Anthropological Evidence and the Fallmerayer Thesis
by Dienekes Pontikos
Last Update: 12 March, 2009

Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer (1790 – 1861) was an Austrian scholar who proposed, in his Geschichte der Halbinsel Morea während des Mittelalters (Stuttgart, 1830–1836, 2 pts.) that the modern Greeks were not descended from the ancient ones. According to Fallmerayer, they are the descendants of medieval Slavs who inundated Greece during the Middle Ages, with a further adstratum of Albanians of late medieval and Ottoman times. According to Fallmerayer's thesis:

Das Geschlecht der Hellenen ist in Europa ausgerottet ... Denn auch nicht ein Tropfen edlen und ungemischten Hellenenblutes fließt in den Adern der christlichen Bevölkerung des heutigen Griechenlands.

The Hellenic nation has been annihilated in Europe ... Because not even a drop of pure and unmixed Hellenic blood flows in the veins of the Christian population of today's Greece.

This surprising idea went against the commonly held beliefs of the times. Greeks were called Graeci and its derivatives by western Christians, and Hellenes by themselves, an ethnonym which had slowly lost its pagan connotations centuries before the fall of the eastern Roman Empire. Moreover, the greatest part of the population of the Kingdom of Greece spoke Greek, and it was other Greeks who had re-introduced Hellenic studies into Western Europe before and during the final Fall of Constantinople. How could it be that these Greek-speaking inhabitants of Greece who called themselves Hellenes were no relation to the old ones?

The Fallmerayer thesis has been adequately refuted by experts in history, linguistics, folk studies, etc. It is certain that the persistence of the Hellenic language in Greece is no accident, but required the existence of actual Greek speakers who served as agents of Hellenization for the foreigners that found themselves in their midst. Nonetheless, Fallmerayer's proposition is a biological one, and is often used, even today, by those who wish to deny the physical continuity of the Greek nation. Thus, it is needs to be dealt with and it is best refuted on biological grounds.

Biological Anthropology

Ancestry is best tested by examining the elements of heredity directly, i.e., DNA. However, as genes encode physical characteristics, one can arrive at conclusions about the biological makeup of a population on the basis of observable traits. Biological anthropology by those who have studied modern and ancient Greeks has tended to assert their close relationship (Pontikos, 2007a):

The most complete study of Greek skeletal material from Neolithic to modern times was carried out by American anthropologist J. Lawrence Angel who found that in the early age racial variability in Greece was 7% above average, indicating that the Greeks had multiple origins within the Europid racial family. Angel noted that from the earliest times to the present “racial continuity in Greece is striking.” Buxton who had earlier studied Greek skeletal material and measured modern Greeks, especially in Cyprus, finds that the modern Greeks “possess physical characteristics not differing essentially from those of the former [ancient Greeks].

The most extensive study of modern Greeks has been carried by the Greek anthropologist Aris N. Poulianos. Poulianos’ study included the collection and study of more than seventy anthropometric measurements from a large sample of thousands of Greeks from different parts of the country. His main conclusions are that both Greeks and their neighboring populations are basically a mixture of Aegeans (a Mediterranean type local to the area) and Epirotics (Dinarics(e)) and are descended from the ancient inhabitants of the lands in which they live.

Nikolaos Xirotiris, more recently, surveyed Greek skeletal material and a number of genetical and anthropometrical studies on modern Greeks. His discoveries were that like in antiquity, the Greek terrain which favors isolation, has led to the formation of local types by micro-evolution. He too concludes racial continuity in Greece, not finding traces of any significant alteration of the Greek racial complex, from prehistory, through classical and medieval, to modern times.

Finally, a more recent statistical comparison of ancient and modern Greek skulls resulted in the discovery of “a remarkable similarity in craniofacial morphology between modern and ancient Greeks.

Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is inherited only from the mother and is thus widely used to test the maternal composition of human populations. Mutations that accumulate on human mitochondria define unique clades of the mtDNA phylogeny, and these can be dated using a molecular clock. Thus, populations that are related matrilineally should possess the same types of mtDNA at similar frequencies.

A recent study of mtDNA gathered data from all the existing literature with the goal of determining the problem of Etruscan origins (Achilli et al. 2007). This data can also be used to show the relationships between numerous human populations from West Asia and Europe. The study included separate published samples of 155 Greeks, 202 Cretans, 60 Lemnians, and 42 Rhodians. A principal components plot is shown below:

As can be seen, the Greek samples cluster together with several Italian populations in the middle of the plot. The only Slavic sample in this cluster is that of Bulgarians who are a Balkan population that is geographically closest to the Greeks. The other Slavs from Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Bosnia, and Slovenia cluster together on the top left quadrant of the figure. On the right side of the figure we see a cluster of West Asian populations such as Turks, Armenians, Kurds, Lebanese and Iranians.

