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Brief History of Greece 

     People have thrived in what is now known as Greece before 6000 BC, herding animals and growing crops such as wheat, olives, beans, and grapes.  The island of Crete marks the center of civilization for the highly advanced and flourishing Minoan culture, which left behind cities and palaces that still exist today as archaeological ruins.

    The region was invaded by warlike Hellenic (Greek) peoples about 3000 BC.  These individuals possessed advanced technologies in sailing, farming, and metalworking.  This first civilization was known as the Mycenaean, but it was accompanied by other sub-groups, such the the Achaean, Dorian, and Ionian.  This period was marked by heavy raiding, conquering, and building of fortified settlements, so many of the cities had their own acropoli.  The influence of the Greeks spread like wild fire along the coasts and islands of the eastern Mediterranean, including Crete.  These struggles to grasp a hold on the vast new territories led to the foundation of Greek literature.  The legendary Greek heroes, including Achilles, Ulysses, Electra, and Antigone, were based on real people and events that evolved from the battle for Troy, around 1250 BC.

   The fortified settlements began to expand their immediate territories around 800 BC, forming city-states like Athens, the capital of Attica, and Sparta, the capital of Laconia.  The roots of Democracy were planted by the Greeks.  The Greeks greater Hellenic world extended vastly beyond what is presently known as Greece.  Their colonies thrived in present day Sicily, southern Italy, and down the coast of what is now Turkey and Syria.  Many Greek ruins lie in this areas, including some of the finest Greek ruins found in Sicily. 

   In the early 5th century, Greeks became united as a result of the Persian Wars.  Greeks defeated King Darius at Marathon in 490 BC, but the Persians under King Xerxes again crossed the Hellespont and attempted to lay waste to Greece.  The Greeks showed their heroism as they demoralized the Persians at Thermopolae, defeating them on land at Plataea in 479 BC and on sea at Salamis in 480 BC.

   Finally free from the constant threat of the Persians unleashed a tremendous outpouring of Greek energy.  The period between 480 and 430 BC is known as the Classical Age, or Golden Age, of the Greek civilization.  Athens was the heart of the vast overseas empire, with its rich heritage of architecture, sculpture, poetry, drama, science, and government, which would in turn shape Western civilization.  Theaters held the popular tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes.  The phenomenal public buildings were frequented by philosophers, such as Socrates and Plato, who debated issues involving government, law, justice, and liberty.  This fruitful Golden Age ended with the Second Peloponnesian War, in which Sparta defeated Athens in 404 BC.

    In 338 B.C., Philip of Macedonia conquered the city-states of Greece, but his mission was abruptly ended when he was assassinated in 336.  His son, Alexander the Great, led the Greeks in conquering vast amounts of land and creating an extensive empire that covered what is now Egypt, Asia Minor, and the Indus Valley of Pakistan.  Alexander's death in 323 BC led to a drastic decline in the strength of the empire, leaving it weakened enough to be absorbed into the Roman Empire by 146 BC.  Romans embraced the richness of the Greek learning with a direct passion, so that Greek architecture, religion, literature, and philosophy tremendously inspired the Romans.  The Greek influence in greatly evident in biblical relations, for the New Testament was written in Greek, and the apostle Paul preached in Greek at the cities of Athens, Corinth, Thessaloniki, and Ephesus.  

    The collapse of the Roman empire led to the creation of the Byzantine Empire, which created a new beginning for the old Hellenistic world, with its capital at Constantinople.  The Greek-inspired alphabet and the Eastern Orthodox religion spread into Eastern Europe and Russia.  The Empire found itself under constant attack from Roman Catholic Crusaders in the west, along with eastern attacks by Islam and Turkish conquerors from Central Asia.  Turkish invaders finally seized Constantinople in 1453 and named it Istanbul, making it the capital of their Ottoman Empire.  After four grueling centuries of Turkish rule, Greece won its war of independence in 1829, with assistance from the Triple Alliance of Russia, France, and Britain.  The Alliance made Prince Otho of Bavaria the new king of Greece.  Eleutherios Venizelos was installed as Prime Minister in 1910, proving to be quite influential, as he passed numerous important reforms, he reclaimed Crete, liberated Macedonia and Epirus from the Turks.

    Greece resisted invasion by Italy's Mussolini between 1940-1941, despite the fact that Italy's army was superior to that of Greece and a one year battle was fought at the borders of Greece and Albania.  Greece  was overrun by Germany in 1941, at least ten percent of their population died during the war with Germany, which included innumerable battles of Greek resistance towards the advancement of Hitler's Nazi Army.  Greece played an integral part in the destruction of the Nazi machine by promoting intense battles of resistance, which allowed time for the Allies to organize and cease the Nazi movement.  Liberation in 1944 was followed by a civil war between the communist guerrillas and the government, resulting in an additional loss of 120,000 lives.  In 1949, the government finally achieved victory over the uprisings within the country.  A political crisis between Prime Minister Georgios Papandreaou and King Constantine II, which resulted in Papandreaou's resignation in 1965.  The royal family fled into exile in 1967, when a group of army officers seized the country.  This regime fell when the Turkish invaded northern Cyprus in 1974.  An new government was formed by Constantine Karamanlis, allowing Greece to become a member of the European Economic Community, now the European Union, since 1981.

