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More Antiquarian Theories on the Modern Greeks

April 9, 2022

Since northern Europeans first crawled out of their decorated caves and the druids of the British Isles stopped going into battle naked, after painting themselves blue all over, these noble folk have held quite a number of strange theories concerning the modern Greeks. No one, today, holds to any of these once valid ‘theories’ presented in early accounts, but you can still find them on the shelves of libraries around the nation, or given the changes in communication, at times on the Internet as well.

The late 1880s to the beginnings of the 1900s was roughly the period when the majority of social writers/scientists believed that different races of humans could be arranged in a hierarchy of the most advanced down to those who were nearly animals. This once-accepted concept of ‘one blood, one race, one people’ basically claimed that any individual only possessed the intellectual and moral attributes of his race of origin.

This one-to-one biological to individual personality type saw expression in a number of books and other mediums. Let us first begin with the book, Street Types of Chicago, Character studies, by Sigmund Krausz (Chicago, M. Stern & co., 1892).

“In 1892 Sigmund Krausz published his Street Types of Chicago. Rather than take photos on the streets, he lit and posed subjects in his studio to create what he termed ‘Character Studies’ of average urban Chicagoans in the 1890s, illustrated with Kodak photographs. The artist has caught the inspiration of his subjects. His studio was at 3930 Cottage Grove. He made 36 photogravures of people…The literary descriptions are original to the images and were written by contemporary well-known local authors. The plates measure 9-1/4″ X 6-1/2,″  (http://chicagology.com/goldenage/krausz).

Among Krausz’s street types is the fused character of the Italian/Greek street peddler. It is based on the so-called banana-wars between roughly 1888 and 1890 that was waged between the Italian and Greek peddlers for dominance of this street trade. There is no hiding, from modern readers, Krauz’s anti-immigrant phobia. It is none to subtly mixed with his belief in the inherently degenerate nature of the ‘modern’ Greeks and Italians. The caption accompanying this photograph reads:

“Banana Peddler – A degenerated descendant of the ancient people of Rome or Sparta, the swarthy banana peddler pushes his cart contentedly through the thoroughfares of the city. No thoughts of the ancient glory of his nation disturbs his mind when he cries out his ‘Ba-na-nos! Ba-na-nos!!’ He is not sentimental. He is bent on making his profit, and the commercial instinct is far more developed in him than that warlike spirit which predominated in his ancestors. The banana cart is the war-chariot behind which he fights his battle of life. The few paltry dimes which form the profits of a day are to him perhaps as much as the spoils of a victorious battle were for one of his progenitors. Indeed, Rome and Sparta have fallen. The ancient soil does not even grant a sufficient living to the descendants of Lycurgus and Scipio. The new world is the Mecca towards which their steps are now directed, and in America they find what the mother country denies them – a chance in the battle of life – a   chance for a living. The banana peddler is not a bad citizen. He is peaceful and saving. Though his surroundings in the quarters which he inhabits are not of the most elevating kind, yet he is able to rise above them. Not all banana peddlers were destined to become rich, but their thrift and industry are essential factors in the amassing of a small competence, sufficient for their modest requirements, when the cart gets too heavy to push and the legs too slow to follow – Sigmund Krausz.”

Missing from the above account – but backgrounding it – are the so-called Banana Wars that took place in Chicago. Beginning roughly in the 1880s, the Greek and Italian street peddlers of Chicago began clashing in competition over the street trade. Tragically, peddlers across the city were attacked and some even killed. But I have found no evidence, to date, that it was anything more than this era’s growing street violence. No systematic planned attacks between these two groups is evident in any public source. Rather the Italian immigrants who arrived in Chicago before the Greeks merely moved onto other businesses. While Greek street peddlers were still to be found throughout Chicago into the 1940s, the vast majority had long since left the street trade to open small independent produce and grocery stores.

Felix Ritter von Luschan (August 11, 1854 – February 7, 1924) was among many other things an Austrian anthropologist. In 1911, while a  professor of anthropology at the University of Berlin, he delivered a paper titled, ‘The Early Inhabitants of Western Asia’ which was reprinted in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (Vol. 41 (Jul. – Dec., 1911, pp. 221-244) and was included in Source Book in Anthropology. First edition. A. L. Kroeber and T.T. Waterman, editors (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1920).  In this volume we find von Luschan’s article cited as Number 18 beginning on page 185.

