Greece - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Hellenic Republic
Formation 1829 / 1947
Population 11.2 million / 222 people per sq mile (86 people per sq km)
Total area 50,942 sq. miles (131,940 sq. km)
Languages Greek*, Turkish, Macedonian, Albanian
Religions Orthodox Christian 98%, Other 1%, Muslim 1%
Ethnic mix Greek 98%, Other 2%
Government Parliamentary system
Currency Euro = 100 cents
Literacy rate 97%
Calorie consumption 3700 kilocalories
During the Bronze Age (4000–3000 B.C.E.), there were three powerful and developed civilizations in Greece: the Cycladic, Minoan, and Mycenaean civilizations. The people during this time were constantly at war with each other over trade rivalries.
Around 2200 B.C.E. the Achaeans, and Indo-European group, invaded Greece, bringing with them the Greek language, and founded Mycenae. In 1450 the Mycenaeans destroyed the Minoan civilization, only to be overrun in 1100 by the Iron Age Dorians from the north, also speakers of Greek. Greece entered a period of stagnancy made worse by a civil war, and the period from 1100 to 800 is called the Greek Dark Ages.
Then between 900 and 700, which archaeologists call the Geometric period, startling innovations and changes in Greek society occurred. The population began to increase at an alarming rate and proto-urban life reemerged, causing overcrowding and political tensions. Some of these tensions had begun lessening around 1000 when some Greeks moved into other territories to the east and west and started commercial trading posts and colonies. Around the same time written language, which had disappeared when the Mycenaean civilization collapsed, was revived by the adoption of the Semitic alphabet, acquired from the Phoenicians. And the Greek citystates of Athens, Thebes, Megara, Corinth, and Sparta took shape. It is thought that Homer’s epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, which had been orally preserved, were recorded during this period. It was also during this period that the Greeks began to codify their religious practices and to build temples where their gods were worshipped, and in 776 the first Olympic games were held.
The Early Archaic period, roughly 700 to 600, laid the foundations for the flowering of Greek civilization. The Greek city-states, the polis, became increasingly powerful although tyrants ruled many of them. In 640 Sparta adopted a militaristic style of government. Athens became an oligarchy in 632, but by 621 Dracon had formulated the first Athenian code of law. Abroad the Greek colonies flourished, and new ones were settled, especially around the Black Sea and Mediterranean, bringing the Greeks into prolonged hostilities with the Persians. Trade with highly developed cultures in Egypt and Anatolia was improved and brought in eastern imports, which the Greeks imitated. They also adopted minted coinage for commercial exchange at this time, and the architectural styles known as Doric and Ionic appeared in the construction of temples.
The Persians, under Cyrus (c. 585–c. 29), attempted to extend their control over the Greeks in Asia Minor and successfully defeated individual Greek city-states there. In the end the Greeks triumphed over the Persians, and this victory was celebrated in Greek art and literature as a symbol of the triumph of civilized peoples over the forces of barbarism.
The most powerful among the Greek city-states were Athens and Sparta. After a series of wars known as the Peloponnesian Wars (431–04), the Spartans, who were known for their military prowess, defeated Athens. Soon afterward, however, Sparta was annexed by the kingdom of Macedonia. Macedonian rule continued through three dynasties and ended with the untimely death of Alexander the Great (356–23). Under Alexander the Macedonian Empire had expanded into parts of Asia Minor, Persia, Egypt, Afghanistan, and India. This era (776–323) is known as the Hellenic Period and saw the great flowering of classical Greek civilization whose incredible accomplishments in philosophy, art, music, mathematics, science, medicine, and architecture form the very foundation of Western civilization.
Although the renowned philosopher Sophocles was tried, found guilty of heresy, and chose to commit suicide (399), his pupil Plato founded the first university (388), and in 375 wrote The Republic. By 367, Aristotle, one of the greatest thinkers of all time, was a student in Plato’s academy.
