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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter I. Historicizing the Nation: Images of the Past, Continuity into the Present

History of the Hellenic nation

Constantinos Paparrigopoulos
Traduction de Mary Kitroeff

Texte intégral

1Title: Ἱστορία τοῦ Ἑλληνικού Ἔθνους ἀπό τῶν ἀρχαιοτάτων χρόνων µέχρι τῶν καθ’ ἡµάς (History of the Hellenic nation from ancient times to the present)

2Originally published: ’Αθήνα (Athens), Ανέστης Κωνσταντινίδης, 1886

3Language: Greek

4The excerpts used are from Constantinos Th. Dimaras, ed., Κωνσταντίνος Παπαρρηγόπουλος Προλεγόµενα (Athens: Ερµής, 1983), pp. 71, 72, 90, 92, 93.

About the author

5Constantinos Paparrigopoulos [1815, Constantinople (Istanbul) – 1891, Athens]: historian. During the persecutions following the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, he lost his father and a number of his relatives, an experience which deeply traumatized him. Eventually, his family fled to Odessa. There, he studied at the Richelieu Lyceum. When he arrived in Greece, young Paparrigopoulos entered the administration. Soon, however, following a decision of the National Assembly in 1844 to remove from the administration all Greeks who were ‘heterochthones’ (i.e., who had not been born within the borders of the new state) he turned to history teaching and after being awarded a doctoral title in Munich went on to pursue an academic career. In the years 1851–1891 (from 1858 as a full professor) he taught ‘History of the Hellenic Nation’ at the University of Athens. Through his teaching activity he transmitted his ideas not only to his students, but also to a larger audience attracted by his rhetoric gifts and erudition. In particular, his introductory lectures each year were immediately published in the press. Paparrigopoulos considered his role as historian the fulfilment of a national duty. In consequence, he participated in meetings organized by nationalist societies, where he often gave the opening address, and he also delivered lectures abroad, often with government support. He was even invited to take part as a consultant at the Conference of Berlin in 1878. Apart from his voluminous intellectual contribution, Paparrigopoulos represents the type of the politically involved national historiographer, similar to Mihail Kogălniceanu or František Palacký. Politically minded historians in Greece since the 1970s, even if they rejected his attachment to a nationalist ideology, have considered his devotion to society as epitomizing the ideal of the historian’s vocation.

6Main works: Περί τῆς ἐποικίσεως σλαβικῶν τινῶν φυλῶν εἰς τήν Πελοπόννησον [On the settlement of certain Slav tribes in the Peloponnese] (1843); Τὁ τελευταῖο ἔτος τῆς ἑλληνικῆς ἐλευθερίας [The last year of Greek liberty] (1844); Ἐγχειρίδιον: Ἱστορία τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ Ἔθνους [Textbook: the history of the Hellenic nation] (1853); Ἐγχειρίδιον τῆς γενικyῆς ἱστορίας [Textbook of general history] (1849–52); L’Église orthodoxe d’Orient. Réponse à M. Saint-Marc Girardin (1853); Les évolutions de l’histoire grecque à notre époque (1879); Ἱστορικαί πραγµατεῖαι [Historical essays] (1858); Ἱστορία τοῦ Ἑλληνικού Ἔθνους [History of the Hellenic nation] (1860–74); Ὁ µεσαιωνικός ἑλληνισµός καὶ ἡ στάσις τοῦ Νίκα, κατά τόν κ. Παῦλον Καλλιγᾶ [Medieval Hellenism and the Nikas uprising, according to Mr. Pavlos Kalligas] (1868); Histoire de la civilisation hellénique (1878); Ὁ στρατάρχης Γεώργιος Καραϊσκάκης καὶ ἄλλα ἱστορικά ἔργα [Field-Marshal Georgios Karaiskakis and other historical works] (1889).


7The concept of the ‘Hellenic’ state as elaborated in Western Europe presupposed that this was to be the heir to the ancient Greek (Hellenic) world. Since it occupied the same territory, and this territory had been liberated after the uprising of the Christian population claiming to be their descendants, it should—it was assumed—share the same culture and the same language as its ancient ancestors. Indeed, the newly born ‘Hellenic’ state originally based its legitimacy on this heritage. However, it had to undertake a difficult struggle to convince European public opinion of the validity of its claims. Moreover, the German historian Jacob Philip Fallmerayer argued that the ancient Greeks had been annihilated during the Slavic invasions of the Greek lands and the creation of new settlements in the seventh century AD. By this ac-count, the so-called Neo-Hellenes were actually nothing more than a mixture of Slavic and Albanian populations. Not surprisingly, this theory disturbed the Romantic stream of European philhellenism. Yet it was at the same time a sop to European vanity, which found it hard to accept that these illiterate peasants were the descendants of the glorious Hellenic nation.

