Greece: Sea Sun & Culture on Flickr.
Greece was the first area in Europe where advanced early civilizations emerged, beginning with the Minoan civilization in Crete and then the Mycenean civilization on the mainland.
Later, city-states emerged across the Greek peninsula and spread to the shores of Black Sea, South Italy and Asia Minor reaching great levels of prosperity that resulted in an unprecedented cultural boom, expressed in architecture, drama, science and philosophy, and nurtured in Athens under a democratic environment.
Athens and Sparta led the way in repelling the Persian Empire in a series of battles.
Both were later overshadowed by Thebes and eventually Macedon, with the latter under the guidance of Alexander the Great uniting and leading the Greek world to victory over the Persians, to presage the Hellenistic era, itself brought only partially to a close two centuries later with the establishment of Roman rule over Greek lands in 146 BC.
Many Greeks migrated to Alexandria, Antioch, Seleucia and the many other new Hellenistic cities in Asia and Africa founded in Alexander’s wake.
The subsequent mixture of Roman and Hellenic cultures took form in the establishment of the Byzantine Empire in 330 AD around Constantinople, which remained a major cultural and military power for the next 1,123 years, until its fall at the hands of Ottomans in 1453.
On the eve of the Ottoman era much of the Greek intelligentsia migrated to the Italian territories and much of non-Ottoman occupied Europe, playing a significant role in the Western European Renaissance through the transferring of works of Ancient Greeks to Western Europe.
Nevertheless, the Ottoman millet system contributed to the cohesion of the Orthodox Greeks by segregating the various peoples within the Ottoman Empire based on religion, as the latter played an integral role in the formation of modern Greek identity.
After the Greek War of Independence, successfully fought against the Ottoman Empire from 1821 to 1829, the nascent Greek state was finally recognized under the London Protocol. In 1827, Ioannis Kapodistrias, from Ionian Islands, was chosen as the first governor of the new Republic.
However, following his assassination, the Great Powers installed a monarchy under Otto, of the Bavarian House of Wittelsbach. In 1843, an uprising forced the King to grant a constitution and a representative assembly.
Due to his unimpaired authoritarian rule, he was eventually dethroned in 1863 and replaced by Prince Vilhelm (William) of Denmark, who took the name George I and brought with him the Ionian Islands as a coronation gift from Britain. In 1877, Charilaos Trikoupis, who is attributed with the significant improvement of the country’s infrastructure, curbed the power of the monarchy to interfere in the assembly by issuing the rule of vote of confidence to any potential prime minister.
As a result of the Balkan Wars, Greece successfully increased the extent of her territory and population, a challenging context both socially and economically. In the following years, the struggle between King Constantine I and charismatic Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos over the country’s foreign policy on the eve of World War I dominated the country’s political scene, and divided the country into two opposed groups.
In the aftermath of WWI, Greece fought against Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal, a war which resulted in a massive population exchange between the two countries under the Treaty of Lausanne.
According to various sources, several hundred thousand Pontic Greeks died during this period.
Instability and successive coups d’état marked the following era, which was overshadowed by the massive task of incorporating 1.5 million Greek refugees from Asia Minor into Greek society.
The Greek population in Istanbul had shrunk from 300,000 at the turn of the century to around 3,000 in the city today.
On 28 October 1940 Fascist Italy demanded the surrender of Greece, but Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas refused and in the following Greco-Italian War, Greece repelled Italian forces into Albania, giving the Allies their first victory over Axis forces on land. The country would eventually fall to urgently dispatched German forces during the Battle of Greece.
The German occupiers nevertheless met serious challenges from the Greek Resistance. Over 100,000 civilians died from starvation during the winter of 1941–42. In 1943 virtually the entire Jewish population was deported to Nazi extermination camps.
After liberation, Greece experienced a bitter civil war between Royalist and Communist forces, which led to economic devastation and severe social tensions between its Rightists and largely Communist Leftists for the next 30 years.
The next 20 years were characterized by marginalisation of the left in the political and social spheres but also by a significant economic growth, propelled in part by the Marshall Plan.
In 1965, a period of political turbulence led to a coup d’etat on 21 April 1967 by the US-backed Regime of the Colonels. On November 1973 the Athens Polytechnic Uprising sent shock waves across the regime, and a counter-coup established Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannides as dictator.
On 20 July 1974, as Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus, the regime collapsed.
Former premier Constantine Karamanlis was invited back from Paris where he had lived in self-exile since 1963, marking the beginning of the Metapolitefsi era. On the 14 August 1974 Greek forces withdrew from the integrated military structure of NATO in protest at the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus.
In 1975 a democratic republican constitution was activated and the monarchy abolished by a referendum held that same year.
Meanwhile, Andreas Papandreou founded the Panhellenic Socialist Party, or PASOK, in response to Constantine Karamanlis’ New Democracy party, with the two political formations dominating Greek political affairs in the ensuing decades. Greece rejoined NATO in 1980.
Relations with neighbouring Turkey have improved substantially over the last decade, since successive earthquakes hit both nations in the summer of 1999 (see Greece-Turkey earthquake diplomacy), and today Athens is an active supporter of Turkey’s bid for EU membership.
Greece became the tenth member of the European Union on 1 January 1981, and ever since the nation has experienced a remarkable and sustained economic growth. Widespread investments in industrial enterprises and heavy infrastructure, as well as funds from the European Union and growing revenues from tourism, shipping and a fast growing service sector have raised the country’s standard of living to unprecedented levels.
The country adopted the Euro in 2001 and successfully organised the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.