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Greece: Historical outline

Last modified: 2006-05-27 by
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Ancient Greece

The first human settlements in Greece date back to the VIIth millenium BC. Greece was later colonized by successive waves of Indo-European peoples, the Acheans (IInd millenium BC, whose importance peaked with the Mycenes civilization) being supplanted by the Dorians c. 1200 BC.
The Dorian period is often called the "Greek Middle Ages". The Greek cities increased in size and importance. Oligarchy progressively replaced monarchy. In the VIth century BC, Pisistrates (600-527) established the hereditary tyranny in Athens. Pisistrates' family was overthrown in 507 by Clisthenes and democracy was set up.
The Vth century BC was the peak of the Greek classical period. Athens and the allied Greek cities won the Medic wars (490-479) against the Persians, who eventually withdrew after the peace signed in 448. Athens flourished under Pericles' rule (443-429).
The hegemony of Athens ended when Sparta won the Peloponnesus War (431-404). The Spartan hegemony itself ended in 371 when the Thebans defeated Sparta in Leuctres.


The Macedonian conquest and the Hellenistic period

King of Macedonia Philip II (355-336) progressively invaded Greece. He defeated the Athens-Theba coalition in Cheronea in 338 and placed Greece under the Macedonian rule. Philip was succeeded by his son Alexander the Great (336-323). Alexander suppressed a Greek revolt and was appointed Chief of the Greeks against the Persians. He defeated them several times, conquered Egypt, where he founded Alexandria, seized Babylonia and burned Parsa (Persepolis), and stopped his conquest on the river Indus. Back in Babylonia, he attempted to organized a united Empire including the victorious and defeated peoples.
When Alexander died, his Empire was rapidly dismembered and shared among his generals. Greece was placed under the rule of the Antigonids, a dynasty founded by Antigonos Monophtalmos (381-301).


The Roman conquest

The Romans started the conquest of Greece in 216. Antigonid King Philip V (221-179) was defeated by Consul Quinctus Flamininius in Cynoscephales in 197. Greece was granted a semi-independence under the Roman rule.
In 146, Rome defeated the revolted Greek cities. Corinth was destroyed and Greece became a Roman province. From the Ist century BC to the IVth century, "Greece conquered its fierce victor": the Greek culture and civilization dramatically influenced the Roman Empire.
In 330, Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) inaugurated the city of Contantinople (now Istanbul, in Turkey), which became the main center of culture and religion in Greece. After the death of Emperor Theodosius in 395, the Roman Empire was shared between his two sons and Constantinople became the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire.


The Byzantine Empire

In 610, Emperor Heraclius (610-641) adopted Greek as the offficial language of the Empire, which lost its last Roman characteristics. The Byzantine Empire peaked under the Macedonian dynasty (867-1050). Later, the Empire was assaulted by Slavonic and Bulgarian tribes. In 1204, the Crusaders seized Constantinople and started to dismember the Empire. Feudal states such as the Latin Empire of Constantinople, the Kingdom of Thessaloniki and the Principality of Achaia, were founded. The Greeks founded Principalities in Epirus, Trabzon and Nicea. The Lascaris from Nicea reconstituted the Empire and their successors, the Paleologues, recaptured Constantinople in 1261.
Continental Greece and the islands were attacked by the Venitians, the Genoese and the Catalans. The Ottomans occupied Thrace, Thessalia and Macedonia.


The Ottoman rule and the struggle for independence

The Ottomans seized Constantinople in 1453. In 1456, they conquered Athens and the Peloponnesus. Greece was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire and remained under Turkish rule until the beginning of the XIXth century.
Greek national feelings developed in the XVIIIth century, when the Ottoman Empire started to decline. Philhellenism was supported and funded by Greeks living abroad. The Greek Society Hetairia was founded by Alexander Ypsilanti (1792-1828) in Odessa (then in Russia, now in Ukraine) in 1814.
The insurrection broke out all over Greece in 1821-1822. The Greek independence was proclaimed in Epidaure in 1822. The Ottomans reacted by slaughtering Greek populations and recaptured Athens and Missolonghi in 1826-1827. A joint British, French and Russian fleet defeated the Ottoman Navy in Navarin in 1827. Next year, Russia declared war to the Ottoman Empire. Autonomy of Greece was granted by the treaty of Andrinople (now Edirne, in Turkey) in 1829.


The modern Greek state

In 1830, the treaty of London created an independent Greek state, placed under the protection of Britain, France and Russia. The Bavarian prince Otto I was crowned King of Greece in 1832. However, Otto's pro-Russian policy was not accepted by Britain, which occupied Athens in 1854. Otto was overthrown in 1862.
His successor George I (1863-1913) was imposed by Britain, which ceded the Ionian Islands to Greece in 1864. Greece attempted to incorporate to the kingdom areas inhabited by Greeks but was defeated by the Ottomans in 1897.

After the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), Greece incorporated most of Macedonia, south of Epirus, Crete and the islands of Samos, Chios, Mytilenes and Lemnos. Constantine I was crowned in 1913 after the assassination of George I. In the beginning of the First World War, Constantine supported the Germans, whereas the republican government, formed by Venizelos in Thessaloniki in 1916, supported the Triple Entente. In 1917, Constantine I abdicated and his son, King Alexander I, declared war on Germany. By the treaties of Neuilly and Sèvres, Greece was given Thrace and the region of Smyrna (now Izmir, in Turkey).
When Alexander I died in 1920, Constantine I came back to the power. He lost the war against Turkey in 1922. Constantin had to abdicate again in 1922, and was succeeded by his son George II. In 1923, the treaty of Lausanne retroceded eastern Thrace and the region of Smyrna to Turkey.

The First Republic of Greece was proclaimed in 1924. However, the government could not rule the country and anarchy spread all over. In 1935, George II reestablished the Kingdom of Greece and Venizelos exiled.
From 1936 to 1941, General Metaxas imposed a dictatorhip to the king. Greece was invaded by Italy (1940) and Germany (1941), and George II exiled. A strong national resistance movement developed.
George II came back to Greece in 1946 and died the next year. He was succeeded by his brother Paul I. The civil war between the partisans of the King and the Communists ended in 1949 with the defeat of the Communists. Greece joined NATO in 1952.
In 1964, Constantine II succeded his father Paul I. In 1967, a junta of officers established the so-called Colonels' regime and the King exiled. The Second Republic was proclaimed in 1973.
In 1974, the Colonels' dictatorship broke down and democracy was restored. Greece joined the European Union in 1981.

Ivan Sache, 25 October 2003

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