Important aspects of ancient Greek culture are covered in separate articles—Greek architecture, Greek art, Greek language, Greek literature, Greek music, and Greek religion. See also the articles on the cities, e.g., Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes.
At various times in its history Greece included all of Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace, part of Asia Minor, and Magna Graecia. Archaeological remains show that Greece had a long prehistory, dating from the Neolithic Age (c.4000 B.C.). By the Bronze Age (c.2800 B.C.) important cultures had developed. The Aegean civilization had several phases, two of the most important being the Minoan civilization and the Mycenaean civilization. These cultures had disappeared by 1100 B.C. The Greek-speaking Achaeans migrated into the Peloponnesus during the 14th and 13th cent. B.C. The Aeolians and the Ionians apparently preceded the Dorians, who migrated into Greece before 1000 B.C. The Ionians, moving forth, possibly as refugees, possibly as conquerors, settled in the Ionian Islands and on the shores of Asia Minor, which became a part of the Greek world.
After the Dorian invasion, the peoples of Greece, under the influence of the divisive geography and the great variety of tribes, developed the city-state—small settlements that grew into minor kingdoms. Homeric Greece (named for the great epic poet Homer) was dependent on the agriculture of relatively unproductive fields but was already open to the sea. Although the Greeks never rivaled the Phoenicians or the later Carthaginians and Romans as mariners, the sea offered them an opportunity for expansion and commerce. In the 8th, 7th, and 6th cent. B.C., the Greeks established colonies, many of which became separate city-states, from the Black Sea and the Bosporus (where Byzantium was founded) to Sicily, S Italy (Magna Graecia), Mediterranean France, the northern shores of Africa, and Spain. These colonies had a great influence on the history of the Greek mainland, where the city-states were developing in quarrelsome freedom.
Because of their independence, the cities developed separately. However, there was a general pattern of development, which varied somewhat in each particular instance. Monarchies yielded to aristocracies, which were in turn replaced by tyrants, who usually gained power by espousing the cause of the underprivileged and by using force. Although the tyrants usually tried to establish dynasties, the hold established by their families was short-lived. Pisistratus, Hipparchus, and Hippias in Athens and the later Gelon, Dionysius the Elder, and Dionysius the Younger in Sicily were typical tyrants.
On the Greek mainland the tyrannies soon yielded to oligarchies or to democracies tempered by limited citizenship and by slaveholding; it was in Greece that the idea of political democracy came into being. Solon established a democracy in Athens. Militaristic Sparta had a unique constitutional and social development. The warring city-states had a sense of unity; all their citizens considered themselves Hellenes, and religious unity gave rise to leagues known as amphictyonies, notably the great amphictyony centered at Delphi.
The celebration of contests such as the Olympian Games also fostered unity. However, the Ionian cities in Asia Minor received little help from Greece when they revolted (499 B.C.) against Persia, which also threatened the Greek mainland, and the mainland cities were poorly united in the Persian Wars that continued until 449 B.C. Out of these successful wars, however, came the powerful surge of Greek civilization.
Athens, in particular, with the support of the Delian League as the basis of an empire, grew dramatically, and in the age of Pericles (c.495–429 B.C.) developed a culture that left its mark on the course of Western and Eastern civilization. Drama, poetry, sculpture, architecture, and philosophy flourished, and there was a vigorous intellectual life. The leading Greeks of the 5th and 4th cent. B.C. included Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Phidias, Myron, Polykleitos, Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Hippocrates. Although Athens succumbed in the Peloponnesian War (431–404 B.C.) and Sparta triumphed briefly before continued fighting gave the hegemony of Greece to Corinth and Thebes, the civilization that had been created lived on.
When Philip II of Macedon attacked the warring city-states and conquered Greece by defeating the Athenians and the Thebans in the battle of Chaeronea (338 B.C.), he paved the way for his son, Alexander the Great, who spread Greek civilization over the known Western world and across Asia to India. After Alexander's death, his empire was torn apart by his warring generals (see Diadochi; Ptolemy I; Seleucus I; Antigonus I; Demetrius I) in the period from 323 to 276 B.C. Some Greek cities formed the Aetolian League to oppose Macedonian rule, but members of the Achaean League took the Macedonian side. The Greek city-states continued their rivalries, and Macedonia under the Antigonids became thoroughly Hellenized.