The opening lines of account read as follows: “Standing on the ‘New Bridge’ in Constantinople near the Mosque of the Sultan Valide. I have once tried to count the languages and dialects spoken by the crowds pressing and pushing between Galata and Stamboul. Turkish and Greek are naturally the most frequently spoken, but one also easily distinguishes much Armenian, Arabic, Kurdish and Persian.”

Backgrounding this much longer article is the idea, then held as scientifically true, that every nationality on earth was ideally made up of one race/one blood. Having one common language was part of this theory. All the European nations were believed to be pure while other nations, mostly those peoples Europeans wanted to or already were exploiting were not. Clearly von Luschan’s point is that, by direct observation, this one blood/one race/one language ‘theory’ was clearly not the case for the Ottoman Empire and by extension many other places around the world even in Northern Europe.

At this moment in history, anthropologist Franz Boas and his students openly and consistently attacked any and all of the ‘one race/one blood’ theories (see in  Charles King’s study, Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century (New York: Doubleday, 2019). (http://histanthro.org/reviews/the-boaz-circle-vs-white-supremacy).

Arcane notions aside, various theories still exist that even to this day deny the existence of Greeks in North America history are also to be found. One example of their presence is part of the history of St. Augustine, Florida. By July 1777, the Turnbull Colony had utterly failed, however, and in the end, survivors of this colony simply abandoned the plantation and literally walked along the shore-line north to St. Augustine. Once there the survivors worked at whatever trades or jobs they could to establish themselves in their new lives.

In 1783, England returned Florida and adjacent lands to Spain by treaty. As part of the re-establishment of Spanish rule a census was taken of the population in St. Augustine and the immediate area around that city. An Irish-born Catholic priest accompanied the Spanish forces sent to reclaim St. Augustine. This priest was assigned the task of collecting this census. Copies of the original census were at the St. Augustine Historical Society (SAHS) when I visited there over roughly the 1983-1984 period.

The Turnbull survivors, who had relocated to St. Augustine and immediate adjacent areas, were included in that census count. Unexpectedly and contrary to all other previous Spanish or British immigration records, an incredibly high number of ‘Romanians’ were documented in the census. No other records of any other source by any existing colonial records documents the arrival or presence of Romanians. Yet, somehow, Romanians were present in overwhelming numbers compared to all other nationalities.

The first time I was shown this census a historian working at the historical society who had paid special attention to this document brought it to me and spoke to me at considerable length about it. This individual was especially generous to me in terms of the time he spent with me, sources he freely provided me with, and just in terms of one human being to another. At one point I asked him what language the priest had used to speak to the those he had so carefully visited. No one knows and the very question seemed odd to those to whom I pressed this point after my visit to the SAHS offices. I asked about this point, at first, because an Irish priest aboard a Spanish ship seemed odd.

Spain and England had been at war on and off for quite some time. The Spanish knew the Irish wished to be free of British rule for many reasons, not the least of which was the continual violence and revolts instigated by the Irish over the English suppression of the Catholic church in Ireland. So the Spanish accepted any and all Irish men who wished to become priests at their seminaries. But after this and other details about Irish and Spanish ties during this era were explained to me, I couldn’t get a direct answer to my initial question.

During the 1700s, and so certainly by the time of the 1783, at St. Augustine and environs census no Greek nation-state existed. As every Greek school student knows, persons self-identifying as  Greeks while under Ottoman rule often referred to themselves as ‘Rum,’ i.e. Romans. I explained to the SAHS archivist and historians that this self-reference was due to the existence of the extensive Byzantine period in our collective history, and added that even in 1983-1984, in the nation-state of Turkey today, persons referred to as ‘Rum’ were again individuals self-identifying as ethnic Greeks as well as adherents to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

All the SAHS staff remained polite to me then and during the rest of my visits to them – but not a one of them listened to me. And – no one could tell me what language the Irish priest spoke to a mixed Mediterranean group of surviving colonists. When will a Hellenic point of view serve as the core for histories on Greeks in the United States?



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