Greek History

Ancient Greece Time Periods - Ancient Greek Cities & Facts

Greece has a history stretching back almost 4,000 years. The people of the mainland, called Hellenes, organized great naval and military expeditions, and explored the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, going as far as the Atlantic Ocean and the Caucasus Mountains. One of those expeditions, the siege of Troy, is narrated in the first great European literary work, Homer’s Iliad. Numerous Greek settlements were founded throughout the Mediterranean, Asia Minor and the coast of North Africa as a result of travels in search of new markets. During the Classical period (5th century B.C.), Greece was composed of city-states, the largest being Athens, followed by Sparta and Thebes. A fierce spirit of independence and love of freedom enabled the Greeks to defeat the Persians in battles which are famous in the history of civilization-Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea.
In the second half of the 4th century B.C., the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, conquered most of the then known world and sought to hellenize it.
In 146 B.C. Greece fell to the Romans. In 330 A.D. Emperor Constantine moved the Capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, founding the Eastern Roman Empire which was renamed Byzantine Empire or Byzantium for short, by western historians in the 19th century.Byzantium transformed the linguistic heritage of Ancient Greece into a vehicle for the new Christian civilization.
The Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks in 1453 and the Greeks remained under the Ottoman yoke for nearly 400 years. During this time their language, their religion and their sense of identity remained strong.
On March 25, 1821, the Greeks revolted against the Turks, and by 1828 they had won their independence. As the new state comprised only a tiny fraction of the country, the struggle for the liberation of all the lands inhabited by Greeks continued.In 1864, the Ionian islands were added to Greece; in 1881 parts of Epirus and Thessaly. Crete, the islands of the Eastern Aegean and Macedonia were added in 1913 and Western Thrace in 1919. After World War II the Dodecanese islands were also returned to Greece.

The Aegean Civilization

Gathered round their natural territory, the Aegean Sea, which surrounds the mainland and the numerous islands, the Greeks perpetuate the tradition which began in this area about five thousand years ago. In a land particularly blessed by.nature with regard to sea communications but particularly hard with regard to overland communications in a mountainous mainland, the first European civilization was developed in the third and second millennia B.C. in the Aegean islands, in Crete and in the broader area around the Aegean. The first inhabitants were a white race but probably not Greeks. These pre Greeks, according to tradition, were known as Pelasgians. With the incursion of new people, Greece entered the Bronze Age in 3000 B.C.
The new inhabitants belonged to a special branch of the white race, the Mediterranean branch, and came from Asia. They settled on the coast and in the Aegean islands. They were called Aegeans and their civilization was the Aegean civilization. The Cycladic civilization was the first Aegean island civilization. Based on Milos and Thera (Santorini), Cycladic seafarers and traders conquered with their products all the harbors in the Aegean and Ionian Seas and opened up the sea route to the west before the Cretans, the Achaeans and the Phoenicians, reaching the shores of Italy and Spain. Marble statues, jewelry, utensils, weapons and exquisite, decorated pottery dating back to that period are being discovered to this day by archaeologists in the Greek islands. Moreover, on the islet of Saliangos, opposite Antiparos, neolithic settlements have been excavated with finds dating back to around 4000 B.C. Indeed, some researchers identify Thera as the capital of lost Atlantis, An entire city was discovered underneath the ashes which covered the island after the volcanic eruption of the 15th century B.C.

Byzantine Civilization

In 395 A.D. the Roman Empire was finally dismembered. Its western part fell to the barbarians while the eastern part played an important role in world history for more than a thousand years. With the establishment of Constantinople in 330 A.D. as the capital of the Eastern Roman and the complete predominance of Christianity, the Greeks became conscious of their national identity and laid the foundations of the later powerful Byzantine Empire. Byzantine civilization is considered to be a continuation of ancient Greek civilization with many Roman and Eastern influences. Its main identifying feature was the Christian religion which pervaded its legislation, its literature, its architecture, etc. The Byzantine emperors converted neighboring people to Christianity and, with their powerful fleet, ruled the seas up to the 8th century A.D.
The strategic position of Constantinople, on the site of old Byzantium, between the two large continents of Europe and Asia, shifted the centre of gravity of world domination to the east. But it also became a pole of attraction for all foreign invaders.
In 1096 A.D. the “Frankish” infiltration of the Levant began with the First Crusade. The Crusaders overran the Greek lands. The Fourth Crusade ended with the taking of Constantinople in 1204 and the sharing of the empire among the Crusaders, while Venice imposed itself on the Levant for centuries, in parallel with the Turks. Venice dominated some Creek islands either directly or indirectly. Euboea, the Cyclades, the Ionian islands, Crete and Cyprus were more or less Venetian possessions from 1489 onwards while in the 15th century, Thasos, Samothrace, Imbros, Lemnos, Chios, Samos, Icaria and the ports of Ainos in Thrace and Phocaea in Ionia were Genoese dependencies. Rhodes and Its neighboring islands had been occupied by the Knights of St. John since 1308.
The dismantling of the Byzantine Empire, however, did not bring about the dismantling of Hellenism as well. The idea of national unity had already been sufficiently developed to spark the formation of cores of resistance. Michael Palaeologus succeeded in retaking Constantinople in 1262 and the revived empire lived on for another two centuries. The empire of the Palaeologi was, in fact, nothing more than a national Greek state which, under attack from the Serbs, Bulgarians and Turks was obliged to abandon the dream of empire and barricade itself behind a national idea in order to defend what had remained of Hellenism. The same spirit of resistance inspired the rest of the Greeks, those who were still under Frankish occupation.

