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Ancient tribe Hellenes - Ancestry and origin

The ancient Greek language

The Greek language is one of the main branches of the Indo-European language family. It evolved from the Indo-European original language, possibly via one or more intermediate stages, e.g. Balkan Indo-European. There are a number of hypotheses for the period of the emergence of Greek, which is likely to coincide with the immigration of Indo-Germanic people to the Balkan Peninsula during the Early Bronze Age. These range from 3600 B.C. to 2000 B.C. The immigrating Indo-Germans met a culturally highly developed indigenous population, later called Pelasgians by the Greeks.


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The Greek cultural nation

Before the 19th century, there was never a Greek nation state, but rather the community of Greek small and city states linked by common culture, religion and language.

The various peoples of the Greeks defined their affiliation with the Hellenes through the different variants of the Greek language and through the Olympic cult in religion. Religious festivals such as the Mysteries of Eleusis, to which inhabitants of all Greek peoples gathered, formed a unifying, almost national manifestation in the politically fragmented Greek world, often marked by mutual competition or war. The four Panhellenic Games (including the Olympic Games), in which ethnicity was the decisive factor for participation, also fostered a sense of belonging among the various Greek tribes under the concept of the Hellenic.



The Greek colonization

Around 800 BC, numerous Greek Poleis founded colonies in the entire Mediterranean area, including the Black Sea. Mostly these colonies were friendly connected to the mother city (Metropolis), but politically independent city states. Through this colonization, the Greek language, culture and polis order were spread, especially in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

Gradually, with the increasing cultural and economic importance of the Poleis and its colonies throughout the Mediterranean, Greek became a world language of the ancient world. It is estimated that at the beginning of the 4th century B.C., the number of Greek speakers was about 7 million people, at the time of Alexander the Great about 9 million.



Hellenism

With the empire of Alexander the Great, Greek became the official language of a huge empire. Greek became the lingua franca of the Near East and remained so when the eastern Mediterranean came under Roman rule. An important characteristic of this historical period is the increased Hellenization, the penetration of the Orient by Greek culture, and in return the growing influence of Oriental culture on the Greeks. The Hellenistic world encompassed a vast area that stretched from Sicily and Lower Italy (Magna Graecia) to Greece and India, and from the Black Sea to Egypt and today's Afghanistan.

Hellenism meant the development from classical Greek culture to a civilization with global dimensions, which was now open to everyone. Accordingly, the concept of the "Hellenic" evolved from the meaning of ethnic Greek to a cultural concept that included those who subjected their lives to Greek values.

With the beginning of Christianisation, Greek also gained importance as the language of the Church in the west of the Roman Empire.



Greeks become Romans

In 212 AD, the Constitutio Antoniniana of Emperor Caracallas granted Roman citizenship to all free citizens of the empire. The word Romios ("Romans") became the common name for the Greeks of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The number of native speakers of Greek is estimated to be around 600, making up a good third of the eastern Roman population, i.e. about 10 to 15 million people. The core area of the language was in the ancient settlement areas of the Greeks, mainly on the southern Balkan peninsula and in the western part of Asia Minor. The number of those who knew how to communicate in Greek, however, was probably far greater. Also the eastern Roman cities were still strongly influenced by Greek.

The invasions of the Longobards and Arabs in the 7th century led to the loss of most of the provinces, including the Italian and Asian ones, with the exception of Anatolia. The remaining territories were predominantly Greek, which meant that the population of the empire now saw itself as a more cohesive unit, ultimately developing a conscious identity.

Greek was the sole administrative and state language of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire from the 7th century onwards. The Eastern Roman Empire became a kind of "Holy (=Orthodox) Roman Empire of the Greek Nation" (Ralf G. Jahn).



The decline of Greek

In 693, Greek was replaced by Arabic as the official language in the areas conquered by the Muslims. As a result, Greek was already strongly suppressed in these areas in the early Middle Ages.

In the early 7th century, the Slavs began a sustainable land grab in the Balkans, but this was mainly concentrated in the hinterland, while the (partially) fortified cities along the coastal regions remained uninterruptedly in Greek hands.

With the conquest of Constantinople (1453), Athens (1456), the Peloponnese (1459/60) and the Empire of Trapezunt (1461) by the Ottomans, the status of Greek as a state language ended until the emergence of modern Greece in 1832.



The Greek comeback

After the Greek Revolution, Greek (Modern Greek) became the sole state language of the newly founded state in 1830. In the following hundred years, there was an extensive population exchange with the territories of the other newly founded nation states, so that Greek largely disappeared from them, but became the language of the overwhelming majority in the growing Greek state itself. Only in Cyprus, which was a British colony until 1960, did no such exchange take place.



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