,800 persons of Greek origin. The Soviet census for 1989 had 98,500 Greeks in Ukraine and 91,700 Greeks in Russia. The 2001 census for Ukraine reported 92,500 Greeks.

See also: nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist; orthodoxy


Herlihy, Patricia. (19791980). "Greek Merchants in Odessa in the Nineteenth Century." Eucharisterion: Essays Presented to Omeljan Pritsak on His Sixtieth Birthday by his Colleagues and Students. Harvard Ukrainian Studies 34(1):399420.

Herlihy, Patricia. (1989). "The Greek Community in Odessa, 18611917." Journal of Modern Greek Studies 7:235252.

Prousis, Theophilus C. (1994). Russian Society and the Greek Revolution. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

Rostovtzeff, Michael I. (1922). Iranians and Greeks in South Russia. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Patricia Herlihy