The history of the greeks
Studying the long-lasting history of a particular people, could be helpful for understanding the functions of historical procedures in general. The greeks are one of the few study-cases of unbroken consciousness through the ages.
But what is greekness? I would describe it as the co-existence of three elements:
to question everything - to adhere to nothing - to create something. Some of the three, characterise many peoples regardless of nationality. But most mediterranean inhabitants tend to develop all three characteristics simultaneously. Probably it has to do with the climate's and place's diverseness: it is harsh enough to toughen, but not too harsh to crush you. It is mild enough to invite hopeful experimenting, but not too mild to loosen your alertness.
So, please, let me share with you the fascinating story of how a small people tried, inquired, excelled, sometimes failed and finally survived through time.
PERIODS of GREEK HISTORY
PREHISTORY-ANCIENT-MIDDLE-NEW TIMES: Stone-Bronze-Geometrical-Archaic-Classical-Hellenistic-Roman Occupation-Byzantium-Ottoman occupation-the New Greek State-Greece today-the future
PREHISTORY in the area
from BRONZE AGE to CLASSICAL TIMES
When people say 'ancient Greece' they usually bring in mind the Golden century of Athens, Acropolis, Pericles, Olympics and the ideals of freedom and democracy. But these ideas were only one side of greek politics. Every civilization's contribution to human history is important. The rare thing about the ancient greeks is that they covered the whole spectrum of ideas on each particular issue: e.g. not only democracy, but everything from monarchy and aristocracy, tyranny (dictatorship), to democracy and anarchism. The pluralism of attitudes on politics, art, philosophy was almost complete. Humanity in its adolescence wanted to try absolutely everything, with a great enthusiasm shared by all common people, an enthusiasm that appeared in such frenzy only once since then: in Renaissance.
The greeks stripped all ideas from covering shells, in the same way they stripped their statues from garments. Far away from inhibitions of gods and daemons, they chose a Promethean approach to life, brave, agonizing, but ultimately human.
neolithic seated figure
c. 6500-4500 a.e.v.
Mycenae (MAP) 16th cent. a.e.v.
Athens National Museum
copy of roman times
What is greek Mythology? It was a religion that did not present a 'creator of the world' as its centre. It borrowed all kinds of deities from its indoeuropean past and its contemporary neighbours. It tried to push back the dark, monstrous figures and formed a pantheon of gods that resembled humans in every way. Hesiodus (HΣIOΔOΣ) was the poet that gave us a genealogy of greek gods. Homer's (OMHPOΣ) epic poems are full of the joys, jealousies and caprices of gods and heroes. But religion has never dominated over the thought of greek philosophers of the time. Its anthropocentrism made the domination of priesthood over the Greeks impossible.
detail from west metope
of Zeus temple at Olympia (MAP)
ALEXANDER and HELLENISTIC TIMES
Alexandros, son of Philippos, from Macedonia (AΛEΞANΔPOΣ ΦIΛIΠΠOY MAKEΔΩN) is no doubt one of these few people who inflicted a tremendous impact on their times, rather than their times on them. Although I am not fond of expansionism, I could not help being very curious about this man. How did he manage not to be remembered only as a military bulldozer after conquering so much of the world of his time? Because he was formed by his teacher Aristotle? Perhaps because of his witty mottos we still quote today. We find his controversial outbursts of friendship and hate, of good and of evil, charming? Perhaps because we are too romantic. Is it because he built so many Alexandrias (although Persepolis -Takht-e-Jamshid- was destroyed)? What did his conquered nations really think of him? What is Al-Iskander to them? Today, the legend of 'megalexandros' lives in greek folklore as vivid as ever.
He died in his 33rd year and his conquered territories were divided among his companions. In the following years greek language, art and science flourished all over these regions. This era is called hellenistic. Perhaps because of the quasi-hellenic mentality of so many different peoples.
During this interregnum a new power is preparing to take over: The Romans.
Philippos II tomb at Aegae
findings at Vergina
probably Alexander and Philippos
ivory heads, Vergina
The GREEKS UNDER ROMAN OCCUPATION - Romaeocracy
Greece was looted (all roman villas owned greek statues) and taxed (with some exceptions). Greek slaves were brought to Rome, where they mostly taught and worked in wealthy households as servi literatti. Lots of romans fell in love with their greek province, came to Athens to study, and built theatres, baths and roads all over Greece (such as the famous 'Egnatia'). The roman occupation was so long, and the transition to the eastern roman empire so gradual, that we still call ourselves 'romios' today.
