Greece or officially the Hellenic Republic is a country with a very colorful, classical and turbulent past. It is rich in cultural heritage, being one of the ancient civilizations that passed centuries of hardships and triumphs, of several achievements that shaped part of the new world and where great philosophers, the Olympic Games, architectural marvels and creative arts are still revered all over the world.
:: Background of Greece ::
Today’s Greece is very different from the ancient Greece. Greece today is vibrant, colorful, with more mobile phones that fixed lines, with cars zooming past on paved urban highways that were once, along time ago used to be dirt roads where animal-drawn carts and people used to travel. The rich history of Greece has to be known for one to really appreciate the inner beauty of a very mythical country.
Evidence clearly showed that humans were already living in Greece around 700,000 years ago during the Stone Age. This was proven by the discovery of a skull of a Neanderthal man on the Halkidiki peninsula in Macedonia in 1960.There were also tools and bone from the Paleolithic times, around 6500 B.C. unearthed in the Pindos Mountains. There were pots, vases and statuettes of the earth goddess, Mother Earth that was worshipped during the Neolithic age.
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During the Bronze Age, the civilizations of the Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean begun when the processing of bronze was introduced by Indo-European migrants in ancient Greece. The Cycladic civilization from early 3000 B.C. to late 1100 B.C. brought about maritime trade links with neighboring countries because they were accomplished sailors. Their most impressive legacy was the statuettes carved from Parian marble of the Great Mother or earth goddess. They also made bronze and obsidian tools and weapon, gold jewelry as well as clay and stone pots, and vases that they sold to other countries.
The first advanced civilization in Europe, inspired by the Middle Eastern civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt was the Minoan civilization in Crete, which also existed during the Cycladic civilization, named after King Minos who was the mythical ruler of Crete during that period. This was the time when metalwork and pottery coming from Crete were the most beautiful and required great skill to produce. The civilization declined commercially and militarily due to the 1100 B.C. eruption of Thira, now called Santorini.
Though there was competition among the three civilizations, the Mycenean civilization in mainland Greece became more prominent when the Minoan civilization abruptly declined. While drawing inspiration from the Minoan civilization, the Mycenean society had a central ruler with independent city states. There existed Mycenae, Corinth, Tiryns and Pylos. Kings ruled and they lived in palaces erected on hilltops for easy defense against attacks.
The most impressive legacy the Mycenean civilization produced were the gold ornaments and jewelry, some of which are on display in the National Archeological Museum located in Athens. They also started an early form of Greek, called Linear B and worshipped a new set of gods that were the forerunner of the Greek deities. The Myceanean civilization was overrun by the Dorians in 12th century B.C.
The Dorians were ruthless and their 400 year-rule in Greece was part of the country’s dark age. However, they were also the ones that brought iron to Greece, introduced a new style of pottery with dramatic geometric designs and started the tradition of worshiping male gods, and adopted Apollo, Poseidon and Zeus from the Mycenean civilization, creating the way for the Greek pantheon.
After the Dorians settled down and had developed into land-holding aristocrats, autonomous regions were created, with an aristocratic rather than monarchic form of government. Most notable city-states were Athens, Argons, Sparta, Corinth, Elis and Thebes. The city-states contributed to the development of the Greek alphabet, the verses from Homer and the start of the Olympic Games, usually held in Delphi, which was a neutral meeting ground. This was the Middle Age of Greece.
The struggle between the rich and the poor already existed during that time. Solon, from Athens was appointed as arhon or chief magistrate around 594 B.C. His mandate was to defuse the rising tension between the rich and the poor. He cancelled all debts, freed those that were put in prison because of heavy debts and established four classes in their society based on their wealth. Only the first two classes were allowed to hold office but everyone were allowed to vote – reforms that were the precursor of democracy.
The Spartans were ruling Peloponnese differently. They were very strict and militarily-inclined. They made the original inhabitants of Laconia, the Helots as their slaves. They inspected every male child born and those that did not pass muster were left to die in the mountains and at age seven, young boys were taken from their families to start training as elite soldiers while the girls, although spared from training in the military were ordered to be fit and healthy to produce more sons. They were able to achieve stability in the areas they ruled and Sparta became a military power while Athens became powerful traders.
