The origin of names

The ancient sanctuary at Dodoni

There are many opinions regarding the origin of name Hellas [ Ελλάς ]. According to an ancient tradition, with this name, a city was founded in Thessaly, in central Greece from the mythical hero Hellenas [ Έλληνας ], patriarch of the Greeks. Etymologically, the prevailing theory is that the name comes from the Sellus or Hellus, priest of ancient Dodoni in Epirus, in western Greece.

After the prevalence of Christianity, during the Byzantine period, the name Hellenas [ Έλληνας ] reminded the ancient religion, idolatry and belief in Zeus and the Olympian Gods. Because of that, for those who lived in Greece a new name had been used, Romaeos.

The oath in Agia Layra, painting of Theodoros Vrizakis After the fall of Constantinople to the Othomans in 1453, Greece remained under Turkish domination until 1821 when the Greek revolution took place and led to the proclamation of the Greek independent state in 1830. During those four centuries, two names were used, Romaeos and Graecus or Gracus.

Although the name Graecus was used at that time, in reality this name appeared during the ancient years. This is the root for the most known name of Greece to western languages: Greece, Grece, Grienchenland etc.

Prehistoric period

The ancient traces

Petralona cave

The oldest archaeological discovery in the Greek area, as it is estimated is 750.000 to 950.000 years old, found in Corfu (Lake Korission) the beautiful island at the north of the Ionian Sea in Western Greece. Another important finding is a human skull 300.000 years old.It has been found in the cave of Petralona, in Chalkidiki, south from Thessaloniki, in Northern Greece. Inside the same cave other important findings have also been discovered.

The agricultural revolution

The excavations continually brings to light evidence that the Greek area was inhabited during the Paleolithic Age (Stone Age). Most traces are located in Thessaly, Epirus and Peloponnese.

The Paleolithic Age lasts till 8.000 B.C. By that time starts the agricultural revolution and changes the course of man on earth.
Around 8.500 B.C. in the Middle East appears, the first permanent settlements and the first farmers.Between 8.000 and 7.000 B.C. the irrigation is invented and so, the agricultural revolution is taking its first steps, especially in Mesopotamia, in the fertile area between the rivers Tiger and Euphrates. Where, gradually the first great civilizations developed.In the same time in Asia Minor the copper is tested for the first time.

Already from 9.000B.C. the changes in the arctic climate and the increase of the temperature, created appropriate conditions for agriculture, in large areas of Europe. In 6.500 B.C. are the first crops in Greece and agriculture stretches in the Balkan peninsula. Later on, it passes on the Italian peninsula and over the centuries, depending on the soil and climate conditions,it range from region to region in Europe.

The Neolothic Age

Sosandra, Macedonia

The Neolithic Age starts in 6.000 BC. The collection of food by humans stops and begins the production of the food. This is a tremendous change. “Collecting food” and “producing food” are two different things. We can also see the change in the artistic depictions with which people express.The new expressive efforts vary significantly as in the forms of animals, human figures are added.

From the Middle East comes another important activity. The art of pottery. Also, while the processing of stone continues, starts the use of metal tools. The early Neolithic Age develop a remarkable culture in Cyprus. Then starts the march of the civilizations in Southeastern Europe especially in the Greek peninsula and the Aegean Sea.

The Greek world is inhabited more and more during the Neolithic Age. In 6.000 B.C. the first facilities in Athens appeared.

Cyclades and Crete

The Neolithic Age lasts in Greece until 3.200 BC. As it gives its place to the Bronze Age, two new civilizations are born. The Cycladic civilization in the Aegean Sea and the Minoan civilization in Crete.

history kyklades minoan

cycladic room

At the early Bronze Age in Cyclades, in the center of the Aegean Sea, thanks to the mineral wealth of the islands, the metalwork is developed, the nautical art is progressing and trade develops. Cyclades become the bridge between the continental Greece and Crete and in a larger scale, between Europe and Asia.They create a unique culture which lasts until 2.000 BC with main feature the famous statuettes, representing mostly female figures, tributes perhaps to some goddess.

