'Romans', Greeks, Hellenes: Pre-revolutionary notions of national identity

May 15th, 2018


The article below was originally written in the form of an undergraduate assignment for the Greek Open University in 2003, during a period when the author’s academic skills were still under development. Although the quality of this article does not match the quality of later examples of the same author’s work, it is written in a thorough manner and contains useful information to nowadays students and other readers with non-specialised knowledge; therefore, it has been proudly included on this website.

The reader needs to be warned that the original assignment, on which this article was based on, was written in Greek and was intended to be read by specialised academic historians. Despite the author’s best intentions to present his essay in the clearest way possible, some points and arguments might still be lost in translation.

The author believes that the article is useful to those studying Greek archaeology, as it forms the basis of understanding the political and ideological context in which the archaeology of the modern Greek state was developed. Detailed discussions on the ideological parameters behind early archaeological practice in Greece are presented by various other scholars (e.g. Yiannis Hamilakis).

To non-Greek readers and to readers with no prior knowledge on ethnic or religious identities of the Ottoman world, the translations of the names used in this article in English are probably going to be problematic. Some detailed explanations and a brief history of these names is presented in the glossary at the bottom of this page.


This article presents the ideas that circulated among the educated Greeks prior to the War of Independence in 1821, in relation to the development a Greek national identity. The essay is divided in four sections. The first section discusses the broader social and political context of the Ottoman Empire during the 18th century AD, and the conditions under which some new ideas were introduced into the society due to the political changes in Western Europe. This section points out the conditions under which the Greeks transformed from a race of people (genus or genos - γένος) to a modern nation (ethnos – έθνος). The second section discusses the three most popular names that had been proposed for defining the national identity of the Greeks during the above period. These were Greeks (Graecoi or Graecians – Γραικοί), 'Romans' (Romyoi – Ρωμιοί) and Hellenes (Έλληνες). These names were suggested and argued thoroughly by four scholars: Demetrios Katartzis, Daniel Philippides, Gregorios Konstantas and Adamantios Koraes. Furthermore, the second section correlates the three names and points out any connections among them, also in relation to the popular perceptions of national identity that existed in the social and political environments, in which each of the above scholars lived in. The third section discusses the broader attitudes and political pursuits of the social groups that each scholar represented. The final section presents the conclusions of this short study; it discusses the prevalence of the term Hellenes and the role that Hellenism played in the people’s minds during the Greek War of Independence.

The need for separation from the Ottoman Empire

The 18th century was characterised by a great contrast in relation to the social, political and economic developments between Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire. The movement of the European Enlightmen opened new horizons to the Western world, resulting to the development of sciences through the cultivation of reason and free thought. The results of this intellectual movement were the industrial revolution, the development of trade, the flourishing of the economy in general, and the first appearance of capitalism (Margaritis 1999a, 31).

In the social domain, the rise of urban middle classes was the most characteristic feature of Western societies during this period. The infiltration of the ideas of the Enlightment in social and political thought led the urban classes of France in 1789 to the notorious French Revolution, which was to preach human rights for the first time, to abolish feudal privileges and to nominate the state as the nation's sole source of power and authority (Margaritis 1999a, 32).

On the other side of such important social and political events stood the declined Ottoman Empire of the 18th century. Its economy remained agricultural and no effort was placed towards industrial development. The cost of the wars conducted during the 17th century had gradually brought the Empire in economic crisis. The heavy taxation of the Greek-Christian subordinates, the so called Rayades (Rayas in singular), in conjunction with the increasing ideological distance between the Ottomans and the West, produced the first reactions among the Empire's Christian populations (Margaritis 1999b, 44-77).

Within the multi-racial and multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire, the division of the citizens in social groups was based solely on religion. The Millet of the Roum, literally meaning the confessional community of the 'Romans', was a legal entity made up by all Greek Christian populations, which was controlled by the Orthodox Patriarchy of Constantinople. Within the Ottoman administrative mechanism, the Patriarchy enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy. Its main concern was the preservation of the Greek language and the practice of the Orthodox Christian faith, two of the main features that defined the 'Roman' genus (Margaritis 1999b, 48-50).

