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Greece (Greek Hellas), officially known as the Hellenic Republic (Greek Ellinikí Dimokratía), country in southeastern Europe, occupying the southernmost part of the Balkan Peninsula and numerous islands. It is bordered on the northwest by Albania, on the north by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and by Bulgaria, on the northeast by Turkey, on the east by the Aegean Sea, on the south by the Mediterranean Sea, and on the west by the Ionian Sea. The total area is 131,957 sq km (50,949 sq mi), of which about one-fifth is composed of islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas. Athens is the capital and largest city.

The mainland portion of Greece comprises the regions of Thrace and Macedonia in the north; Epirus, Thessaly (Thessalía), and Central Greece in the central section; and, in the south, the Pelopónnisos (Peloponnesus), a peninsula, which is connected to the rest of the mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth. The Corinth Canal, completed in 1893, passes through the Isthmus of Corinth, making an artificial island of the Pelopónnisos. The remainder of Greece consists of islands, which include Euboea (Évvoia); Crete (Kríti); the Northern Sporades; the Cyclades, Dodecanese, and Ionian Islands; and Ikaría (Icaria), Khíos (Chios), Límnos (Lemnos), Lésvos (Lesbos), Sámos , Samothráki (Samothrace), and Thásos.

The coastal waters of Greece are shallow and penetrate far inland. The gulfs of Corinth and Saronikós, separated by the Isthmus of Corinth, divide the Pelopónnisos from central and northern Greece. The country, despite its indented coasts, has few good harbors. The Gulf of Saronikós has the best anchorages, notably in the fine natural harbor of Piraeus, which is the port of Athens. Corfu, (Kérkira) one of the Ionian Islands, also has an excellent harbor.

Land and Resources

Greece is famous for its natural beauty. The land is mountainous and rugged and, as the ancient Greek geographer Strabo wrote, "the sea presses in upon the country with a thousand arms." In natural resources, however, the country is relatively poor.

Although a small country, Greece has a very diverse topography. The most important physiographic divisions of the country are the central mountains; the damp, mountainous region in the west; the dry, sunny plains and lower mountain ranges in eastern Thessaly, Macedonia, and Thrace; Central Greece, the southeastern finger of the mainland that cradled the city-states of Greece; the mountainous region of the Pelopónnisos; and the islands, most of which are in the Aegean.

The central mountain area, the Pindus Mountains, which extends in a northern to southern direction, is one of the most rugged, isolated, and sparsely populated parts of the country. Mount Olympus (2917 m/9570 ft), the highest peak of Greece, was considered in ancient times to be the home of the gods. The western slopes, which extend through Epirus down to the Ionian Sea, are somewhat lower and more hospitable. The southeastern extremity of Central Greece, known as Attica, is broken into many isolated valleys and plains by mountain ridges. The most famous part of Greece, the Athenian plain, is in Attica. The largest plain of the eastern coastal area, however, is in Boeotia, to the north of Attica. Thessaly, a plain ringed by mountains, is one of the more fertile parts of the country. Macedonia has the largest plains in Greece. Thrace, to the east of Macedonia, has a varied topography consisting of mountains, valleys, and several coastal plains. The Pelopónnisos is mountainous, but to a lesser degree than Central Greece, and is shaped somewhat like a giant hand with impassable mountain ridges extending like fingers into the sea. Between the mountain ridges are narrow valleys, which are isolated from one another, but which open onto the sea. The western section of the Pelopónnisos is less mountainous than the eastern section. The islands of the Aegean Sea are generally high, rugged, stony, and dry, and consequently their contribution to the economic life of the country is limited. They are important, however, because of their great beauty, historical importance, potential for tourism, and strategic military value.


The climate of Greece is similar to that of other Mediterranean countries. In the lowlands the summers are hot and dry, with clear, cloudless skies, and the winters are rainy. The mountain areas are much cooler, with considerable rain in the summer months. Frost and snow are rare in the lowlands, but the mountains are covered with snow in the winter. The rainfall varies greatly from region to region. In Thessaly less than 38 mm (less than 1.5 in) of rain falls in some years, whereas parts of the western coast receive about 1270 mm (about 50 in). The mean annual temperature in Athens is about 17° C (about 63° F); the extremes range from a normal low of -0.6° C (31° F) in January to a normal high of 37.2° C (99° F) in July.

Natural Resources

Greece is poorly endowed with natural resources of economic value. Only 23 percent of the land is arable; the rest consists mostly of barren mountains. The forests, probably abundant in ancient times, have to a great extent been depleted. Subsequent soil erosion has made reforestation efforts difficult. Greece has little black coal, and its lignite is of poor quality. The country does have significant petroleum and natural gas deposits, however. They are located under the Aegean Sea, near the island of Thásos. The deposits of bauxite and iron ore are rich in metal content, but the reserves of other commercially important minerals, such as chromium, nickel, copper, uranium, and magnesium, are relatively small. Although the waters surrounding the country are inhabited by a large variety of fish, only a relatively few species are plentiful.

Environmental Problems

Rapid industrialization in Greece during the 1970s has resulted in heavy air pollution. It is a serious environmental problem in Athens, where the government called 19 air pollution emergencies between 1982 and 1989. In addition to causing human respiratory problems, the smog erodes marble and other stone and has pocked and discolored many of Greece’s monuments and statues. Pollution-monitoring stations have been installed throughout metropolitan Athens and in numerous other Greek cities. Recent efforts have reduced air pollution from heating and industry. Although motor vehicles must comply with emissions standards, automobile exhaust, particularly from diesel-powered vehicles, is still a major source of pollution. Water pollution is also a problem, especially in the gulfs of Saronikós and Thermaïkós, where untreated industrial wastes, sewage, and municipal wastewater are discharged.

Plants and Animals

Greece has a great diversity of vegetation. From sea level to an elevation of about 460 m (about 1500 ft), oranges, olives, dates, pomegranates, figs, cotton, and tobacco are grown. From about 120 to 460 m (about 400 to 1500 ft) deciduous and evergreen forests are found, where oak, black pine, chestnut, beech, and sumac grow. Tulips, hyacinths, and laurel are also characteristic of the area. Firs and such wild flowers as anemone and cyclamen are found above about 1220 m (about 4000 ft), and mosses and lichens predominate above about 1525 m (about 5000 ft).Wildlife includes boar, European black bear, lynx, jackal, chamois, deer, fox, badger, and weasel. Among the birds are the hawk, pelican, egret, pheasant, partridge, nightingale, turtledove, and stork.


The soil of Greece is mostly very rocky and very dry, but the country is interspersed with small valleys where the soils are of the rich Mediterranean terra rosa, or red earth, variety.


The population of Greece is about 98 percent ethnic Greek. About 1 percent of the population is classified by the Greek government as Muslim. Most of the Muslims are of Turkish descent. About 100,000 Muslims live in Thrace. The remainder of the population includes people of Slavic, Albanian, and Armenian descent, as well as Vlachs, a people who speak a Romanian dialect.

Population Characteristics

The population of Greece at the 1991 census was 10,264,156. The estimated population in 1996 was 10,538,594, giving the country an overall population density of about 80 persons per sq km (about 207 per sq mi). The population of Greece is very large in relation to the size and economic capacity of the country, and much poverty exists. Both the birthrate (formerly one of the highest in Europe) and the death rate have declined in recent years, and in the mid-1990s the annual rate of population growth was less than 1 percent. About 63 percent of the population is urban. Much of the urban population is concentrated around Athens, around Thessaloníki (Salonika) in Macedonia, in the western Pelopónnisos, and on the islands. Corfu, Zákinthos (Zante), and Khíos are among the most densely populated islands. Famous ancient cities such as Árgos, Corinth, and Sparta are only small towns today.

Political Divisions

Under a reorganization plan introduced in 1987, Greece is divided for administrative purposes into 13 regions (diamerismata), which are subdivided into departments (nomoi). The 13 regions are Northern Aegean, Southern Aegean, Attica, Crete, Epirus, Central Greece, Western Greece, Ionian Islands, Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Central Macedonia, Western Macedonia, Pelopónnisos, and Thessaly. The 1975 constitution recognizes Mount Áthos, located on the Khalkidhikí Peninsula in northeastern Greece, as an autonomous district. Mount Áthos is the site of several well-known monasteries and has a monastic administration.

Municipalities, or demes (cities that have more than 100,000 inhabitants), are administered by a mayor and a city council, and communities that have 300 to 10,000 inhabitants by a president and a community council.

Principal Cities

The largest and most important city is Athens, the capital. Piraeus, seaport of Athens, is the largest port of Greece. Thessaloníki is an important textile center, and Pátrai, on the northern part of the Pelopónnisos, is a major seaport. Other sizable cities include Iráklion, and Lárisa.


About 98 percent of the people are followers of the Orthodox Church of Greece. The remaining 2 percent of the population includes Muslims, Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews.


