History of

History of
Greece

Greece has a very rich history. According to the findings of the archaeological sites, Greece has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age. But more precise indications are for the period of the Neolithic era.

Despite the fact that an independent state under the name of Greece was recognized in 1828, the Greek history extends beyond the geographical limits of the current state and a long period of centuries into the past.

In general, the Greek History is divided into Ancient, Middle Ages, Modern and Contemporary.

Ancient Greek History at a Glance

Ancient Greek history spans nearly thirty centuries, from the end of the Dorian invasion in 900 B.C. to the fall of Greece under Roman rule in 146 B.C. However, palaeoanthropological evidence indicates anthropoids and humans to have inhabited the Aegean regions from at least the 11th millenium B.C., while Homo Erectus Trilliensis appears to have inhabited caverns of northern Greece around 750,000 B.C. Moreover archaeological evidence suggests that migratory tribes were established at the Hellenic peninsula, the island of Crete and the Aegean Cycladic Islands as far back as 5,000 or 6,000 B.C. With the introduction of metal work during the Bronze Age (between 3,000 & 2,800 B.C.) these tribes were able to develop great cities and powerful navies, resulting in two great civilizations which arose at this time – the Cycladic-Minoan and the Mycenaean civilizations. The Cycladic islands (and all Aegean after 3,300 B.C.) were first to be developed and they played the chief role in transmitting and importing ideas and technical advances from and to the rest world.

The Minoans (3,000-1,400 B.C.) are renowned for the magnificent palaces they built at Knossos and other sites on Crete. Minoan culture through its extensive maritime activities on the Aegean and Mediterranean coastlines reached into the Peloponnese and influenced one of the greatest prehistoric civilizations, the Mycenaean Civilization (1,600-1,100 B.C.) A Mycenaean society dominated the Aegean world for several centuries with its powerful navies. The Illiad, an epic written by Homer in approximately the 9th century B.C. illustrates this point through the story of the famed Trojan expedition of the Mycenaeans led by the ill-fated King Agamemnon.

Powerful as they were, the Mycenaens could not withstand the forces of historical change. The mass migration of the Hellenic tribe to the Greek mainland in 1100 to 900 B.C., the Dorians, laid the foundation for a pan-Hellenic society that superseded the Mycenaeans. This marked the beginning of the Dark Ages & the Geometric Period (1100-800 B.C.), the first period of recorded history. During the Geometric Period, the various tribes developed a common alphabet and religious system, and a uniform though the separate form of government. Cultural unity was further enhanced by the establishment of the Olympic Games in 776 B.C., an athletic event involving all of the tribes in peaceful competition. Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries were also constructed. It should be noted that such unity included the cultural development in the various colonies established by some of the city-states of the mainland Greece – from Asia Minor to Italy, Sicily and the coastal areas of France and Spain.

The Archaic Period (800-550 B.C.)

After 800 B.C. there was a rise in the Greek city-state and a period of experiment in methods of government. The isolation imposed by the geographical landscape of Greece, including the sea and mountains, indented coastlines and islands favored the growth of city-states and fostered within its citizens the development of a highly independent and keen, reasoning outlook. In these city-states (often the size of a country) we see exhibited the process of world history in the microcosm that lends a peculiar value to Greek political history and development.

The Classical Period (500-323 B.C.) marked the height of Greek cultural development. As the leader of the Delian Confederacy, an alliance between the main Greek city-states, Athens flourished both economically and culturally. The wealth that they accumulated from shipping, trading and tribute from allies enabled the Athenians to beautify their city with temples, theaters and other magnificent monuments. Under their leader Pericles, architects designed and constructed buildings on the Acropolis and in the agora. In the cultural sphere philosophers, poets, historians and artists produced some of the greatest works of art and literature – the playwrights, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, the sculptor Pheidias, and the historian Herodotus all lived during this time.

Macedonia had, thus far, played a small role in Greek affairs, but amidst the confusing conditions in the middle of 4th Century BC, the rising state of Philip of Macedon (359-336 BC) exhibited certain advantages. In 338 BC Philip defeated an army of Athenians and Thebans, and in 336 BC he was murdered.

