Mountainous nation of SE Europe, occupying the southernmost part of the Balkan Peninsula. Its neighbors to the N are Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Three seas form parts of its borders: The Ionian on the W, Mediterranean on the S, and Aegean on the E. Greece includes many island s, among them Crete, the Ionians, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese (including Rhodes), Lesbos, Samos, and Samothrace. Modern Greece encompasses all or part of a number of historic regions: Attica, Boeotia, Epirus, Macedonia, the Peloponnesus, Thessaly, and Thrace. The capital of Greece is Athens. The high culture that developed in Greece by the seventh century b.c. was a primary source of today’s Western civilization, especially in politics, literature, philosophy, the arts, and architecture. Traces of settlement have been dated to 40,000 b.c. Greece’s known history began during the Neolithic Age of c. 7000 b.c. By the Bronze Age, beginning c. 2800 b.c., several notable cultures had developed, known collectively as the Aegean Civilization. This first flowering of civilization in Europe included the Minoan Civilization on Crete, which reached its peak c. 1600 b.c., and on the mainland the Mycenaean, developed under the influence of the Minoans by people who entered Greece from the N or NE c. 2000 b.c. These invaders have been shown to be the earliest Greeks (the Cretans were not). The Mycenaeans were centered on the Peloponnesus at Mycenae, Tiryns, Argos, and Pylos and at Athens. They reached their height c. 1400 b.c., their influence increasing after the Minoan Empire collapsed c. 1450 b.c.—possibly owing to the effects of an earthquake and tidal wave after the explosion of the island of Thera in the Aegean Sea. The Mycenaean settlements, like the Minoan, centered around massive stone palaces that dominated the agrarian society around them. Both societies also engaged heavily in trade, much of it by sea.
The Mycenaean Empire in turn disintegrated c. 1200 b.c., possibly through internal dissension, but more probably because of attacks by renewed waves of barbarian Greek tribes from the N, notably the Dorians, the last to enter Greece, between c. 1100 and 950 b.c. All the Mycenaean centers but Athens fell to them. In the early Dark Ages that followed, civilization was all but lost, but under the influence of the older cultures what we know as the age of Classical Greece began to emerge as early as the eighth century b.c., when Homer wrote his epics. These are full of the memories of the earlier Aegean age and its collapse, which included the attack on Troy by the Achaeans and other Greek peoples.
Because of its geography, broken into numerous valleys with deep inlets of the sea and its many island s, Greece had seldom been united under one ruler but consisted of several hundred city-states, each occupying a relatively small territory. Chief among these were Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes and Mycenae in the earlier period. As the number and power of these city-states increased, their populations multiplied, and their land resources diminished. They therefore used the sea lanes on which they lived to found widespread colonies, largely between 750 and 650 b.c. Those in the West were often known as Magna Graecia. Greek colonies were founded not only on the Mediterranean island s but on the shores of the Black Sea, in Asia Minor and off Syria, in Italy, Sicily, and North Africa. Syracuse in Sicily, Naples and Taranto in Italy, Cyrene on the N African shore, Sagunto and Malaga in Spain, and Marseilles in France were Greek colonies.
