Ancient Greek History

ancient greece One of the great civilizations in the world during the 4th and 3d millennium BC was the Minoan culture of Crete. The Minoan culture is divided in three periods: old, middle and late. The old period was synchronized with the Old Kingdom of Egypt. There were connections between the two cultures through trade, and these influences can be found in the art in both Crete and Egypt.

During the middle period, about 1900 BC, the great palaces of Knossos and Phaestos were built. There are debates whether these buildings were housing kings or priests, but it is thought there was a religious association to them. The Great Goddess, perhaps called Rhea was worshipped, and her priests and priestesses had the highest position in the society.

Second millennium BC

During the second millennium BC a series of natural catastrophies plagued the Minoan civilization. At 1700 BC there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed the old palaces, and a second one occurred at about 1450 BC destroying most of the buildings of that time. The Volcano at Thira ( Santorini ) erupted at this time, causing half the island to sink.

knossos The palace of Knossos was destroyed and rebuilt several times but the final catastrophy happened in 1200 BC when the temple of Rhea burnt. Ironically, this was what saved the claytables – in the fire they were burnt hard, and so saved to history. When the archaeo-logist Nicholas Evans found them in the beginning of the 20th century he did not know they were actually written in Greek.

At the same time of the Minoan civilization, especially the middle and late, the Mycenaean culture flourished on mainland Greece. It was also around the 13th and 12th century BC that the Dorians invaded the Peloponnese and took over as a leading tribe with Sparta and Corinth as their main cities.

Mycenaean culture and the Classic times

The time between the end of the Mycenaean culture and the Classic times are sometimes called the Greek Middle Ages or Dark Ages. This is partly because we do not know much about this time. In general, the ancient world was going through a period with small states without major connections. The Doric invasion of Greece had left Mycenae in ruins, and there were limited resources to build anything.

Greece consisted of many small city-states, with kings as rulers. The people were only united at certain days of the year at various cultlocations. There they worshipped the Gods and organized athletic competitions. So called rhapsodists, bards, traveled around and recited epic poems, the Iliad and Odyssey being the best known to the aftermath.

800 – 650 BC

ancient spartansFrom 800 – 650 BC aristocratic families had the power and a system of oligarchy was dominant.

During the 8th century BC connections with other countries improved and it is during this time the writing started, with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as the earliest known works.

In 776 the first Olympic Games were held. Another important discovery was the chicken, imported from Persia. This improved the Greeks diet and health. Ca 650 BC there were many turnovers in the leadership of the city-states, since many noble families were overthrown and replaced by tyrants, or one man rulers as the title suggests. The tyrant system, which often was popular, lasted until about 500 BC.

Archaic Period

The Archaic Period started at about 550 BC and during this time connections with the other countries improved even more. But there was also the new threat of Persia, which was expanding westwards, forcing the Greeks of Asia Minor emigrate. Many moved to the colonies in south Italy, and to the Greek mainland. Athens was beginning to be a powerful city. During Pisistratus, who was considered a tyrant, Athens became an important political and financial center. Until now cities like Corinth, Megara and Aegina had been significant commercial centers, but Athens was now rising in power.

On the Peloponnese, Sparta was completing its organization, making pacts with other city-states on the peninsula.  Argos remained independent, but suffered interior setbacks under its king Cleomenes the third, who had tried to stretch the Doric reign to Middle Greece.

In the west, other important centers were Syracuse, Akragas (Agrigentum), Selinous and Taras (Tarent). From the South of Sicily they had the threat from the Carthages and from the North the Etruscans.

delphiThe religion was flourishing everywhere, with the oracle of Delphi and its many visitors and the Eleusinian mysteries in Athens.The first philosophers started gathering knowledge.

From Miletus Thales and Anaximander worked, and this influenced amongst others Heraclitus in Efesos and Pythagoras and Xenofanes in South Italy. Pisistratus and his sons gathered scientists and artist at their court and the first dramas were played in Athens.

