History of Greece/Print version

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Ελληνική ιστορία - History of Greece

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The tiny Mediterranean country known officially as the Hellenic Republic has had a fascinating history stretching back through the ages. This nation, known commonly as Greece, is widely considered the birthplace of Western civilization, and thus, its long and complex history continues to exert influence worldwide.

Statue of King Leonidas I of Sparta.

Chapters: -- Introduction

  1. Minoan Civilization --3000-1100 BCE
  2. Mycenaean Civilization --1600-1100 BCE
  3. Greek Dark Ages --1100-750 BCE
  4. Classical Greece --750-336 BCE
  5. Hellenistic Greece --336-146 BCE
  6. Roman Greece --146 BCE-330 CE
  7. Byzantine Empire --330-1453 CE
  8. Ottoman Greece --1453-1821 CE
  9. Independent Greece --1821-1974 CE
  10. Modern Greece --1974-2015 CE




Map of regions throughout the Mediterranean under Greek influence around 550 BCE.

The history of Greece is undoubtedly that of one of the most influential civilizations in the history of mankind. This tiny region at the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula produced or improved upon democracy, the alphabet, philosophy, theater, and the sciences. Even the word history itself comes from the Ancient Greek word ιστορία.

The history of Greece begins long before our earliest written records. Archeology has provided us with what little information we have about such civilizations as the Minoans, Mycenaeans, and the world of the Greek Dark Ages. These civilizations were not even believed to have existed until very recently, when archeologists began to think the epic poetry of Homer's Iliad might contain more truth than previously thought. During the Classical Period, Greek culture was reborn and flourished, and was spread throughout the Mediterranean Sea by the Athenian Empire, as well as other Greek traders, colonists, and conquerors.

A mosaic from Pompeii, of Alexander the Great at the Battle of Issus in 333 BCE.

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) between Athens and Sparta, and their respective allies, greatly weakened Greece's collective power, and by 336 BCE, nearly every Greek city-state was under the control of Macedon, and for the first time united into a single political unit. Alexander III, the next king of Macedon, took this united Greece and with it conquered the entire known world, spreading Greek culture (called Hellenism, or ελληνισμος) from Egypt, through Persia, all the way to India. Upon the death of Alexander the Great (as he would come to be known), the Empire split into fourths. A united Greece was one of the four new kingdoms, which lasted until 168 BCE, when Macedonia was absorbed into the growing Roman Republic. The entirety of Greece came under Roman rule by 146 BCE.

Revolutionaries bless the Greek flag.

The Greek peninsula resisted Roman rule, until it was organized into the Roman province of Achaea in 27 BCE by Augustus. Throughout history, conquerors have imposed their culture upon the vanquished, but the Roman annexation of Greece was perhaps one of history's most-influential exceptions to this rule. In the words of the Roman poet Horace, "Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit" ("Greece took captive her conqueror."). The Romans adopted nearly every aspect of Greek culture, allowing it to continue to thrive much as it had done for centuries. During this time period, Christianity began to rise, and Greece was one of the first areas of the Roman Empire to be heavily influenced by the new religion.

When Emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople in 330, Greece experienced a revival of its economic power, becoming one of the richest areas of the Byzantine Empire that was created by the Roman Empire's split in 305. After more than a thousand years of Byzantine rule, the Ottoman Empire in nearby Asia Minor began to rise in power, eventually capturing Constantinople in 1453. By 1460, Greece was under Ottoman control. As the Ottoman Empire gradually weakened, the Greeks were influenced by the growing nationalist movements throughout Europe during the early nineteenth century. In 1821, they rose up, and gained independence, leading to the creation of the modern Greek state.

Chapter 01 - Minoan Civilization[edit]

The location of the island of Crete within modern Greece.

The Minoan culture was a Bronze Age civilization that existed on the Greek Aegean island of Crete from around 3000 to 1100 BCE. By around 1450, however, the Minoans had been replaced by the Mycenaeans as the dominant culture of the area. The name "Minoan" itself comes from the famous British archeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who from 1900 to 1906 excavated the palace at Knossos, which he believed to be the capital of the empire of the mythical King Minos.


