World Cultures

An interior view of a home on Crete. Greek homes are private spaces, and hospitality is seen as both a pleasure and a responsibility.
Houses in Santorini, Greece. Much Greek housing has traditionally been small and owner-built, and a high value is placed on home ownership.
A narrow street in the Old Town section of Mykonos, Greece.
The Parthenon sits above an industrialized Athens, decaying from the exhaust-fouled air.
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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Hellenic, Romeic


Identification. Greece, the English name for the Hellenic Republic, derives from an ancient Latin word for that area. "Hellenic" derives from the word ancient Greeks used to refer themselves, while "Romeic" comes from the medieval or Byzantine Greek term. Although Romeic was the most common self-designation early in the nineteenth century, it has declined in favor of Hellenic since that time.

The words "Greek," "Hellenic," and "Romeic" refer not only to the country but also to the majority ethnic group. Greek culture and identity reflect the shared history and common expectations of all members of the nation-state, but they also reflect an ethnic history and culture that predate the nation-state and extend to Greek people outside the country's borders. Since 98 percent of the country's citizens are ethnically Greek, ethnic Greek culture has become almost synonymous with that of the nation-state. However, recent migration patterns may lead to a resurgence of other ethnic groups in the population.

Location and Geography. The Hellenic Republic is in southeastern Europe at the point where the Balkan peninsula juts into the Mediterranean Sea and forms a land-based connection to Anatolia and the Middle East. Initially restricted to the southern mainland and a few islands, Greece grew with the addition of the Dodecanese Islands in 1948. The country is bordered by Albania, the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and the Aegean, Ionian, and Cretan seas.

Greece encompasses 50,935 square miles (131,957 square kilometers). The terrain is 80 percent mountainous, with its highest point, at Mount Olympus. Only 25 percent of the land surface is arable, and another 40 percent serves as pasture. There are more than 2,000 islands, 170 of which are inhabited, and a long coastline.

The climate is predominantly Mediterranean. Hot, dry summers alternate with cold, rainy winters.

There are nine recognized regions: Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus, Thessaly, Central Greece, the Peloponnesos, the Ionian Islands, the Aegean Islands, and Crete. Although these regions sometimes operated as separate entities in the past, they have been integrated into the state and their cultural distinctions are diminishing.

Demography. The population rose from slightly over 750,000 in 1836 to 10,264,156 in 1991, reflecting the expansion of national boundaries and the return of ethnic Greeks from the eastern Mediterranean. An even greater increase was prevented by emigration and a declining birth rate.

In the ninteenth and early twentieth centuries, Turks, Bulgarians, and others who were not ethnically Greek left the country in a steady stream that was formalized by the treaties that ended World War I. There has also been a continuing emigration of ethnic Greeks seeking employment and opportunity abroad since the mid-nineteenth century. This emigration was initially aimed at the eastern Mediterranean but was redirected toward the United States, Canada, and Australia by the late nineteenth century. The industrial nations of Western Europe joined the list of destinations in the 1960s.

Birth rates have declined since the early twentieth century. The proportion of elderly people is the highest in Europe at over 20 percent, and the overall rate of natural increase is among the lowest.





Albanians, Armenians, Bulgarians, Slavic Macedonians, Pomaks (Bulgarian Muslims), Turks, Jews, Roma (Gypsies), Vlachs, Sarakatsanoi, and several other groups have long been part of the country's cultural mosaic, although their numbers have decreased. The 1990s witnessed an unexpected influx of immigrants as refugees and labor migrants entered from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Philippines. These newcomers, especially the Albanians, estimated at between one-half million and one million, have placed minority issues at the forefront of public discussion.

Linguistic Affiliation. Greek is the official language and is spoken by nearly all the citizens. It is an Indo-European language that has been used in this area since the second millenium B.C.E. , although it has undergone considerable change. A major division exists between the ordinary spoken language known as demotic and a formal version known as katharevousa, which was developed in the eighteenth century to revive elements of ancient Greek and develop a national language that did not favor any regional dialect. Katharevousa spread quickly among political leaders and the intelligentsia. Writers initially embraced it, although most turned back to demotic Greek by the twentieth century. Katharevousa was used for most state documents, in many newspapers, and in secondary school instruction until the 1970s but has been displaced by demotic Greek since that time.

