Greek Historical Evolution from Stone Age to Modern Statehood

Greek history encapsulates the experiences and cultural developments of the Greek people from ancient times to the modern era. Notably, while the independent state of Greece was recognized in the early 19th century, Greek history transcends the geographical borders of the present state, stretching back through numerous centuries.

The earliest historical evidence of human life in Greece goes back to 120,000-10,000 B.C. Yet, it was during the Neolithic period, approximately 7,000 – 3,000 B.C., that Greek civilization began to grow and flourish. Archaeological findings from this period include remains of settlements and burial chambers predominantly in regions like Thessaly, Macedonia, and the Peloponnese. The emergence of the first urban centers occurred in the Bronze Age (3,000-1100 B.C.) with evidence discovered throughout modern-day Greece including North Eastern Aegean islands, Cycladic islands, Crete, and the Greek mainland.

Owing to its strategic location bridging the east and west, Greece played a crucial role in world history. The first Greek-speaking communities are believed to have migrated to the Balkan peninsula shortly before 2200 B.C., during the Aegean Bronze Age. Their arrival is marked by indications of violent destruction near Argos, specifically at the town of Lerna. By 1500 B.C., their descendants in mainland Greece had established a civilization with influence reaching as far as Rhodes and establishing contact with the Near East kingdoms.

The study of Greek history provides a meticulous examination of the various stages of Greek civilization, its cultural, architectural, and political evolution, which significantly impacted the historical trajectory of the region and beyond. Through an in-depth analysis from ancient to modern times, the extensive influence of Greek history on global historical developments is clearly underscored.

Stone age  (400,000 – 100,000 BC )

stone-age-in-greeceThe Stone Age in Greece refers to a period in Greek prehistory that spans from approximately 10,000 BC to 3,000 BC. This period is characterized by the use of stone tools and the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to more settled communities that engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry.

The next period, the Mesolithic period, began around 7,000 BC and lasted until about 5,000 BC. This period saw a shift towards a more sedentary lifestyle and the development of agriculture and animal husbandry. The most notable sites from this period include the settlements of Theopetra and Sesklo in Thessaly and the Neolithic site at Knossos in Crete.

The final period of the Stone Age in Greece is the Neolithic period, which began around 5,000 BC and lasted until approximately 3,000 BC. During this time, humans in Greece developed complex societies with permanent settlements and advanced technologies, including the use of pottery, weaving, and metallurgy. The most significant archaeological site from this period is the ancient city of Dimini in Thessaly, which was one of the earliest cities in Greece.

One of the most important developments in the Neolithic period was the emergence of the Cycladic civilization, which flourished in the Aegean islands from about 3,300 BC to 1,050 BC. Cycladic art, characterized by its elegant simplicity and abstract forms, is among the most distinctive styles of prehistoric art in the world.

The Palaeolithic Age

tools-and-weapons-in-stone-age-of-greeceThe Palaeolithic Age in Greece is little known, since the researches are so far insufficient to give us a complete picture of it. However, it is very important to point out that the Greek area during the Palaeolithic Age was not less populated than the rest of the European continent. The rarity of finds in no way means the absence of human activity. Proof is, that, in every area that is researched by specialist scientists, its remains are discovered of this remote prehistoric age.

Another important observation is that the characteristics of the Paleolithic Age of the Greek area and in particular the dates of of various periods agree broadly with those of the rest of Europe. Although there is no doubt that it will have the parts its particular characteristics, however, these cannot be diagnosed yet, since research is in an embryonic stage. The elements that have come to light so far, however, they do not contradict the data of the rest of Europe, and especially of southern Europe.

Before proceeding to the summary presentation of the data for the Stone Age in the Greek area, it is useful to precede two observations on the natural environment and housing. The Paleolithic Era coincides, broadly speaking, with the Pleistocene geological period, which roughly corresponds to the last two million years (approximately 1,800,000 to 10,000 years). The main feature of this era, which is also known as the Glacial era , is the alternation of glacial (cold) and interglacial (warm) periods. Each such cycle, glacial – interglacial period, lasted an average of about 100,000 years. Greece did not experience extensive glaciers, only small ones cores at the highest points of large mountain masses.

During the glacial periods, the southern Balkans and mainly the Greek area (as well as the Italian and Iberian peninsulas), due to their southern geographical position, they were in a way a refuge for people and animals, who descended towards the South pressed by the advance of the glaciers in northern and central Europe. Inside the Greek area, the northern climate regions were more affected by the deterioration of climatic conditions during the glacial periods than the southern regions
where conditions remained relatively mild.

During the ice ages, the lowering of the sea level freed up large areas, which were occupied by humans and animals. land animals. Mainland Greece then extended more at the expense of the sea, while many islands were connected to the land opposite. For for example, Chios and Mytilini were united with the opposite Asia Minor, Corfu with Epirus, the Cyclades were united with each other
and formed a large island that was much closer to mainland Greece, the western Peloponnese was united with the opposite western continent etc.

In contrast, during the interglacial periods, the sea level rose and much of the land was flooded by the
sea, forcing animals and people to retreat to the highest points. Regarding the residence during the Stone Age, it should be noted that caves were not the only places of residence. On the contrary, in all of them during the several periods of the that Age, there were also outdoor camps, in all areas and regardless of the existence or not of caves in the same area. On the other hand, the habitation of the caves was independent of the climatic conditions and in particular of whether it was glacial or interglacial period. It is enough to consider that, today, when we are in an interglacial period, the spacious mouth of a cave is “welcome” for accommodation.

