Archaeological finds indicate that at least
400,000 years ago there were people in the area that
today constitutes Greece. Agricultural societies
probably originated around 7000 BC. Indo-European
peoples settled in the area around 3000 BC and brought
with them the technology of casting bronze. They gave
rise to the first European high cultures.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Greece, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
The Minoan culture in Crete (2600-1400 BC) had close
contacts with Egypt and Mesopotamia and developed its
own writing language. After 1400 BC, Crete was hit by a
recession, probably due to natural disasters, misgrowth
and rebellion. At about the same time, the Mycenaean
culture grew on the mainland. Independent city states
with fortified palaces emerged. The written language
that developed during this time (around 1400–1100 BC) is
the earliest form of Greek.
After 1100 BC, large parts of the mainland were taken
by the Dorians, who probably came from the northwest of
today's Greece. During the following centuries, the
former peoples of the area mingled with the dors and new
city states were built. Despite constant wars between
the states, their citizens perceived themselves as a
people with a common language and a common religion,
with the oracle of Delphi as a unifying symbol. Homer's
poetry gave them a sense of a common past. From 776 BC
came the sports competitions in Olympia where all Greeks
could participate. In time, the Greeks founded colonies
around the Mediterranean.
Macedonia becomes a great power
The two main city states were the rivals Athens and
Sparta. In Athens, history's first popular government
for free men was developed, democracy. Sparta was
located in southern Peloponnese, and was a community of
clean living (hence the word Spartan) characterized by
At the beginning of the 4th century BC, Sparta and
Athens united under the pressure of an invading Persian
army. The victory of the Persian War 490–479 BC
strengthened Athens, which created the Deli covenant
with most coastal states - but not Sparta. The alliance
developed into an Athenian empire, and under the leader
Pericles flourished Athens. However, wealth was based on
the fact that a small group of free men used a large
number of slaves.
Discontent began to spread among the subordinate
states of Athens, which was exploited by Sparta. The
Peloponnesian War went on, with short breaks, 431-404
BC. The war ended with defeat for Athens, but Sparta's
attempt to become a new superpower failed. Constant war
between Athens, Sparta and Thebe caused havoc in Greece,
until Macedonia in the northern part of today's Greece
emerged as a new great power in the 300s BC. Macedonia's
King Philip II defeated in the Battle of Chaironeia 338
BC Athens and Thebe, and the small states were made the
kingdom of sound. At its peak, Macedonia encompassed
almost all of present-day Greece as well as parts of
today's Northern Macedonia, Albania and Bulgaria.
÷strom falls, Turkish empire
King Philip II was murdered 336 BC and succeeded by
his son Alexander, called the Great. Alexander turned
his army against the Persian Empire in Asia Minor. He
conquered Syria, Palestine and Egypt and penetrated east
through Asia. Greek, Hellenistic influence spread all
the way to India.
However, Greece collapsed during Alexander's long
campaign, and the new great power Rome gradually subdued
the Greek small states. All of Greece had been
incorporated with the Roman Empire 146 BC. The Roman
Empire was formally divided into 395 AD, and then Greece
became part of ÷strom, the Byzantine Empire, where
Christianity became official religion.
The Byzantine Empire began to fall apart during the
crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries, when Normans
and Franks broke the empire and shattered the Greek
cities. After the Crusades, the Italian city-state of
Venice subjugated most of the Greek port cities and
Crete, and from the east, Turkish clans thronged. The
Turks entered Thrace in 1354 and conquered ever greater
parts of Greece. In 1453, the capital of ÷strom,
Constantinople, fell, which became the end of the
kingdom. The whole of Greece was now under Turkish rule.
The dream of a restored Greek kingdom was kept alive
during four centuries of Turkish occupation. When the
Ottoman (Turkish) empire began to fail in the 18th
century, the seed was sown to a Greek resistance
movement, and a liberation war began in 1821. Eight
years later, the Turks were defeated and Greece became
independent. However, most of today's Greece remained
within the Turkish Empire, and throughout the 19th
century the idea of a Greater Greece lived on.
Contradictions between different political lines
characterized the first years of independence. In an
attempt to create stability, in 1832 a king, the
17-year-old Bavarian prince Otto, was elected. It was
deposed in 1862, and the Danish prince William was
appointed British king by the name of Georg I.
After the Berlin Congress in 1878, Greece was
allocated to Thessaly, and after the Balkan Wars of
1912–1913, Crete, most of Macedonia, southern Epirus and
the islands of the northeastern Aegean Sea. During the
First World War, Greece joined the side of the entente
(Britain, France and Russia) and was rewarded for this
at the peace in SŤvres in 1920, when the Ottoman Empire
was disbanded. Greece was allocated to Thrace and the
area around Smyrna (Izmir) in Asia Minor.
However, Turkey refused to recognize the terms of
peace, and Greece tried to conquer the promised
territories through an attack of war. Greek troops
penetrated deep into Turkey but were stopped outside
Ankara and driven out of the country, while the Greeks
massacred in Smyrna. In a new peace agreement in
Lausanne in 1923, Turkey regained the Smyrna area and
eastern Thrace. One and a half million Greeks had to
leave Turkey and up to half a million Turks were forced
out of Greece.
After World War I, Greece was ruled by a number of
weak governments and several coups were implemented.
King Georg II appointed General Ioannis Metaxas as head
of government in 1936 and allowed him to impose
dictatorial powers on the pretext that he would ward off
a communist coup attempt. Metaxas introduced an almost
fascist regime but tried to keep Greece neutral when
World War II broke out. An Italian invasion attempt was
fought back, but after Metaxa's death in 1941, Greece
was occupied by German, Italian and Bulgarian troops.
King Georg and the government fled to Egypt.
The resistance movement against the occupiers was
divided between Western-oriented Edes and
communist-dominated EAMs. By the time the Germans
evacuated Greece in the fall of 1944, EAM had already
proclaimed a provisional government and controlled much
of the country. At the same time, the civil war
government returned to Athens.