Aspects of language and identity in the Greek peninsula since the eighteenth century*
by Peter Mackridge
My aim in this paper is to comment on certain texts written in Greek around the years 1800 and 2000 on the subject of the populations and languages that make up the cultural mosaic of the south Balkan peninsula.
The introduction to a work by Asterios Koukoudis entitled Studies on the Vlachs, first published in Greek in 2000, begins as follows:
When I used to go to my mother’s village in Roumlouki, I remember how my Grekos granddad, barba-Dziordzi, would ask me: “What are you, lad, a Romios or a Vlahos?” And in Veria, my Vlach granddad, lala-Steryios, would ask me in Vlach: “Tse χi tíni, Armîn ia Grek?” (What are you, an Aroumanian or a Grekos?) And, anxious not to disappoint either of them, I would give each the answer he wanted to hear.
In the original Greek version of this passage, the two speakers use the names Romios, Grekos, Vlachos and Αrmounos, of which Romios and Vlachos are used in Greek, while Grecu and Armânu  are used in Aromanian. Each of the two languages (Greek and Aromanian) uses its own distinct pair of names to denote its own speakers and the speakers of the other language, although the Greek term for Greek and the Aromanian term for Aromanian are cognate with each other (Romios from Romaios [the Greek word for ‘Roman’] and Armânu from Romanus [the Latin word for ‘Roman’]). We should note that the name Greek (as opposed to Hellene) is used not only by speakers of western European languages but also by the speakers of Aromanian, Albanian and Slavonic languages who have lived and still live next to the Greek-speaking populations of Greece.
Here is another passage from Koukoudis’s book:
I shall never forget what I heard from the simple people who gave the wisest, clearest answers to my questions, drawn from their own profound experience. Barba-Kostas Ziogas in Perithori near Kato Nevrokopi was one, and he told me: “Look, lad, the Greki aren’t more Greek than we are. We may be Vlachs, they may be Greki, but all together we make up the Greeks [Ellines].”
Following Barba-Kostas’ logic, we can say that Christian Hellenes (in other words the Christian citizens of the state called Hellas) consist of speakers of Greek, Aromanian, Albanian and Slavonic, to whom we need to add the speakers of Turkish who originated in Asia Minor.
In parenthesis, I should explain why I am normally talking about “Aromanian-speakers” rather than “Aromanians” (or “Vlachs”). To talk about “Aromanians” implies that Aromanian-speakers formed a single linguistic, cultural and ethnic group with its own distinct identity, whereas in reality “Aromanian” or “Vlach” was just one of the many components that made up the identity of an individual, family or group that spoke Aromanian. In the absence of a single national territorial project of their own, when it came to national identity (which is not necessarily the same as citizenship or even nationality), Aromanian-speakers could choose Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian or some other national identity. Similarly, Arvanite-speakers could eventually choose to be either Albanians or Greeks, while Slav-speakers could choose to be Serbs, Bulgarians, Macedonians or Greeks. National identities, unlike other identities, tend to be mutually exclusive.
The name Hellenes, as the national name of the modern inhabitants of Hellas, began to be used on a large scale in the run-up to the Greek War of Independence. But I want to say a little more now about the term Romios. As we saw, Koukoudis argues that Aromanian-speakers (or at least some of them) distinguish themselves from Gretsi, in other words those who, like their forebears, have Greek as their mother tongue. Is the Greek word Romios synonymous with the Aromanian word Grecu, which does not include the speakers of Aromanian themselves? If we look at texts dating from around 1800, we notice that there is a certain instability or vagueness in the semantic content of the word Romios or Romaios. Let’s take two well-known examples. The first is the Thourios (1797), the famous war-song in which Rigas Velestinlis makes the following appeal:
Bulgarians and Albanians, Armenians and Romioi,
Rigas came from an area of Thessaly that had mixed Greek- and Aromanian-speaking populations and where there was widespread bilingualism. It therefore seems strange that he doesn’t refer to Vlachs at all in this couplet. Be that as it may, here the term Romios appears to exclude the populations of the Ottoman Empire who do not have Greek as their mother tongue. In his New Political Administration (Vienna 1797), which does mention Vlachs along with “Hellenes”, Bulgarians, Albanians, Armenians and Turks, Rigas talks about his hoped-for republic as being “Hellenic”. Nevertheless, for Rigas, to become a “Hellene” through the adoption of Greek language and culture (as he had observed many people doing in the Danubian Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia) was not an “ethnic mutation” but “a sort of emancipation, both social and personal, from Ottoman despotism”. While Rigas proposed that Greek should be the official language of the state that he envisaged, he did not suggest that the other languages be abolished.