This was a time when the Greeks came closer together, and what one would call a nationa-listic feeling. Although the city-states were still very much autonomous, people came to realize that they shared the same culture, history, language, religion and also games.

Beginning of the 5th Century BC

In the beginning of the 5th Century BC the cities in the Ionian part had been destroyed by the Persians, and Greece had to struggle against the Eastern enemy. Athens united the Greeks against the Persians, and managed to free the cities of the coast of Asia Minor, thus controlling the Aegean sea. The feelings towards the orient were hostile, and the different cultures were set against each other: democracy against despotism, freedom against slavery, simplicity against overwhelming luxury. Pindarus with his religious poetry and Aeschylus with his serious strictness were the literary giants.

athens-ancientThe classic period 450-300 BC was the time when Athens became the most powerful city-state. Thanks to its fleet, the Greeks had defeated the Persians, and Athens now had a vast empire. It became the cultural and financial center of Greece, attracting merchants, scientists, philosophers and people of the Arts. Sophocles wrote dramas about the power of the Gods and the religious feelings were depicted in the arts. The Parthenon on the Acropolis was built by Ictinus and Callicrates, the crown of the Greek temples.

In 431 the Peloponnesian wars began. The old political and religious ideals were crushed, the new ideal was the individual, the person, and not the whole and general any more. It was a kind of anarchy against authorities and religious rules. Alcibiades was the first to practice this – he recognized noone as his superior, neither in official nor in private life. As far as we know he was the first to hire an artist to decorate his house. New gods were worshipped, like Asclepius, the god of medicine and obviously closer to Man than the Olympic Gods. Also foreign gods were venerated, like Cybele from Asia Minor.

Athens lost its empire and financial power at the Peloponnesian war, but remained cultural center. The 4th century was to be the time of the Macedonians, since the state in the north grew stronger under its king Philip II, who became ruler in 359 BC. Philip had the vision to unite Greece since he saw the country’s potential if united. Macedonia expanded into Greek territory and in Athens the Macedonians had a great enemy in the orator Demosthenes. Eventually the Greek city states recognized Philip II as commander. He started preparing for war against Persia, but was assassinated before he started.

It was his son, Alexander, that was to make the Greek culture and civilization ruler of the then known world. After a series of conquest, Alexander the Great had expanded Greece’s borders from Egypt and Greece to India.

The Hellenistic time 200 – 27 BC followed the conquers of Alexander the Great. Many foreign peoples, as far away as from India, now was part of the Greek culture, and the ancient world took an international form. The individualism was now stronger than ever, creating the idea of nothing being impossible.


Ancient Paleolithic Age

The historian Obermeier mentions the presence of a tool that is not preserved today and which was discovered in Macedonia. However, the recent discovery by French geologists in the area of Lake Corissia in Corfu of a pebble-possibly- tool, whose age was determined by the method of paleomagnetism between 950,000 and 750,000 years, greatly extends the hitherto known boundaries of prehistory. of the Greek space.

Middle Paleolithic Age

950.000 BC A stone handcuff is dated, which was found at the “Paleokastro” site near Siatista, Kozani, in 1963. It is made of greenish stone and has a length of 15.3 cm and a width of 10 cm (Veria Museum). This ax is the oldest -confirmed- creation of man that has been found to date in Greece (some scientists date it to the Ancient Paleolithic Period).

The earliest find of anthropological interest dates back to 75000 BC. and is a skull without a lower jaw, probably of a woman about 25 years old, a Neanderthal type that was discovered on 16/9/1960 in the cave “Red Stones” near the village of Petralona in Halkidiki.

44330 BC (Approximately 1,590 years). In the cave “Theopetra” in Kalambaka of the prefecture of Trikala, four fingerprints of human feet were found – the one covered and the rest of the gymnasiums – of different people, and even children (Homo sapiens neaderthalensis or Homo sapiens sapiens). This cave, measuring 24×30 meters, is the only prehistoric site in Greece where there is a sequence of embankments from the Middle and Upper Paleolithic to the Mesolithic and Neolithic. Among the findings stand out tools, ceramics, pottery, figurines, bidding banks, and especially a gold ring-shaped triptych of the Neolithic Age.