Minoan Palace,Crete

At the same period ,especially after 1.900 BC the Minoan civilization reaches its highest peak in Crete. The Cretan sailors and merchants plow with their ships the Mediterranean, establish new colonies - including Cyclades - and built in their cities amazing palaces decorating them with brilliant frescoes.

Both of them last until 1.450 BC when a terrible explosion of the volcano of Thira, changes the morphology of the island and causes destruction to the other islands as well. A lot of people think that this was the cause for the end of the Minoan civilization. However it seems that historically, Crete has been subjected to the new force that came from the continental Greece. Mycenae.

santorini volcano

Achaeans and Dorians

After 3.000BC from the great plains of the Black Sea in the east, IndoEuropeans nomads have started to move to the west. Warriors who have tamed the horse. They are gradually turning towards the south, reach the Aegean Sea and dominate the Greek peninsula.

Trade routes of the Mycenians and Minoans

The new residents are settling in fortified positions and protect them with an acropolis. When, after 2.000 BC things calm down a bit, some of these fort centers have more power and a loose relationship between them. Mycenae and Tiryns in Argolida, Pylos in Messinia and Thebes in Boeotia. The Achaeans, as the new inhabitants are called now, gradually dominate the eastern Mediterranean. They develop, after 1.600BC the Mycenaean civilization and campaign against Troy in 1.200BC.




But in the north starts a new upheaval. People seek vital space and they pressure other nations to the south. Illyrians descended in the west side, Thracians directed to the southeast, Phrygians pass in Asia Minor.

At the north of the Greek peninsula the Dorians are forced to move. Most of them come down south, around 1.100-1.000 BC, defeat the Achaeans and dominate in Greece except Athens, Evia and Cyclades, where the Ionians prevail.This is the end of the Mycenaean civilization and the beginning of the first Greek colonization. At 900 BC in Laconia in southern Peloponnese is founded by the Dorians the city of Sparta.

1000BC-First Greek colonization

The Greek Mideval and the New Era

The Dorian invasion was the cause for the delayed progress in the Greek area. The use of writing had long been forgotten, so the information we have isn't clear and we don't know much about the developments. It is a time of stagnation, called by the historians the "Greek Middle Age" which lasts more than two hundred years, but soon starts a rapid development.

Writing returns to Greece with great travelers and merchants of the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians. The Phoenician alphabet gives the possibility of writing any word and its been adopted throughout the eastern Mediterranean. But there is a difference between the Semitic languages and the Greek language. Greeks are discovering the vowels and the Greek words are defined by their endings. The Greek writing becomes directly or indirectly the source for the formation of most European scriptures that will follow, Etruscan, Latin, Gothic, Slavic.


As a start of the new Age is considered the 750 BC when the Homeric epics are recorded. Progress is rapid. Production is increasing and trade and shipping are developed. Coins minted while the institution of slavery offers cheap labor.

The economic growth is followed by the development of the arts but also by political developments. In many cases the kingdom is eliminated, finalizes the classical form of the city-state and its institutions are shaped. The love of the country becomes conscious and the military organization acquires a new form, based on the phalanx of pedestrian hoplites.

Areas of Greek settlement and major colonies

Colonies are founded in all the corners of the Mediterranean even the most distant. And the colonies brought new progress, pushing the evolution not only in the Mediterranean coast but also within the European region. Of course all these didn't happen overnight.

The Cities-States and the Classical period

The 776 BC is considered a chronology landmark of a new era,when the first Olympic Games took place. The second Greek colonization starts in 750 BC and lasts until 550 BC. Intesifies after 680-650 BC, as the first cities-states are developed under the governance of tyrants. Colonies established almost everywhere but mainly in Italy where the new cities are quickly becoming self-contained, gaining power and wealth.

In the same period, the Archaic, the first coins are minted in Greece by the first ruler of Argos, Phaedon and the Greek lyric poetry finds fertile ground. At 600 BC Delphi becames the largest religious center. The progress of the cities determined in a large degree, the developments. Around 550 BC the city-state is now at the center of the political life.

Solon and his legislation

594 BC, Athens. Solon established, with his legislation, the foundations. In 560 BC the tyrant Pesistratus promotes the development of crafts and the cultivation of the arts. In 510 BC the democratic Cleisthenes proceeds to reforms. Democracy is born and begin to form institutions which will serve as a model for the future generations.