The Fall of Constantinople

Finally, in 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks after a siege of two months. The last emperor of Byzantium, Constantine Palaeologus, fell with the city. Hellenism was then nourished by traditions in which one legend featured very largely: that of the king (Constantine) who had been turned into marble by an angel, and hidden from the Turks until the time was ripe for his resurrection and return. The structure of the social and political life of the Turks, who occupied themselves mainly with their holy war, led them to leave such things as trade, arts and crafts and other productive activities to their vassals, thus making the latter indispensable to the functioning of the empire’s administrative machine.

The Turkish Occupation

For Hellenism, the Turkish conquest signified catastrophe, decline and retrogression. Religion played an important role during the first centuries of the conquest in upholding morale and fostering resistance. In the 18th century, however, in parallel with the development of trade in Greek lands, there was a change in economic relations and a Greek urban, middle class began to be formed which, in spite of its peculiar nature, promoted the development of a national conscience.
Inspired by the age of enlightenment in France and stimulating a flowering of intellectual thought, it fired enslaved Greeks with the idea of freedom and equality. At the beginning of the 19th century, the national conscience of the Greeks had reached full maturity and clarity.

Hellenistic Period (336-30 B.C.)

On the death of Alexander, a bitter struggle broke out among his generals for the succession. The clashes and the quarrels lasted for three centuries as the Macedonian empire was split up among the “successors”. Three Kingdoms were formed: the kingdom of Macedonia; the kingdom of Greece proper; the kingdom of Egypt, which was ruled by the dynasty of the Ptolemies and the kingdom of Antioch, ruled by the dynasty of the Seleucids. Hellenism had now expanded beyond its metropolitan bounds and had created new centres of culture. The Greeks had made the discovery that they were not only members of a narrow community like that of the “city-state” but of a broader, civilized and Hellenized community. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers taught new ideas of brotherhood while the Cynics became beaters of more radical messages and considered themselves to be “citizens of the world”. The Museum of Alexandria and the Library of Pergamon became renowned cosmopolitan centres of arts and letters from which great poets of the 3rd century B.C. emerged such as Apollonius, Callimachus and Theocritus.

The Roman Conquest

But the long-lasting wars among the successors weakened the new states to the extent that they fell easy prey to the Romans. The Romans conquered Greece in 146 B.C. but in conquering the East they were charmed by it and imitated its culture. They were deeply Influenced by it in all aspects of their lives and it changed their habits, manners and customs. This is why their civilization was known as the “GrecoRoman civilization” The Roman Empire began to decline in the middle of the 4th century A.D.

Classical Period – “The Golden Age”

Pericles stamped the Classical Period with the seal of his personality and, despite the horror of war, the flowering of culture in this period was unique in history. The tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; the comedies of Aristophanes, the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, the unique personality of Socrates, the Parthenon, the sculptures, Pheidias and so many other artists, the wonderful pottery with its red designs – they all constitute a group of people,ideas, creators and works by which Greece established its eternal fame. Plate and Aristotle pronounced their philosophical systems and sought the revival of the ideal of the “republic” while Isocrates vainly called upon the Greeks to unite.
In the 4th century, Philip of Macedon undertook the definitive expulsion of the Persians from the Aegean and rescued the Greeks from enslavement. The Battle of Chefoneia in 338 B.C. marked the beginning of a new era for Greece, The small city-states lost their independence and the foundations for the future unity of the country were laid. The superiority of the Macedonian army, Philip’s great abilities and the abundant financial means at his disposal all contributed to the prevalence of this new Greek race, the Macedonians. Philip was succeeded to the throne by his son, Alexander, at the age of twenty in 336 B.C.