Greek archeologist Nikolaos Platon devised a loose chronology of the civilization based on excavations of Minoan palaces. He divides the civilization into the following eras:

Prepalatial period (3000-1900)[edit]

Archeological evidence shows that Crete may have been inhabited as early as the seventh millennium BCE. New settlers skilled in metallurgy arrived by the end of the fourth millennium BCE, and replaced the earlier Neolithic peoples.

Protopalatial period (1900-1700)[edit]

The semi-restored ruins of the palace of Knossos.

The first large palaces (most notably at Knossos and Phaistos) were built during the Protopalatial period, leading to more urbanized life and centralized political authority. Around 1700, the major palaces were all destroyed (perhaps due to natural causes, such as an earthquake, or perhaps an invasion from Anatolia).

Neopalatial period (1700-1450)[edit]

After their destruction, the palaces soon were rebuilt, giving rise to the Neopalatial period. This period represents the apex of Minoan civilization. Population increased, new settlements were built, and impressive art, architecture, and technologies (such as plumbing) were developed. Despite these many advances, the Minoans suffered some sort of catastrophe around 1450.

Final Palace period (1450-1380 BCE)[edit]

Many theories have been put forth to the cause of this sudden and rapid decline. Theories include a massive volcanic eruption of Mt. Thera on the nearby island of Santorini, internal strife, or an invasion from the Mycenean culture of mainland Greece. A combination of these factors is likely the true culprit. Regardless of the reason, the Minoan culture was effectively replaced by the Myceneans by 1420. Excavations reveal that pottery and writings from Crete after 1450 resemble those of mainland Greece more so than those of pre-1450 Crete. Knossos then served as the administrative center of Mycenean Crete, until it was destroyed by fire in 1380.

Postpalatial period (1380-1100 BCE)[edit]

After the destruction of Knossos, economic and political influence shifted to the town of Khaniá. Despite this, Cretan civilization began to further decline, and many Minoan sites were abandoned. Khondros is one of few new sites to be settled during this period. The last Minoan site to fall was the isolated mountain town of Karfi, which was able to resist assimilation into the Mycenean culture until the early Iron Age. The widespread use of iron tools (brought by the Myceneans) rather than bronze ones (used by Minoans) is one of the main indications archeologists used to determine the date of the final Minoan collapse.


Bull-leaping, featured in this famous fresco from Knossos, was a religious ritual.

The Minoans had a culture very different from that of the later "ancient" Greeks. It featured a very distinctive religion, art style, and language. The Minoans were also pioneers in naval exploration, establishing several colonies on the Greek mainland and other Aegean islands, such as Akrotiri on Thera. Minoan cultural influence spread throughout the region, including over the Mycenean culture.


Much of what is known about the Minoan religion is based on oral tradition that was not written down until long after the Myceneans had replaced their civilization. From these records, as well as what archeologists have been able to piece together, historians have generally agreed that the Minoan religion seems to have been based on the religion of the Neolithic peoples they conquered in moving to Crete. It centered on the goddess Potnia, but was polytheistic. Bulls were sacred to the Minoans, and bull-leaping (depicted in a famous fresco unearthed in Knossos) was a religious ritual. The famous labyrinth at Knossos is the best-known example of a Minoan temple. Religious symbols include the serpent, bull, labrys (a double-headed axe, for which the labyrinth is named), sun, and tree. There has also been evidence that the Minoans engaged in human sacrifice, though this is inconclusive at best.


An example of pottery from Knossos.

The Minoans are particularly well-known for their artistic developments. Excavations have revealed frescoes, statues, and pottery. Pottery was the dominant art form of the Minoans from their arrival on Crete up until the Neopalatial period, when pottery-making technology allowed for a standardization of design. Fresco-painting soon rose in prominence, and focused heavily on religious and naturalistic themes. Bulls and snakes, both religious symbols, featured prominently in many works of art, as do other non-religious animals. Perhaps the most famous of the Minoan frescoes is one depicting the religious ritual of bull-leaping, which was found in the palace of Minos. Interestingly, no frescoes depict any of the many gods.


