History of Greece
The first evidence of human life in
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. 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 Minoan period
During the Minoan period in Crete (approximately, 2nd millennium B.C.) a
more sophisticated, organised society developed with a culture specific to
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 craft
works, oil and wine as well as importers of food and raw materials. It was
during this time in Crete that the first major mercantile navy was developed
The Geometric period
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.
The Hellenistic Age
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..
The Mycenaean period
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..
The classic period
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.
The Roman period
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 in Greece.
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.
War if Independence
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.
Balkan wars and WW2
In 1913 during the Balkan 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.