After the assassination of his father Philip, Alexander succeeded him in the role of champion of Greece fighting against external enemies to unite the Greek city-states from the menace of Persia. History remembers Alexander the Great as one of the greatest generals and empire builders the world has ever known. He received his military training from his father Philip and his education from the great philosopher Aristotle.

In his campaign, which lasted only eleven years, Alexander created a Greek empire extending eastward as far as India, and southwards to Egypt and the Persian Gulf. In 334 B.C. Alexander crossed the Hellespont with 35,000 infantry and 4,500 cavalry, and swept across Asia Minor in a storm of glory. Within 6 years he had fully subjected the Persian Empire, Greece’s old enemy. Alexander had carried the seeds of Greek culture to the East, thereby introducing the Hellenistic age (323-43 BC), a new age in Greek history. After Alexander’s death in Babylon in 323 B.C. at the age of 33, there emerged 3 great dynasties initiated by generals who had fought alongside Alexander. For 3 centuries the momentum of the Hellenistic Age continued, dominated by the highly sophisticated and cultural Hellene people. Alexandria remained a great center of Hellenistic culture, and its library attracted great scholars and men of learning. Also, the Greek language and philosophy spread over the near east and became an important factor in the political and religious history of this region. As for Alexander himself, his name passed into the legendary circles of Medieval European thought.

Following Alexander’s death, violent, internal conflicts rendered the Greek city-states vulnerable to invasion. Finally, in 146 B.C., after years of war, Roman legions conquered Greece.

Temple Greece
Persian Wars
Meteora Agio Stefano
King Artemidoros
Mask of Agamemnon
Epidaurus
Delph Greece
Athos
Athens Museum
Athens Downtown

THE PERIODS OF GREEK HISTORY

In general, the Greek history is divided into periods, usually without clear boundaries between them:

( Human Presence in the Hellenic Region based on the Latest Findings)

  • 11,000,000 B.C. – Archanthropus of Trillia: A fossilized anthropoid shin, a cercis section (part of the bone after the human wrist) as well as a plethora of stone tools were discovered in Trillia of Chalkidike region dating back to 11,000,000 B.C.
  • 3,000,000 B.C. – The Perdikka Elephant: An elephant skeleton was discovered at the Perdikka region of Macedonia, dismembered by a team of organized hunters. The conclusion drawn from the amount of the abandoned tools is that the number of hunters approximated to 30. The hunters, after encircling the elephant, killed and subsequently dismembered it, removing slices of the animal (which they possibly transferred to their settlement).
  • 750,000 B.C. – The Archanthropus of Petralona (Chalikidike): In the cavern of Petralona, apart from the oldest remains of an artificially started fire, the bone tools and skeleton of a Homo Erectus were discovered.
  • 100,000 B.C. – Early Stone Age Settlements near Penius river at Thessaly: The German archaeological mission in Thessaly discovered early stone age tool relics (dating to 100,000 B.C.) in 1958 near the banks of Penius river. It should be noted that the most ancient stone age tool found in Greece is the ‘double-faced’ handaxe of the Palaiokastro region in Siatista which also dates to the same age [History of the Greek Nation, ‘Ekdotiki Athinon’, vol. 1, page 35].
  • 50,000 B.C. – Early Stone Age Settlements near Louros at Epirus: 800 early stone-age tools and fossilizations from metamorphosed limestone were discovered by a scientific team of Cambridge University at the locations Kokkinopelos and Asprochaliko in the valley of Louros near Ioannina [History of the Greek Nation, ‘Ekdotiki Athinon’, vol. 1, page 38].
  • 33,000 B.C. – The Most Ancient Stonecraft in Europe (Kokkinopelos): The most ancient stonecraft in Europe and the Mediterranean, made by small blocked blades, was discovered at the Kokkinopelos locations under a layer of red soil [Papadopoulos F., The Stone Age in Epirus, Dodoni Publications].
  • 7,250 B.C. – The Most Ancient Evidence of Navigation in the World – Franchthi in Argolis: The Franchthi cavern was hiding many surprises for the scientists. There, apart from the most ancient burial in Europe (10,000 B.C.), remnants of prehistoric fishing were found; and the most important: opsidian pieces of 7,000 B.C. (it should be noted that the volcanic material of opsidian was located only in the island of Melos, many miles away. Opsidian was also discovered in Chalkidike and Chirokitia of Cyprus…). Significant evidence that the inhabitants of Greece travelled the Aegean from as early as 7,000 B.C. [Jacobsen T.,  17.000 Years of Greek Prehistory, Scientific American, issue 234 (1976)].
  • 7,000 B.C. – Agricultural Cultivation at New Nicomedia: Among the rest findings of this region, 2,000 carbonized wheat grains proved that people of this distant era already knew how to cultivate the soil. New Nicomedia in Macedonia and Chirokitia in Cyprus constitute the most ancient cities with increased settlement structure and organization in the world. During the same era, Knossos, Argissa and Elateia also flourish (at the preceramic stage).
  • 5,500 B.C. (approx.) – The Lake Settlement of Dispilio in Castoria: A unique in its kind lake settlement with exceptional findings such as ceramic works, structural elements, fruits, bones, figurines, the first late stone-age flute found in European soil and the most significant finding, the Dispilio Tablet, a wooden tablet bearing inscribed symbols, dated (according to the C14 method) back to 5260 B.C.
  • 5,000 – The Sesklo Civilization: The first ‘complete’ civilization in Europe has its origins in the region of Thessaly. It was characterized by Acropolis-like forts, beautiful decorations, small land-hills, ceramic with linear jewels and stone seals with meandered geometrical shapes. During the same era, Orchomenos, New Makri and a bit later Diminio, Saliagros also flourish.

