Greek History 101



Greek History 101

6000 - 4000 BC ............ Neolithic Period  

2800 - 1500 BC ............ Minoan Period

1500 - 1100 BC ............ Mycenean Period

1100 - 800 BC .............. The Dark Ages

800 - 500 BC ................ Archaic Period

500 - 400 BC ................ Classical Period

400 - 200 BC ................ Hellenistic Period

200 BC - 330 AD ......... Roman Period

330 AD - 1453 AD ....... Byzantine Period

1453 - 1821 AD ............ Ottoman Period

1821- 1829 AD ............. War of Independence

1831 - Present .............. Modern Greece

Neolithic Period  - 6000 - 4000 BC

Neolithic sites appear throughout Greece.  These hunting and farming communities were populated by people who worshipped clay fertility goddesses, made pottery and tools from obsidian.


Minoan Period - 2800 - 1500 BC

The Minoans were a peaceful sea trading society.  They built large palaces that were not fortified and lived a sophisticated lifestyle.  They were centered on Crete, but had outposts on other islands.  Their palaces were decorated with frescos.  As a society they revered bulls, using them as subjects for murals, jewelry and pottery.  Most tools from this period were made from bronze so it is also referred to as the Bronze Age.  When the volcano on Santorini erupted the Minoan civilization was weakened.  Shortly after that event the palaces of Crete were sacked and burned, probably by the Myceneans from the Peloponnese.  Minoans wrote on clay tablets and their script is called 'Linear A' but has not yet been deciphered.  Please see our page about Greek Mythology and the legend of Theseus.


Mycenean Period - 1500 - 1100 BC

The Myceneans were from the Peloponnese (on the mainland of Greece).  It is known that they were a war like people because the large amount of bronze weapons discovered in their massive tombs and fortifications.  The period is named after the citadel at Mycenae.  It is believed that they had contact with the Minoans because they had a similar script called 'Linear B'.  This script has been deciphered and the language is a proto Greek.  The Homeric legends are from this period, please see our page about Greek Mythology and the Homeric legends


The Dark Ages - 1100 - 800 BC

Barbarians from the north (the Dorians) invaded Greece and caused the population to disperse.  The Mycenean period was shattered and their palaces and cities fell into ruins and were never rebuilt.  The art of writing disappeared as trade almost came to a halt.


Archaic Period - 800 - 500 BC

During the Archaic Period autonomous city states started to rise.  The two most powerful were Dorian Sparta which was militaristic and Ionian Athens which was more sophisticated.  In 594 BC Solon was elected leader, and he introduced reforms which brought about an Athenian democracy.  During this period temples in the Doric style were built to house statues of the gods.  In the arts, statues in the Archaic style were stiff, including only a slight sense of motion with one foot in front of the other, and faces had the so-called 'Archaic smile' .  Coins were introduced in this period as was the Greek alphabet that is used today.  In ceramics, black figures on red pottery depicted daily life and the gods.  Live theater also began in this period when the theater at Dionysus was built.  The beginnings of scientific research, philosophical thoughts and geometry all flowered, and to keep balance physically the first Olympic games came to be.  Religion was also very important. Please see our page about Greek Mythology for details about the Twelve gods.


Classical Period - 500 - 400 BC

This period began as the Persians unsuccessfully attacked the Athenians. Athens became powerful as the true birthplace of democracy, though slaves were commonly held.  Art, literature, science and philosophy all flourished.  The Parthenon was built in both the Doric and the more contemporary Ionic styles.  Socrates was the philosopher of the day and tragedies were popular in the theater.  The society began to believe that humans should live in moderation.  It was understood that humans were free, yet flawed and would be punished by the gods for undue pride (hubris).  The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) brought a defeat to Athens and a decline in democracy and ended the period.


Hellenistic Period - 400 - 200 BC 

Socrates was condemned to death in 399 BC for disagreeing with the idea that the state had the right to control individuals opinions. His student, Plato, later opened a research institute called the Academy.  The most famous pupil at the Academy was Aristotle (originator of scientific method of inquiry), who in turn became the tutor of Alexander the Great.  In 336 BC Alexander inherited Macedonia and his father's army.  In a short period of 13 years he conquered the "known" world including Egypt, Persia, Afghanistan and India.  During this period the Hellenic (Greek) culture and language flourished.  Sculpture continued to evolve and more exuberant  movement and sensuality became the ideal.  The more ornate Corinthian style became fashionable and glass blowing and mosaics also became popular. 


Roman Period - 200 BC - 330 AD 

In 215 BC the Romans began a campaign to conquer Greece.  Politically they won, but personally the Romans preferred the Greek culture to their own.  Roman art, literature, religion and philosophy started to mimic the Greeks.  The Romans liked the Olympic games so they continued to be played.  The Emperor Nero loved the games so much that he raced and won an event even though he fell off the chariot and didn't pass the finish line.  So scandals about fixed scores began!  


Byzantine Period - 330 AD - 1453 AD 

Early in this period Constantine became the Emperor and, because of a vision of a cross, changed the official religion to Christianity.  He moved the seat of the government to Byzantium changing its name to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and called it "the new Rome".  In fact Rome was slipping into a period of dark ages and was no longer powerful.  The Christian church remained unified until 1054 AD brought the Great Schism splitting the church in two, Roman Catholic and Eastern (or Greek) Orthodox.  (The primary reason for the split was that the Easterners felt that the Pope should not be the head of the church.)   In 1204 the Germans and Latin knights of the Fourth Crusade were on their way to capture Jerusalem.  The Venetians were mighty sea warriors and asked to help them with transport.  On the way to Jerusalem the Venetians persuaded the Crusaders to attack Constantinople.  They were successful and this brought about unrest in Greece.  Eventually the Venetians also attacked and controlled most of the Greek islands and Constantinople fell to the Muslim Ottoman Turks.  


Ottoman Period - 1453 - 1821 AD 

The Turks continued to rule much of Greece and a sense of lawlessness (including pirates) flourished.  In an ongoing struggle between the Venetians and the Turks, the Venetians attacked Athens in the late 17th century.  A mortar hit the Parthenon causing stored ammunition to explode, causing the damage you see today.  


War of Independence - 1821- 1829 AD 

The War for Independence began in 1821 when Greek brigades that had been hiding in the mountains began a revolt.  Following a Robin Hood philosophy, people of Greek descent from all of the world started sending money to help their countrymen in the revolution which lasted until 1829.


Modern Greece - 1831 - Present 

In 1831 the modern state of Greece was established and its borders defined.  Only 800,000 of the six million Greeks were within these borders.  In 1910 the Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos negotiated more territory to return to Greece including Macedonia and Crete.  He is considered the greatest modern politician and the new airport in Athens is named in his honor.  This and the ending of WWI helped many Greeks relocate back to within her borders.  During WWII Greece was occupied by both the Germans and the Italians.  After the war, Greece had a civil war between the communists and monarchists.  A monarchy was formed and peace was restored for twenty years.  On April 21, 1967 tanks rolled into Athens and a military coup brought a dictatorship.  This lasted until 1974 when a mutiny within the ranks of the colonels caused a collapse of the government.  Democracy was then restored and in 1981 Greece became of a member of the European Union.  There are now two main political parties, the conservatives and the socialists.




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