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History of Greece
 
 
 

Early History

One of the earliest civilisations to appear around Greece was the Minoan civilisation in Crete, which lasted approximately from 2700 (Early Minoan) BC to 1450 BC, and the Early Helladic period on the Greek mainland from ca. 2800 BC to 2100 BC.

Little specific information is known about the Minoans (even the name is a modern appellation, from Minos, the legendary king of Crete). They have been characterised as a pre-Indo-European people, apparently the linguistic ancestors of the Eteo-Cretan speakers of Classical Antiquity, their language being encoded in the undeciphered Linear A script. They were primarily a mercantile people engaged in overseas trade, taking advantage of their land's rich natural resources. Timber, at that time, was an abundant natural resource that was commercially exploited and exported to nearby lands such as Cyprus, Egypt and the Aegean Islands.

Although the causes of their demise are uncertain, they were eventually invaded by the Mycenaeans from mainland Greece. This invasion took place around 1400 BC, and in conjunction with the Thera eruption, it presents a likely scenario for the final end of the Minoan civilisation. According to this theory, the Minoan fleet and ports were irrevocably destroyed by colossal seismic and tidal waves. Possible climatic changes affected crops for many years, which in turn could have led to famine and social breakdown. The Mycenaean invaders wrote the final chapter of a civilisation that flourished for some 1600 years.

Mycenaean Greece (Bronze Age Greece)

Mycenaean Greece, also known as Bronze Age Greece, is the Late Helladic Bronze Age civilisation of Ancient Greece. It lasted from the arrival of the Greeks in the Aegean around 1600 BC to the collapse of their Bronze Age civilisation around 1100 BC. It is the historical setting of the epics of Homer and much other Greek mythology. The Mycenaean period takes its name from the archaeological site Mycenae in the northeastern Argolid, in the Peloponnesos of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites.

Mycenaean civilisation was dominated by a warrior aristocracy. Around 1400 BC the Mycenaeans extended their control to Crete, centre of the Minoan civilisation, and adopted a form of the Minoan script called Linear A to write their early form of Greek. The Mycenaean era script is called Linear B.

The Mycenaeans buried their nobles in beehive tombs (tholoi), large circular burial chambers with a high vaulted roof and straight entry passage lined with stone. They often buried daggers or some other form of military equipment with the deceased. The nobility were frequently buried with gold masks, tiaras, armour, and jewelled weapons. Mycenaeans were buried in a sitting position, and some of the nobility underwent mummification.

Around 1100 BC the Mycenaean civilisation collapsed. Numerous cities were sacked and the region entered what historians see as a dark age. During this period Greece experienced a decline in population and literacy. The Greeks themselves have traditionally blamed this decline on an invasion by another wave of Greek people, the Dorians, although there is scant archaeological evidence for this view.

The Greek Dark Ages (ca. 1100 BC-800 BC) refers to the period of Greek history from the presumed Dorian invasion and end of the Mycenaean civilisation in the 11th century BC to the rise of the first Greek city-states in the 9th century BC and the epics of Homer and earliest writings in alphabetic Greek in the 8th century BC.

The collapse of the Mycenaean coincided with the fall of several other large empires in the near east, most notably the Hittite and the Egyptian. The cause may be attributed to an invasion of the sea people wielding iron weapons. When the Dorians came down into Greece they also were equipped with superior iron weapons, easily dispersing the already weakened Mycenaeans. The period that follows these events is collectively known as the Greek Dark Ages.

Archaeology shows a collapse of civilisation in the Greek world in this period. The great palaces and cities of the Mycenaeans were destroyed or abandoned. The Greek language ceased to be written. Greek Dark Age pottery has simple geometric designs and lacks the figurative decoration of Mycenaean ware. The Greeks of the Dark Age lived in fewer and smaller settlements, suggesting famine and depopulation, and foreign goods have not been found at archaeological sites, suggesting minimum international trade. Contact was also lost between foreign powers during this period, yielding little cultural progress or growth of any sort.

Kings ruled throughout this period until eventually they were replaced with an aristocracy, then still later, in some areas, an aristocracy within an aristocracy – an elite of the elite. Warfare shifted from a focus on cavalry to a great emphasis on infantry. Due to its cheapness of production and local availability, iron replaced bronze as the metal of choice in the manufacturing of tools and weapons. Slowly equality grew among the different sects of people, leading to the dethronement of the various Kings and the rise of the family.

Families began to reconstruct their past in attempts to link their bloodlines with heroes from the Trojan War, more specifically Heracles. While most of this was legend, some were sorted by poets of the school of Hesiod. Most of these poems are lost, though, but some famous "storywriters", as they were called, were Hecataeus of Miletus and Acusilaus of Argos.

It is thought that the epics by Homer contain a certain amount of tradition preserved orally during the Dark Ages period. The historical validity of Homer's writings is vigorously disputed.

At the end of this period of stagnation, the Greek civilisation was engulfed in a renaissance that spread the Greek world as far as the Black Sea and Spain. Writing was relearned from the Phoenicians, eventually spreading north into Italy and the Gauls.


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