Greece or Hellas – What is the difference?

Greece or Hellas? Joanna is explaining to us the history of the words “Greek” and “Greece” and the various versions of the origin of these words: In a beginner (A1) lesson I had with my student Andrew, he asked me: “Why Greeks and Greece are not called Hellas and Hellenes?”

He is right to ask this. There is confusion because in some instances we have the word Greece and Greek and in some others the words Hellas and Hellenes. I will explain to you right now where the two names came from, but also, how the English words ‘’Greece’’ and ‘’Greek’’ prevailed in Europe.

Why is Greece called Creece?

For the name of the country Greece and the Greek nationality, there are many different explanations. Some believe that it originated from the word Graikos, which according to ancient Greek mythology, Graikos was a son of Pandora and Zeus. According to another tradition, the word Greek means ‘’ancient’’. According to Aristotle, there were some people called ‘’Graes’’, who lived around the oracle of Dodoni and they are perhaps the first Greeks.

From the word ‘’Graecus’’ comes the Latin word ‘’Graeculus’’ which refers to someone who behaved as a servant to foreigners, that is, he had no national dignity. The Romans called the Greeks this way because during the war they avoided head-on conflict and preferred tactics such as ambush, night warfare, etc., which the Romans considered as cowardice. That’s why many people don’t like the word Greek because it reminds them of Graeculus.

What does Hellas mean?

On the other hand, in today’s Magnesia, near Volos, there were the ‘’Ellanes’’ who became later the ‘’Ellines’’ and from these people, some belief comes the name Hellas and Hellenes which was used in Ancient Greece. In Homer also, the word ‘’Panellines’’ appears.

But according to scientific research, both names of Greece are ancient. In almost all of Europe, we are called the root “Greek” derived from the Latin Graeculus, which in turn comes from the word Graecus. This name prevailed mainly during the period of the Turkish occupation of Greece.

So... Greece or Hellas?

The official name of Greece in the European Union today is Hellas where In European languages, the Greeks are called “Greeks” from the Latin word Graeculus.

4 thoughts on “Greece or Hellas – What is the difference?”

  1. Very interesting thanks Joanna!
    In France we have two ways to name Greek people: « les Grecs » (of course) and « les Hellènes » coming from the official name of your country Hellas.

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