37900 BC In the place “Asprochaliko” of Epirus, near Agios Georgios of Preveza and in the place “Kokkinopilos”, many tools were discovered in a cave. The cave was used by shepherds and the radio dating gives us the oldest date of a cultural phase that we know until today for Greece. The cave was inhabited at least until 10,000 BC.

Newer Paleolithic Age

During this period, an advanced technique for making blades and processing silicon cores appeared. A place of great interest and at this stage is the (33000 BC) site “Kokkinopilos” of the river Louros (Epirus) which presents a very early stonework of special blades (800 tools and scraps). The transitional Mesolithic Age is represented by the “Sidari” site in Corfu.

7592 BC Absolute radio dating of a male skeleton who was about 25 years old, was 1.58 meters tall and died of a blow to the head. He was found buried in a shallow pit in the Franghthi cave of Ermionida. The oldest complete human skeleton discovered in the Aegean. The cave also found many tools and bones of animals, mainly deer and fish, as well as relics belonging to short men and women with widespread anemia and arthritic deformities.

Neolithic era

The need for food adequacy and stockpiling was intense at the end of the Pleistocene. The climate change that occurred then resulted in the extinction of many large prey. However, although this climate change is general, the Neolithic Age first appears in the East. This lead is attributed to: a. In the wild state of bifurcated wheat and barley. b. In the existence of animals that could easily be domesticated, such as sheep, pig and ox. The main features of this period are the cultivation of the land, the domestication of animals and permanent residence. In Greece, this cultural phase is spread through ordinary communication rather than through settlements.

6900-6400 BC Pre-ceramic Neolithic. This period is not yet known for sure in Greece. Remains of Neolithic settlements of this period are found in Argissa and Sesklo in Thessaly. The houses are wooden, with trenches and dug floors. The tools are wooden with gunpowder or obsidian blades. People are engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry and fishing. Shipping is being developed as evidenced by the obsidian fragments found in Milos and in several areas of mainland Greece and the Aegean.

6600 /5800 BC Ancient Neolithic

It is a creative period, known from many settlements, such as Nea Nikomidia in western Macedonia, Sesklo, Argissa, Otzaki Magoula, Achilleio and others. in Thessaly, Nea Makri in Attica and Corinth, Lerna and Franghthi in the Peloponnese. The settlements look like small villages, while agriculture and animal husbandry are the main activities of the inhabitants. The most characteristic element of this period is the pottery that appears for the first time.

6218 BC (about). The oldest pottery specimens have been found in Greece, in the area of Nea Nikomidia -the oldest Neolithic settlement in Greece-, between the rivers Aliakmonas and Axios of Macedonia (radio dating with carbon 14).

5900 / 5800-4800 BC The Middle Neolithic Period

Is considered a time of prosperity and growth. The largest center developed in Thessaly is Sesklo, whose “culture” extends as far as Sperchios in the south and Aliakmonas in the north. In Sesklo, the remains of a settlement of about 100 acres have been found, based on a single layout plan, the main feature of which is the narrow streets with parallel directions. The houses are four-sided and rectangular, one or two rooms. In the extreme part of the settlement there is the fortified citadel and a megaroid house, probably the residence of the ruler. Sesklo’s pottery is written in flamboyant or linear decoration. In the Peloponnese, Lerna and Franghthi, there is plenty of pottery with glossy varnish (Urfirnis). In Nea Nikomidia the houses are spacious with clay walls and a square floor plan. The end of the Middle Neolithic is marked by desolation and abandonment.

4800-3200 BC The New Neolithic or Chalcolithic Period

from its first phases has nothing to do with the culture of Sesklo. The new feature is the introduction of black or generally dark color in the decoration of the pots. In Macedonia, in the region of Drama (Sitagroi, Dikili Tas), in Thessaly in the place “Dimini” and in the place “Rachmani” but but also in the Cyclades in the place “Saliaggos” meet the most important centers of culture of this phase. In Dimini, the relatively small settlement -30 acres- has six consecutive orchards and a spacious central courtyard. Spiral and meandering motifs appear in ceramics. In Sesklo, the female figure with an infant is presented for the first time.