The Phanariot officials held prominent posts at the Patriarchy, and in many cases, they enjoyed special privileges by serving as administrators of the Ottoman government at the provinces of the Danube. Due to their education and their contacts with the Western world, the Phanariots soon introduced the ideas of the European Enlightment in the Ottoman Empire, which were passed on to the suppressed rayades. The migration of many Greeks to the West and their contact with the Western way of thinking soon generated the necessity of an armed revolt to the rest of the enslaved Greeks. This need was motivated further by the necessity of reviving the ancient Greek past, which was believed to separate the Greeks from the rest of the Sultan’s subordinates (Margaritis 1999b, 50-6).

The separation and independence of the Greeks from the Ottoman Empire generated the necessity of transforming their ethnic group from a genus to a nation (ethnos). The victory of the Russians during the Russo-Turkish war of 1774, and the Napoleonic wars a lot later, all showed to the Greeks that during an armed conflict, the Ottoman Empire was likely to be defeated (Margaritis 1999b, 54). Furthermore, the ideas of the French Revolution of 1789 pointed to the Greeks the necessity of fighting for their freedom so that they can be an independent ethnic group. It was the moment when the educated Greeks of that period started thinking of an appropriate name that could define the new national identity of the genus.

The problem of the Greek (Hellenic) national identity

The three prevailing names for the genus and later nation of the congressional community of the Roum were 'Romans', Greeks and Hellenes. The texts from four scholars of the Greek Enlightment of the 18th century, Demetrios Katartzis, Daniel Philippides, Gregorios Konstantas and Adamantios Koraes, present strong and conflicting arguments on the issue of the nation’s new identity and name.

Demetrios Katartzis is one of the first representatives of the Greek Enlightment. In his book Dokimia (Essays), written either in 1783 or 1785, he suggests that the right name of the genus is 'Romans'. According to his views, the name 'Romans' is the same as the name Christians (Katartzis 1974, 44). The name Hellenes has no substantial basis as it associates with the ancient Greeks, who were pagans. Furthermore, the name Greeks cannot be used, as it is not only foreign, but it also associates with another part of the ancient pagan past (Katartzis 1974, 49-50). In his views, the only name that is appropriate for the right Christian, who is the loyal servant of the Sultan, or in his own words the subordinate servant of the most dominant ruler, is 'Roman'. This name does not define a person as a slave but as a believer in the religious sense. It should not be forgotten that there is an ecclesiastic hierarchy in the Orthodox church, which shows that this believer is under autonomous administration. Furthermore, the example of the 'Bashkapikehaya of Wallachia-Bogdania' (Katartzis 1974, 44), who were Greek-Phanariot administrators of the Danube regions, shows that the 'Romans' are a projection of the Sultan’s authority.

The conservative views of Demetrios Katartzis and his strong support of the Christian ideals were mainly due to his Phanariot descent. He was born and educated in Constantinople, and he had always accepted the usefulness and functionality of the Patriarchy for all Christian populations of the Ottoman Empire. He even managed to be appointed at a high administrative position in Bucharest under the Sultan’s request, and reached to the rank of the Grand Logothetes (Demaras 2002, 176-7). His position in the highest administrative mechanism of the Ottoman Empire demanded the recognition of the Sultan's authority and the Orthodox church's hierarchy, which mediated between the Sultan and his subordinates, the 'Romans'.

Karartzis identifies the Hellenes as idolatrous and mocks the ancient Peripatetic and Stoic philosophical schools, calling a sinner whoever studies their work. He suggests a clear cut from the ancient Greek culture and language to support his theory that people must be taught the 'Roman' language instead (the Romeiki), which should be the new language for the 'Roman' genus. In his view, after attending the right education, people will not be ashamed to admit that they descend from the ancient Hellenes (Katartzis 1974, 50-1).