The epic series of wars with the great empire of Persia, fought between 500 and 449 b.c., began with a series of revolts by the Greek cities in Ionia in Asia Minor, followed by two Persian invasions. The first under King Darius in 490 b.c. was defeated at Marathon. The second, under Xerxes in 480 b.c., wiped out the Spartan defenders at Thermopylae and destroyed Athens; but the Greeks rallied and defeated Persia at Plataea by land and Salamis by sea that year. Victory over Persia ushered in the Classical Age in Greece, when its civilization reached its first great flowering. Athens played a leading role in the war and emerged as the head of a loose maritime empire, called the Delian League, and the leading city in Greece. The following period marked the apogee of Athenian culture, which under Pericles and in later years saw the emergence of such great masters of the arts and philosophy as Socrates and Plato, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, Pindar, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pheidias, and Polykleitos. Sparta had become Athens’s great rival, and in the Peloponnesian Wars of 431 to 404, culminating in Athens’s defeat at Syracuse in 413 b.c., Athens was vanquished and never again was so important—except as a cultural center. In later years Corinth joined Athens, Thebes, and Argos in the Corinthian War of 395 to 387 b.c. and defeated Sparta. Thebes supplanted Sparta at Leuctra in 371 b.c. Each had its period of hegemony in Greece. But the constant internecine warfare weakened the city-states of Greece, which fell prey to Philip II of Macedon. After the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 b.c. he ruled all Greece and organized a federal system of states. Some measure of independence from the ever powerful dominance of Macedon, however, was gained by the formation of the Achaean and Aetolian military leagues. Philip was succeeded by his son, Alexand er the Great (356–323 b.c.), who continued his father’s work in building the Macedonian Empire, which through his extraordinary conquests carried Greek, or Hellenistic, civilization throughout the Mediterranean and eastern world to the borders of India. His successors founded large empires: the Ptolemies in Egypt, and the Seleucids in Syria in 305 b.c., and the Macedonians in Macedon. They disputed the possession of the known civilized world among them.
In the meantime Rome in the West, which was less prey to the divisive weaknesses of the Greeks, was growing stronger. In 197 b.c. it defeated Philip V of Macedon at Cynoscephalae and again in 168 b.c. at Pydna. By 146 b.c. with the destruction of Corinth it had conquered the Greek states, but in so doing it absorbed the culture and even the Greek language of Hellenism, which thereafter formed a strong element in the Roman Empire. The thought and writings, philosophy, and architecture of the Greek world was carried on through Rome to our present civilization. Another legacy from Greece is that of the Olympic Games, occurring every four years, the first having been held at Olympia as early as 776 b.c. The games were discontinued in the very late Roman Empire, but were revived in 1896 in Athens. Greece became an impotent, but revered, province of the empire, granted some favor under Hadrian (a.d. 117–138). Greece suffered several times during the barbarian invasions. In a.d. 267 the Goths entered the province, and attacked Athens, and in 396 Alaric overran it. After the Roman Empire had been divided in 395 into the East and West, Greece became part of the Byzantine Empire, in which Hellenic civilization and language combined with Christianity and the Roman and Eastern traditions in government to produce a long-lasting and powerful entity. It managed to survive until 1453. Its capital, formerly the Greek city of Byzantium, was renamed Constantinople by Constantine the Great in a.d. 330.
The history of Greece in the Middle Ages is largely that of the Byzantine Empire. With the shift of the capital to Constantinople, Athens lost its cultural leadership, and in 529 Justinian closed its pagan schools. The Slavs and Avars overran the province in the sixth century, and between 810 and 961 the Saracens controlled Crete. The fortunes of Greece reached a high point under the Macedonian dynasty of 867 to 1059; but with the Crusades came disaster, as the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople in 1204 and carved up the empire among its leaders to form the Latin Empire. Greece was divided into several states. In the NE the kingdom of Thessaloniki became a Latin principality, as did the duchy of Athens and the principality of Achaea, which ruled the Peloponnesus from Andravidha. Venice took substantial portions of Constantinople, the Ionian Island s, and several fortresses around the coast, including Cand ia in Crete and Naupactus.
The Greeks themselves retained footholds in the despotate (province) of Epirus on the NW, and after 1262 the Paleologi dynasty took Mistra in the Peloponnesus from the Franks and founded a despotate that was to give them their base for the reconquest of the empire, including the Peloponnesus, by 1430. By 1311 the Latin duchy of Athens had fallen to the Catalan Company, and by 1360 all of Greece N of the Isthmus of Corinth belonged to the Serbian Empire. Venice retained many of its outposts, including Monemvasia, Corone, and Methone, even under Turkish advances.
