The Greeks
from C.S. Coon, The Races of Europe, Chapter XII, section 14

The title of this section is The Greeks, and not Greece, since from the mythical days of the Argonauts to the present, neither the peninsula of Hellas nor Ionia and the Aegean Islands have been large enough to hold the far-wandering Hellenes. Greek is a language and a civilization, the Greeks a people; the Greeks are the descendants of all the peoples who have adopted and retained that language and that civilization from classical times to the present. Some of these converts to Hellenicism were inhabitants of Asia Minor, others of Thrace and Byzantium, others of the lands bordering the Black Sea, especially the Crimea.

Into the peninsula of Greece itself, many thousands of Slavs wandered as immigrants during the maximum South Slavic expansion; the Turks brought colonists, including many Albanians, and whole districts of Boeotia and Attica and of other parts of Greece are today Albanian speaking. Romance-speaking shepherds, the Vlachs, have also made the slopes of the Pindus their seasonal pastures. Since the World War many of the Greeks living in Thrace and Asia Minor have been sent to Greek soil to live, while Turks and other Moslems have been in turn repatriated. Despite these attempts at producing ethnic order, much Greek territory, especially in Macedonia, remains ethnically heterogeneous. Furthermore, the number of Greeks who live abroad, be it in Egypt, East Africa, or in the New World, is so great that the Greeks are still almost an international people. Many of the Greeks leave home to make their fortunes on less stony soil, but many of them also return.

It is inaccurate to say that the modern Greeks are different physically from the ancient Greeks; such a statement is based on an ignorance of the Greek ethnic character. In classical times the Greeks included many kinds of people living in different places, as they do today. If one refers to the inhabitants of Attica during the sixth century, or to the Spartans of Leonidas, then the changes in these localities have probably not been nearly as great as that between the Germans of Tacitus and the living South Germans, to cite but a single example.

Within the peninsula of Hellas, despite the mobility of the Greeks to and from their country, the internal mobility has not been sufficient to break down strong local differentiations in head form. The Epirotes, like their neighbors the Toscs, have an extremely high cephalic index mean, 88, and there seems to be a strongly brachycephalic zone running down the western slopes of the mountain core from Albania to the Gulf of Corinth, and perhaps beyond. [130] It is an extension of the same zone which extends all the way from the Alpine racial center in France, and more specifically, of the population studied in the region of Gjinokaster in southernmost Albania. The Greeks of Macedonia, again, who live in settlements interspersed with those of Bulgars and of Turks, possess the usual West Balkan brachycephaly, with mean cephalic indices of 86 for Christians, and 84.6 for Moslems. Greeks from the northern shore of Asia Minor have a mean of 87, while those from the Black Sea coast in Rumania, and members of the colony in the Crimea, are low brachycephals, with a mean of 82.

In Greece itself, most of the Peloponnesus, Attica, Euboea, and the Ionian Isles are characterized by a mean cephalic index of 81 to 82; this is also true of the Greeks who are found abroad, as in America. Aside from local groups in regions which, in classical times, were not truly Greece, the modern Greeks are for the most part low brachycephals. In Thessaly a provincial mean of 77 has been reported; and Greeks from the shore of the Sea of Marmora have a mean of 79. There are still, therefore, local groups of Greeks who are largely long-headed.

The stature mean for Greeks in general runs about 167 cm., and there seems to be little regional variation; those in Asia Minor and in the Crimea are a millimeter shorter, those measured in Boston a millimeter taller. The Greeks are as tall as most South Germans or northern Frenchmen; their stature is too elevated for the prevalence, in partial brachycephalization, of a strong, small Mediterranean strain. About half of them have brunet-white or light brown skin color, the rest the usual pinkish-white of central and northern Europe; over 80 per cent have dark brown hair, the rest have hair evenly divided between black and the lighter shades of brown. Pronounced blondism, although rare, is not unknown. The beard is rarely lighter than the head hair, in contrast to the condition found among Ghegs and Montenegrins; the implication is that the dark brown hair of the majority of Greeks is a pure brunet condition. Over 65 pa-cent of Greeks have pure brown eyes, and most of these are dark brown: pure lights are sporadic, but there is a 15 per cent incidence of light-mixed iris forms.

The pigment ratios given above apply to Greeks as a whole; there is evidence, however, of considerable regional variation. The Macedonian Greeks are much lighter, especially those that are Moslem, while the Greeks of the lonian islands are darker, as are, in all probability, most Peloponnesians.

