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The Massacre at Chios by Eugène Delacroix reflects the attitudes of French philhellenism.

Philhellenism ("the love of Greek culture") was an intellectual movement prominent mostly at the turn of the 19th century. It contributed to the sentiments that led Europeans such as Lord Byron, Charles Nicolas Fabvier and Richard Church to advocate for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire.

The later 19th-century European philhellenism was largely to be found among the Classicists.

Philhellenes in antiquity[edit]

Coin of Mithridates I of Parthia from the mint at Seleucia on the Tigris. The Greek inscription reads ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ ("[coin] of the great king Arsaces, friend of the Greeks")

In antiquity, the term philhellene ("the admirer of Greeks and everything Greek"), from the (Greek: φιλέλλην, from φίλος - philos, "friend", "lover" + Ἕλλην - Hellen, "Greek")[1] was used to describe both non-Greeks who were fond of ancient Greek culture and Greeks who patriotically upheld their culture. The Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon defines 'philhellene' as "fond of the Hellenes, mostly of foreign princes, as Amasis; of Parthian kings[...]; also of Hellenic tyrants, as Jason of Pherae and generally of Hellenic (Greek) patriots.[1] According to Xenophon, an honorable Greek should also be a philhellene.[2]

Some examples:

Roman philhellenes[edit]

The literate upper classes of Ancient Rome were increasingly Hellenized in their culture during the 3rd century BC.[6][7][8]

Emperor Julian

Among Romans the career of Titus Quinctius Flamininus (died 174 BC), who appeared at the Isthmian Games in Corinth in 196 BC and proclaimed the freedom of the Greek states, was fluent in Greek, stood out, according to Livy, as a great admirer of Greek culture. The Greeks hailed him as their liberator.[9] There were some Romans during the late Republic, who were distinctly anti-Greek, resenting the increasing influence of Greek culture on Roman life, an example being the Roman Censor, Cato the Elder and Cato the Younger, who lived during the "Greek invasion" of Rome but towards the later years of his life he eventually became a philhellene after his stay in Rhodes.[10]

The lyric poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus was another philhellene. He is notable for his words, "Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artis intulit agresti Latio" (Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium), meaning that after the conquest of Greece the defeated Greeks created a cultural hegemony over the Romans.

Roman emperors known for their philhellenism include Nero, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius and Julian the Apostate.

Modern times[edit]

Victor Hugo, a well-known philhellene

In the period of political reaction and repression after the fall of Napoleon, when the liberal-minded, educated and prosperous middle and upper classes of European societies found the Romantic nationalism of 1789–1792 repressed by the restoration of absolute monarchy at home, the idea of the re-creation of a Greek state on the very territories that were sanctified by their view of Antiquity—which was reflected even in the furnishings of their own parlors and the contents of their bookcases—offered an ideal, set at a romantic distance. Under these conditions, the Greek uprising constituted a source of inspiration and expectations that could never actually be fulfilled, disappointing what Paul Cartledge called "the Victorian self-identification with the Glory that was Greece".[11] American higher education was fundamentally transformed by the rising admiration of and identification with ancient Greece in the 1830s and afterward.[12]

Another popular subject of interest in Greek culture at the turn of the 19th century was the shadowy Scythian philosopher Anacharsis, who lived in the 6th century BC. The new prominence of Anacharsis was sparked by Jean-Jacques Barthélemy's fanciful Travels of Anacharsis the Younger in Greece (1788), a learned imaginary travel journal, one of the first historical novels, which a modern scholar has called "the encyclopedia of the new cult of the antique" in the late 18th century. It had a high impact on the growth of philhellenism in France: the book went through many editions, was reprinted in the United States and was translated into German and other languages. It later inspired European sympathy for the Greek War of Independence and spawned sequels and imitations throughout the 19th century.