The great majority of the people of Greece speak Modern Greek (see Greek Language). The vernacular Modern Greek and language of popular literature is Demotike, as opposed to Katharevousa, a more formal modern Greek or purist Greek. Demotike became the official language of Greece by an act of parliament in 1976. It is used by the government, the newspapers, and educational institutions. Great differences exist between the language of the educated classes and that used by the majority of the people. English and French are widely spoken.


Education is free and compulsory in Greece for all children between the ages of 6 and 15. In 1928, some 40 percent of the people aged 15 or more years were illiterate. By the mid-1990s the illiteracy rate had declined to about 7 percent.

Elementary and Secondary Schools

All villages and towns have primary schools, and many have high schools. In the early 1990s some 13,230 preprimary and primary schools had a combined annual enrollment of about 976,500 pupils. The approximately 3470 secondary and vocational schools were attended by about 843,730 students.

Universities and Colleges

Greece has nine universities: the National and Capodistrian University of Athens (founded in 1837); the Aristotelian University of Thessaloníki (1925); the National Technical University of Athens (1836); the Demokritos University of Thrace (1973), in Komotiní; the University of Ioánnina (1964); the University of Pátrai (1964); the University of Crete (1973); the Technical University of Crete (1977); and the University of the Aegean (1984), with branches in Athens, Khíos, Mitiliní, Rhodes, and Sámos. Other institutions of higher education include the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1881); the Athens School of Economics and Business Science (1920); the Higher School of Fine Arts (1836), in Athens; the British School at Athens (1886); the French School of Athens (1846); and the Graduate School of Industrial Studies at Thessaloníki (1957). In the early 1990s about 194,400 students were enrolled in higher education.

Way of Life

Most Greeks wear Western clothing, although traditional clothing continues to be worn in some rural areas. There are two types of traditional clothing for men: on the mainland men wear a foustanela (skirt), while a type of baggy trousers called a vraka is worn on the Aegean Islands and Crete. The traditional clothing for women consists of a kavadi (a dress of thick, often gold-woven, silk brocade) worn over a poukamiso (chemise); a kondogouni (tightly fitted velvet jacket) is worn over the poukamiso and a fessi (tasseled cap) completes the outfit. Popular foods include avgolimono (egg-lemon soup), moussaka (eggplant casserole), souvlakia (skewered meat), and baklava (nut-filled pastry). Greeks enjoy retsina wine and ouzo, a strong aperitif made from grape stems and flavored with anise. Traditional houses have whitewashed walls, long, narrow windows, and tiled roofs. Urban housing includes tall apartment buildings. The country’s favorite sports are soccer, basketball, and track-and-field events. Among the arts and crafts are ceramics, embroidery, jewelry-making, and leather goods.


The culture of ancient Greece had a major influence on the development of Western civilization. For information on Greek culture, see Drama and Dramatic Arts; Greek Art and Architecture; Greek Literature; Greek Music; Greek Philosophy; Greek Mythology; Olympian Games.

Libraries and Museums

Many noteworthy museums are devoted to Greek antiquities and archaeology. These include the National Archaeological Museum (1874), the Byzantine Museum (1914), and the Acropolis Museum (1878), all of which are in Athens. The Old Archaeological Museum (1886), at Olympia, contains the world’s largest collection of Greek Geometric and Archaic bronzes. The archaeological museum in Iráklion (Candia) on Crete has an outstanding collection of Minoan and early Greek antiquities. Noted museums in Athens featuring displays of more recent art include the National Art Gallery and Alexander Soutzos Museum (1900), and the Benaki Museum (1930). The National Library of Greece (1828), also in Athens, has approximately 2 million volumes.


Agriculture plays an important role in the Greek economy. Infant industries established in the period after World War I (1914-1918) were, to a large extent, destroyed during World War II (1939-1945) and the subsequent civil war. Development of the manufacturing sector of the economy since then has been hampered by the lack of fuel and difficulties in utilizing the hydroelectric potential of the country. By 1970, however, the contribution of manufacturing to the annual national output surpassed that of agriculture for the first time. Two major sources of income for Greece are shipping and tourism. The production of petroleum from fields in the northern Aegean Sea began to aid the economy in the early 1980s. Since the 1950s the public sector of the economy has grown considerably; the government now controls about 60 percent of the economy, particularly in energy, shipbuilding, communications, transportation, insurance, and banking. The estimated national budget in the early 1990s included approximately $48 billion in revenues and $48 billion in expenditures.


About 21 percent of the Greek labor force is engaged in farming, and agriculture constitutes about 15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Since the 1970s the number of people engaged in agriculture has declined significantly as people have moved to urban areas seeking employment in the manufacturing and service industries. Agricultural productivity is not adequate for the heavy burden placed on this sector of the economy. Farms are small, subdivision through inheritance having reduced the average size to approximately 3.4 hectares (about 8 acres), and consequently it is difficult to use mechanized equipment efficiently. In addition, yields are low because of the dryness and erosion of the soil. Tobacco is a leading cash crop and accounts for about 3 percent of annual export income. The approximate yearly output of major crops (in metric tons) in the early 1990s was sugar beets, 3.2 million; wheat, 2.9 million; corn, 2 million; olives, 1.7 million; tomatoes, 1.7 million; grapes, 1.3 million; peaches and nectarines, 1.1 million; potatoes, 965,000; oranges, 872,000; and tobacco, 182,000. Livestock included approximately 27 million poultry, 9.7 million sheep, 5.8 million goats, 1.2 million pigs, and 616,000 head of cattle.

Forestry and Fishing

The Greek government owns about two-thirds of the forestland and has taken steps to replace the trees that were destroyed during World War II. About 2.4 million cu m (about 85 million cu ft) of roundwood were cut annually in the early 1990s.

Fishing is limited. In the early 1990s the annual catch amounted to about 149,000 metric tons, most of which was consumed within Greece. Sponges are the leading marine commodity produced for export.


Although mining is of relatively little importance to the Greek economy, a considerable variety of mineral deposits is exploited. The approximate annual output of minerals (in metric tons) in the early 1990s included lignite, 51.9 million; bauxite, 2.5 million; iron ore, 1 million; and magnesite, 900,000. Petroleum, salt, chromium, silver, zinc, and lead were also produced.


About 19 percent of the labor force is engaged in manufacturing, which contributes 15 percent of annual GDP. The leading fabricated items include food, basic metals and metal products, refined petroleum, and machinery and transportation equipment. Athens is the leading manufacturing center.


About 90 percent of Greece’s electricity is produced in thermal facilities burning lignite or refined petroleum, and the rest is generated in hydroelectric installations, which are mainly situated on the Achelous River in the Pindus Mountains. In the early 1990s Greece had an installed electricity-generating capacity of about 10.5 million kilowatts, and annual production was some 35 billion kilowatt-hours.

Currency and Banking

The monetary unit of Greece is the drachma (274 drachmas equal U.S.$1; 1997). The central banking institution is the state-controlled Bank of Greece, which also issues the currency. The largest commercial banks are the National Bank of Greece, with about 470 domestic branches, and the Agricultural Bank of Greece, with 420 branches. Special financial institutions have been established by the government to provide loans for industrial and agricultural development.

Foreign Trade

Greece generally spends much more each year on imports than it takes in from sales of exports. This imbalance is offset to a certain extent by tourist revenues and by remittances from Greek citizens working abroad. Greece also depends upon foreign loans and investments to close the gap between earnings from exports and payments for imports. In the late 1980s the value of imports amounted to $12 billion, and exports earned $5.9 billion. By the early 1990s the value of imports had increased to $23.2 billion and exports to $9.9 billion as a result of increased trade with Greece’s European Union partners. The chief imports were machinery and transportation equipment, food and live animals, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, and industrial raw materials. The main exports were clothing, textiles, and furs; fruit and vegetables; beverages and tobacco; petroleum products; nonferrous metal; and iron and steel. Germany, Italy, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and other countries of the European Union account for more than 60 percent of Greece’s yearly total trade. Japan and the United States are also important trading partners.


In the early 1990s more than 9 million tourists visited Greece annually to see the antiquities and to vacation in the sunny Mediterranean climate. Receipts from tourism amounted to about $3.3 billion a year. In 1992 about 23 percent of the tourists were from Great Britain and 20 percent were from Germany. Favorite tourist destinations include Athens, Crete, Corfu, Kos, Rhodes, and Santoríni.


After World War II Greece’s transportation system was completely reconstructed and greatly expanded. By the early 1990s the country had about 130,000 km (about 80,800 mi) of roads, of which about 79 percent were paved. In the early 1990s Greece had about 1,790,900 passenger cars and 817,700 trucks and buses. Almost all of the country’s 2527 km (1570 mi) of operated railroad track is part of the government-run rail system. The merchant fleet, consisting of more than 2100 ships with a gross registered tonnage of about 29 million, is among the largest in the world and is almost entirely privately owned. The leading Greek seaports are Piraeus, Pátrai, Thessaloníki, and Elevsís. The Corinth Canal is an important link between the Gulf of Corinth and the Gulf of Saronikós. The national airline is Olympic Airways, which provides domestic and international service. The busiest airports serve Athens, Thessaloníki, and Alexandroúpolis.


