Introduction to the Greek History
The first evidence of human life in Greece dates back to the
Palaeolithic period between 120,000-10,000 B.C. However, it was not
until the Neolithic period dated approximately 7,000 - 3,000 B.C. that
Greek civilisation grew and flourished. Many remains of settlements and
burial chambers of this period have been discovered in Thessaly,
Macedonia and the Peloponnese. The first urban centres appeared during
the Bronze Age (3,000-1100 B.C.) Evidence of these have been found all
over modern day Greece, for example, in some North Eastern Aegean
islands, the Cycladic islands, Crete and the Greek mainland.
This, however, was soon to change for, in 146 BC, Greece was conquered
by the Romans and the country absorbed into their expanding empire. This
occupation though was not wholly negative as Greek culture was greatly
admired by the Roman emperors and there was respect and admiration for
the Greek cities, especially Athens. Apostle Paul in the first century
BC was instrumental in spreading Christianity throughout Greece. In the
4th century AD the Emporer Constantine the Great decided to move the
empire's capital away from Rome to Constantinople. This shift of focus
to the east of the Empire heralded the beginning of the Byzantine period
During the Minoan period in Crete (approximately, 2nd millennium B.C.) a
more sophisticated, organised society developed with a culture specific
to that region. The first scripts were invented and communication opened
up between the Minoans and people from the East Mediterranean countries.
This led to an exchange of culture and ideas which became not only
established as part of Minoan culture but spread to influence cultures,
religion and government all over the Aegean islands and mainland Greece.
During this time Crete became the main exporter of jewellery, skilled
craftworks, oil and wine as well as importers of food and raw materials.
It was during this time in Crete that the first major mercentile navy
This state of affairs continued until around 1500 B.C. when the tragic
destruction of Crete occurred due to the eruption of the volcano of Santorini. The Mycenaeans, based on the Greek mainland were able
to take advantage of this collapse of Cretan culture and established
themselves as the leading force throughout the Aegean in the last
centuries of the 2nd millennium B.C. Their cities in Mycenae, Pylos, Tiryns, Thebes, Iolkos and Athens became the bureaucratic centres
of their vast kingdom. This period of Mycenaean civilisation saw the
conquest and settlement by Greeks. Their society was based essentially
upon warfare and its elite class were war-chiefs. Their culture thrived
for around four hundred years. The cities of the warlords were large and
powerful, art and agriculture flourished and there was great prosperity.
However, unlike the earlier Minoan societies the wealth was not
distributed amongst the population. As a monarchical society, it was the
warring kings who accumulated the riches of the society and spent vast
amounts of it upon battles and invasions.
This continued until around 1200 B.C., by which time the power of the
Mycenae kings was declining and by the 12th century BC their dominance
had collapsed - considered by some to be due to the invasion of the
Dorian tribes from the north of Greece. Alternatively, it is postulated
that as the Mycenaean superstructure weakened it was overthrown by other
groups of the Mycenaean population who then settled in many of the areas
formerly controlled by them.
Following the Mycenaeans,there was a long period of cultural and
economic stagnation which lasted from around 1150-900 BC. This Dark Age
however ended with the emergence of the beginning of the Greek
renaissance, known as the Geometric period (9th-8th century BC). The
Greek city-states were formed and, as in all subsequent renaissance
times, the Geometric period saw the development of literature and arts.
Homeric epics and the Greek alphabet were both created during this time
of enlightenment. The Archaic Period which followed during the 7th-6th
centuries BC saw fundamental political and social changes. The Greek
city states began to colonise and open up their dominance, establishing
colonies at all points of the compass, North Africa to the south, the
Black Sea to the north and Spain to the west.
This was the start of what has come to be known as the Classical period.
By the 5th-4th centuries BC Athens dominated both politically and
culturally in what is called the 'Golden Age of Pericles', only to lose
this dominance at the end of the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC The 4th
century BC saw the development of Macedonians as a new force in the
Greek world. Philip II, king of Macedonia and his son Alexander played a
leading role. In 388 BC the eighteen year old Alexander led the
Macedonian cavalry to victory at the Battle of Chaeronea. After the
assassination of his father Phillip in 336 BC during an expedition to
free the Greek states of Asia Minor from the Persians, there was unrest
between Greeks and Macedonians in Thebes.
