The Greek peninsula has been culturally linked with the Aegean Islands,
and the west coast of Asia Minor since the Neolithic Age. The numerous natural
harbors and close-lying islands lead to a unified, maritime civilization.
However cultural unity did not produce political unity. Mountain ranges and
deep valleys separated the peninsula into small economic and political units.
Constant feuding between cities and surrounding empires for political power made
Greece the sight of many battles.
Archeological evidence shows that a primitive Mediterranean people,
closely related to races of northern Africa, lived in the southern Aegean area
as far back as the Neolithic Age. A cultural progression from the Stone Age to
the Bronze Age started about 3000 BC. This civilization, during the Bronze Age
was divided into two main cultures. One on these, called Cretan or Minoan was
centered on the island of Crete. The other culture, Helladic (who became
Mycenaean) populated mainland Greece. The Minoan culture dominated trade until
1500 BC when the Mycenaeans took control.
During the third millennium BC a series of invasions from the north
began. The most prominent of the early invaders, who were called the Achaeans,
had, in all probability, been forced to migrate by other invaders. They overran
southern Greece and established themselves on the Peloponnesus. Many other,
vaguely defined tribes, were assimilated in the Helladic culture.
Gradually, in the last period of Bronze Age Greece, the Minoan
civilization fused with the mainland. By 1400 BC the Achaeans were in
possession of the island itself, and soon afterward gained control of the
mainland. The Trojan War, described by Homer in the Iliad, began about 1200 BC
and was probably one of a series of wars waged during the 12th and 13th
centuries BC. It may have been connected with the last and most important of
the invasions which happened at about the same time and brought the Iron Age to
Greece. The Dorians left the mountains of Epirus and pushed their way down to
Peloponnesus and Crete, using iron weapons to conquer the people of those
regions. The Invading Dorians overthrew Achaean kings and settled in the
southern and eastern part of the peninsula.
The Hellenic Period
After the great migrations in the Aegean, the Greek developed a proud
racial consciousness. They Called themselves Hellenes. The term Greeks, used
by foreign peoples, was derived from Graecia, the Latin for a small Hellenic
tribe of Epirus, the first Hellenes that the Romans had dealings with. Out of
the mythology that became the basis of an intricate religion, the Hellenes
developed a genealogy that traced their ancestry to semidivine heroes.
Age of Tyrants
The age of Greek tyrants was notable for advances made in Hellenic
civilization. The title of tyrant was used on people who had gained political
power illegally. Generally the tyrants were wise and popular. Trade and
industry flourished. In the wake of political and economic strength came a
flowering of Hellenic culture, especially in Ionia, where Greek philosophy began
with the speculations of Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenies. The development
of cultural pursuits common to all the Hellenic cities was one of the factors
that united ancient Greece. Another Factor was the Greek language, the many
dialects of which were readily understandable in any part of the country. The
third factor was Greek religion, which held the Hellenes together, and the
sanctuary of Delphi, with its oracle, became the greatest national shrine. In
addition to their religion, the Greeks held four national festivals, called
games—the Olympian, Isthmian, Pythian, and Nemean.
Monarchy to Democracy
Some unification of the city-states took place. Between the 8th and 6th
centuries BC, Athens and Sparta became the two dominant cities of Greece. Each
of these great states united its weaker neighbors into a league or confederacy
under its control. Sparta, a completely militarized and aristocratic state,
established its leadership mainly by conquest, and kept its subject states under
strict rule. The unification of Attica was, however, carried on by mutual and
peaceful agreement under the leadership of Athens, and the inhabitants of
smaller cities were given Athenian citizenship. The hereditary kingship of
Athens was abolished in 683 BC by the nobles, or Eupatridae, who ruled Athens
until the mid 6th century BC. The Eupatridae kept complete authority by their
supreme power to dispense justice. In 621 BC statesman Draco codified and
published the Athenian law, their by limiting the judiciary power of the nobles.
A second major blow to the hereditary power of the Eupatride was the code of the
Athenian statesman and legislator Solon in 594 BC, which reformed the Draconian
code and gave citizenship to the lower classes. During the rule of the tyrant
Pisistratus, the forms of government began to take on the elements of democracy.
Hippias and Hipparchus, sons of Pisistratus, inherited their fathers power, but
they were considerably more despicable. Hippias, who survived Hipparchus, was
expelled by a popular uprising in 510 BC. In the resulting political strife,
the supporters of democracy, under the statesman Cleisthenes, won a complete
victory, and a new constitution, based on democratic principles, took effect
about 502 BC. The beginning of democratic rule was the dawn of the greatest
period of Athenian history and, to me personally this signifies the end of