Through this suggestion, Katartzis demarcates what is perceived to be the 'Roman' self-identification and heritage. In his views, the 'Roman' language derives from the Hellenic language, same as the name 'Roman', which descends from the ancient name Hellenas; however, both terms do not coincide (Demaras 2002, 219). He argues that the new generation of 'Romans' can neither use inactive words from the ancient Greek language, nor memorise words from a non-natural (non-personalised) ancient vocabulary (Demaras 2002, 227). For the ecclesiastic circles of his time, the preservation and teaching of the ancient Greek language always bore the danger of reviving idolatrous (pagan) ideas in the youths' education (Demaras 2002, 231). For the same reason, in 1787 Katartzis composes the “Grammar of the 'Roman' or Natural Language” (Demaras 2002, 190).

Despite his original and ground-breaking views on the 'Roman' language, after 1789 and under the pressure of other Phanariots who demanded a strictly conservative approach on the language issue, Katartzis was obliged to abandon his radical views. He complied to the style and grammar of the 'most logian' (logiotate - λογιότατη) Greek language of the Phanariots, so that he could maintain the respect that appropriated to his higher administrative position (Kitromelides 2000, 220).

In their volume “Neoteric Geography” (Νεωτερική Γεωγραφία) in 1791, Daniel Philippides and Gregorios Konstantas, who used to be the students of Demetrios Katartzis, suggest that the correct name for the genus should be Hellenes. In their views, the term 'Romans' was created abusively. The Romans and their Byzantine descendants were those who fought against and finally enslaved the Hellenes, in the same way this happened again with the Turks. Their entire text perceives the Byzantine era as a period during which Hellenism was under occupation: the inhabitants of the Byzantium were Hellenes who spoke the ancient Hellenic language and attended the Hellenic education; however, all of them were abusively named Romans. Furthermore, Philippides and Konstantas argue that the name Greeks (as in Grecians) is equally unacceptable. It is a name that does not derive from any rationale and has been given to the Hellenes by the Europeans, who are trying in the most unacceptable manner to connect the name Greeks with the Hellenic antiquity (Philippides & Konstantas 1988, 120-1).

An interesting point in their work is their reference to the study of Hellenic (ancient Greek) texts by the Romans during the period of the Roman Republic; therefore, the course of the Roman civilisation was affected to a great extent by Greek ideas. During the time of Philippides and Konstantas, the Hellenic language and the name Hellenes were associated with the ancient Greek ideals of liberty and democracy, which the Europeans were trying to revive (Philippides & Konstantas 1988, 121). Although Demetrios Katartzis was a supporter of the enlightened monarchy, his students during the 1790s were seeking for another form of political expression, perhaps more democratic and more radical for the era they lived in (Kitromelides 2000, 220). Such political expression was expected go back to the social values of liberty and democracy, which inspired the supporters of the French Enlightment in order to start their revolution in 1789.

It can be noted that Daniel Philippides and Gregorios Konstantas represent this sudden shift towards the notion of Hellenism, which took place during the 18th century. At the time of the European Enlightment, Hellenism enjoyed an increasing glamour (Demaras 2000, 54-5). The new generation of representatives of the Greek Enlighment moved away from the traditional conservative views of the Orthodox church and the Phanariot scholars, such as Demetrios Katartzis (Kitromelides 2000, 210-11). They stressed the connections and the bonds of the genus with the ancient Hellenic past, and they even dared to express it openly. This way, they rejected the attitude of the traditional scholars against the ground-breaking changes introduced by the European Enlightment, while they adopted such changes to promote the idea of Hellenism as an element responsible for the social and cultural development across Western Europe.

Another representative of the Greek Enlightment, who is also consorting with the ideas of the European Enlightment, is Adamantios Koraes. Koraes, who lived in many European capital cities (Amsterdam, Venice, Montpelier and Paris), knew better than any other of the discussed scholars the thoughts, ideas and functions of the modern European states of the 18th century. In 1788 he moved to Paris and became acquainted with the glamour of the French capital. He indulged with the ideas of the European Enlightment and in 1789 he witnesses the French Revolution. He followed the course of events, reflecting on their political, economic and social causes (Kitromelides 2000, 251-5).