Alexander conquered Thebes and, as a warning to other Greeks, destroyed
the city, leaving only their temples standing. Greeks and Macedonians
again joined forces under Alexander and went on to conquer Persia, Egypt
and regions as far as the Indus River. His tremendous empire radically
changed the political and cultural situation in the then-known world.
After his early death at the age of thirty three his vast empire was
divided amongst his generals and although the political entity that he
created did not continue, his legacy was a uniform economic and cutlural
world that stretched from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Indus River.
In the succeeding Hellenistic Age (3rd to 1st centuries BC) the Greek
city-states had lost their position of power and prestige although they
did remain self-governing and independent of each other.
For one thousand years the Byzantine Empire was one of the most powerful
military, economic and cultural forces throughout Europe meeting its
downfall in 1204 when Constantinople was seized by the Crusaders from
the west and the spoils divided up amongst the victors. Parts of Greece
were given away to western leaders whilst strategic coastal areas were
taken over by the trading Venetians. The restoration of the Byzantine
Empire was attempted in 1262 only to be dismantled again by the Turks
culminating in its complete destruction in 1453. This period in Greek
history saw its absorbtion into the Ottoman Empire, beginning with the
capture of Constantinople in 1453, followed by the capture of Athens in
1456 and, in the decade 1460-1470, adding Achaia, Morea, Euboea and
Mistra to its expanding territories. Crete was the last area of Greece
to fall under the Ottoman rule in 1669.
The Ottoman empire went on to flourish in Greece for four hundred years
and it was not until the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829) that it
was finally ousted. Greece was the first country to secure its
independence from the Turkish occupation. After a long and bloody
conflict, in 1830 an independent Greek kingdom was formed which was
finally ratified by the Treaty of Constantinople in July 1832. This
kingdom however did not cover all of modern day Greece. The struggle for
liberation of all the regions of Greek speaking people continued right
up to the end of the Second World War. The Ionian islands were
incorporated in 1864, followed by parts of Epirus and Thessaly in 1881.
In 1913 during the Balcan wars and under the leadership of the great
Greek politician Eleftherios Venizelos, Macedonia, Epirus and the
Eastern Aegean were included followed in 1919 by Western Thrace. It was
a more drawn-out process however for the island of Crete. Its final
steps for independence began in 1898 and continued until 1913 when Crete
unified with Greece at last. The Dodecanese were the last group of
islands to join Greece in 1948.
Due to its strategic position, straddling east and west, Greece was
considered a vital link. In 1952, Greece became a member of NATO. On
21st April 1967 there was a coup d'etat led by colonels of the Greek
military and this state of affairs continued until July 1974 when a
referendum led to the rejection of constitutional monarchy, establishing
in its place the current Presidential Parliamentary Democracy. Since
1981 Greece has been a member of the European Union. Evidence of modern
day Greece's long and turbulent history can be seen all over the Greek
mainland and its islands. Countless archaeological sites, museums and
collections of artefacts, from the Palaeolithic period to the Roman era,
exist for visitors to wonder at. The period of the Byzantine and Ottoman
Empires can also be seen with the many churches, monasteries, castles
and other buildings and monuments in every area of Greece that the
visitor will encounter.
The Greek past is truly remarkable. It has influenced and taught the modern world much of
what it is today, and its ancient language still lives on in the sciences
(pi, omega, sigma), expressions (Don't be such a Cassandra) and everyday words
(history, taxi, wine).
Then, of course we have the cultural heritage of art, architecture, politics,
ideas and ideals.
We owe a lot to the ancient Greeks, and a good way to honour them is to remember
them. The many stories and personalities are entertaining as well, so take
some time and look in the Who is Who in the Greek Antiquity and Who is Who in
Greek Mythology sections.If you can't
find a specific name, let us know and we'll try to add it to our lists.