Church services are conducted in koine, a later form of ancient Greek in which the New Testament is written. There are also regional dialects, of which Pontic Greek may be the most distinctive.

Most minority groups are bilingual; Arvanitika (an Albanian dialect), Ladino (a Jewish dialect), Turkish, Slavic Macedonian, Vlach (a Romanian dialect), Romani (a Gypsy language), Bulgarian, and Pomak are still spoken. Most of the population also is familiar with other European languages, most commonly English and French.

Symbolism. Several widely recognized images and celebrations invoke the identity of the republic. The country is seen as the restoration of an independent Greek civilization, and many symbols establish a strong link between past and present, between larger Greek history and the modern nation-state. National holidays stress the struggle to establish and maintain an independent country in the face of conquest and oppression. The national anthem, "Hymn to Liberty," praises those who fought in the War of Independence. The flag displays a cross symbolizing the Greek Orthodox religion on a field of blue and white stripes that depict the sunlit waves of the seas that surround the nation. Statues of war heroes abound, as do the artistic motifs of antiquity and Orthodox Christianity.

Themes of cultural continuity and endurance, the direct connection to classical antiquity and Orthodox Byzantium, the language, the Mediterranean landscape, democracy, and a history of struggle against domination are central in this imagery. The Aegean area is characterized as a national homeland, and rural villages and ancient ruins are symbolic of long-standing ties to the region. Certain foods, architectural styles, arts, crafts, music, dances, and theatrical performances also evoke the national identity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. A strong sense of a common ethnic identity emerged among Greek speakers of the independent city-states of the Aegean area in the Bronze Age and characterized the city-states of the classical period and their colonies in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions. It endured over two millennia as these lands were ruled by the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian, and Ottoman empires, and as the area became ethnically heterogeneous.

The last of these empires was run by the Ottoman Turks, who established control over much of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean after conquering Constantinople in 1453. By the late eighteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was losing ground. A military defeat at Vienna and the growing commercial power of Western Europe led Turkish overlords to institute harsher tactics toward the peasants on their agricultural estates. Increasing discontent in the countryside was matched by difficulty in keeping administrative structures functional. Several regions in which Greeks were numerically dominant developed strong local leadership, while entrepreneurial Greek merchants, sailors, and craftspeople acted as intermediaries between the expanding economies of Western Europe and the declining ones of the empire. Enlightenment ideals of ethnic self-determination were embraced by the merchant diaspora and resonated with the desire of all Greeks to end Ottoman control.

A series of rebellions against the empire led to a full-scale revolution in 1821. The War of Independence aimed at an independent, ethnically based state modeled after the nationalist political philosophies of western Europe. With the aid of armed contingents from Europe and the United States, fighting ended in 1828, when the Turks agreed to cede some lands in which Greeks formed the majority.

The shape and structure of the new country were uncertain and contentious. The desire for a parliamentary form of government was thwarted when the first president was assassinated in 1831. The foreign nations that negotiated the final treaty with the Ottomans then established an absolute monarchy monitored by England, France, and Russia. Otto, the son of Ludwig I of Bavaria, was named the first king. The boundaries of the new state were much smaller than had been hoped. Only the Peloponnesos, central Greece, and some of the Aegean Islands were included.

An 1843 coup resulted in a constitutional monarchy, and another coup in 1862 led to expanded

Houses in Santorini, Greece. Much Greek housing has traditionally been small and owner-built, and a high value is placed on home ownership.

powers for the parliament and Otto's removal from the throne. Although Otto was replaced with a Danish-born king, the powers of the monarchy steadily diminished, and the institution was abolished in 1973.


The territorial constriction of the original state was attacked through pursuit of the Megali Idea: the belief that the country should eventually encompass all lands in which Greeks were a majority, including Constantinople and western Anatolia. Through a series of wars, treaties, and agreements, most of modern Greece had been transferred by World War I. Greece fought on the side of Allies during the war. In the negotiations that followed, the possibility of allowing the Greek-majority population around Smyrna to vote on union with Greece was discussed. Greek forces were allowed to occupy the area. As Turkish nationalism arose from the ashes of the defeated Ottoman Empire, however, a revived Turkish army routed the Greek troops and destroyed the city. The Anatolian Greeks who survived the conflict fled the area. Although the Dodecanese Islands were granted to Greece after World War II, ideas of a larger state were ended by this event, which is known as the Catastrophe of 1922.

