I have often wondered about the terms Romios and Romiosini. In Greece they are occasionally substituted for Hellene and Hellenism respectively, although this practice is no longer in vogue. Many Greeks have consciously attempted to ignore a major portion of their history, as if it never existed, in order to identify exclusively with their ancient forebears. Personally, I would prefer to acknowledge and honor the sum total of our history and recognize the contributions made by all Greeks to our collective ethnic identity.
Although the Romans conquered the Greek kingdoms and cities, they had little impact upon their language or culture. Despite being a "conquered people" the Greeks and their culture made such an impression on Romans that they were quickly and irrevocably Hellenized. After Constantine's establishment of Byzantium as the new capital of the Roman Empire, Greek culture gradually changed from Hellenic (Greek pagan) to Eastern Roman (Greek Christian culture), and the word "Hellene" became associated with the pagan past. Distinctions of nationality still existed in the empire, but became secondary to religious considerations as the renewed empire used Christianity to maintain its cohesion. The Empire was dominated by the Greek element to such an extent that Emperor Heraclitus (575 CE - 641 CE) decided to make Greek the official language. From then on, the Roman and Greek cultures were virtually fused in the East.
Greek nationalism re-emerged in the 11th century within specific circles lead by men such as Theodore Laskaris and later, Gemistus Pletho and became more pronounced after the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and the establishment of a number of Greek kingdoms (such as the Empire of Nicea and the Despotate of Epirus). When the empire was revived in 1261, it became essentially a Greek national state. Adherence to the Orthodox faith and the Greek language, became the defining characteristic of the Greek people.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the people of the Byzantine Empire were organized by the victorious Ottoman empire into distinct groups called millets (a Turkish term meaning "nations"). "Greek" (referred to as Rumlar in Turkish) were defined by the Ottomans as members of the Orthodox Church, regardless of their language or ethnic origin. Conversely, those who adopted Islam during that period were considered 'Turks', regardless of their language or origin.This system of classification was based on religious faith, rather than ethnicity or language was consistent with Islamic law-- designed to facilitate greater administrative expediency.
In further keeping with the traditional character of Muslim territorial expansion, each millet was granted a certain amount of autonomy, which the Caliph promised to respect in return for demonstrations of loyalty and a promise not to rebel. The basis of this autonomy was concretely realized through the appointment of a leader and arbiter for each millet. From the outset, Mehmet, the conquerer of Constantinople, appointed the Patriarch as the leader of the Orthodox community.
What should be obvious from these historical facts is that Greek identity (and the identity of most other ethnic groups under Ottoman rule) was largely based on Orthodoxy. While this form of identity was already present prior to the Ottoman conquest, it became even more common after the "divide and rule" policy of the Ottomans was implemented. Previous differences in faith were now emphasized. Orthodoxy became even more important in terms of identity when Protestant and Roman Catholic groups attempted to proselytize in order to convert Orthodox Christians, generating widespread xenophobia and insularity within the Orthodox community
Yet, it was the Greeks themselves who upheld the concept of an "autocephalous church" whereby they maintained their unique ethno-religious identity and consistently distinguished themselves from other non-Greek Orthodox Christian populations. Greek nationalists such as Alexander Ypsilanti, expected non-Greek populations such as the Moldavians and Wallachians to rise up and fight for Greek Independence because they were Greek Orthodox Christians. Unfortunately, both the Moldavians and the Wallachians adhered to their non-Greek identities and refused to contribute. Orthodox Albanians known as Arvanites on the other hand played a key role in the Greek War of Independence, although that has now been forgotten by most modern day Greeks, many of whom are descendants of these Albanian freedom fighters.
The fact that Orthodoxy at this time was the primary mode of identification among Greeks was instrumental in the formation of a wave of collective enthusiasm for the revolution. One of the ways that the Orthodox faith played a profound role in this process was through the imagery of "the City," Constantinople. After its fall, it remained as important a prospect to the collective imagination of the Greeks as Jerusalem was for the Jews. There was a sense of loyalty to Eastern Christendom and a longing regarding its reestablishment under the umbrella of Constantinople. The Greek War of Independence was in essence a holy war in defense of Christianity as much as a attempt to reassert ethnic Greek identity.
Many Phanariots and prelates within the clergy maintained a subservient attitude toward their Turkish masters in order to maintain their own privileged status within the Empire. It was the monastic community and simple village priests who were among those at the forefront of the revolutionary cause by leading many of the first revolts, something that resulted in a general increase in the reputation of the church as a whole.
Allegiance to Eastern Orthodoxy became entwined and irrevocably a part of the Greek character over the centuries. Despite years of painstaking attempts by Greek nationalists to supplant Orthodoxy as the primary source of identity with a more Western oriented and acceptable Hellenistic identity (extending back to the Classical Athens), the hold of the Orthodox church on the masses has been strong and has shown resilience even during times of high anti-clerical sentiments, such as today.