Incessant warfare made Greece increasingly weak, while Rome grew stronger. In 146 B.C., after the Fourth Macedonian War (see Macedon), the remnants of the Greek states fell definitively into the hands of Rome. Under Roman rule, the cities long retained a measure of independence and intellectual life, but had little political or economic importance. Hellenism, however, had triumphed, and Greek intellectual supremacy continued for many centuries. The Byzantine Empire was thoroughly Greek in origin, and Hellenistic civilization, centered at Alexandria, Pergamum, Dura, and other cities, spread Greek influence and preserved the Greek heritage for later ages. The Greeks were the first to write narrative secular history, and the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Polybius are basic sources of events and contemporary ideas as well as classics of world literature.
From the division (A.D. 395) of the Roman Empire into East and West until the conquest (15th cent.) of Greece by the Ottoman Turks, Greece shared the fortunes and vicissitudes of the Byzantine Empire. The victory (378) of the Visigoths over Emperor Valens at Adrianople marked the beginning of the frequent and devastating barbarian invasions of Greece; the Huns, Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars followed.
Greek power and prestige were restored by the Macedonian dynasty of Byzantine emperors (867–1025); however, the center of the Greek world was Constantinople, not Greece proper. In the 11th cent. the Seljuk Turks began making inroads into the empire, the Normans attacked Epirus, and the Crusades commenced. The Fourth Crusade led in 1204 to the temporary disintegration of the Byzantine Empire and the creation of a feudal state (see Constantinople, Latin Empire of) under the rule of French, Flemish, and Italian nobles and of Venice.
The restored Byzantine Empire (1261–1453) recovered only parts of Greece, most of which continued under the rule of French and Italian princes until conquered by the Ottoman Turks (completed in 1456). Genoa held Khíos until 1566; Venice retained Crete until 1669 and the Ionian Islands until 1797. In its numerous wars with the Ottomans, Venice also held Athens, Évvoia, and several other ports and islands for brief intermittent periods prior to 1718.
Under the Ottoman Empire, Greece was merely one of many exploited territories. The Turks practiced religious tolerance, but otherwise their regime was grasping and oppressive. Many Greek families (notably the Phanariots; see under Phanar) were important in the administration of the empire, and the Greek merchants living in Constantinople and in the ports of Asia Minor, notably Izmir (Smyrna), were very prosperous; but Greece itself languished in obscurity and poverty.
In the early 19th cent. the desire of the Greeks for independence was stimulated by growing nationalism, by the influence of the French Revolution, by the Turkish reverses in the Russo-Turkish Wars, by the rebellion (1820) of Ali Pasha against the Ottoman Empire, and by the sympathetic attitude of Alexander I of Russia, whose foreign minister, Capo d'Istria, was Greek. In 1821 the Greek War of Independence began under the leadership of Alexander and Demetrios Ypsilanti. European sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of the Greek cause; financial aid poured in, and many foreign volunteers (of whom Lord Byron was the most celebrated) joined the Greek forces.
Russia and Great Britain agreed (1826) to mediate between the Greeks and Turkey, and in 1827 the Greek political factions set aside their bitter rivalries to elect Capo d'Istria president of Greece. Great Britain, Russia, and France joined in demanding an armistice. Turkey having refused, the allied fleets attacked and defeated the fleet of Muhammad Ali, viceroy of Egypt and the Ottoman sultan's chief supporter against the Greeks, in the battle of Navarino (1827). Only Russia, however, declared war (1828) on Turkey. Defeated, Turkey accepted the Treaty of Adrianople (1829; see Adrianople, Treaty of) and recognized Greek autonomy.
In 1832, Greece obtained from the European powers recognition of its independence. The powers chose, and Greece accepted (1832), a Bavarian prince as king of the Hellenes. Otto I proved authoritarian and unpopular. He was pressured into promulgating a constitution in 1844, and in 1862 he was forced to abdicate. Otto was succeeded by a Danish prince, who as George I (reigned 1863–1913) introduced (1864) a new constitution establishing a unicameral parliament.
Great Britain ceded (1864) the Ionian Islands, and in 1881 Greece acquired Thessaly and part of Epirus. Because of British opposition, Greece was unable to annex Crete during a major insurrection (1866–69) there against Ottoman rule. Continued irredentist agitation to absorb Crete led to the Greco-Turkish War of 1897; Greece was defeated, but because of the pressure of the powers Crete was eventually made independent and later (1913) incorporated into Greece.
Venizelos and Zaïmis were the leading Greek political figures from the late 1890s to the mid-1930s. In the Balkan Wars (1912–13) Greece obtained SE Macedonia and W Thrace; the frontier with newly independent Albania gave a larger part of Epirus to Greece, but neither country was satisfied, and the area remained in dispute until 1971, when Greece, at least temporarily, dropped its claims to N Epirus. George I was assassinated in 1913 and was succeeded by Constantine I.
