History

This page is still under construction. Your comments will be much appreciated.

This is just a brief outline of Greek history, with short descriptions whose links refer to posts which examine particular aspects in more detail.

Fitting some thousand years worth of history (not to mention prehistory) in a page is a formidable task and this attempt here is by no means finished. I will keep updating this page and adding new links as soon as they are posted.

A. PREHISTORY

1. Paleolithic (before 10,000 BCE) No one knows for sure when the first humans (or hominids) arrived in Greece. This question will remain open, until new finds allow for a better picture. The first human remains discovered date from between 400 and 250 thousand years ago. Together with chipped stone tools etc., they confirm that Greece was inhabited from very early indeed. Items found far from their origins confirm communication between the islands on primitive craft and the existence of trade.

2. Neolithic (10,000-2,800 BCE) Most people think Neolithic means polished stone tools, but it was more than that. Gradually, the nomadic hunter-gatherers became  shepherds and farmers who lived in permanent settlements. These gradually grew into cities with a hierarchical social structure. Warfare seems more than possible, as fortified settlements like Sesklo and Dimini testify.

3. Bronze Age (2,800-1100 BCE) This is marked by the use of metal, initially gold, silver and copper. It is the time of the war of Troy and most other Greek myths. Three local civilisations emerged, called Minoan (in Crete), Cycladic (in the Cycladic islands), and Helladic (or Mycenean, on the mainland), with many similarities. Various scripts are invented and used. There is evidence of a rich cultural life and flourishing commerce. Palaces with indoor plumbing, three storey houses with frescoes and more testify to affluent and vibrant civilisations. It is still uncertain what caused their collapse.

B. HISTORY

1. Antiquity

1.1 The Dark Ages (1100-776 BCE) Also called the Iron Age, as iron began replacing bronze as the metal of choice for the construction of tools and weapons, the period is marked by a collapse of the rich cultural tradition of the previous age. Script, palaces and customs are abandoned and forgotten. The extended kingdoms of the previous era fragment into smaller ones, similar to medieval fiefdoms in many aspects. Troubadours touring these sing the grandeur of olden times leading to the formation of epics such as the Homeric ones. Art is naif and provincial, dominated by stick figures and geometric motifs. Although subsistence farming seems to be the norm, trade is not abandoned. Through contacts with the east, Greeks borrow the Phoenician alphabet and adapt it, inventing vowel symbols, thus creating the first truly phonetic script.

1.2 Archaic Period (776-500 BCE) After three centuries of regression, Greece begins to pick up again. A new civilisation gradually emerges, entirely different from the centralised palace culture of the Bronze Age. Trade contacts flourish again and art becomes gradually more naturalistic, influenced by contacts with Egypt and the Middle East. Meanwhile, the small kingdoms of the period have evolved into independent city states, at constant war with each other. Monarchy becomes gradually less absolute while internal upheavals lead many to emigrate, establishing colonies in the coastal areas of Anatolia, the Black Sea and Southern Italy. Philosophers appear, debating the existence and nature of the world and of man.

1.3 Classical Period (500-323 BCE) A long evolution leads to the introduction of various democratic systems in the city-states of Greece. After repelling two Persian invasions (490 and 480 BCE), Greece, especially democratic Athens, enters a phase of rapid growth. The visual arts produce representations of quasi-naturalistic idealised human forms, in what has become known as the Classical style. Architecture strives towards the same ideal, producing works such as the Parthenon. Philosophy and the performing arts flourish; theatre is born, quickly diversifying into drama and comedy. The protracted and destructive Peloponnesian war lead to a decline, after which the city-states succumbed relatively easily to the rising power of the (then) peripheral kingdom of Macedonia, under king Phillip II. After his death, his son Alexander embarked in a campaign that made him conqueror and briefly ruler of a vast empire reaching as far as present day India.

1.4 Hellenistic Period (323-146 BCE) After Alexander’s death, his vast domain split into several kingdoms and wars broke out to establish their borders. Imitating their Greek rulers, people began to adopt the Greek language, clothing and culture. Soon the entire Middle East was “hellenized,” i.e. spoke Greek and followed Greek customs. Vibrant, populous cities like Alexandria, Egypt and others became rich centres of the arts and letters, attracting the best minds of their time. Art becomes more life-like and realistic, moving from classical restraint to more “pathos”, seeking to provoke strong emotions and impressions to the viewer.

1.5 The Roman Occupation (146 BCE – 330 CE) A peripheral power, Rome, began to rise and soon was invited as an ally to the help of one or another of the constantly warring Hellenistic kingdoms. As their power waned, Rome gradually conquered them one by one, establishing a sprawling empire of its own. Greek, the lingua Franca of the middle east was adopted as a sign of sophistication by Romans who soon began to copy Greek customs and art. They also systematically plundered Greek artistic treasures, whenever they got the chance. Gradually the empire began to decline, and financial problems became exacerbated by frequent incursions of marauding tribes. In the difficult times, Christianity, a new religion which promised relief from misery, was becoming more and more popular.

2. Middle Ages

2.1 Byzantine period (330-1453 CE) Seeing the western half of the Empire almost gone, while the Eastern (Greek) half was still defensible and prosperous, Emperor Constantine moved the capital from Rome to Constantinople (formerly Byzantium) which provided historians with a convenient mark to distinguish a new period. In fact, the Empire was still called Roman and was governed by the same Roman law, while rulers and subjects alike considered themselves Roman. Gradually Christianity became the empire’s official religion, and teachings at odds with the official version were persecuted. The empire soon lost its western half, but the eastern half survived another 1,000 years, battling against Persians and Arabs in the East and Slavic people in the North. Gradually, it began to decline, losing territories to Crusaders from the West and Turkish invaders from the East, until the fall of Constantinople, in 1453, spelled its end. Educated high-class refugees fled to Western Europe carrying with them ancient manuscripts and knowledge that would help spark the Renaissance.

3. Greece under occupation

3.1 The Frankish occupation (1204-1862)

3.2 The Ottoman occupation (1453-1821)

4. From the War of Independence until WW II

4.1 The War of Independence (1821-1829)

4.2 The Early Greek state (1829-1862)

4.3 The late 1800’s and early 1900’s

4.4 The Balkan wars 1910-12

4.5 WW I

4.6 Greco-Turkish war and the “Disaster” (1920-’22)

4.7 Interwar period (1922-’41)

4.8 WW II (1941-’44)

4.9 Civil War (1944-’48)

5. The Post-War Period

5.1 Post war development (1948-’67)

5.2 The dictatorship (1967-’74) A brutal military dictatorship dispensed with any semblance of democratic process and governed the country with a steel grip. Dissenters were imprisoned, while others who fled abroad were deprived their Greek citizenship by decree. Surveillance, arrests and torture were common. A brief uprising of students of the Polytechnic School of Athens caused a stir but was brutally repressed. The regime was toppled less than a year later, following its disastrous intervention in Cyprus, which led to a Turkish invasion in (and subsequent occupation of) the northern half of the island.

5.3 The years of prosperity (1974-2008)

5.4 The crisis (2008-today)

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