Hellenization (or Hellenisation) is the historical spread of ancient Greek culture and, to a lesser extent, language, over foreign peoples conquered by Greece or brought into its sphere of influence, particularly during the Hellenistic period following the campaigns of Alexander the Great of Macedon. The result of Hellenization was that elements of Greek origin combined in various forms and degrees with local elements. In modern times, Hellenization has been associated with the adoption of modern Greek culture and the ethnic and cultural homogenization of Greece.
The concept applies to a number of other ancient historical contexts, starting with the Hellenization of the earliest inhabitants of Greece such as the Pelasgians, the Leleges, the Lemnians, the Eteocypriots in Cyprus, Eteocretans and Minoans in Crete (prior to Classical antiquity), as well as the Sicels, Elymians, Sicani in Sicily and the Oenotrians, Brutii, Lucani, Messapii and many others in territories constituting Magna Graecia.
During the Hellenistic period, following the death of Alexander the Great, considerable numbers of Assyrians, Jews, Egyptians, Persians, Parthians, Armenians, and a number of other ethnic groups along the Balkans, Black Sea, South-Eastern Mediterranean, Anatolia, Middle East and Central Asia were Hellenized. The Bactrians, an Iranian ethnic group who lived in Bactria (northern Afghanistan), were Hellenized during the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and soon after various tribes in northwestern regions of the Indian subcontinent (modern Pakistan) during the Indo-Greek Kingdom. There also was Hellenization of Thracians, Dardanians, Paeonians, and Illyrians south of the Jireček Line and even Getae.
Hellenization during the Hellenistic period, however, had its limitations. Case in point, areas of southern Syria that were affected by Greek culture mostly entailed Seleucid urban centers where Greek was commonly spoken. The countryside, on the other hand, was largely unaffected since most of its inhabitants spoke Syriac and continued to maintain their native traditions. Moreover, Hellenization did not necessarily involve assimilation of non-Greek ethnic groups since Hellenistic Greeks in regions such as Asia Minor were conscious of their ancestral lineages.
Hellenization can also refer to the medieval Byzantine Empire and Constantine's founding of Constantinople (Eastern Roman Empire that was Hellenized). Moreover, it can refer to the primacy of Greek culture and the Greek language after the reign of Emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641) in the 7th century.
In 1909, a commission appointed by the Greek government reported that one third of the villages of Greece should have their names changed, often because of their non-Greek origin. In other instances names were changed from a contemporary name of Greek origin, to the ancient Greek toponym. Some village names were formed from a Greek root word with a foreign suffix, or vice-versa. The majority of the name changes took place in areas populated by ethnic Greeks, where a strata of foreign, or divergent, toponyms had accumulated over the centuries. However, in some parts of Northern Greece the population was not Greek Speaking and many of the former toponyms reflect the diverse ethnic, and linguistic, origins of their inhabitants.
The process of the change of toponyms in modern Greece has been described as a process of Hellenization. A modern use is in connection with policies pursuing "cultural harmonization and education of the linguistic minorities resident within the modern Greek state" (the Hellenic Republic), i.e. the Hellenization of minority groups in modern Greece.
The word nowadays has a strong negative meaning in certain circles in Greece as it means (possibly illegally) giving citizenship to non-Greek immigrants.
"Hellenistic" is also, of course, still used to refer to the religion of the people who follow this religion today.
The twentieth century witnessed a lively debate over the extent of Hellenization in the Levant and particularly among the ancient Palestinian Jews that has continued until today. History of Religions interpretations of the rise of early Christianity (applied most famously by Rudolf Bultmann) were wont to see Palestinian Judaism as largely unaffected by Hellenism, while the Judaism of the diaspora was thought to have succumbed thoroughly to its influences. Bultmann thus argued that Christianity arose almost completely within those Hellenistic confines and should be read against that background as opposed to a more traditional (Palestinian) Jewish background. With the publication of Martin Hengel's two volume study Hellenism and Judaism (1974, German original 1972) and subsequent studies Jews, Greeks and Barbarians: Aspects of the Hellenization of Judaism in the pre-Christian Period (1980, German original 1976), and The 'Hellenization' of Judaea in the First Century after Christ (1989, German original 1989) the tide began to turn decisively. Hengel argued that virtually all of Judaism, whether Palestinian or otherwise, was highly Hellenized well before the beginning of the Christian era, and even the Greek language was well known throughout the cities and even smaller towns of Jewish Palestine. Scholars have continued to nuance Hengel's views, but very few continue to doubt the strong Hellenistic influences throughout the Levant, even among the conservative Jewish communities who were most nationalistic.