Lower Palaeolithic age

The main question concerning this period is when the Greek area was inhabited for the first time. If we accept that, on his way to Europe, man passed south of the Black Sea, then this area, and in particular Thrace and Macedonia, would be one of the first European regions inhabited by man. However, the relevant testimonies are absent. The causes are usually considered to be the lack of research as well as the erosion of the soil, which seems to have carried away most of the remains of that distant period.

The most ancient testimonies we have are those of the Petralona cave in Halkidiki, in this cave, the human skull of the same name was discovered, which was not found in the context of a scientific excavation, but was removed from its position by villagers, with the consequence that precious information was lost and, above all, that its performance in a certain layer of the cave’s filling is uncertain, which would also allow its safer dating. This skull is attributed to a pre-Neanderthal or, according to others, an early Neanderthal individual. Of the various ages attributed to it, those ranging between 200,000 and 300,000 years seem more likely.

In addition to the skull, however, the cave contains a significant fill, more than 15 meters thick, which encloses many archaeological remains, i.e. evidence of human activity, such as stone tools and bones that correspond to dietary remains of the occupants
of the cave. The age of these finds, although not well known, is believed to be between 600,000 and 300,000 years ago.

It is most likely that the cave, as is the case with all caves, did not serve exclusively as a place of residence for people, but for long periods remained uninhabited and served as a refuge for carnivorous animals, mainly hyenas, which brought their prey there, leaving therefore, and these, inside the cave nutritional remains. In particular, the stone tools have not been studied at all and thus we know nothing about their technological and typological characteristics nor which of them are actually tools and which are stones.

A second site that is likely to contain Lower Paleolithic remains is the cave of Apidima of Mani. Unfortunately, to date, their detailed study and publication has not been carried out, so that we know their age as well as any other information they could give us. Ages of 100,000 to 300,000 years are suggested for the two skulls. According to others they are late Homo erectus, according to others early Neanderthals. Apart from the above sites, there are few scattered surface finds (single stone tools) attributed to this period.

Middle Palaeolithic

Finds of the Middle Palaeolithic have been found all over mainland Greece as well as some Ionian islands, the Sporades and
elsewhere. These are mainly outdoor surface finds, which testify to the “dense” habitation of the entire Greek area by the Neanderthal people. However, more important evidence emerges from the excavations that have brought to light findings from this period.

The first excavation, in the 1960s, was at the Asprochaliko rock roof in the Louros Valley, Epirus. In the cave of Theopetra, in Thessaly, opposite Meteora, the excavation brought to light, among other things, prints of human feet from this period.

In the Kalamakia caves of Mani, a few remains of Neanderthal people came to light, but also many traces of organized habitation (hearths, stone structures, etc.), stone tools and food remains, i.e. bones from various animals that lived at that time in Mani and they were the prey of the people. Similar findings have been found in another cave near Gytheio as well as one of the many small caves that open in the gorge of Kleisoura, near Prosymna in Argolis.

Upper Palaeolithic

Since this period, clearly more evidence has come to light, since more sites have been excavated. It is noteworthy that outdoor surface finds are known only from the first (Oriniakia) phase of this period (about 35,000-23,000 years), but not from the following ones. However, most cave excavations have brought to light findings from these last phases.

In Epirus, the rock roofs of Asprohaliko, Boila, Kliidi, as well as the Kastritsa cave have been excavated. In Thessaly, the Theopetra cave, mentioned above, also contains layers of the Upper Paleolithic, which yielded, among other things, a human burial, which dates back to 14,500 years ago.

Other sites that have yielded remains from this period are the Seidi cave in Boeotia, as well as in the Peloponnese the caves of Argolis Kefalari, Kleisoura Prosymnas and Fraghthi. The latter was the subject of one of the better Paleolithic excavations in Greece. It contains layers dating from the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic to the Neolithic Age.

Regarding the cave in Kleisoura of Prosymna, it is worth noting that, recently, basin-shaped hearths coated with clay, aged 34,000-23,000 years, were discovered here, in layers of the Upper Paleolithic, which correspond to the oldest constructions of this kind.

Layers of the Upper Paleolithic have also been discovered in several caves of Mani. As mentioned above, in fact, in a cave at the Apidima site, a female burial of this period was found, which contained many pierced shells, which apparently belonged to a necklace that adorned the deceased. It is worth noting that while almost all excavations from this period have yielded jewelry (mostly pierced shells or animal teeth), no artwork has been found.

Bronze Age (3000 BC to 1100 BC)

bronze-age-of-greeceThe Bronze Age in Greece was a period of significant historical, cultural and technological development that lasted from approximately 3000 BCE to 1100 BCE. It is characterized by the widespread use of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, for the production of tools, weapons, and other artifacts.

During the Early Bronze Age (3000-2000 BCE), Greece was composed of various independent city-states, each with its own ruling elite. These city-states, such as Mycenae, Tiryns, and Pylos, were fortified and governed by local kings. The economy was primarily based on agriculture, and trade networks began to develop, connecting the Greek mainland with other regions in the Mediterranean.

In the large islands of the northern and eastern Aegean, with smaller or larger arable lands and extensive pastures, developed the agricultural economy, during the Early Bronze Age (3000 – 2300 / 2200 BC). The proximity of the islands to Asia Minor coast and its hinterland rich in raw materials contributed to this, as well as their position on the key sea routes from the Black Sea to southern Aegean, which favored the development of navigation, trade and crafts.

Stone-built settlements with an organized urban infrastructure, fortification systems, functional road network and squares, community buildings (like the Poliochni Granary and Storehouse in Limnos), buildings to house the community’s coordinating body, distribution and specialization of work.

From the beginning of the Early Bronze Age , the economically strong settlements of the northern and eastern Aegean are demarcated, mainly on the land side, by stone precincts, which have a rampart, anti-flood and fortification character. A monumental precinct of rough stones and rectangular or polygonal buildings, which survives up to a height of 4.5 meters, was built in Poliochni Lemnos, in order to protect the buildings from the floods of the adjacent stream and the hillsides from erosion.

The Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 BCE) saw the expansion of trade and the emergence of Minoan influence from the island of Crete. The Minoans, who had a highly advanced civilization centered in cities like Knossos, exerted significant cultural and economic influence on the Greek mainland. This period witnessed the development of elaborate palaces, the use of Linear A and Linear B scripts, and advancements in pottery and metalwork.

The Late Bronze Age (1600-1100 BCE) in Greece is commonly associated with the Mycenaean civilization. The Mycenaeans, who were heavily influenced by the Minoans, developed their own distinctive culture and established powerful city-states. They constructed impressive fortifications and palaces, such as the famous Lion Gate at Mycenae, and were skilled in warfare. The Mycenaeans expanded their influence across the Aegean Sea, engaging in trade and establishing colonies in various locations.

The collapse of the Bronze Age civilizations around 1100 BCE is often attributed to a combination of factors, including natural disasters, climatic changes, and invasions by migratory peoples. This event, known as the Late Bronze Age collapse, led to a period of relative decline and cultural disruption, often referred to as the Greek Dark Ages, which lasted until the emergence of the Archaic period in the 8th century BCE.

The Bronze Age in Greece left a lasting impact on subsequent Greek civilization. It laid the foundation for the development of the Greek city-states and their distinctive political, social, and cultural systems. The artistic and architectural achievements of the Bronze Age, such as the iconic frescoes and palace complexes, served as an inspiration for later Greek art and architecture. The epic poems of Homer, the Iliad, and the Odyssey, which are set in this period, provide valuable insights into the myths, legends, and social structures of Bronze Age Greece

Minoan civilization

minoan-civilizationThe Minoan civilization was an ancient Bronze Age civilization that existed on the island of Crete in the Aegean Sea from approximately 2700 to 1450 BCE. It was named after the legendary King Minos, who was associated with the myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth.

The Minoans were known for their advanced culture, sophisticated architecture, and extensive trade networks. They were skilled sailors and traders who engaged in long-distance trade with Egypt, Mesopotamia, and other civilizations in the Mediterranean region.

The Minoan civilization reached its peak during the period known as the “Old Palace” or “First Palace” period, from around 2000 to 1700 BCE. During this time, the Minoans built impressive palace complexes, such as the palace of Knossos, which served as administrative, economic, and religious centers.

The Minoans had a unique writing system known as Linear A script, which has not yet been deciphered, so much of our knowledge about their society comes from archaeological findings, art, and artifacts. Their art and pottery featured vibrant colors, naturalistic forms, and depictions of nature, animals, and religious rituals.

Minoan society was likely highly prosperous and organized, with evidence suggesting a well-developed social structure and a focus on communal living. Women held prominent roles in Minoan society and were depicted in positions of authority and power.

The Minoans worshiped a pantheon of deities, with the most important being a mother goddess associated with fertility and nature. Bull imagery was also significant in their religious and artistic expressions.

The decline of the Minoan civilization is attributed to a combination of factors, including a devastating volcanic eruption on the nearby island of Thera (modern-day Santorini) around 1600 BCE. This eruption caused significant damage to Minoan settlements and may have led to economic and political instability. Subsequent invasions and the rise of the Mycenaean civilization on mainland Greece also contributed to the decline of Minoan influence.

Despite the decline, the legacy of the Minoan civilization can still be seen in the art, architecture, and cultural practices of later civilizations in the Mediterranean. The Minoans played a crucial role in the development of ancient Greek culture, and their influence can be traced in Greek mythology, art, and religious practices.

Cycladic civilization

cycladic-civilizationThe Cycladic civilization refers to an ancient culture that thrived in the Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, during the Bronze Age. The Cycladic culture is known for its distinctive art and sculpture, which had a significant influence on later civilizations in the region.

The Cycladic civilization existed roughly between 3200 BCE and 1100 BCE, with its peak during the Early Bronze Age (3200-2000 BCE). The Cyclades were strategically located between mainland Greece and the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, leading to trade and cultural exchanges with both regions.

The most recognizable aspect of the Cycladic civilization is its marble sculptures, particularly the female figurines known as Cycladic idols. These idols, usually depicting nude female forms, were created from local marble and were found in burial sites. They are highly stylized, with elongated bodies and folded arms. The purpose and symbolism of these figurines are still debated among scholars.

The Cycladic people were skilled seafarers and engaged in trade with other cultures. They primarily relied on agriculture, fishing, and animal husbandry for sustenance. Their settlements were usually small, with simple rectangular houses constructed using local materials such as stone, clay, and wood.

Religion played an important role in Cycladic society. They worshiped a variety of deities, including female fertility figures and male deities associated with the sea. They conducted rituals and burials, often interring their dead with grave goods, including pottery vessels, jewelry, and tools.

Around 2000 BCE, the Cycladic civilization declined, possibly due to a combination of factors such as environmental changes, internal conflicts, and the rise of the Minoans and Mycenaeans on neighboring islands and mainland Greece.

The legacy of the Cycladic civilization can be seen in its art, which influenced later Greek sculpture. The simplicity and abstraction of Cycladic idols had a particular impact on the development of ancient Greek art and its emphasis on idealized forms. Today, many Cycladic artifacts are housed in museums around the world, providing valuable insights into this ancient culture.

Mycenaean civilization

mycaenean-civilizationThe history of the Mycenaean period of Greece refers to a significant phase in ancient Greek history that spanned from approximately 1600 BCE to 1100 BCE. It was named after the city of Mycenae, one of the major centers of Mycenaean civilization.