8Thus, as Greek intellectuals soon realized, the Phoenix myth proved too weak to support a national ideology. For ‘Hellenism’ as a cultural discourse corresponded to the ‘revival’ of ancient Greece, which resulted in the inevitable rejection of all the in-between periods. The forgotten periods were treated now as ‘empty pages’ to be filled in. The silence was attributed to the religious prejudices of the Catholic West against Orthodox Byzantium, an argument which in turn nurtured the Orthodox anti-Western trends. There was an obvious need for a narrative to replace the one coming from abroad. It was the time for ‘real’ Greek history to be written.

9A central issue was how to incorporate the different periods of the national past, a crucial stage in the construction of a national narrative whose essential theme was continuity. By far the most significant period here was the Byzantine era. Already in the 1850s Spyridon Zambelios had published two important works, a ‘Collection of demotic songs’ in 1852, and in 1857 the ‘Byzantine studies: on the sources of neo-Hellenic nationality from the eighth until the tenth centuries AD., Zambelios wholeheartedly integrated the medieval period into Greek history. He argued that the origins of Neo-Hellenic nationality could be traced back to the Byzantine period. However, his emphasis was on its cultural formation. The key issue was the distinction between the two traditions of Hellenism, the scholarly and the popular. The argument went that the tradition of classical Hellenism was preserved and enriched in the West. In the ‘enslaved’ Greek lands, on the other hand, it was the spiritual tradition that was preserved in the popular culture. The concept of an uninterrupted popular culture thus served to reconcile the two contradictory components of modern Greek identity. Moreover, in his ‘Byzantine studies,’ Zambelios demonstrated how beneficial for both Hellenism and Christianity was their fusion in the Byzantine capital. This synthesis was illustrated in the cover illustration to his songs collection, where klefts (bandits) and priests, led by the last Emperor Constantinos Paleologos, were represented as participating in a combined assault to recapture Constantinople. The term Έλληνοχριστιανικός (Helleno-Christian) used to depict this interrelation probably constitutes Zambelios’ most important contribution to the national canon.

10By incorporating Zambelios’ philosophical rather than historical conceptualization of the Byzantine period and the Helleno-Christian essence of the nation, Paparrigopoulos responded to the call for historical continuity in his life-work, the ‘History of the Hellenic nation,’ first published in a concise edition in 1853 and then in a series of volumes between 1861 and 1874. In this work he incorporated not only Byzantium but all the hitherto missing periods, identifying in an uninterrupted continuity of 4000 years five successive ‘Hellenisms’: the ancient, the Macedonian, the Christian, the medieval and the modern. Each of them was distinguished by its ‘historical mission,’ the vocation it received from Providence. Byzantium, however, bore particular importance, since it was considered to be the repository of Greek nationality. It had managed to unify the Greek nation and thus pro-vide healing to the disunity of classical Hellenism, through an ideal territorial model which was supposed to encapsulate the historical destiny of Greece. As a matter of fact, in his ‘History,’ the Hellenic nation is no mere abstract notion, but represented all populations which shared the same consciousness, both in the present and in the past. Particularly significant in his narrative is Paparrigopoulos’ introduction of a powerful first person plural. This ‘we’ was not characterized by adherence to the same culture, but by its distinct mission. It is worth mentioning that, being an outsider, Paparrigopoulos felt personally the distinction between the indigenous elites of Athens and the newcomers who saw Constantinople as the historical center of Hellenism—the autochthones and heterochthones (see Ioannis Kolettis, Of this Great Idea). His claim for temporal continuity and spatial unity was at the same time a means of incorporating into the neo-Hellenic world all those who, like himself, originated from outside the Hellenic state. It is important to stress, however, that the young historian initially made his commitment to the nation-state. Therefore, in the first edition of his work, in 1853, he abided by the official ideology and supported the direct link of modern Greece with the ancient past. It was later that, due to both the political circumstances after the Crimean war and to his emancipation as a citizen and as a historian, he came to recognize the significance of Byzantium to Greek history.

11The first enlarged edition of this work was completed between 1860 and 1872. In 1878 a short version, this time in two volumes, was published in French. In 1881 the first volume of the second edition of his ‘History’ was published. Since he had been criticized for not providing references and notes in the first edition, this time Paparrigopoulos gave his work a systematic scholarly format. The introduction to this volume under the title Ἱστορία τῶν ὀνοµάτων Ἕλληνες, Ἑλληνικό Ἔθνος, Ἑλληνισµός (History of the names Hellenes, Hellenic Nation, Hellenism) had originally been his introductory lecture for the 1881 academic year. In this introduction, he deals with the trajectory of those terms from the ancient era up to the present time. Particularly significant is the use of the term ‘Hellenism’ as it had been introduced by the influential German historian, Johann Gustav Droysen, namely, in its double meaning both as a collectivity and as an assimilatory force. His final and main point is that Hellenism managed to survive for 4000 years but was diminished not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of internal strength. However, Hellenism always managed to maintain its integrity based on different components over time (language in Hellenistic times, religion in Byzantine and Ottoman times). Under the current circumstances, though, it “is persecuted more than ever” through the intimidation suffered by “our compatriots in the enslaved countries.” Therefore, the introduction concludes, the role of the historian has become more crucial, since he needs to provide Hellenes with “an exact knowledge of their true state.”

