The Claim on Greek Culture as part of Greek Identity

German Claim. Photo of German soldiers raising Nazi war flag on Acropolis on April 27th, 1941 at the time of German Occupation of Greece. Two university students snuck up to the Acropolis and took down the flag on May 30th, 1941. Athens, Greece. Challenge image. Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv

The history of Greece is one filled with a multitude of different cultures, rulers and ideals that all helped to make Greece what it is today. As different people came to live in and influence Greece, what it meant to be Greek changed with these influences and people. However, this influence from foreigners throughout the history of Greece has become increasingly prevalent in the post-classical era. Due to the vast amount of claim laid on Greek culture in this post-classical period, the reclaiming of their culture from foreign influencers has become a cornerstone of what it means to be Greek. Thus, Greek identity has, in the post-classical period, centered around reclaiming Greek culture from foreign influence so much so that the ideas of foreign claim on one’s culture and the subsequent reclaiming of one’s culture are now heavily associated with Greeks.

Throughout the class this semester, we have seen many photos, paintings and drawings that convey the sheer volume of claim laid on Greek culture. It is this volume of claim that helps to elucidate just how essential foreign claim and reclaiming is to Greek identity. In order to help demonstrate the importance of foreign claim to Greek identity, it is easiest to take a chronological look at the sheer number of times foreigners have tried to, or succeeded in, laying claim to Greek culture.

Christian claim. Sketch of Parthenon East facade showing the conversion into “Our Lady of Athens” Christian Church during the 6thcentury CE. Inside the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The main eastern entrance is now the Christian sanctuary. Athens, Greece. Challenge image. Photo Credits: M. Korres

Beginning in the 6th century AD, foreign claim on post-classicical Greece starts to become a bigger part of Greek culture. The first major instance of foreign claim on Greek culture in this post-classical period is the influence by the Byzantine Empire on the Parthenon. The conversion of the Parthenon, a major part of Greek culture, into a Christian church, seen on the right, is a clear laying of claim from a foreign influence. Therefore, it is clear that from early on in post-classical Greece, foreign influence was laying claim to Greek culture. However, while the Byzantine claim on the Parthenon was significant, it is only after many more foreigners lay claim on Greek culture that the idea foreign claim becomes a part of Greek identity.

Muslim claim. Painting done by Jacques Carrey of Ottoman Athens showing embassy of Marquis do Nointel as he inspects excavations NE of Acropolis. Done in 1674, there is a view of the thriving Ottoman Athens, and Acropolis with the Parthenon mosque 13 years before its destruction in 1687. Athens, Greece. Challenge image.

Following the Byzantine empire, the Ottomans move in and begin to make Greece their own. This foreign claim culminates in a new religious conversion of the Parthenon. However, the Ottomans convert the Parthenon into a Mosque rather than a Church. In the painting done to the left, the background contains the converted Parthenon, although difficult to see. Regardless though, it is evident that there is further foreign influence on Greek culture during the time of the Ottoman empire. Now, having experienced claim on the Parthenon twice by different foreigners, Greek identity begins to become more entwined with claim by foreign influences. This entanglement of Greek identity and foreign influence really solidifies itself with the entrance of Lord Elgin.

British claim. The North portico of the Parthenon after Lord Elgin’s men cut out the blocks of marble comprising the metopes. Taken in Athens, Greece during or after Lord Elgin’s removal of marbles from 1801-1811. Challenge image. 

Lord Elgin, a Lord from England, came to the Parthenon in the early 1800s and was inspired by its beauty. Elgin was so inspired that he decided to cut into the Parthenon in order to take pieces back to England for people to enjoy. On the left, we see what remains from the North portico of the Parthenon after Lord Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon marbles. The influence of Elgin is easily visible from the destruction done to the structure in order to get the marbles. It is this claim on the Parthenon from Lord Elgin that establishes foreign influence as a major aspect of Greek identity. This is due to the fact that by this time in post-classical Greece, there had been three different foreigners lay claim to a massive aspect of Greek culture, the Parthenon. Therefore, Greek identity grows to include the commonality of foreign claim on their culture, and this new aspect of their identity only becomes more centralized with future foreign influence.