For a more detailed study of the Greeks, we may examine the series measured in Boston, which, although without doubt subjected to selective forces, does not seem too much at variance from native Greek sample for our purposes. The men measured came from all parts of Greece, and from Asia Minor. Their mean stature, 168 cm., is moderately tall; their bodily proportions are for the most part intermediate; the shoulders arc broad, the trunk length moderate, as shown by a relative sitting height of 52.9; the relative span is 104.

Their heads, with a mean cephalic index of 82, are long for brachycephals (189 mm.), and of moderate breadth (154 mm.); the head height of 127 mm. is moderately high. The occiput protrudes but little in most of the group; 40 per cent have lambdoidal flattening, while some degree of occipital flattening occurs in over 50 per cent. It is pronounced, however. in only about 20 per cent. Their facial breadths are: minimum frontal, 107 mm., bizygomatic, 142 mm., and bigonial, 111 mm.; the great breadth of the jaw, as compared with that of the forehead, is a Greek specialty, and is strongly contrasted with the inverted triangle face form of Albanian Dinarics. The face height is 124.4 mm., the upper face height 75.6 mm.; the facial index, 87, is mesoprosopic, the upper facial index, 53, a little high in comparison with the foregoing. The noses are both long (58.8 mm.) and moderately broad (37 mm.); the nasal index of 63.2, leptorrhine.

The dimensions given above are for the most part quite variable; a number of distinct types are included, but the metrical character of the group as a whole indicates a blending of Dinarics and Alpines with Atlanto-Mediterraneans, which is confirmed by the observational data to follow.

The head hair is straight in slightly more than half the group, wavy in most of the rest, but curly hair is not unusual. It is usually medium to fine in texture. With at least half of adult male Greeks, it is thin on the head, and about one out of five of any adult group is bald. In old age baldness affects the majority. The beard development is as a rule thicker than in most European groups, and the body hair is often abundant. The eyebrows are often thick, and are concurrent in 75 per cent of the group; the browridges are usually of moderate development. The foreheads give, in most cases, an appearance of great width, and are seldom more than very slightly sloping. The nasal characters of the Greeks are variable, but there are definite trends which pervade the whole group. The root is, as a rule, moderately high, and medium to broad; narrow roots, usual among most northern Europeans and among Dinarics, are rare. The bridge is of medium to great height, almost never low; the breadth is as a rule medium to broad. The nasal profile is straight in about 45 per cent of the group, convex in about 30 per cent, and concave in but 10 per cent, while the rest are wavy or concavo-convex. The tip is as a rule thick, and elevated more often than it is depressed. The nasal wings, as a rule medium, are flaring more often than compressed. On the whole few Greek noses can qualify as Dinaric in the strict sense; more are typically Alpine, while a straight-profiled, consistently wide form is the commonest.

There is nothing remarkable about the lips and mouth region of the Greeks; both membranous and integumental lips thicknesses, are of usual European dimensions, and eversion is as a rule slight to medium. The lip seam, however, is usually visible, and is sometimes prominently elevated. A slight degree of facial prognathism is found in nearly half the group; alveolar prognathism is rare. Typically Greek features are full, curved temples, full cheeks, a laterally prominent malar region, and strongly everted gonial angles. In these facial characters well over half show an extreme development for Europeans.

Within the Greek group, heavy beards, heavy browridges, and concurrent eyebrows tend to associate themselves with an Alpine type; there is also a linkage between tall stature, in the 170 cm. class, cephalic indices of about 80, straight noses, dark brown hair, and dark brown eyes. This last set of associations clearly denotes the presence of a strong Atlanto-Mediterranean element. There are also strong connections between black hair, occipital flattening, and narrow facial features, which means Dinaric or Armenoid. That the small amount of blondism among the Greeks is mostly Nordic in origin is indicated by its linkage with external eyefolds, relative thinness of beard, and absence of eyebrow concurrency.

The Greeks, in short, are a blend of racial types, of which two are most important; the Atlanto-Mediterranean and the Alpine. Dinaricisrn here is present, but not all pervading; true Alpines are commoner than complete Dinarics. The Nordic element is weak, as it probably has been since the days of Homer. The racial type to which Socrates belonged is today the most important, while the Atlanto-Mediterranean, prominent in Greece since the Bronze Age, is still a major factor, it is my personal reaction to the living Greeks that their continuity with their ancestors of the ancient world is remarkable, rather than the opposite.