The Mycenaean civilization was one of the earliest advanced civilizations in Greece and is often regarded as the precursor to Classical Greece. During this period, the Mycenaeans established a complex society with a centralized political system, a strong military, extensive trade networks, and impressive architectural achievements.

The Mycenaean period played a crucial role in shaping later Greek civilization, as it laid the foundations for the emergence of the city-states that characterized the Classical period. The epics of Homer, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, are set in a world heavily influenced by Mycenaean culture and provide valuable literary insights into this period.

The Mycenaean cities were fortified with massive stone walls and had palatial complexes that served as administrative and ceremonial centers. The most famous example is the citadel of Mycenae, which featured the renowned Lion Gate.

The Mycenaeans developed a syllabic script known as Linear B, which was used for administrative and economic purposes. The decipherment of Linear B in the mid-20th century provided valuable insights into Mycenaean society.

The Mycenaeans were skilled seafarers and engaged in extensive trade with other civilizations in the Mediterranean, such as Egypt and the Hittites. They controlled key trade routes and amassed wealth through the exchange of goods.

The Mycenaeans were known for their military prowess and were skilled warriors. Their society was organized hierarchically, with warrior elites at the top of the social structure. Weapons and armor found in Mycenaean tombs indicate a culture focused on warfare.

Mycenaean art and architecture were heavily influenced by earlier Minoan civilization on the island of Crete. They produced intricate pottery, frescoes, and goldsmithing, often depicting scenes of warfare, religious rituals, and daily life.

The Mycenaean civilization ultimately declined around 1100 BCE, likely due to a combination of factors, including internal unrest, external invasions, and socioeconomic instability. This collapse marked the end of the Bronze Age in Greece and ushered in a period of decline and cultural regression known as the Greek Dark Ages.

Greek Dark Ages

greek-dark-agesIn ancient Greek history, there were no specific “Dark Ages” similar to those in medieval Europe. Instead, there were different historical periods that witnessed significant changes and transitions. One such period is often referred to as the Greek Dark Ages, but it should be noted that this term is used to describe a transitional phase between the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization (Late Bronze Age) and the emergence of the Archaic period and the geometric period in Greece.

The Greek Dark Ages are generally considered to have occurred from around the 12th century BC to the 9th century BC. During this time, many Mycenaean palaces and cities were destroyed, and population centers shifted. The Linear B script, which was used to write Mycenaean Greek, disappeared, and there was a decline in economic activity, trade, and cultural development.

However, it’s important to note that this period was not completely devoid of advancements. While there was a decline in centralized political structures and large-scale construction projects, smaller communities continued to exist and develop. New forms of art, pottery, and burial practices emerged, indicating cultural changes.

With the movements of the Greek races during the 12th century BC. and their establishment in the various regions of Greece, their distribution in the territorial area is stabilized and their permanent characteristics are formed.

The geographical factor played a primary role in these movements. In general, a movement from north to south is observed. The Dorians, the last Greek race to move en masse, from Pindos where they lived, moved to the South and settled in the Peloponnese and a part of Central Greece. They were settled as well to some of the Cyclades (Milos, Thira) and later to Crete.

The Thessalians, who also lived in the area of Pindos, settled in present-day Thessaly, forcing its old inhabitants, Boeotians and Aeolians, the former to move to present-day Boeotia, and the latter to migrate to Lesvos, Tenedos and the north of Asia Minor.

Finally, the Ionians of the northern coasts of the Peloponnese flee to Attica, Evia and the Cyclades. The new communities were tribal and the state created by the amalgamation of many communities was also tribal. Its leader is the king, who is elected by the assembly of warriors. Later the office was changed to hereditary. The main responsibility of the king is the military leadership, that is why the most capable warrior is elected to the office of the king.

The Greek Colonization

Increasing stability and prosperity caused a growth of population; a great wave of colonization ensued between 750 and 500 . Greek culture spread throughout the Mediterranean and even into the southern Ukraine. Markets were opened for Greek oil, wine, and other wares in return for precious metals, timber, grain, and other goods. One major center of colonization was Sicily and southern Italy. Corinth founded Syracuse, the greatest Greek city in the west; Chalcis (modern Khalkis), in Euboea, settled many other cities in the area. The region of the Black Sea was settled from Ionia, Miletus being the chief coloniser. The small island of Thera ( Santorini today ) founded the great kingdom of Cyrene in northeast Libya. Further expansion in Africa was blocked by Carthage; Phoenicia proved impermeable; in Egypt the Greeks were able to establish a commercial emporium, Naucratis, on the Nile delta. Neither Sparta nor Athens were colonial powers.


Archaic Greece 700 BC-508 BCE

Chronologically, the Archaic era in Greece begins with the conventional 700 BC. and ends in 508 BC, the year Cleisthenes founded the Athenian republic; however, we remember that the boundaries are fluid and that as a rule the division of a historical development into periods, phases, etc. is arbitrary, just as it is arbitrary to determine some date as a boundary between one period and another (p. 19). This does not prevent us from searching each time and studying, beyond and behind the specific events, the dominant characteristics of each period.

Historical conditions in Archaic Greece

archaic-greeceIn the two Archaic centuries, the Greek geographical area spread a lot. The second Greek colonization began in the middle of the 8th BC. century, when the Ionian inhabitants of Evia established the first trading posts in Lower Italy, and it continued until the 6th BC. century. The result was that not only Sicily and Lower Italy but also the entire area around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, from Spain to the Crimea and from the Blue Coast to Cyrene and Egypt, were occupied by powerful Greek establishments.