German claim. Photo of German soldiers raising Nazi war flag on Acropolis on April 27th, 1941 at the time of German Occupation of Greece. Two university students snuck up to the Acropolis and took down the flag on 30 May, 1941. Athens, Greece. Challenge image.

We have seen that as time in post-classical Greece went on, as did the claim on Greek culture laid down by foreigners. And, as this claim increased, as did the centrality of foreign claim to Greek identity. This increased importance of foreign claim by foreigners eventually resulted in an event that would elevate the awareness of foreign claim on Greek culture in the minds of all Greeks. This event was the hanging of the Nazi flag on the Acropolis on April 27th, 1941. Seen to the right, the image clearly speaks to the Nazi claim being imposed on Greek culture. More importantly though, is the global nature and significance of this specific claim. With the whole world watching WWII and the Germans, the world was also made aware of the claim on the Acropolis being made by the Nazis. Thus, the idea of foreign claim on Greek culture was globalized. Secondly, the fact that this was clearly claiming Greek culture as something absolutely different from what it was meant to be, meant that it was felt significantly harder by Greeks. In other words, because the Nazi ideology was so opposed to the Acropolis’ symbolism of freedom and democracy, the impact of foreigners laying claim on Greek culture was emphasized in all Greeks. This is unlike prior claims made on Greek culture as using the Parthenon as a new religious temple is not nearly as destructive as rebranding what the Acropolis stands for. Therefore, with the claim laid by Germans on the Acropolis, Greek identity became significantly more concerned with the claim laid by foreigners and both the world, and more Greeks, were made aware of this.

Consumer claim. Coca Cola advertisement from a 1992 Italian campaign that uses image of Parthenon with columns shaped like coca cola bottles to promote its brand. Yalouri 108.

Following the Nazi claim on the Acropolis, the centrality of foreign claim to Greek identity stayed important as foreign claim did not cease. In order to demonstrate this, as a final example of foreigners laying claim to Greek culture, on the left is an image of an Italian Coca-Cola Ad from 1992. Coca-Cola is clearly claiming the Parthenon’s columns as theirs in order to advertise their coke bottles. Therefore, despite being centuries since the start foreign claim on post-classical Greece, there is still claim laid onto Greek culture from foreigners. More importantly, as foreign influences continue to lay claim on Greek culture, then this aspect of Greek identity only grows making Greeks more aware of the claim being laid. And thus, Greeks will continue to reclaim their culture from outside influences that attempt to make Greek culture their own.

It is obvious, now, how the idea of foreign claim on Greek culture has become entwined with Greek identity. As post-classical Greece aimed to establish a Greek identity, the continued claim by foreigners left a lasting impact. And as new foreigners would lay claim to Greek culture, Greek identity became more focused on this claim and how to reclaim what was theirs. However, as a final thought, it is important to note that Greece was not just the victim of endless foreign claim. In fact, much like any other culture, the Greeks laid claim to aspects of other cultures that they would combine with their culture.

Greek claim on other styles. Female figurine with jar. 2nd-3rd c. AD. Kelsey permanent artifact collections.

In the image to the right there is a clay figurine that was made during the 2nd-3rd century AD. What is fascinating about this piece though, is the clear Asian influence on the Greek figurine. It is likely that, since this was earlier in Greek history, artists were gaining influences from other places and laying claim to different styles. Therefore, Greek identity is not just about the claim that foreigners lay on Greek culture. But, it also contains many other elements and some of which might even have come from different cultures, much like this figurine.

Therefore, the centrality of foreign claim on Greek culture is a massive aspect of Greek identity that continues to build and grow with furthered claim. But, at the same time, Greek identity is made up of so many more things. Thus, as Greeks continue to grow and develop as a people with their nation, as will aspects of their identity because of the foreign influence on them, but also their foreign influence on other cultures.

Works Cited

Beard, Mary. The Parthenon. Harvard University Press, 2010.

Yalouri, Eleana. The Acropolis: Global Fame, Local Claim. Berg.