12The tripartite scheme articulated by Zambelios and Paparrigopoulos has remained to this day the cornerstone of historical teaching and the prevailing public discourse. Moreover, it was influential and provided a model for the historiographical traditions of other Balkan nationalities. However, the place of the Byzantine period in the national historical canon became the focus of a heated dispute which split Greek intellectuals into two camps. On the one hand, there were the supporters of Byzantium, Orthodoxy and a pro-monarchical conservative ideology, with Paparrigopoulos as their prominent spokesman. On the other hand, there were the supporters of the ancient Greek heritage, the Enlightenment and liberal ideology, with the Byzantinist Pavlos Kalligas as their leading representative.

13The difficult task of refuting Paparrigopoulos’ synthesis would be attempted during the first decades of the twentieth century by Marxist historians (see Georgios Skliros, Our social question) who considered Paparrigopoulos as the ideological representative of the bourgeois class. In the 1960s the Marxist historian Nikolaos Svoronos took up the task of reconciling the notion of historical continuity proposed by the established historiography with the Marxist Left, which in his view did not employ a historical methodology. While accepting the continuity of Hellenism, he elaborated, however, on the notion of the ‘people’ rather than on the notion of the ‘nation.’ Thus, he did not advocate national continuity but rather an ethnic one, since he did not consider ethnicity a precondition for the articulation of national consciousness. It was only in the 1970s and 1980s, when the other dominant figure of Greek historiography of the period, Paparrigopoulos’ biographer, Constantinos Th. Dimaras, paved the way and instigated a number of studies which aimed at deconstructing the historical continuity of the Greek nation.


History of the Hellenic nation


  • 1 These are the names used by Homer to describe the subjects of the Mycenaean kingdoms who campaigne (...)

15Nowadays, we make almost indiscriminate use of these names which in the past were not often synonymous, nor did they always coexist, nor did they always exist. When the nation was first formed, it bore the names Argives, Danaans, Achaians.1 The name Hellenes first became prevalent after the great change in things brought about by the Dorians. With the passage of time, the sum of the Hellenes was named the Hellenic nation, or simply the Hellenic, according to Herodotus and Thucydides, or the race of the Hellenes according to Aristotle. As for the word ‘Hellenism,’ it did not come into existence until Macedonian times, in order to denote the features by which the Hellenic nation as a whole was distinguished from other nations, that is to say, the one speaking the Hellenic language and living in a Hellenic way. Until recently, there was no word in any other language which was thus interpreted. It was only a few years ago that the words Germanism and Slavism, having some such meaning, were heard in Eastern Europe, while words of similar form have hitherto signified only idioms in the languages of the Western nations.

  • 2 The inhabitants of the Hellenic lands. The term was used in reference to the Hellenic state, which (...)

16Beginning in the fourth century AD., a different use was made of the words ‘Hellenes’ and ‘Hellenism.’ Hellenes referred to the pagans, and Hellenism to paganism. The inhabitants of the Hellenic lands were generally renamed Romans, or sometimes Greeks and Helladics,2 while the ancient meaning of Hellenism remained unknown. This distortion of the former meaning continued until the tenth century, when the name ‘Hellenes’ began to regain its traditional meaning, while that of Hellenism was totally absent. But, instead of taking root, the name ‘Hellenes’ was also then forgotten. During the fifteenth century it disappeared again, being supplanted for a second time by the name Romans. The two names did not reappear again until the present century: Hellenes very early on, and Hellenism considerably later. This intermittent phase of our national names, while the nation never ceased to exist, is not found in any other people. For this reason, I thought it useful to assist many people to understand this centuries-old history, by summarizing and explaining in advance its unique features.

