Greek (Hellene) or Romoios?
An exposition on the "Dichotomy in Modern Greek Society".
By Peter Maniatis
The 25th of March is a day of rejoice for the Hellenes and philhellenes everywhere. Most of all it is a day that we celebrate Liberty, Ελευθερία . The freedom to govern ourselves and the freedom to behave according to our own free will and take responsibility for our own actions. It is also a day we celebrate the re-acquisition of our own Greek identity.
I would like to explore these two fundamental human conditions , Liberty and Identity, and show how they unfolded at the time of the revolution in 1821. Before that, I will take you in a Journey through the centuries to see what is like to be Greek.
For 2600 years now, Greek thought is permeating the minds of people everywhere. From the 7th century BCE Greek Minds searched for truth in poetry and philosophy
Homer’s Poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, which deal with the human condition in conflict were studied then as it is today in schools and universities everywhere.
Pre/Sokratic Physicists and philosophers such as Heraclitus, Thalis, Anexagoras and others talked in public about the principles and the workings of the Universe, outside religious Dogma
Other philosophers, such as Sokrates, Plato, and Aristotle talked and wrote about what is desirable for a “Good Human Life” and how we can improve the quality by way of rational thinking. Their work forms the basis of most of the subsequent intellectual activity in the western world
Concepts such as Liberty, in it’s full meaning, was initiated by the Greeks in Athens, in the Form of Democratic Government, around the 5tth century BC . Ordinary Athenians gathered in Parliament to vote for laws that will regulate their lives - unlike all of their neighbors.
Liberty for the Greeks meant not to be afraid of a ruler who had the lives of his subjects at his mercy. For them, it was the rule of law that reigned supreme for any dispute between the governing body and the people.
In such an environment. science art and the humanities, activities that enhance human life, thrived.
In the Great theatres of the time, Drama and Comedy was enjoyed by everyone.
Aesthetically uplifting architecture, the sense of “Beauty” such as the Parthenon, uplifted the hearts and minds of the population
This kind of society was desirable not only to the Greeks but eventually to other peoples as well.
The Romans after conquering Greece they in turn were conquered by the Greek intellect. They adapted their religion, the arts and sciences and the way of thinking about the world - Greeks became their teachers.
Eventually the Eastern part of the Empire, other ways known as Byzantium, became predominantly Greek speaking, where Christianity fount the first foot- hold in Europe.
Through the fusion of the gospel message with Greek reason and humanity, the Christian religion is formed.
And because of the international status of the Greek Language at the time is spread throughout Europe
In the early centuries Byzantine Greeks openly debated Theological issues that eventually became church dogma
The Greeks of Byzantium however, turned inwards. For them saving the soul to be rewarded in an after life was paramount
The Byzantine Greeks, or Romioi, as they called themselves may not have had the Liberty, the freedom that comes with a democratic government, but they were relatively free within a Christian environment that professes unconditional love AGAPE towards the other.
The lack of Government by the people, created a society of autocratic and Hierarchical Rulers with all of the downside of Despotism (rule by a single entity) and Nepotism (favoritism granted to relatives and friends regardless of merit)
The Romioi had to deal with various enemies surrounding the empire. As it was difficult to keep them away by military means alone, they used cunning and deceit, later known as Byzantinism, to keep the empire free.
Eventually Byzantium was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 when Constantinople fell
During the long period of occupation of 400 years, the identity of Romios (Roman Greek) was closely associated with the Greek Orthodox Church
During those long years the only freedom the Romioi enjoyed was to practice their own religion, granted to them by their Ottoman masters under the millet system. Freedom otherwise was non-existent.
Life was harsh. Ottoman law applied only to the Moslem population. The Greek population was at the mercy of any individual Turk to administer punishment at will. The Romioi were heavily taxed which included a tribute of one child in five of every Greek family to be given to the state and enrolled in the corps of Janissaries, a formidable military unit in the Sultan’s army
There were special rules for the Greeks. They had to bow their heads down in front of any Moslem and step down from the pavement when passed a Turk, allowing a Turk to slap their faces and many other such human degrading practices
The conditions for living a descent human life were so bad that they the Greeks preferred death to a life under the Ottoman Yoke - καλύτερα μιας ώρας ελεύθερη ζωή παρά 40 Χρόνια σκλαβιά και φυλακή , they secretly wished
The women of Souli preferred to leap to their deaths rather than being captured by the Turks. They leaped over a cliff dancing and singing
Εχε γιά καυμένε κόσμε
Εχε για καλή ζωή
Στη Στεριά δεν ζει το ψάρι
Ούτε ανθός στη αμμουδιά
Και οι Σουλιώτησες δεν ζούνε
δίχως την Ελευθεριά
The fish can not live on land
Nor the flower on sand
And the women of Souli
Can not live without Freedom
Under such conditions the Greeks struggled to maintain their identity
During the 400 years of Turkish oppression over the Greeks, Western Europe enjoyed a renascence of the classical Greek worldview with Greek art, literature, architecture and rational thought dominating the lives of the Europeans. The French, the Germans, and the British were learning Classical Greek and were studying the Classical Greek works of Plato, Aristotle and Homer.