Emperor Darius of Persia was incensed by the support of Athens for the rebellion against Persians in Asia Minor that he vowed to destroy Athens. He died before he can fulfill his dream because his 25,000-strong army was defeated by a smaller army of 10,000 Athenians in what was known as the Battle of Marathon. His son Xerxes wanted to fulfill his father’s ambition and led a massive land and sea invasion in 480 B.C, with Delphi siding with the Persians. Sparta and Athens combined their army and navy forces to repel the attack with strategies provided by the tactician from Athens, Themistocles and King Leonidas of Sparta lead the army to guard the main passage into central Greece on Thermopylae (Lamia). They were outnumbered by the Persians but continued to hold on until a traitor showed the mountain passageway.
While the rest of the army was forced to retreat, King Leonidas and 300 of his elite troops fought to their death. When the Persians reached the inner city, Themistocles ordered an evacuation with the women and children sent to Samalis and the men joined the Athenian fleet. Persians burned Attica and Athens to the ground but their victory was not complete because the Greeks were able to trap the Persians ships. In the Battle of Plataea a year later, the Persian army was obliterated by the Greeks under the leadership of Spartan general Pausanias.
Peace reigned afterwards with the Spartans going back to Peloponnese and Athens founded the Delian League, which mandated that every state should have a navy no matter how small, to prevent further Persian attacks and liberate the other city-states still under Persian rule. The Delian League later became the Athenian empire, where each member state contributed ships annually. When Pericles was the leader of Athens in 461 B.C., the treasury was moved from Delos to the Acropolis. Sparing no expense he ordered the rebuilding of the Acropolis and linked Athens to the port of Piraeus. With fortification against future attacks, Athens began looking westward to expand which brought conflict against Sparta that was dominating the Peloponnesian League and eventually started the Peloponnesian Wars.
The first Peloponnesian war was between the Athens-backed Corcyra, now Corfu and Corinth, a wealthy state from which Sparta depended largely. Athens knew that Spartan army will be very strong so Athens blocked Peloponnese from the sea with its mighty navy. Both sides suffered badly and Pericles died in the plague, and a difficult truce was reached. The second Peloponnesian war broke in 413 B.C. when Sparta came to the aid of Syracuse. While the Spartans were able to destroy the Athenian fleet and army, Athens continued to fight for nine years until it was finally subdued by Sparta in 404 B.C. Sparta confiscated the Athenian navy, abolished the Delian League and removed the fortified walls between Piraeus and the city but spared Athens from destruction due to its role in saving Greece from the Persians.
Sparta began to rule Athens but its installation of oligarchs spurred widespread dissatisfaction. Getting more ambitious by wanting to reclaim the cities in Asia Minor from Persia, Athens sided with Persia and Thebes and brought the first defeat of Sparta. The strong rivalry between Thebes and Sparta waged on but Athens turned its back on Thebes and sided with Sparta. Although the battle in 362 B.C. was won by Thebes, its leader Epaminondas was killed and eventually led to the collapse of Theban strength and gave rise to the northern power in Macedon.
Macedon was regarded as a backwater place but it was slowly gaining strength and came to be a force to be reckoned with when King Philip II ascended to the throne in 359 B.C. Leading the Battle of Chaironeia in 338 B.C. they were able to defeat the armies of Athens and Thebes. The dream to conquer Persia was still there and that was the next target but a Macedonian noble assassinated King Philip and 336 B.C. and his son Alexander, who was 20 at that time, became the King. He became Alexander the Great, crushing rebellions against the Macedonian Empire by razing Thebes. He then led invasions into the Persian Empire, starting in 334 B.C. and by 333 B.C. was able to conquer Syria, Palestine and Egypt. He was made a pharaoh of Egypt and founded Alexandria. He and his army defeated Darius III, the King of Persia, continued east to conquer Uzbekistan, Balkh, a part of Afghanistan and the northern part of India.
Alexander the Great’s numerous battles took its toll on his army and he was forced to return to Mesopotamia in 324 B.C. and settled in Babylon where he died at the age of 33 from a sudden illness. As he was heirless, his army generals took advantage and each clamored to reign. The empire was divided into three and Ptolemy founded the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt where Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 BC; Antigonus ruled Asia Minor and Seleucus, founder of the Seleucid dynasty took over Persia and Syria. Macedonia lost the Greek city-states on the south and the Aetolian League in Delphi and the Achaean League from Peloponnese banded together, leaving Sparta and Athens independent.
While Alexander the Great was conquering the east, the Romans were expanding their holding in the west and started to conquer Greece, defeating Macedon in 168 B.C., the Achaean League in 146 B.C. and eventually Athens. Greece was under the Roman rule for the next 300 years, where peace reigned and the period called Pax Romana. Romans sent their children to schools in Athens to learn Greek art, literature and philosophy, which the Romans venerated long before they ruled Greece. They were also the first to call the Hellenes as Greeks.