Daniel of Moschopolis uses the term Romaios in a similar way in his Eisagogiki didaskalia [Introductory Teaching], which was published in 1802 at the expense of the Metropolitan of Pelagonia (based in Monastir in what later became Yugoslav Macedonia). (Moschopolis was a prosperous Aromanian-speaking town in Albania which was destroyed by Ali Pasha in 1788.) Daniel’s book was intended to persuade the Aromanian-, Bulgarian- and Albanian-speaking populations of the southern Balkans to abandon their mother tongues in favour of Greek (Romaic). This book promotes the learning of Greek (“the Mother of wisdom”) as a passport to material, spiritual and intellectual betterment; it begins with the following appeal:
Albanians, Vlachs, Bulgarians, speakers of other languages, rejoice,
It’s clear that, like Rigas, Daniel intends the term Romaioi to mean exclusively Greek-speaking Christians, i.e. those whose mother tongue is Romaic (romeika) – i.e. what we nowadays call Modern Greek. At that time, however, the word Romaios was often used by the Orthodox Church – and Rum was likewise used by the Ottoman authorities – to refer to all of the Orthodox Christian subjects of the Sublime Porte, regardless of linguistic and ethnic differences. This was also the normal way for Orthodox Christians to think of themselves, defining themselves by their differences from the members of the other chief religious communities that made up the population of the Ottoman Empire. To most Ottoman Orthodox Christians of that time, the world was divided chiefly into Romioi (Orthodox Christians [i.e. non-Armenian Ottoman Christians], among whom Greek-speakers might or might not be distinguished from Vlachs, Albanians and Bulgarians), Armenides (members of the Armenian church), Tourkoi (i.e. all of the Muslims), Ovrioi (Jews) and Frangoi (i.e. Catholics and – since the Reformation – Protestants).
Although it is not always possible to tell exactly which groups of people are included by writers of the time in the term Romios, in the cases of Rigas and Daniel we see educated Orthodox Christians appearing to distinguish Greek-speakers from the rest of their co-religionists according to linguistic criteria. Yet the aim of Daniel’s Greek-teaching book was precisely to encourage and enable non-Greek-speakers to become Greeks (Romaioi). We can associate his intention with the work of the priest Kosmas the Aetolian (1714-79) some years earlier. When Kosmas travelled round north-western Greece preaching to the local villagers, one of the things he told them was that they should abandon their Vlach or Albanian language and speak Greek instead, because, as he put it, “our church is in Hellenic”, by which he meant that the liturgy is in Ancient Greek and that, in order to be able to understand it one has to know some sort of Greek.
Some decades later, in 1815, Neophytos Doukas, whom Paschalis Kitromilides has called “one of the earliest exponents of romantic nationalism in southeastern Europe”, addressed an appeal to the patriarch of Constantinople to initiate a cultural crusade with the aim of extending the use of the Greek language among the Orthodox Christians of the Balkans and Asia Minor. Whereas Kosmas and Daniel were trying, with the blessing of the local Orthodox establishment, to persuade the speakers of Aromanian, Albanian and Slavonic to learn Greek so as to enable them to understand the liturgy (in the case of Kosmas) or to enable them to become merchants (in the case of Daniel), the purpose of Doukas’s cultural crusade was to make all the Orthodox Christians into Hellenes. Doukas argued that being a Hellene wasn’t so much a matter of descent as a matter of behaviour, i.e. the espousal of Hellenic paideia [culture] and Hellenic virtue. Many Graikoi, he complains, boast that they should have the rights due to people of Hellenic descent even though they are not adorned with Hellenic culture and virtue. In Doukas’s view, to be a Hellene, it was not enough to speak Greek, or to be racially descended from Hellenes, or to claim that one was a Hellene; one must demonstrate that one was a Hellene though one’s actions.