Radio and television broadcasting services in Greece are both privately owned and state-owned. In the early 1990s the country had about 4.2 million radios and over 2 million television sets. More than 90 percent of all households have radios and television sets, and 75 percent have telephones. Most of the leading Greek daily newspapers are published in Athens or Thessaloníki. Dailies with large circulations include Apogevmatini, Eleftherotypia, and Ta Nea, all issued in Athens. The government had a monopoly on television broadcasting until 1990, when two private stations began operation. However, government supervision of all radio and television broadcasting is constitutionally protected.


Trade unions are organized locally on a craft basis. In each town or industrial region is a labor center, to which the local unions belong, and all the members of the same craft belong to national federations. Most of the labor centers and federations are under the aegis of the General Confederation of Greek Workers, which was founded in 1918 and has more than 700,000 members.


In September 1968, the Greek electorate approved a new constitution drawn up by the ruling military junta. The charter retained the hereditary monarchy, declaring Greece to be a "crowned democracy," but the king was deprived of much of the authority vested in him by the constitution of 1952. On June 1, 1973, the Council of Ministers abolished the monarchy and proclaimed Greece a republic. The junta resigned and civilian government was restored in July 1974; Greek voters declined to reestablish the monarchy in a referendum the following December. On June 11, 1975, a new republican constitution took effect.


Under the 1975 constitution, as amended, the president of Greece is head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The president, who is elected by parliament to a five-year term, designates a premier from the majority (or strongest) party in parliament and must accept the cabinet the premier names; however, under extraordinary circumstances, the president may dismiss the premier and cabinet after consultation with the Council of the Republic, an advisory body consisting of present and former major officials. The president may also veto legislation, suspend parliament for up to 30 days, and dissolve parliament and call for new elections.


The national parliament of Greece, called the Vouli, is a unicameral body specified in the constitution as having no fewer than 200 and not more than 300 members. They are chosen in direct elections for a maximum of four years. The exact number of parliamentarians is specified in legislation, not the constitution. Electoral laws have often varied as ruling parties have tried to modify the laws to gain a particular advantage. In the mid-1990s the parliament was composed of 300 members. The legislature is divided into three working sections; the full parliament deals only with the most important matters of state. Parliament may impeach the president or any other government official by a two-thirds vote; the official is then tried by a special panel of judges.

Political Parties

The 1975 constitution of Greece guarantees the right to "freely establish and participate in political parties." The largest parties in the late 1980s and early 1990s were the Democratic Center Union; New Democracy; Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok); and the United Left Alliance, a coalition of two Communist Party factions. Political parties are often organized around strong leaders rather than policies.


Ordinary civil and criminal cases are tried in courts of first instance, from which appeals may be made to the courts of appeal and finally to the Supreme Court. The 1975 constitution established the Special Supreme Tribunal to deal with the highest constitutional issues. Judges of the higher courts, including the Supreme Court and the Special Supreme Tribunal, are appointed for life through civil service promotions from lower courts. They may only be removed if convicted of criminal offense.

Local Government

The country’s 13 administrative regions (diamerismata) are subdivided into 51 departments (nomoi). Each department is administered by a nomarch who is appointed by the minister of interior. In the unique case of Mount Áthos, the government appoints a civil governor responsible for public order outside the monasteries. Municipal governments have democratically elected mayors and urban and rural councils. Local authorities may levy some taxation, although the tax base is generally inadequate and most regional services are supported by the central government. See also Population: Political Divisions, above.


Greece has compulsory military service for all men between 18 and 40 years of age, with no allowances for the exemption of conscientious objectors. Conscription lasts from 19 to 23 months, depending on the branch of service. In the early 1990s the Greek army had about 113,000 members; the navy, 20,000 members; and the air force, 27,000 members. Since 1978 women have been permitted to serve in special sections of the armed forces.

International Organizations

Greece is a founding member of the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The country became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1972 and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (now called the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe) in 1975. Greece joined the European Community (now called the European Union) in 1981. In 1992 the country was admitted as the tenth member of the Western European Union (WEU), the defense arm of the European Union.


The Greek peninsula has been culturally linked with the Aegean Islands and the west coast of Asia Minor since the Neolithic Age. The many natural harbors along the coasts of Greece and the multiplicity of close-lying islands led to the development of a homogeneous, maritime civilization. But cultural homogeneity did not induce political unity. Mountain ranges and deep valleys cut the peninsula into small economic and political units, each little larger than a city with its surrounding territory. For a detailed history of the most famous city-states, see Athens; Corinth; Sparta; Thebes.

Prehistoric Period

Archaeological evidence indicates that a primitive Mediterranean people, closely akin to the races of northern Africa, inhabited the southern Aegean area as far back as the Neolithic Age, before 4000 BC. The evidence shows a cultural progression from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age, which in the area of Greece commenced about 3000 BC. Beginning in the 3rd millennium BC the prehistoric Aegean civilization progressed to an extremely high level. The Bronze Age civilization in the Aegean was divided into two main cultures, each of which passed through several phases and subdivisions. One, called Cretan or Minoan (see Minoan Culture), was centered on the island of Crete, only 660 km (400 mi) northwest of Egypt and directly on the sea routes to the ancient countries of the Middle East. The other culture, called Helladic (Mycenaean in its late phase), flourished contemporaneously on mainland Greece, particularly in the Pelopónnisos. Its greatest centers were at Mycenae, Tiryns (near present Návplion), and Pylos (see Pílos). Cretan culture and trade dominated the Mediterranean until after 1500 BC, when leadership passed to the Mycenaeans.

During the late 3rd millennium BC there began a series of invasions by tribes from the north who spoke an Indo-European language. Evidence exists that the northerners originally inhabited the basin of the Danube River in southeast Europe. The most prominent of the early invaders, who were to be called the Achaeans, had, in all probability, been forced to migrate by other invaders. They overran southern Greece and established themselves on the Pelopónnisos. According to some scholars, a second tribe, the Ionians, settled chiefly in Attica, east-central Greece, and the Cyclades, where they were assimilated to a great degree with the Helladic people. The Aeolians, a third, rather vaguely defined tribe, originally settled in Thessaly.

Ancient Greece

Gradually, in the last period (circa 1500-1200 BC) of Bronze Age Greece, the mainland absorbed the civilization of Crete. By 1400 BC the Achaeans were in possession of the island itself, and soon afterward they became dominant on the mainland, notably in the region around Mycenae. Although this city has given its name to the Achaean ascendancy because of the extensive archaeological investigations of its ruins, other city-kingdoms were of great, if not equal, importance. The Trojan War, described by Homer in the Iliad, began about, or shortly after, 1200 BC and was probably one of a series of wars waged during the 13th and 12th centuries BC. It may have been connected with the last and most important of the invasions from the north, which occurred at a similar time and brought the Iron Age to Greece. The Dorians left their mountainous home in Epirus and pushed their way down to the Pelopónnisos and Crete, using iron weapons to conquer or expel the previous inhabitants of those regions. The invading Dorians overthrew the Achaean kings and settled, principally, in the southern and eastern part of the peninsula. Sparta and Corinth became the chief Dorian cities. Many of the Achaeans took refuge in northern Pelopónnisos, a district afterward called Achaea. Others resisted the Dorians bitterly, and after being subjugated were made serfs and called helots. Refugees from the Pelopónnisos fled to their kin in Attica and the island of Euboea, but they later migrated, as did the Aeolians, to the coast of Asia Minor. In the centuries after 1200 BC the increased colonization of the Asia Minor coast, first by refugees from the Dorians and then by the Dorians themselves, made the area a political and cultural part of Greece. Three great confederacies were established by each of the Greek ethnic divisions. The northern part of the coast of Asia Minor and the island of Lesbos constituted the Aeolian confederacy. The Ionian confederacy occupied the middle district, called Ionia, and the islands of Khíos and Sámos. A Doric confederacy was established in the south and on the islands of Rhodes and Kos. Several centuries later (750-550 BC) a rapid population increase and a consequent shortage of food, the rise of trade and industry, and other conditions led to another great colonizing movement. Colonies were established in places as widely separated as the eastern coast of the Black Sea and what is now Marseille, France, and included settlements in Sicily and the southern part of the Italian peninsula. The latter was so thickly inhabited by Greeks that the area became known as Magna Graecia (Latin, "Greater Greece").

The Hellenic Period

After the conclusion of the great migrations in the Aegean, the Greeks developed a proud racial consciousness. They called themselves Hellenes, originally the name, according to Homer, of a small tribe living south of Thessaly. The term Greeks, used by later foreign peoples, was derived from Graecia, the Latin name for a small Hellenic tribe of Epirus, presumably the Hellenes with whom the Romans first had dealings. Out of the mythology that became the basis of an intricate religion, the Hellenes developed a genealogy that traced their ancestry to semidivine heroes. See Greek Mythology.