We can conclude that the maternal heritage of modern Greeks is distinct from that of Slavs and is similar to that of Italians, a population that is historically devoid of important Slavic immigration. Therefore, mtDNA suggests that the mothers of the Greeks, and indeed the Slavic-speaking Bulgarians, are not significantly influenced by Slavs, but rather reflect a common ancient Greco-Roman or Balkan-Italian heritage predating the Slavs.

Y Chromosomes
Y chromosomes are passed only from father to son and can be used to trace the patrilineal descent of a population. A study of European Y chromosome variation (Roewer et al. 2005) included a sample of Greeks and can thus be used to determine the position of Greeks among other European populations. The dendrogram of Y chromosome variation is shown below:

The authors identify two distinctive clusters in Europe: a Western cluster encompassing mainly populations from the Atlantic and an Eastern cluster encompassing mainly Slavic- and Baltic-speaking populations. It can be easily seen that Greeks do not cluster with Slavs or Albanians as would be expected if they had substantial genetic input from either of these two populations. Rather, they cluster with populations of the Balkans: Hungarians, Romanians and Bulgarians. The Hungarians represent a pre-Slavic population of the Balkan-Danubian complex which seems to have only a small contribution from the historical Asiatic Magyars. The Romanians are also one of the Balkan populations that maintained its Romance language after the Slavic migrations. Finally, the Bulgarians are geographically close to Greeks and differ from other Slavs who fall uniformly in the "Eastern" cluster.

In Table 2 of this study, the authors perform a pseudo-admixture analysis of the studied populations into Western, Eastern, and Other clusters. It is noteworthy that Greeks have 44% of the Western and 27% of the Eastern cluster. By contrast, Bulgarians have 53% of the Eastern cluster and 28% of the Western one, and Romanians 57/24% respectively, and Albanians 53/34%. Hence, it seems that Greeks are differentiated from their Balkan neighbors in being less "Eastern". In fact the fraction of the Eastern cluster in Greeks is similar to that in West Italians (20%) and Sicilians (18%). This underscores the limited influence of demographic processes taking part north of Greece on the Greek population.

In a different study, (Pericic et al. 2005), the Y chromosomes of Slavs from the Balkans were examined. The authors mention that contemporary Slavic paternal gene pool “is mostly characterized by the predominance of R1a and I1b* (xM26) and scarcity of E3b1 lineages”. By contrast, among Greeks, the combined frequency of haplogroups R1a and I is only around 25% (Pontikos, 2007b) whereas haplogroup E3b1 reaches almost 20%. Indeed, in the Peloponnese (known as Morea in medieval times), which was the centerpiece of Fallmerayer's thesis, haplogroup E3b1 reaches a frequency of around 47% (Semino et al. 2004). It is also interesting that the presence of haplogroup E3b1 among the ancient Greeks has been indirectly suggested by a close match of Pathan Y chromosomes belonging to these lineage with Greek ones, perhaps remnants of Alexander's soldiers in distant Pakistan (Firasat et al. 2007).

A recent study (Rebala et al. 2007) studied several Slavic populations with the aim of localizing the Proto-Slavic homeland. A significant finding of this study is that: “Two genetically distant groups of Slavic populations were revealed: one encompassing all Western-Slavic, Eastern-Slavic, and two Southern-Slavic populations, and one encompassing all remaining Southern Slavs.” According to the authors most Slavic populations have similar Y chromosome pools, and this similarity can be traced to an origin in middle Dnieper basin of the Ukraine.

However, southern Slavic populations such as Serbians, Slav Macedonians, Bulgarians, and Bosnians are separated from the tight cluster of Slavic populations. According to the authors this phenomenon is explained by “the contribution of the Y chromosomes of peoples who settled in the region before the Slavic expansion to the genetic heritage of Southern Slavs.” Thus, even Slavic populations from the Balkans are partly descended from the pre-Slavic inhabitants.

In a different study, He et al. (2009) have generated a multidimensional scaling plot of European Y-chromosome haplotypes from a very large number of populations. Greeks from Athens are included in the main European cluster, which is separated from the main Slavic cluster (on the right).

Autosomal DNA
Autosomal DNA is inherited biparentally and can thus be used to determine the overall genetic makeup of a population. A recent study (Bauchet et al. 2007) included a sample of Greeks and other European populations. Individuals were subjected to STRUCTURE, a model-based clustering software that estimates their ancestry from a number K of inferred groups. When all global populations were used for clustering, it was revealed that Greeks belong to the Caucasoid clusters, including a green "southern" component that was lacking in the Slavic sample from Poland.

When only European populations were clustered, Greeks were shown to belong mainly to the red "southern" cluster with limited contributions from the light green and blue "northern" clusters.

We can conclude that Greeks have maintained their southern characteristics and were not affected significantly from northern populations such as the Slavs who originated in north-central Europe.

We summarize our conclusions: It should be noted that some admixture probably did take place, although this was not sufficient to alter the genetic characteristics of the previous inhabitants of Greece. This author does not claim that genetic purity is an ideal for the Greek people, but simply that genetic continuity is established by the evidence.

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