History

Ancient and Classical periods

Funerary stele from Mycenae (1500 BC): The standing charioteer pulls at the reins; a second figure, possibly holding a sword, is depicted in front of the chariot. The spirals might point to the waves of the sea. The earliest evidence of the presence of human ancestors in the southern Balkans, dated to 270,000 BC, is to be found in the Petralona cave, in the Greek province of Macedonia. All three stages of the stone age (PaleolithicMesolithic, and Neolithic) are represented in Greece, for example in the Franchthi Cave. Neolithic settlements in Greece, dating from the 7th millennium BC, are the oldest in Europe by several centuries, as Greece lies on the route via which farming spread from the Near East to Europe.

 

Fresco displaying the Minoan ritual of “bull leaping”, found in Knossos Greece is home to the first advanced civilizations in Europe and is considered the birthplace of Western civilization, beginning with the Cycladic civilization on the islands of the Aegean Sea at around 3200 BC, the Minoan civilization in Crete (2700–1500 BC), and then the Mycenaean civilization on the mainland (1900–1100 BC).These civilizations possessed writing, the Minoans writing in an undeciphered script known as Linear A, and the Mycenaeans in Linear B, an early form of Greek. The Mycenaeans gradually absorbed the Minoans, but collapsed violently around 1200 BC, during a time of regional upheaval known as the Bronze Age collapse. This ushered in a period known as the Greek Dark Ages, from which written records are absent.

 

Greek territories and colonies during the Archaic period (750–550 BC). The end of the Dark Ages is traditionally dated to 776 BC, the year of the first Olympic Games. The Iliad and the Odyssey, the foundational texts of Western literature, are believed to have been composed by Homer in the 7th or 8th centuries BC.[35][36] With the end of the Dark Ages, there emerged various kingdoms and city-states across the Greek peninsula, which spread to the shores of the Black SeaSouthern Italy (“Magna Graecia”) and Asia Minor. These states and their colonies reached great levels of prosperity that resulted in an unprecedented cultural boom, that of classical Greece, expressed in architecturedramasciencemathematics and philosophy. In 508 BC, Cleisthenes instituted the world’s first democratic system of government in Athens.

 

The Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, emblem of classical Greece. By 500 BC, the Persian Empire controlled the Greek city states in Asia Minor and Macedonia. Attempts by some of the Greek city-states of Asia Minor to overthrow Persian rule failed, and Persia invaded the states of mainland Greece in 492 BC, but was forced to withdraw after a defeat at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. A second invasion by the Persians followed in 480 BC. Following decisive Greek victories in 480 and 479 BC at SalamisPlataea, and Mycale, the Persians were forced to withdraw for a second time, marking their eventual withdrawal from all of their European territories. Led by Athens and Sparta, the Greek victories in the Greco-Persian Wars are considered a pivotal moment in world history, as the 50 years of peace that followed are known as the Golden Age of Athens, the seminal period of ancient Greek development that laid many of the foundations of Western civilization.

 

Alexander the Great on his horse Bucephalus, whose conquests led to the Hellenistic Age. Lack of political unity within Greece resulted in frequent conflict between Greek states. The most devastating intra-Greek war was the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), won by Sparta and marking the demise of the Athenian Empire as the leading power in ancient Greece. Both Athens and Sparta were later overshadowed by Thebes and eventually Macedon, with the latter uniting the Greek world in the League of Corinth (also known as the Hellenic League or Greek League) under the guidance of Phillip II, who was elected leader of the first unified Greek state in history.

 

Map of Alexander’s short-lived empire (334–323 BC). Following the assassination of Phillip II, his son Alexander III (“The Great”) assumed the leadership of the League of Corinth and launched an invasion of the Persian Empire with the combined forces of all Greek states in 334 BC. Undefeated in battle, Alexander had conquered the Persian Empire in its entirety by 330 BC. By the time of his death in 323 BC, he had created one of the largest empires in history, stretching from Greece to India. His empire split into several kingdoms upon his death, the most famous of which were the Seleucid EmpirePtolemaic Egypt, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and the Indo-Greek Kingdom. Many Greeks migrated to AlexandriaAntiochSeleucia, and the many other new Hellenistic cities in Asia and Africa.[41] Although the political unity of Alexander’s empire could not be maintained, it resulted in the Hellenistic civilization and spread the Greek language and Greek culture in the territories conquered by Alexander. Greek science, technology, and mathematics are generally considered to have reached their peak during the Hellenistic period.