Odeon built by Herodes Atticus
BYZANTIUM 330 e.v. - 1453 (middle times)
From the collapse of the Roman Empire, its Eastern part immerged as a new empire: it survived, flourished but it gradually became totally different from the Roman:
a) It was the first christian state. It retained and cultivated Roman law system, but its christianocentrism added new characteristics. Byzantine imperial, religious and military representatives were distinct. (although they 'interacted' on each other).
b) Although it was a multiethnic empire, it was gradually hellenized. (turning point: 6th cent.) When all the new peoples at Europe used the latin language (or latina vulgaris), the inhabitants of Byzantium used again the common greek of the time.
The heritage of ancient Greece was perhaps overwhelmingly heavy on the shoulders of the byzantines. Their literature and art, philosophy and political thinking never came close to the ancient output: it was devoted to, and, dominated by the young christian religion, which loathed and envied in the same time the ancient achievements. The study of ancient greek texts was cultivated at the time by the Arabs. Only during the period of maturity (oddly this was its decline era, 1204-1453) did byzantium show signs of change and flourishing in art and philosophy. In 1204 Constantinople fell to the hands of Crusaders and in 1453 to the Ottomans becoming the capital of the Ottoman empire.
The word Byzantium was used by the german H. Wolf in 1562 instead of Eastern Roman Empire or Romania which was the term used by the byzantines. Modern historians took up the term for referring to this historical era. We still call ourselves romios today and our language romaeika. Most of our everyday customs, proverbs, habits have their roots in this period, as well as the following Ottoman occupation period.
The byzantine era is generally unknown to the average western european.
PRESENTING THE HISTORY
PLACES of BYZANTINE INTEREST
Iustinianus I emperor 527-565
detail from mosaic (c.547)
in San Vitale basilica, Ravenna, Italy
and his wife, Theodora
detail from Anastasis (resurrection) mosaic (~1315-21)
Chora church (or Kariye), Istanbul
NEW TIMES 1453 - today
The greeks lived under the Ottoman occupation of the Balkans for centuries (1453-1821). (also, some Venetian and Frankish occupation). During these times, all european nations of the Ottoman empire (which was religiously tolerant, but utterly different from them) fought, revolted, some times collaborated with the occupying power, assimilated in some cases (a few groups were islamized), lived side by side and interacted on each other. In the meantime, Europe was experiencing its triumphant Renaissance. The greek diaspora, communities of merchants and scholars in Italy, Austria, Russia, France, were the links of the greeks to the outside world.
The European Enlightenment, the American and French Revolutions, the formation of nation-states were ideas that finally have made their way into the greek population's psyche by the turn of the century. The revolution (1821) released the surfacing of a tremendous number of gifted persons. Peasants that excelled in military and political life, merchants, scholars, the great number of european philhellenes, made the acceptance of a new greek state tolerable to the european powers.
The new greek state starts its life in a chaos of political and social turmoil. The axis of its life: foreign powers, alien monarchs, internal rivalries and civil wars, the agonizing strife of many portions of the population for genuine independence, the Balkan and World Wars.
Today, Greece is finally reaching an equilibrium, maturing towards the future with its triple european-balkan-mediterranean character.
NEW TIMES: 1453-today a) MODERN b) CONTEMPORARY
MODERN TIMES: 1453-1821
BY PERIOD or SUBJECT
P.S. EYPΩΠH: Europe, our Europe
She was a young Phoenician princess, Zeus fell in love with. He abducted her, brought her to Crete and she gave her name to a continent where so much has happened!
European Union? and what is that? Of course, every inhabitant of Europe has a different concept of what Europe is. So, what is the interlinking basis of so many peoples? The common future, and some common experiences of the past. In my mind, they are:
And what is this future like?
!... this is the next chapter, to be written by someone else, when these webpages will be lost in cyberspace, mere ancient personal documents of the people that lived in 2000! So, you, reader of future times, please write the next chapters! I hope they are the best, in this story. Good luck!
Fall of Constantinople. manuscript 9087,folio207v. Bibliothéque Nationale, France
He who thinks free, thinks well.
The Sortie (exodus) of Messolongi
painter: Theodoros Vryzakis
Athens National Gallery
Greek parliament 19th century
Detail of painting by N.Orlof
Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936)
World War II
during nazi occupation
World War II
freedom figthers of E.L.A.S.
on the greek mountains
Polytechnic School of Athens
uprising of 1973
against the junta
dramatic night of
17th November 1973
the tank enters the Polytechneio
greek parliament in session
links checked NOV 2007.