Doukas’s nationalist impulse was rejected by the Orthodox establishment in an anonymous pamphlet published by Ignatios, former Metropolitan of Wallachia, who must have been perturbed by the fact that Doukas was an ordained priest and was therefore perceived as being a representative of the Church. According to this pamphlet,
The Hellenes, the Bulgarians, the Vlachs, the Serbs and the Albanians today form Nations of which each has its language. All of these peoples however and all those others who inhabit the East, united by faith and the Church, form one body and nation under the name Greeks or Romans.
Here the anonymous author distinguishes between linguistic and religious identity; he acknowledges that Vlachs, Serbs, Albanians and “Hellenes” (by which he must mean Greek-speakers, as Rigas did in his Νew Political Administration) constitute separate peoples or cultural nations on the basis of their distinct languages, yet at the same time he claims, as the Orthodox establishment had always done, that all of these peoples make up a single religious “nation”, by which he means what the Ottomans called the millet-i Rum. In the term “Vlachs” the author seems to include both Aromanians (the Romance-speakers living south of the Danube) and “Wallachians” (the Romance-speakers living north of the Danube who are today called Romanians).
From his viewpoint in Paris, the greatest leader of the Greek cultural and nationalist movement, Adamantios Korais, defined the Greek nation in terms of its language, and he seems hardly to have been aware of the presence of non-Greek-speakers among the Greeks. Korais rejected the term Romaios altogether, partly because it was associated with religion and partly because it confused the present-day speakers of Greek with the ancient Romans. (Actually, at that time Greeks normally referred to the ancient Romans as Ρωμάνοι). Instead he preferred to call the modern Greeks Graikoi. Later on, other intellectuals rejected the term Graikoi and promoted the term Hellenes, which we have seen used by Rigas in 1798 and the anonymous author in 1815 as a purely linguistic label, but by Doukas to refer to a nation defined by non-religious criteria, i.e. language, behaviour and secular culture.
In the century or so before the Greek War of Independence, most of the educated Christians of the southern Balkans, irrespective of their linguistic and ethnic background, declared themselves to be Greeks, at least in their public appearances and especially in their publications. For Orthodox Christians to prosper in the Ottoman Empire, they had to learn to handle the Greek language. Aromanian-speakers from Epirus and Macedonia who settled as merchants in the great mercantile cities of central Europe such as Vienna also declared themselves to be Greek (Griechen, etc.). Why did they do so? Because Greek was the language of the Church and the language of education. With a few exceptions, Greek was the only language spoken by Orthodox Christians that was taught in schools in the Ottoman Empire; this was chiefly because most schools were organized by the Church. Greek was also the lingua franca of commerce in the Balkans, and it was the language of the ruling class and the administrative elite in the Danubian principalities. Members of the Orthodox communities in Vienna and elsewhere were considered by outsiders to be Greek because of their religion. Besides, how many outsiders would have known what was meant by the words Aromanian and Vlach?
Schools were founded by wealthy Orthodox merchants both in the places where they settled outside their homelands and in the places from which they originated; this explains why the majority of schools founded within present-day Greece borders during the late Ottoman period were in Epirus, Thessaly and Macedonia. Learning Greek led speakers of other languages to identify themselves with Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians and enabled them to become part of the Greek-speaking economic and cultural elite. For such people Greek not only provided access to the texts of Ancient Greek and Christian culture; it was also an aspirational language, an item of cultural capital that offered the material advantages of social prestige, geographical mobility and economic superiority.
One of the reasons why many Albanian-, Aromanian- and Slav-speaking Orthodox Christians espoused the Hellenic national project was that their own languages were almost entirely unwritten. Grigor Parlichev (1830-1893) was born and raised near Ohrid in what later became the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. As his autobiography shows, to learn to read and write in the Ottoman Balkans in his time still meant to read and write Greek, which was the language of the Church: at school in Ohrid in the 1830s Parlichev was taught Orthodox liturgical texts, not Greek nationalist ones, and he went on to teach these same texts. In 1860 he won the Greek national poetry prize under the name Grigorios Stavridis. A few years later, however, he espoused the Bulgarian national cause and proceeded to teach Bulgarian at Ohrid and to agitate for the introduction of Church Slavonic in the churches there, in an attempt to reverse the process of Hellenization that he himself had been previously involved in. It is probable that if Parlichev had been born a generation earlier, he would have remained an active propagandizer of Greek culture rather than simply retaining an emotional attachment to Ancient Greek poetry; yet if he had been born two generations later, he would no doubt have become a Macedonian nationalist. Today Bulgarians consider Parlichev to be a Bulgarian, and Macedonians consider him to be a Macedonian, while some Greeks still consider him to be a Greek poet.