Minoans also pioneered many architectural methods. Cities featured roads paved with stone, sewers, and plumbing. The most-recognized type of Minoan architecture is the palace. The construction of the first palaces (the famous palace at Knossos was one of the first) ended the Prepalatial period. Palaces were centers of government, allowing the dozens of individual communities to come under centralized political authority. Palaces also were used to store crop surpluses, and house shrines to goddesses.


The Minoan economy was very diverse. Several crops were cultivated, such as wheat, barley, grapes, olives, and figs. They raised several animals, including cattle, goats, and pigs. Also, bees were domesticated for honey production, as were donkeys and oxen for plowing purposes. The Minoans also had a healthy shipping industry, as evidenced by the many colonies they established throughout the eastern Mediterranean. They were involved in the tin trade. As bronze tools and weapons (bronze is made from tin and copper) were replaced by superior iron ones, the tin trade (and therefore the Minoan economy) suffered. Their trade network extended from Mesopotamia and Egypt all the way to Spain.


A tablet with Minoan script.

Minoan civilization featured several written languages. During the Prepalatial period, a primitive hieroglyphic script was used, but fell out of use by 1700. A writing system called Linear A developed during the Protopalatial period, and continued to be used through the Neopalatial period. Linear A featured many symbols, each of which represented a syllable, word, or number. Linear A was used for record-keeping, and some religious functions. Linear B was the script used for government records. After the Mycenean conquest, Linear A was replaced by Linear B, which would eventually evolve into what is now the modern Greek language. Linear B was deciphered in the 1950s, but Linear A and the hieroglyphic texts have yet to have been completely translated.

Chapter 02 - Mycenaean Civilization[edit]

The location of many of the places mentioned in Homer's Iliad.

The Mycenaean civilization refers to a Bronze Age civilization on mainland Greece, inhabiting the area from around 1600-1100 BCE. The name "Mycenaean" refers to the city of Mycenae, which was excavated by Heinrich Schliemann beginning in 1876. Schliemann is also well-known for discovering and excavating the city of Troy in Asia Minor, which was at the time believed to be fictional. Mycenaean Greece is the period in which the Iliad and Odyssey are set.


Mycenaean civilization begins with the arrival of many tribes to the Greek mainland around 2000 BCE. These tribes began to establish themselves as political units sometime around 1600. The Mycenaeans quite possibly lived under Minoan dominance until around 1400, when they conquered Crete.

Conflicts with Minoans[edit]

The Mycenaeans are often cited as one of the contributing factors to the rapid decline of Minoan civilization. The Minoans lived on the Aegean island of Crete, and had a naval influence that likely subjugated the Mycenaeans. Around the year 1600 BCE, it is believed that a volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini near Crete devastated the Minoans. The resulting weakness is thought to have allowed the Mycenaeans to overthrow the Minoans and replace them as the dominant culture of the region.

The Iliad[edit]

This golden mask, discovered at Mycenae by Schliemann, was named the Mask of Agamemnon, after the character from the Iliad.

The Classical poet called Homer wrote the Iliad and Odyssey in the 8th or 7th century BCE, long after the Mycenaeans had vanished as a recognizable civilization. Because of this centuries-long gap in time, most scholars agree that Homer's epics cannot be viewed as accurate accounts of Mycenaean culture. Homer's works would more likely reflect the culture of his day instead. It has been verified, however, that many of the places referred to in the Iliad and Odyssey were actual Mycenaean sites, including Troy. The individual characters of these stories, such as Achilles, Hector, Priam, Diomedes, and Agamemnon, should not be interpreted as historical figures.

Decline and collapse[edit]

Sometime around 1100, a tribe from the north known as the Dorians invaded the Peloponnesus and destroyed the Mycenaean civilization. Greece was subsequently thrown into a Dark Age, from which it took several centuries to recover. The written Mycenaean language was completely forgotten, forcing the Greeks to reinvent their writing system centuries later.



Not a great deal is known about the Mycenaean religion. It has been observed, however, that it was influenced to some degree by that of the Minoans. Many of the Mycenaean gods are recognizable to us as the well-known Classical gods, such as Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Ares, Athena, Dionysus, and Hermes. Apollo, Aphrodite, and Hades are notable absences!


Fresco of a Mycenaean woman.