In World War I, Venizelos, who favored the Allies, negotiated (1915) an agreement allowing them to land troops at Thessaloníki (see Salonica campaigns). However, King Constantine, who favored neutrality, refused to aid the Allies and dismissed Venizelos as premier. Venizelos organized (1916) a government at Thessaloníki, and in 1917 Allied pressure led to Constantine's abdication in favor of his younger son, Alexander. Venizelos again became premier, and Greece fully entered the war. At the peace conference (see Neuilly, Treaty of; Sèvres, Treaty of) Greece received the Bulgarian coast on the Aegean and the remnants of European Turkey including E Thrace and the Dodecanese (except Rhodes) but excluding the Zone of the Straits. Izmir was placed under Greek administration pending a plebiscite.
Encouraged by the Allies, the Greeks invaded (1921) Asia Minor, but were defeated (1922) by the Turkish forces of Kemal Atatürk. The Treaty of Lausanne (1923) restored the Maritsa River as the Greco-Turkish frontier in Europe. A separate agreement provided for the compulsory exchange of populations. Under the supervision of a League of Nations commission about 1.5 million Greeks of Asia Minor were resettled in Greece and about 800,000 Turks and 80,000 Bulgarians left Greece and were repatriated in their respective countries. Constantine, who had returned after the death (1920) of King Alexander, was again deposed in 1922. George II succeeded Alexander, but was soon also deposed (1923), and in 1924 a republic was proclaimed and then confirmed by a plebiscite.
The years 1924–35 were marked by unsettled economic conditions and by violent political strife (including coups and countercoups), in which Paul Kondouriotis, Theodore Pangalos, George Kondylis, Panayoti Tsaldaris, Zaïmis, and Venizelos were the chief protagonists. The defeat (1935) of the rebelling Venizelists in Crete marked the end of the republic. Kondylis ousted Tsaldaris and arranged for a plebiscite that resulted in the restoration of the monarchy and the return of George II. In 1936, Premier John Metaxas, supported by the king, established a dictatorship, ostensibly to avert a Communist takeover of the country. In foreign relations, Greece abandoned its anti-Turkish policy by establishing (1934) the Balkan Entente with Yugoslavia, Romania, and Turkey.
When World War II broke out (1939) Greece remained neutral. In Oct., 1940, however, Italy, after a farcical ultimatum, invaded Greece. The Greeks resisted successfully, carrying the war into S Albania. Metaxas, who had strong pro-German leanings, died in Jan., 1941. When Germany began to gather troops on the Greek borders, Greece allowed the landing (Mar., 1941) of a small British expeditionary force, but by the end of April the Greek mainland was in German hands, and in May Crete fell. The Greek government fled to Cairo, then to Great Britain, and in 1943 settled in Cairo. The German occupation, in which Bulgarian and Italian troops also took part, plunged Greece into abject misery, including an acute shortage of food. Resistance grew despite ruthless reprisals, and successive puppet governments were failures. Guerrilla bands controlled large rural areas.
In 1943 sporadic civil war began between the Communist guerrilla group (EAM-ELAS) and the royalist group (EDES). The guerrillas held most of Greece after the Germans began to withdraw in Sept., 1944. British troops landed, and by November all Germans were expelled. The appalling financial and economic conditions faced by the Greek government on its return (Oct., 1944) to Athens were complicated by an explosive political situation. In Dec., 1944, fighting broke out in Athens between British troops and the EAM-ELAS, which ignored the British order to disarm. Upon the intervention of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, an uneasy truce was arranged (Feb., 1945), and a regency was established under Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens.
Cabinets replaced each other in rapid succession, until elections (Mar., 1946) returned a royalist majority. In Sept., 1946, a plebiscite decided in favor of the return of George II, the reigning monarch; George died in 1947 and was succeeded by his brother Paul. Also in 1946, guerrilla warfare was renewed; Communist-led bands were successful in the northern mountain districts. Charges by the Greek government, supported by Britain and the United States, that Albania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria were aiding the Communist rebels created great controversy at the United Nations between the Western and Soviet blocs. As the civil war continued and Great Britain felt unable to extend further financial and military support to the Greek government, U.S. President Harry S. Truman announced (Mar., 1947) the "Truman Doctrine," under which the United States sent a group of officers to advise the Greek army and eventually gave Greece about $400 million in military and economic aid. In Dec., 1947, the Communists, led by Markos Vafiades, proclaimed a rival government of the country. However, by late 1949, the rebels, having suffered severe military setbacks and no longer receiving aid from Yugoslavia (which had defected from the Soviet bloc in 1948), ceased open hostilities.