The rise of Greek nationalism, which carried along with it many speakers of other languages, eventually led to rival nationalisms in the Balkans, which emerged both under the influence of Greek nationalism and in reaction against it: intellectuals began to “discover” that they were not “really” Greeks at all, but Romanians, Bulgarians, Albanians or Macedonians, and they began to spread this new “discovery” with quasi-religious zeal among large masses of those they considered to be “their” people.
Just as it was possible in the Balkans for an individual to change languages and change identities, as occurred in the case of Grigor Parlichev, so it was possible for different members of the same family to have different group identities. This is nicely illustrated by a family of Bulgarian origin that came to be known as Vogoridis (literally ‘son of Boris’ after the 9th-century Bulgarian king Boris I, who was baptized a Christian and established Christianity in his domains; the surname Vogoridis, with its ancient Greek suffix, neatly encapsulated the identity of a Greek of Bulgarian origin). The family, which had engaged in commerce, first came to the fore with Stoiko Vladislavov (1739-1813), who became famous under the name Bishop Sofronii of Vratsa. He initiated the printing of modern Bulgarian books and was among the first to use spoken Bulgarian in written works. One of his grandsons, Stoyko Stoykov, who was born in Bulgaria (1775/80; died 1859), studied at St Savvas College in Bucharest, where he came to be known as Stefanos Vogoridis. Then he became one of the most influential Ottoman officials, ending up as an extremely unpopular Ottoman governor of Samos in the 1830s and 1840s with the title of prince. Stefanos’s brother Načko Stoyanov, or Athanasios Vogoridis, was also born in Bulgaria (1788-1826) and also studied at St Savvas College. He apparently didn’t know Bulgarian. He became a doctor, a teacher of Ancient Greek and a contributor to the Greek journal Ermis o Logios, published in Vienna. After spending some time in that city, he finally settled in Paris, where he became a member of Adamantios Korais’s circle and a supporter of the Greek independence movement. Stefanos’s son Alexander, born in Constantinople (1822-1910), attended the Greek Megali tou Genous Scholi in his hometown, studied in France and Germany, and then followed his father in becoming a high-ranking Ottoman official, even serving as Ottoman ambassador to Vienna (1876-7). In 1879 he was appointed governor-general of Eastern Rumelia (now part of Bulgaria), where he alienated the Bulgarian population by giving his public speeches in Greek but at the same time had close connections with Bulgarian nationalists; he was even a candidate for the Bulgarian throne in 1886. Thus with Alexander Vogoridis the adopted family name almost came into its own: the ‘son of Boris’ almost became king of Bulgaria.
The story of the Vogoridis family shows how much choice was available to talented Christians in the Balkans during the late Ottoman period – a choice of identities and a choice of careers – and also that competence in the Greek language was a key to this kind of social mobility.
The Albanian, Aromanian and Bulgarian languages were held – even by their own speakers – to be inferior to Greek, which was not only the language of a venerated ancient literature, and of the New Testament and the liturgy, but also that of education and commerce in their own time. In addition, it was widely believed in the late 18th and early 19th century (and in the Balkan region much later too, especially among Greek nationalists) that an independent nation could not exist in modern times unless it had already existed as such in the past. It was held that nationhood and national identity were not invented but rediscovered and revived. This was one of the reasons why many Albanian- and Aromanian-speaking Orthodox Christians were content to embrace the Hellenic national cause, since they could not base a claim to nationhood on the historical past.
The Albanians and Aromanians were considered to be “peoples without history”. By contrast, as long as they called themselves Hellenes, the Greeks could think of themselves as a “historic nation” and lay claim to a historically-based nationhood. But they were not alone in this, since the Serbs and (later) the Bulgarians were able to make similar claims. Father Paissy of Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos had already rehabilitated the Bulgarian medieval imperial past in his “Slavo-Bulgarian history” in 1762, but his book wasn’t published till 1914, and the first studies on it date from 1871. While the Greeks were politically, but not culturally, dominated by Ottoman Turks, the peoples who came to be called Romanians, Bulgarians and Albanians were dominated not only by the Ottoman political system but also by Greek culture. Like the Greeks, the Romanians, Bulgarians and Albanians struggled for their political independence from the Ottoman Empire, but they also had to struggle for their independence from the dominant Greek culture.