According to Koraes the French revolution was inevitable and came from the economic malaise that the French monarchy had brought to its people through endless wars and spendings of its royal house. The collaborators in this exploitation of the people were the aristocracy and the clergy, who never ceased to undermine the people's efforts towards justice. A remedy for the treatment of this corruption was the abolition of the privileges of the clergy and aristocracy, and the full equality of all citizens (Kitromelides 2000, 256-8).

Koraes identified that the conditions in 1789 France were similar to those in the Greek mainland. The barbarity of the Turkish tyrants and the vileness of an Orthodox church that still enjoyed privileges offered by the conquerors were the main reasons preventing the people from promoting their lives and getting in touch with the splendour of the West (Kitromelides 2000, 262).

In his abstract under the title “Dialogue of two Greeks when they heard about the brilliant victories of Napoleon”, written in December 1805, Koraes does not hesitate to show his indescribable admiration for the French nation. He also touches on the Russian barbarity and rejects any form of help from them by describing them as equally barbarian conquerors as the Turks. He directly blames the Byzantine Emperors for their extreme barbarity in altering the genus of the Greeks, while he shows a characteristic preference in this specific name of the nation’s new national identity (Koraes 1969/70, 105-6).

For Koraes, the name Greeks is the most appropriate for the newly born nation, particularly because this is also being used by the civilised European nations to define the Greek genus. He argues that the French, who own their wisdom to the study of the ancient ancestors of the Greeks, made sure that their modern descendants are given this specific name so that they can become equal to the other civilised nations of the West. The name Hellenes is equally acceptable by Koraes, as this is also reflecting the glorious past. Even the two characters participating in his fictional dialogue have ancient Hellenic names: Cleanthes and Aristocles (Demaras 2000, 86). By contrast, the name 'Romans' (Romyoi) is a name given to slaves, reflecting the surrender of the genus' ancient ancestors to the actual Romans (Koraes, 1969/70, 108).

In conclusion, one can note that the prevalence of the name Greeks was more common to those scholars who maintained frequent contacts with the Western world, such a Adamantios Koraes (Demaras 2000, 84).

The reasons of differentiation in relation to the nation's new name

The reader of the three texts can note several differences in the arguments each author presents in relation to the new name and national identity of the genus. Demetrios Katartzis, who is the most conservative among all other scholars, is in favour of the name 'Romans' in order to gut the genus off its idolatrous past. The survival of his political career and his acceptance by his social circle of Phanariot scholars are connected and combined with the survival of the Patriarchy and the Orthodox faith. His most obvious aim is the maintenance and support of the ecclesiastic Phanariot elite through the Sultan's approval. For this reason, he does not hesitate to abandon any radical thoughts in relation to the nation’s new language, particularly because such thoughts would not have been accepted by the rest of the Phanariots and other members of his social circle.

Daniel Philippides and Gregorios Konstantas belong to the 1790s generation of the Greek Enlightment, which means they follow the events of the French Revolution and are inspired by it. In comparison to their teacher, Demetrios Katartzis, their views are radical and ground-breaking. They do not hold any official positions in the Ottoman government and they stand away from any Turkish-friendly attitudes followed by other scholars of their time; therefore, they support the name Hellenes as it associates with the rich history of ancient Hellas. To them it is more than clear that subordination does not comply with the Hellenic genus, and so, the Hellenes need to fight for liberty, democracy and equality, ideals that originate from the ancient Hellenic social values and stand against any purposeful enslavement.

Finally, Adamantios Koraes is a man who lives in France in the troubled year of 1789; he understands the struggles of the Greek genus but he follows the changes from abroad. He admires the Hellenic consciousness and he agrees with the use of the name Hellenes, particularly because these were the ones who passed the lights of civilisation to all Western European nations of his time. Despite this fact, his admiration for France is even greater than the one for ancient Hellas for two reasons: firstly, because the French were the ones who revived the glorious ancient Hellenic past after the Middle Ages, and secondly because he personally met the greatest achievements of his era while living in France. For these reasons, he prefers the name Greeks, showing his appreciation to the French for using the same exact name, adding that “after all, they are the most enlightened European nation” (Koraes 1969/70, 105).


