Greece Ethnography Part I

Greece Ethnography 1

The particular physical characteristics of Greece have had and still have a notable influence on the life of the population and of the nation, as well as on the economy of the state. Add also the geographical situation of the entire region, launched into the sea to divide the eastern Mediterranean from the central one and at the same time to almost connect Europe to Asia. In fact, in Greece there is a close and intimate mixture of different peoples: the topographical division almost corresponds to an ethnic division.

If even the modern Greeks claim to be ethnically the direct descendants of the ancients, this affirmation is not to be accepted without a doubt, however noble the reason that inspires it is, that is, referring to ancient glories. From the age of greatness to the recent reconstitution of Greece in a modern state, it has suffered many overlaps of peoples (see below: Medieval and Modern Greece: History), that few remains of the indigenous primitive have remained pure until today. Only in some islands, in the extreme Taygetos and along the Argolic gulf, where access difficulties constituted natural defense conditions against the coming peoples, can we still recognize traces of the ancient local language and also remnants of ancient customs, but there are few and sporadic exceptions, which disappear entirely in the greater mass of modern Greeks.

The forms of family and social life of the Greek people correspond to those of the Mediterranean culture: southern Italy and the Venetian Republic made a strong contribution to them, as a consequence of their political and commercial relations with the Levant. In the mountains, since classical times, primitive pastoralism has been practiced in ancient times based on the breeding of goats and pigs, today mainly oxen, sheep and small equine breeds. In the early Middle Ages, perhaps due to the economic difficulties in which the population found themselves, various groups of shepherds were formed, the most important of which is, both in Epirus and in Thessaly and in central Greece, that of the Sarakatsans. (Karakačani) of Greek language; in the early days they must have made use of the pastures as far as the heart of Greece, today they extend as far as the Rodope chain and central Serbia, clearly divided from other groups by means of the Aromuni or Cutzovalacchi of the interior, who, under the name of Vlahi, also appear in the Peloponnese: remnants of the ancient Romanized peoples, they are fairly faithful conservatives of their language and their customs; in a small part the Cupatsciari and Valakhadi are completely Hellenized: the latter, then, have also passed to Islam. The immigrant Albanians have brought with them, as a form of existence, pastoralism, maintaining it to this day. The Zaconi, settled in the karst plateau east of Argos, live in similar economic conditions: they probably represent an ancient Doric lineage, later assimilated by immigrant Albanians. All these shepherds have their permanent homes in the mountainous area of ​​the pastures and only in winter do they go down to the plain with their flocks and spread out in the centers. practicing the trades of charcoal burners, saddlers, masons traders of wine and cattle. The living conditions are naturally not the same everywhere: in fact, a greater well-being is observed in groups that have acquired a certain sedentary lifestyle, who live in stone houses and cultivate the land a little. In Arcadia the shepherds use simple sheds of branches as shelter during the summer, while the cattle are pushed into stone fences. The Sarakatsans of Epirus mostly live in contiguous huts, separated from each other by thin walls of intertwined branches and covered by a thatched roof in the shape of a dome or cone, sometimes supported by a beam; both the skeleton and the roof of the huts are the particular work of the women. Other groups then live in square wooden houses with walls made of clay-coated racks. The women work the wool by weaving it with very simple looms. The men wear long, wide trousers and a heavy cloak (hood) of ancient style: when they go to the pastures they bring nothing but a curved stick, pipes and flutes of reed, bone or wood. Among the Greek shepherds it is the woman who guides the column during migrations and also in other manifestations it is observed how it enjoys a certain importance. Marriages between shepherds and sedentaries hardly take place; the bride does not receive a dowry and the marriage is celebrated in her parents’ hut.

The permanent population entrusts their flocks to professional shepherds during the summer and dedicates themselves, especially in the south, to the ancient Mediterranean cultivation of vines and olives, to which citrus fruits have been added more recently. In the north, wheat and industrial plants are grown especially. Threshing is mostly done with animals: even the working tools remain very primitive. On the islands of the Aegean Sea and Crete, the houses are covered by a horizontal terrace roof, while in the rest of the country the hipped roof of curved tiles dominates. The furniture consists of chests, cupboards, locally made chairs, shelves, built-in wardrobes, carved objects, blankets and drapes embroidered like curtains. The majolica vases and plates are mostly imported from Rhodes, and, in the countries of the Ionian Sea, from Italy; however, since ancient times there has also been an indigenous ceramic industry that is exercised by the Greeks even beyond the borders of their territory, right up to the Balkan countries. The Romanian-speaking Danubian countries, on the other hand, supply coppersmiths (Zinzari), skilled in fashioning copper vessels and crockery as well as decorated and chiseled tin jugs and large plates which, resting on stools, serve as dining tables, when large wooden discs fixed on a base.

Greece Ethnography 1