While the Goths invaded Greece in AD 250, Christianity became the new religion in country due to the numerous visits of St. Paul where many were converted. Emperor Constantine I ruled in AD 324 and transferred the capital to Byzantium that was renamed Constantinople and now known as Istanbul. Rome was declining and Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity as the official religion in 394 AD. Several invasions by other Christians brought the demise of the Byzantine Empire. Some struck a deal with Venice and the Venetians became one of the most powerful and richest traders, having settled in Crete and controlled all the key ports.
The followers of Osman of the Turkish tribe Ottomans who ruled from 1289 to 1326 eliminated the Byzantine Empire and placed Greece, except the Ionian Islands under the Ottoman Empire. At its zenith under Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, the empire was expanded through the Balkans, Hungary and almost conquered Vienna. Selim the Sot who succeeded Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent added Cyprus. Vienna continued to oppose the Turkish rule that subsequently weakened it. Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia tried to stir up rebellion in Peloponnese and Epiros but was crushed. She was eventually successful and removed the Turks by force from the coast of the Black Sea. Several towns were created and given Ancient Greek or Byzantine names and gave the Greeks financial incentives and free land to settle the region.
Notable was Odessa as this was where the first Greek Independence Party, the Filiki Eteria or the Friendly Party was born. It was founded in 1814 by Greek businessmen, namely Nikolaos Skoufas, Athanasios Tsakalof and Emmanuel Xanthos. This was the birth of the freedom fighters and was soon generously financed by the leaders in Odessa. Bishop Germanos of Patra hoisted the Greek flag at the monastery of Agia Lavra in Peloponnese which signaled the start of the War of Independence in 1821 and with the help of Russian troops, the Ottoman rule finally ceased with the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829.
The first president of the independent Greece was Ioannis Kapodistrias, a Corfiot who was the foreign minister of Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Nafplio, Peloponnese was the seat of the government. But the new president was too autocratic and the leaders of the War of Independence did not take this lightly and he was assassinated in 1831, four years after his election.
Britain, France and Russia decided that Greece should be a monarchy and chose a non-Greek, Prince Otto of Bavaria, who was only 17 at that time to be the head of Greece. Through the London Convention of 1832 the kingdom consisted of Peloponnese, the Cyclades, Sporades and Sterea Ellada. The seat of the government was transferred to Athens in 1834. King Otto was as autocratic as Kapodistrias and gave his cronies juicy government positions. The War of Independence leaders called for a constitution in 1834 and a parliamentary government with a senate and a lower house was put in place. Members of the War of Independence replaced the positions occupied by the cronies of Otto. Otto was deposed in 1862 and placed by Prince William of Denmark who later became King George I and ruled for 50 years. In 1864, Greece was under democratic rule. Amidst some pockets of uprising, King George I stabilized Greece.
The staging of the first Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 signaled the birth of the new Greece. There were still power struggle between neighboring countries in modern Greece, some of which were successfully prevented by the intervention of more powerful allied nations. The outbreak of the Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913 resulted in the Treaty of Bucharest and expanded the Greek territory to include the southern part of Macedonia, the Northeastern Aegean Islands, part of Epiros and part of Thrace. The treaty also recognized the union of Crete with Greece.
King Constantine, son of King George I who was assassinated by a lunatic in 1913 was married to the sister of a German emperor who demanded that Greece remained neutral during WWI. There was pressure from the allied forces of Britain, France and Russia, causing friction between the King and Prime Minister Vanizelos who favored the Allies. The king left Greece in 1917 and was replaced by his second-born son, Alexander.
Territorial disputes with Turkey continued and the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 settled some of the issues over land holdings as well as paved the way for the exchange of population between the two nations with 400, 000 Turks leaving Greece and 1.5 million Greeks went back home, exchanging the affluent life they had in Asia Minor to a life of poverty, straining the Greek economy.
King Alexander died from a monkey bite in 1920 and his father Constantine was reinstated but abdicated once again when Smyrna fell. His first-born son George II became king but was no match for the might of the coup led by army officers. Stability was regained when Vanizelos returned to power but the Great Depression curtailed it. Vanizelos supported the anti-royal Liberal Party but the Popular Party, which was pro-monarchy, was stronger. King George II was restored to power by a rigged plebiscite and General Ioannis Metaxas, who was actually a dictator, became prime minister. He later created a Greek version of the Third Reich.