The classical period

The Greek - Persian wars
In the early 5th century BC the Persian Empire attempts to dominate Greece three times.The first campaign in 492 BC ends ingloriously on the Athos peninsula in northern Greece, where the Persian fleet was destroyed by storm. The second one in 490 BC leads to the defeat of the Persians by the Athenians at Marathon. And the third starts at 480 BC and although the Greeks are divided into cities-states, finally manage to unite. Leonidas and the three hundred Spartans are sacrificed at Thermopylae, Athens is destroyed by the invaders but the Greeks win the naval battle of Salamis. The next year they push away permanently the Persians after winning the battles of Plataea and Mycale. After the final victory of 479 BC, the Classical Era begins.

Classical Greece moves and creates around two centers. Athens and Sparta. Athens gives birth to the idea of Democracy, Sparta to a strict and frugal way of life. The great civilization of the classical era, defins indelible traces in the history, with its institutions and achievements of the human spirit. In science and arts, in philosophy, history, medical, poetry, theater, architecture, sculpture.

Marathon monument Thermopylae monument Salamis monument

But great victories do not always bring harmony and peace. The Greeks begin fighting between them. In 478 BC the Confederation of Pelos is founded, which is quickly convert in the first Athenian alliance and essentially in the leadership of Athens. This way the Athenian power is increasing constantly and around 460 BC the Athenian democracy reaches its highest peak.

The era of Pericles from 449 BC is the Golden Age, with its great achievements and projects of the highest artistic value. The monuments of Acropolis and Parthenon. The Athenian democracy of the fifth century will become the future reference point, both for the political institutions and for its contribution to culture.

But the competition with Sparta in 431 BC leads in the Peloponnesian War which constrains the progress of the Classical Age and at the end of 404 BC in the defeat of Athens. And the emergence of the hegemony of Sparta in the Greek area.

Alexander and the Macedonians

alexander the great

Sparta loses its hegemony in 371 BC from the Thebes but the Macedonians quickly dominate.

Philip the second prevails in 338 BC but assassinated two years later. In 336 BC at the age of twenty his son Alexander becomes king. He stabilizes his authority and marches in 334 BC to the East. Within four years, he conquers the Persian Empire and reaches in 326 BC in the Indus River.

After his death in 326 BC , his generals divide the empire and fight each other. The Hellenistic period is starting.

In 281 BC the wars of the successors come to an end and three major kingdoms are formed. Macedonia under Antigonus, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Persia by Seleucus and Egypt by Ptolemaeus.

The Romans in Greece

The first period of the Hellenistic era from 304 to 220 BC the balance of power is unchanged and the Greek civilization develops in the East . Then begins to decline. Meanwhile in the west, Rome is becoming more and more stronger. In mainland Greece there are three powerful centers. From north to south the kingdom of Macedonia, the Aetolian league and the Achaean league, in which gradually almost all the cities of Peloponnese became members, except Sparta.

The civil conflicts and the skillful policy of Rome, lead Greece to decline. Three Macedonian wars take place in 215-205 BC, in 200 BC and in 176-168 BC. The Romans are prevailing. They divide Macedonia into three autonomous regions. In 146 BC they crush at Isthmos the Achaean league, destroy Corinth and unite the whole Greek area in one Roman province giving autonomy to Laconia , Athens and Delphi. The next years the cities of Laconia are united and are develop economies centered on Gythio which is growing to an important city and major port.

Roman Empire

In 88 BC the king of Pontus, Mithridates, attacks the Roman conquests in Asia Minor and calls the Greeks to rise up. In 86 BC the Romans destroy Athens and Piraeus and defeat Mithridates at Chaeronea and Orchomenos.

In the coming decades, the Greek world becomes the stage for some major civil battles of the time and in 31 BC in Aktion in Amvrakikos gulf, in western Greece, Mark Antony is defeated and Cleopatra‘s fleet, is destroyed. The next year Octavian takes Alexandria while Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide.The kingdom of the Ptolemy, the last free Hellenistic kingdom, comes to an end. Octavian is proclaimed August and Rome becomes Empire.