 

Modern period

In the late eighteenth century, an increase in secular learning during the Modern Greek Enlightenment led to the revival among Greeks of the diaspora of the notion of a Greek nation tracing its existence to ancient Greece, distinct from the other Orthodox peoples, and having a right to political autonomy. One of the organizations formed in this intellectual milieu was the Filiki Eteria, a secret organization formed by merchants in Odessa in 1814. Appropriating a long-standing tradition of Orthodox messianic prophecy aspiring to the resurrection of the eastern Roman empire and creating the impression they had the backing of Tsarist Russia, they managed amidst a crisis of Ottoman trade, from 1815 onwards, to engage traditional strata of the Greek Orthodox world in their liberal nationalist cause. The Filiki Eteria planned to launch revolution in the Peloponnese, the Danubian Principalities and Constantinople. The first of these revolts began on 6 March 1821 in the Danubian Principalities under the leadership of Alexandros Ypsilantis, but it was soon put down by the Ottomans. The events in the north spurred the Greeks of the Peloponnese into action and on 17 March 1821 the Maniots declared war on the Ottomans.By the end of the month, the Peloponnese was in open revolt against the Ottomans and by October 1821 the Greeks under Theodoros Kolokotronis had captured Tripolitsa. The Peloponnesian revolt was quickly followed by revolts in CreteMacedonia and Central Greece, which would soon be suppressed. Meanwhile, the makeshift Greek navy was achieving success against the Ottoman navy in the Aegean Sea and prevented Ottoman reinforcements from arriving by sea. In 1822 and 1824 the Turks and Egyptians ravaged the islands, including Chios and Psara, committing wholesale massacres of the population.This had the effect of galvanizing public opinion in western Europe in favor of the Greek rebels.Tensions soon developed among different Greek factions, leading to two consecutive civil wars. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Sultan negotiated with Mehmet Ali of Egypt, who agreed to send his son Ibrahim Pasha to Greece with an army to suppress the revolt in return for territorial gain. Ibrahim landed in the Peloponnese in February 1825 and had immediate success: by the end of 1825, most of the Peloponnese was under Egyptian control, and the city of Missolonghi—put under siege by the Turks since April 1825—fell in April 1826. Although Ibrahim was defeated in Mani, he had succeeded in suppressing most of the revolt in the Peloponnese and Athens had been retaken. After years of negotiation, three Great Powers, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France, decided to intervene in the conflict and each nation sent a navy to Greece. Following news that combined Ottoman–Egyptian fleets were going to attack the Greek island of Hydra, the allied fleet intercepted the Ottoman–Egyptian fleet at Navarino. After a week-long standoff, a battle began which resulted in the destruction of the Ottoman–Egyptian fleet. A French expeditionary force was dispatched to supervise the evacuation of the Egyptian army from the Peloponnese, while the Greeks proceeded to the captured part of Central Greece by 1828. As a result of years of negotiation, the nascent Greek state was finally recognized under the London Protocol in 1830.

 

Kingdom of Greece

The Entry of King Otto in Athens, painted by Peter von Hess in 1839. In 1827, Ioannis Kapodistrias, from Corfu, was chosen by the Third National Assembly at Troezen as the first governor of the First Hellenic Republic. Kapodistrias established a series of state, economic and military institutions. Soon tensions appeared between him and local interests. Following his assassination in 1831 and the subsequent conference a year later, the Great Powers of Britain, France and Russia installed Bavarian Prince Otto von Wittelsbach as monarch. One of his first actions was to transfer the capital from Nafplio to Athens. In 1843 an uprising forced the king to grant a constitution and a representative assembly. Due to his authoritarian rule, he was eventually dethroned in 1862 and a year later replaced by Prince Wilhelm (William) of Denmark, who took the name George I and brought with him the Ionian Islands as a coronation gift from Britain. In 1877 Charilaos Trikoupis, who is credited with significant improvement of the country’s infrastructure, curbed the power of the monarchy to interfere in the assembly by issuing the rule of vote of confidence to any potential prime minister.

 

George I was King from 1863 to 1913. Corruption and Trikoupis’ increased spending to create necessary infrastructure like the Corinth Canalovertaxed the weak Greek economy, forcing the declaration of public insolvency in 1893 and to accept the imposition of an International Financial Control authority to pay off the country’s debtors. Another political issue in 19th-century Greece was uniquely Greek: the language question. The Greek people spoke a form of Greek called Demotic. Many of the educated elite saw this as a peasant dialect and were determined to restore the glories of Ancient GreekGovernment documents and newspapers were consequently published in Katharevousa (purified) Greek, a form which few ordinary Greeks could read. Liberals favoured recognising Demotic as the national language, but conservatives and the Orthodox Church resisted all such efforts, to the extent that, when the New Testament was translated into Demotic in 1901, riots erupted in Athens and the government fell (the Evangeliaka). This issue would continue to plague Greek politics until the 1970s.

