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The History of Greece

Greece is a country synonymous with a rich ancient history reflected in its occupation by many leading dynasties from the Persians, Romans and Byzantines to the European Crusaders, Ottoman Turks, Italians and modern day Greeks. Each Greek Island has its own unique history, which we cover as part of our island area focus. They were the basis of modern day civilisation from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and Turkey’s Anatolia founded in wonderful myths and legends from the birth of Zeus to the legend of the Minotaur. The occupation of the islands by Bronze age cultures, the Minoans, Mycenaeans and Trojans provided us with the history of Classical Greece, influencing even the mainland stalwarts of Athens, Sparta and.


Early History

The first tribes are thought to have inhabited Greece around the late 3rd century BC and set up as agrarian tribes Greek civilisation spread out as far as Egypt and the Pakistani Hindu Kush Mountains and many Greek communities still live all over the world. The Minoans were one of the earliest civilizations to inhabit the present day Greek territory when they landed on the island of Crete and the legends of King Minos were borne. After a long rule, the Mycenaeans invaded from mainland Greece and there was a volcanic eruption from Thera, which ended the Minoan civilization. The Mycenaeans ruled for 1600 years throughout the Bronze Age. The Mycenaean civilisation collapsed around the 11th century BC when the Dorians are believed to have invaded and Greece entered the Dark Ages when culture and literacy was in decline.

The Dark Ages and Ancient Greece

This period lasted from the decline of the Mycenaean civilization until the 9th century BC. The fall of the Mycenaeans corresponded with the collapse of other great eastern empires in particular the Hittite and Egyptian dynasties. The invasion of the sea-faring Dorians led to rule by Kings who were later replaced by an upper class aristocracy. Iron replaced bronze as the most important metal particularly for warfare and greater equality grew amongst the many tribes that inhabited Europe and the East. By the time the Dark Ages ended the Phoenicians had re-injected culture back into Greek society. Ancient Greece flourished; the first Olympic Games were held in 776 BC, language, politics, education, philosophy, art and architecture were highly prevalent and many great literary works like Homers epics were published. Many historians regard this period as the foundation of modern Western civilisation. Each city ruled its people independently although some smaller cities were subsidiaries of larger ones. The result of this was that when Greece went to war against the Persians and Peloponnese, it went as an alliance of cities rather than a united country.

Hellenic Greece

The Ancient Greek era ran into the Hellenic period, which began in 323 BC after the death of Alexander the Great and continued up until the dawn of Christianity in the 3rd century AD and Roman rule. During this period Hellensitic Greece included many great regions including Alexandria, Ptolemaic Egypt, Antioch and Seleucid Syria. However after Alexander’s death the Greek territory declined as some of these great regions were made into new kingdoms or incorporated into other areas. Macedonia controlled some of the Greek city-states despite revolts from Athens, Rhodes and Pergamum and several alliances were formed between the cities. In 267 BC they revolted against Macedonian rule in a war known as the Chremonidean War. The Greeks were defeated and Athens lost political control and independence. The Aegean Islands (excluding Rhodes) were added to Macedon when the Egyptian navy was defeated at Kos. In 217 BC Philip V of Macedon untied and controlled the Greeks except for Athens, Rhodes and Pergamum. His strategy was to ward off the advancing Roman Empire. His mistake was not being able to win over Rhodes and Pergamum, who eventually formed alliances with Rome.


Roman Rule

The Romans defeated Philip and Greece was occupied, but Flaminius liked the Greeks and their culture and eventually much of their culture was adopted by the Romans. Macedonia was the first Greek territory to come under Roman rule in 168 BC, but the rampage at Corinth and defeat of Philip brought the rest of the territories under Roman occupation. The Greeks did gain some degree of autonomy and were able to administer their country and maintain the existing political and civic life.  Roman rule remained until the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the sovereignty of Constantine the Great.

The Byzantine Empire

Constantine the Great made Byzantium an ancient Greek city, the new capital of the Roman Empire and called it Constantinople. Constantine and his successor Justinian set the boundaries for the Byzantine Empire by securing its borders. Christianity was adopted and the Orthodox religion established as part of it. Old enemies including the Persians, Slavs and Avars as well as new ones – the Bulgarians and Arabs attacked and whilst none succeeded in occupying the Empire they did form settlements within it. Many changes took place within the territory particularly in the realms of administration, the military and farming. Over time the Empire was reduced in size and lost many wealthy regions. However in the late 8th century, the Byzantine Empire started to recover and Greeks settled in different areas of now non-Greek territories were encouraged to settle within the Empire. Major towns and cities prospered once again and some attracted the attention of the Venetians who saw the strategic location of the country and its islands as ideal for trade. By the 11th and 12th centuries the Byzantine Empire experienced a Golden Age, where art and culture flourished and gave inspiration to the West with many architects of the time adopting Byzantine principles in their designs.

The Fourth Crusade and the Ottoman Empire

In 1204 the Greeks lost control of Constantinople to the Latin crusaders. The Latin rulers influenced much of Greek life and by 1261 the Empire was divided between the Byzantine rulers and a dynasty of Epirus and Palaiologos, Turks invaded frequently and further diminished Greek territory and by 1453 the Empire fell under Ottoman control until the Battle of Navarino in 1827. When the Ottomans took control, there was a mass Greek migration with Greek intelligentsia fleeing to Western Europe and many other Greeks fleeing to the mountains. The intelligentsia played a key role in the European Renaissance. People were segregated throughout the Empire according to religious lines with those adhering to or converting to Islam getting the best treatment. The Greek Orthodox Church helped maintain Greek Christain beliefs as well as preserving their cultural, linguistic and ethnic heritage. Eventually the Greeks revolted and with threats of intervention from Russia, Britain and France they managed to overthrow the Turks.

Modern Greece

After the decline of the Ottoman Turks Greece continued to expand and was awarded many territories under various European treaties including the Ionian Islands and Crete. Ionnis Kapodistrias, the Russian minister for foreign affairs was Greek and returned to his homeland to become its new President. The Republic lasted until stronger European powers turned it into a monarchy with Kings from Bavaria and Denmark. By 1947 present day Greece was in place. During WW1 Greece sided against Turkey and the central powers and as a result the country was awarded parts of Asia Minor including present day Izmir in Turkey. Turkish nationalists organized an assault on Greek troops and won back the city. Many of its Greek speaking population had to leave for Greece just after Turkish speaking people on Greek territory had to migrate to Turkey. Unrest in Europe and subsequently Greece continued until WW2 when Greece sided with the Allied forces against Hitler and Mussolini. Greece was invaded by Hitler in 1941 and thousands of  Greeks were massacred and many sent to concentration camps. German occupation ended in 1944 when British invaded. As the Second World War waged across the globe, the Greeks fought their own civil war right up until 1949. The war was between the Greek governmental forces supported by the UK and later the USA and the Democratic Army of Greece, which was the military arm of the Greek Communist party. The latter were unsuccessful and Greece was made a member of NATO. Greece was awarded money from the Marshall Plan and the economy prospered. In 1967 the Greek military forced a coup that lasted until 1974 and abolished the Greek monarchy. The coup ended and a vote was held regarding the abolition of the monarchy and the creation of a republic. Greece rejoined NATO in 1980 and became a member of the European Union in 1981.