Although the small Hellenic states maintained their autonomy, they pursued a common course of political development. In the pre-Hellenic period the tribal chiefs of invading tribes became the kings of the territories they conquered. These monarchies were slowly replaced, between 800 and 650 BC, by oligarchies of aristrocrats, as the noble families acquired land, the measure of wealth and power. About 650 BC many of the Hellenic oligarchies were themselves overthrown by wealthy commoners or disgruntled aristocrats, called tyrants. The rise of the tyrants was due mainly to economic conditions. Popular discontent under the aristocracies had become a major political factor because of the increasing enslavement of landless peasants. Colonization and trade in the 8th and 7th centuries BC hastened the development of a prosperous merchant class, which took advantage of the mounting discontent to demand a share of power with the aristrocrats in the city-states.

Age of Tyrants

The age of the Greek tyrants (circa 650-500 BC) was notable for advances made in Hellenic civilization. The title of tyrant connoted that political power had been illegally seized, rather than that it was abused. Generally, the tyrants, such as Periander of Corinth, Gelon of Syracuse, and Polycrates of Sámos, were wise and popular rulers. Trade and industry flourished. In the wake of political and economic strength came a flowering of Hellenic culture, especially in Ionia, where Greek philosophy began with the speculations of Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. The development of cultural pursuits common to all the Hellenic cities was one of the factors that united ancient Greece, despite the political separation of the various states. Another factor was the Greek language, the many dialects of which were readily understandable in any part of the country or any colony. The third factor was the Greek religion, which held the Hellenes together, and the sanctuary of Delphi, with its oracle, became the greatest national shrine. As a corollary to their religion, the Greeks held four national festivals, called games—the Olympian, Isthmian, Pythian, and Nemean. The Olympian games were considered so important that many Greeks dated their historical reckoning from the first Olympiad (the four-year period between sessions at the Olympian games) held in 776 BC. Related to religion, at least in origin, was the Amphictyonic League, an organization of Hellenic tribes that was established for the protection and administration of shrines.

From Monarchy to Democracy

Some unification of the city-states took place. Between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, Athens and Sparta became the two dominant cities of Greece. Each of these great states united its weaker neighbors into a league or confederacy under its control. Sparta, a completely militarized and aristocratic state, established its leadership mainly by conquest, and kept its subject states under strict rule. The unification of Attica was, however, carried on by mutual and peaceful agreement under the leadership of Athens, and the inhabitants of smaller cities were given Athenian citizenship. The hereditary kingship of Athens was abolished in 683 BC by the nobles, or Eupatridae, who ruled Athens until the mid-6th century BC. The Eupatridae retained complete authority by their supreme power to dispense justice, often in an arbitrary fashion. In 621 BC the statesman Draco codified and published the Athenian law, thereby limiting the judiciary power of the nobles. A second major blow to the hereditary power of the Eupatridae was the code of the Athenian statesman and legislator Solon in 594 BC, which reformed the Draconian code and gave citizenship to the lower classes. During the wise and enlightened rule (560-527 BC) of the tyrant Pisistratus, the forms of government began to take on elements of democracy. Hippias and Hipparchus, sons of Pisistratus, inherited their father’s power, but they were considerably more despotic. Hippias, who survived Hipparchus, was expelled by a popular uprising in 510 BC. In the resulting political strife, the supporters of democracy, under the great statesman Cleisthenes, won a complete victory, and a new constitution, based on democratic principles, took effect about 502 BC. The beginning of democratic rule was the dawn of the greatest period of Athenian history. Agriculture and commerce flourished. Moreover, the center of artistic and intellectual endeavor, until that time situated in the cities of the Asia Minor coast, was rapidly transferred to thriving Athens.

The Persian Wars

The Greek colonies in Asia Minor had been conquered by Croesus, king of Lydia, in the early part of his reign (560-546 BC) and brought into the Lydian Empire. Croesus was a mild ruler, sympathetic to the Hellenes, and an ally of Sparta; the economic, political, and intellectual life of the colonies was greatly stimulated by Lydian rule. In 546 BC Croesus was overthrown by Cyrus the Great, king of Persia. Except for the island of Sámos, which ably defended itself, the Greek cities in Asia and the coastal islands became part of the Persian Empire.

In 499 BC Ionia, assisted by Athens and Eretria, revolted against Persia. The rebels were, at first, successful, and King Darius I of Persia swore to avenge himself. He put down the revolt in 493 BC and, after sacking Miletus, reestablished his absolute control over Ionia. A year later Mardonius, the king’s son-in-law, led a great Persian fleet to exact vengeance from Greece, but most of the ships were wrecked off Mount Áthos. At the same time, Darius sent heralds to Greece, requiring tokens of submission from all the Greek city-states. Although most of the smaller states acquiesced, Sparta and Athens refused, and slew the Persian heralds as a gesture of defiance. Darius, enraged by the Greek insult as well as by the fate of his fleet, prepared a second expedition, which set sail in 490 BC. After destroying Eretria, the Persian army proceeded to the plain of Marathon near Athens. The Athenian leaders sent to Sparta for aid, but the message arrived during a religious festival, which prevented the Spartans from leaving. Nevertheless, the Athenian army, under Miltiades, won an overwhelming victory over a Persian force three times as large, and the Persians withdrew.

Darius immediately began to ready a third expedition; his son, Xerxes I, who succeeded him in 486 BC, brought together one of the largest armies in ancient history. In 481 BC the Persians crossed the Hellespont strait over a bridge of boats and marched southward. The Greeks made their first stand in 480 BC at Thermopylae, where the Spartan leader Leonidas I and several thousand soldiers heroically defended the narrow pass. A treacherous Greek showed the Persians another path that enabled the invaders to enter the pass from the rear. Leonidas permitted most of his men to withdraw, but he and a force of 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians, and 400 Thebans resisted to the end and were annihilated. The Persians then proceeded to Athens, capturing and burning the abandoned city. Meanwhile, the Persian fleet pursued the Greek fleet to Salamís, an island in the Gulf of Aegina (now known as the Gulf of Saronikós) near Athens. In the naval battle that ensued, about 380 Greek vessels, under the Athenian general and statesman Themistocles, defeated a Persian fleet of roughly equal size. Xerxes, who had watched the battle from a golden throne on a hill overlooking the harbor of Salamís, fled to Asia. In the following year, 479 BC, the remainder of the Persian forces in Greece were overwhelmed at Plataea, and the invaders were finally driven out.

The Ascendancy of Athens

As a result of its brilliant leadership in the Persian wars, Athens became the most influential state in Greece. Moreover, the wars had demonstrated the increasing importance of seapower, for the naval battle of Salamís had been the decisive engagement. Sparta, hitherto the greatest military power in Greece because of its army, lost its prestige to the Athenian fleet. In 478 BC a large number of Greek states formed a voluntary alliance, the Delian League, to drive the Persians from the Greek cities and coastal islands of Asia Minor. Athens, as a matter of course, headed the alliance. The victories of the league, then under the Athenian general Cimon, resulted (476-466 BC) in the liberation of the Asia Minor coast from Persia. Athens, however, began to exert its power over the other members of the league to such an extent that they became its subjects rather than its allies. The Athenians exacted tribute from their erstwhile confederates, and, when Naxos attempted to withdraw from the league, the fortifications of that city were razed.

The period of Athenian domination during the 5th century BC has become known as the golden age of Athens. Under Pericles, who became leader of the popular party and head of the state in 460 BC, the city attained its greatest splendor. The constitution, reformed to further internal democracy, contained provisions such as payment for jury service, thereby permitting even the poorest citizens to serve. Pericles was determined to make Athens the most beautiful city in the world.

The Parthenon, the Erechtheum, the Propylaea, and other great buildings were constructed. Greek drama reached its greatest expression with the plays of such dramatists as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and the comedy writer Aristophanes. Thucydides and Herodotus, an Ionian, became famous historians; Socrates became an influential philosopher; and the cultivation of intellect in Periclean Athens made the city famous as an artistic and cultural center.

The Peloponnesian War

Despite the excellent internal condition of the city, the foreign policy of Athens proved its undoing. The members of the Delian League were discontented and chafed under Athenian rule. Sparta, moreover, was envious of Athenian prosperity. A league between the cities of the Pelopónnisos had existed since about 550 BC, under the domination of Sparta, and the Peloponnesian League began to oppose Athens actively. In 431 BC the inevitable clash between Athens and Sparta occurred. It was precipitated by Athenian aid to Corcyra during a dispute between Corcyra and Corinth, an ally of Sparta. Known as the Peloponnesian War, the struggle between the two great confederacies lasted until 404 BC and resulted in establishing Spartan supremacy in Greece. At the conclusion of the war, Sparta sponsored an oligarchy, known as the Thirty Tyrants, to rule Athens. Similar ruling bodies were established in the cities and islands of Asia Minor. Spartan rule soon showed itself as even harsher and more oppressive than that of Athens. In 403 BC the Athenians under Thrasybulus revolted, expelled the Spartan garrison that had supported the oligarchs, and restored their democracy and independence. Other Greek cities consistently rebelled against the control of Sparta.