The causes of colonization were varied this time. Both overpopulation and frequent, as we shall see, intense state and political changes and upheavals contributed to the tendency to flee. Many times the initiative belonged to nobles who either had reasons to leave their place or aspired to be honored in the new homeland, like all the residents and their families. Beyond these, the hopes of glory and wealth were accompanied by a thirst for knowledge and adventure, by a restless and studious spirit, like that of Odysseus.

In the Ionian colonies, a new, more limited type of state entity, the city-state, first appeared and quickly spread in the Greek area. Unlike the older territories, the city-state was not based on racial kinship but on local patriotism and the greater or lesser participation of citizens in the commons. Usually the city-state consisted of a main fortified settlement and a number of smaller neighbouring communes. Examples are Athens and Sparta, which could, as early as the middle of the 8th BC. c., to be characterized as city-states.

Alongside the traditionally agricultural economy of the Greek settlements, the multitude and dispersion of colonies across the seas created a lively commercial movement: the colonies supplied the metropoles with raw materials, often also with slaves, and the metropoles supplied the colonies with handicrafts and other products . Commercial transactions became easier and multiplied, when the cities, from the middle of the 7th BC. century onwards, they began to stamp and circulate official coins.

Trade, currency, wealth – phenomena of great growth, which, however, also had its negative sides. The nobles, who were the first to take advantage of the new possibilities, began to lend the peasants, with interest and with a guarantee, first their few estates, then the freedom of themselves and their families. This body lending, as it was called, turned a large number of free farmers into serfs, created intense social problems and was another strong reason for political unrest and reforms.

The traditional polity of the hereditary kingdom had already started from the 8th BC. century, if not earlier, to be shaken, as on the one hand the kings had a tendency to abuse their power, or to be unworthy to exercise it, on the other hand the various nobles, eὐpatridai or aristos, conspired to overthrow them . Often, using their wealth and popular discontent, they succeeded, but the distribution of power created friction, and most of the established aristocratic polities proved short-lived.

The change in war tactics also had political effects in the archaic years. The old heroic mode, as known to us from Homer, where battles were divided into a series of single combats, was abolished. Conflicts now became group, as many armed together formed a fighting unit, the heavily armed phalanx. Only those citizens who could finance their own armaments could participate in the phalanx, which gave them the right to claim increased political rights. The satisfaction of their claims led to timocratic states, where power was distributed according to wealth.

Monarchy, aristocracy, timocracy – all city states were in danger in the archaic years of being overthrown by powerful and ambitious men who took advantage of some of their positions to gather power through fraud or violence (Aristotle) in their hands and establish a tyranny, a form of government that allowed someone “irresponsible to do as he pleased” (Herodotus). Many are the witnessed crimes of tyrants, few are their positive actions, but in general, as a political phenomenon, tyranny, where it was imposed, dismantled the authoritarian mechanisms and finally facilitated the path to democracy.

The variety of city states and the great upheavals and transitions they caused should not overshadow the fact that gradually, during the two archaic centuries, the ordinary citizens, the crowd, the municipality, acquired a voice, resisted the arbitrariness of the upper social classes, realized and claimed , often successfully, their rights. Thus, the political developments that followed the abolition of hereditary monarchy led first to a series of oligarchic, aristocratic or timocratic polities and then, with the tyrranids as a catalyst, to democracy.

The drafting and recording of the laws was an important victory for the citizens. Written legislation may have favored the noble and the rich, its transgressions by the powerful may not have been rare; but again, the mere existence of written laws was a point of reference and a guarantee of justice – and the profit for the popular classes was still greater, when in difficult times, with the oligarchical administration having led to an impasse, the multitude itself chose and supported in power a personality, giving it a blank mandate to legislate. Such elected legislators  existed in the archaic years, among them, in Athens, Solon.

Aristocracy and Tyranny in Ancient Greece

This was also a time of great social upheaval. The landholding aristocracy, which had already wrested power from the kings, found their own supremacy challenged by those beneath them. People of less-distinguished birth became increasingly dissatisfied with the prevailing aristocratic order and were acquiring power in their own right. The rise of literacy, the increased concentration of economic power in the hands of traders and artisans, and the introduction of the phalanx mass of men fighting in unison in heavy armour, which made discipline and manpower the key element of success in warÑshifted the balance of power to the general citizenry.

By the 7th century , ambitious or sympathetic individuals from the circle of the aristocracy were capitalising on the general discontent, especially in prosperous cities, and establishing tyrannies. Cypselus (d. 625) seized control of Corinth and built a colonial empire, founding cities on the west coast of Greece and modern Albania. Tyrants also arose in Megara, Epidaurus, and Sicyon, just northwest of Corinth. In the Aegean, Polycrates, (d. c.522), tyrant of Samos, made his island a major naval power.

Classical period of Greece (478 BC-323 BC)

The Classical Era is the period of ancient Greek history that begins with the establishment of the League of Delos (478 BC) after the end of the Persian Wars (479 BC) and ends with the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC). X.). The Classic That is to say, the era covers most of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Historians called this era classical, because the culture that developed then has variety and creative power. This culture became a model for entire eras in European and world history. For the Classical Age we have many archaeological and written sources that mainly concern Athens.

Persian Wars (499-449 BC)

In the middle of the 5th BC century the Ionian and Aeolian cities of Minorasia, Magnesia, Colofona, Smyrna, Ephesus, etc. (but not Miletos) were under the rule of the Lydians. In 546 BC Cyrus II of the Persians dissolved the Lydian state and subjugated one after another the Greek cities (except Miletus again). The heavy Persian rule caused discomfort in the Greek cities and led to the Ionian revolution of 499 BC, which however failed. The victory of the Persians was completed with the conquest and destruction of Miletus, in 494 BC.