The nation also has been shaped by efforts to limit foreign involvement in its internal affairs. The direct role the original treaty granted to England, France, and Russia faded by the end of the nineteenth century, but the twentieth century was marked by the invasions that accompanied the Balkan Wars and World Wars I and II, including the German occupation of 1941–1944. The Greek Civil War of 1946– 1949 saw the forces of the left and right backed by their counterparts in the nations soon to face each other in the Cold War. The outcome of this conflict led to Greece's alignment with the West, its entry into NATO in 1951, massive American aid, and continued foreign involvement in national affairs. Public sentiment against such interference combined with the waning of the Cold War in the 1980s to limit direct foreign intervention.

National Identity. A strong sense of ethnic self-determination initially fueled the construction of the state, erased regional differences, and led to a citizenry largely composed of ethnic Greeks. Nation– state and ethnic group were seen as coterminous. Public consciousness is also characterized by the frustration of unfulfilled hopes, foreign interference, and consignment to marginal status within Europe.

The national identity generally is considered a matter of cultural continuity, with language, religion, democracy, an analytic approach to life, travel, entrepreneurship, cleverness, and personal honor and responsibility as core values that connect contemporary Greeks to the past. An intense relationship to the Mediterranean landscape also plays a role.

The War of Independence, the Catastrophe of 1922, the German occupation, and the civil war figure heavily in national memory. The relationship to the more distant past has, however, been shaped by the important symbolic place reserved for classical Greece in post-Renaissance Europe. While eighteenth-century Greeks called themselves Romeic and looked toward their Byzantine Orthodox heritage, the emphasis Western Europeans placed on classical Greek antiquity led nineteenth-century Greeks to stress European connections over Mediterranean and classical history over medieval. This shift was the source of literary and political debate in the twentieth century, with broader conceptions of Greek identity gradually emerging.

Ethnic Relations. The Balkan peninsula and the Anatolian coast were multiethnic at the start of the nineteenth century. Different groups lived side by side, and there was considerable intermingling and even intermarriage. The pursuit of ethnic nationalism over the last two centuries, however, resulted in increasing ethnic separation. The establishment of ethnically based nation-states led to warfare, territorial disputes, and massive migration. Greece became increasingly monoethnic as members of certain ethnic groups left while Greeks from outside the nation entered. Some sixty thousand of the country's seventy-five thousand Jews were executed or exiled during World War II. Recently, the influx of new immigrants since 1990 is once again creating greater ethnic diversity.

International tension over territorial boundaries and the treatment of minority populations remain high in the region, although the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the former Soviet bloc has unleashed a new dynamic. These tensions often take on an ethnic character. Relations are best with other Orthodox countries and most strained with Turkey, Albania, and the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia. The partitioning of Cyprus into Greek and Turkish sides in 1974 remains a bone of contention.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The population historically has been mobile. Sailors, shepherds, and merchants traveled as a matter of occupation, while peasants frequently moved in response to wars, land tenure policies, and agricultural opportunities. Market towns such as Corinth and Athens have endured for millennia, but smaller settlements appeared and disappeared with regularity. Over the last century, internal migration has overwhelmingly been from mountains to plains, inland to coastal areas, and rural to urban settlements. In this process, hundreds of new villages were founded while others were abandoned, and some towns and cities grew greatly while others declined.

A strongly centralized settlement system revolving around the capital, Athens, has emerged from these moves. The population became predominantly urban after World War II, with only 25 percent living in rural settlements in 1991. The concentration of economic opportunities, international trade, governmental functions, and educational and health facilities in only a few cities has led to the decline of many regional centers and the growth of Athens as a primate city. In 1991, Greater Athens contained 3.1 million people, a third of the population, while the next largest city, Thessaloniki, contained 396,000.