Shifting Alliances

The Greek states began, individually, to seek aid from their traditional enemy, Persia. In 399 BC the marauding activities of Persia on the Asia Minor coast led Sparta to send an army there. Although the Spartan army met with some success, it was forced to return in 395 BC to oppose a coalition of Argos, Athens, Corinth, and Thebes. The resulting conflict, known as the Corinthian War, continued, mainly as small-scale warfare, until 387 BC, when Sparta, allying itself with Persia, imposed the Peace of Antalcidas on its unwilling subject states. By the terms of the Persian-Spartan settlement, the entire west coast of Asia Minor was ceded to Persia, and the city-states of Greece were made autonomous. Despite this agreement, Sparta in 382 BC invaded Thebes and captured the city of Olynthus in the north. The Theban general Pelopidas, supported by Athens, led an uprising three years later and expelled the Spartan occupation force. War between Sparta and Athens in alliance with Thebes was resumed, ending with the Battle of Leuctra, in 371 BC, in which the Thebans, led by Epaminondas, so completely defeated their enemies that Spartan domination came to an end. Thebes, by virtue of its victory, became the leading Greek state. The other states resented its leadership, and the ascendancy of Thebes inaugurated an unhappy period of civil unrest and economic misery resulting from internecine strife. Athens, in particular, refused to submit to Theban supremacy and in 369 BC became an ally of Sparta. At best insecure, the Theban control was dependent principally on the brilliant leadership of Epaminondas, and when he was killed in the Battle of Mantinea in 362 BC, Thebes again became just another state among many.

Macedonian Supremacy

During this period of strife in Greece, Macedonia, the northern neighbor of Thessaly, was initiating a policy of expansion that was destined to make it one of the greatest world powers in ancient history. Philip II, who became king of Macedonia in 359 BC, was a great admirer of Greek civilization, but he was well aware of its greatest weakness, the lack of political unity. Directly after he came to the throne, Philip annexed the Greek colonies on the coast of Macedonia and Thrace and determined to make himself master of the peninsula. Astute political craft and the force of Macedonian arms helped Philip to realize his ambitions, despite the opposition of many prominent Greek statesmen led by Demosthenes. By 338 BC, after winning the decisive battle of Chaironeia against Athens and Thebes, Philip was sufficiently powerful to call a congress of the Greek states. The congress acknowledged Macedonian supremacy in the peninsula and appointed Philip commander in chief of the Greek forces. A year later, a second congress declared war on Persia, the traditional enemy. Philip began at once to prepare for an Asian campaign, but he was assassinated in 336 BC. His son, Alexander, who was then 20 years old, succeeded him (see Alexander the Great).

In 334 BC Alexander set out to invade Persia. During the next ten years, his conquests extended Greek influence as well as the Greek civilization and language throughout a Macedonian empire that ranged as far east as northern India and as far south and west as Egypt. By the time of Alexander’s death in 323 BC, the culture of Greece had spread through most of the ancient world.

Hellenistic Period

Following the death of Alexander, the Macedonian generals began to partition his vast empire among themselves. The disagreements arising from this division resulted in a series of wars from 322 to 275 BC, many of which took place in Greece. Thus, one of the characteristics of the Hellenistic period, which lasted from the death of Alexander until the acquisition of Greece as a Roman province in 146 BC, was the deterioration of the Greek city-states as political entities and the gradual decline of Greek political independence as a whole.

Nevertheless, the Hellenistic period was marked by the triumph of Greece as the fountainhead of culture, and its way of life was adopted, as a result of Alexander’s conquests, throughout most of the ancient world.

The Diadochi

Of the kingdoms established by the generals of Alexander, called the Diadochi (Greek diadochos, "successor"), the most important were Syria under the Seleucid dynasty, and Egypt under the rule of the Ptolemies. The capital of Ptolemaic Egypt, Alexandria, which had been founded by Alexander in 332 BC, developed into a center of Greek learning rivaling and occasionally surpassing Athens. Every part of the Hellenistic world devoted itself to the cultivation of art and intellect. Such men as the mathematicians Euclid and Archimedes, the philosophers Epicurus and Zeno of Citium, and the poets Apollonius of Rhodes and Theocritus were characteristic of the age. So strongly was Hellenistic culture implanted that it became one of the most important elements in early Christianity.

In 290 BC the city-states of central Greece began to join the Aetolian League, a powerful military confederation that had originally been organized during the reign of Philip II by the cities of Aetolia for their mutual benefit and protection. A second and similar organization, known as the Achaean League, became, in 280 BC, the supreme confederation of the cities in the northern Pelopónnisos. Later other cities joined. Both alliances dedicated themselves to saving the other Greek states from domination by the kingdom of Macedonia. The Achaean League became much more powerful than its rival and tried to acquire control of all Greece. Led by the statesman and general Aratus of Sicyon, the league began a conflict with Sparta, which had joined neither alliance. In the war between the Achaeans and Sparta, the league was at first defeated, and forgoing its primary purpose, called on Macedonia for military aid, which was granted. The alliance then defeated Sparta, but from that time on it was dominated by Macedonia.

Roman Interference

In 215 BC Rome began to interfere in Greek affairs. Philip V of Macedonia allied himself with Carthage against Rome, but the Romans, acquiring the support of the Aetolian League, overcame the Macedonian forces in 206 BC and obtained a firm foothold in Greece. Rome, aided by both leagues, again defeated Philip in 197 BC, and Macedonia, completely subjugated, agreed to a peace with Rome by which the independence of the Greek city-states was recognized. The Greek city-states found that they had exchanged one master for another. In a last desperate attempt to free themselves, the members of the Achaean League resisted the demands that Rome made on it in 149 BC. The resulting war ended with the destruction of Corinth by Roman legions in 146 BC. The leagues were abolished and Greek territories came completely under direct Roman rule. Macedonia was annexed as a Roman province and governed by a Roman proconsul who also controlled the Greek city-states to the south.

Roman and Medieval Greece

For 60 years after 146 BC, Greece was competently administered by Rome. Some cities, such as Athens and Sparta, even retained their free status. In 88 BC, when Mithridates VI Eupator, king of Pontus, began a campaign of conquest in Roman-controlled territories, however, many cities of Greece supported the Asian monarch because he had promised to help them regain their independence. Roman legions under Lucius Cornelius Sulla forced Mithridates out of Greece and crushed the rebellion, sacking Athens in 86 BC and Thebes a year later. Roman punishment of all the rebellious cities was heavy, and the campaigns fought on Greek soil left central Greece in ruins. As a result, the country began to disintegrate economically. Athens remained a center of philosophy and learning, but its commerce became almost nonexistent. About 22 BC Augustus, the first Roman emperor, separated the Greek city-states from Macedonia and made the former a province called Achaea.

Greek Renaissance

Under the Roman Empire, in the first centuries of the Christian era, a Greek renaissance took place, particularly during the reign of the emperor Hadrian. With his contemporary, the wealthy Greek scholar Herodes Atticus, Hadrian beautified Athens and restored many of the ruined cities. In the middle of the 3rd century AD, however, this rebirth was checked by the Goths, who in 267 and 268 overran the peninsula, captured Athens, and laid waste the cities of Argos, Corinth, and Sparta.

After 395 the Roman Empire was ruled by two coemperors, one in the Latin West and the other in the Hellenic East. By the 6th century a successor empire, known as the Byzantine, had evolved in the East. It included all of Greece and the Aegean region and was characterized by a mixture of Hellenic culture, Oriental influences from the Middle East, and Christianity. Greece itself became a neglected and obscure province. From the 6th to the 8th century, Slavonic tribes from the north migrated into the peninsula, occupying Illyria and Thrace.


Duchy of Athens

In the 13th century the ambition of the Frankish leaders of the Fourth Crusade interrupted the continuity of Byzantine rule. Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) fell to the Crusaders in 1204, and the conquerors, after sacking the Byzantine capital, established the Latin Empire of the East. They divided the Greek peninsula into feudal fiefs, of which the most prominent was the duchy of Athens. The Latin Empire fell in 1261, when Constantinople was reconquered by the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus. During the next two centuries, the duchy of Athens was controlled successively by French, Spanish, and Italian rulers. In the 14th century the court of Athens was one of the most brilliant feudal courts of Europe.

Ottoman Domination

In 1453 Muhammad II, sultan of Turkey, captured Constantinople and then turned his attention to the Pelopónnisos and Attica; by 1460 these parts of Greece had been incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

During the next two centuries the Turks drove the Venetians and other alien powers from the few remaining outposts they held on the coast of Greece and in the Greek islands. The process was finished with the Turkish capture of Crete in 1669. For a brief period (1699-1718) Venice regained control of the Pelopónnisos, but otherwise Greece remained under firm Ottoman domination until the 19th century.