In order to punish Athens and Eretria, who had helped the Ionians, the Persians tried three times to extend their rule in Greece, but: Mardonius saw his fleet disintegrated by bad weather at Athos (492 BC) , Dates and Artaphernes advanced and razed Eretria, but were soundly defeated at Marathon (490 BC), and Darius’s successor, Xerxes, may have passed through Thermopylae, defended by Leonidas, and destroyed Athens, but his navy was defeated at Salamis (480 BC) and his army at Plataea (479 BC). In the same year, the naval battle of Mykalis sealed the Greek victory, and the capture of Sestos in the Hellespont straits prepared the Athenian hegemony.

The Golden Age of Athens (479-431 BC)

Between two wars, the Pentecost is identified with the great heyday of the Athenian democracy. The victories in Persia have glorified Athens, which establishes the Alliance of Delos and rightfully dominates the Greek world. Its governors, elected by the municipal church, are important figures: Themistocles, Cimon and Pericles – politicians who combine inspiration and sound planning with effective action.

Pericles, who as the leader of the democratic faction ruled Athens for more than thirty years (461-429 BC) strengthened the democratic state, fortified Athens by land and sea, developed trade, expanded Athenian influence in the East and West, and even planned and carried out the rebuilding of the Acropolis, whose archaic temples had been destroyed by Xerxes.

Such growth and so many successes naturally had their negative side: the transfer of the alliance treasury from Delos to Athens, the interventions in the interior of the allied cities, their economic exploitation, the harsh punishment of those who defected, and other similar phenomena they had the effect over time that the allies felt subservient and that Athens practiced an expansionist and imperialist rather than an allied policy. In any case, Pericles’ goal was to unite all of Greece under the leadership of Athens; [73] but his plans stumbled upon the justifiable reaction of Sparta.

The oligarchic Sparta had also won great glory in Persia; but in the years that followed it had to face many difficulties: the cohesion of the Peloponnesian League was threatened by the liberal democratic current created by the victories against the Persians; its old enemy, Argos , in collaboration with Athens, strengthened and coordinated the anti-Laconian movements in Arcadia, Ilia and elsewhere; the Helots revolted in 468 BC, their rebellion lasted for ten whole years, and as if all this was not enough, in 464 BC .X. a terrible earthquake levelled Laconia and killed more than 20,000 people, creating yet another problem, demographic.

Faced with so many difficulties, the ever-conservative administrators not only preserved, but also strengthened the static character of the city, which now resisted any modernity. Closed to itself, Sparta was forced by circumstances to tolerate the rapid progress of Athens, but of course it did not fail to react, both with political actions, supporting the oligarchic parties in other cities, and with military interventions, wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself. Finally, after many conflicts, with the thirty-year libations of 446 BC, Athens and Sparta each recognized the leadership of the other in the Alliance of Delos and the Peloponnesian Alliance respectively.

Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC)

The thirty-year libations endured for fourteen years, but in 431 BC, on the occasion of the Megarian resolution,[74] the war began “which shocked the Greeks and some of the barbarians and, one might say, almost the whole world” ( Thucydides). The Peloponnesian War lasted twenty-seven years, and for the most part was inconclusive: victory shifted from one camp to the other, and hostilities were interrupted by periods of peace, until 404 BC when the Spartans closely besiege Athens and impose their terms.

For the whole of Greece, the short-lived rule of the Spartans and the temporary collapse of the Athenian democracy were not as important as the devastation caused to both factions by the war and the decay of the Greek forces. Thus, the conflict between the two Greek camps enabled Persia to regulate the fortunes of Greece with her alliances and gold.

Fourth century (404-323 BC)

Athenian democracy was already restored in 403 BC; within a few years Athens again acquired a strong navy, the long walls were rebuilt, and in 378 BC the second Athenian Alliance was formed. However, throughout Greece nothing was as it had been: polities, democratic and oligarchic, functioned consistently but without their original dynamism; alliances formed and dissolved at the slightest moment, crowds were indifferent, leading figures were rare – and an essential regulator of political affairs were the Persians, who incited competition between the Greek cities, financed the wars, determined the victors, and dictated the terms of the peace. Through all this, the idea of Panhellenism emerged, as a national necessity, the vision of a Greece that, united under a strong leadership, would fight the Persians to get rid of their tutelage.

A different path was followed by the kingdom of Macedonia, which in the 4th BC. century experienced its greatest development. Having subjugated the peoples of the North, Philip, who reigned from 359 to 336 BC, proceeded to extend his power eastward to Chalkidiki and Thrace, southward to Thessaly  and westward to Epirus.

Gifted with excellent strategic and diplomatic skills, Philip managed, with hard struggles, to dominate. In 337 BC at the conference of Corinth he obliged the cities to sign an alliance of the Greeks for common peace and to recognize him as general emperor against the Persians. He had begun to prepare the campaign when, for an unknown reason, he was assassinated. His plans were carried out by a worthy successor, Alexander, who in twelve years (334-323 BC) overthrew the Persian state, conquered Egypt and led the Greek troops victoriously to the Indies.

Society and politics during 404-323 BC in Greece

In 481 BC at the conference of Corinth, Athens, Sparta and many other states had joined the Greek Alliance to fight the Persians. The alliance was dissolved after the Persian, or rather split into two, the Peloponnesian and the Delos Alliance, so that Greece was divided into two warring camps.

The division was essential, as the two leading cities represented different worlds: Athens the progressive Ionians and democracy, Sparta the conservative Dorians and the oligarchy. However, the separation was not absolute: the Dorian states of the Peloponnesian League always had democratic citizens, just as the Ionian states of the Delos League never lacked oligarchs. Thus, political division seeped into the interior of each city, as the two factions were in constant, covert or overt conflict, which often touched or even exceeded the limits of civil strife.

