Hellenization or Hellenisation is the historical spread of ancient Greek culture, religion and, to a lesser extent, language, over foreign peoples conquered by Greeks or brought into their sphere of influence, particularly during the Hellenistic period following the campaigns of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. The result of Hellenization was that elements of Greek origin combined in various forms and degrees with local elements; these Greek influences spread from the Mediterranean basin as far east as modern-day Pakistan. 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 in modern Italy.
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 reign of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and soon after various tribes in northwestern regions of the Indian subcontinent (modern Pakistan) underwent Hellenization during the reign of the Indo-Greek Kingdom. Other tribes that underwent varying degrees of Hellenization included Thracians, Dardanians, Paeonians and Illyrians south of the Jireček Line and even Getae.
Hellenization, however, had its limitations. For example, areas of southern Syria that were affected by Greek culture entailed mostly Seleucid urban centres, where Greek was commonly spoken. The countryside, on the other hand, was largely unaffected, with most of its inhabitants speaking Syriac and clinging to 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 I's founding of Constantinople, which was Hellenized. Moreover, the term can refer to the primacy of Greek culture and language after the reign of Emperor Heraclius (r. 610–641), in the 7th century.
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In 1909, a commission appointed by the Greek government reported that a 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 name. Some village names were formed from a Greek root word with a foreign suffix or vice versa. Most of the name changes took place in areas populated by ethnic Greeks in which 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 had reflected 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): the Hellenization of minority groups in modern Greece. The term Hellenisation (or Hellenization) is also used in the context of Greek opposition to the use of the Macedonian language in the Greek province of Macedonia
In 1870, the Greek government abolished all Italian schools in the Ionian islands, which had been annexed to Greece six years earlier. That led to the diminution of the community of Corfiot Italians, which had lived in Corfu since the Middle Ages; by the 1940s, there were only 400 Corfiot Italians left.
The twentieth century witnessed a lively debate over the extent of Hellenization in the Levant, particularly among the ancient Jews, which has continued until today. Interpretations on the rise of Early Christianity, which was applied most famously by Rudolf Bultmann, used to see Judaism as largely unaffected by Hellenism, and 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 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 Hellenisation of Judaism in the pre-Christian Period (1980, German original 1976) and The 'Hellenisation' 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 was highly Hellenized well before the beginning of the Christian era, and even the Greek language was well-known throughout the cities and even the smaller towns of Jewish Palestine. Scholars have continued to nuance Hengel's views, but almost all believe that strong Hellenistic influences were throughout the Levant, even among the conservative Jewish communities, which were the most nationalistic.
Again in the doctrine of the Trinity, the ecclesiastical conception of Father, Word, and Spirit finds its germ in the different Stoic names of the Divine Unity. Thus Seneca, writing of the supreme Power which shapes the universe, states, 'This Power we sometimes call the All-ruling God, sometimes the incorporeal Wisdom, sometimes the holy Spirit, sometimes Destiny.' The Church had only to reject the last of these terms to arrive at its own acceptable definition of the Divine Nature; while the further assertion 'these three are One', which the modern mind finds paradoxical, was no more than commonplace to those familiar with Stoic notions.