Turkish rule was in many ways costly to the Greek people and in its later stages came to be corrupt and even brutal. However, some Greeks had a relatively privileged position within the empire. The Greek patriarch was the political as well as the spiritual head of all the Orthodox, and many Phanariots—so called after the Greek quarter of Constantinople—held influential positions as Ottoman administrators and political advisers.

Spread of Nationalism

A surge of Greek nationalism occurred in the latter part of the 18th century. The sentiment was considerably aided by Russia, which incited the Greek Orthodox Christians, coreligionists of the Russians, to revolt. In 1770 the Russian count Aleksey Grigoryevich Orlov landed a Russian fleet in the Pelopónnisos and led an unsuccessful revolt against the Turks. Later, the French Revolution (1789-1799) influenced Greek patriots, who began to plan for a major rebellion. A literary revival accompanied the spread of nationalism. A powerful secret society, the Philikê Hetairia (Friendly Association), founded in 1814 to prepare for the coming revolution, collected funds and arms through its centers in the Balkan and eastern Mediterranean regions. In 1821 Alexander Ypsilanti, a former aide-de-camp of the Russian czar Alexander I and head of the Hetairia, entered Jassy (now Iasi), the capital of Moldavia (then Turkish territory), with a small force and proclaimed the independence of Greece. The revolt ended in disaster a few months later, because the czar refused to aid the revolutionary movement. During the abortive attempt by Ypsilanti, a general uprising occurred in the Pelopónnisos under the leadership of Germanos, archbishop of Patras.

War of Independence

In the first phase (1821-1824) of the war for Greek independence, the Greeks fought virtually alone, aided only by money and volunteers from other European countries, where the Greek cause had aroused a great deal of sympathy. Among the Greek leaders were Markos Bozzaris, Theodoros Kolokotrones, Alexandros Mavrokordatos, and Andreas Vokos Miaoules. Mahmud II, sultan of Turkey, in 1824 asked aid of Muhammad Ali, viceroy of Egypt, who agreed to help in return for control of Crete and other Turkish possessions if he quelled the rebellion. The Egyptian troops pushed their way up the Pelopónnisos, and by 1826 the entire southern peninsula was in their hands. The Greeks suffered from political as well as military weakness because of factional strife among their leaders. A temporary conciliation between them was effected in 1827, and a new republican constitution was approved in that year by a national assembly, which elected the Russian-Greek statesman Count Ioánnis Antónios Kapodístrias the first president of the Greek republic. Party quarrels began again almost immediately after this short-lived truce.

The Powers Intervene

Because of the strategic importance of Greece on the continent of Europe, the European powers agreed in 1827 to intervene militarily on behalf of the Greeks. The powers were particularly fearful of Muhammad Ali’s potential menace to them, should he obtain further Mediterranean territory. France, Great Britain, and Russia first demanded an armistice, which the Turkish government, commonly known as the Porte, refused. The European powers then sent naval forces to Greece. The presence of the naval forces, and the efforts of Russia, in particular, forced the Porte to accept a settlement. In 1829 the Treaty of Adrianople terminated the Russo-Turkish War, which had grown out of both the Greek revolution and Russia’s own aspirations in southeastern Europe. The defeated Porte consented to whatever arrangements the European powers might make for Greece. In 1830 France, Great Britain, and Russia issued the London Protocol, which negated the Greek constitution and declared Greece an autonomous kingdom under their united protection. The territory of the kingdom was considerably less than the Greeks had expected, the northern frontier being set only slightly north of the Gulf of Corinth.

Modern Greece

A period of great civil unrest followed the War of Independence. Factional strife persisted and the Greeks, who had envisioned their renascent country as commensurate with ancient Hellas, objected strenuously to the diminution of their territory. While the powers were trying to find a king for Greece, the administration of the country was left to Kapodístrias, who governed in a dictatorial fashion until he was assassinated in 1831. Civil war then broke out. At length, in 1832, Otto of Bavaria accepted the throne offered him by the European powers and in the following year was crowned Otto I, king of Greece.

The political reorganization of Greece was undertaken by a Bavarian regency, Otto being only 17 years of age at his accession to the throne. The Bavarian regents denied the Greeks a constitution, burdened them with excessive taxation, and tried to set up a centralized bureaucracy. Although they were dismissed in 1835, the situation did not much improve. Greek resentment culminated in a bloodless revolution in 1843, after which the king was compelled to grant the country a constitution. Popular discontent with Otto increased in 1854, when the king, against the will of his people, acquiesced in the British and French occupation of Piraeus to prevent a Greco-Russian alliance during the Crimean War. In 1862 part of the Greek army revolted against Otto, and he was deposed in the same year by a national assembly with the approval of the powers. A national plebiscite chose Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, as king, but the British government rejected the offer and nominated Prince William George, second son of King Christian IX of Denmark. The prince was acceptable to the Greeks, and he was crowned George I in 1863. To demonstrate its approval, the British government ceded the Ionian Islands, a British protectorate since 1815, to the reconstituted monarchy. In the following year, a new, more democratic constitution granted universal male suffrage and a unicameral legislature.

Struggle for Territory

During the last decades of the 19th century, the major thrust of Greek foreign policy aimed at expanding the territory of the kingdom. Following the defeat of Turkey in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 and 1878, the Congress of Berlin recommended that Turkey readjust the northern frontier of Greece. Turkey refused, and Greece declared war in 1878. The great powers, however, intervened before major hostilities began and recommended that Turkey award Thessaly and part of Epirus to Greece. Turkey refused to give up all the stipulated territory. In 1885 Eastern Rumelia revolted against Turkish rule and was incorporated into Bulgaria. Greece at once took arms and demanded that Turkey adhere to the territorial recommendations of 1878. Again the powers forced Greece to disarm, this time by blockading the main Greek ports until Greece complied. The annexation of Macedonia and Crete then became the object of Greek agitation for territorial expansion. A secret military society, the Ethnike Hetairia (National Association), was founded in 1894 to foment insurrection in these Turkish provinces. When the Cretans revolted against their rulers in 1896, Greece came to their aid. A request from the powers that Greek forces withdraw from Crete was refused by the Greek government. Some months later members of the Ethnike Hetairia attacked Turkish posts in Macedonia, inciting Turkey to declare war, a conflict for which Greece was not prepared. After several weeks of fighting, the Greek army was reduced to a panic-stricken mob fleeing before the Turkish troops. Total disaster was prevented by action of the great powers, and Russia demanded that the Turks cease fighting. Greece, following this episode, was required to pay Turkey a large indemnity, which exacerbated the precarious state of Greek finances and gave the European powers added control because of the increase in the Greek foreign debt. In 1898 Turkey was compelled by the powers to withdraw all its forces from Crete, and Prince George, the second son of George I, was appointed high commissioner of Crete under the protection of the European powers. For the next ten years, Crete was shaken by internal disputes, resulting primarily from the refusal of the powers to permit union with Greece. Disagreements between Prince George and Eleutherios Venizelos, the pro-Greek political leader of Crete, led the prince to resign in 1906. Two years later the Cretan assembly proclaimed the long-desired union. The powers reluctantly withdrew their forces from the island and, in 1912, Cretan representatives sat for the first time in the Greek legislature.

The Balkan Wars

Meanwhile, the question of Macedonia was becoming more complicated, for Greece was not the only Balkan country desiring that region. Rising currents of nationalism in the Balkans, particularly in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, were considerably stimulated by the gradual disintegration of the Turkish Empire, which was in such a decadent and weak state that it was called the "sick man of Europe." During most of the 19th century, the emerging Balkan states maintained peaceful relations with each other because of their mutual antagonism toward Turkey. They formed alliances, and a confederation of the Balkan states was contemplated. The disposition of Macedonia, however, aroused bitter disagreement. Conflicting political ambitions resulted in emphasizing the religious differences between Muslims and Christians, and disputes erupted among the various Balkan peoples. In 1903 a Slavic insurrection broke out in Macedonia, most of the rebels declaring their goal to be united with Bulgaria. Greece resolved to aid Turkey covertly and encouraged Greek guerrillas to cross the border and attack Slavs and Vlachs in Macedonia. Determined to restore order and assert its control, Turkey in 1912 dispatched troops to quell all the fighting groups. At this move, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro laid aside their quarrels and, forming military alliances, declared war on Turkey (see Balkan Wars). Turkey was completely defeated in the First Balkan War fought during 1912 and 1913. By the terms of the Treaty of London, it relinquished all claims to Crete and its European territories, except for a small area including Istanbul. Dissension between the Balkan allies concerning the disposition of the former Turkish territory, however, led to the Second Balkan War, in which Greece and Serbia fought Bulgaria. The latter was defeated in a month. The Treaty of Bucharest in 1913 almost doubled the area and population of Greece, as part of Macedonia, including Thessaloníki and Kavála, was added to its territory.