There are distinctive regional architectural styles, such as the pitched roofs of the Arcadian mountains and the flat, rolled ones of the Cyclades. Until recently, much housing was small and owner-built from mud brick, stone, and ceramic tile. Over the last fifty years, the use of industrially produced materials and the construction of more elaborate dwellings has accompanied a dramatic increase in commercial building. International architectural movements have also been influential.

Rural settlements are still characterized by single-family houses, but urban areas contain apartment buildings of five to ten stories. A high value is placed on home ownership, and most urban apartments are owned, not rented. Families tend to buy or remodel homes only after saving the funds needed to do so.

There is a strong public-private distinction in spatial arrangements. Homes are considered private family spaces. Single-family houses often contain walled courtyards that have been replaced in urban apartments with tented balconies. Plazas, open-air markets, shops, churches, schools, coffeehouses, restaurants, and places of entertainment are the major public gathering spots.


An interior view of a home on Crete. Greek homes are private spaces, and hospitality is seen as both a pleasure and a responsibility.


Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Grain, grapes, and olives are central to the diet, supplemented with eggs, cheese, yogurt, fish, lamb, goat, chicken, rice, and fruits and vegetables. Certain foods are emblematic of the national identity, including moussaka, baklava, thick coffee, and resinated wine ( retsina ). Coffee-houses have long functioned as daily gathering places for men. Dining out has gained in popularity, with a corresponding increase in the number and variety of restaurants.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Guests must always be offered refreshment, and all major ceremonies involve food. At funerals, mourners are given koliva (boiled wheat, sugar, and cinnamon), a special cake is baked on New Year's Day, and the midnight Easter service is followed by a feast, generally of lamb.

Basic Economy. Farming, herding, fishing, seafaring, commerce, and crafts were the historical mainstays of the economy. Before the establishment of the modern state, most people were poor, often landless peasants who worked on feudal-like estates controlled by Turkish overlords and Orthodox monasteries. As the Ottoman Empire faced competition from the economies of western Europe, some peasants began producing cash crops such as currants and lumber for sale to England and France, shipbuilders carried produce from the Black Sea to the Atlantic coast, and carpet makers and metal workers sold their wares throughout Eastern and Central Europe.

After the revolution, the nation was deeply in debt to foreign creditors and lacked the capital and infrastructure needed for economic development, nor could it compete with the increasingly industrial economies of western Europe. Families produced most of their own subsistence needs, from food to housing, while engaging in a variety of entrepreneurial activities, producing everything from sponges and currants to tobacco and cotton. The weakness of the economy and the unpredictability of foreign markets led to periods of economic crisis that sparked large-scale emigration by the late nineteenth century.

In the twentieth century, industry was strengthened by the influx of urban refugees after the Catastrophe of 1922 but remained a small sector of the economy. The growth spurred by foreign aid in the 1950s and 1960s was followed by high inflation rates in the 1970s and 1980s. Governmental efforts at economic stabilization and payments from the European Union brought inflation down to 4 percent by the late 1990s. Current economic efforts are focused on industrial development, effective taxation collection, downsizing of the civil service, keeping inflation in check, and resolving the national debt and dependence on European Union payments.

Land Tenure and Property. Through legislation that distributed large agricultural estates to peasant families, most farmland came to be owned by the people who worked it by the early twentieth century. Population growth and partible inheritance practices have produced small individual holdings, often scattered in several plots at a distance from each other. Much grazing land is publicly held, although herders pay fees and establish customary use rights over particular sections.

Commercial Activities. Familial economic strategies were integrated into a market economy and subsistence activities dwindled during the twentieth century. Handmade crafts are generally aimed at the tourist trade, farming is oriented toward sale, and some basic foodstuffs are imported. Family members engage in a variety of cash-producing activities, combining commercial farming with wage labor in canneries, the renting of rooms to tourists with construction work, and sailing in the merchant marine with driving a taxi. A high value is placed on economic flexibility, being one's own boss, and family-run enterprises.

The most common commercial activities are in construction, tourism, transportation, and small-scale shopkeeping. Major cash crops include tobacco, cotton, sugar beets, grains, vegetables, fruits, olives, and grapes. Herders produce meat, milk products, wool, hides, and dung for sale. Fishing contributes little to the GDP. Mining is focused on lignite, bauxite, asbestos, and marble.