 

The territorial evolution of the Kingdom of Greece from 1832 to 1947. All Greeks were united, however, in their determination to liberate the Greek-speaking provinces of the Ottoman Empire, regardless of the dialect they spoke. Especially in Crete, a prolonged revolt in 1866–1869 had raised nationalist fervour. When war broke out between Russia and the Ottomans in 1877, Greek popular sentiment rallied to Russia’s side, but Greece was too poor, and too concerned about British intervention, to officially enter the war. Nevertheless, in 1881, Thessaly and small parts of Epirus were ceded to Greece as part of the Treaty of Berlin, while frustrating Greek hopes of receiving Crete. Greeks in Crete continued to stage regular revolts, and in 1897, the Greek government under Theodoros Deligiannis, bowing to popular pressure, declared war on the Ottomans. In the ensuing Greco-Turkish War of 1897, the badly trained and equipped Greek army was defeated by the Ottomans. Through the intervention of the Great Powers, however, Greece lost only a little territory along the border to Turkey, while Crete was established as an autonomous state under Prince George of Greece. With state coffers empty, fiscal policy came under International Financial Control. In the next decade, Greek efforts were focused on the Macedonian Struggle, a state-sponsored guerilla campaign against pro-Bulgarian rebel gangs in Ottoman-ruled Macedonia, which ended inconclusively with the Young Turk Revolution in 1908.

Expansion, disaster, and reconstruction

Greek military formation in the World War IVictory Parade in Arc de Triomphe, Paris, July 1919.

 

Map of Greater Greece after the Treaty of Sèvres, when the Megali Idea seemed close to fulfillment, featuring Eleftherios Venizelos as its supervising genius. Amidst general dissatisfaction with the state of the nation, a group of military officers organized a coup in August 1909 and shortly thereafter called to power Cretan politician Eleftherios Venizelos. After winning two elections and becoming Prime Minister, Venizelos initiated wide-ranging fiscal, social, and constitutional reforms, reorganized the military, made Greece a member of the Balkan League, and led the country through the Balkan Wars. By 1913, Greece’s territory and population had almost doubled, annexing CreteEpirus, and Macedonia. In the following years, the struggle between King Constantine I and charismatic Venizelos over the country’s foreign policy on the eve of World War I dominated the country’s political scene, and divided the country into two opposing groups. During parts of World War I, Greece had two governments; a royalist pro-German government in Athens and a Venizelist pro-Entente one in Thessaloniki. The two governments were united in 1917, when Greece officially entered the war on the side of the Entente. In the aftermath of World War I, Greece attempted further expansion into Asia Minor, a region with a large native Greek population at the time, but was defeated in the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922, contributing to a massive flight of Asia Minor Greeks. These events overlapped, with both happening during the Greek genocide (1914–1922), a period during which, according to various sources, Ottoman and Turkish officials contributed to the death of several hundred thousand Asia Minor Greeks. The resultant Greek exodus from Asia Minor was made permanent, and expanded, in an official Population exchange between Greece and Turkey. The exchange was part of the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne which ended the war. The following era was marked by instability, as over 1.5 million property less Greek refugees from Turkey had to be integrated into Greek society. Cappadocian GreeksPontian Greeks, and non-Greek followers of Greek Orthodoxy were all subject to the exchange as well. Some of the refugees could not speak the language, and were from what had been unfamiliar environments to mainland Greeks, such as in the case of the Cappadocians and non-Greeks. The refugees also made a dramatic post-war population boost, as the amount of refugees was more than a quarter of Greece’s prior population. Following the catastrophic events in Asia Minor, the monarchy was abolished via a referendum in 1924 and the Second Hellenic Republic was declared. In 1935, a royalist general-turned-politician Georgios Kondylis took power after a coup d’état and abolished the republic, holding a rigged referendum, after which King George II returned to Greece and was restored to the throne.

 

Dictatorship, World War II, and reconstruction

 

Greek troops during the Italian Spring Offensive (1941) in the Greco-Italian War. Greece’s victory against Fascist Italy, gave the Allies their first victory over Axis forces on land in World War II. On 28 October 1940, Fascist Italy demanded the surrender of Greece, but the Greek administration refused, and, in the following Greco-Italian War, Greece repelled Italian forces into Albania, giving the Allies their first victory over Axis forces on land. The Greek struggle and victory against the Italians received exuberant praise at the time. Most prominent is the quote attributed to Winston Churchill: “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but we will say that heroes fight like Greeks.” French general Charles de Gaulle was among those who praised the fierceness of the Greek resistance. In an official notice released to coincide with the Greek national celebration of the Day of Independence, De Gaulle expressed his admiration for the Greek resistance: The country would eventually fall to urgently dispatched German forces during the Battle of Greece, despite the fierce Greek resistance, particularly in the Battle of the Metaxas LineAdolf Hitler himself recognised the bravery and the courage of the Greek army, stating in his address to the Reichstag on 11 December 1941, that: “Historical justice obliges me to state that of the enemies who took up positions against us, the Greek soldier particularly fought with the highest courage. He capitulated only when further resistance had become impossible and useless.”