The living inhabitants of Crete differ considerably from the mainland Greeks. [131] They are taller, with a mean stature of 169 cm., and mesocephalic, with a mean cephalic index of 79. In some districts, as at Pedhiádha, the mean is actually on the upper border of dolichocephaly, at 77. The heads of the mesocephalic Cretans are as large as those of Nordics or Atlanto-Mediterraneans; a mean length of 193 mm., and a breadth of 149 mm., characterizes the group with an index mean of 77.

In facial and nasal dimensions, the Cretans resemble the Greeks. They are, however, somewhat blonder; only 35 per cent have pure brown eyes, while about 7 per cent have eyes that are light or predominantly light; the rest are mixed, with dark mixture in the great majority. About 25 per cent have black hair, and about 50 per cent dark brown; 10 per cent are light brown or blond, the rest medium brown. As among Albanians and not among most mainland Greeks, the beards are much lighter; 40 per cent have blond or light brown mustaches, with an equal number black or dark brown. About one-sixth have light brown to very brunet-white skin color.

One special group, the Sphakiots, living near the western end of the south side of the island, differ from the other Cretans in a number of characters; they are very tall, with a mean stature of 175 cm., and meso- to sub-brachycephalic, with a mean cephalic index of 81.6. They have especially large heads, with a mean length of 191 mm. and breadth ci 155 mm.; their faces are longer than the others, and equally broad or broader. Morphologically Dinaric types are common among them; they may be compared with Montenegrins and the northernmost Ghegs. According to the general assumption of authorities on Crete, the Sphakioti are the partial descendants of the Dorians who invaded the island at the end of the Minoan period. That some of them do resemble the traditional Spartan type is very likely. One can only derive them from the north, from the region in which the larger branch of the Dinaric race was formed.

The living Cretans are for the most part Atlanto-Mediterraneans, and there has been no post-Dorian migration into the island which could have brought such a type in large numbers. The only logical explanation of its presence in Crete, formed on the basis of available data, is that some this element existed in Crete in Minoan, probably for the most part Middle and Late Minoan, times; that migrations from the Greek mainland at the time of the Minoan collapse may have brought more.

The fact that a larger number of Cretans are blond than is the case with Greeks is a matter that requires ample data and some analysis to explain. One may attribute much of the blondism, perhaps, to the invasion that brought the Sphakiots, while some of it must be inherent in the Atlanto-Mediterranean race. But the arrival of the early Greek-speakers may have brought blondism other than that borne by the brachycephals, and Crete is an island; it is a principle of insular anthropology, well borne out by the British Isles, that when a numerous group invades an island it has a better chance for survival than in a continental area where there is a nearby mountainous or forest-covered hinterland, to which earlier types may retreat and from which they may reëmerge.

The important discovery about Crete, however, is the fact that its population is mostly Atlanto-Mediterranean; this race seems to be almost equally important in most of Greece. It has also appeared in the Dinaric area, and in Serbia; we shall see more of it in the eastern Balkans.


130 A bibliography of works on the physical anthropology of the modern Greeks would include:

Apostolidès, BSAP, ser. 3, vol. 6, 1883, pp. 614-616.
Cucukala, G. J., AnthPr, vol. 8, 1930, pp. 12-136.
Hasluck, M. M., and Morant, G. M., Biometrika, vol. 21, 1929, pp. 325-334.
Hrdlicka, A., The Old Americans.
Koumaris,J., ACAP, 1931. Paris, 1931, pp. 218-221.
Neophytos, A. C., Anth, vol. 1, 1890, pp. 679-711; vol. 2, 1891, pp. 25-35.
Ornstein, ZFE, vol. 9, 1877, pp. (39)-(41); vol. 11, 1879, pp. (305)-(306).
Pittard, E., ASAG, vol. 1, 1914, pp. 7-36; BDAIP, vol. 25, 1915, pp. 447-454.
Schiff, F., ZFE, vol. 46, 1914, pp. 14-40.
Stephanos, C., DESM, ser. 4, 10, 1884, Article Grèce, p. 432.
Weisbach, A., MAGW, vol. 11, 1882, pp. 72-97.

Besides these published works reference has been made to a series of 113 Greeks measured in Boston in 1932, by Drs. B. Gardner, S. Kimball, M. Titiev, and Mr. E. Muller, as part of a graduate course in field methods, under the direction of the author.

131 Hawes, C. H., ARBS, vol. 14, 1909-10, pp. 258-280; RBAA, supplement, 1910.
Luschan, F. von, ZFE, vol. 45, 1913, pp. 21-393.
Rosinski, B., Kosmos, vol. 50, 1925, pp. 584-637.
Schiff, F., ZFE, vol. 46, 1914, pp. 8-13.