Political passions were sharpened and balances were disturbed when the Peloponnesian War broke out, and the consequences were disastrous for Greek societies. Thucydides writes about this (3.81-3):

The civil conflicts brought great and countless calamities to the states, calamities that occur and will always occur as long as the nature of man does not change, calamities that can be heavier or lighter, and have a different form according to the circumstances. In times of peace, and when the world and states are prosperous, people are calm, because they are not pressed by dire needs. But when war comes, which brings people daily deprivation, it becomes a teacher of violence and excites the spirits of the multitude according to the situations it creates.

To justify their actions they even changed the meaning of words. Unreasonable boldness was seen as valour and loyalty to the party, personal hesitancy was seen as cowardice behind reasonable pretences, and prudence as a mask of cowardice. Paraphrasing was considered a manly virtue, while the tendency to carefully consider all sides of an issue was considered a pretext for evasion.

Anyone who was furious was heard, while anyone who objected was suspected. Whoever contrived any trick and succeeded was considered great; while whoever was far-sighted enough to avoid the need of such means was thought to be breaking up the party, and to be terrorized by the opposing faction. In a word, he who contrived to do evil before another was worthy of praise, as well as he who incited to evil one who had not thought of doing it.

Neither of the two factions had any moral barriers, and they valued more those who managed to hide terrible deeds under nice words. Those citizens who were moderate were killed by one faction or the other, either because they had refused to take part in the struggle or because the very idea that they could survive aroused envy against them. Thus the civil strife became the cause of spreading throughout the Greek world every form of wickedness, and morality, which is the main characteristic of the noble soul, became laughable and disappeared.

It is natural for historical experiences to influence religious life as well. The hopeless victories in Persia had created a feeling of gratitude towards the gods, whom the Greeks believed had stood by them in war. At the same time, however, from the beginning of the 5th BC. century, an enlightenment movement had begun, which slowly moved the center of gravity of values from the gods to the people.

Hellenistic Greece (323-31 BC)

alexanderAlexander the Great’s conquests caused great changes in Hellenism. Until then, the Greek world presented a smooth and balanced picture.

There was a core, the Greek area, while beyond the seas, on the shores of the Mediterranean and the Pontus, the colonisations had created a peripheral ring of Greek establishments.

The core supported and fed the periphery and the periphery supported and fed the core. Still, both in the Greek area and in the regional establishments, the populations had a common language, a common religion, customs and traditions – all Greek.

The political unit was the city-state and only the polity shifted from place to place, both in Greece and in the periphery, where the Greek cities in Asia Minor happened to be subjugated to the Persians.

These now changed as Alexander the Great overthrew the Persian state and drove Hellenism east to the Indus River and south to Egypt. Thus the Greeks dominated a multitude of foreign, non-linguistic and non-religious peoples – peoples who to some extent wanted, to some extent were forced to Hellenize, that is, to learn Greek and accept all sorts of Greek cultural influences.

hellenistic-greeceThe Hellenistic era took its name from these Hellenizing foreigners, but we often call it Alexandrian – not from Alexander the Great, but from Alexandria in Egypt, which for centuries was the most important intellectual center.

After the death of Alexander the Great, in 323 BC, his conquests were divided, not without disputes and wars, among the Successors. Among the kingdoms that were created, the kingdom of the Seleucids in Syria, with its capital at Antioch, the kingdom of the Attalids in Asia Minor, with its capital at Pergamum, and the kingdom of the Ptolemies in North Africa, with its capital at Alexandria, stood out for their prosperity. Macedonian Pella, capital of the Antigonid kingdom, was also an important center for a while.

Roman period of Greece (31 BC-330 AD)

greco-roman-periodIn 30 BC, with the incorporation of Egypt into their territory, the Romans essentially completed their conquest of East and West. With the exception of some peripheral areas, which were soon conquered, the entire known world had in one way or another accepted Roman rule.

Contemporaneous with the incorporation of Egypt, and more important as a historical event, was the transformation of the idiosyncratic Roman democracy into a monarchy, with Octavian Augustus as the first emperor, who ruled successfully from 29 BC. until 14 AD – forty three years. More than fifty emperors followed in unbroken succession, some good, some bad, until May 11, 330 AD. Constantine the Great inaugurated New Rome, later renamed Constantinople, as the capital of the Roman Empire.

Terrible in war, the Romans were in peacetime conciliatory, almost magnanimous towards the conquered, and often left them, at least ostensibly, to be governed by their own laws[213] – so long as they did not infringe on Roman interests and obeyed his dictates emperor, the Senate and their appointed representatives.

Beneficial to subjects, individuals and states, was their exemption from taxation, while the highest reward for those who proved their loyalty to Rome in practice was to be awarded the title and recognized the rights of Roman citizenship. The latter became more and more frequent as the years progressed, until in 212 AD. to be called, by decree of Caracalla, all free inhabitants of the empire Roman citizens.

The relative leniency of the Romans did not prevent the conquered areas from suffering forever from the conquerors, who leveled entire states, plundered the artistic and other treasures and exploited their economic potential. Poor compensation for so many calamities was for the Greek regions the respect and favor shown by certain emperors towards Athens, Ephesus, Delphi, Eleusis and other religious and cultural centers.

No significant power other than Rome existed in the Greco-Roman era, nor could it develop, as Rome was imposed by its size alone. Of course, war operations in the periphery never completely stopped, nor internal conflicts, when the succession of emperors did not progress smoothly; but there were few rebellions,[215] and in general the Roman peace lasted for centuries.

We can better understand the general political situation by reading a sentence he wrote around the middle of the 1st century. A.D. an anonymous writer for us: “As long as the memory of freedom is preserved and the subservient is occupied, the people want and put up strong resistance; but when evil prevails and people no longer discuss how to get rid of it, but how to live more easily together of him, then the destruction is total” (Chilon, Epistle 14.2).