Major Industries. Industrial manufacturing contributed 18 percent to the GDP in the 1990s and employed 19 percent of the labor force. The major products are textiles, clothing, shoes, processed food and tobacco, beverages, chemicals, construction materials, transportation equipment, and metals. Small enterprises dominate.

Trade. The international balance of trade has long been negative. The country exports manufactured products (50 percent of exports), agricultural goods (30 percent), and fuels and ores (8 percent), and imports manufactured products (40 percent of imports), food (14 percent), fuels and ores (25 percent), and equipment (21 percent). In the 1990s, trade increasingly focused on European Union countries, with the major partners being Germany, Italy, France, and Britain, followed by the United States.

The negative trade balance is offset by "invisible" sources of foreign currency such as shipping, tourism, remittances from Greeks living abroad, and European Union payments for infrastructure development, job training, and economic initiatives. The merchant fleet is the largest in the world and tourism involves up to eleven million foreign visitors a year.

Division of Labor. The primary sector (farming, herding, and fishing) contributes over 8 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP), the secondary (mining, manufacturing, energy, and construction) sector contributes over 23 percent, and the tertiary sector (trade, finance, transport, health, and education) contributes 68 percent. The primary sector employs 22 percent of workers, the secondary sector 28 percent, and the tertiary sector 50 percent. Immigrants constitute 5 to 10 percent of the labor force.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Despite income differences in the population and a small upper stratum of established families in the larger cities, the class system has been marked by mobility since the establishment of the modern state. Former bases of wealth and power disappeared with the departure of the Ottomans and the dismantling of agricultural estates. A fluid class system fits the strongly egalitarian emphasis of the culture. The degree to which minority groups receive the rights and opportunities of Greeks is a topic of public discussion.

Social status is not coterminous with economic class but results from a combination of wealth, education, occupation, and what is referred to as honor or love of honor ( philotimo ). While sometimes understood only as a source of posturing and argumentation, this concept refers to one's sense of social responsibility, esteem within the community, and attention to proper behavior and public decorum.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The fluidity of class and status means that symbols of social stratification are changeable and diverse, although the trappings of wealth convey a high position, as do urban residence, the use of katharevousa, fluent English and French, and the adoption of Western styles.


A narrow street in the Old Town section of Mykonos, Greece.


Political Life

Government. Greece is a parliamentary republic modeled after the French system. The redrawn constitution of 1975 established a single legislative body with three hundred seats. The president serves as the ceremonial head of state, while the prime minister is the head of government. Suffrage is universal for those over eighteen years of age. A large civil service bureaucracy administers a host of national, provincial, and local agencies. Governmental functioning often is described as hierarchical and centralized. A municipal reorganization in 1998 combined smaller communities into larger ones in an effort to strengthen the power of local government.

Leadership and Political Officials. Greek political history has been marked by frequent moments of uncertainty, and there have been several military coups and dictatorships, the last being the junta that reigned from 1967 to 1974. Since the end of the junta, two major parties have alternated in power: New Democracy, which controlled parliament from 1974 to 1981 and from 1989 to 1993 and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which controlled it from 1981 to 1989 and from 1993 to the present.

Citizens maintain a wary skepticism toward politicians and authority figures. Support in national elections often was garnered through patronage, extensive networks of ritual kin, and personal ties in the nineteenth century. The rise of the early twentieth-century politician Eleftherios Venizelos initiated a gradual shift toward ideology and policy as the basis of support.

Local-level politics operate differently from politics on the national level. Municipalities elect leaders more on the basis of personal qualities than political affiliation, and candidates for local office often do not run on a party ticket.

Dealing with the large civil service bureaucracy is seen as a matter for creativity, persistence, and even subtle deception. Individuals often are sent from office to office before their affairs are settled. Those who are most successful operate through networks of personal connections.

Social Problems and Control. The legal system is based on modified Roman law, with strong protection for the rights of the accused. There are criminal, civil, and administrative courts, and since 1984, the police force, which previously was divided into urban and rural units, has operated as a single force. There is little violent crime. Tax evasion often is considered the most serious legal concern. Peer pressure, gossip, belief in forces such as the evil eye, and the strong sense of proper behavior and social responsibility engendered by philotimo operate as informal mechanisms of social control.