The civilization, which covers all of the third millennium B.C. and was developed in the Cycladic islands, is the so-called Protocycladic civilization. The factors contributing to its development were:

  1. The mild climate of the Cyclades, which are very accurately characterized as the “Riviera of Greece”.
  2. Their geographical position, a natural bridge between Europe and Asia.
  3. The development of shipping and therefore of trade, and
  4. The self-sufficiency they had in spite of their limited land area.

This civilization developed in three major phases. The first was from 3300 to 2800 B.C. and is called the Civilization of Pylos, from the homonymous site on the island of Melos. The second is from 2800 to 2200 B.C. and the third from 2200 to 2000 B.C. The settlements were located in coastal cities and in the beginning were without walls and guarding measures. But later, because of fear of pirates, the Cycladites moved into the interior, settled on the hills with sharp hillsides and fortified themselves with walls and towers. They lived in simple, straight-lined or curved houses in fortified settlements. Their religion consisted of a mixture of superstitions and magic. The excavations and research have shown that the Cycladites already had trade relations with mainland Greece, the coastal areas of Asia Minor and with the western Mediterranean, from the Neolithic period.

The evolution of the Greek lands in this period, was directly influenced and inspired by ideas which came chiefly from the West Coast of Asia Minor. The civilization however remained basically and distinctly Aegean by adding their own natural talent and ideas.

Of particular interest are inhabitants and the cultures of the island of Crete at Knossos and other towns where archaeological excavations uncovered palaces, tools, weapons, jewelry, artifacts, and frescoes depicting decorations and scenes of life and navy engagements.

The origins of these Minoan cultures are obscure, though evidence of affinities with Asia Minor is accumulating. The use of metal (first copper then bronze) already long familiar in the east became known to them, and they developed powerful navies by which they established relations with Egypt and the east. Soon, utilizing new knowledge as well as their own natural talents, the Cretans made rapid and brilliant artistic advancement. The arts flourished, especially in gold and ivory. The fresco painters familiar with the art of writing with pictographs representing words and, later, linear signs representing syllables can be compared with and in many instances surpassed that of Egypt and Sumeria.

The Minoan civilization, so named after legendary King Minos, was based on sea-power and on sea-borne trade with contacts in Egypt, Syria, Sicily, Spain and beyond. Perhaps it was a sense of security given to them by their strong navy which allowed the islanders to leave unfortified their palaces and towns clustered in the surrounding areas. Consequently, invasion, after more than 1000 years of peaceful development, found them unprepared. They expanded in the Peloponnese and mainland Greece and helped to develop the Mycenaean Civilization.