World War I

Greece proclaimed its neutrality when World War I began in 1914. Strict neutrality, however, was impossible. Constantine I, who had succeeded his father, George I, as king in 1913, favored Germany. The leader of the pro-Allied faction was Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos, the Cretan leader who, after the union with Greece, had become head of the Liberal Party and one of the foremost political figures in Greece. Twice in 1915 the Venizelos government sought to aid the Allies, but each time the king vetoed his move. During successive ministries, Constantine maintained relations with both the Allies and the Central Powers, refusing to commit himself openly. In 1916 Venizelos went to Salonika, where he established a Greek government in opposition to Constantine. The government was recognized by Great Britain and France. In 1917 the Allies forced the king to abdicate in favor of his second son, Alexander, Venizelos returned in triumph, and Greece entered the war on the Allied side.

In the postwar territorial settlements, Greece received western Thrace from Bulgaria, eastern Thrace from Turkey, and many of the Aegean Islands. Greece also claimed Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey). Greek troops landed there in 1919 and engaged in violent clashes with the Turkish population and, later, with Turkish troops.

King Alexander died in 1920. His younger brother, Paul, refused the throne, and a plebiscite returned King Constantine, despite the disapproval of the Allies. Because of the consequent loss of Allied support, the Smyrna expedition ended in a complete Greek rout in 1922. The Greek government ordered demobilization, but the army revolted and set up a military dictatorship under General Nicholas Plastiras. Constantine was forced to abdicate. He was succeeded by his eldest son, George II, who was virtually a puppet of the army. In 1923, by the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne, Smyrna reverted to Turkey, and more than 1 million Greek residents of Asia Minor were repatriated, as were the Turks resident in Greece.

Republican Interim

Strongly antiroyalist, the Greek refugees and the powerful military faction agitated ceaselessly against the king, who left Greece under pressure in 1923. After a plebiscite favoring a republican form of government, the parliament proclaimed Greece a republic in 1924. A long period of political instability followed. In 1925 General Theodoros Pangalos seized control of the government. A year later, as the sole candidate, he was elected president and became dictator of the country. In August 1926 Pangalos was overthrown in a coup d’état engineered by General Georgios Kondylis, who acted briefly as military dictator. In elections held a few months later, the republican majority was so small that a coalition government including the royalist Populist Party had to be formed. The coalition government finished drafting and, in 1927, promulgated a republican constitution, work on which had been begun in 1925. But the government passed through successive crises and was beginning to lose its control when, in 1928, Venizelos returned to Greek politics. After being appointed prime minister by the president, Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis, Venizelos and his Liberal Party won an overwhelming victory in the 1928 general elections.

Restoration of the Monarchy

For the next four years, the prime minister worked to stabilize Greece, both internally and in its foreign relations. In 1928 Greece signed a friendship pact with Italy and, a year later, a pact with Yugoslavia. A treaty with Turkey was signed in 1930. Domestically, however, Venizelos met with less success. Although he was a convinced supporter of constitutional monarchy, his patriotism compelled him to support the national republic. Thus, both the royalists and the more radical republicans resented him. A grave financial crisis was precipitated in 1932 by falling demand for Greek exports caused by the world depression of that time. The desperate financial situation was reflected in the diminished prestige of the Venizelos government and its defeat in the 1932 elections. For the next three years the increasingly strong royalist faction, led by Panyiotis Tsaldaris, and the Venizelists struggled for control of the government. A large part of the army, strongly republican, revolted in 1935 against the rising current of royalism. The rebellion was quelled by Kondylis, the leader of the rival military faction. Royalist military leaders forced the resignation of Prime Minister Tsaldaris who, although a royalist, had promised to defend the republic. Kondylis then assumed dictatorial powers for the second time and influenced the parliament to vote for a restoration of the monarchy. A plebiscite, organized and directed by the Kondylis government, sustained the vote. The republican constitution of 1927 was set aside, and a revised version of the monarchical constitution framed in 1911 was declared in force. George II was restored to the throne in late 1935. The political scene was complicated by the deaths of Kondylis, Venizelos, and Tsaldaris during the ensuing six months and the period was also marked by increasing social unrest and a growing Communist labor movement. In 1936 General Ioánnes Metaxas, who led the Free Opinion Party and had the support of the army, took the situation in hand. By a coup d’état in August, he made himself dictator and proclaimed a state of martial law. The Metaxas dictatorship imposed rigid press censorship, abolished political parties, cracked down on the labor movement, and countenanced no opposition.

World War II

Because of the threat posed by the Italian occupation of Albania in 1939, the safety of Greece against Italian aggression was guaranteed by France and Great Britain. Despite these assurances, Greece was attacked in October 1940 by Italian troops from Albania. The Greek army, however, was unexpectedly successful. By December it had driven the invaders from the country and was in possession of a fourth of Albania. A complete Italian rout was averted by the arrival, in April 1941, of German troops, which overcame Greek resistance. Greece was forced to sign an armistice on April 23, and the Germans entered Athens four days later. The Greek government was in a state of collapse; Metaxas had died in January, and his successor committed suicide in a state of depression over the German occupation. A National Socialist government was then established at Athens. King George fled to Crete and, after the German occupation of that island, established a government-in-exile, first in Cairo and later in London.

Greece suffered enormously from the German occupation. Famine and severe inflation developed by late 1943. Intense guerrilla warfare was waged by many organized resistance groups throughout the country. Of these groups, the largest, estimated as having the support of from 60 to 90 percent of the population, was the leftist Ethnikon Apeleftherotikon Metopon (EAM, or National Liberation Front), a combination of many political and other organizations, notably trade unions. The EAM had its own army, the Ethnikos Laikos Apeleftherotikos Stratos (ELAS, or National Popular Liberation Army). Less effective was the Ethnikos Demokratikos Ellenikos Syndesmos (EDES, or National Democratic Greek Union), a resistance organization with a more conservative political program. In late 1943, following the Allied invasion of Italy and the prospect of the liberation of Greece, the EAM and EDES began to fight each other for the eventual control of the country. The British first gave their support to the dominant EAM, but later, fearful of the Communist domination of that organization, strongly supported the EDES. The strife was only partially lessened when a coalition government for Greece was agreed upon in May 1944.

Civil War

In October 1944 the German army withdrew from Greece, and the new government entered Athens on October 18. Georgios Papandreou, the prime minister, ordered the ELAS to disband and disarm, but its leaders refused to do so. Tension increased, and the British brought in reinforcements for their own troops in Athens. Civil war between the ELAS and the government forces began in Athens in December, following an ELAS demonstration in which the Athenian police fired on the demonstrators. The ELAS controlled all of Greece except for a British-patrolled sector of Athens. The British aided the government forces, which gained military superiority, and in December 1944 Archbishop Damaskinos was installed as regent of Greece pending a plebiscite to determine the state of the monarchy.

In February 1945 the ELAS finally agreed to a truce. In return for the dissolution of its army, the EAM was promised freedom to engage in political activity, and a nonpolitical Greek army was guaranteed. In October 1945 Greece became a charter member of the United Nations.

The first Greek postwar general elections were held in March 1946. The result of the elections, a victory for the royalist Populist Party, was bitterly contested by the EAM, which claimed that the election proceedings had been irregular. The plebiscite, held on September 1, 1946, again returned George II to the throne. A few months later George died and was succeeded by his brother, Paul I.

The increasing strength of the insurgent Communist forces in northern Greece became a source of concern to the Greek government, which claimed that the guerrillas were receiving aid from Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia, three countries within the sphere of influence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The disputes between these three countries and Greece were aggravated by their respective claims to territory lying along their common borders. By the terms of the peace treaties drafted at the Paris Peace Conference of 1946, Greece received the Dodecanese Islands from Italy and reparations of $45 million from Bulgaria.

In February 1947, Great Britain, unable due to economic difficulties to extend further aid to Greece, asked the United States to assume British obligations to the beleaguered Greek regime. U.S. President Harry S. Truman subsequently initiated the policy known as the Truman Doctrine, sending military supplies and advisers to support government forces and relief supplies for civilians.

Despite a strong government offensive in the spring and summer of 1948, the rebels succeeded in retaining their principal strongholds, especially those in the mountainous area along the northern frontier. Several of the major defense bastions of the rebels in the Grammos Mountains were captured by government troops in the summer of 1949; on October 16, the rebel leadership proclaimed that military operations against the government had been halted "to avoid the total destruction of Greece."


The Unstable 1950s

Rehabilitation of the Greek economy progressed steadily following the civil war. By the end of 1950 the rate of industrial production was nearly 90 percent of the 1939 rate. The Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) voted in 1951 to allow Greece and Turkey to join the organization.

Governmental instability, resulting mostly from the multiplicity of political parties, dominated the Greek domestic scene until late in 1952. In elections then, the Greek Rally Party, a right-wing group headed by Field Marshal Alexandros Papagos, won a parliamentary majority (239 out of 300 seats). A new cabinet, with Papagos as prime minister, assumed office on November 19. Papagos died in October 1955 and was succeeded by Constantine Karamanlis. On January 4, 1956, Karamanlis announced the formation of the new right-wing National Radical Union Party to replace the Greek Rally Party, which had disintegrated after the death of Papagos. In parliamentary elections in February the National Radical Union gained 165 of the 300 seats, although the Democratic Union, a coalition of opposition parties, received a majority of the popular vote.