The Bronze Age in Greece

4000 BC-1200 BC
The first civilizations From 4000 to 2000 BC. Culture in Greece continues its upward course. Living spaces are fortified, arts are developed and commercial exchanges are expanded. The Early Helladic, Cycladic and Minoan civilizations continue.

Minoan civilisation 2000 – 1520 BC.

From 2000 – 1520 BC. we have the Minoan civilization. The palaces are built in Crete and the hieroglyphic writing appears. The art is dominated by the Kamaraic style and the ceramic wheel appears. In 1600 BC. “Linear AD” is displayed. From 1520 – 1200 BC. the Minoan centers are destroyed and the Mycenaean civilization dominates. The Achaeans occupy Crete. “Linear DW” is displayed.

Mycenean civilization 1600 – 1100 BC

The first great Greek civilization In mainland Greece , It took its name from the most important center: Mycenae . Late Bronze Age 1600 – 1100 BC.

The Dark Ages

The gradual collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, which we place based on archaeological finds between the end of the 13th and the end of the 12th century BC, is an important historical landmark for Greece. It is also important to note that in the following centuries, the 11th and 10th centuries, a major technological change took place in the wider Mediterranean and Middle East region: the iron processing technique spread and this new metal replaced copper in various uses, such as the manufacture of weapons and tools. With this development, human history goes from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age.

At the same time, in the area of ​​the eastern Mediterranean, there are war raids and population movements and social and political changes take place. In Greece, the beginning of the end of the Mycenaean era is marked by the abandonment of the building complexes called palaces, which were built on fortified citadels with the so-called cyclopean walls; from there a ruler called anax, a wider area.

The change in the way of governing, whatever the reason that caused it, undoubtedly created new political data and led to a different social organization, which, in combination with other factors that are not sufficiently known to us, created the conditions for birth of a new culture.

The descent of the Dorians 1100-700 BC

Iron and the alphabet In 1200 BC. The descent of the Dorians in Greece takes place and the first Greek colonization begins. During these years the Trojan War took place. Mycenaean civilization declines and the use of iron begins in Greece. Athens becomes the center of the arts, while Argos dominates the Peloponnese. After 800 BC. The ancient Greek religion was formed and the second Greek colonization began. The Messinian war broke out and then the Lilantian war.

Age of Classic Greece 500 -300 BC

The birth of philosophy The currency is introduced in Greece, while the Greeks penetrate in Egypt. The first written laws are published in Athens and Sparta. The Athenian alliance is created and the “golden age” of Athens begins. The Peloponnesian War broke out, the hegemony of Athens was overthrown and the Spartan hegemony began. The Boeotian War broke out and then the Third Holy War. The Macedonian king Philip II intervenes and imposes the Macedonian sovereignty. Alexander the Great overthrew the Persian state.

Hellenistic Period

Alexander had left his empire without a proper successor, and now all the territories he had conquered were divided between some of his generals, also known as the Diadochi (“successors”). Syria came under Seleucus
Egypt under Ptolemy
This was a time period when art and culture flourished.
The Greek city-states, which were virtually nonexistent since they had come under Macedonian rule, now started organizing themselves. First the Aetolian league was formed and in 280 BC the Achaean League and its goal was to resist Macedonian domination. This did not succeed however, since it was forced to ask for Macedonian help in the war against Sparta, and thus made itself the subject of Macedonian rule.

Rome began taking an interest in Greece. Philip V of Macedonia had made allies with Carthage against the Romans, but the latter defeated them in 206 and 197, which resulted in peace with Rome and the declaration of the Greek city-states’ independence. The Achaean League tried to defy the Romans as a last try to be totally independent, but the Romans invaded Greece and destroyed Corinth in 146 BC. From now on Greece was a Roman province..