2017 №1(54) Article 7

E.A. Zemtsova

Greek identity in the archaic and classical periods. P.55- 63.

UDC 938


 The article is devoted to the debate on the formation of Greek identity. The author analyzes archaic and classical Greek literature to investigate the dynamics of the hellene-barbarian opposition. The article highlights the main events that formed Ancient Greek self-awareness, such as the formation of ancient Greek city-states, Solonʼs reforms, the Greco-Persian wars, the crisis of the 4th century.

The end of the Homeric age, aka the Greek Dark Age, (the 9th century BC) though mute in its lack of inscriptions, witnessed the unification and consolidation of separate tribes across the Balkan Peninsula. The Linear B writing of the Greek language was replaced by the alphabetic writing. The pan-Hellenic language formed on the basis of the Koine dialect was used in the late Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods. The pan-Hellenic sanctuaries played an important role in the process of Greek unification and consolidation. The formation of city-states, which was based on the principles of direct democracy and the slaveholding economic system, was another important factor. An important role was also played by Solonʼs legal reforms, which forbade enslavement for debt, hence Aristotleʼs claim that Greeks unlike other human beings are free by nature. Greek self-awareness was strongest at the periphery of the Greek world, where the Greeks contacted with the barbarians. The self-other opposition can be traced back as early as Homer. During the Greco-Persian wars the Greeks became acquainted with the eastern way of life and the notion of otherness was further elaborated. Paradoxical though it may seem, the Greek-barbarian confrontation did not prevent the Greeks from foreign borrowing, from being tolerant of other cultures, from being dynamic and universal. 

The analysis of the literary sources highlights that the negative perception of barbarians as a whole goes hand in hand with a positive perception of individuals. The complicated system of the interactions between Greek colonists and the local Barbarian population presupposed peaceful coexistence. Even the Greeksʼ perception of the Persians was never unambiguous.

Ancient Greece, Hellenism, Hellenic mentality, self-other opposition in classical literature, the Greeks and the barbarians.


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