Alexander the Great

Gifted with physical attributes and intelligence, Alexander was the greatest conqueror of the ancient world. Taught by Aristotle and inspired by Greek classical culture, he was also a military genius who mounted an expedition against the Persians. His aspiration was to conquer the Persian empire and his aim was to reach the edge of the world and come to the Ocean, which according to Greek belief, surrounded the earth. Within seven years he has conquered the entire Persian state and then decided to conquer India too, which he also succeeded in doing. He died at the age of 33 in 324 B.C. The conquests and achievements of Alexander brought about radical changes in the ancient Greek world, having given access to the wealth of the East. He founded new Greek cities in the new lands and thus created centres of Greek culture. He promoted the sciences, mainly geography and also mathematics, astronomy and physics. The Greek language was spoken everywhere and became the lingua franca of commerce.

The Mycenaean Civilization

In around 2000 B.C. an Indo-European race appeared on the stage of history which encompassed the Greeks, the Romans, the Gauls, the Britons, the Germans and others. The first Greeks to appear in, Greece were the Achaeans. More powerful and better armed and using horses and war chariots, they prevailed over the inhabitants, starting from Thessaly and ending up in the Peloponnese. Their language also prevailed over the whole of Greece and they absorbed many elements of the Cretan and Aegean civilizations A consequence of this admixture was the creation of a superior civilization, the Creto-Mycenaean. The Achaeans imposed themselves in the Mediterranean, developing trade with Asia Minor, with Egypt, with Lower Italy and with Spain.
They established permanent installations in Cyprus and in Rhodes. Their products were much in demand. Mycenae, the most important Achaean centre, reached Its peak around 1600 B.C. during the Bronze Age. Naturally fortified and strategically placed, Mycenae became very powerful described It as “golden Mycenae” because of the gold transported there by the Achaeans from the Pharaohs of Egypt. The excavations of Heinrich Schliemann in 1816 brought to light the royal graves with their treasures, architectural masterpieces such as the beehive tomb of Atreus, the Lions’ Gate and exquisite frescoes. The finds have revealed to us a warrior race which believed in the afterlife. The Mycenaean civilization spread to southern Italy, Libya, Cyrenaica and to the Near East. Multicolored vessels, kylixes and amphorae of the time were in great demand as far as the lands of the Euphrates and the Nile Valley. In the 12th century B.C. the Mycenaean civilization was obliterated by Internal conflict and in 1100 B.C. by the invasion of the Dorians. The inhabitants of the cities and villages fled and settled on Aegean Islands and Cyprus and in Tarsus and Cilicia.

The Cretan Civilization

The most brilliant Aegean island civilization, however, was the Cretan or Minoan civilization which flourished in Crete mainly in the 3rd and 2nd millennia B C. and took its name from the legendary king of Knossos, Minos. In 1450 B.C Crete had become a mighty sea power and had amassed great riches and treasures which allowed it to build, between 2200 and 1550 B.C. the renowned Cretan palaces of Knossos and Phaestos where the arts flourished. The Cretans taught the art of seamanship to the Phoenicians and the Greeks. They imposed themselves in the Cyclades and in Attica and exercised great influence over Mycenae and Tiryns.
It is said that the Cretan kings granted “protection”, on payment of a fee, to various other cities, as one gathers from certain myths and particularly the legend of Theseus. They also developed trade with Egypt and set up colonies in Cythera and later in Miletus. In 1893, the archaeologist Arthur Evans brought to light almost the entire Minoan civilization. The excavations uncovered a bright and colorful world. The frescoes not only in the palaces but In humble dwellings as well bear witness to the gay character of the Cretans, their love for life, for nature, for fun and dancing. A peaceful people, it is said they had concluded a “Pax Minoica” with their neighbors. Their art is marked by colour, movement and liveliness. It shows scenes of religious processions, games and bullfights as well as themes from the world of plants and the sea. Their technical knowledge is to be admired even today. Their script was hieroglyphic. The value of the Minoan civilization is very great. it was the first true civilization in Europe and formed the basis for the later, brilliant, Greek civilization, the Mycenaean. It disappeared at the end of 1500 B C. after the volcanic eruption of Thera which, according to one view, also caused the destruction of Crete. It was a chronological milestone, since from that date onwards the techniques and aesthetics of mainland Greece prevailed over the entire Aegean and in Crete.