Military Activity. Continuing disputes and past wars are important parts of social memory, but since the Civil War there has been a different climate, especially since the end of the Cold War and the removal of most foreign troops. The country stills spends a high percentage of its budget on defense. The Hellenic Armed Forces are divided into an army, an air force, and a navy. There is a universal draft of all males at age twenty for eighteen to twenty-one months of service, with some deferments and exemptions. There are 160,000 soldiers on active duty and over 400,000 reservists.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

There is a nationalized health care system and a state-directed system of disability and pension payments. There are over 650 different pension programs, with membership depending on type of work. The government also has a system of earthquake and other disaster compensation. Banks have been established to support particular sectors of the economy. Caring for the personal needs of the elderly, infirm, and orphaned is considered a family responsibility.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Voluntary organizations include hobby clubs, scouts, sports organizations, performance ensembles, environmental groups, craft cooperatives, and political pressure groups. Among the most common are urban-based organizations formed by people from the same rural area. These associations enroll as much as one-quarter of the Athenian population and raise funds and exert political pressure on behalf of their areas of origin. Agricultural cooperatives are widespread, enabling family-based farmers to buy and sell in bulk. Trade unions are less well established.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Rural men and women traditionally shared agricultural tasks, doing some jointly and dividing others by gender. Land and property have long been owned by both men and women, with husbands and wives contributing fields to the family. As the population became urbanized, this pattern shifted. Among families that operated small shops and workshops, both men and women remained economically active. Among those who sought employment outside the home, women were more likely to work at lower-paid positions and to stop working when they had children. Open access to education and evolving child care arrangements are changing this situation, and women now constitute 45 percent of the paid workforce.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Gender roles were relatively differentiated and male-dominant until recently. Traditionally, men were associated with public spaces and women with private, with the major exception of the role played by women in attending, cleaning, and maintaining churches. There were nevertheless many arenas in which women asserted power or operated in a female-centered world. Their economic role in the family; ownership of property; position as mother; wife, and daughter; maintenance of the household; religious activities; and artistic expression through dancing, music, and crafts all worked in this direction.

There has been a dramatic decline in gender differentiation in the last few decades. Women received full voting rights in 1956, and the Family Law of 1983 established legal gender equality in family relationships and decision making. A majority (53 percent) of students in universities are women, and the percentage of women in public office has increased. Women are now fully present in public spaces, including restaurants, nightclubs, beaches, stores, and public plazas.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Families are fundamental units of support and identity, and marriage is considered the normal condition of adulthood. With the exception of monastic orders and the upper echelons of the clergy, nearly all people marry. Arranged marriages in which parents negotiated spouses, dowries, and inheritance for their children were once common but have declined. Marriages are monogamous, and the average age at marriage is the late twenties for women and the mid-thirties for men. The divorce rate is among the lowest in Europe. Until 1982, all marriages occurred in churches, but civil marriages have been legal since that time.

Domestic Unit. Although nuclear family households are the most common, stem, joint, and other forms of extended kin arrangements also exist. Postmarital residence patterns are predominantly neolocal, but rural and urban neighborhoods often contain clusters of matrilineally or patrilineally related households, depending on regional traditions and family dynamics. It is common for elderly parents to join the household of one of their adult children.

Inheritance. Equal partible inheritance is the norm by both law and custom. Sons and daughters receive roughly equivalent shares of their parents' wealth in the form of fields, housing, money, higher education, and household effects. Daughters generally received their portion at marriage, but the Family Law of 1983 made the formal institution of the dowry illegal. However, there continues to be considerable transfer of property from parents to children when the children marry.

Kin Groups. The family-based household unit is the most important kinship group. Bilateral kindreds (loose networks of kin on the mother's and father's sides) provide a larger but less cohesive source of identity and support. Ritual kin in the form of godparents and wedding sponsors retain a special relationship throughout a person's life.


A festival on Skiros, Sporades. Nearly all Greek festivals have a religious component as 98 percent of Greeks are Orthodox Christians.