Homer mentions the names of five tribes: the Pelasgians, the Eteocretans, the Cydonians, the Achaeans and the Dorians, adding that each spoke its own dialect.

It was the crossroads linking three continents, and the racial elements and cultural strands of Asia, Africa Lavrys – The Minoan Double-headed Axe, Symbol of Sanctity & Authorityand Europe met and mingled here to produce a new way of life, a new philosophy of the world and an exceptionally fine art that still strikes one today with its freshness, charm, variety, and mobility.

A Bull’s Head with Golden Horns (Symbol of Male Strength & Fertility). Very little was known about Minoan Crete before the great excavations that began about 1900, and the discovery of the palaces of Knossos and Phaestos.

Society seems to have been organized in genos, or “clans” (which later took a hierarchical form), and farming, stock-raising, shipping and commerce were developed to a systematic level. The main forms of deity, and the most important cult symbols, had made their appearance in the sphere of religion, figurines of the Mother Goddess being typical together with the use of sacred symbols (the sacred horns and the double axe).

The deities were worshipped in sanctuaries in the palaces, houses or countryside, in the peak sanctuaries and in sacred caves.

In the early palace archives, use was made of the hieroglyphic script, which quickly developed into Linear A. The surviving texts – there are about two hundred – are written in the unknown Minoan language (which many researchers claim to be an ancient form of Greek) on clay “tablets”, and appear to contain information relating to accounts. They come from the archives of palaces or villas  The “Phaestos Disk”, with its unique press-typed hieroglyphic text, belongs to the first phase of the second palace period. The hieroglyphic script seems to have survived from earlier times and to have been used by the priests to write religious texts.

The early Minoan palaces were severely damaged by earthquakes around 1700 B.C. and were later rebuilt on an even grander scale. Around 1450 B.C. all the palaces were destroyed by cataclysmic earthquakes centered at the island of Thera (Santorini) 70 miles to the north. The palaces at Knossos were again rebuilt and reoccupied, only to sacked and destroyed just after 1400 B.C. by Mycenaean invaders. The Minoan civilization ceased at approximately this time.

The ruins of the fortified city of Mycenae in Southern Greece still stands as an impressive memorial to the achievements of the Mycenaean civilization. The great Lion Gate at the massive stone blocks of the city walls is a combination of function and grandeur, while the domed tombs and the ornamental offerings within them betray advanced techniques and immense wealth respectively.

It is believed that even in the late Bronze period there were already many city-states within Greece, such as Corinth, Pylos, Tiryns and Mycenae. Individual kings, who inhabited palaces enclosed within massive walls that were made to defend their kingdom, ruled these independent city-states. The people who followed the Minoans (3000 – 1500 B.C.) during the late Bronze Age were invaders who spoke one of the earliest forms of Greek, the Mycenaeans (1500 – 1100 BC). They are named after the city Mycenae where the German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann made his great discoveries in 1876.

Some of the information that we have on the Mycenaean civilization is obtained from the Linear B writings that they used which were inscribed on clay tablets. This Linear B form of writing was an adaptation of a Cretan (Minoan) syllabic system, Linear A. Other sources of information were foreign records, foreign exchanges of goods and archaeology.

The power of the Bronze Age Mycenaeans crumbled when the less civilized and warlike Hellenic race of Dorians moved into Greece from the north. The Mycenaean stronghold decayed and Greece entered a “Dark Age” which was to last for three centuries. However, the exploits of the Mycenaeans were not forgotten, and they form the basis for the epic stories of Greece’s “Heroic Age” that were recorded by Homer and his contemporaries in approximately 800 B.C. According to the historian Thucydides, it was the Mycenaean struggle to keep open their trade route to the Black Sea that sparked the Trojan War – though legend was later to attribute the war to the more romantic cause of the fight for Helen of Troy.