From all names suggested by the scholars of the Greek Enlightment prior to the War of Independence, the name Hellenes prevailed and strengthened the consciousness of the enslaved genus, leading to the birth of the Hellenic Republic. The connections between this name and the ancient pass was the main reason for its prevalence.

Despite their Orthodox Christian identity, the modern Greeks never felt detached from their ancient Hellenic past. During their efforts to regain their freedom from the Turks, their War of Independence of 1821 was regarded as the continuation of the ancient wars against Asiatic barbarity (Margaritis 1999b, 55). Furthermore, regardless how many conquerors had come after the Greeks, their language was the main element that united them and at the same time it separated them from their foreign invaders. It was the Hellenic language, and despite its dialects and intrusive elements, it had been preserved for many years (Margaritis 1999b, 56).

The modern Hellenes (or modern Greeks for the English reader) of the 19th century had no apparent reasons for detaching themselves from their Christian faith. The fact that the Orthodox Patriarchy and the Phanariots were instruments of the Ottoman political system and power dynamics (Margaritis 1999b, 49), never resulted to any loss of Orthodox faith. By contrast, the people isolated the political role of the church and the Phanariots within the Ottoman system and searched for liberty and equality according to the values that originated from their ancient past.

Finally, the European West had prepared the ground for the revival of the ancient Hellenic spirit since the time of the Renaissance. The only thing expected to happen was the resurrection of the descendants of these ancient people.


Demaras, K.Th., 2002, Neo-Greek Enlightment, Athens: Hermes.
Katartzis, D., (1783 or 1785)(1974), Essays, edited by K.Th. Demaras, Athens: Hermes.
Kitromilides, P., 2000, Neo-Greek Enlightment, Athens: Morphotiko Idryma Ethnikis Trapezis.
Koraes, A., (1969/70), Complete Works, Vol.2, Koraes and the 1821, Athens: Mpiris.
Margaritis, G., 1999a, 'Europe of revolution', in Rotzokos, N. (ed.) Greek History, Vol.3, Recent and Modern Greek History, Patra: Greek Open University, 23-40.
Margaritis, G., 1999b, 'The Ottoman territories and the formation of a new Hellenism', in Rotzokos, N. (ed.) Greek History, Vol.3, Recent and Modern Greek History, Patra: Greek Open University, 41-65.
Philippides, D. & Konstantas, G., (1791)(1998), Neoteric Geography, edited by A. Koumarianou, Athens: Hermes.

Explanatory glossary

To non-Greek readers or to readers with no specific knowledge on ethnic and religious identities of the Ottoman world, the translations of the names used in this article in English are probably going to be problematic. Some detailed explanations and a brief history of these names is presented below:

Greeks or Hellenes:
The name Greeks is an internationally established name for the people living in modern Greece; however, it is not the real name under which the modern Greeks identify themselves. The word Greek is a paraphrased version of the Latinised Graecus, referring to an ancient Greek tribal group. In reality, the commonly-used word 'Greeks' should translate as Graecians instead. The name under which the 'Greeks' always identified themselves is Hellenes and the name of their country is Hellas or Hellenic Republic. The word 'Greek' in the Hellenic language consists of a post-Byzantine linguistic loan, which reads as Graecoi (Γραικοί). This is how the Western European nations of the post-medieval era defined the Hellenes, and unfortunately, this still carries on today.

The populations of the Eastern Roman Empire, which consolidated during the 4th century AD, continued to regard themselves as Romans even after the fall of Rome in AD 476. This practice carried on despite the fact that the official language of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire was not Latin, but Greek. The noun Romyoi (Ρωμιοί), and its Turkish equivalent Roum (Ρουμ), were popular names for the Greek-speaking Christian populations of the Ottoman Empire, who still regarded themselves as Roman descendants. Here the word 'Romans' in quotation marks is used to define the name Romyoi or Roum.

