History of Greece

Ancient Greek history is best picked up after the paleolithic era and during the neolithic period, when the Minoan civilization had successfully established itself primarily on the island of Crete. The Minoans reached their peak during the Bronze age, from around 2700BC to 1450 BC . Traces of previous inhabitants in Greece date back as far as 11,000 BC, but the Minoans, who came from the east, were the first to establish a more complex society. The Minoans are often identified as the true cradle of civilization, showing a high level of organization especially after 1700 BC. The Minoans would spread to islands such as Santorini and Mykonos, and within their villages they began to erect unique palaces that have contributed to ruins found in the Cycladic islands. The Minoans eventually fell near 1100 BC, and during their waning years the Mycenaean civilization was on its way to establishing itself on the Greek mainland. Eventually, the Mycenaeans would dominate most of southern Greece. The Mycenaean period covers ancient Greek history from 1600 BC - 1100BC. The Mycenaeans were based at Mycenaea some 55 miles southwest of Athens on the Peleponnese peninsula, where traces of their civilization can be found today.

The Minoans would die out seemingly with the coming of the Iron age, and eventually on the mainland, Greece history would see the Mycenean civilization begin its own decline. In the farther reaches of northern Greece, the Dorians sat back waiting for the Mycenaeans to lose strength. It is contested by scholars of Greece history whether the Dorians invaded, if environmental reasons were to blame, or if disgruntled Mycenaeans turned on their own empire, but around 1250 BC, most of the great Mycenaean palaces were in ruins. Thus began the period of Dorian rule in Greece and the beginning of the Greek Dark Ages, which lasted from about 1100 BC to 750 BC. During this period, kings were the primary rulers, but slowly and surely Greece began to develop into a framework of city-states. Around the 8th century BC, Homer was penning his great epics and ancient Greek history would see a shift from a stagnant period into the vibrant classical period.

During the classical period, Greece would experience its Golden Age. The city-states would usher in a series of empires, most notably the Athenian Empire, that would add complexity to Greek civilization. The Athenian Empire would face competition from the Spartans and Persians, but managed to grow rich off of other member states and eventually lay the groundwork for Western civilization. Around 450 BC, Pericles ushered in Athenian imperial rule. This is the real beginning of the Golden Age in Greek history, and under Pericles great monuments like those found on the Acropolis would be erected. It was during the Golden Age that the great Greek playwrights, Aeschylus, Euripedes, Aristophanes and Sophocles wrote their defining works. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle would revolutionize philosophical thought during the classical period. The strides made during the classical period in architecture, literature and art laid the foundation for Western Europe’s Renaissance and influenced the later neo-classical developments in both Europe and the Americas. Ongoing disputes with Persian forces and Sparta would eventually lead to the Peleponnesian War and the end of the Athenian Empire. In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great, and the Greek tribes unified under him, would conquer most of the known world at the time, thus establishing the Hellenistic era.

Alexander the Great would die young, however, and he left no certain plans for the direction of his empire. Greece effectively was annexed into the Roman Empire in 146 BC. During this period in Greek history, the whole Greek peninsula operated as a province to Rome. Historical sites such as the Roman agora in Athens give insight into Roman life and their impact in the history of Greece. Greek language and culture would continue to shape much of the eastern Mediterranean region during Roman rule. With the split of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine era of Greece history starts around the 5th century AD. The Byzantine Empire was highly Greek-influenced, and it would enjoy success for almost 1,000 years until the Ottoman Empire overtook it. The Byzantine churches of Kapnikarea and Agios Eleftherios, found in the Plaka neighborhood of Athens, are two of the best preserved Byzantine churches in Greece.

One of the most important years in Greek history is the year of 1821. It is a year that saw the tired Greeks finally mount a successful rebellion against almost 400 years of Turkish rule. The Ottoman Empire’s rule over Greece began in 1453 and ended with the formation of the new Greek state in 1829. Much of northern Greece would remain occupied until the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 ultimately led to their unification into the modern Greek state. It took time for the Ottomans to officially recognize Greece’s freedom, but eventually King Otto of Bavaria became ruler of the new Greek state. During the late 1830"s, he would build the Parliament Building in Athens, but by 1943, Greeks wanted a new constitution and representation through an assembly. Otto was removed in 1863, and Greece experienced a series of different rulers and governments well into the next century. Following a civil war and occupations by both the Italians and the Germans, Greece finally returned to freedom and by 1975 democracy had returned to its birthplace.

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