Between 200 and 196, parts of Greece came under Roman rule and were declared Roman provinces. However in spite of limited political and economic freedom, the Greek areas largely retained their identity. The Roman Empire moved its capital to Constantinople (which was then located within Greek borders) and evolved into the Byzantine Empire, which included Greece. The power of this empire was considerably weakened during the Crusades (a series of military campaigns fought to extend the control of the young Christian Church), and when Turkey captured Constantinople, Greece came completely under Turkish control. This ushered in the era of the Ottoman Turks in Greek history.
Under the Turks Greece was reduced to the status of yet another territory that the empire exploited. There were many notable Greek statesmen and merchants during that time, but the majority of Greece was impoverished. Greece remained an integral part of the Ottoman Empire until the 19th century C.E.
The eventual independence of Greece was the result of a cultural revival during the 18th century. In 1821 the Greeks rebelled against Turkish domination, and both Russia and England were major players in the Greeks’ efforts to obtain independence.
Noted writers such as Lord Byron, Shelley, and Goethe supported the Greeks in their battle against Turkey. The War of Greek Independence ended in 1832, and the European powers of that time helped a monarchy assume control in Greece. The Greek king became a ceremonial head of state, however, and democracy prevailed when the new constitution was enacted in 1864.
Since Greek independence, the relationship with Turkey has remained volatile. In 1912, again with support from European countries, Greece fought the First Balkan War against Turkey. As a result some areas of Macedonia became part of Greece, and Albania became a newly liberated nation. The Greeks supported the Allied forces during World War I. Greek troops, encouraged by the Allies, attacked Turkey and occupied Thrace. In 1922 Greece proceeded to occupy the region of Asia Minor but was defeated by Turkey this time. Under the supervision of the League of Nations, millions of Greeks from Asia Minor were resettled in Greece.
Greece was neutral when World War II began. Italy nonetheless tried to invade Greece in 1940, but the country successfully resisted. Germany, too, had plans for Greece. In 1941 when German troops entered the Greek mainland, the Greek government sought political asylum in Egypt and operated from there. Political unrest continued to haunt the nation, when in 1943 a civil war broke out between Communists and Royalists. In 1949 the civil war finally ended with the Communists’ defeat. The new Greek government was highly unstable, however, and there was continued friction with Turkey. Further conflict resulted in the independence of Cyprus in 1960.
In 1967 a military coup overthrew the constitutional government in Greece. A new constitution drastically restricted the monarchy’s powers, and Greece’s military government attempted, without success, to regain power over Cyprus. In 1973 after yet another military coup, a new government came into power, but in July 1974 the country was returned to civilian government.
In the 21st century, Greece’s relationship with Turkey has improved following devastating earthquakes that struck both nations at separate times in 1999. Both Greece and Turkey sent each other generous aid during this time of crisis. Greece is a member of the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU). The Euro was adopted as the official currency in 2002.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Greece is a peninsula surrounded by about 1,400 islands. Located in the Balkan region in southeastern Europe, the country shares borders with Albania, Macedonia, Turkey, and Bulgaria. Greece has coastlines on the Mediterranean Sea, the Ionian Sea, and the Aegean Sea. The numerous Greek islands are divided into six groups: the Cyclades, Ionians, Sporades, Saronic Gulf islands, Dodecanese, and the Northeastern Aegean Islands. The largest Greek islands, however, are not part of any of the six groups. These are Crete and Evia.
The most prominent relief feature of Greece, apart from the extensive island chains that surround it, is the country’s mountainous terrain. Mt. Olympus (1,813 feet) is the highest mountain in Greece.
The Aliakmon is its longest river.
Greek summers are extremely hot and dry, and the temperature can soar as high as 104°F. Strong winds from the north blow across the country during July and August and provide some relief during the hot summers. The winters are normally cold, and the northern parts of the country experience snowfall. Winters are mild in the southern parts and on the islands.