Professor Clifton R. Fox writes in his essay, What if Anything, Is a Byzantine?: "The role of the "Byzantine Empire" in European history is understood by few Westerners. Constantinople stood at the economic, political and cultural heart of Europe from its founding until the wanton sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders. The New Rome withstood the assault of many attackers, protecting all Europe against the flood of invasion. The "Byzantine Empire" flourished in the same era that found Western Europe mired by poverty, ignorance and violence. One cannot ignore that Constantinople still remains the religious lodestar of Orthodox Christians. Orthodox Christianity is the predominant faith of Russia and other lands is rooted in the Byzantine experience. In our time, with recent changes in Russia, her Byzantine roots seem more relevant than ever to the present.
The phrase "Byzantine Empire" was coined and popularized by French scholars such as Montesquieu, an influential figure of eighteenth century intellectual life. He was the same author whose seminal volume The Spirit Of The Laws did much to inspire the Founding Fathers of the United States in their writing of the American Constitution. Like other thinkers of his time, Montesquieu revered the ancient Greeks and Romans with immoderate enthusiasm as masters of politics and culture to be emulated. Following a Western European tradition that extended back to the early Middle Ages, Montesquieu regarded the Empire of Constantinople as corrupt and decadent. Although he wrote a long history of the Empire, Montesquieu could not bring himself to refer associate it with the noble names of "Greek" or "Roman." From the obsolete name "Byzantium," Montesquieu derived the word "Byzantine." The word "Byzantine" denoted the Empire and connoted its supposed characteristics: dishonesty, dissimulation and decadence. The English scholar Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire treated the Empire after the sixth century as an epic of unrelieved degradation and corruption.
The people who lived in the "Byzantine Empire" never knew nor used the word "Byzantine." They knew themselves to be Romans, nothing more and nothing less. By transferring the Imperial capital from Rome on the Tiber to the New Rome on Bosphorus, dubbed Constantinople, the Emperor Constantine I had transferred the actual identity of Rome to the new location. Long before Constantine I, the idea of "Rome" had become dissociated from the Eternal City on the Tiber. For a Roman meant a Roman citizen, wherever he lived. Before the Imperial period, in 89 BC, a Roman law had granted Roman citizenship to people throughout Italy. Afterwards, citizenship became extended to an increasing number of people in different parts of the Empire. In 212, Emperor Caracalla declared all free persons in the Empire to be Roman citizens, entitled to call themselves Roman, not merely subject to the Romans. Within a few decades, people begin to refer to the entire Empire not as "Imperium Romanorum" (Domain of the Romans) but as "Romania" (Romanland).
In 1901, a book entitled "History of Romanism" was written by Argyres Ephtaliotes. It was attacked in print by George Soteriades as "unpatriotic" because it used the term Roman rather than Hellene. Kostis Palamas, one of the greatest poets of Greece in the 20th century, immediately countered with an essay supporting the use of the name Roman.
“One does not wonder,” writes Palamas, “why Ephtaliotes wrote 'Roman' and not 'Hellene,' why he wrote 'Romanism' and not 'Hellenism.' One wonders why Mr. Soteriades with all the gifts of knowledge and genius which distinguish him among many, judged that he should criticize the author for using the correct and melodious and beautiful terms...,” and Palamas asks, "Can it be forgot that he is the worthy translator of The History of Byzantine Literature of Krumbacher, and that he forgot how clearly this wise historian explains to us meaning of the accused Roman, in a few substantial words, in the very first pages of his work? The name (Roman) was preserved, writes Krumbacher, during the terrible years the Turkish occupation until today, as the real and indeed prevalent name of the Greek people, in contrast with which the sporadically appearing name Greek has little meaning, and the name Hellene, introduced artificially by the government and the school, has no meaning."
“We also follow comparable logic,” continues Palamas, “in the use of the terms Romios and Romiosini. The only difference is that these two words were gradually set aside from the official language, as were also all the words of life and truth which are difficult to measure, because they did not come to us direct from the age of Pericles. We are Hellenes in order to hoodwink the world, but in reality, Romans. This name is anything but shameful. If it is not surrounded by a wreath of wild olive branches from Olympia, it is uplifted by a martyr’s crown of thorns and gives off the sweet smell of thyme and gunpowder."