Friedrich Nietzsche, was one of the most staunch philhellenes.[13] He wrote that: "the Greek is the man who has achieved the most", "the Greek people are the only people of genius in the history of the world", "the Greeks have never been overestimated", "the Greek antiquity is the only true home of culture" and that "the Greek world is seen as the one truly profound possibility of life". Nietzsche was convinced that "the knowledge of the great Greeks" educated him.[14]

In German culture the first phase of philhellenism can be traced in the careers and writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, one of the inventors of art history, Friedrich August Wolf, who inaugurated modern Homeric scholarship with his Prolegomena ad Homerum (1795) and the enlightened bureaucrat Wilhelm von Humboldt. It was also in this context that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Hölderlin were to compose poetry and prose in the field of literature, elevating Hellenic themes in their works. One of the most renowned German philhellenes of the 19th century was Friedrich Nietzsche.[13] In the German states, the private obsession with ancient Greece took public forms, institutionalizing an elite philhellene ethos through the Gymnasium, to revitalize German education at home, and providing on two occasions high-minded philhellene German princes ignorant of modern-day Greek realities, to be Greek sovereigns.[15]

During the later 19th century the new studies of archaeology and anthropology began to offer a quite separate view of ancient Greece, which had previously been experienced second-hand only through Greek literature, Greek sculpture and architecture.[16] Twentieth-century heirs of the 19th-century view of an unchanging, immortal quality of "Greekness" are typified in J. C. Lawson's Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion (1910) or R. and E. Blum's The Dangerous Hour: The lore of crisis and mystery in rural Greece (1970).[17]

According to the Classicist Paul Cartledge, they "represent this ideological construction of Greekness as an essence, a Classicizing essence to be sure, impervious to such historic changes as that from paganism to Orthodox Christianity, or from subsistence peasant agriculture to more or less internationally market-driven capitalist farming."[18]

The Philhellenic movement led to the introduction of Classics or Classical studies as a key element in education, introduced in the Gymnasien in Prussia. In England the main proponent of Classics in schools was Thomas Arnold, headmaster at Rugby School.[citation needed]

Nikos Dimou's The Misfortune to be Greek[19] argues that the Philhellenes' expectation for the modern Greek people to live up to their ancestors' allegedly glorious past has always been a burden upon the Greeks themselves.[20] In particular, Western Philhellenism focused exclusively on the heritage of Classical Greece, while negating or rejecting the heritage of the Byzantine Empire and the Greek Orthodox Church, which for the Greek people are at least as important.

Philhellenism and art[edit]

Philhellenism also created a renewed interest in the artistic movement of Neoclassicism, which idealized fifth-century Classical Greek art and architecture,[21] very much at second hand, through the writings of the first generation of art historians, like Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.

The groundswell of the Philhellenic movement was result of two generations of intrepid artists and amateur treasure-seekers, from Stuart and Revett, who published their measured drawings as The Antiquities of Athens and culminating with the removal of sculptures from Aegina and the Parthenon (the Elgin Marbles), works that inspired the British Philhellenes, many of whom, however, deplored their removal.

Philhellenism in the Greek War of Independence and later[edit]

Many well-known philhellenes supported the Greek Independence Movement such as Shelley, Thomas Moore, Leigh Hunt, Cam Hobhouse, Walter Savage Landor and Jeremy Bentham.[22]

Some, notably Lord Byron, even took up arms to join the Greek revolutionaries. Many more financed the revolution or contributed through their artistic work.

Throughout the 19th century, philhellenes continued to support Greece politically and militarily. For example, Ricciotti Garibaldi led a volunteer expedition (Garibaldini) in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897.[23] A group of Garibaldini, headed by the Greek poet Lorentzos Mavilis, fought also with the Greek side during the Balkan Wars.