Greece has a primarily agricultural economy, and agriculture is the main contributor to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Crops, such as corn, barley, wheat, olives, citrus fruits, wine grapes, potatoes, and cotton are grown. Fishing and tourism are also thriving industries in Greece. Apart from hosting world-famous events like the Olympics, Greek festivals and holidays contribute significantly to the tourism industry. Greece manufactures tobacco, textiles, chemicals, processed food items, metal and construction materials, and petroleum-based products.
The country is also rich in raw mineral resources, including iron ore, bauxite, zinc, and lignite.
As a member of the EU, Greece receives considerable economic aid from that organization.
Greece continues to be a destination country for women, men, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor, with most victims brought in from eastern Europe and the Balkans (although some are moved on to other EU countries). The number of identified Roma (gypsy) and Albanian child victims has decreased, but various sources report a possible new trend of African women trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Greek culture can be traced back thousands of years, long before the Roman civilization came into being.
However over the course of time, the Romans had a major impact on Greece. Influences from the Ottoman and Byzantine eras as well continue to affect everyday Greek life. Greece itself is world famous for the artistic and architectural influences it had on the rest of the world, and the remains of ancient and medieval Greek architecture draw tourists to the country.
Much of the evidence of Greek art and architecture was destroyed during the many wars fought there over the centuries. However some Greek art has been preserved in the form of coins and pottery, in sculpture, and in buildings, such as the Parthenon.
Greek developments in the fields of philosophy, mathematics, science, and medicine are the basis for many modern achievements. In 310 B.C.E. the Greek mathematician Euclid wrote the Elements of Geometry: Astronomy, literature, and music are other fields of Greek achievement. The Greek scientist Aristarchus was the first to propose that the Earth circles the Sun in 300 B.C.E. Greek works have had a profound influence on Western and Eastern civilizations alike. The poems of Sappho and Homer are still read all over the world. And Greece does not rest on the laurels of its past glory. The works of recent Greek Nobel laureates, such as Giorgos Seferis (1900–71) and Odysseas Elytis (1911–96), are translated and widely read.
The majority of Greeks today are followers of the Greek Orthodox Church. But the ancient Greeks had a unique polytheistic religion, which is known to us today through Greek mythology. The Greeks worshipped a large pantheon of deities. Gods from the Roman culture were also absorbed into Greek culture. Though the ancient Greek paganism is no longer practiced, a small number of Greeks have attempted to revive the religion of ancient Greece.
Greek cuisine is typically Mediterranean with an identifiable Turkish influence. The food mainly consists of salads, citrus fruits, meat, and seafood. The use of olive oil, as in most Mediterranean countries, is generous. Appetizers made of yogurt, pickled octopus, and squid are very popular. Favorite dishes include moussaka (eggplant baked with lamb and sauce), grilled seafood, and stuffed tomatoes. The Greeks also enjoy sweet desserts, such as baklava and loukoumade, both pastries filled with nuts and covered with honey.
Greece makes many good wines, including the unique retsina, made from sap extracted from pine needles. The local brandy is known to be very fiery, while Greek beer is light. Known as Greece’s national drink, the fiery alcoholic drink ouzo is made from a combination of pressed grapes and herbs.
Greek weddings are usually week-long affairs, in which the prenuptial ceremonies take place throughout the week. On the wedding day a procession of the priest, the groom, and his family approach the bride’s house bearing a flag. The bride’s mother offers the groom wine, which he accepts. Then the bride’s male relatives escort the bride to the church.
In Greek weddings the best man, called the koumbaros, plays an important role. He places gold crowns or wreaths of orange blossoms on the heads of the couple. The crowns symbolize the beginning of a new family together and are exchanged by the bride and groom three times.
The best man then invites the couple to the altar.
The wedding service is performed in Old Greek, the language of the Greek Orthodox Church. The priest blesses the couple and asks the couple to exchange wedding bands. These rings are exchanged three times between the bride and the groom.
An all-night party follows the wedding ceremony.
Guests form two circles around the bride and perform the famous Greek circle dance. During this dance dishes are smashed, and money is thrown at the musicians for good luck. The guests are given candy-coated almonds called bom bom yara as party favors.