The enormous prestige of Greek in the Balkans even spread beyond the Orthodox Christians and influenced some Muslims too. It is no coincidence that around 1810, when a member of the entourage of the Ottoman governor of Epirus, Ali Pasha of Yannina, decided to compose a long epic poem in praise of his master’s heroic feats, he did so in Greek. This poem, which has been known since Sathas’s partial edition as the Alipashiad, is the fourth longest poem in medieval and modern Greek literature. Its author, who is known by the name Hadji-Sekretis, was an Albanian Muslim like Ali himself.
One of the most prolific authors of teaching books on the Greek language in the Balkans before the War of Independence was Dimitrios Darvaris (1757-1823) from Kleisoura in Macedonia – a village usually known to outsiders at that time as Vlachokleisoura because its inhabitants were Aromanian-speakers. Darvaris’s father and four brothers were merchants in the Habsburg Empire, and the brothers funded the free distribution of his books to Greek schools. In 1806 he published a Simple-Greek [i.e. Modern Greek] Grammar for the Use of the Omogeneis in Vienna. In Greece nowadays the word omogeneis refers almost exclusively to members of the Greek diaspora abroad, but in Darvaris’s time it had preserved its non-specific meaning of ‘members of the same nation’. When discussing certain aspects of Greek grammar, Darvaris provides equivalents in what he calls ‘our Vlach language’, and he writes these equivalents in the Latin alphabet. The omogeneis for whom his Grammar ‘of the common dialect of the Greeks (Graikoi)’ was intended were clearly Aromanian-speakers. Unlike Doukas, who tried to make people into Hellenes by teaching them what were called ta ellinika grammata (Hellenic letters), Darvaris did not identify himself as a Greek; rather, he wanted to teach Greek (ta koina grammata [common letters]) chiefly for ecclesiastical and commercial purposes.
Daniel of Moschopolis and Dimitrios Darvaris represent those educated Aromanian-speakers (probably the majority) who felt an allegiance to Greek language and culture. But the first stirrings of Aromanian nationalism were taking place among a number of Aromanian expatriates in the Habsburg Empire, and some Aromanian-speakers chose to follow this path instead of assimilating to Greek culture. One of these was the Aromanian Constantine Roža, who published a book in German and Greek entitled Investigations Concerning the Romans or so-called Vlachs who Reside Beyond the Danube, in which he urged his compatriots to distance themselves from Greek language and culture and to develop an Aromanian consciousness. Roža, who was born in Bitola (Monastir) in what later became the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, calls the Aromanians Romaioi (thus appropriating this name from the Greeks) and writes that “we” are descended from the “palaioi Romanoi [old Romans]”.
Another such case was Michael Boyadži (Bojadschi), who was born in Pest into a family of Aromanian-speaking refugees from Moschopolis. It’s perhaps because he was born outside his family’s own cultural area that he became one of the leading proponents of the Aromanian language. It’s no coincidence that the Orthodox community in Pest was riven by rivalry between supporters of the Greek status quo and those who wanted to have Aromanian used in church, a rivalry that eventually led the Orthodox community to split in two in 1809. In Vienna in 1813 Boyadži published the first ever grammar of the Aromanian language, entitled Grammar of Romanian or Macedono-Vlach, written in Greek and German. In the introduction to his book, Boyadži writes that ‘Our Vlach language is spoken by four million souls’ and ends by claiming that, ‘even if the Vlachs were Hottentots, they would still have the right and the duty to perfect themselves by means of their own language, as being the most suitable means towards this end; but the figure of four million is not to be despised, especially by a Greek (Graikos), the number of whose co-linguals does not exceed it by very much’.