The civil war was marked by brutality on both sides. Economic conditions were miserable, and charges of incompetence and corruption were made against the Greek government by non-Communists as well as by Communists. Political freedom was curtailed, and the Communist party was outlawed. The legislature, dominated by the Populist (royalist) party headed by Constantine Tsaldaris, operated under the 1911 constitution, which it was empowered to revise.
Government was unstable in 1950–51, but after a new constitution was ratified in 1951 and elections were held in 1952, Field Marshal Papagos became premier with a majority in the legislature. Greece was a charter member of the UN, and in 1951 it was admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). When Papagos died in 1955, he was succeeded by Constantine Karamanlis, whose National Radical Union party increased its majority in subsequent elections (1956, 1958, 1961). Under Papagos and Karamanlis, the Greek economy improved considerably, despite a series of damaging earthquakes in 1953–54; the United States continued to give Greece considerable economic and military aid. In 1954, Greece signed an alliance with Turkey and Yugoslavia, but friction with Turkey (and also with Great Britain) soon arose over the sovereignty of Cyprus, the majority of whose population is ethnically Greek, and continued after Cyprus became independent in 1960. The moderately liberal Center Union gained a plurality of seats in the legislature in elections in 1963, but its leader George Papandreou failed to win a vote of confidence for his government, and new elections were held in 1964. This time the Center Union gained a majority of seats and Papandreou became premier. Also in 1964, Paul died and was succeeded by his son, Constantine II.
In mid-1965, Gen. George Grivas accused Papandreou's son Andreas (an economist who had taught in the United States) of helping to organize a secret leftist group among army officers; similar accusations against both Papandreous were made by the defense minister. In the resulting furor Constantine forced the resignation of George Papandreou, who long had been an opponent of the monarchy. After a period of uncertainty, a new government headed by Stefanos Stephanopoulos was formed in Sept., 1965. This government fell in Dec., 1965, and Constantine authorized Ioannis Paraskevopoulos to form an extraparliamentary government pending elections set for May, 1967. Paraskevopoulos gained the support of George Papandreou and of Panayotis Kanellopoulos, the leader of the National Radical Union, but was forced to resign in Mar., 1967, and was replaced as premier by Kanellopoulos.
Before the elections (which the Center Union seemed likely to win) could be held, rightist army officers staged (Apr. 21, 1967) a successful coup, claiming that a Communist takeover of Greece was imminent. Constantine Kollias was made premier, but real power was held by three army officers, George Papadopoulos, Gregory Spandidakis, and Stylianos Patakos. Many liberals and leftists were placed under arrest, and rigid controls were placed over Greek life. After failing in a countercoup (Dec., 1967), Constantine went into exile. Shortly thereafter, Gen. George Zoitakis was made regent, and Papadopoulos and Patakos, after resigning their army posts, became, respectively, premier and deputy premier. Some clandestine opposition groups were organized in Greece, and there was international protest against the dictatorial ways of the new regime.
In 1968, a new constitution that drastically curtailed the power of the monarchy and expanded that of the premier was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum. Controls over Greek life were relaxed somewhat, and most political prisoners had been released by the early 1970s. In 1972, Papadopoulos, by then the most powerful person in the country, also assumed the post of regent. In May, 1973, members of the navy staged an unsuccessful coup. In June, 1973, the monarchy was abolished, and Greece became a presidential republic. After this move was approved by a plebiscite later in the year, Papadopoulos became provisional president, and Spyros Markezinis replaced him as premier. In an effort to eliminate the remaining traces of military rule and thus to gain greater international acceptance of the new order in Greece, elections were scheduled for 1974. However, on Nov. 25, 1973, Papadopoulos was ousted in a bloodless military coup led Brig. Gen. Dimitrios Ioannidis, the hard-line security chief; Lt. Gen. Phaedon Gizikis was installed as president.
In the aftermath of its failure to gain control of Cyprus by political manipulation there, the Gizikis government, in July, 1974, voluntarily turned over power to a civilian government headed by Karamanlis, who returned from exile. Most exiled politicians (notably Andreas Papandreou) returned to Greece, all political parties (including the Communist party) were allowed to operate freely, and the 1951 constitution was reinstated. In a 1974 referendum, Greek voters rejected reestablishing the monarchy in favor of a presidential parliamentary republic. Karamanlis and the conservative New Democracy (ND) party were reelected and retained their majority in 1977. In 1980, Karamanlis was elected to a five-year term as president, and Giorgios Rallis succeeded him as premier. In 1981, Greece became a member of the European Community (now the European Union).
The Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), under Papandreou, won majorities in the elections of 1981 and 1984, ending 35 years of pro-Western, conservative rule. Under the Socialist governments of the 1980s, support of the public sector grew, and many state-owned businesses continued to lose money. Pasok failed to retain power in 1989, but three elections were needed before the ND secured a parliamentary majority of one vote in 1990. Constantine Mitsotakis then became premier, and Karamanlis was elected president for a second time. Facing a record deficit and high inflation, the Mitsotakis government instituted a severe austerity program and started large-scale privatization of state-owned industries.
In the 1993 elections, Pasok regained power, with Papandreou as premier, and privatization programs were cut back. A dispute with Yugoslav Macedonia was resolved in 1995 when the new republic agreed to modify its flag and renounce any territorial claims against Greece, but the neighboring nation's use of the name Macedonia continued to objectionable to Greece, which in subsequent years blocked its neighbor's admission into the European Union and NATO. In 2011 the International Court of Justice ruled that Greece's blocking of Macedonia's bid to join NATO was contrary to the 1995 agreement. Karamanlis retired as president in 1995 and was succeeded by Costis Stephanopoulos, who was reelected in 2000.
In Jan., 1996, Papandreou, who was then severely ill, resigned and was replaced by the moderate Socialist Costas Simitis, who continued economic reforms aimed at shrinking Greece's welfare state and preparing the nation to participate in the European Union's single currency (the euro), which was adopted by Greece in 2001. Thoughout the 1980s and 1990s Greece's ongoing disputes with Turkey over Cyprus and the status of the Aegean Sea resisted solution, but relations with Turkey began to improve in 1999 after both nations were separately hit by earthquakes and sent aid to each other.
In 2000, Simitis and Pasok retained power after a narrow victory in the general election. Although the economy generally improved under the Socialists, the unemployment rate remained high and corruption scandales hurt the party. In the 2004 elections ND won a majority in parliament, and Costas Karamanlis, nephew of the former president, became premier. Karolos Papoulias was elected president in 2005, succeeding Costis Stephanopoulos. In Aug., 2007, Greece experien
In 2008, several government scandals, the effects of the international economic downturn, and days of rioting in December sparked by the shooting of a teenager greatly diminished public support for the government. In Aug., 2009, raging wildfires outside Athens, though less destructive than those of 2007, led to renewed criticism of government preparedness and planning. When Karamanlis called a snap election for Oct., 2009, Pasok secured a majority in the parliament and George Papandreou, Andreas's son, became premier.
A sizable budget deficit forced the new government to adopted an austerity budget for 2010 amid fears that Greece could default on its significant debt obligations. In Jan., 2010, the European Commission condemned Greece for deliberately misreporting past government financial data, and said that its national debt could be greater than expected; additional austerity measures were subsequently adopted under EU pressure, and later calculations (Nov., 2010) showed the 2009 debt and deficit to be even worse. The austerity measures led to sometimes violent demonstrations as unions called a series of general strikes; protests against government policies continued into 2011. President Papoulias was reelected in Feb., 2010.
In May, 2010, the EU, IMF, and Greece finally agreed on a three-year,
In the face of public protests, Premier Papandreaou pressed on with measures including privatization and the reduction of the public sector and agreed to additional austerities. His move to put to a referendum an October rescue package that involved banks taking a 50% loss on Greek debt undermined the government and threatened the bailout deal, but it also led in November to the establishment of an interim government of national unity with former European Central Bank vice president Lucas Papademos as premier.
In Mar., 2012, an agreement on conditions for the new EU bailout, which totaled
The May, 2012, elections yielded a fragmented parliament, as many voters rejected Pasok and ND; the latter won the largest share of the vote, 19%, but Syriza, a new leftist party that rejected the March agreement, placed second with 17%. No party proved able to form a governing coalition. In new elections in June, both ND and Syriza increased their shares of the votes and seats, and ND, who narrowly came in first, formed a coalition government with Pasok and the Democratic Left. ND leader Antonis Samaras became premier. The sudden closure of Greece's state broadcasting company (pending creation of a smaller company) by the government in June, 2013, as an austerity measure led the Democratic Left to withdraw from the government; additional austerities were subsequently approved.
More on Greece History from Infoplease:
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Greek Political Geography