Geography of Greece

    Greece is a vast country of 131,986 square kilometers (50,947 square miles), possessing mainly mountainous regions.  Greece is located at the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula in southeast Europe, including scattered islands and peninsulas which protrude into the Mediterranean Sea.  Greece holds more than 2,000 islands and islets along its 15,103 kilometer (9,385 mile) coastline, which is surrounded by the Aegean, Ionian, and Mirtoan seas.  These seas are indispensable to the Greek lifestyle, landscape, history, and culture.  The seas have proven themselves a haven for the countless myths and epics of ancient Greece.

    The range of the Greek influence extends over the Aegean Sea by more than 400 substantial islands, of which about 130 are inhabited.  The land of Greece possesses a rugged quality.  The Pindhos mountains run north and south through the upper peninsula, ending at the Gulf of Corinth.  Mount Olympus is the country's loftiest summit, at 2,917 meters (9,551 feet).  At the southern end of the upper peninsula, the capital city of Athens contained about 4,500,000 people in 2000.

    The Peloponnese lies beyond the Gulf of Corinth, but connected by an isthmus near the city of Corinth.  It was divided in classical times into eight districts: Ellis, Messenia, Achaia, Laconia, Argolic, Corinthia, Arcadia, and Sicyonia.  The capital of Peloponnese is Patras, with a population of about 350,000 people in 2000.  Patras is the number one city in Greece for tourist cruises and holds the third largest port in Greece.

    The largest stretch of flatlands in Greece lies along the north coast of the Aegean sea in the Grecian part of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia.  Cereals, rice, tobacco, and fruit are all grown in these areas.  Thessaloniki, holding a population nearly 1,000,000 in 2000, is the country's second largest city and the capital of the province of Macedonia.  

    Although Greece has a great number of islands, the two prominent island groups of the Aegean are the Cyclades, which includes Siros, Paros, Milos, and Naxos; and the Dodecanese, which includes Rhodes.  Crete is the largest island, having 8,335 square kilometers (3,218 square miles).  The islands Karpathos, Lesbos, Euboea, Lemnos, and Chios are also vital islands.  The Ionian Islands, which lie off the western coast of continental Greece, are another substantial group.  

    More than 21 percent of the labor force still works in agriculture, which accounts for about 17 percent of the gross domestic product.  Greece produces wheat, wine, wool, olives, raisins, and tobacco.  Industry accounts for 27 percent of the gross domestic product and about half of the export earnings.  The other main exports include foods, beverages, petroleum products, and minerals.  Tourism is a great foreign-exchange earner.  


    In 1995, the estimated population of Greece was about 10.6 million.  Population density is about 78.3 persons per square kilometer, (about 202.8 persons per square mile).  Sixty-four percent of the urban population is classified as urban.  15 percent of the population is over 65.

    Nearly 98 percent of the people are ethnic Greeks who belong to the Eastern (Greek) Orthodox Church.  1 percent of the people are Muslims of Turkish decent, leaving 1 percent of smaller minorities of people of Slavic, Armenian, Albanian, and Vlachs decent.  

    The literacy rate is 97 percent.  Education is free for children for nine years.  There are over twelve universities, among other technical and vocational colleges.  

    The family is the central unit in the Greek society.  Family members count on one another for support and ensure that no dishonor is brought to the family.  Children are brought up firmly, but all classes ensure that a large portion of their income is spent to feed, clothe, and educate their children.  The elderly are respected  and have acknowledgeable authority.  Greek society remains male dominated, despite the fact that women have gained prominence.  Men take it upon themselves to fulfill obligations to their families and others.  

    Both the younger and older generation hold family, religion, tradition, and education as their core values, although the younger generation does emphasize the importance of status and friends.  Average age for marriage is 23 for women and 30 for men.  Young people hold similar social patterns as those found throughout Europe.  In rural areas, dating practices are traditional and youth gather in the village square to socialize.  The fashion within Greece conforms with the fashion in Europe.  Dress is more conservative than that of the west, with more women wearing dresses.  Traditional dress is worn at folk festivals and on special occasions. 

    Greeks hold a great sense of pride towards their cultural heritage and view themselves as hardworking people.  Emotional and excitable, they have a flexible approach to schedules when compared to many in the West.  Friends and relatives hug and kiss one another, for they hold great value in their loved ones.  Close friends and family members are addressed by their first names, but strangers are addressed by their title and surname.  

    A strong tradition of hospitality remains a part of life from the time of the Ancient Greeks, who believed a stranger may be a god in disguise, so they were kind to all strangers.  Friends and relatives often drop by unannounced in small towns.  Greeks enjoy inviting guests to their homes for dinner or special occasions, such as name days or New Year's Day.  Guests usually bring chocolates, flowers, or a bottle of wine for their hosts.  Greeks are extremely generous and considerate hosts.  It is important to show your appreciation of their hospitality, such as staying longer or having more to eat or drink at the host's request.

Pankration History