In our own era, Professor John S. Romanides has argued for the existence of "national, cultural and even linguistic unity between East and West Romans" until the intrusion and takeover of the West Romans or Roman Catholics by the Franks (German tribes). He elaborates further on Palamas" theme (BTW, excuse the poor English translation):
"Modern Greeks call themselves "Hellenes," like the ancient Greeks did. The switch from "Romaioi" back to "Hellene," like the switch from "Vlach" to "Romanian," came from the politics of nationalism in modern times. Greeks needed Western European help to become independent in the early nineteenth century. The Greeks were not likely to attract assistance if the Western peoples thought of Greeks as Byzantines. However, if the Greeks were imagined as the children of Plato and Pericles, then the sympathies of educated Westerners, steeped in the Classical tradition, would be with Greece. In the Greek Revolution of 1832, the "Philhellenic"[Greek loving] sympathies of Britain and other European governments were deeply engaged. Intervention on behalf of Greek independence proved decisive. The name of "Hellene" was revived in order to create a national image which rejected the "Byzantine" past.
The first and only ones who in the 9th century stopped calling us Romans and from then on called us only by the name Greek, which Adamantios Koraes wanted, are the Franks. After the capture of New Rome by the Franks (1206) and especially after its capture by the Turks (1453), this Frankish tradition gradually prevailed among the Normans, the Celts, the Saxons, the Scandinavians, the Italian cities, and even among the Russians.
The chief reason for which the Franks called us only Greeks was that from the 6th till the 8th century they had conquered the tremendous Roman populations of Gaul and North and Central Italy. The Romans of these provinces were transformed into serfs and the Frankish conquerors became the class of those by nature born noble and thus European Feudalism was born. In order that the Roman serfs would forget that free Eastern Romania exists, they named her “Graecia”; they named the East Romans exclusively “Greeks”; they named the emperor of the Romans “emperor of the Greeks” and the East Roman Patriarchates “Greek Patriarchates”.
At the same time, the Franks named the first king of the Franks “emperor of the Romans”; they expelled the Romans from the Patriarchate of Old Rome, but named the now Latin Popes “Roman Popes”; they kept the name Romania for the Papal States, and completed the capture of our Latin and Greek - speaking hierarchy of South Italic and Sicilian Romania when we definitively lost these territories in 1071 to the Latinized Normans who 5 years before, in 1066, had conquered England.
Many Romanized Celtic and Saxon refugees from England came to Constantinople New Rome and joined the choice fighting corps of Varangians who made up the Palace guard of the emperor of the Romans. Other leaders like Robin Hood stayed on in England to continue the fight against Normans. The rest of Celts and Saxons were transformed into the serfs of the Norman conquerors. The Normans became the nobility and expelled the Orthodox from the Church leadership, having themselves become the bishops of the Frankish Christianity they brought with them.
In this way, having become the serfs of the Franks and Normans, the Romans lost their Church Ethnarchy, they became illiterate, and came to believe that their country Romania was only the papal states, that the now Frankish or Latin Pope was still their Roman Ethnarch, and that the now Frankish or Latin “emperor of the Romans” was their traditional emperor.
At the same time Franks condemned the so-called “Greeks” as heretics and thus succeeded not only in cutting off the West Romans, but also in teaching them to hate the non-existent “Greeks” who in reality were fellow Romans.
For this reason the name Greek came to mean “heretic, thief, liar, rascal, impostor and swindler."
In other words Adamantios Koraes favored the name with which the Franks destroyed us and with which all the enlightened nations of Europe practiced insult.
Because it is impossible to believe that four Roman Patriarchates broke away from a Frankish Patriarchate, which only appeared in 1009, the Franks were forced to forge the somewhat more believable myth that four “Greek” Patriarchates broke away from a so-called “Roman” but in reality Frankish Patriarchate. European and American historians continue to teach and support this myth until today.
Having abandoned the Roman names of the nation, the Greeklings of Koraes gave acceptance to the most important part of this Frankish myth. For this reason it has become customary among the “educated” in Hellas for the Frankish or Latin Papacy to be called “Roman” and the four true Roman Patriarchates of Constantinople New Rome, Alexandria Antioch, and Jerusalem to be called “Greek” and “Hellenic”, exactly as the Franks always wanted.
One asks oneself, by and from where is our national education directed? Is it possible for there to be a greater triumph of Frankdom over Romanism than this?
European and American textbooks claim that the Franks liberated the Romans of Italic Romania, together with their Roman Church, from the “Greeks” or “Byzantines, and the Neo-Neo-Greeks are unable to correctly cope with such lies because they do not identify themselves any longer as Romans with the former Romans of Italic Romania....but having renounced his Romanity the Neo-Greek does not know anymore how to deal with such lies.
How damaging the official discarding of Romanism is seen clearly not only on the question of Cyprus, but at this moment also on the question of the Aegean.
The Turks and other foreigners propagandized that Cyprus was a Roman or Byzantine province, but never a part of Hellas.
Similarly the Turks have been propagandizing, more effectively than we think, that the Aegean also was never part of Hellas. To wit, the Hellenes supposedly did not liberate, but conquered the Aegean from Turkey. In other words the Turks claim that they took the Aegean, not from the Hellenes, but from the Romans or Byzantines, to whom the Hellenes were enslaved."
For those who would like to read more by Professor Romanides, start here.