Mycenaean artwork was influenced, like nearly all other aspects of their civilization, by the Minoans. Pottery, statues, and paintings make up the majority of Mycenaean art. Mycenaeans developed advanced bronzeworking techniques, creating swords, shields, and suits of armor.


In contrast to the Minoans, the Mycenaean leaders built fortresses — enormous walled structures that contained a megaron like the Minoan palace, but were primarily fortifications for defense. The walls of these structures often stood forty or fifty feet high, and were composed of enormous blocks of stone weighing two to three tons, fitted together without mortar. Fortresses at Tiryns and at Mycenae are considered the best examples of these military structures.

The south gate of Gla, in Boeotia.

Unlike the Minoans, the Mycenaeans are not known to have built many religious shrines. A sacrificial site on Mount Lykaon sacred to Zeus in the Classical period has recently been found to pre-date Mycenaean occupation of the Greek peninsula or the Peloponnese, but no substantial structures of a religious nature have been identified at Mycenaean sites. Such buildings may have been incorporated into the palace-fortresses, but they are not specifically identified as such.

A Mycenaean common house has been located and identified. Dating from late in the Mycenaean period, it consists of a long, narrow building of posts with wattle-and-daub curtain walls and likely a thatched roof. One end of the house held an entry porch, while the opposite end was rounded and held the likely sleeping quarters. The interior was divided into two rooms, the aforementioned sleeping area farthest from the entrance, and a living area that contained a rudimentary hearth and a food-preparation area. The presence of sheep feces and wool fibers in the porch area suggest that the front entrance was used as a pen for holding animals.


The language spoken by the Mycenaeans was an ancestor of modern Greek. The written language of the Mycenaeans was known as Linear B (in contrast to the Minoan script, Linear A). Linear B was deciphered in 1951, and proved to be an ancient form of the modern Greek language. This orthography resembled modern Japanese, in that it was syllabic instead of alphabetic. This form of writing, however, was forgotten during the Dark Ages, leading the Greeks of the classical era to redevelop a system of writing from a Phoenician model, allowing the alphabetic system to come into use.


A substantial number of Linear B texts, deal with matters of economic concern — inventories of possessions and lists of goods being brought to and from the palaces or sent out from the palaces. One of the most famous, used in the process of cracking Linear B as a language, lists provisions for the coast guard: apparently the so-called "Palace of Nestor" mounted a seaward watch on the approaches to its landfall, and paid the watchers in food and goods. These records suggest that the palaces were the principal economic engines of the era. They took in raw materials into workshops, where trained artisans produced finished goods, that would then be exchanged with other palaces for the best products of their local regions.

Chapter 03 - Greek Dark Ages[edit]

While somewhat inaccurate, this map drawn by H.G. Wells shows the migration patterns of the ancient Greeks and other related tribes.

The Ancient Greeks divided themselves into three tribes; the Aeolians, Ionians, and Dorians. The Mycenaeans (referred to as Argives, Achaeans, and Danaans by Homer in the Iliad) were Aeolians and Ionians. Sometime around 1100 BCE, the Dorians, who lived north of the other two tribes, began to raid the Mycenaeans. Entire cities were destroyed, and Mycenae itself fell and was plundered by the invaders. Not only were the citadels of Mycenaean Greece destroyed, but civilization itself would collapse in the region.

Changes under the Dorians[edit]


Many theories exist about the cause of the Mycenaeans' collapse. Ecological disasters may have undermined the economy of the agrarian-based Mycenaeans, allowing the Dorians to supplant their society. The Dorians quickly developed trade relations throughout the Mediterannean to replace the old economy. The region of Attica (which included Athens) would rise to dominate the region due to its prominence as a trade center. The change was not immediate, however, as Athens, like the rest of Greece, would need a long recovery from the Mycenaean collapse. These new contacts with outside civilizations would have drastic consequences for the future of Greece.


Distribution of Ancient Greek dialects by around 400 BCE, closely corresponding to ethnic divisions between tribes. The Dorians are represented by the brown regions, while the Ionains are purple and Aeolians are yellow.