He denied Mussolini’s request to allow the Italians to pass through Greece during WWII and also denied the British request to land troops in Greece to prevent Hitler’s plan to invade the Soviet Union. Metaxas suddenly died in 1941. His replacement was Alexandros Koryzis, a timid person who agreed to the British request. The Allied forces from Greece, Britain, New Zealand and Australia were outnumbered and Greece fell into the hands of the Nazis. Koryzis committed suicide in 1941 when the Germans invaded Greece. Resistance movements continued until the Germans left the country in 1944.
Civil war ensued among the resistance movements until the British intervened once again and another rigged plebiscite reinstated King George II to the throne. The US became the minder of Greece by 1947 and the civil war turned into the beginning of the Cold War as communism was declared illegal and the Greek government introduced the Certificate of Political Reliability which was used by Greeks to find work and exercise their right to vote.
The left-wing Democratic Army of Greece or DSE continued to gain support, funded by Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and the Soviets via the Balkan states and were able to gain a huge chunk of the Greek mainland in 1947. They were not able to get the major towns, though. The continuous in-fighting killed more people than the casualties the country suffered during the three years of WWII and about 250,000 Greeks became homeless by 1949.This led to the mass exodus of Greeks, compelling them to seek a better life in the USA, in Australia and in Canada. Many headed to New York and Chicago in the US and to Melbourne in Australia.
After its tumultuous past, Greece is now a unitary parliamentary republic. President Karolos Papoulias is the current head of state and Giorgos Papandreou MP is the prime minister. Greece enjoys the privileges of the modern world, with a rising standard of living – cars, houses, modern infrastructures, telecommunication facilities, credit cards, tourism and commerce.
:: Geography of Greece ::
Greece is considered as a southern European country, and is located in the southernmost section of the Balkan Peninsula. It is positioned in the eastern and northern hemispheres. Geographic coordinates are 39° 00’ North of the Equator and 22° 00’ East of the Equator.
The total land area of Greece is 131. 957 square kilometers, divided into 130, 647 square kilometers of land and 1,310 square kilometers of water. Its total land area is comparatively smaller than the state of Alabama in the United States.
Greece is bordered for a total of 1,228 kilometers of several countries and seas. On the north it is bordered by Albania for 282 km, Bulgaria for 494 km and by The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for 246 kilometers. Its south and west parts are surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea; by the Libyan Sea to the south and the Ionian Sea to the west. The east is bordered by Turkey for 206 km and the Aegean Sea.
The Greek Islands form a semi-circular shape so that many of the islands are facing the sea, making for quite a long coastline. The total coastline of Greece, is recorded at 13,676 kilometers, although some sources say that the Greek coastline is 15,147 kilometers long, and is one of the world’s longest coastlines.
Greece has a territorial sea claim of 12 nautical miles and a continental shelf of 200 meters deep or to the depth of exploitation. Greece has not claimed an exclusive economic and contiguous zone, although it is entitled to do so under the international law of the sea and the UNCLOS 1982.
Greece has a temperate climate but divided into two climatic regions. The central and eastern Peloponnese, the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Crete and the Attica Peninsula have dry and hot summers and mild winters that are typical of a Mediterranean climate. Northern Epiros and northern Macedonia experience a climate that prevails in the Balkans, characterized by extremely hot but humid summers and freezing winter months. Snow falls in the mountains but not the majority of the lowlands. Very strong northerly wind called the meltemi blows on the eastern coast of the Greek Mainland, including the Aegean Islands, Athens and the Cyclades in July all through August. The western parts of Peloponnese and Sterea Ellada as well as the southwestern Epiros and the Ionian Islands have the highest rainfall among all the Greek Islands. Crete has a longer summer while the Northeastern Aegean Islands, the Pelion Peninsula and the Halkidiki have a combination of Balkan and Mediterranean climate. Rain normally falls during the cooler months, from October to February, so the winters are cold and wet with periods of blue skies and sunshine.
Greece is comprised of more than 1,400 islands. The terrain is mostly mountainous in the interior with several mountain ranges and coastal plains that extend to the sea as peninsulas and chains of smaller islands.
The lowest point on all of Greece is the Mediterranean Sea at zero meters while the highest point is Mount Olympus, which is located in Thessaloniki, near the border between Thessaly and Macedonia. Mount Olympus has 52 peaks with the highest Mytikas having an elevation of 2,917 meters and considered as one of the highest peaks in Europe. Mount Olympus, according to Greek mythology is the residence of the twelve most important gods and goddesses, earning them the right to be called Olympians and where Zeus ruled.