After the fall of Constantinople, Greece came under the Turkish and Islamic rule of the Ottoman Empire by 1460 and suffered in its economy and in other ways for centuries. Venice lost Crete by 1669 and only managed to reconquer the Peloponnesus between 1690 and 1715. The Greek War of Independence began in 1821, and with the support of Western nations autonomy was finally won by the Treaty of Adrianople, now Edirne. During the fighting much of Greece’s medieval heritage was destroyed. Full independence was granted in 1832, and Greece became a monarchy under Otto I, a Bavarian prince chosen at a conference of the powers in London. He was deposed in 1862. The Greco-Turkish War of 1897 arose out of attempts to free Crete from Turkish rule, but Greece was defeated. However, the island became Greek again in 1913.
As a result of the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, Greece acquired SE Macedonia, western Thessaly, and part of Epirus. In World War I the government allowed the Allies to land troops at Thessaloniki (Salonika) for the Salonika campaign, and in 1917 Greece joined the Allies. From the war it gained territory in Bulgaria and Turkey, but an invasion of Turkey in 1921 resulted in defeat and the establishment of the Maritsa River as the boundary between the two countries. In a subsequent exchange of populations, long-resident Greeks in Turkey suffered heavily when they were repatriated. The 1920s and 1930s were years of political turmoil, with several coups and countercoups, ending in 1936 with the establishment of a dictatorship under John Metaxas as premier. Greece helped form the Balkan Entente in 1934 with Yugoslavia, Romania, and Turkey as a defense against Bulgarian territorial claims.
In October 1940, during World War II, Italy invaded Greece but was thrown back. German troops then replaced the Italians, and although the Greeks allowed British troops to land in March 1941 to assist them, by the end of April the country was in Nazi hand s. A strong resistance movement appeared, but by 1943 there was civil war between communist and pro-royalist guerrilla groups. Fighting between British troops and the communists followed in December 1944. After the war, between 1946 and 1949, civil war continued, but the communists were eventually defeated, partly as a result of support given the government by the United States. Nevertheless, economic conditions remained poor and the government unstable. An army coup in 1967 brought a repressive right-wing dictatorship to power, which lasted until November 1973. The monarchy, which had been in and out of power since the early 1920s, was abolished in June 1973. The nation then became a republic with a civilian government. In October 1981 the Pan Hellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) won a general election under Andreas Papand reou, ending 35 years of conservative rule. Greece also joined the European Union in 1981. Papand reou won reelection in 1994, but PASOK lost the elections in 1989, and in 1990 Constantine Karamanlis returned as president for a second time as leader of a conservative coalition. Facing deficits and inflation, the government applied austerity measures and privatized many government industries.
In 1995 Papand reou was reelected and the government reversed its privatization program. In 1995 Greece resolved a longstand ing dispute with neighboring Macedonia, where Macedonia would modify its flag and renounce territorial claims on Greece, and Greece would recognize the new nation. In 1996, Papand reou resigned and was replaced by a moderate Socialist, Costas Simitis. Simitis continued economic reforms aimed at shrinking Greece’s welfare state in order for Greece to qualify for the European Union’s single currency (the euro). Greece converted to the euro in 2001. PASOK won the 2000 elections, but a poor economy led to a New Democratic Party win in 2004 under Costas Karamanlis, nephew of the former president. Greece continues to be an outspoken opponent of Turkish membership in the European Union.
There are certaing some intersting places to travel in Greece. People visit the country to explore Greek culture and history, whilst others just go there for the sunshine. Cultural and historical places or landmarks provides reason enough to travel to and around Greece.
Even a weekend stay in the capital Athens would allow visitors to visit explore famous buildings, ruins or go to museums to learn more about Ancient Greeks and their achievements. First time visitors should head for the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Athens was and remains the most important of Greek cities yet there is much to see in the rest of the country.
Continuing on the cultural and historical themes places to go to include the building in Corinth, Sparta, and Santorini. Anyone who as ever studied Ancient Greeks will find these places fascinating. In recent years Santorini has become a popular venue for both weddings and honeymoons. Certainly the buildings of Santorini make a great background to wedding photos.
The Greek islands, in particular Crete are popular tourist destinations. Again there are cultural and historical things to visit in Crete. Other visitors to the islands will find the beaches and the water sports more attractive reasons for visiting. In the summer Greece is a good place to go for people seeking sunshine and heat.