Penelope Frangakis

The use of history by Greek Intellectuals in the formation of Greek national identity during the Greek Enlightenment


Prior to the seventeenth century, the majority of the Greek population did not identify with their common historical heritage. With the advent of the Greek Enlightenment, mid-eighteenth to early nineteenth century, such an identification was increasingly prevalent. Part of the earliest efforts to reconnect the Greek population with their historical heritage was carried out by writers who aimed to acquaint their readers with the past viewed from a religious perspective. Over the course of the eighteenth century a growing awareness of a distinct historical past was cultivated and the historical perspective gradually changed. The intellectuals involved in the restoration of history, hoped that the reinforcement of historical self-knowledge and self-confidence, would strengthen and shape the emerging collective consciousness and forge a new Greek identity. Intellectuals sought the creative incorporation of ancient heritage into the present, the dynamic reconnection with ancestral history and the consolidation of historical continuity. In the process of clarifying their connection with their historical past, most of these intellectuals turned to the Classical Greek era and were indifferent toward the Byzantium era. The promotion of an identification with such a common origin was not only aimed at legitimating genealogy, but also to politically organise modern Greek society, to prompt the Greeks to struggle for freedom, to overthrow tyranny, and to create a sovereign political and cultural entity. Through the movement of the Greek Enlightenment, the study of the classics was promoted in order to ethically inspire the Greeks and strengthen their social ties. Consequently, an always increasing number of Greeks became aware of the grandeur of their ancestors and compared their situation with that of civilised European peoples. The awakening of a common historical memory reinforced the unity amongst the Greeks, increased their emotional attachment to the new collective entity, and served the national purpose by forging their national consciousness. Furthermore, through their acquaintance with their historical heritage, the Greeks were enabled to make a connection with a historical territory, to visualise a place as their homeland on which the new collective political and cultural entity could be based.

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