From Rome to Byzantium

Greek culture has its contribution in the development of the Roman civilization. Greece still remains a Roman province.

In 46 AC the roman province of Thrace is created. It is the time that St. Paul travels, preaching the Christian faith and reaches Philippi and Corinth.

In the Greek world better days are coming ,during the years of the emperor Andrianos. He travels from 121 to 129 in the empire and establish cities with his name. Andrianos is an admirer of the Greek culture and promotes many projects mainly in Athens. It is the beginning of prosperous times for Greece.

Emperor Constantine

The Roman Empire has its own adventures leading to the separation of the Empire into western and eastern state and to the domination of Christianity. In 330 Constantine is victorious in the wars with the others challengers of the throne. He relocates to east to the strategic location of the ancient colony Byzantium. Constantinople the new capital of the Empire.

361-363 attempts without success to revive the ancient religion of polytheism. In 395 the death of Theodosius the first, marks the end of the unity of the Empire. His sons divide it into East and West.

Byzantium Empire

The eastern state originally maintains its Roman character. But after 641 in the era of Heraklion, begin to accrue Greek nature and it evolves in the mighty Byzantine Empire with the Roman administration as foundation, Roman law, Greek language, Greek culture and Christian faith. In 1203 the Fourth crusade is changing its destination, bringing the Venetians ships and the crusaders in Constantinople. They conquer the city in 1204 and in Greece is the begining of the Frankish era, except from the west, where the ducat of Epirus is created.

The Byzantines regain Constantinople in 1261, but the Frankish rulers keep the ducats in Europe, while the Venetians create their own ducats, in the islands and coast of the Aegean Sea.

The Ottoman Domination

The Byzantine Empire does not regain its old power. In 1301 the Ottoman Turks win for the first time the Byzantines in Asia Minor. After their victories they pass on European soil, move on to the Balkan peninsula and Constantinople is under siege three times.

Siege of Constantinople

The third siege in 1453 is the fatal one. The Ottomans conquer the city and destroy the Byzantine Empire. In 1456 they arrive in Athens and in 1460 conquer the Domain of Mystras, in Laconia. The Ottoman Empire reaches its peak in 1520 under Suleiman the First, the Magnificent, who in 1526 enters in Budapest and in 1529 sieges Vienna but he is repelled. At the other side, he reaches Egypt, the coast of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, Medina, Mecca and Aden.

The Ottoman Domination

He appoints the notorious pirate Barbarossa as head of the naval operations. He obtains from the Venetians several islands and castles, as in 1537, war broke out between Venice and Turkey. Venice capitulates in 1540. The last domain of Naxos is cleared by the sultan in 1566. From Cyclades, only Tinos remains to the Venetians until 1715.

In 1571, in the naval battle of Lepanto (Nafpaktos) in the Patras gulf, the Christian fleet, led by Don Juan of Austria, wins the Ottomans. This victory boost morale and the prestige of Europe. This is the last great naval battle of galleons. The use of artillery that has begun at the land, also changes the way of war at sea.

Revolutions and Independence

The Ottomans build a new fleet and maintain their conquests and continue the war with the Venetians, while the islands continue to suffer from pirate raids. Some of them become pirate bases.

In the 18th century, a conflict starts with impact in the Greek world. The long-running dispute between Russia and Turkey leads to the Russian-Turkish war which broke out in 1768 and brings in 1770 the Russian fleet, under the Orlov brothers, in Peloponnese. The purpose is the Greek rebellion. The revolution of Orlov breaks out, but quickly fails. The Russian fleet continues its activity in the Aegean Sea and has as a starting base Naoussa of Paros. Defeats the Turkish fleet and remains in the Aegean until the end of the war in 1774, result of Kucuk Kaynartzi treaty.

turkish war

The Greeks hope for liberation, resurgence in the next Russo-Turkish war in 1787-1792 when the Russian fleet was acting in the Aegean Sea, led by the Greek Lambro Katsoni. The war ends, leaving the Greeks to their fate once again. Lambros Katsonis continues the fight alone without any results.