It is probable that Boyadži felt impelled to write his grammar as a reaction to the writings of the Graikos Neophytos Doukas. In his introduction, Boyadži attacks Doukas for having published in 1810 an appeal to the Vlachs of Metsovo, in which he urged them to use only Greek and to abandon what he called their ‘filthy and squalid’ language – ‘if it is permitted for the name language to be given to this totally lame thing, which is probably not the offspring of any other language and which gives off a disgusting and malodorous stench’. Doukas points out that Vlachs have been among the foremost proponents of Greek culture, having set up the only Greek printing press in the Ottoman Empire, at Moschopolis, in the early eighteenth century. Countering the arguments put forward by the Roža, Doukas claims that the Vlachs should not be proud of their Roman descent, since they know nothing about the Romans. Instead, Fate has brought them to live in Hellas, whose milk they have suckled, whose fruits they have eaten and whose language, customs and manners they have embraced. In a word, irrespective of their racial descent, the Vlachs have become acculturated in the ways of the Hellenic nation. The Vlachs, who are united to the Hellenes by religion, should also unite with them by language rather than trying to set up a separate nation (genos). The fact that Doukas’s brand of Romantic nationalism was based primarily on language is shown by his statement that the Greek language is ‘the most divine mother of all languages and for this reason acknowledged by all to be the language of the gods’. (I am struck by the extraordinary phenomenon, for that time, of an Orthodox Christian priest promoting a Greek nationalism that proudly connects Greek culture with the pagan pre-Christian past.)
Boyadži explains Doukas’s Greek chauvinism by claiming, perhaps rightly, that Doukas does not know any other language than Greek and for this reason wants to destroy all other languages in the world. But it may be that Doukas’s family was ultimately of Aromanian origin, and that he was ashamed of this fact.
Only eight years later Boyadži published a grammar of Modern Greek, in which he wrote that soon “the Grecian language” will be numbered among the most cultivated languages in Europe and that this will have a beneficial effect on the manners and morals “of the new [or modern or young] Hellenes”. It is possible that on the eve of the War of Independence Boyadži abandoned the “Aromanian cause” and espoused the Hellenic one promoted by his rival Neophytos Doukas. We shall never know for sure, since Boyadži died shortly afterwards.
If we now shift our focus back to our own time, we find a number of recent books written by Greek citizens of Aromanian, Arvanite or Slav descent who try to prove that the members of their linguistic and cultural group are not simply Hellenes, but have contributed more than any other group to the creation and the progress of the Hellenic state. (The same is true of other groups who have Greek as their mother tongue, such as Roumeliots and Cretans.) Many of these books contain long lists of leading Hellenes who are claimed to be of Aromanian or Arvanite descent. The author of one such book claims that 90% of the warriors of the Greek War of Independence were Arvanites. By contrast, another author claims that the Souliots were Vlachs rather than Arvanites. Such lists and such claims indicate the desire of these authors to break the systematic silence that has surrounded the ethnic or linguistic background of many leading Greeks in the works of most Greek historians and – even more so – in official Greek schoolbooks. These authors aim to express their pride in being Hellenes at the same time their pride in being Vlachs or Arvanites. This pride represents a recognition of the various groups that make up the population of the modern Greek state. (Greeks in Greece tend to avoid of “hyphenations” on the analogy of Greek-Americans and Greek-Cypriots. For this reason they don’t talk about Vlach-Greeks, Albanian-Greeks and Slav-Greeks.)
Many of these authors share the view that the Vlachs, Arvanites and Slavophones who live in what is today Greek Macedonia are ultimately of Greek descent. This Greek nationalist view is also expressed in the entry vlachos in the Dictionary of the Greek Language (1998) by Georgios Babiniotis. The dictionary provides the following definitions of the word vlachos:
Vlachos (with capital) bilingual Greek [Ellinas] who speaks Vlach (vlachika).
This definition implies that even the Aromanians who live outside Greece, in Albania, Bulgaria, FYROM and elsewhere, are Greeks too. The same dictionary also gives the more colloquial metaphorical meanings of the word vlachos:
2. (more generally) any mountain-dwelling herdsman of mainland Greece
3. (pejorative) a provincial, one who has the appearance, behaviour and speech of a peasant, uncouth.