During the 1950s Greece ardently backed the enosis (union with Greece) movement on the island of Cyprus, which had been a British possession since 1878. A request made by the Papagos government that a plebiscite be held on the question of union was opposed by Great Britain, and Turkey insisted that if the British withdrew from Cyprus the island should be given to Turkey. In 1955, however, Greece, Great Britain, and Turkey opened talks on the Cyprus issue. In 1959 the three governments finally reached an agreement, under which Cyprus was granted its independence on August 16, 1960.

Continued Ferment

Late in 1961 a new party, the Center Union, consisting of a coalition of center parties, was formed under the leadership of Georgios Papandreou. When Karamanlis won a legislative majority in the general elections held on October 29, the party refused to recognize his new government, charging coercion of voters. Opposition was continued until, in mid-April 1962, supporters of the Center Union clashed with Athens police during a rally. Karamanlis warned that further attempts to arouse disorder would be repressed. A year later Queen Frederika and her daughter, Princess Irene, were heckled while on a visit to London by demonstrators demanding the release of pro-Communists and antimonarchists jailed in Greece during the civil war. To avoid a repetition of the incident, Prime Minister Karamanlis opposed a projected summer visit of the royal family to England. Because his advice was not heeded, he resigned. When elections were held November 3 the Center Union won by a narrow margin, and Georgios Papandreou was named prime minister. Declining to rely on Communist support to keep his government in power, he resigned the next month, but new parliamentary elections held in February 1964 gave the Center Union a working majority, and he again became prime minister.

Constantine II

After the death of Paul I on March 6, 1964, his son ascended the throne as Constantine II, and by 1965 the new monarch was embroiled in a mounting political crisis. Papandreou was subjected to a campaign of attacks by the right-wing opposition, which accused the government of taking "soft" stands on the activities of pro-Communist groups within Greece and on the repatriation of Greek nationals taken to the USSR and its satellites during the civil war. In addition, right-wing newspapers revealed the existence of an army group called Aspida (shield) that had been formed by officers with allegedly leftist tendencies. The government announced that it would purge the army of all political influence, and a decree was sent to Constantine enabling the prime minister to take over the ministry of defense. The king, fearing that a change in the army command might deprive him of support from high-ranking officers, refused to sign the decree. On July 15, 1965, Papandreou threatened to resign. Even before he did so, however, the king appointed a new prime minister, who failed to win parliamentary support. Other attempts to form a government also failed, until finally, on September 25, Deputy Premier Stephanos Stephanopoulos succeeded in winning parliamentary approval. After serving for a little more than a year Stephanopoulos lost the support of the National Radical Union and on December 21, 1966, resigned. He was replaced by Ioánnis Paraskevopoulos. Meanwhile, 28 army officers accused of being members of Aspida and of plotting to seize control of the government were court-martialed. Also implicated in the alleged plot was Andreas Papandreou, son of the former prime minister, but because of his parliamentary immunity he could not be tried. After the trial of the army officers, 15 of whom were convicted and sentenced to prison, the Center Union attempted to protect Andreas Papandreou by introducing a bill extending parliamentary immunity to the period between the dissolution of parliament and the holding of new elections. The National Radical Union opposed the bill, and as a result of the dispute withdrew its support from the government. Paraskevopoulos was replaced as prime minister on April 3, 1967, by Panayiotis Kanellopoulos, leader of the Radical Union. Faced with domestic turbulence, Kanellopoulos dissolved parliament on April 14 and ordered new elections for May.

The Colonel’s Coup

On April 21, 1967, however, a group of army officers overthrew the government and seized power. Several thousand political figures, specifically leftists and Communists, were arrested. Constantine Kollias, chief prosecutor of the supreme court, was appointed prime minister. The military junta issued a series of decrees suspending most civil liberties, imposing censorship on news media, suspending political parties, and outlawing a host of organizations. After an abortive attempt in December to overthrow the junta, King Constantine went into exile in Italy. The junta then installed a new cabinet headed by Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos. General Georgios Zoitakis was named viceroy and regent. On March 15, 1968, Papadopoulos presented the draft of a new constitution, which was later revised and ratified by popular referendum.

The regime thereafter continued its authoritarian course, and hundreds of opponents were arrested. After investigating complaints of the use of torture on political prisoners, the Human Rights Commission of the Council of Europe concluded that it was a "current administrative practice" of the government. Greece then withdrew from the council rather than face expulsion. The government succeeded, however, in establishing closer relations with Communist nations including the People’s Republic of China in 1970. The United States resisted pressures to deny weapons to the Papadopoulos regime.

In the early 1970s the government restored some civil rights that had been suspended after the junta took power. On June 1, 1973, it abolished the monarchy, proclaimed Greece a republic, and named Papadopoulos to the presidency, to serve until 1981. After his inauguration in August, he proclaimed a broad amnesty for political offenses and promised new elections in 1974. A civilian cabinet took office in October.

Fall of the Junta

Student antigovernment riots in the fall of 1973 led to the reimposition of martial law. Then, on November 25, the military removed Papadopoulos for failure to maintain order and named Lieutenant General Phaidon Gizikis president. Encouragement of a coup that only temporarily removed Archbishop Makarios from the presidency of Cyprus, followed by the Turkish invasion of the island, led the junta to step down in July 1974. Gizikis recalled Karamanlis from exile to form the first civilian government since 1967. After an election in November, Karamanlis, heading the New Democracy Party, formed a new government; Gizikis resigned in December. A referendum on the restoration of the monarchy was defeated in December, and a new republican constitution was approved in June 1975.

Renewed Links with Europe

In November 1977 the government called a general election in which the main issues were Greece’s future entry into the European Economic Community and its strained relations with Turkey over Cyprus and offshore oil rights. The New Democracy Party won, but had a smaller majority in parliament. The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), under Andreas Papandreou, was the second largest party.

After the 1974 Cyprus crisis, Greece withdrew its troops from NATO. Terms for the continued presence of U.S. military bases in Greece, however, were renegotiated in 1975 and 1976, and in 1980 the country rejoined NATO’s military wing.

Karamanlis relinquished his post in May 1980, when he was elected to the presidency. He was succeeded by Foreign Minister Georgios Rallis, also of the New Democracy Party, who in January 1981 presided over Greece’s entry into the European Community (now the European Union). In parliamentary elections the following October, Pasok won a decisive victory, and Papandreou became the country’s first Socialist prime minister. In March 1985, Christos Sartzetakis, a Supreme Court justice who ran with Socialist backing, was elected to succeed Karamanlis as president. Presidential powers were greatly limited by constitutional amendments passed in 1986.

Recent Developments

Papandreou lost his parliamentary majority in the elections of June 1989. Tzannis Tzannetakis of the New Democracy Party then became prime minister, in coalition with the Communists. After a period of parliamentary deadlock, elections in April 1990 produced a narrow conservative majority, with New Democracy Party leader Constantine Mitsotakis heading the government and Karamanlis returning to the presidency. In October 1993 Papandreou returned to power when Pasok won 170 of 300 seats in parliamentary elections. Kostis Stephanopoulos, with the support of Pasok, was elected president in March 1995. In January 1996 an ailing Papandreou was replaced as prime minister by Constantine Simitis, also of Pasok. In parliamentary elections of September 1996, Pasok and Simitis were returned to power.

In November 1991 the Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Greece’s northern neighbor, declared its independence. Greece objected to the state’s name and flag, claiming that "Macedonia" was a Greek name, and that the flag appropriated a Greek symbol. Greece also asserted that articles of the republic’s constitution implied territorial claims to the Greek province of Macedonia. Bowing to international pressure, the republic amended its constitution to state that it had no territorial aspirations in Greece or any other country. In 1993 the United Nations admitted the country under the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The Greeks found these measures unsatisfactory, however, and in 1994 imposed an economic blockade on the republic. Following international mediation, the foreign ministers of Greece and FYROM signed an interim accord on mutual relations, confirming their border and establishing diplomatic ties. Greece lifted its embargo, and FYROM dropped the symbol claimed by Greece from its flag. Negotiations continue regarding the issue of the republic’s name.

In the 1990s Greece was also at odds with Albania over the alleged mistreatment of the Greek minority in that country. Persistent tensions resulted in several border shootings of Albanian refugees by Greek troops, the expulsion of thousands of illegal Albanian workers from Greece, and the imprisonment of five Greek minority leaders in Albania on charges of espionage and arms smuggling. Albania asserted that nationalist circles in Greece were provoking a crisis and seeking to annex Albania’s southern regions, known in Greece as northern Epirus. In March 1995 Greek police arrested members of a right-wing Greek terrorist group, the North Epirus Liberation Front, whose members claimed to have killed Albanian soldiers. The arrests were seen as an attempt to reduce tensions with Albania.