- Zacharia 2008, p. 232.
- Koliopoulos & Veremis 2002, pp. 232–241.
- Athanassakis 1977, p. 263: "It seems that the original home of the Albanians was in Northern Albania (Illyricum) rather than in the partly Hellenic and partly Hellenized Epirus Nova."
- Hammond 1976, p. 54: "The line of division between Illyricum and the Greek area, 'Epirus Nova', in terms of Roman provincial administration ran somewhere between Scodra and Dyrrachium and then eastwards on the north side of the Shkumbi and Lake Ochrid..."
- Lewis & Boardman 1994, p. 423: "Through contact with their Greek neighbors some Illyrian tribe became bilingual (Strabo VII.7.8. diglottoi) in particular the Bylliones and the Taulantian tribes close to Epidamnus."
- Pomeroy et al. 2008, p. 255.
- Webber & McBride 2001, p. 14: "Reconstruction of the procession drawn on the lunette (back wall) of the 3rd century BC Sveshtari tomb; the original is in charcoal, as the tomb was unfinished. It shows a Hellenised king of the Getai being crowned by the Thracian mother goddess."
- Boyce & Grenet 1975, p. 353: "South Syria was thus a comparatively late addition to the Seleucid empire, whose heartland was North Syria. Here Seleucus himself created four cities—his capital of Antiochia-on-the-Orontes, and Apamea, Seleucia and Laodicia—all new foundations with a European citizen body. Twelve other Hellenistic cities are known there, and the Seleucid army was largely based in this region, either garrisoning its towns or settled as reservists in military colonies. Hellenization, although intensive, seems in the main to have been confined to these urban centers, where Greek was commonly spoken. The country people appear to have been little affected by the cultural change, and continued to speak Syriac and to follow their traditional ways. Despite its political importance, little is known of Syria under Macedonian rule, and even the process of Hellenization is mainly to be traced in the one community which has preserved some records from this time, namely the Jews of South Syria."
- Isaac 2004, p. 144: "Apparently the best and most pleasing compliment one could pay to a Hellenistic establishment in Asia Minor was to insist on the lineage of its ancestors: they were not a city of nondescript migrants but of Greeks and Macedonians of true blood. Once again, we see that such views were very common, but there were critics."
- Lambropoulos, Vasilis G. (22 August 1999). "Οι παράνομες ελληνοποιήσεις και τα κόλπα της ρωσικής μαφίας". ΤΟ ΒΗΜΑ Online. Retrieved 9 December 2009.
- Athanassakis, Apostolos N. (1977). "N.G.L. Hammond, Migrations and Invasions in Greece and Adjacent Areas (review)". American Journal of Philology 99 (2): 263–266. JSTOR 293653.
- Boyce, Mary; Grenet, Frantz (1975). A History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. 3: Zoroastrianism under Macedonian and Roman Rule. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill. ISBN 90-04-09271-4.
- Hammond, Nicholas Geoffrey Lemprière (1976). Migrations and Invasions in Greece and Adjacent Areas. Park Ridge, New Jersey: Noyes Press. ISBN 0-8155-5047-2.
- Isaac, Benjamin H. (2004). The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-12598-8.
- Koliopoulos, John S.; Veremis, Thanos M. (2002). Greece: The Modern Sequel: From 1831 to the Present. New York, New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-4767-1.
- Lewis, D. M.; Boardman, John (1994). The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 6: The Fourth Century B.C.. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23348-8.
- Pomeroy, Sarah B.; Burstein, Stanley M.; Donlan, Walter; Roberts, Jennifer Tolbert (2008). A Brief History of Ancient Greece: Politics, Society, and Culture. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-537235-2.
- Webber, Christopher; McBride, Angus (2001). The Thracians, 700 BC – AD 46. Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-329-2.
- Zacharia, Katerina (2008). Hellenisms: Culture, Identity, and Ethnicity from Antiquity to Modernity. Surrey, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing, Limited. ISBN 978-0-7546-6525-0.
- Goldhill, Simon (2002). Who Needs Greek?: Contests in the Cultural History of Hellenism. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-01176-0.
- Waterloo Institute for Hellenistic Studies
- Richard Bulliet – History of the World to 1500 CE (Session 8) on YouTube is a 74 minute video primarily exploring the issues of Hellenization.