Despite the failure of the Greek movements there was also a positive side. The Treaty of Kucuk- Kaynarzi in 1774 ensure enough privileges for trade and shipping of the islands.Several of them, particularly the Cyclades, are treated by the conqueror milder compared to the continental Greece. The Greek islanders use these privileges and sailed the seas, getting wealth and power.So when the time comes, they are able to help with ships and money the great struggle for independence which are preparing secretly.

The Greek revolution broke out in 1821 and continued for the next few years with successes and failures. Heroism and sacrifices, but also with civil conflicts. The role of the Greek admirers is significant. They are coming from other countries to strengthen the rebels. Whereas in 1827 the fleets of the major forces of the time – England, France and Russia – win the Ottoman fleet in the decisive battle of Navarino, southwest of Peloponnese.

Greece becomes an independent state in 1830 and moves forward among political adventures, strongly passions and repeated attempts to evolve economically. It needs a long way to transform from a poor agricultural country to a developing industrial one, since the Ottoman period was not influenced from the sociopolitical developments in Western Europe which brings out the bourgeoisie and their liberal economic philosophy.

From the 19th to the 20th century

King Otto

Political passions disrupt the country from the first steps of its free life. Greece becomes a monarchy. The first king Otto comes from Bavaria. In 1843 he is forced to provide the first constitution. George the First takes his place.

In 1864, Greece incorporates the Ionian Islands and in 1881 annexed Thessaly and part of Epirus. In 1897 is been defeated in a short war with Turkey without a substantial impact on her territorial integrity.

The 20th century starts with much better omens. In 1908, Crete is united with Greece. In 1912 Greece alliance with Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro against the Ottoman Empire. The allies are prevailing in 1913 and the empire loses most of its European territories. Shortly after Greece and Serbia encounter and wins the reaction of Bulgaria. With the Balkan wars, Greece extends in Epirus, Macedonia and the Aegean Islands.

The participation or not, in the First World War is the reason why King Constantine and the Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, contradict. The Prime Minister seeks and finally succeeds in entering the war on the side of the Allies. After the victory, Greece extended to Thrace and Asia Minor. Greece campaigns to Asia Minor but is defeated by Turkey in 1922. The Turks burn Smyrna and the Greeks of Asia Minor who survived, came in Greece as refugees. The defeat has a large impact on economic and social life. But despite the enormous difficulties the country manages to successfully incorporate the refugees and to rediscover its path.

King Constintine - Prime Minister Venizelos

The political tensions do not stop here. Greece lives its first period as a Presidential democracy from 1924 to 1935, after Pangalos dictatorship. The monarchy returns, but also returns the dictatorship of Metaxas in 1936.

From WWII to today

In 1940, Greece is been attacked by Italy during the WW II, but the Greek army strikes back victorious.

greece italy ww2 greek italic war

In April 1941 the country is conquered by Germany.

germans in acropolis german tanks in acropolis greece

Greece is liberated in 1944 and enters the vortex of the early postwar years. From 1947 to 1949 lives the suffering of the civil war and the separation of the Greek people into “right” and “left”. Political disputes are becoming more intense along with the efforts to organize and develop the economy. Industrialization has begun in the late 19th century but it comes to the decade of 1950 to acquire speed that will lead to reconstruction. The democratic process stops in 1967 by the military dictatorship that will end in 1974 with the occupation of one third part of Cyprus by Turkey. Meanwhile in Greece, democracy returns.

Shortly after the return of democracy, monarchy is repealed by referendum. Since then political life is progressing smoothly. The political oppositions are intense as always but the democratic institutions are stable within the constitutional framework.

A key station in the country’s new course is the integration in 1981 in the European Communities. It gradually adapts to new conditions and exploit the possibilities which the European course offers. With the entry into the 21st century, it strikes the entrance of the Economic and Monetary Union and follows the first countries to create the euro zone.

Greece in the old days was a labor force exporting country. The first large waves of Greek immigrants setting out for the USA, in the early 20th century. In the decades of 1950 and 1960 new waves of immigrants left for USA, Australia, Canada, but also for Germany, Belgium, Sweden. In the early 21st century Greece is a country that receives immigrants.But since 2010 it has been inserted in the throes of a great economical crisis.