The Mycenaean civilization came to an abrupt stop in the 12th century B.C.; we don’t really understand why all this flourishing force suddenly declined. Some claim that the reason was the invasions by the Dorians, a tribe of Greeks from the north that migrated their way down to Greece to obtain control over the seas, that forced the beginning of the end for the Mycenaeans. The Dorians had obtained iron weapons, which might have been used as a means to conquer the Mycenaean civilization. This possible ending is one that does not gain too wide an acceptance, due to the fact that the Mycenaeans were a highly effective defensive society. A better explanation for this abrupt ending may be an economic deterioration and then a slow migration of new people from the north.

The time after the 12th century B.C. brought on artwork and pottery that was inferior to the pottery created recently by the Mycenaeans. New sub-Mycenaean style pottery existed which was characterized by the lower standards of figures and craftsmanship. This drop in the skill can be dated back to 1100 B.C., nearing where the Mycenaeans mysteriously disappear.

As noted by a leading Bronze Age historian, Colin Renfrew, this disappearance may be due to the collapse of the Mycenaean society through three possibilities: 1) collapse of the economic system, 2) dislocation of the elite or rich 3) mass amounts of crop failure. As the Mycenaean society became obsolete, so did the Linear B writing that had been used by these people; in fact all writing disappeared around 1100 B.C. as well. Without the Linear B writing, it is quite difficult to learn what exactly happened to the Mycenaean society as we approach the Dark Ages.

After 800 B.C. there was a rise in the Greek city-state and a period of experiment in methods of government. The isolation imposed by the geographical landscape of Greece, including the sea and mountains, indented coastlines and islands favored the growth of city-states and fostered within its citizens the development of a highly independent and keen, reasoning outlook. In these city-states (often the size of a country) we see exhibited the process of world history in the microcosm that lends a peculiar value to Greek political history and development.

Numerous important changes took place in the Greek governmental structure during the Archaic period. These were evolutionary developments that gradually built the foundation of classic Greek democracy that matured later. When the Greeks emerged from the Dark Ages, they were quite disorganized and did not seem to desire a more central government, but the population was growing rapidly and therefore required to have some kind of rule that would assure a harmonious social co-existence.

There were three main types of government that most Greeks lived under in the Archaic period. The first type of government exclusively dominating at the very beginning of the Archaic period appears to have been monarchy (which is ruled by a king), then some city-states changed to aristocracy or oligarchy (which is ruled by the noble class or by the richest men).

At the end of the Archaic period there tyranny (which is ruled by one powerful aristocrat) began to prevail.

Yet, despite this political dismemberment and despite their local antagonisms the Greeks spiritually remained one. The rise of the great sanctuaries at Delphi and Olympia, the festivals and games; the language and the common heritage all gave the Greeks a strong sense of unity.

The Greek world at the beginning of the 6th century B.C. is no longer confined mainly to the Greek peninsula. It occupies the islands of the Aegean, the western seaboard of Asia Minor the coasts of Macedonia and Thrace, of southern Italy and Sicily eve Africa and the Black Sea. The Greeks are called by a national name Hellenes, the symbol of a fully developed national self-consciousness. They are divided into the Dorians, the Ionians and the Aeolians. The heroic monarchy has nearly everywhere disappeared.

It is probable that the explanation is to be found, directly or indirectly, in a single cause, the Dorian invasion. In northern Greece the Dorians occupy the little state of Doris, and in the Aegean they form the population of Crete, Rhodes and some smaller islands. Greek tradition explained the overthrow of the Achaean system by an invasion of the Peloponnese by the Dorians, a northern tribe, which had found a temporary home in Doris.

With the Dorian migration Greek tradition connected the expansion of the Greek race eastwards across the Aegean. In the centre comes the Ionian dodecapolis, a group consisting of ten towns on the mainland, together with; the islands of Samos and Chios. The Ionians also occupy Euboea and the Cyclades. Although it would appear that Cyprus (and possibly Pamphylia) had been occupied by settlers from Greece in the Mycenaean age, Greek tradition is probably correct in putting the colonization of Asia Minor and the islands of the Aegean after the Dorian migration.