17[…] If the kingdom of Greece, from the moment it was first founded, had behaved with due foresight and dexterity towards the races which it is currently opposing, things would have been much less difficult than they are today. At that time, the Bulgarians and Albanians were not yet dreaming of autonomy, and felt an affinity towards the Hellenic nation, which, having benefited from this, could have easily appropriated those living in Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace. Besides this, Europe’s main concern at the time was either to salvage the Ottoman state or to render autonomous the countries which comprised it, while now different plans are being plotted. Unfortunately, the kingdom, for fifty whole years, forgot the traditional command to use time well; and, what was worse, the first national assembly in Athens withheld any affection towards its fellow nationals and speakers of the Hellenic language, perceiving them as foreigners, and not as brothers who had suffered all manner of ills in the common struggles. Amidst this inertia and lack of will, there appeared the ‘Great Idea’ of Ioannis Kolettis,’ instead of which ‘Hellenism’ was soon to prevail. The word ‘Hellenism’ had regained its earlier status within the scholarly world, between 1833 and 1843, by virtue of Droysen’s famous works, Geschichte Alexanders des Grossen and Geschichte des Hellenismus. But in the language of the many it did not enter until later, when, after the political crisis of 1853 onwards, it spread throughout the East, as if to protest that the Hellenic nation is not limited to the narrow boundaries of free Greece.

18Modern Hellenism is very different from ancient Hellenism. In the first place, its distinguishing features are not identical to those of its past form. The Hellenic nation today is separated from the other countries neither by its religion, nor by its institutions, nor by its way of life. Its religion is common to that of most of the Eastern peoples, while its institutions are common to most of those of the West. And such a way of life is more fitting today to the most civilized part of the human race. Of its old endowments, the nation has only preserved its language and its consciousness of national unity; but it has acquired something it did not possess in ancient times, and that is the desire for political unity. It is understood that modern Hellenism does not demand to appropriate other races and other countries. It restricts itself to saving its fellow nationals from the threat of incursions by those of other races in countries which have belonged to Hellenism for a century. But if it is stated thus, that the Hellenic state does not covet the lands of other races, why use the term Hellenism, since, as we have often said, it is not necessary except as regards its propagation to those of other races? Because the Greeks are still divided into those who are free and those who are not free. Hence, in its political sense, the term Hellenic nation could be limited only to the inhabitants of the free state. Because of this it was deemed necessary to express by the same term, unambiguously, the moral and spiritual unity of a politically split nation.


  • 3 Paparrigopoulos refers to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–1871 which ended with a devastating Fren (...)
  • 4 King of ancient Lydia, symbol of wealth and the arrogance that this might incite.

20Whatever may be the trials which the Hellenic nation is destined to suffer, its duty is to stand ready to wage war at the necessary time; and, meanwhile, it must save the Hellenes of the enslaved countries from the machinations continually taking place against them, because experience has shown that, if they are left to their own devices, they will be in the worst danger, while, if Hellenism suffers this new mutilation, it will lose any right it has over those countries. The material prosperity towards which the nation is working with especial zeal is, of course, a necessary factor for political greatness. But do not forget that, by virtue of the gigantic struggle which was carried out ten years ago between two of the most powerful and most civilized states on earth,3 the world has been given new proof that now, as in the past, the treasures of Croesus4 do not suffice for the salvation of nations.

  • 5 He refers to the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829).

21The historian does not draft political programs, but he does use the past to infer lessons which may prove useful to the politician. And even though these findings are distressing, it is necessary for us to summarize them, because the first condition for the salvation of nations is an exact knowledge of their true state. Hellenism only stayed afloat for close to four thousand years by discarding at intervals part of this load in the stormy seas which threatened to sink it. It was thus reduced not only in its numbers, but also in its internal strength. Besides this, although Roman rule did not try to latinize it, and Ottoman rule did not try to islamicize it, Hellenism today is being fought against in the enslaved Hellenic countries as never before, by numerous races and empires which may disagree among themselves, because each has its own political goal, but they are linked by one common interest to render distant the ancient occupant. And if that is what they are doing now, then it is obvious that in the event that they come to power, our fellow nationals will suffer the fate suffered a few decades ago by the flourishing Hellenic communities of Hungary, Wallachia and Moldavia. The names Hellenes, Hellenic nation and Hellenism will become limited to the southernmost end of the great peninsula. But even this tiny corner will not escape various machinations, because, as small as it may be, it occupies certain vital locations in the eastern Mediterranean. Thus, the final conclusion is that the fate of Hellenism will be at great risk if it does not fight for its unity at any cost. The structure will either become one or it will collapse. And let us not perceive this necessary struggle as being hopeless, but bear in mind that he who is ready to do battle usually finds allies or at least achieves favorable terms, and above all remember what took place in this very land and in this very sea only sixty years earlier.5


1 These are the names used by Homer to describe the subjects of the Mycenaean kingdoms who campaigned against Troy.

2 The inhabitants of the Hellenic lands. The term was used in reference to the Hellenic state, which was juxtaposed unfavorably with the ‘Hellenic’ Diaspora, and was reprimanded as parochial and shortsighted.

3 Paparrigopoulos refers to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–1871 which ended with a devastating French defeat.

4 King of ancient Lydia, symbol of wealth and the arrogance that this might incite.

5 He refers to the Greek War of Independence (1821–1829).


Mary Kitroeff (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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