The word vlachos is indeed frequently used in the second and third of these senses, and it is interesting to note that the popular, colloquial use of the word views all Vlachs as peasants, ignoring the fact that a sizable proportion of the so-called “Greek” urban merchants and craftsmen during the 18th and 19th centuries and beyond have been of Aromanian origin, including some of the greatest benefactors of Greek public institutions, e.g. Simon Sinas, who endowed the Academy of Athens, Evangelos Zappas, who subsidized the revival of the Olympic Games, and Georgios Averof, who provided the 1896 Olympic Stadium and, together with other Aromanian benefactors from Metsovo, endowed the Polytechneion (now Athens Technical University); all of the buildings involved in these projects, be it noted, were constructed in grand Neo-Classical style. The more general use of the word vlachos to mean pastoralist probably reflects a distribution of labour in the Ottoman period, according to which Aromanians were typically associated with livestock-breeding, so that the word vlachos came to be thought of as denoting a profession and a way of life rather than a linguistic or ethnic group.
Beneath this definition, Babiniotis’s dictionary provides an encyclopaedia-style explanatory text, in which we read the following:
Vlachoi. Contrary to what foreign interests and political expediencies have formerly attempted to impose (it reached a point where a Romanian school operated in Yannina so that the Vlachs, as a “minority”, could learn their “mother” tongue, which was supposedly Romanian!), today scientific research has established the truth, which is widely accepted. The Vlachs […], Greeks [Ellines] by descent and consciousness, are Greek herdsmen and livestock breeders (in Central Macedonia, Thessaly, Aetoloakarnania) who, side-by-side with Greek, speak a dialect descended from Latin, [namely] Vlachika or Koutsovlachika or Aromounika. Their linguistic (not ethnological!) kinship with the Romanians is due to the fact that both Aromanian and Romanian go back to the same linguistic source, [namely] Eastern or Balkan Latin. Linguistically Latinized Greeks, the Vlachs spoke [=began to speak] Aromanian, with strong influence from Ancient Greek (in Vlach there survive Greek words such as urma < odme/osme ‘smell’ or udare < outhar ‘udder’, among others, which have not been preserved in Common Greek), while the language of the Romanians has been influenced by Geto-Dacian. […].
In fact, contrary to Babiniotis’s implications, the words urma (in the sense of “trace, track”) and udare (actually udzare) also exist in (Daco-Romanian (the latter in the form uger). As for Romanian schools targeting Aromanian pupils, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries these were not confined to Yannina as Babiniotis implies. The Romanian government began to set up schools in the Balkans in 1864, and the first Romanian high school in the region was established in 1876 at Monastir (now Bitola in FYROM), which was the urban centre with the largest Aromanian-speaking population. In 1900 there may have been as many as 100 Romanian schools in the Balkans. It is true that Romanian nationalist propaganda refused to view Aromanian as a separate language and sought to teach the pupils standard Romanian. Yet it is clear that some Aromanian-speakers were led by their schoolteachers to “discover” that deep down they were really Romanians (or even Romans), just as most of the rest (together with most Greeks) were led by Greek schoolteachers to discover that they were really Hellenes.
One amateur scholar even goes so far as to claim that Greek is the maternal language of the Aromanians, and Latin is their paternal language; he is presumably thinking of the (totally unfounded and highly implausible) theory that the origin of the Vlach language is to be traced to a few Latin-speaking Roman soldiers who married Greek women.
We find other such unscholarly theories about common descent in certain books written by Greeks of Albanian descent. As early as 1821 the Greek revolutionary leader Dimitrios Ypsilantis wrote to the Albanian Muslims who at that time were fighting on the Greek side against the Ottomans that “You are the descendants of our heroic forebears.” In 1853 the leading Greek nationalist historian, K. Paparrigopoulos, wrote that
[the] Albanians are descendants of the ancient Illyrians, who were a nation related to the most ancient of the Greeks [Hellenes]. Their spoken language is a mixture of the most ancient Greek with many later Greek words, together with Italian and Turkish words; for this reason, those who were not forced later by the Turks to espouse Islam always thought of themselves as omogeneis with the Greeks.
Paparrigopoulos’ words completely overlook that fact that Albanian is a distinct language, situated on a separate branch of the Indo-European family tree. Soon after this the “Pelasgian theory” was formulated, according to which the Greek and Albanian languages were claimed to have a common origin in Pelasgian, while the Albanians themselves are Pelasgians and hence come from the same ethnological stock as the Greeks. The “Pelasgian theory” began to take shape in the 1850s and 1860s and became widespread in the 1870s.