Ethnos (έθνος):
In its traditional ancient Greek form, the word ethnos was used to describe a conglomeration of tribal groups, which unified based on the common characteristics that defined their ethnic identity (language, religion, racial or ancestral or territorial bonds, etc.). An ancient Greek ethnos neither had clearly defined borders nor uniform political structure. Nowadays the word ethnos equates to nation-state, and is used to define a group of people living united within distinct borders, under an autonomous government, with defined political structure and laws; for these people, however, having a common ethnic identity is not always the case. In Western Europe, nation-states are a relatively recent political development; they appeared for the first time during the 18th century AD under the gradual dissolution of multi-ethnic empires. The situation in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East, however, was slightly different and the emergence of such nation-states varied.

Genus or genos (γένος):
In natural sciences, the word genus translates as a group of beings or living entities sharing 'common birth' and comprising a species of their own. Nowadays the word sounds unusual when defining characteristics of the human species; however, in the 18th century Ottoman Empire, the 'ethnic' groups that could identify themselves under a set of distinct cultural features formulated a distinct genus. In its own understanding, a genus was almost similar to what an ethnos used to be in ancient Greece: a community of people with uniform cultural identity but no distinct borders and political structure. The genus of the 'Romans' in the Ottoman Empire consisted of all Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians, the spiritual leader of which was the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, while their political leader remained the Ottoman Sultan.

The Patriarchy of Constantinople:
During the Ottoman period, the Patriarchy of Constantinople was the only exponent and supporter of the religious and civil rights of all Orthodox Christian populations who lived inside the boarders of the Ottoman Empire. Although the Patriarchy had no political authority and limited judicial authority, it played an important role in representing the Orthodox Christian populations to the Ottoman government. This role declined after the gradual dissolution of the Empire and the creation of autonomous ethnic churches in the newly formed nation-states, which not always accepted the Patriarchy's new spiritual role. The Greek Orthodox Church still recognises the powers of the Patriarchy of Constantinople. It must be noted that in the Greek language, the word Istanbul is never used. It is a paraphrasis of the Greek expression “eis tin Poli” (Εις την Πόλη), which means “in the City”. The name Constantinople, which translates as “the City of Constantine”, is still being used by all Greeks instead of Istanbul.

Phanariots (Φαναριώτες):
The name derives from the Greek word Phanari, meaning street lamp or street light, or in a more contextual sense, spiritual light. In reality, Phanari used to be the name of a suburb in Constantinople, which is nowadays called Fener, and still hosts the Patriarchy of Constantinople. Although the word Phanariots translates as the people residing at the suburb Phanari, during the 18th century the name received a different meaning. As Phanari used to be the area where prominent Greek families lived during that period, and as most of these families consisted of highly educated members associated with the Orthodox Patriarchy, the name Phanariots became a synonym of the educated Greek Orthodox bourgeoisie of Constantinople. Due to their education, which normally followed Western European standards, the Phanariots occupied important positions in the Ottoman administration and often gaining significant privileges.

Rayas/Rayades (Ραγιάς/Ραγιάδες):
It is a paraphrased Greek version of the Ottoman Turkish word reayah, literally meaning flock. It was used to define the 'second-class' citizens of the Ottoman Empire, who were subject to taxation and did not participate in the government and the army. The word was used for any social or religious group (Muslim, Christian or Jew) that was subject to the Sultan or the Ottoman government, although there was a different name for slaves, who were called kul. For the Greek populations, the word rayas (or rayades in plural) meant mistreated subordinate or slave.

Millet (Ottoman Turkish):
A court of law meeting for the matters of a specific religious community. The legal system of the Ottoman Empire recognised that each confessional community needed to abide by the laws of their own religion and to have their own court of justice; therefore, the Christians were trialled according to the Cannon Laws, the Muslims according to the Sharia, and the Jews according to the Halakha. From the 18th century onwards, the word Millet received a broader meaning and instead of defining a specific court of law, it referred to the entire religious community that was subject to it.

Personal remark: ancient Greek, modern Greek and the Hellenic language

It has been a long-lasting debate among linguists and other scholars whether the modern Greek language is a continuation of the ancient Greek language. In general, almost every Greek scholar sees obvious continuity between the two, while in response, many (if not most) of the non-Greek scholars see discontinuity and modern political manipulations. It is also a non-hidden fact that the language departments of many universities tend to treat ancient Greek as a dead language. In the above article, the discussed scholars, including the academics mentioned in the bibliography and the author of the article himself, all take for granted that the Greek language and its ancient forms are on the same continuum, and this is nowadays described as the Hellenic language.