Infant Care. Midwives were common until the mid-twentieth century, but most babies are now born in hospitals. Babies are showered with overt displays of affection by male and female relatives. There is special concern over feeding and a belief that children need to be coaxed into eating. The central ceremony of infancy is baptism, which ideally occurs between forty days and a year after birth. This ceremony initiates the baby into the Orthodox community and is the moment at which a baby's name is officially conferred.

Child Rearing and Education. The successful establishment of one's children is a driving goal. Parents willingly sacrifice for children, and there is a continuing emotional bond between parents and children. Both parents are actively involved in child rearing, along with grandparents and other relatives. Adults give children freedom to explore and play, cultivate their abilities to converse and perform, and participate in social occasions. Parents also stress the value of education. The public school system was established in 1833, and 95 percent of the population is literate. Schooling is compulsory and free for the first nine years and optional and free for the next three. Over 90 percent of students attend public schools.

Higher Education. Higher education is strongly valued. There is a state run university, technical, and vocational school system whose capacity is short of demand. Entrance is achieved by nationwide examinations, and many secondary school students attend private afternoon schools to prepare for these tests. In the 1990s, 140,000 students annually vied for 20,000 university seats and 20,000 technical college seats. Many ultimately seek an education abroad.


Much social life takes place within a close circle of family and friends. Group activities revolve around eating, drinking, playing games, listening to music, dancing, and animated debate and conversation. These gatherings often aim at the achievement of kefi, a sense of high spirits and relaxation that arises when one is happily transported by the moment and the company. Drinking may contribute to the attainment of kefi, but becoming drunk is considered disgraceful.

A major occasion on which people open their homes to a wide range of visitors is the day honoring the saint for whom a person is named. On those days, it is permissible to call on anyone bearing that saint's name. Guests generally bring sweets or liquor,

The Parthenon sits above an industrialized Athens, decaying from the exhaust-fouled air.

and the honorees treat their visitors to food and hospitality.


Hospitality is seen as both a pleasure and a responsibility. Hosts are generous, and guests are expected to accept what is offered with only token protests. Hospitality is often extended to foreigners, but the deluge of travelers, ambivalence about the impact of tourism, and the improper or condescending behavior of some tourists complicate the situation.


Religious Beliefs. Close to 98 percent of the people are Orthodox Christians, just over 1 percent are Muslims, and there are small numbers of Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, Roman Catholics, and members of Protestant denominations. Greeks became involved in Christianity very early. After the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced the new religion, he moved his capital to Constantinople in 330 C.E. The new center grew into the Greek-dominated Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire. Tension between the Christian patriarchs of Constantinople and Rome ultimately led to the Schism of 1054, which divided the religion into Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The Orthodox church represented and supported the Christian population of Eastern Europe after the Ottoman conquest. In 1833, after the revolution, the Orthodox Church of Greece became the first of several national Orthodox churches in the region, each autonomous while recognizing the spiritual leadership of the patriarch in Constantinople. Today there are sixteen separate Orthodox churches and patriarchates. The Orthodox Church of Greece is officially designated the religion of the nation, its officials exert some influence in state matters, and it receives state funds.

Religious Practitioners. The Orthodox Church of Greece is overseen by the Holy Synod, whose president is the archbishop of Athens. Under this synod are regional bishops as well as monks, nuns, and priests who run specific churches and monastic institutions. Local priests are encouraged to marry, but other members of the clergy may not. Care of local churches is the responsibility of the community of worshipers, and priests are assisted by deacons, chanters, and local women who clean the buildings and bake bread for communion.

Rituals and Holy Places. Orthodoxy includes a series of daily, weekly, and annual rites, including the Sunday liturgy and the Twelve Great Feasts, of which the most important is Easter and the Holy Week that precedes it. Twenty to 25 percent of the population attends weekly services, while many more people are present at annual ones. There are four periods of fasting and saint's days in honor of the three hundred Orthodox saints. There are also rites associated with key events in the life cycle, such as funerals, weddings, and baptisms. Many people integrate religious practice into their daily lives, crossing themselves while passing a church or entering to light a candle, pray, or meditate.

