The troubled relationship between modern Greeks and their neighbors to the north and west—sometime admirers, sometime lenders, sometime detractors—helps explain today’s crisis.
Greece is the cradle of European civilization, but is it even in Europe?
The answer might seem obvious: The country is on the European landmass, of course, and it’s part of the European Union—for now at least. But the question has been fraught, and the answers have been unstable, contingent, and hedged since before the advent of the modern Greek state in the 19th century. The ongoing negotiations that may ultimately decide Greece’s EU membership are just the latest attempt to find an answer.
If you look at old maps of Europe, the Balkan Peninsula is included, but it’s labeled as Turkey. That’s because there was no independent Greece from the time of the Roman conquest of the country until the 1820s; some parts of modern-day Greece were under Ottoman control into the 20th century. Greek-speaking Ottoman subjects anchored their identity to religion and the Orthodox church, rather than to national identity, and thought of themselves more as Roman than as Hellenic, Molly Greene, a professor of history and Hellenic studies at Princeton, told me. Their cultural center would have been not now-dusty Athens but cosmopolitan Constantinople.