Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Note: This article is about the word Greek. For an article on the Greek people, see Hellenes.
In Latin literature, Græci (or Greeks, in English) is the name by which the Hellenes are known.
Origins of the word 'Greek'
The Ancient Greeks called themselves Hellenes (Έλληνες), or sometimes (in earlier times) Danaeoi (Δαναοί) or Achaeans (Αχαιοι).
Aristotle and Apollodorus first write about Graikoi, who seem to be the same people as Selloi, a tribe from Epirus. The name became known to Latins with the colonization of Italy from Greek settlers. While Greeks called themselves Hellenes, the Romans began to call them Græci, the name of the specific Greek colonists.
During the Roman era, and especially after Christianity became the official religion of the empire, the name Hellene came to be associated with the pre-Christian religion, and fell out of use. The Greeks, who were now citizens of the Roman Empire, called themselves Roman, or Rhomaioi. This usage has remained into modern times as a familiar word for Greek.
After the fall of the West Roman Empire in 395 AD and the beginning of the Middle Ages in Western Europe the Latin term for the Greeks wasused broadly. In the East Roman Empire a change took place: While in general the citizens of the Byzantine Empire were called Romans, the Greeks assumed the name Græco to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Byzantines. After the Schism the name Græco meant Greek Orthodox and Latin meant Catholic. After a while, the two terms assumed a national character as well.
The word 'Greek' in modern times
While Hellenes often used the word 'Græco' to refer to themselves in both the 18th century and the 19th century, after the 1821 Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire the term was abandoned totally by the Greeks themselves, as the new nation turned to the glory of the Ancient Hellenes as a source of national pride and inspiration.
The new country was officially named "Kingdom of the Hellenes" (later "Hellenic Republic"), or Hellas, and the people "Hellenes". In many countries, the modern Hellenes are called Greeks and their country Greece, while in other countries, especially in Asia, they are called Yunan and their country Yunanistan, from the Turkish word Yunan, derived from the Greek geographical term Ionia. In Turkey, Greeks from Greece are called Yunan, but ethnic Greeks in Turkey are called Rum, from Greek Rhomaioi.
The Greek government has at times tried to promote the terms "Hellenes" and "Hellenic Republic" internationally, but with limited success.
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