Notable 20th- and 21st-century philhellenes[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert. "φιλ-έλλην". A Greek-English Lexicon. Tufts University. Archived from the original on 2021-09-17. Retrieved 2021-09-17 – via Perseus Digital Library.
  2. ^ "Xenophon "Agesilaus" (7.4)". Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  3. ^ "Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, page 54 (V. 2)". Archived from the original on 2005-12-31. Retrieved 2006-03-06.
  4. ^ "Search Tools".
  5. ^ Dąbrowa 2012, p. 170.
  6. ^ Balsdon, J. P. V. D. (1979). Romans and Aliens. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd. pp. 30–58. ISBN 0715610430.
  7. ^ A. Momigliano, 1975. Alien Wisdom: The Limits of Hellenization.
  8. ^ A. Wardman, 1976. Rome's debt to Greece.
  9. ^ A modern assessment is E. Badian, 1970. Titus Quinctius Flamininus: Philhellenism and Realpolitik0
  10. ^ "Plutarch • Life of Cato the Younger". Retrieved 2021-06-08.
  11. ^ Cartledge
  12. ^ Winterer, Caroline (2002). The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  13. ^ a b Whitling, Frederick (2009). "Memory, history and the classical tradition". European Review of History: Revue européenne d'histoire. 16 (2): 235–253. doi:10.1080/13507480902767644. ISSN 1350-7486. S2CID 144461534.
  14. ^ Jaspers, Karl (1997-10-24). Nietzsche: An Introduction to the Understanding of His Philosophical Activity. JHU Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-8018-5779-9.
  15. ^ The history of pedagogically conservative philhellenism in German high academic culture has been examined in Suzanne L. Marchand, Down from Olympus: Archaeology and Philhellenism in Germany, 1750–1970 (Princeton University Press, 1996); she begins with Winckelmann, Wolf and von Humboldt.
  16. ^ S. L. Marchand, 1992. Archaeology and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1800–1965: The Decline of Philhellenism (University of Chicago).
  17. ^ Cartledge, Paul. "The Greeks and Anthropology." Anthropology Today, vol. 10, no. 3, 1994, pp. 3–6. JSTOR, Accessed 9 June 2023.
  18. ^ Cartledge, Paul. "The Greeks and Anthropology." Anthropology Today, vol. 10, no. 3, 1994, pp. 3–6. JSTOR, Accessed 9 June 2023.
  19. ^ Η δυστυχία του να είσαι Έλληνας, 1975.
  20. ^ Cartledge, Paul. "The Greeks and Anthropology." Anthropology Today, vol. 10, no. 3, 1994, pp. 3–6. JSTOR, Accessed 9 June 2023.
  21. ^ It often selected for its favoured models third- and second-century sculptures that were actually Hellenistic in origin, and appreciated through the lens of Roman copies: see Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Antique Sculpture 1500–1900 (1981).
  22. ^ Roessel, David (2001-11-29). In Byron's Shadow: Modern Greece in the English and American Imagination. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198032908.
  23. ^ a b c Gilles Pécout, "Philhellenism in Italy: political friendship and the Italian volunteers in the Mediterranean in the nineteenth century", Journal of Modern Italian Studies 9:4:405–427 (2004) doi:10.1080/1354571042000296380
  24. ^ Tucci, Nicolo (15 November 1947). "The Great Foreigner". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 2021-01-01.
  25. ^ "Classics" (PDF). Stanford University.
  26. ^ Stephen Fry [@stephenfry] (April 21, 2021). "Truly, one of the great honours of my life. With thanks to the Ambassador, to President Sakellaropoulou and to the people of Greece" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  27. ^ Stavridis, Stavros T. (2019-07-09). "Hail, Lloyd George". The National Herald. Archived from the original on 2020-08-09. Retrieved 2021-08-13.
  28. ^ "Will Boris Johnson right our colonial wrongs and return the Elgin Marbles? Don't make me laugh". Independent. 13 November 2019.
  29. ^ "Former Australian MP, and noted philhellene Gough Whitlam passes". The TOC. 2014-10-21. Archived from the original on 2020-07-04. Retrieved 2020-07-03.
  30. ^ "Philhellene Writer Christopher Hitchens Passes Away". 20 December 2011. Retrieved 31 December 2021.


Further reading[edit]

  • Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (Nan A. Talese, 2003)
  • Stella Ghervas, « Le philhellénisme d'inspiration conservatrice en Europe et en Russie », in Peuples, Etats et nations dans le Sud-Est de l'Europe, (Bucarest, Ed. Anima, 2004.)
  • Stella Ghervas, « Le philhellénisme russe : union d'amour ou d'intérêt? », in Regards sur le philhellénisme, (Genève, Mission permanente de la Grèce auprès de l'ONU, 2008).
  • Stella Ghervas, Réinventer la tradition. Alexandre Stourdza et l'Europe de la Sainte-Alliance (Paris, Honoré Champion, 2008). ISBN 978-2-7453-1669-1
  • Konstantinou, Evangelos: Graecomania and Philhellenism, European History Online, Mainz: Institute of European History, 2010, retrieved: December 17, 2012.
  • Emile Malakis, French travellers in Greece (1770–1820): An early phase of French Philhellenism
  • Suzanne L. Marchand, 1996. Down from Olympus : Archaeology and Philhellenism in Germany, 1750–1970
  • M. Byron Raizis, 1971. American poets and the Greek revolution, 1821–1828;: A study in Byronic philhellenism (Institute of Balkan Studies)
  • Terence J. B Spencer, 1973. Fair Greece! Sad relic: Literary philhellenism from Shakespeare to Byron
  • Caroline Winterer, 2002. The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780–1910. Johns Hopkins University Press.

External links[edit]