Even though I am not a linguist but a Doctor of Archaeology, I wish to add my personal views on the 'ancient versus modern Greek language' debate. To do so, I need to begin with a simple question to those supporting the 'dead language' theory. When such scholars speak about the 'ancient Greek' language, which chronological period are they actually referring to?

The Hellenic language is the oldest written language in the European continent. Linear B tablets from the Mycenaean palaces, which have been deciphered and proven Greek, date back to the 15th century BC. Despite the lack of inscriptions during the Greek Early Iron Age and the adoption of a new alphabet during the Archaic period, the Hellenic language has been around without interruption for 3.5 millennia, if not slightly longer. During this long period, the language has been subject to various changes and modifications (structural, grammatical, contextual, etc.), which still carry on.

The 'dead language' approach is the result of artificial divisions and categorisations on the Hellenic language, which are applied by modern linguists in order to specialise in a specific chronological periods. As it happens with any division, categorisation, fragmentation and compartmentalisation of a scholarly subject, at the very end, the broader picture is completely lost. This is exactly what is happening with the scholars who see two totally different languages, which they name 'ancient Greek' and 'modern Greek'. The question, however, is if there are only two different forms of 'Greek'.

Considering the course of the Hellenic language through time, one can argue that there are more than two 'Greek languages'. To give a few examples, there is the Mycenaean Greek of the Linear B tablets, the Homeric Epics, the language (and dialects) of the Archaic poets, the Classical Greek authors of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the simplified Koine of the Hellenistic period, Biblical Greek, the Middle Greek of the Byzantine period, the post-Byzantine/modern Greek language of the Memoirs of the Heroes of the Greek Revolution, the scholarly Kathareuousa of the previous century, and the language I speak with my friends at home.

If a scholar wishes to focus on a specific chronological period of the Hellenic language, then it is easy to isolate a specific form and accidentally treat it as a separate language. If this person wishes to comment on the continuity or discontinuity between this 'distinct language' and the 'different languages' of subsequent periods, then this person needs to be knowledgeable of more than one forms of the Hellenic language. Throughout my academic career, I have only met one non-Greek scholar who knew every single linguistic form encountered in the Hellenic language across time. This was the departed and most respectful Professor Frank Trombley. Unfortunately, most of the other scholars I met had narrow-minded views and failed to recognise that there are more than two linguistic forms of 'Greek'.

Presuming that a scholar is capable of comparing different forms of the Hellenic language across different chronological periods, then any debate on continuity and discontinuity will be by definition subject to that person's approach: if the focus of the study is on the differences between two forms of 'Greek', then the conclusion will be that we are dealing with two totally different languages. If the focus of the study is on the similarities, however, then the conclusion will be that we are dealing with the same language in two different forms.

Leaving the cloud of subjectivity aside, I can only point out the most obvious mistake of linguistic studies in relation to Greek: they compartmentalise a nation's linguistic heritage, leading to the creation of independent linguistic studies on specific linguistic forms. Such forms end up being studied as 'separate languages', and as they have some chronological distance among them, any direct comparison automatically results to the conclusion that such 'separate languages' are totally different. To give an example, if a scholar compares an 'ancient Greek' text of the Classical period (e.g. Thucydides) with a 'modern Greek' newspaper, the linguistic differences will be obvious; therefore, this scholar can claim that these are two completely different languages. What is totally wrong in this approach is that the scholar purposely neglects the literature prior and after Thucydides, and until the moment that modern newspaper came out of the press. Expanding this example, it is more than likely that a non-trained reader of the Hellenistic period probably had difficulties understanding Homer’s Iliad, just as Homer was probably unable to read any of the Linear B tables, if he was not as blind as tradition believes. In reality, the Hellenic language is one, although it has been undergoing continuous changes and modifications through time, which linguists should treat as linguistic forms instead of separate languages.