Let us not forget, however, that even from the time of Alexander the Great peoples lived within the framework of great monopolies, and that Roman rule, unpleasant as it was, was a guarantee of peace, law and order.

Already in 194 BC the Roman prefect Titos Coidius Flamininus, after his victory in the second Macedonian war, had proclaimed that he would leave free and free and tax-free, laws related to the patriots, Corinthians, Phocians, Locrus, Euboea, etc. (Plutarch, Titus 10) – but of course the reality turned out to be different. He proclaimed the same in 66 AD. and Nero for all Greeks, but a few years later his decision was annulled by Vespasian.

Byzantine Greece 360-1453

byzantine-period-of-greeceThe Byzantine period in Greek history is typically defined as the period of history spanning from the late 4th century to the mid-15th century AD, following the fall of the Western Roman Empire. During this time, Greece was part of the Byzantine Empire, which was the continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Byzantine Empire, with its capital at Constantinople (modern Istanbul), is noted for its unique blending of Roman political structures, Greek culture and language, and Christian religion. While the Western Roman Empire fell to the Germanic invasions, the Eastern Roman Empire survived, maintaining its capital at Constantinople and preserving much of the political and cultural heritage of the ancient Greco-Roman world.

During the Byzantine period, Greece was not a unified political entity but was divided into several provinces, known as themata, which were governed by military officials. The church also played a crucial role in everyday life and political affairs.

In terms of culture, the Byzantine period is renowned for its contributions to art, architecture, and literature. Byzantine art often involved mosaics, icons, and frescoes, and it was heavily influenced by the Christian religion. Architecture from this period is marked by domed basilicas and ornate designs, with the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul being a prime example.

Greek, specifically Medieval Greek or Byzantine Greek, was the lingua franca of the empire, and the Orthodox Christian faith was the state religion.

The Byzantine period in Greece ended with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. After this, most of Greece came under Ottoman control, marking the beginning of the Ottoman period in Greek history, which lasted until the early 19th century when the Greek War of Independence led to the establishment of the modern state of Greece.

Ottoman period 1458 -1821

The history of the Ottoman period in Greece refers to the time when Greece was under the control of the Ottoman Empire, which began in 1458 when the Ottomans conquered the Byzantine Empire’s capital city of Constantinople (now Istanbul) and extended their rule over much of southeastern Europe. The Ottoman period of Greece lasted until the Greek War of Independence in 1821, which ultimately led to Greece regaining its independence from Ottoman rule.

During the Ottoman period, Greece was known as the “Rum Millet,” or the Roman nation, which referred to the Eastern Orthodox Christian population that lived within the Ottoman Empire. Under Ottoman rule, Greeks were subject to discriminatory taxes and were not allowed to hold positions of power or military rank. However, Greeks were able to maintain their own language, religion, and culture, and Greek merchants played significant roles in trade throughout the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman period was also marked by occasions of conflict between Greeks and Ottomans, such as the Greek War of Independence, which led to the creation of the modern Greek state. During this period, many important monuments and buildings were constructed throughout Greece, inspired by Ottoman architectur

1821 The Greek war of independence

The Greeks awoke spiritually and began to organize, while at the same time the revolutionary movements multiplied. Russo-Turkish war breaks out and the Greeks revolt. The Küçük-Kainartz συν Treaty is signed between Russia and Turkey. The Ionian state is founded. Revolutionary leaflets and the “Charter” of Rigas Feraios are circulating.The birth of industrial power Local uprisings abound in Greece, as revolutionary leaflets circulate everywhere. Hellenism is preparing for the great moment of the revolution. The Friendly Society is founded in Odessa, while the English occupy the Ionian islands. On March 25, 1821, the Greek Revolution broke out in the Peloponnese. Almost a year later, the Constitution of Epidaurus is voted.

The revolution spread throughout Greece, while the Turks were supported by the Egyptians. The Turkish fleet is defeated in the naval battle of Navarino. The Third National Assembly elects I. Kapodistrias as Governor. The Treaty of London designates Otto as king, while the Treaty of Constantinople defines the country’s new borders. The first university is founded, while a revolution breaks out in Crete. Political life is intense and a new conservative constitution is being passed.

Economic Development 1850-1875 AD

Greece is entering a phase of economic development. Otto is dethroned and a new king is appointed, the Danish prince George A. A new constitution is adopted which establishes the reigning democracy as a state. This period can be characterized as a period of political instability.

1875-1900 AD
The age of imperialism The “principle of the declared” is established. Great Britain acquires the administration of Cyprus. Turkey cedes to Greece Thessaly and the region of Arta. During this period the opening of the isthmus of Corinth begins. Many public works are carried out and the armed forces are being reorganized. In 1896 the Olympic Games are revived. Crete, finally, acquires an autonomous status.

Greece in the first World War and the Balkan wars 1900-1925 AD

Europe at war.  During this period we have changes of governments, with the final predominance of the policy of El. Venizelou. The two Balkan Wars and the First World War take place. Greater Greece of the two continents and the five seas is created. But the Greeks are defeated and we have the Asia Minor Catastrophe. In 1924 we have the First Hellenic Republic.

Greece in World War 2 and the cold war 1940 -1950 

The crisis and the economic recovery. This period is characterized by political instability. Dominant events are the Second World War, the civil war and at the end of the period the integration of the Dodecanese in Greece.The Cold War,  At this time the Zurich Agreement was signed, with which Cyprus became an independent democracy within the framework of the British Commonwealth. Political unrest erupts in Greece with the coup d’etat of the colonels in 1967-1974. Read more about the modern Greek state