The most significant immediate change for Greece during this time period was the end of writing. No written records exist for this time period, and writings from subsequent time periods are completely different from those of the Mycenaeans, leading historians to believe that writing was completely forgotten during the Dark Ages. The Dorians spoke a dialect different from that of the Mycenaeans, and due to the absence of a writing system, very few records remain of their language. All modern Greek dialects are descended from Attic Greek ("Classical" Greek), with one exception: the endangered Tsakonian dialect, which is a descendant of Doric, and therefore of considerable interest to linguists.

The Dorians would undoubtedly come into contact with the Phoenicians, a powerful seafaring people from the nearby Levant. The Greeks adopted the Phoenecian concept of an alphabet, and through trade would spread this throughout the Mediterannean. This alphabet was the first to include vowels, replacing the syllabic script of Mycenaean Linear B. The word alphabet itself comes from the names of the first two letters of this new writing system: Alpha (Αα) and Beta (Ββ).

It is also extremely likely that Homer's epics were indeed not his own. Due to the lack of a writing system, poets (also known as bards) would have recited the long stories orally and passed them down over the years. Homer's epics could very well be versions of stories first composed, but not written, during the Dark Ages.


A Greek hoplite.

The Dorians were a warlike people, and thrust Greece into the Iron Age. Weapons were no longer made of bronze but instead, iron. Weapons became cheaper to make, more durable, and more effective in combat. This functionality replaced the ornate beauty of the craftsmanship of the old Mycenaean weapons. Due to this innovation, warfare also shifted from cavalry tactics to infantry. The hoplite was the name of the ancient Greek infantryman.


During the Dark Ages, the polis (plural poleis), or city-state, would begin to develop. Cities dominated the surrounding landscape, and became independent units. The Dorians did not "conquer" the area in the sense of adding the territory to their domain, as the mountains of the region prevented the continuous contact necessary for a single nation to exist. Each city-state was naturally defended by the surrounding mountains, and each constantly expanded at the expense of its neighbors.

Soon after the invasions, monarchies were established in most, if not all, of the poleis. While the monarch held religious as well as political authority, he did not, however, wield complete control of his government. Many city states came to be dominated by the aristocracy. Tyrants first appeared during this time period. A tyrant was an aristocrat who gained enough power and influence to control the polis. They were backed by a personal hoplite army independent of the city-state, and set up autocratic (though not necessarily "tyrannical", in the modern sense) governments.

Hellenic identity[edit]

Despite the mountains separating Greece from unification, the independent poleis did develop commonalities in culture, language, religion, and government. It was during this time period that Greeks began to identify themselves and each other as Hellenes. In spite of the rivalries among the poleis, they shared the same language, the same style of dress, and the same décor, and these traits served to unite them as one and the same: they were all Hellenes.

Contributing to this sense of loose unity were the Olympic Games, begun in 776 BCE. These featured athletes from the various poleis who competed against one another as a religious ritual. Athletes may have competed for personal glory and fame, but the games were first and foremost in honor of Zeus, king of the gods. Olympia featured a temple which contained a 12-meter high statue of Zeus made of ivory and gold. This massive sculpture, created by the famous Phidias, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. These games would cease in 393 CE, when they were banned under Roman Emperor Theodosius I in an effort to stamp out paganism.

Chapter 04 - Classical Greece[edit]

Chapter 05 - Hellenistic Greece[edit]

Chapter 06 - Roman Greece[edit]

Chapter 07 - Byzantine Empire[edit]

Chapter 08 - Ottoman Greece[edit]

Chapter 09 - Independent Greece[edit]

Greek War of Independence --1821-1829[edit]

First Hellenic Republic --1822-1832[edit]

Kingdom of Greece --1832-1924[edit]

Second Hellenic Republic --1924-1935[edit]

Kingdom of Greece --1935-1941[edit]

Axis-Occupation --1941-1944[edit]

Kingdom of Greece --1944-1974[edit]

Civil War --1944-1949[edit]

Military Junta --1967-1974[edit]

Chapter 10 - Modern Greece[edit]


The following is a list of all contributors, past and present, to this Wikibook.


The following is a list of all sources used in the creation of this Wikibook:

  1. Minoan Civilization from Encarta
  2. Mycenae from Encarta
  3. Dorians from Encarta
  4. Ancient Greece from Encarta