Greece has very few natural resources that can be considered economically valuable as only 23% of the land is arable and the mountains are mostly barren. Small quantities of black coal and low-quality lignite can be found. Under the Aegean Sea though are rich deposits of natural gas and petroleum. There is also significant amount of bauxite and iron, and smaller amounts of chromium, copper, nickel, magnesium and uranium, lead, marble, salt and zinc. Although almost surrounded by the sea, there are only a few species of fish that are abundant. The country also has cotton, grapes, pistachios, olives, sugar beets, wheat and tobacco.
From the 2008 World Bank indicators statistical figures, the total arable land in Greece is only 19.8% with 8.8% of land area planted with permanent crops. Forest areas cover 29.6% and pastures and mixed farmland, forests and woodland shrubs, grassland, open spaces with little or no vegetation water bodies cover 41.8%.
Greece is almost surrounded by water on all sides and its terrain is mountainous and there are several active volcanoes in the island, formed by the sinking of the African lithosphere. As such, Greece is prone to severe earthquakes, droughts and wildfires. Historically there are seven volcanoes in Greece, formed in a semi-circular pattern and part of the Hellenic Arc. Santorini is deemed as the ‘decade volcano” which last erupted in 1950. While some of the volcanoes have remained quiet for several centuries, Methana and Nisyros in the Aegean are still classified as active volcanoes and have formed tourist attractions. Santorini and Milos are very famous. The Santorini caldera is the largest in the world and the Fyriplakes in Milos, Nisyros and Methana are also outstanding.
Current environmental issues seriously affecting Greece are air pollution and water pollution.
Environment: International Agreements
Greece is party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94 and Wetlands agreements.
Signed but not yet ratified are agreements on Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants and Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds.
:: People of Greece ::
Population of Greece for 2011 is estimated to be 11.305,118. Annual population growth rate, according to 2011 estimate is 0.083%, with birth rate estimated to be 9.21 births/1,000 population and death rate, also according to 2011 estimate is put down at 10.7 deaths /1,000 population.
0 – 14 years 14.2% (male 787,143 / female 741,356)
15 – 64 years 66.2% (male 3,555,447 / female 3,567,383)
65 years and over 19.6% (male 923,177 / female 1,185,630) (2011 est.)
Total 42.5 years
Male 41.4 years
Female 43.6 years (2011 est.)
Net Migration Rate
2011 estimate put migration rate at 2.32 migrants / 1,000 population. As of 2010 the urban population in Greece is 61% of the total population with an annual rate of change of 0.6%, according to 2010 to 2015 estimates.
Average sex ration at birth is 1.064 males per female born. Under 15 years of age the ratio is 1.06 male for every female. There are 0.78 male for every female age 65 years and over and for the total population, the sex ratio is 0.96 male for every female, based on 2011 estimate.
Infant Mortality Rate
Total infant mortality rate figures list 5 deaths for every 1,000 live births, with 5.49 deaths for males and 4.48 deaths for females, according to estimates for 2011.
Life Expectancy at Birth
The average life expectancy of the total population of Greece is 79.92 years. The females outlive the men, with the females averaging 82.65 years according to 2011 estimates, while the males only average 77.36 years. Also according to 2011 estimates, the total fertility rate figure shows that 1.38 children are born for every woman of child-bearing age in Greece.
HIV / AIDS
Like other countries, there are incidences of HIV / AIDS cases in Greece. Although the 2009 estimate places the prevalence of this dreaded disease at 0.1%, there are already 8,800 cases of people, adults and children age 15 and above who are already living with HIV / AIDS in Greece. Death due to HIV/ AIDS in Greece is less than 500.
Greek (s) (noun); Greek (Adjective)
Greeks dominate at 93%. Other groups, including foreign citizens constitute 7%, based on the 2001 census.
Special Note: Percents represent citizenship, since Greece does not collect data on ethnicity.
Ninety-eight percent of Greeks follow the Greek Orthodox religion with about 1.3% Muslims and 0.7% following other religions.
Majority of the people or 99% of the population in Greece speak the official Greek language while the other 1% speaks English and French.
Of the total population, 96% are literate, with those aged 15 and above being able to read and write. Males or 97.8% of the population edge the women in literacy slightly. The 2oo1 census figure showed that literacy rate among Greek women is 94.2%. Greeks spend a total of 17 years for primary to tertiary education, with the males spending about an average of 16 years, while the women spend an average of 17 years, according to 2007 data.
:: References ::