According to a similar theory, both the Albanians and Aromanians are descended in part from the Dorians, who became mixed with the pre-Greek Pelasgians. Certain authors claim that the Albanian or the Vlach language contains “Homeric” or “pre-Homeric” words that have not been preserved in later phases of the Greek language, which means that Arvanitic and Aromanian can be claimed to be older than the Greek language that is spoken today. Needless to say, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support any of these theories. All of the modern authors I have been referring to (apart from Babiniotis) are amateur ethnologists who confuse the “national consciousness” of their linguistic and cultural group at the present day with the group’s ethnological origin. The “logic” of their position is the unfounded assumption that if certain people “feel” Greek today, then their distant ancestors must have been Greek, according to a fanciful belief that one’s genes determine one’s behaviour – possibly including even the way one dresses – over a period of several millennia.
Many Aromanian- and Albanian-speakers espoused the Greek national cause early on and contributed, whether by means of education and propaganda, financial support, or armed struggle, to the foundation of the Greek state. Most of the Aromanian-speakers and almost all of the Albanian-speakers who lived within the present borders of the Greek state eventually became an inseparable part of the Greek nation, though thousands of Aromanians emigrated to Romania after the exchange of populations with Turkey in 1923. The only group of Orthodox Christians who lived within the Greek state but strongly resisted becoming Hellenized were many of the Slav-speakers of Macedonia, whether they were called Bulgarians or Macedonians. Many Slavophones did contribute to the Greek national cause, but most of them opposed it. When they came to try assimilating these populations into the Greek nation, Greek nationalists developed the theory that these people were descendants of Greeks who had lost their language and begun to speak Bulgarian: according to this theory, when Bulgarians came to settle in Macedonia in the Middle Ages, they found that the rich and complex Greek language was too difficult to learn, so the Greek-speaking natives were obliged to learn the allegedly poorer and simpler Bulgarian language in order to communicate with the newcomers, and in this way they forgot their Greek. According to this Greek nationalist theory, these people were only superficially Bulgarian, because they possessed “Greek souls”. The mission of the Greek state was therefore to return them to their genuine ancestral language and to their former customs and manners.
It’s no coincidence that in all the Balkan languages, except Greek, there is a word grekoman, meaning a member of some group speaking a mother tongue other than Greek who is a fanatical adherent of the Greek national cause (and/or a fanatical adherent of the patriarchate of Constantinople in contrast to the relevant “national” Orthodox church). These grekomani have often been the object of hatred and ridicule on the part of other members of the same ethnic or linguistic group.
It is clear that the old essentialist view of national identity needs to be replaced by an existential one: you are not born with a given identity; instead, you gradually acquire one or more identities through experience, and you can even choose one for the sake of expediency. Now that the Greek state and Greek national lexicographers have nothing to fear from their northern neighbours (and indeed now that Greece shares European Union membership with Bulgaria and Romania), it is time for them to recognize, in their school textbooks and their dictionaries, all the components that made up the linguistic and ethnic mosaic that resulted in modern Greece. As a national label, “Hellene” means first and foremost an inhabitant of Hellas, a citizen of the Greek state. To be a Hellene doesn’t necessarily entail the renunciation of other aspects of your identity. Hellenic nationality is made up of various linguistic and cultural components. The basic mistake that the Austrian ethnographer Jacob Philipp Fallmerayer made in 1830 was his adherence to the idea that only the biological descendants of the ancient Hellenes had the right to identify themselves as Hellenes today. But to be a Hellene in 1830 – as in 2008 – hasn’t in the end been a matter of racial descent (in other words objective proof) but a matter of self-definition (in other words subjective will). As the leading Greek politician Eleftherios Venizelos put it succinctly after the end of the First World War, “A Greek is a person who wants to be Greek, feels he is a Greek and says he is a Greek.” This definition artfully excludes both language and religion.
* I would like to express my thanks to Alex Drace-Francis for reading a draft of this paper and offering me advice on certain details; responsibility of any shortcomings is of course entirely mine.
Asterios I. Koukoudis, Studies on the Vlachs (Thessaloniki 2003), 27.
Roumlouki is a region of the Greek province of Imathia (Macedonia) that is
crossed by the river Aliakmon and stretches from the heights of Veroia to
the river Loudias and the Thermaic Gulf.