The Enlightment of the 17th century, with its emphasis on Reason, was inspired by Athenian Greek thought. It gave rise to works in music and opera with Greek mythological motifs and drama. The Greeks of the mainland Greece, on the other hand, enjoyed none of this, as they were deprived of any liberty
As Greek thought prevailed in Europe at that time, some intellectuals, such as the English poets Shelly and John Keats, went as far as to say that we are all Greeks, and Keats’s poem the Grecian urn demonstrates this superbly. <http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/poetica/2012-06-16/4033614>
In this kind of environment the Europeans and the expatriate Greeks began to think about Geographical Greece. Athens, Olympia, Delphi, Thermopile, Marathon, Salamis, places that they read in books were real and there in the Greek peninsular to visit and marvel.
They thought about the Parthenon and its symbolism of a free society and were saddened in the thought that the Greek population was suppressed by a foreign power.
Expatriate Greeks such as Rigas Feraios , Adamantios Korais, Ioanis Kapodistrias, Alexandros Ypsilandis and others joined by Philhellenes of Europe, began to organize a revolution
The group “Filiki Aeteria” set the strategies and spread the word within Greece that the Time for Freedom has come.
While the Expatriates and the Philhellenes were raising funds and winning support from the Great Powers of the time, the kleftes and armatoloi, Rebels with-in Greece armed themselves ready to fight
They open up two fronts, one in the Peloponnesus the other outside Greece in Moldova Romania
The Moldavian one, lead by Ypsilantis who was an officer in the Russian army, failed. The other in the Peloponnesus had considerable success
Kolokotrones, Androutsos, Karaiskakis, Papaflessas, Mpotsaris, Tsavelas, Diakos and many other heroes were causing havoc to the Turkish army and population
Athanasios Diakos, one of the Heroes, when he was captured and was asked to change his faith and thus spare his life, he answered:
Εγώ Ρωμιός γεννήθηκα Ρωμιός θεναπεθάνω
We can see that the identity of Romios (Greek Roman) still prevails centuries after the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire Byzantium.
Although the Greek fighters had some great success both on Land and Sea they couldn’t endure the pressure for long without the intervention of France who send troops on land and together with Great Britain and Russia destroyed the Turkish Fleet in Navarino
After Peloponisos was freed the victors set about to form government. The Greek intellectuals of the Diaspora and the Philhellenes looked towards Classical Athens in identifying the New Greece, New Hellas.
The kleftes and armatoloi , the Romioi, looked towards Constantinople the New Rome for an identity of the new nation. Romiosini for them was the identity with which they formed an association with everything that was Byzantine and was connected with Constantinople “new Rome” the seat of the Orthodox Patriarchate, a remnant of the Glory that was Byzantium
On the other hand the Greeks who lived and were educated in Europe, where classical Greek thought prevailed, looked upon themselves as Hellenes, as Ελληνες, as the continuum of the Classical Greek line.
Between 1821 and 1828 factional and dynastic conflicts led to two civil wars even though the Kapetaneoi (Captains) were still fighting the Ottomans
Then Ioanis Kapodistrias arrived in 1828 as the first head of state of independent Greece. He was an European educated man who studied law and Philosophy in Italy and served as a diplomat to the Tsar of Russia. He was a true democrat faithful to his ancient Greek predecessors.
The Kapetaneoi , Captains (Romioi) were not pleased with his views and were seeking to share power or topple him. This rivalry came to a head when he ordered the imprisonment of the Maniat Mavromichalis. This did not go down well with Mavromichalis family and Capodistrias was assassinated on October 1831
Adamantios Korais, a typical man of the Enlightment, studied in France and was instrumental in introducing Katharevousa. Wanting to purge the spoken Greek language of the time from foreign words and expressions, he devised a Greek language that was as close to the ancient Attic Athenian as possible
Katharevousa became the official language of Greece until 1976. During its use a great number of people objected to it which include some of the most prominent Greek Poets and prose writers of the 19th and 20th Century
Although Romiosini and Hellenism has somewhat fused now, deep down the difference is still evident. Some sections of the Greek community still look to New Rome (Constantinople) with its double - headed Eagle Insignia for an identity. Others look to the west. In Western countries, Hellenism is evident everywhere in architecture, art, democratic government, etc.
έλεγχος των στρατιωτικών από τους πολίτες, διαχωρισμός θρησκευτικής και πολιτικής εξουσίας, ισοτιμία της μεσαίας τάξης
control of the military by the citizens,
separation of religious and political power,
equality in the middle class
Are values vital to a free society and an integral part of Hellenism
Η Ελλάδα ποτέ δεν πεθαίνει
Δεν την σκιάζει φοβέρα καμιά
Μόνο λίγο καιρό ξαποσταίνει
Και μετά προς τη δόξα τραβά
ΖΗΤΩ Η ΕΛΛΑΣ