Toward the end of the 6th century B.C. there was an event which was to have a profound influence on Greek History. The relations of Ionian Greek cities in Asia Minor and their inland neighbors had been friendly until the end of the 7th century when they fell under the control of the inland state of Lydia.

The Lydians in turn were defeated by the expanding state of Persia in 546 B.C. and the Greek cities of Ionia automatically became a part of the vast Persian Empire. But, in 499 B.C. these Greek cities revolted assisted by Athens. Darius, the Persian King, was determined to punish the cities which had defied him. He sent a fleet of transports to the coast of Attica (490 B.C.). The troops disembarked in the bay of Marathon, and were attacked by a small force of Athenians who had marched from Athens. The Persians were defeated and hastily re-embarked for home.

Ten years later Xerxes the successor of Darius dispatched another expedition. The army came by land through Macedonia, and the fleet sailed along the coast. The army was halted at the pass of Thermopylae by only 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians, whose heroic resistance held the whole army of 220,000 for 3 days until they were killed in battle. This small delay gave warning to the Greek states to prepare for defense.

The Persians pressed on to Attica. They took Athens and destroyed all of the buildings on the Acropolis. The Greek fleet, however, more than half of which was an Athenian, defeated the Persian fleet in the Bay of Salamis. In the following year, the Persian army, which had withdrawn to an entrenched camp on the North slope of the Mountain of Cithaeron near the town of Plataeai, was defeated by a Confederate Greek Army. Salamis and Plataeai were decisive and the Persian menace was thus effectively removed. Europe was saved at this time from Asiatic presence and influence. The 5 city-states, Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Argos and Corinth, each had acquired their individuality with which they were henceforth to be associated with later times. The subsequent history of Greece until the time of the Roman conquest was to be, in a great measure, the history of the interrelation of these 5 city-states.

Athens soon rose into power by taking advantage of the newly formed Delian League. The immense wealth that flowed into the city from its allies, in combination with the successful administration by Pericles, was the cause for the dawn of the Golden Age. Democracy, development, philosophical and artistic triumph were only some of the key features to characterize these years. This course of events provoked the envy of Athen’s greatest competitor, Sparta. In a quest to increase their sphere of influence, the two city states and their allies marched into a civil conflict, destined to be known as the Peloponnesian War. Although Sparta emerged victoriously, a turmoil of constant divisions was to dominate through the first half of the 4th century, where Thebes also began to get dynamically involved. The sway of power, the undecided outcomes and finally permitted to Macedonia to play a more active role.

Macedonia had, thus far, played a small role in Greek affairs, but amidst the confusing conditions in the middle of 4th Century BC, the rising state of Philip of Macedon (359-336 BC) exhibited certain advantages. In 338 BC Philip defeated an army of Athenians and Thebans, and in 336 BC he was murdered.

After the assassination of his father Philip, Alexander succeeded him in the role of champion of Greece fighting against external enemies to unite the Greek city-states from the menace of Persia. History remembers Alexander the Great as one of the greatest generals and empire builders the world has ever known. He received his military training from his father Philip and his education from the great philosopher Aristotle.

In his campaign which lasted only eleven years, Alexander created a Greek empire extending eastward as far as India, and southwards to Egypt and the Persian Gulf. In 334 B.C. Alexander crossed the Hellespont with 35,000 infantry and 4,500 cavalry, and swept across Asia Minor in a storm of glory. Within 6 years he had fully subjected the Persian Empire, Greece’s old enemy. Alexander had carried the seeds of Greek culture to the East thereby introducing the Hellenistic age (323-43 BC), a new age in Greek history.

After Alexander’s death in Babylon in 323 B.C. at the age of 33, there emerged 3 great dynasties initiated by generals who had fought alongside Alexander. For 3 centuries the momentum of the Hellenistic Age continued, dominated by the highly sophisticated and cultural Hellene people. Alexandria remained a great center of Hellenistic culture, and its library attracted great scholars and men of learning. Also, the Greek language and philosophy spread over the near east and became an important factor in the political and religious history of this region. As for Alexander himself, his name passed into the legendary circles of Medieval European thought.

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