Greece – History

The first great civilization of the Aegean was developed on the island of Crete. The earliest inhabitants settled in about 3000 BC, but the most important Minoan period was between 2299 and 1450 BC. Archaeologists have uncovered many treasures and buildings. If you go to Crete, you can visit the famous palace at Knossos.

Greece legend describes how an Athenian prince called Theseus went to Crete and killed the Minotaur – a monster that was half man and half bull. Athenian children were sent as sacrifices to the Minotaur, who was kept in a labyrinth, a maze of long winding tunnels. It is possible that the labyrinth was at Knossos.

After the collapse of the Minoan civilization in 1450 BC, came the Bronze Age. There was an important Bronze Age centre at Mycenae in the Peloponnese. The Myceneans were warriors and very rich. Archeologists have found weapons and armour, as well as wonderful gold and silver jewellery and death masks in the Mycenaean graves.

During the Classical period (5th century BC), Greece was made up of city-states. These included Athens, Sparta and Thebes. All citizens spoke Greek. Each settlement or polis, was ruled by a king or tyrannos (tyrant). Later, some city-states got rid of their tyrants and Athens had the world’s first democracy. The word ‘democracy’ comes from two Greek words demos (people) and kratos (authority). It means government by the people. In ancient Greece, the system of democracy was not quite the same as it is known today. Every adult male citizen could speak and vote in the Assembly, and had to take part in government at some point. The democratic system practiced all over the world has its roots in ancient Greece.

Greece – Gods and Heroes

The Ancient Greeks believed in many gods, with very different characters. Greeks thought that the god Apollo could foretell the future. They made temples and shrines to Apollo at Delphi, and a priestess would go into a trance and give advice or answer questions in riddles from Apollo’s oracle.

The twelve main gods (the Olympians) are:

  1. Zeus: King of the gods and ruler of Mount Olympus
  2. Apollo: son of Zeus, god of the sun, music, poetry and philosophy
  3. Artemis: goddess of the hunt, Apollo’s twin sister
  4. Hera: wife of Zeus, protector of married women and children
  5. Aphrodite: wife of Hephaestus, goddess of love and beauty
  6. Hephaestus: lame god of fire and blacksmiths
  7. Athena: goddess of wisdom, patron goddess of Athens
  8. Hermes: son of Zeus, messenger of the gods
  9. Poseidon: god of the sea and earthquakes
  10. Hestia: goddess of hospitality, protector of homesteads
  11. Demeter: goddess of crops and fruit
  12. Ares: god of war

Many heroes in Greek mythology were demi-gods; placed between gods and men in the religious order.For example, Heracles was the mortal son of Zeus. He had to perform 12 labours, including strangling a lion, Killing a seven-headed serpent, and capturing a golden-horned deer.

Greek heroes included warriors (like Achilles), and athletes (like Theagenes). Some heroes, such as Odysseus, are thought to have been real men.In Homer’s book the Iliad, Odysseus and his men hid in a wooden horse, and tricked the Trojans to take the horse into the city of Troy.The Greeks then attacked and captured the city.

Greece – From Alexander to the E.U.

The fourth century BC saw many wart in Athens, Sparta and other Greek city-states. It was the northern state of Macedonia that became the most powerful in Greece, under its king, Phillip II. When Phillip was assassinated in 336 BC, his 20 year-old son Alexander became King of Macedonia. He united all the Greeks, conquered Persia and Asia Minor, and went as far as Afghanistan and India.Alexander’s huge empire established new cities such as Alexandria in Egypt.It spread Greek culture and language over three continents: Europe, Africa and Asia.Alexander died of a fever at the age of 33.

The Romans conquered Greece, but were strongly influenced by Greek culture. In 395 AD, the Roman Empire was split into two parts. The eastern, Greek-speaking part became the Byzantine Empire.Its capital was Constantinople (now Istanbul), which was founded in 330 AD by the Emperor Constantine. It was here that Greek Christianity developed. Constantinople became the largest and most important city in Christian Europe during mediaeval times.

In 1453, the Turks attacked and conquered Constantinople, and then the rest of the Byzantine Empire. The Turkish Ottoman Empire occupied Greece for about 400 years. Two important things enabled Greek culture to continue during this time.The first of these was the Greek Orthodox religion – Greeks continued to speak Greek. Secret schools were set up to teach children Greek religion and language, away from the Ottoman rulers. By the 18th century, the Greeks were becoming more organized in their wish for independence form the Turks. Groups of rebel fighters were joined by Europeans (including Lord Byron from England) who believed that Greece should be free. In 1821 the Revolution began. Heroes and Heroines such as Theodoros Kolokotronis and Lascarina Bouboulina fought the Turks on land and sea.By 1830, Greece had become an independent state.

Greek Independence Day is March 25, and commemorates the start of the Greek War of independence in 1821. It is Greece’s National Day and is celebrated every year with street parades and a public holiday. The new Greece began as a republic with a governor – Ionanis Capodistrias. Then, in 1832, a monarchy was set up, and the 17 year-old Prince Otto of Bavaria was make King.

During the Second World War, Greece fought against fascism and Nazism alongside the Allies. After a brave resistance, the country was liberated from Hitler’s occupation on 12 October 1944. A civil war (1946-49) brought more devastation to the country. After the collapse of a seven-year military dictatorship (1967-74), the Greek people had a referendum. They voted in favour of a Presidential Republic and against the monarchy.Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1981.

Important dates in History

  • 3000 BC Aegean civilization
  • 1450 BC Minoan civilization ends
  • 800-600 BC City state develop
  • 776 BC First Olympic Games
  • 400’s BC Golden Age of Athens
  • 300’s BC Macedonian Empire and Alexander the Great
  • 146 BC Romans conquer Greece
  • AD 395-1453 Byzantine Empire
  • 1453 – 1821 Greece under Ottoman rule
  • 1821 – 1828 Greek War of Independence
  • 1830 Greece becomes an independent state
  • 1940 Greece fights in World War II with Allies
  • 1981 Greece joins the EU