Larger Orthodox churches are often constructed in a cross in-square configuration, and all contain an icon screen separating the sanctuary where communion bread and wine are sanctified from the rest of the building. Icons are pictorial representations of saints in paint or mosaic that serve as symbols of holiness. In many homes, there is a niche where icons and holy oil are displayed. Some churches and monasteries have become national sites of pilgrimage because of their association with miracles and historical events.

Death and the Afterlife. In Orthodox belief, at the time of death, a person's soul begins a journey toward judgment by God, after which the soul is consigned to paradise or hell. Relatives wash and prepare the body for the funeral, which is held in a church within twenty-four hours of death. The body is buried, not cremated, for decomposition is considered part of the process by which a person's sins are forgiven and the soul travels to paradise. The next forty days are a precarious time, at the end of which the soul is judged. Visits are paid to the relatives of the deceased, and additional rituals are held, some with open displays of grief and singing of laments. Three to seven years after burial, the bones of the deceased are exhumed and placed in a family vault or a communal ossuary. The degree to which the body has decomposed and the bones have turned white is seen as evidence of the extent to which the person's sins have been forgiven and the soul has entered a blissful state.

Medicine and Health Care

The state-run National Health Service, a network of hospitals, clinics, and insurance organizations, was established in 1983. The service provides basic health care even in remote areas, but there is an over concentration of hospital facilities, doctors, and nurses in Athens and other major cities. Private health care facilities are used by those who can afford them. The health status of Greek citizens is roughly equivalent to that of Western Europe. Western concepts of biomedicine are well accepted but are supplemented for some individuals by longstanding cultural conceptions concerning the impact that certain foods, the wind, hot and cold temperatures, envy, and anxiety have on health.

Secular Celebrations

Nearly all celebrations have a religious component, and all major rites of the Orthodox church are public holidays. Among celebrations with a predominantly secular orientation are Ochi Day (28 October), commemorating the occasion when Greek leaders refused Mussolini's demand to surrender in 1940; Independence Day (25 March), when Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the flag of revolt against the Ottomans near Kalavryta in 1821; New Year's Day, when people gather, play cards, and cut a special cake that contains a lucky coin; and, Labor Day (1 May), a time for picnics and excursions to the country.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The Ministry of Culture supports all the arts in terms of production, education, publicity, festivals, and national centers, such as the Greek Film Center. There are provincial and municipal theaters, folklore institutes, orchestras, conservatories, dance centers, art workshops, and literary groups.

Literature. Oral poetry and folk songs thrived even under Ottoman domination and developed into more formal, written forms as the nation-state emerged. Poets and novelists have brought contemporary national themes into alignment with the major movements in Western literature. There have been two Greek Nobel laureates: George Seferis and Odysseas Elytis.

Graphic Arts. Long-standing traditions of pottery, metalworking, rugmaking, woodcarving, and textile production have been carried forward by artisan and craft cooperatives. Many sculptors and painters are in the vanguard of contemporary European art, while others continue the tradition of Orthodox icon painting.

Performance Arts. Music and dance are major forms of group and self-expression, and genres vary from Byzantine chants to the music of the urban working class known as rebetika . Distinctively Greek styles of music, dance, and instrumentation have not been displaced by the popularity of Western European and American music. Some of the most commonly used instruments are the bouzouki, santouri (hammer dulcimer), lauto (mandolin-type lute), clarinet, violin, guitar, tsambouna (bagpipe), and lyra (a-stringed Cretan instrument), many of which function as symbols of national or regional identity. The popular composers Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis have achieved international fame.

Shadow puppet plays revolving around the wily character known as Karagiozis were very popular in the late Ottoman period. Dozens of theater companies in Athens, Thessaloniki, and other areas, perform contemporary works and ancient dramas in modern Greek. Films are a popular form of entertainment, and several Greek filmmakers and production companies have produced a body of melodramas, comedies, musicals, and art films.

State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The University of Athens was established in 1837, with faculties in theology, law, medicine, and the arts (which included applied sciences and mathematics). The national system has expanded to nearly twenty public universities and technical schools that offer a full range of academic and applied subjects. There are several state-funded research centers, such as the National Centre for Scientific Research, the National Centre for Social Research, and the Center for Programming and Economic Research. The social sciences suffered under some governments in the past but are now flourishing.


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