 

Guerillas of EAM-ELAS resistance organization. The Nazis proceeded to administer Athens and Thessaloniki, while other regions of the country were given to Nazi Germany’s partners, Fascist Italy and Bulgaria. The occupation brought about terrible hardships for the Greek civilian population. Over 100,000 civilians died of starvation during the winter of 1941–1942, tens of thousands more died because of reprisals by Nazis and collaborators, the country’s economy was ruined, and the great majority of Greek Jews were deported and murdered in Nazi concentration camps. The Greek Resistance, one of the most effective resistance movements in Europe, fought vehemently against the Nazis and their collaborators. The German occupiers committed numerous atrocities, mass executions, and wholesale slaughter of civilians and destruction of towns and villages in reprisals. In the course of the concerted anti-guerilla campaign, hundreds of villages were systematically torched and almost 1,000,000 Greeks left homeless. In total, the Germans executed some 21,000 Greeks, the Bulgarians 40,000, and the Italians 9,000.

 

People in Athens celebrate the liberation from the Axis powers, October 1944. Postwar Greece would soon experience a civil war and political polarization. Following liberation and the Allied victory over the Axis, Greece annexed the Dodecanese Islandsfrom Italy and regained Western Thrace from Bulgaria. The country almost immediately descended into a bloody civil war between communist forces and the anti-communist Greek government, which lasted until 1949 with the latter’s victory. The conflict, considered one of the earliest struggles of the Cold War, resulted in further economic devastation, mass population displacement and severe political polarisation for the next thirty years. Although the post-war decades were characterized by social strife and widespread marginalisation of the left in political and social spheres, Greece nonetheless experienced rapid economic growth and recovery, propelled in part by the U.S.-administered Marshall Plan. In 1952, Greece joined NATO, reinforcing its membership in the Western Bloc of the Cold War. King Constantine II‘s dismissal of George Papandreou‘s centrist government in July 1965 prompted a prolonged period of political turbulence, which culminated in a coup d’état on 21 April 1967 by the Regime of the Colonels. Under the junta, civil rights were suspended, political repression was intensified, and human rights abuses, including state-sanctioned torture, were rampant. Economic growth remained rapid before plateauing in 1972. The brutal suppression of the Athens Polytechnic uprising on 17 November 1973 is claimed to have sent shockwaves through the regime, and a counter-coup overthrew Georgios Papadopoulos to establish brigadier Dimitrios Ioannidis as leader. On 20 July 1974, Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus in response to a Greek-backed Cypriot coup, triggering a political crisis that led to the regime’s collapse.

 

Third Hellenic Republic

The former prime minister Konstantinos Karamanlis was invited back from Paris where he had lived in self-exile since 1963, marking the beginning of the Metapolitefsi era. The first multiparty elections since 1964 were held on the first anniversary of the Polytechnic uprising. A democratic and republican constitution was promulgated on 11 June 1975 following a referendum which chose to not restore the monarchy.

 

Signing at Zappeion of the documents for the accession of Greece to the European Communities in 1979. Meanwhile, Andreas Papandreou, George Papandreou’s son, founded the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) in response to Karamanlis’s conservative New Democracy party, with the two political formations dominating in government over the next four decades. Greece rejoined NATO in 1980. Greece became the tenth member of the European Communities (subsequently subsumed by the European Union) on 1 January 1981, ushering in a period of sustained growth. Widespread investments in industrial enterprises and heavy infrastructure, as well as funds from the European Union and growing revenues from tourism, shipping, and a fast-growing service sector raised the country’s standard of living to unprecedented levels. Traditionally strained relations with neighbouring Turkey improved when successive earthquakes hit both nations in 1999, leading to the lifting of the Greek veto against Turkey’s bid for EU membership. The country adopted the euro in 2001 and successfully hosted the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. More recently, Greece has suffered greatly from the late-2000s recession and has been central to the related European sovereign debt crisis. Due to the adoption of the euro, when Greece experienced financial crisis, it could no longer devalue its currency to regain competitiveness. Youth unemployment was especially high during the 2000s. The Greek government-debt crisis, and subsequent austerity policies, have resulted in protests.

Comments are closed.